Art of Expression with Karen Weeks

Mastering Team Communication and Effective Feedback

July 20, 2023


Karen Weeks

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Show Notes

“Tell people it’s ok to leave.”

How do you break difficult news to employees? What questions should you ask on a 1-on-1? When should you talk about quitting? From tips to calm the nerves and better prepare for tough conversations to a surge of warmth and inspiration to find the career path that lights you up. This episode with Karen Weeks is the perfect mix of practical and heart-warming!

Want to shine brighter? Check out Karen’s podcast and follow her on LinkedIn!

Podcast transcript

Karen Weeks: If you've been in a role that you don't love or a company that you don't love, you feel it and it affects so much of your life. And then when you find the place you wanna part of, you're like, wow, I get it and really do, like, literally shine brighter.

Janine Ramirez: It is my absolute pleasure to welcome to our podcast episode today, Karen Weeks.

Karen is a Hollywood deserter, turns of proclaimed HR nerd and a shining coach with a passion for empowering individuals to find their inner Spark. So as the chief people officer at Ordergroove and the founder of shine network coaching, with over two decades of experience as an HR leader, Karen brings a unique perspective to the table today. She also has a career development podcast called Shine at Work that you guys can check out and authored setting the stage a guide to preparing for any feedback conversation. So she knows a thing or do about feedback sharing actionable advice and communication, our topic for today.

Karen, thank you for joining us. How are you?

Karen Weeks: I'm so excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Janine Ramirez: Awesome. Are you ready to dive in? Let's do it. Okay. Let's do it.

So when I first read your profile, what draw what drawn me to you was like your background in theater. It was intriguing, and it got me thinking about, like, the parallels between acting and communicating on stage compared to in the workplace. So as a former stage manager working with actors, like, you know, being really, like, conscious, I guess, about like how you portray messaging through word stone facial expression, body language, all that. What are the top lessons you learned from theater that you bring to your work as a coach and in giving feedback.

Communications Lessons from Theater

Karen Weeks: Yeah, and I think it's really important, because this was one thing that I actually talked to a lot of people about, is that you bring a lot of transferable skills with you, when you change careers, So, as a stage manager, my job was to work with all the people every day to put up the show, designers, directors, actors, audience members, everybody. And so I literally do that every single day. I think about how business owners are trying to hit their goals. I work with managers to help them lead their teams, work with the individuals on the teams to help them think about their careers.

Then in my coaching world, I'm helping different people with their careers.

So, it's really about finding all the different ways that people need to communicate. And so, I love discs, myers briggs, strength finders, like whatever tool you like. It doesn't matter which one, but really recognizing that everybody is an individual. And everybody's coming at something from a different perspective, with a different personality, with a different goal.

So how can we bring everybody together? And so you really have to figure out how to adjust your style for the different people you talk to. And I was doing that back in the day as a stage manager. And now I've done that my whole HR career as well.

Janine Ramirez: That's so difficult to juggle. I mean, when you're working with a lot of different stakeholders and kind of being conscious of how do I communicate to each ones? Like, it can get kinda, you know, messy in your mind. Are there any tips you can give to effectively communicate to different audiences and different stakeholders.

Karen Weeks: Yeah, I think one is figuring out with the way they take information the way they make decisions. So, some people might need some information upfront, take a little time to digest, and can then help solve the problem or make a decision. Other people want to talk things out. Some people are much more relationship based, more some people are more data based.

So sort of knowing what they need in that moment to make the decision, receive the feedback, whatever you're trying to do with them. And then I think the second thing is to remind everybody that we're all trying to achieve the same goal. If we're all in the same company, we all want the same things. We just may be having a different perspective.

We may have different ideas on how to get there. We may not have all the context. So always assuming best intention, assuming competence starting from a good place, then we can just -- we just have a hurdle, and we just need to work through it.

Creating a Safe Space for Employee Honesty

Janine Ramirez: It sounds like, well, this is something I've been thinking about a lot. Is effective communication really starts with with empathy? Yes. Right?

