e033. People Data with Trav Walkowski

Trav Walkowski (he/him) is the Board Chair of Employmetrics. Employmetrics is a global People Operations Consultancy offering embedded and project-based services. They design strategies informed by people analytics and Put Data to Work. Employmetrics employs 300+ globally.

#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with Trav Walkowski

e033. People Data with Trav Walkowski

[00:00:48] Amy: Welcome back to Including You. I’m your host, Amy C. Waninger. My guest today is Trav Walkowski. He’s the board chair of Employmetrics. Employmetrics is a global people operations consultancy, offering embedded and project-based services. They design strategies informed by people, and analytics, and put data to work.

[00:01:07] Amy: Employmetrics employs 300 or more people globally. Trav, welcome to the show.

[00:01:13] Trav: Amy. Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

[00:01:15] Amy: I’m excited to have you and I’m excited to learn why a company like Employ Metrics, that’s a consultancy is so committed to building an inclusive workplace.

[00:01:26] Trav: I think you have to bake inclusion into everything.

[00:01:30] Trav: If you wanna succeed, we’re working with clients of all different sizes and in tons of different industries, and if we don’t have any representation of people come from those industries or have those backgrounds, then how are we gonna be able to do anything for them if that’s useful?

[00:01:47] Trav: And so by, by keeping things as varied as possible on our side, we can mitigate any issues we have on their, on the client side. And inclusion is super important because I think a lot of companies think of, D&I, of course that’s the buzz thing these days. And they think of that as being metrics.

[00:02:06] Trav: Do we have X number of women or X number of this race or this race. But if those people aren’t actually able to belong and come as their authentic, true selves, then what good is it? You’re not doing anything. You’re forcing people to wear a mask all day outside of the covid part of that. Then, just like, why?

[00:02:28] Trav: So we use DEIBA, which a friend coined that’s diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and accessibility. And if you don’t cover all five of those prongs, you’re missing out.

[00:02:42] Amy: Absolutely. And it’s interesting to me that you started with diversity of industry background

[00:02:49] Amy: As a starting point for where diversity begins in your consultancy, because I do think that’s an important component and when I’m teaching about networking and how people can build a broad network, I start with industry as the first dimension of diversity that people need to look at.

[00:03:05] Amy: Because a lot of times we get very siloed in our careers. We don’t look outside of our own industry, and we forget that other people are problem-solving in different ways. But you brought up a lot of good points around, really bringing our whole selves to work and celebrating and recognizing the value of each person and their lived experience and all of the ways that people can contribute.

[00:03:25] Amy: How are you putting that into practice at Employmetrics?

[00:03:30] Trav: Unfortunately, I don’t think we have anything in writing about it. Our playbook certainly speaks to welcoming people as authentic people. Fostering psychological safety. But I think how we do it is really just how we operate.

[00:03:44] Trav: We operate as friends. Work meetings- they have agendas and things, but we’re just hanging out with our buddies because it’s, you we’re a group of people that have grown together and I think we’ve come together organically, but it almost. In that, it’s so perfect , which is very weird.

[00:04:03] Trav: But I think we’ve got so many different people at the table that I hope nobody feels othered. And I think if we start with that as a baseline, then we should be good, at least almost all the way there, if not all the way there. And I think we’ve accidentally succeeded at that.

[00:04:23] Trav: It was certainly more intentional and prescribed originally, but it doesn’t have to be anymore. It just happens. We’ve made sure that, for example, in hiring processes, there are no implicit biases and we are never looking at any kind of demographic characteristics. Early days we did have to look at those things and make sure that we weren’t doing things poorly.

[00:04:45] Trav: Now it’s just baked into what we do, and it’s not something we have to worry about.

[00:04:49] Amy: So let’s talk about that, getting the biases out of hiring, because that’s a place where a lot of people struggle. A lot of companies struggle. Especially smaller companies, companies under thousands of people will struggle with their hiring practices because so many hiring managers will interview people and say that’s somebody that, I’d like to spend time with.

[00:05:09] Amy: That’s somebody I’d love to get a beer with, the beer test factors into hiring. So as a small-ish company, how have you guarded against that? What sorts of protocols or best practices have you put in place to make sure that the hiring process is, really seeks to get the best people for the job?

[00:05:30] Amy: Not necessarily a group of friends as you put it.

[00:05:34] Trav: Yeah. So when we’re doing the very first strong pass and looking at resumes everything is redacted. So there is only one person that ever sees a full resume. Everyone else just sees the experience. They’re not seeing names, locations, area codes, zip codes, anything like that.

[00:05:48] Trav: And then when we get into the deeper parts of the interview, there is the beer test. But if someone says, that’s not somebody I would want to have a beer with, why? Let’s talk about why and make sure it’s not something is some sort of demographic characteristic or anything that’s just, if it makes the hairs in the back of your neck stand up, it’s a problem.

