People Strategy

6 Takeaways from Resources for Humans Virtual 2020

September 22, 2020
November 7, 2023
Andy Przystanski
Lattice Team

On September 16, Lattice brought over 20,000 HR professionals together for our second Resources for Humans Virtual Conference. The event featured insights from over 40 inspiring leaders and visionaries. Speakers addressed topics ranging from remote work to career growth — all within the context of the new world of work.

Want to relive the event? Below, we’ll highlight just some of the conference’s big takeaways and memorable moments. You can rewatch the sessions on demand here.

1. The “new world of work” is about growth.

This year has been hard on all of us — but especially for those in HR. People teams have been on the frontlines of the new world of work, facing and adapting to unprecedented challenges. Lattice CEO Jack Altman opened the conference by reminding us that adversity isn’t just something you push through — it’s something you grow from.

“A smooth sea never built a skilled sailor. And the challenging moments give us the opportunity to learn the hard skills to learn how to improve,” Altman said, reflecting on Lattice’s own transition to remote work. “And if things were always easy, life would be calm and we wouldn't feel challenged, but we wouldn't grow. We wouldn't get the type of stress that we need to improve and to find growth in our careers.”

COVID-19 shuttered entire industries and forced many others to operate remotely. But it also made us more adaptable and thoughtful of mental health. It also built better managers, many of whom had never led distributed teams and had to start running remote one-on-ones. In short, the “new normal” isn’t about scaling back expectations — it’s about being better than we were before.

“In every difficult moment, there are opportunities, there are chances for growth. This is a year when we can transform. We can transform as individuals, we can transform as leaders, we can transform as companies,” Altman said.

2. Creative leaders know when to step back. 

What’s the secret behind the most innovative, creative teams? What makes them an exception to the rule? Catching that proverbial lightning in a bottle is every manager’s dream. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and author of Creativity, Inc, shared what makes the legendary animation studio so successful.

“It takes a lot of people to make something work,” Catmull said. According to him, hierarchical cultures that elevate management’s voice at the expense of everyone else’s will always be at a disadvantage. According to Catmull, sometimes the best way for leaders to foster creativity is to step back.

“If we don't recognize that it takes a lot of us and that we've all contributed, even though some are silent, then we actually diminish our ability to keep on doing something which is complex. You want to value the people who are helping you solve the problems.”

Catmull saw this play out firsthand while working with another innovative leader: Steve Jobs. The entrepreneur was the CEO of Pixar from 1986 until the animation studio was purchased by Disney in 2006. Jobs steered clear of Pixar’s “Braintrust” meetings, where the studio’s most creative minds would hash out ideas and critique each other’s work. “One of the rules is that the powerful people in the room are supposed to shut the hell up for the first 10 to 15 minutes. If a powerful person starts speaking, they set the tone of the room,” Catmull said.

3. Your next big HR priority? You.

HR professionals have always shouldered a lot. They’re either workplace heroes or deliverers of bad news — and this year’s pandemic only heightened the pressure. In the face of it all, People teams can feel alone and emotionally exhausted.

Garima Gupta, Director of HR at the Fund for Global Human Rights, started Your People Team Members Are People, Too with a question: “Who’s the HR for HR?” Gupta’s solo presentation gave teams actionable tips they could use to improve their mental health while doubling as a powerful group therapy session.

“The same traits that make HR professionals good at their work, the empathy, compassion for others, and tenacity, can turn into compassion fatigue,” Gupta said. “Leave those mounting emails and Slack messages for another day. We've internalized the idea that any time that we spend not doing something is somehow wasted time, to a point that being so busy, the status symbol, and even maybe a humblebrag.”

“So go ahead, make room for some navel-gazing, rose-smelling, and just being plain silly with your kids or dogs and detox yourself from this addiction of being busy.” Judging from attendee’s responses in the chat and on social media, Gupta’s prescription was exactly what HR professionals needed to hear.

4. Make DE&I part of career development.

When most of us think about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace, employee resource groups, hiring pipelines, and inclusion surveys come to mind. Your company's learning and development (L&D) program should be a part of that conversation.

In Making DE&I Part of Your Learning & Development Strategy, panelists shared some of the ways they were making training and career development more inclusive. 

