Building Performance in a Pandemic

Cubert’s guidelines for a productive, progressive and psychologically safe workplace culture.

When it comes to sourcing new talent, hiring managers typically look for the same things: seasoned candidates, solid references and stellar resumes. The onus is placed upon prospective employees to prove their worth and potential value as a new hire. Even after landing the job, the pressure to perform continues.

Once hired, employees are often integrated into an atmosphere where their every move is scrutinized. Candidates once chosen for their bold ideas start to play small, now wary of making mistakes or asking questions for fear of appearing inadequate. The resulting culture is one, not of innovation or excellence, but of survival. Add to this recipe the stress and isolation of a global pandemic, and many companies are left asking:

How can we revive and rehabilitate our performance culture?

Here at Cubert, we believe that even the most qualified candidate cannot thrive without the right workplace environment. More importantly, we understand that the example of excellence should begin with company leadership. At a time when businesses are struggling to maintain morale and pivoting from in-person to virtual operations, Cubert has managed to retain engaged team members and expand by more than 100% over the last six months. With approximately 100 employees working remotely across Canada and the United States, we have embraced a top-down strategy for establishing a strong and effective team culture centered around five core tenets:

1. Psychological Safety

A term originally coined by leadership scholar and Harvard Professor, Amy C. Edmondson, “psychological safety” is defined as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” According to Edmondson, “it describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” For Cubert, cultivating psychological safety begins with the hiring process. Led by business partners, Marius Ronnov and Jeffrey Lee, Cubert champions diversity and inclusion at all levels. Our thought leaders host company-wide sessions on anti-racism, racial and gender bias where team members can express concerns and ask questions. By providing these kinds of spaces and accommodations for people to show up as their fullest selves, Cubert ensures that all voices are heard, and our employees quickly learn that they are valued, not only as workers, but as multifaceted human beings.

Beyond inclusion, a psychologically safe performance culture also requires the freedom to fail.

As leaders, we must strive for excellence, but we must first ensure a work environment designed to foster growth and learning. This means not only accepting mistakes but embracing them. When employees are afraid of getting things wrong, they stop asking questions. When they stop asking questions, they operate from a zone of anxiety and the company stops evolving. Instead of punishing employees for not knowing, encourage them to identify and articulate their weaknesses from the start. “When [employees] start working in Cubert, they are not proving to me or to their manager over the next three months that they are the right fit,” says CEO Marius Ronnov. “No, they were hired because they are the right fit. They’re really spending the next three months showing us what they cannot do so that we can support them in becoming really great at the things they’re not great at.” When your team feels comfortable asking for help, guidance or resources, they also feel more comfortable volunteering new ideas, giving constructive criticism and collaborating. Push employees to fail forward with confidence that greater insights await on the other side.

2. Global Objectives

From product development to marketing and sales, each department can have wildly different concerns and vastly distinctive perspectives on the business. Your job as a leader is to unify these vantage points under a global objective. No matter what department someone works in, they should have a deep understanding and appreciation for your company mission. Who are we? What do we represent? Who is our audience and how do we serve them? Having a common goal creates a company identity and a sense of pride within individual roles. Communicating this objective is especially important during the pandemic, where remote operations have left employees even more siloed than usual. When people feel that they are a part of a team, they see their work as integral to a larger objective. They become more than just team members, they become business partners.

3. Trust and Responsibility

Once the global objective is communicated, let go of the reigns.

Good leaders do not micromanage, but instead trust their teams to execute and problem-solve.

In any organization, boundaries are necessary to differentiate between roles and maintain workplace harmony. However, when boundaries are too rigidly defined, there can be a loss of creativity and collaboration. At Cubert, we know that we have hired the right people for the job, and that means that we trust them to make the right decisions for the business. Have faith that your employees are there to do their best work.

4. Radical Empathy and Candor

Startup culture is very agile – things move fast, and it can be tempting to move through human interactions very quickly. Radical empathy encourages us to slow down and remember that employees are people – not machines; they deserve patience and grace. Especially during a year of unprecedented change and loss, it’s more important than ever to observe and actively listen to team members – not to respond or reprimand, but to understand. If you’re leading a team meeting, try not talking for the first 30 minutes. This will give your employees the floor to feel heard and open you up to potential avenues of support you might not otherwise have discovered.

Equally as crucial to a productive and progressive workplace culture is radical candor. When employees understand that they are valued as people, they become much more receptive to being critiqued or challenged. This creates space for transparent exchanges where you as a leader can clearly lay out opportunities for improvement without the recipient feeling ridiculed or attacked. While HR teams are legally necessary to ensure compliance with laws and regulations, they should operate as an assist to the radical empathy and candor employed by managers and team leaders. These higher-level employees are the first line of defense against toxic workplace culture and should be trained to both give and receive candid, compassionate feedback. For example, CEO Marius Ronnov conducts 30-minute meetings or calls with Cubert team members – including cleaning personnel – every quarter. Establishing this rapport between team members and leaders makes for stronger conflict resolution and greater talent retention over time.

5. Care Programs

At Cubert, we build care brands focused on helping consumers achieve health and happiness. That objective applies to our team members, as well.

People sometimes need more than salaries, benefits and bonuses. They need a performance structure that invests in their wellbeing.

Care programming starts with evaluating your team members’ needs. Who are they? What do they need on a regular basis to live and breathe within a business that requires so much of their time and energy? How can you help them replenish those resources? Cubert has a lot of young employees. What does this mean? They want benefits and more access to healthcare. We’ve made it our duty to provide. On top of our regular benefits, we provide each employee with an $800 yearly stipend to buy anything they want to better their health and wellbeing. Some choose to spend it on nutritionists, others choose food prep services, gym memberships or therapy sessions – it’s entirely up to their discretion. In addition to these fiscal perks we offer several thought leadership sessions and host weekly yoga and guided meditations. No matter the type, the purpose of a care program is really to enable team members to feel good and be well.

Good companies encourage their employees to take care of themselves. Great companies give their team members the tools to do so. Join Cubert in challenging industry norms to improve care, enable healthier and happier lives, and create workplaces that are safe and successful for all.