[00:06:09] Trav: And luckily again, we don’t have that problem, but I think a lot of companies do. I don’t know of an operational way to solve that other than constantly figuring out what’s the root cause and asking why. A lot of times I feel like a toddler. Cuz all I say is why? Tell me more.

[00:06:28] Trav: Wh?. But that’s how you get to the root of things and figuring out where people are hesitant towards somebody will uncover everything you know. Is it that they don’t have the experience we need? Okay, that’s totally valid. Let’s move on. Is it because they’re a man? Let’s not regard that, I think that doesn’t matter.

[00:06:48] Trav: So take that off the list. And now what do you think? So just constantly asking why you’re digging deeper, solves for it u until there’s a much more operationalized method. That’s what we’ve got for now.

[00:07:02] Amy: So how do you know it’s working? Are you tracking metrics internally of representation at various levels?

[00:07:08] Amy: Are you doing any sort of inclusion assessments? How do you know that you’re getting the results that you-

[00:07:13] Trav: Yes, we do track everything. We’re actually one of the founding members of Open Imperative, which is an initiative through Open Comp that, seeks to close the pay gap between genders.

[00:07:24] Trav: And we actually have the opposite issue of most companies, and that we have very few men. We are, we were founded by women and we’ve got the vast majority of people at the company are women, so we do have to pay a little bit of attention to trying to find, nonwomen occasionally just to make sure that everything is appropriate.

[00:07:46] Trav: Totally just lost with the question. Oh, metrics. But yeah, so yeah, we track everything at a high level. We don’t report out except for the audits that we have to, for example, for that open imperative. But we closely watch everything internally and make sure that things are looking appropriate.

[00:08:00] Trav: Of course, like I said, we’ve got a massively high percentage of women, so that on face value might look like we’re discriminating against men. We’re not, it’s just, you know what we have.

[00:08:13] Amy: Yeah. And sometimes I think when we have a company, especially, a company that’s founded by women or a company that’s founded by ethnic minorities or other underrepresented groups.

[00:08:22] Amy: They tend to attract employees who feel like they’ll have a fair shot there where they wouldn’t other places necessarily. Cause we see the metrics everywhere else, of, of how those things show up. I wanted to go back to this notion of data analytics or people analytics, because that’s what you all do-

[00:08:38] Amy: Do you apply those same principles to your own company? Is that- are you your first client? I guess, is the question.

[00:08:46] Trav: Yes, absolutely. When we’re writing any sort of chapter of the playbook, we test it internally first. And people analytics, kind of popping up once again as the trend, which is awesome.

[00:08:57] Trav: We, we love that. And a lot of people don’t really understand what that means, and that means that just anything you can measure about people. So age, salary, demographics, tenure, literally anything. However, just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should, and doesn’t mean it’s a valuable thing too.

[00:09:20] Trav: So that’s one of those things that we really practice internally first. Hey, we’re thinking about, let’s measure this and see, if we have any really great insights that come from that, we’ll use ourselves as the alpha test and say, “Okay, does this hold water?” And if it does, all right, let’s do a pilot group and we’ll roll it out.

[00:09:38] Trav: And then if it actually does get validated, that’s when it’ll hit the playbook and actually get rolled out to all the. But yeah, everything starts at home.

[00:09:48] Amy: I think it’s so important to have that data and find out what’s, what matters, what’s predictive, what’s instructive, what’s valuable, and you never know if you don’t collect it, whether it’s valuable or not.

[00:10:00] Amy: Of course, you have to be careful what you collect and how you collect it and how you store it, and how you share it. Those things are always important, especially when we’re talking about people’s data. But, finding those nuggets of insight in a vast amount of data can be really useful and can really give you a competitive advantage, not just with your clients, but also internally as you’re competing for talent.

[00:10:24] Amy: Do you have any examples of how you’ve leveraged the people analytics or the people data, in that way?

[00:10:32] Trav: Yeah, there’s a million coming to mind. I don’t know which one to pick. Let me go on the topic of surveys, a lot of companies run surveys and so what, what used to be the standard as the annual survey, and now the market has looped to this continuing listening model where they’re doing these micro surveys, a message question here or there through Slack.

[00:10:50] Trav: The question that, or the thing that people like to build into surveys that I always have to fight really hard against is asking questions that won’t matter the regard- no matter the answer. So for example, if you’re going to ask people, “Should we allow employees to bring alligators to the office?” Even if a hundred percent of people say yes, is anybody gonna bring an alligator to the office?

[00:11:16] Trav: No. And if they do, then you’ve got a massive liability problem. Let’s not go there. So don’t ask the question if it’s not something you’re gonna change, don’t ask it. Because asking it makes it seem like it’s on the table for discussion. And so that’s, I think the first place to start is when you’re, before you’re even collecting the data, look at those things that you’re collecting data on and making sure that they are appropriate, measurable, and actionable.

[00:11:48] Amy: Yeah, I’m a big proponent of we don’t ask questions we don’t want the answers to, and we don’t give people an opinion if we’re gonna tell them what we want them to think. And if you ask somebody, and one of the perfect examples of that, I think right now is this notion of return to office.