And we were talking with a feature of work expert Wagner Denuzzo, and he was saying that genuine leadership has to start with genuine conversations and and listening. So, can you share any strategies or best practices for fostering an environment where employees feel comfortable having real conversations with their managers and leadership.

Karen Weeks: I've been a big fan of the book five dysfunctions of a team for the last probably twelve years, and that talks about the only way to have a successful team is that it starts with trust. And the only way to build trust is to create the space for those conversations.

So, when I talk to new managers, I work with them a lot on how to just have good one on ones. How to get to know the humans on your team. Because then you can have the conversations that you're referring to. You can create the space for difficult, uncomfortable, however you want to phrase it conversations.

You can recognize that people have stuff going on in their lives that they might be bringing to work or the other way around.

So really just carving out the space for how was your weekend on a scale of one to ten? How's your week going? What would have made it a ten? What can I be doing as your manager to help you have a better week, or remove some roadblocks, what's a win you want to celebrate, what's something you're really proud of, what's something you're doing outside of work that really excites you, just asking those really, honestly, basic questions, but just creates more of a relationship and a trusted relationship then everything will grow from there?

Janine Ramirez: Oh my gosh, Karen. You're speaking to someone who is so bad at like small talk. So these steps are really, really helpful. But you mentioned like difficult conversations and I feel like now in the world of work where a lot of people are leaving their jobs and there's also like, you know, a lot of tech layoffs and all these like crisis situations.

Layoffs and Other Difficult Conversations

Janine Ramirez: How can managers and team leaders effectively create this culture that, you know, it's okay to have these difficult conversations with them. Make their employees feel comfortable talking to them about these things.

Karen Weeks: Yeah. I think sometimes it starts with a manager being vulnerable as well. You know, you may and empathy. I think vulnerability is another really key piece of it. So, especially over the last couple years when we were really in the height of the pandemic, I was telling managers, look, tell your teams that you're struggling too.

Whatever might be going on at home, personally, in work, everything that was compounding everything at that time. It was okay to say, I don't know the answers. I'm really burnt out. I'm having a hard time balancing everything. I'm feeling really isolated, whatever they were going through, because that then creates the space of we're going to feel these things. It's okay to feel these things, and it's okay to talk about those things. And then if employees are struggling with something or if they're not, sure it's the right place for them or they're not feeling valued, whatever they might be going through that might be having them think about if this is the right place for them, They've sort of created that safe space for those conversations.

I think the other thing I always tell managers is tell people, it's okay to leave. We don't want them to if it's still obviously a good relationship and a good place to be. But if it doesn't fit what's right for the employee anymore, that's okay. My husband and I were just talking about this over the weekend.

We don't live in a world where people stay at companies their whole careers. Honestly, we expect people to leave. It's how we get great talent is because they left someplace else to come to our company. But if we can do that in a respectful and supportive way, and tell people, from the beginning, I want you here as long as it makes sense.

I want you to be hitting your career goals. I want you to be excited about what you're doing. I want you to know you're making an impact. And at some point, it doesn't feel that way, let's talk about it, because I'd rather have that conversation than just all of a sudden out of nowhere, you give two weeks notice and been something we could have changed and made better for you here at this organization.

From Vulnerability to Trust

Janine Ramirez: It's funny because I was just talking to another amazing Karen, Karen Gregory, and we were discussing their vulnerability and leadership. And she mentioned that it's very difficult for some leaders to give up that control and be vulnerable. So as a coach like how do you get people that are so used to being like, you know, perfect in the eyes of everyone else to kind of give up control and be vulnerable? Among their peers and their employees, their teams.

Karen Weeks: Yeah, sometimes I ask them to share stories of leaders that they've really respected, And often you'll start to hear vulnerability come through some of that. So, one leader that I've always really respected from way early in my career she was very honest about when she had to take PTO. And she would go off the grid, like her and her family would go to Idaho or something like that.

