How Nava Balances High Engagement With High Performance
Nava reimagines how critical public services are offered, positively transforming the way millions of people experience government.
Kim Minnick sometimes jokes that she works for America’s HR department. That isn’t a stretch: Minnick is the VP of People at Nava, an engineering and design firm that partners with government agencies to make public services more accessible to everyone. Nava’s biggest claim to fame? They were the ones who helped build the Healthcare.gov website — the version that worked. Customers include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the State of Vermont.
“The work is hard, but it makes us better people. Our company makes us do better,” Minnick said, reflecting on the pressure of having your products’ end-user be the U.S. population. Prior to joining Nava, Minnick worked at NerdWallet, Patreon, Survey Monkey, and Hired. Those experiences, and her time at Nava, helped Minnick discover her professional passion: Solving the puzzle of “how to build a kickass place to work.”
But Minnick had a “problem” that most HR professionals would clamor for: Her team got along really, really well. Positive feedback flows easily, but her fellow “Navanauts” needed better tools and support for sharing constructive feedback. While she didn’t want to undermine that spirit, Minnick did want to foster an environment where accountability and career growth were still possible. You can’t develop without being challenged, and in Minnick’s own words, the company needed to “find a balance between high engagement and high performance.”
“We have a syndrome that I call ‘Nava-nice.’ Everyone is just so, so kind. And everybody wants to celebrate each other and say amazing things — but that feedback isn't always candid,” she said. With the company growing in headcount and public exposure, leadership knew it was time to mature their approach to performance management. “We really wanted to be intentional about our evaluations. We needed a space for celebration and excitement, but one that would also give us the ability to focus our feedback.”
Nava turned to Lattice to manage employee engagement surveys and performance reviews, adopting a “2x2” approach: Two semi-annual reviews, two employee engagement surveys. That’s also a model that Lattice Advisory Services recommends in most cases, given its versatility for stable and reasonably fast-growing companies.
“We use our engagement surveys to help our culture, but they also contribute to our business strategy,” she said. She uses Lattice’s Analytics to filter sentiment by a handful of different fields, like department, manager, and employee demographics. Just as importantly, she can cut the data by who’s working with a specific client or project. “Naturally, some of our employees are kind of siloed on contracts. If we see low engagement, or burnout, or significant issues on particular projects, we may reconsider re-engaging with that contract.”
Minnick also found that running surveys and sharing her analysis has bred a spirit of transparency and accountability for her HR team. “If we ask people for their opinions, we need to share those opinions with them. We go through and read their written feedback, develop themes, and start having action planning conversations.”
“Our last review cycle felt very grown-up for us. We could still talk about successes, but with a growth mindset.”
And that broader accountability she wanted for the rest of her company? Minnick found it by running semi-annual reviews in Lattice. The platform’s 360 performance reviews gave her team space to reflect on the past six months without eschewing Nava-nice entirely. While managers and direct reports were empowered to offer praise and constructive feedback, just as importantly, cross-team peers could, too. That made the transition to “grown-up” reviews, as Minnick called them, a more natural exercise for her already tight-knit culture.
“We really wanted to be intentional. We curated questions and built out opportunities that folks could really celebrate the accomplishments that they've had, that their peers could celebrate their successes,” Minnick said. Seeing objectives and key results side-by-side with performance review scorecards made it easier for peers to both celebrate and identify opportunities for improvement. “Our last review cycle felt very grown-up for us. We could still talk about successes, but with a growth mindset.”
Impact of Lattice
Minnick feels that implementing Lattice hasn’t just made her job easier, it’s empowered her to be a better HR leader. Employees are more open to sharing constructive feedback, and everyone feels heard thanks to the platform’s intuitive Pulse and engagement surveys. The latter has been especially valuable for Minnick, who now spends less time fielding one-off questions about software and more time analyzing engagement data.
“You don't have to remember where everything is. You don't have to find the link for the Google Doc survey. You go to Lattice, and it’s on your dashboard,” she said. That ease-of-use, especially with respect to engagement and Pulse surveying, has made it so much easier to gather actionable employee data. “That experience is a low barrier to entry, so you’re going to get more data. We can get so many more employee stories this way.”
Beyond the expected benefits of implementing a people management platform, Minnick believes the choice to go with Lattice helped Nava’s culture weather the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were feeling disconnected and juggling so much at first,” Minnick said. Like most business leaders, she was worried about the company’s culture withstanding the transition to remote work. While employees were big believers in peer recognition before the pandemic, Lattice’s praise feature took that tradition to the nth degree.
“The praise feature got used so much, and our company shout-outs only got stronger,” she said, reflecting on how that steady flow of recognition helped her power through the pandemic’s most challenging days. Being able to send and receive recognition using Lattice’s built-in Slack integration made it possible to integrate praise into everyone’s workflow. In her own words, “Lattice allowed us to hold on to who we are, even when we weren't together.”