EP 36: Leadership and Accountability in an Era of Distractions with Cheryl Johnson

Leadership and Accountability in an Era of Distractions

Leaders who struggle to hold their employees accountable and improve performance in their organization are generally too harsh, too lenient, or too disconnected. So how do we ensure our leaders are not only holding their staff accountable, but also themselves in this constantly changing, distraction-filled world? To help us answer this question today is Cheryl Johnson, Chief Human Resources Officer for Paylocity.

What You’ll Learn In Today’s Episode

  • How to manage performance in a day where everyone is constantly distracted. (1:30)
  • How to approach accountability and performance throughout the pandemic. (6:00)
  • How to lead with empathy and authenticity. (11:23)

Actionable Takeaway for HR Professionals

  • Be the voice. (20:55)

Actionable Takeaway for Executives

  • Don’t lose the learnings that have come from this pandemic. (18:00)

Ideas Worth Sharing

“The gift of humanizing yourself to your team, to your employees, and to your workforce can be extremely valuable.” - @AAJCheryl Click To Tweet

Resources In Today’s Episode

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Click Here for Audio Transcript

Traci Scherck: Well, welcome back to another episode of talent optimization today we are chatting about performance leadership and accountability, and we have with a cheryl Johnson who’s the chief human resource officer for paylocity.

Traci Scherck: And cheryl has been with paylocity for about three years and done some absolutely amazing things with our culture and the way that she specifically leads so cheryl welcome.

Cheryl Johnson: Thank you and happy Friday.

Traci Scherck: yeah happy Friday I love Fridays.

Traci Scherck: We get to take one hat off and put another hat on, but I think now so much of what we’re doing from working from home is that things are so blended so.

Traci Scherck: i’m so curious how have you set up a culture or your that performance is blended in with how individuals are showing up to work every day and their kids and their dogs and husbands and all the things.

Cheryl Johnson: So I think you know, since a pandemic started trying to figure out how to manage performance in a state where people are constantly distracted.

Cheryl Johnson: How do you uphold a certain degree of performance standards, while also recognizing that performance is going to be different.

Cheryl Johnson: And then, what is what is different that’s because of the distractions what’s different because it’s genuine non performance and.

Cheryl Johnson: How do you differentiate and it’s something that a lot say that you know i’ve certainly been talking to you know my team who’s responsible for HR and then responsible for working with leaders and helping.

Cheryl Johnson: Leaders managed through their departments about delineating those two factors, and so it really is about understanding that performance will be different people are distracted you need to define different performance standards.

Cheryl Johnson: That are not what they used to be, which used to be about.

Cheryl Johnson: You know I call it butts in seats, you know, like if I, if I can see, you and your butts in the seat, I know you’re there, and therefore it kind of think you must be performing when you can’t see people, and then you know they’re distracted.

Cheryl Johnson: You have to be a lot more crisp about what is the outcome, you need someone to deliver and then don’t micromanage the outcome that outcome if they get it at you know, two o’clock in the morning or.

Cheryl Johnson: As you know, 5am because that’s the few windows that they have time to get certain things done if the outcome is crisp and they’re achieving the outcome to to give grace to the how they’re going to get that outcome.

Cheryl Johnson: has been one of the big things that we’ve had tons of conversations about.

Cheryl Johnson: we’ve built leadership training, support it we’ve built manager like workshops and I am calm HR meetings in a box where it’s some guidelines to leaders on I kind of think about performance differently in such a crazy era.

Traci Scherck: yeah and I love the fact that you just talked.

Traci Scherck: about the distinction between outputs like a button a seat and the outcome of yours that thing that we want right that accountability of how much of what by went and right.

Cheryl Johnson: Yes, entirely.

Traci Scherck: And I love when we can break it down to that how much of what by when and it’s like I don’t care what you do it, or how you do it, but here’s what we’re looking for and it puts so much.

Traci Scherck: Emphasis in a way back on the manager to to clearly delineate what is it that we’re actually asking you to do.

Cheryl Johnson: yeah you know, we had it was back in early August, when it became more evident that schools weren’t going to be virtual a lot of schools right there was going to be a combination, I was fortunate my kids were in person instruction Thank goodness.

Cheryl Johnson: But many, many people had their kids virtually learning or hybrid learning, which really.

Cheryl Johnson: made their situation really challenging and so we came into August right okay.

