A Dev Ops Engineer, A Creative Founder, and a HRD Walk into an ACAS Course…

This isn’t the start of a joke.

Unless, of course, the joke is on me and I have found myself in some kind of alternative reality where Engineering and People Ops are psyched by learning the exact same thing. Wait a minute…

A few weeks ago I got a bit of a slap in the face in the form of an engagement survey. Here at Wonderbly, we run fortnightly engagement surveys to measure overall happiness, engagement with the mission, and satisfaction in our leaders. My dream OKR is 4.2 out of 5 on all metrics, and we usually float around 3.9 or above, depending the day and time of year.

Two weeks ago, though, something happened. The perfect ‘star alignment’ of teams in disarray. I can’t, and won’t, go into specific detail, but we were having a hard week internally. I had some really big challenges to work with leadership to tackle, and we knew that. At the same time, our engagement survey was due to be sent out, I am a huge believer in positive and negative feedback, even if it’s hard to hear, so I was really keen to see the outcomes during a really hard week across the board.

The results were difficult to face. Our primary metric, usually very healthy, was down to 2.5. The open, anonymous comments, opened up about private challenges, personal grievance, serious concerns, and fractured decision making. I had a lot more work than I thought I did.

Across the survey people felt exasperation that nothing was being done about their concerns and grievances… which was hard for me to hear because, in this calendar year, I had not had one grievance process, formal or informal.

I was wondering what the hell was going on, what was I missing? People were coming to me with concerns, but there was no serious grievances that I could raise or investigate.

I mentioned to a few people the frustration and struggle I had with the anonymous feedback referring to instances I had no visibility into, and that I could have (and still would) investigate any team concerns to the utmost of my power. Every single response, from every single person, was the same…

“We didn’t know we had that power. We didn’t know there was a process.”

I had written that 65page policy document to be read by no-one, it seemed (not a surprise).

Let’s be clear — this was my failing. I did bad. I send that document to new employees, talk about it conceptually at company all-hands, and refer to it in 1:1s. But no one understood what their rights were if they had serious concerns in the workplace.

Shiiiiiitttt, Jess. You done goofed.

My corporate past sometimes catches up with me, and here was a good example of that; I was letting the policy document lead my communication on the process, I was letting the HR mindset get in the way of People Operation’s role. I was approaching it totally wrong.

Our Creative Founder, David, came to me and raised his hand to be my peer grievance officer in the company, something I opened my arms to immediately. I know I can’t be everyone’s ideal shoulder, and I absolutely am not the only one capable of creating sensible, empowering connections with our team. I want to be the person everyone feels comfortable speaking to, but I know I am not, because no one is. The only solution was to make the process more approachable and trustworthy, not more “HR”.

We found an ACAS course in Coventry in the next fortnight, where we could brush up on his new responsibilities as GO, and reconfirm our process and our team’s obligations to our business.

While I was planning, I had a 1:1 with Ben, our Head of Dev-Ops/Site Reliability, an unwittingly impassioned ally to my team. In the 1:1 I took the opportunity to express concern with how little I was getting from the broader team outside of anonymous feedback, and how I frustratingly understood concerns of retaliation to any grievances, but also how I felt concerned and disheartened by how few of my team members knew about their rights as employees.

Ben, not a surprise, didn’t realise either. My bad, again.

What the hell, Jess.

Ben, the hero of our story today.

But this time, I said, “can you help me fix this?” and invited Ben along to our ACAS course.

This is where things took a new turn. Ben said, “fuck yeah” and booked his place. He wanted to help spread the load of fixing our businesses concerns, of building trust in the HR process, and confirm the legitimacy of my responsibilities to solve grievance fairly and seriously.

Ben, David, and I went to Coventry. We learned about Monie VS Coral Racing, we talked about fair and unfair dismissal, notice-in-lieu, formal grievance investigation processes, employment tribunal… things I never thought I would ever, ever see a Dev-Ops lead taking notes on.

Now we’re going to implement training to the whole company on the process, people can come to Ben, or David, or my team about concerns and they’ll be taken seriously. Ben and David can inform and support people as they learn about their rights and our obligations. The problem is now a hell of a lot more tackleable (is tackleable a word??)

We’re not out of the woods yet, and the whole company is owed some love and education. The thing I wanted to share today, above bragging that I somehow convinced engineering to help me do my people ops, was that it’s so easy to forget our policies and processes aren’t just there to be there, they are there to be practical. And if that means we need to think about things in a new way, invite other people to champion our efforts, and take HR out of the process as much as possible, giving trust and honesty to our managers, then we should. We owe our teams that much.

Guess what else? I won’t be administering our training on grievance and policy alone, I’ll be up there with my Dev-Ops People Team Engineer, Ben, and Our Creative People Operations and Culture Director, David. Our motley crew, my new little unofficial people ops team. All I have to do next is head along to an AWS course…

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