[00:12:05] Amy: Stay hybrid or stay remote. A lot of companies are doing surveys around that because they’re hoping for data that supports the decision they’re already planning to make. And what they’re finding is the data does not support the decision they’re already planning to make. And now they’ve got a PR nightmare because they’ve asked people, “Do you wanna come back?”

[00:12:24] Amy: And everybody’s saying, “No, we do not.” And they’re like “Your desk will be here on Monday and we expect you in it.” And that’s the worst-case scenario of surveying employees, on something that you could act on and then not doing it. So your point’s very well taken that, you if they don’t wanna be in the office, don’t ask them if they wanna be in the office.

[00:12:42] Amy: If you tell them, that’s one thing. If they can’t bring an alligator to the office, don’t ask ’em if they want to because that’s not gonna happen. And also, making things opinion-based or making it feel like a vote. When it’s a policy decision that has real legal, ethical, or liability ramifications, again, is a really bad idea.

[00:13:00] Amy: Should we, should we have pay equity? Yes, of course, you should. That shouldn’t be put to a vote among your employees, that’s the right thing to do. That’s the legal thing to do. That’s the appropriate thing to do. And so if we left it to everyone’s opinion, then we would be in a whole lot of trouble.

[00:13:16] Amy: So Trav, as you think about, what’s next for Employmetrics in terms of the culture, I know you said that they’re, you’re at a place where things are the culture’s kind of taking care of itself. What do you see as the next elevation in this DEIBA journey that you’re on?

[00:13:32] Trav: So we’re constantly trying to keep a pulse on what’s happening. If we could have a crystal ball, that would be amazing. Unfortunately, we don’t have one yet. But that’s really what we need. And so, by constantly listening to clients, to the media, to what posts are trending on that sidebar on LinkedIn, that tells us where things are going and what we need to think about proactively.

[00:13:54] Trav: We always want to be proactive rather than reactive. And I think what’s on the horizon? Something that we tackled very early on, and that’s the- the cognitive diversity elements for lack of a better term. So for example, are you bringing in all extroverts? That could be a problem.

[00:14:15] Trav: Are your- is your culture inherently biased against someone on the autism spectrum? Is your culture clearly towards, biased towards, doing in-person events where you’re all standing around a pub table where someone in a wheelchair wouldn’t be able to participate? Those are all things that you’re really not gonna notice until they happen, until it’s a problem.

[00:14:42] Trav: But if you think about it ahead of time, then you can plan for it and steer the culture in a way that makes sense. So I think that’s where we’re at right now. We’re trying to figure out how to determine how to assess if a culture is really available to people who are neurodivergent or not.

[00:15:00] Trav: We haven’t figured that out yet. It’s still, we’re still tinkering with it. But I think it’ll be really exciting when we get there.

[00:15:06] Amy: Yeah, that’s an important component. And there are so many people who have visible and non-visible disabilities. Roughly one in four people in the United States alone are living with a disability.

[00:15:18] Amy: And as we see more and more people with, grappling with the impacts of long-term COVID. We’re going to see more and more people in that category of having a disability. As our population continues to age, we’re going to see more and more people of working age, even, age into disability, if you will.

[00:15:33] Amy: And so I think this notion of, there’s this whole workforce that’s hidden, that we’re not tapped into because we don’t have the right processes, procedures, culture. Expectations or accommodations in place to make sure that we’re finding them, inviting them in, making them feel welcome. And in a lot of cases, people have disabilities and don’t self-identify as having disabilities either because there’s a stigma associated with that disclosure or because they themselves don’t recognize their disability as a disability. I wear glasses. Technically that’s an accommodation.

[00:16:10] Amy: People who have, to your point Neurodivergence, ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety, social anxiety. These are all things that can prevent people from participating fully at work or from being fully accepted at work. When we go back to the interview and you say I’m not comfortable with that person,

[00:16:27] Amy: I don’t like them. I don’t, I couldn’t connect. It might be because the person isn’t good for the job, but it might be they’re on the spectrum or they have attention deficit disorder, or they have some social anxiety that’s showing up in that situation. So there’s so much that can keep people with neurological differences or even disabilities out of the workforce, even without recognizing it.

[00:16:49] Amy: So I think this is gonna be a wonderful problem to solve, not just for Employmetrics, but for your clients and for the world. So Trav, thank you so much for being part of the show. Thank you for joining. And thank you for sharing some of the amazing things that you’re doing in Employmetrics to improve the culture and make the world a better place for your clients.

[00:17:07] Amy: I appreciate it.

[00:17:08] Trav: Thanks so much for having me. This was a really fun time, really flew by. I could talk for hours on it. If anyone wants to chat more, let me know.

[00:17:16] Amy: Thank you. I’ll make sure and put all the links in the show notes to you and your company on LinkedIn, Twitter, and the company website so everybody can get to you there.

[00:17:24] Amy: And Trav, thank you again. Thank you.

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Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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