Cheryl Johnson: We can’t just tell our employees figure it out, we know you’ve got your kid at school or your kid at home sitting next to you that you’re trying to help them with online instruction.

Cheryl Johnson: And you’re trying to work, what will happen is, we will have people accessing the workforce, because they will have to choose between educating their kids.

Cheryl Johnson: And working and that’s not a choice, people were making before they were making a choice of you know, working or being available during the day and it’s a very different decision making process, so we didn’t want people to.

Cheryl Johnson: unnecessarily exit the workforce, and we also didn’t want people to have burnout and.

Cheryl Johnson: All the things associated with that, so we asked our departments, can you think through working differently in a way that enables your employees to still perform and still.

Cheryl Johnson: handle all the different things that they have coming out of my favorite example was within our implementation team.

Cheryl Johnson: They the leader of that group she really worked with our team and said, can we actually break out the work.

Cheryl Johnson: That needs to be done, so the different pieces of the process, instead of saying you have to manage this process, from start to finish, and there’s no, you know you no.

Cheryl Johnson: exception within it it’s like break down the entire process and other parts of the process.

Cheryl Johnson: That are not time sensitive that can be done during the morning can be done by the morning can be done on Saturday that does not require interaction with another person, so can be done at any point in time.

Cheryl Johnson: And then what are parts of the process also that don’t require that in person interactions so someone might be able to have their screen off.

Cheryl Johnson: And you know the quickly handling the showing something to their kid and getting back to work, and then, what are the parts that are truly.

Cheryl Johnson: More in person intensive and they broke out those pieces of the work, and then they were able to go back to their teams and say Okay, who really needs an accommodation, right now, because your kids.

Cheryl Johnson: are young, or you have a elderly parent that you’re taking care of or whatever the circumstance was.

Cheryl Johnson: Who really needs an accommodation, where they need to be able to work whenever they can they need to be off screen, they need to not be talking to people and can we give those employees this work.

Cheryl Johnson: And so did that, so we gave the employees, this accommodations that here’s the work of carving it out, and then the rest of the employees who didn’t need those accommodations were able to handle the other pieces of.

Cheryl Johnson: The work process, so you know it certainly wasn’t how we would structure it if everything was perfect and there was no issues that you had accommodate for but looking at saying how do we.

Cheryl Johnson: do things differently so that we can retain people, we can give people reasonable performance expectations keep the business going.

Cheryl Johnson: And avoid burnout.

Traci Scherck: And I love that I love, how you pulled all the different pieces and right we’re going to avoid burnout because we’re going to engage your employees the way they need to work.

Traci Scherck: Both from that behavioral perspective of you know here’s what the job is here’s what you need as a person, how do we tie those things together now let’s layer on top this pandemic and working from home.

Traci Scherck: And kids and whatnot so that we’re showing you that we care about the whole person, because the whole person comes to work and we definitely see that so much more now.

Cheryl Johnson: Finally.

Traci Scherck: You know, one of the things that i’ve so loved about the.

Traci Scherck: pandemic is, we can see individuals for who they are and where they are in life right like I just got to meet Coco.

Traci Scherck: So, for those of you who aren’t seeing the video because you’re not Coco is cheryl’s dog and he’s.

Traci Scherck: super cute.

Traci Scherck: um you know, so we were able to see like you know the cats running across the screen, or you know the kiddos up on the lap and whatnot to really get that peek into someone’s life in a way that if.

Traci Scherck: approach this in a way that we’re bringing the whole person to work and we have to take care of that well being of the whole person they’re going to trust us as well, so I guess what are your thoughts on that.

Cheryl Johnson: yeah it’s interesting because I think back to before the pandemic and I used to talk about the fact that social media really broke down the barriers between.

Cheryl Johnson: Your work life, and your personal life it because a lot of leaders would have employees who want to follow them on Facebook.

Cheryl Johnson: And follow them on instagram, and so it was like this interesting blend where there was there was an advantage to being approachable there’s an advantage to letting your employees see you as a human being.

Cheryl Johnson: And I remember having this conversation with some more I would call them traditional leaders.

Cheryl Johnson: Who were brought up in the era of like no work in in you know work life and personal life are completely separate you don’t integrate the two.

Cheryl Johnson: And the reality is at that time, with just social media that wasn’t that wasn’t the case like you were actually missing out on creating better connections, if you weren’t using social media to connect with your employees and that was an argument, then now.