Because she was very honest with, I need this time to refresh. This is a really demanding job, and I love it, but I have to take the time to be with my family. Or I'm not going to be the best leader for this organization. And I always thought that was, because this was back in the early two thousand, so we didn't talk about refresh and all that as much back then.

So I really respected the fact that she was open with how she needed that time for her and her family in order to be a great leader. So I think if you ask people Well, who are some leaders you respect? Or what kind of leader do you want to be? The vulnerability will be in there.

And as a coach, sometimes I can help pull that out of them. And see it as a strength versus a weakness?

I feel like maybe sometimes it's easier to be vulnerable when you know, we see ourselves as like you one and see our themes as like people because we just share it's like, you know, a friendship also that that is formed and at work.

How Organizations Should Share Tough News

Janine Ramirez: But when it comes to like news from the organization, for example, like layoffs, how do we approach that? Because then we sort of have to protect the image of the company as well, and it's not our news to to share.

Karen Weeks: Yeah, I think as honest and as transparent as you can be while being respectful of what's happening in the organization.

So, so many people tell me when they're impacted by layoffs. Oh, I just wish you had told me this was coming. I wish you had told me this was a possibility.

And as much as I would love to do that, sometimes that's not possible. For anyone who's been on the other side of layoffs, that list may be changing, you don't know the timing, you don't know the packages you can offer. So what often is, while you're doing a lot of prep, all those final decisions often happen at the very last minute, And so that's why you can't always project what's happening. So, what I think you can do is when the moment happens, how can you support both the individuals that are impacted and the individuals that are left behind.

So, everybody feels respected, it's okay to say, I don't know, so especially as a manager, you may not know all the answers, because the decisions sort of made, like you said, around you. So it's okay to say, I don't know the answer. Let me if I can find out some information, and I'll try to come back to you with more that I can find out. And then just communicating as much as possible.

So, never promise that more layoffs are not coming, because you don't know that. So, say, you know, we're trying to make the decisions that are best for the business, to help us all get to the place that we can get to. We will help the people through it as much as we can through transition packages, through helping them find other jobs, And then as a manager, especially if you're working with someone who was impacted, just saying, Hey, if there's anyone in my network I can introduce you to, let me know If you want me to look at your resume, let me know. Anything you can do to help them, just support them and let them know they're not alone.

What NOT to Say to Someone Laid Off

Karen Weeks: My biggest thing though is two things never to say to someone who is laid off. I'm sorry. Because even though you may be sorry, you don't have control over the situations. I'm sorry, it's usually something like I did and I would have changed it, you kinda can't change it.

So, I know this is hard, I know this is frustrating, I know this is scary. Those are words that are fine. And then, never say, I This is hard for me too. Because while it might be, right?

Like I've laid off a lot of people in my career. I've fired a lot of people, unfortunately, it does. It stinks. It's a lot harder for the other person because it was without snow.

So I won't get over it. I'll be fine. You don't have a job. This is way more impactful to you.

So, those are always my two tips for managers that are struggling in those moments, is really focus on supporting the person and being as honest as possible.

Top Elements of a Great Work Culture

Janine Ramirez: It's like being a great leader. It's just being a a good genuine human being. Yes. Yes. Which isn't always easy. It's difficult.

But moving forward, not just in communication but like as a coach as someone who is trying to design a culture as well in Ordergroove. Like what do you think are the top elements of a work culture that help create that environment where employees and everyone can shine.

Karen Weeks: Yeah, it's a great question and partially it really depends on your organization.

You know, I coach an HR leader who is at, like, a cybersecurity, very compliant based company. Her culture is gonna look different than a tech startup in e commerce. Because there's just different pieces of the business. So, one thing I always tell people is your culture needs to be right for your organization. Because it is gonna be a little different no matter what. Things that we care about at orgroove are individuality.

So, a lot of the things that we do are we're still relatively small. We're only a hundred and twenty people. So we're really still allowed to do and have the ability to do things that are very customized for individuals. So, that's one thing that we really want to focus on is what is right for your authentic self and how we can support that and how can you shine as who you are at Ordergroove.

