BuzzFeed’s Lenke Taylor: How HR can drive real impact
Hear from BuzzFeed’s Chief People Officer, Lenke Taylor about how they’re employing technology to answer common HR questions, encourage employees to network with colleagues, act on employee feedback, and more.
Over to Lenke!
On BuzzFeed’s culture:
we take a lot of care to ensure that what we’re doing feels authentic, tailored, and appropriate for the culture.
BuzzFeed is a mix of different business lines that can seem like totally different companies. We’re an entertainment company, a tech organization, an advertising agency, a news organization, a commerce business — and I think each of those could potentially have very unique internal cultures.
As a people team, we work to create consistent programs. But, to people in each of those different parts of the company, we take a lot of care to ensure that what we’re doing feels authentic, tailored, and appropriate for the culture.
On creating a culture of feedback:
Our starting point is our annual employee survey from Qualtrics. It’s a great place to get a baseline of information to understand where our employees are compared to the year prior. Some of our innovations around how we communicate with employees have come out of suggestions from that survey. For example, in 2017, we saw that people wanted more access to our CEO [Jonah Peretti]. So he launched a Slack channel called “AJA” or “Ask Jonah Anything.” Now it’s an active environment where people ask him about anything from the current topics in the press to specific questions about our business to something humorous. That’s been a great avenue for employees around the world to connect with him and to genuinely and authentically hear his voice on a variety of topics.
Also as a result of that annual survey, we check in with people at other periods. These check-ins give us data points on how employees are feeling. For example, we launched new-hire surveys that help us understand how people are onboarding and coming up to speed.
On gathering feedback in person:
I do employee roundtables across the company on a monthly basis. I use those as an opportunity to meet with employees directly; in each session I hear from the frontline employees about their experiences in the company. I ask them to tell me things that are working really well and things they think are opportunities for improvement.
On creating a new development program for managers:
One of the things we’ve invested a lot in over the past year is manager development. Our learning team designed an eight-week program for managers across the company. Feedback from managers has been really positive. People leaders who complete the program feel more confident that they have the tools and resources to be an effective leader and to hold meaningful performance conversations with their team members. In addition, the program experience provided an opportunity for leaders to meet and learn from their peers across the organization (internationally), and to gain diverse perspectives and build relationships.
On using technology to improve the employee experience:
We use bots to help people make connections with other people in the organization. You can sign up to have a coffee chat, and the bot will match you with somebody every couple of weeks. You have an automated way of getting introduced to somebody you might not otherwise meet. We use something similar for new hires, where we pair them with a buddy, a “Buzz Bud,” from their start date. And a bot generates that notification, to help people connect.
We also use bot technology to help employees find information. It’s not uncommon that an employee is sitting there thinking, “I really want to talk to my HR person. Who’s my HR person?” If they ask that in Slack, there’s a “Slackbot” that will return the answer directly. We have a couple of examples of things like that, where if you type the question into Slack, the Slackbot will tell you, “Here’s where you can find the benefits information,” or, “Here’s what you do for employment verification,” and so forth. We have several applications for bots on the HR team.
On being held accountable to do the right thing:
Our employees have a high expectation of us, as an organization and as a leadership team, to be good humans who do the right thing
Our employees have a high expectation of us, as an organization and as a leadership team, to be good humans who do the right thing. Take mental health as an example. At the end of 2015, BuzzFeed had launched a promotion of topics related to mental health. As part of that, employees turned inward to BuzzFeed and said, “Are we really doing enough for our employees to promote good mental health and provide them with sufficient resources?”
This conversation illuminated this insight that our employees are really open to talking about mental health. It helped us see that we have a culture where there isn’t as strong of a stigma about it as might exist outside BuzzFeed. That opened the door for us to explore the topic on a deeper level. I took a look at what existed for employees, what was available in the marketplace, and what the gaps were in what we could provide.
I worked with our insurance providers to to bring more mental health professionals in-network within our coverage. This feedback about mental health also encouraged us to find other external partners with organizations like Ginger.io, which is a coaching and counseling service you can access through your phone.
On using metrics to build diversity:
we reached a milestone of 50/50 representation of women and men in leadership positions in the company.
Diversity and inclusion is an important value for us, both as a company and in the content we create for our audience. We take great pride in telling stories that resonate with people across our audience, and oftentimes those stories may be elevating voices that don’t have a platform somewhere else. This sort of diversity and inclusion is something that is really important for us from a content perspective, and that also needs to be reflected internally.
We’ve focused a lot this year on both building diversity within our organization and ensuring we have an inclusive culture. We’ve used a lot of data and metrics to help us understand diversity and to hold our leadership accountable to making progress, by helping them understand what the metrics are for their particular organization and for their recruiting pipelines. In the fall of 2018 we reached a milestone of 50/50 representation of women and men in leadership positions in the company. So using metrics has been a great tool to hold people accountable and to see when we’ve had a great success and be able to acknowledge that.
On the initiatives that are making BuzzFeed’s culture more inclusive:
In 2017 we launched our employee resource groups. That has allowed for a clear center of activity around different identity groups across the company, and afforded those groups a great platform on which to share more about their identities, and to build understanding within the employee population.
Another initiative from this past year was training for cultural sensitivities. We had over 90 percent participation across all of our content and advertising employees in the US. Part of it was experiential, and part of it was lecture and discussion around topics including bias and privilege, and how those things affect both individuals’ experiences and their understanding of others. It’s about trying to build a common understanding across the organization of those differences.
Want to learn more about creating great internal culture and experiences?
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This is the second installment of our blog series, “Employee Experience Visionaries.” In each post, we feature highlights from a conversation with an HR thought leader on company culture, employee engagement, HR’s evolving role, and so much more