Cheryl Johnson: it’s even more amplified where there’s no choice you don’t have a choice but to be actually a human with your employees.

Cheryl Johnson: And I love that I think it is such a gift, if you look at the pandemic and say wow it really created a lot of disruption that was not positive and on the flip side, there were so many guests that came out of it.

Cheryl Johnson: I think the gift of proving that humanizing yourself to your team and your employees and your workforce can be extraordinarily valuable.

Cheryl Johnson: It makes you It makes you a person, and then it also humanizes the people you’re working with.

Cheryl Johnson: it’s much harder to be seeing your employees on the screen and seeing what’s going on in their background and not be thoughtful of the impact of your decisions on an employee.

Cheryl Johnson: Like you, just because they’re there, we see that we see their life behind them, so I I love the the humanizing approach of the blending.

Cheryl Johnson: And I also hope that that that’s just day that people start realizing that it’s actually a good thing for society like truly for society for.

Cheryl Johnson: For kids and family to be integrated into the things that you do on the flip side, it is hard to separate and yeah it is harder to separate out the.

Cheryl Johnson: kind of building those boundaries around making sure that your work doesn’t infuse itself too much into your personal life from just like you don’t want too much distraction from my personal life into your work.

Cheryl Johnson: Day answer your question, I think I went on a rant and i’m not even sure if I got to the.

Traci Scherck: You definitely did and that.

Traci Scherck: One is integration, but to its as leaders, knowing that that authenticity and sharing ourselves and really encouraging others to do the same allows us to build that trust in the workplace.

Traci Scherck: And as we create those teams, if I can trust you and know what’s going on i’m going to have more empathy if something crazy happens.

Traci Scherck: That you know hey we’re all going to kind of step up to the plate to do those things so that we can lead and get the business results that we need to be successful.

Traci Scherck: In if we don’t know what’s happening with that individual it’s really hard to have that empathy and to have that authenticity with that.

Cheryl Johnson: yeah when I when the pandemic first started I had never really worked from home like if I work from home, it was more just like I have a doctor’s appointment i’m to work from home for a couple hours before my appointment and they come in.

Cheryl Johnson: So I didn’t have a space.

Cheryl Johnson: In my house at the time to work, so I took over a corner of my bedroom and took my seven year old desk from his office and put it in like a quarter and.

Cheryl Johnson: And I was like in this little nugget and I felt like at the beginning it was really important for me to to demonstrate to our workforce that I am going through the same thing they’re going through.

Cheryl Johnson: And so I had my kids draw art all the times that are very good, I had a blank wall behind me, so I moved in the middle of the pandemic, but time.

Cheryl Johnson: At a blank wall behind me, so you couldn’t see anything so I the kids like draw art and every week I would change the artwork.

Cheryl Johnson: The draw artwork with the drawings that my kids would make and so that people knew like I have kids I have distraction, just like i’m just like you in that regard.

Cheryl Johnson: And then my kids would come in to the screen and I wouldn’t shut them off I wouldn’t push them away.

Cheryl Johnson: In my favorite example of like you kind of build that trust by showing people i’m going through what you’re going through so.

Cheryl Johnson: That means I get you, which means if I get you i’m significantly more likely to help influence decisions that are related to things you might be going through to.

Cheryl Johnson: That you like i’m in a same situation, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t you know disguise that I didn’t conceal that reality, because I think it was actually really useful to create connection and trust.

Cheryl Johnson: But I remember, I was hosting a webinar this is maybe two months into the pandemic, not knowing it was going to be what a year and a half.

Cheryl Johnson: Similar stuff at the time it was like this could end any day, but it was like two months and.

Cheryl Johnson: I hosted a webinar for our workforce that was on empathy and compassion and it was about how it was for our women our women’s E R D.

Cheryl Johnson: And it was about having empathy for each other.

Cheryl Johnson: That you’re working with people who have distractions that you don’t know what they are you don’t know if they’re they’re anxious because of covid they’re.

Cheryl Johnson: they’re anxious because their significant other lost their job, like you have no idea what people are dealing with.

Cheryl Johnson: So, having some empathy and extending grace to people under this is the conversation next thing I know my two youngest come running into the bedroom fighting.

Cheryl Johnson: Fighting screaming then they’re jumping on the bed and yelling and I can’t do anything about it, like I can’t because i’m on on screen there’s nobody around to be like get them out of here, so I was just like.