And then the other thing that is really important to us is we are still in these different stages of we're learning things. They may work. They may not. So, we call it, we're comfortable being uncomfortable.

So, riding that roller coaster of things are gonna change. There's gonna be ambiguity. And for the right people, that's a lot of fun and exciting. For other people, it's like, I really need more of a playbook.

I think I need to be further along with a company that's further along. And that's totally okay. So, I think identifying for your culture, what how do you work together? How does the business function what does good look like across the team, and then finding those values that represent that, and then really living and bringing to life those values, because that's what helps create the culture.

People-Culture Fit

Janine Ramirez: So, in your experience, I mean, yes, every organization is different and therefore the culture will be different are there really times when an individual doesn't fit into that culture and they just don't belong there?

Karen Weeks: Yeah. Or is this something that, I don't know, like we we're naturally adaptive to whatever culture there is in the company. I think honestly it's a little bit of both.

I think I think people can adapt And I think that's why you see some people start at like a twenty person company and grow with them to a thousand people. Clearly, that culture is going to evolve during that time. And so the person had to adapt as well. But I do think there are some people that like a lot more structure or a lot more process or know what their day to day is going to look like.

There are some cultures that will be supportive of that, and there'll be some cultures that will feel like chaos to them. And so that might not be the right thing. I think to your question around fit, I think that's really more about competencies, values, and how the business works and how people communicate and that kind of stuff. It is not, do I want to have a beer with this person?

It's not some of the diversity issues that come up when you think about culture fit sometimes. It's not do they have ping pong and like, you know, free, whatever. It's really more about how do we work together in this community that we've created that is this business. And that will feel right to some people and not feel right to other people.

Challenges at the Growth Stage

Janine Ramirez: I'm curious about your work with Ordergroove because at Erudit, we're also a growing tech company. So, like, what are the unique HR challenges that you face in the tech industry when it comes to designing the work culture, and how did you adjust them?

Karen Weeks: I think one is communication, which is perfect for our topic today.

Especially as we've grown, you know, people who used to be in all the meetings, maybe now aren't in all the meetings because we're a bigger company now. They've used to wear a lot of hats, and maybe now we have more specialist versus generalists. There might be different management layers. And on paper, those are all good things.

It means we're growing. It means you might have a manager that can really give you more time. It means that you're able to actually focus and not try to have to do all the things. But that's, that's change.

And so I think there's a lot of change that happens in, especially growing tech companies. And so, helping with those communication pieces, helping people feel like they still are tied to the work that they're doing. They understand the impact to the broader business. They don't feel out of the loop So maybe you're in the meeting anymore, but maybe there's a debrief that comes out of that meeting.

So really just helping people grow with the company. And so communication is a big piece of that. I think the other piece frankly is setting expectations.

So, what is not only the expectations in your role, But what could your career look like at this company? And for some people that may be sort of more linear, I want to go from x to senior x to manager of x to, etcetera. Other people might still be figuring that out. And so, I love it when people can change departments.

We've had people go from marketing to client services or client services to product. And so that's really great, because you're exploring and figuring this out as you go. But that takes time, right? Like, I'm not just gonna give you a job because you want it.

So, you know, understanding the expectations of what career development looks like and how I can support you, but how you're a partner in that. And together, we will figure this out based on your development and the needs of the business. So I think the and then the career development are two things that really have always stood out to me at tech startups. And honestly, a lot of that is tied to change and navigating change during all these times.

Janine Ramirez: Yeah, like that's the beauty I feel of working in a tech startup. If you want to try something, it's so easy to like talk to someone and be like, I wanna know more about that. I wanna be part of that project, but it's true like the growth part of it. Now, like, our our company grew a ton, like, the past few months in their faces in the in the meetings.

I'm I don't even know who this person is. But like how do you keep a team connected when it grows so quickly? It's like sometimes it feels overwhelming to think that I have to have like one on ones -- Yeah. -- with every new hire, you know?

Connecting Remote Teams

Karen Weeks: Yeah. Well, and especially companies that are remote, that's a lot harder.