One approach favored by Diana Jones, People and Organizational Development Lead at Plaid, is to offer standalone training that gets to the heart of the issues faced by women and people of color. A broad topic like career development lends itself especially well to this approach.

“Take your general training and offer additional, secondary sessions for specific underrepresented groups,” Jones said. “There's a general session on career growth we make available to everyone. And then another for women, [because] we want to give them a safe space where they can talk about topics relevant to them and this aspect of their identity.”

Most leadership training focuses on coaching and performance management. But because managers are uniquely positioned to impact their reports’ day-to-day experience, they should also be equipped to have honest conversations about DE&I. That was the case made by Joanna Miller, Lead of Learning & Development at Asana. “The first thing that we really focus on is getting managers to lean in and feel comfortable acknowledging or surfacing when they noticed something happening,” Miller said.

“For example, have them ask ‘I noticed that you were holding back in the conversation, is there anything that I could do to make you more comfortable contributing?’” Conversations like these foster an environment where employees can talk openly about DE&I.

5. Don’t lose sight of your values.

In The Value of Values to Your Culture, panelists shared some of the ways they make their mission and values ring true at a time when companies’ impact on their communities has come under scrutiny.

Nicole Miller, People Ops Manager at Buffer, shared how her team’s values aren’t hollow slogans posted on the wall — they inform how companies assess current employees and potential new hires. “When it comes to hiring, we've always put an emphasis on values alignment before it comes to skills, personality fit, or anything else,” Miller said. “We start every hiring process with a values interview. So we want to know that people will find happiness and fulfillment and engagement here. And that really starts with a shared value set.”

Khalilah "KO" Olokunola, EVP of Human Resources, TRU Colors Brewing, urged attendees to ensure they follow through on their mission and values with the same intent they have for tracking metrics like revenue.

“You have to measure both the mission and the money, because, without the money, you can't sustain the mission...But if we're making money and our mission is still faltering, then we're failing as a company,” Olokunola said.

TRU Colors Brewing’s mission is to stop gang violence and unite communities. To that end, Olokunola’s team maintains a dashboard that tracks shootings in local neighborhoods. If violence hasn’t decreased by 10% or 15%, her team views that as a failure. “Programs are great, but you need something in place that's going to help you sustain the mission. The return on investment that my CEO looks at is going to always be money. But for me, I'm looking at the social return on investment.”

Unsure of whether your company even has a deeper mission than simply making money or shipping a successful product? Nathalie McGrath, co-founder of The People Design House, encouraged teams to dig a little deeper.

“What impact are you trying to have? And if it's just to create a product, what do you want that product to represent, and how do you want that to happen? It's through those conversations that we start to understand there's usually a social justice mission,” McGrath said. “It's just often buried under a few other layers.”

6. Trevor Noah reminds us to put people first.

Trevor Noah, comedian and host of The Daily Show, wrapped the conference with a powerful call for attendees to be more mindful of the here and now, not whatever the so-called “new normal” ends up looking like.

“I think the most important thing has been for myself and the team to acknowledge the fact that we don't know when life will go back to normal. So we don't live as if life is going to go back to normal...If we spend all our time thinking about what we want to do, then we won't ever do anything now,” Noah said.

Don’t wait for the storm to pass to reach out to your peers. Being more mindful of the people you work with today isn’t just the right thing to do for their mental health, but also yours, Noah reminded us. “The thing we could spend a lot more time on is just taking a moment to connect to the human in everybody else. During the toughest times, I find that what helps me is connecting with human beings,” he said. By the nature of their work, HR teams are in a rare position to both listen to employee feedback and use it to effect change in the workplace and world.

“I think we can find a place where we start to acknowledge, and maybe not fix overnight, but just acknowledge some of the shortcomings that companies have inherited from societies. Then maybe, upon acknowledging them and understanding them, they can begin to implement ideas and policies that will change the company from the inside,” Noah said.

“If enough companies do it, who knows? Maybe they might start to affect what's happening on the outside.”

Those were just some of the highlights from this year’s virtual conference. Rewatch the sessions on demand here.

Want to keep the conversation going? Resources for Humans is a Slack community of over 10,000 HR leaders who believe the best way to impact a business is through its humans. Together, we help each other navigate challenges by sharing resources and firsthand experiences. Click here to learn more about the free community.