Cheryl Johnson: I like I don’t know what to do so this is kind of life and we we kind of just have to all accept that this is like, for now, and have some empathy and grace and it was.

Cheryl Johnson: It was actually perfect I got so many notes afterwards that people are like that was awesome it was so refreshing to know that that in your position you’re still dealing with the stuff we’re dealing with.

Cheryl Johnson: And it just made, I feel like it made me very relatable and then trustworthy in the sense like i’m going to help influence decisions that because I get what we’re all going through.

Traci Scherck: yeah I love it I love it and it’s so interesting how.

Traci Scherck: Three years ago, that would have never been seen as okay right oh my God, no.

Traci Scherck: Like.

Traci Scherck: I work out of a Co working space and three years ago, it was the day after school got out, and I was working from home and my boys were nine and 11 at the time, and my youngest my oldest hit my youngest over the head with a nerf gun, you know.

Cheryl Johnson: yeah yeah.

Traci Scherck: You know, and he crawls up on my lap and he’s like mom you know and i’m like looking in the screen and i’m on a sales call and i’m like i’m hang on a second he can you like you know go for a second just look straight in this screen and he goes.

Traci Scherck: mom you just love your work more than you love me and i’m like oh.

Traci Scherck: You know in this it’s like no that’s not at all what we want to do and how do we do, and both and at that point, there was no empathy or compassion for it.

Traci Scherck: And you know it’s one of those things that now I so love, so thank you for sharing that with your workforce.

Cheryl Johnson: yeah and it still happens so it’s still get share and.

Cheryl Johnson: And people you know I think we’re all in a much better place, but that goes back to a really hope that doesn’t change like I grew up going to my parents place of work.

Cheryl Johnson: And I remember, I met my and it was even thinking about now is completely.

Cheryl Johnson: crazy my dad was a pharmacy manager at a retail pharmacy store so think walgreens but it wasn’t.

Cheryl Johnson: Working and I would go sit in the in the pharmacy with them, but sit back there now, today, that would be like completely unacceptable and sure there’s 25 policies.

Cheryl Johnson: That say, nobody can be back they’re authorized, but the time I was able to go sit back there and hang out with them for an entire shift and I was able to help do inventory of the store and.

Cheryl Johnson: It was it was such a good way to bring your children and show them the the nature of work and we lose that when we don’t let that happen as part of work and so that’s where I kind of connected to like more of a societal thing, where I really hope that doesn’t change.

Traci Scherck: yeah absolutely you know for me there’s times, where i’m on board meeting calls on different boards that i’m on or whatnot and i’ll name hey you know i’ve got kids with me in the car during this period of time.

Traci Scherck: And once I hang up from that board meeting call or whatever it is, you know I have those conversations with my kids about what did you think of that and my oldest is mom, you have the most boring job ever I never want to do that.

Cheryl Johnson: i’ve heard that from my kids when they come in, like so you just talk to people all day.

Cheryl Johnson: yeah.

Traci Scherck: Absolutely.

Traci Scherck: You know, as we talk in kind of start to wrap up on performance leadership and accountability, one of the things that I absolutely love about.

Traci Scherck: A paylocity is how the accountability is built in with onboarding and orientating new employees and for the managers, with the checklists and whatnot and.

Traci Scherck: You know it’s one of those key things that I think, as you know, businesses are looking at how do we do this differently, how do we, you know shift to.

Traci Scherck: You know virtual orientation and onboarding and i’m just using that as an example because it’s it’s it’s an easy one, and i’ve been doing a lot of it with a boss, to me, these days.

Traci Scherck: So um you know it’s one of those things that you have to have a process and have these things written down and at the same time connecting authentically with trust is so important to bring those things along.

Cheryl Johnson: entirely yeah.

Traci Scherck: So i’m super curious, so we always close our podcast which with you know what’s one key takeaway that you have for executives and CEOs listening into our conversation today.

Cheryl Johnson: yeah I mean I think one of the key things is don’t lose the learnings that came from this pandemic.

Cheryl Johnson: So I truly believe that there was a reason that it had the last so long because had we only had to shift the way we were thinking and working with our employees for a couple months.

Cheryl Johnson: It would have been way too easy to just go back to the way we always did things and I think it has the last this long, so that these changes were somewhat.

Cheryl Johnson: ingrained and became more habitual as opposed to just a temporary thing.