You know, when I used to see people in the kitchen all the time, it was a lot easier to keep of everybody and know how everybody was doing and spending even just five minutes because it was more organic. Now, a lot of that has to be more purposeful, because we have to schedule a Zoom call and do all things. So, I think one thing that Ordergroove has done is, one, we use a Slack app called donut, which creates -- being sad. Yeah.

Yes. And it's nice because it really does in theory create we do it in groups of four. We found that one on one were a little too intense. So, we did groups of four.

But in theory, you should be meeting people that you don't work with day to day. So, that's been really great. The other thing we do is, quarterly, we do small group virtual events. And so we have people from out the organization.

It's not an HR led thing. We help organize it, but we don't lead it. Okay. And it's really about hobbies, so we might have origami, we did a drawing class, we did a mixology class, pizza making

Janine Ramirez: And is this like a virtual or like face to face?

Karen Weeks: Yeah. So it's all on Zoom. And, basically, you signed up for a room. So, you know, whatever it was, May eighth, I'm just picking a random date.

There are these five virtual rooms. You go into the one you want to go to. It's pizza making, it's mixology, and it's like whatever. And you just go hang out with those people and do the thing.

And it's very cross functional, it's very casual, But that has been a really nice small group activity where, again, people who aren't normally together are getting to know each other, doing something fun. So there's a purpose, so it's not this awkward, like just all staring at each other, but you get to really know each other through that. And that's been a really successful thing that we've done. I love that.

Getting Leadership Buy-in

Janine Ramirez: I love these initiatives. I'm going to like share it with our with our HR team as well. But like, I'm guessing, it's also important that the company and the leadership invest in these things because it takes time, it takes resources. So how do you Like, how important is leadership buying and how do you win over the people leaders, the influencers, and the executive team to build this positive work culture?

Karen Weeks: Yeah, I think part of it is honestly speaking their language. So, if you really have a leadership team that's like, that's silly. Why would we do that? Like really doesn't get it? Tying it back into any of the business schools. So, you know, there's tons of data out there that shows teams that are, have stronger relationships and know each other better, are then more productive, drive better results, drive higher quality. So, like, find that data and use that with your leaders, because that's that's what they care about if they're missing this sort of human element.

And then also recognizing, and we want you to be a part of this. And so sometimes, you know, people are at different stages of their lives. Sometimes leaders might have families, might have other commitments, might be just exhausted at the end of the day, or you might have people across the country, so it's hard figuring out time zones. So being flexible and doing things at different times. So maybe you know, one event is at the end of the day, maybe another event is more like a breakfast thing. And that might be better for the leaders and say, we want you to be a part of this So, let's do it at different times, and maybe that might help as well. So, speak their language and then try to be flexible so that they can be a part of it and do something that you know that they'll like.

If you know your CEO is into basketball, like watch one of the playoff games. Here in the States, it's the NBA playoffs. So do a virtual playoff game watching or something, and maybe he or she will come to that. So, there's sort of different ways to get them more involved.

Janine Ramirez: I love that because like if they are a part of it, they feel it, they also feel the effects because sometimes, yes, data helps, but the experience like speaks for itself. Yeah. So, I love that. We're we're so good at you as well.

An empowered or burnt out HR?

Okay. So speaking of leadership and the leader table. Yeah. Our team went to unleash in Vegas recently and their favorite takeaway was that the pandemic gave HR a seat at the leadership table and HR will not give that up now. So do you feel as a Chief People Officer. You have more power and influence now after the pandemic?

Karen Weeks: Yeah. It's great question. I actually just went to an event with TRUTH HR, which is another sort of HR networking group. And we were all together and we were talking about the same thing. And I think In some places, yes, especially as people are thinking about remote and hybrid, and they're really recognizing how HR is gonna continue to help them figure out those things.

I do think the flip side of that is that HR has really burned out.

A lot of us were talking about that we were powering through the last few years or adrenaline was rushing through the last few years. We got the seat at the table. We were helping make these really important decisions, and we never took a moment for ourselves. So, I think our companies still want us there, and I know we want us to be there. But I think we also need to recognize the last few years have been hard. So, it's also okay to say, I'm still at the table, but I need to take this week off, and I'll be back at the table next week.

Or I need to prioritize a couple of things that are coming from those conversations, because I actually can't do it all. So, I do think the conversations continue to evolve for HR is such a key partner in the businesses recognize that. I just think we need to make sure we're giving ourselves a chance to breathe as well.

Janine Ramirez: Do you feel like there's a good, like, support system between like among HR professionals? And like they think you have like a unifying mission that drives you together.

Karen Weeks: Yeah, I think we do, because I think there's this feeling, and maybe I'm feeling this more right now because I just came from this retreat.

But I really do think there's this, like, we are in this together. We all recognize what's going on. And so, we are here for each other. And honestly, some of my coaching clients are HR people who are a team of one or a really small team or a first time HR leader, who's like, can someone just help me figure out what this is all?

I know you've been there before. Can you just, you know, be there with me now? And so we do need to lean on each other. And I think sense of community is so important.

Hope for the Future of HR

Janine Ramirez: Okay. So to tie this all together because we're coming to a close. What's your hope? For the future of work and workplaces?

Karen Weeks: Yeah, I think one thing is that we really take the lessons what we've learned over the last few years and keep those top of mind. So understanding the humans in front of us have a lot going on. So whether you're still remote and people have things like construction happening at their house on a given day, that's distracting for the person that you might be talking to, or people who have kids or, you know, whatever. If they're remote that's still happening, or if you are going back into the office, that's an adjustment for people if you were remote for a while.

So just recognizing that there are still humans and they are trying to figure all of this out. So that's one thing I hope that stays with us is that the future of work remembers that work is done by humans. And we need to value and respect them. But also recognize that as business evolve, we really need to support our leaders and our HR partners.

You asked a great question earlier about vulnerability. We are actually not perfect.

You know, spoiler alert! Leaders don't know what they're doing. HR people don't know what they're doing. So being open to supporting them in their own development. We spend a lot of time developing our teams. We need to make sure we take the time to develop our leaders and HR people so really kind of carving out the time to do that. So I think the future of work is recognizing the humans, supporting everybody in the business in their development and recognize that we're all in this together, and we'll figure it out as we go.

Designing a Career that Lights You Up

Janine Ramirez: I love that I will have one more question, just because like in your podcast, you always say that, you know, you want to support people and make sure that, are we all deserve? Not sure what you say, you say, like we all deserve like a career and a job and work that lights us up. Yeah. Right?

Like, I think that's what you say. So to everyone that's listening whether they work in HR or if they're like people leaders or as firing leaders, like what's your message to kind of, you know, get ready and design a life and work that lights them up.

Karen Weeks: Yes. And I really believe because if you've been in a role that you don't love or a company that you don't love, you feel it and it affects so much of your life And then when you find the place you want to be a part of, you're like, Wow, I get it and really do, like literally shine brighter.

So that's why all, that's where all of this came from. So, So I think first of all, and we actually, I just talked to someone else about this. You have a choice. Now, you may choose to stay in the place that you are, even if it's not like the most ideal situation.

But for whatever reason, it may make sense in that moment. And so recognize that. So really realize that, think about what's important to you, think about what you care about the most, what does light you up And is that are you getting that today? And if not, where could you get it?

Or if you are staying put for whatever reason, acknowledging that that is also a choice and lean into it and accept that. I'm a big proponent of accepting the things you can and cannot change. And making those changes where you can. So find work you enjoy and if for some reason you can't do that in this moment that's okay.

But just really lean into whatever opportunities are in front of you.

Janine Ramirez: Karen, thank you so much for sharing your expertise and your sunshine with us today. For listeners, I highly encourage you to check out Karen's podcast shine at work. For more insightful discussions, tips and even access the templates.

I found that they were very helpful to help you unlock your career also thank you, Karen, for joining us.

Karen Weeks: Thank you so much for having me. This was great.

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