Cheryl Johnson: Now, while I realized, a lot of companies are you know looking to like get back into the office as much as they can and get back on an airplane and and all that which is great like.

Cheryl Johnson: There has to be an integration of both like, how do you blend this ability to connect with your employees virtually.

Cheryl Johnson: And allow some flexibility, while still getting people back into a state where you need to do.

Cheryl Johnson: And I think you know, at paylocity, one of the things that we keep talking about is okay we’re gonna Let there be more flexibility and the way people work, we were already half remote and so you know it’s not.

Cheryl Johnson: You know weird for us to stay in a very remote setting, but we do, we do want people to come back a bit so we’re looking at saying okay well we’d like you to come back you know, a few days a week, but if you think about it.

Cheryl Johnson: it’s not like we’re going to dictate and say everybody’s in the office on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday it’s hey we might want you to come back three days a week, depending on your team and.

Cheryl Johnson: Who you work with it might be every other week well, that means there’s always going to be a hybrid situation there’s always be some people in the office, and some people on zoom.

Cheryl Johnson: So you have to learn how to foster this virtual connectivity with your employees.

Cheryl Johnson: and communicate with people on a virtual way otherwise you’re just going to you’re going to miss the people who are.

Cheryl Johnson: Virtual and you’re only going to get the people who are local so it helps you keep kind of this even playing feel by leveraging things like I will tell you like one of my favorite things to do to keep that even playing field is using surveys.

Traci Scherck: Because.

Cheryl Johnson: You can get everybody’s voice, whether you’re in office or you’re online you get everybody’s voice everybody gets to kind of contribute to.

Cheryl Johnson: The employee experience and how decisions are made, so I would say don’t lose the gift and what we could learn from this pandemic and change the way we work forever.

Traci Scherck: I love that I love that and I love that you talked about we’ve got to make sure that we use the hybrid option.

Traci Scherck: And you know it’s also looking at and saying for those individuals, how do they work, what is their natural behavioral styles, because some of them really need to be in the office and.

Traci Scherck: Then really need to be at home So how do we do both where we’re paying attention to what their natural behavioral styles are along with what the need of the job is and making it work.

Traci Scherck: Right so what’s one key takeaway that you have for HR professionals listening in today.

Cheryl Johnson: I think you know it’s be the voice.

Cheryl Johnson: Now, and I think that’s really important, and in this is something i’ve talked to other HR leaders about talk to my team about.

Cheryl Johnson: You know, historically, the HR function has thought to be seen as a strategic business partner, we want a seat at the table, we want to influence the business.

Cheryl Johnson: And we want to get away from being seen as that fluffy HR team that just plans, the company holiday party right now granted, we still have to plan the company holiday party, because as card someone has to do it.

Cheryl Johnson: We are the people, people, but like we fought so hard to get away from that perception of just being seen as the.

Cheryl Johnson: You know soft and fluffy and I think the pendulum shifted a little too far, when we became you know the enforcers and the compliance police and because we had to uphold the policies and standards, and so I always think of it as like kind of took the human out of hr.

Cheryl Johnson: Women are had to you know again to fight to be the voice the your seat at the table and the voice in the room.

Cheryl Johnson: Now we need to put the human back into our role and we need to be the voice, we need to be the one when the business leader says no we’re just gonna go back to the way things have always done.

Cheryl Johnson: We we it’s our time to be a little soft and fluffy for lack of a better phrase is like get back in there and talk about the human side of this.

Cheryl Johnson: And that’s actually what they need from us, but that is the unique thing we bring to the table is the humanistic perspective, and we need a humanistic perspective, now more than ever.

Cheryl Johnson: So be the voice don’t be afraid to be the voice don’t you know, look at and say how do we make sure that we’re consistent with everything because one size fits one one size does not fit all it’s our opportunity really push the human approach.

Traci Scherck: Thank you so much that’s such a great insight.

Traci Scherck: And if you’re looking to connect with cheryl.

Traci Scherck: Her linkedin profile will be in our show notes, along with links to paylocity and we can’t say enough about the Paleo city system and how much we love you know, integrating that into organizations, when we find that we have to work with process.

Traci Scherck: Before we can really get to the people piece, and so, with that cheryl Thank you so much for being with us today.

Cheryl Johnson: you’re welcome and happy Friday have a good weekend.

Traci Scherck: You too, thanks so much.