Human Resources plays a vital role in building and maintaining company culture. We talked with Kristen Rhoads, the people engagement manager at Aileron, a non-profit small business/entrepreneurial “boot camp” based in Dayton, Ohio, about her experience as an HR Leader. She shared her insight on overcoming challenges, employee retention, flexibility and how Aileron fosters a culture of growth with their employees.
How did you get into HR? What attracted you to the field?
I started in higher education, focusing on student development theory and service-learning. I loved thinking about how to connect students with purposeful work and it allowed me to be creative. Not only did I get to see my students grow and change through their experiences, I eventually realized that it doesn’t just apply to students – it applies to all people! I looked for more opportunities in areas like employee experience, recruiting, hiring, training and development, and culture. Working in people engagement gives me the opportunity to play in all my favorite sandboxes.
What is the mission of Aileron and what are some of the key ways HR helps to achieve this mission?
We believe there’s a better way to run a business, and by doing so we improve lives. A lot of our work is about developing conscious leaders, so we value and invest in systems that support people’s growth. Many of these systems live in HR. For example, right now we’re working on individual development plans at Aileron. We are using a system that enables people to develop through their work by setting a goal and matching it with a level of support that’s situational, or specific to their needs. We are also working on being transparent with our pay structure. We want people to understand our compensation philosophy and decision-making process and feel empowered to discuss pay when it’s on their minds. Other HR functions help us achieve our mission, too. For the past year we worked on our hiring and onboarding systems, allowing us to attract team members who share our values and introduce them to our culture in meaningful ways.
How would you describe the internal culture of Aileron?
Our culture makes me think of the quote, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture is a powerful thing! It’s the way we do things around Aileron, and it’s how our values and beliefs come to life. We value progress over perfection, and you see it play out in our culture because we have systems for experimenting and innovating, and we celebrate progress no matter how small. We value being a WE community, so we develop systems and processes, showing how all the work connects. We work on our behaviors, rituals, and habits, asking questions like: “How are we living our values? How AREN’T we living our values?” Working on culture is an ongoing and super fun journey.
What is the biggest challenge you face in finding and hiring new team members?
We are growing at Aileron, so this topic comes up a lot. I think fear is a big challenge. We worry about so much – figuring out what the job is, finding the right person for the job, getting to the right compensation level, keeping them engaged during onboarding – the list goes on and on. What if we screw it up?! Sometimes our own thoughts hold us back and that’s when it’s valuable to have a team because working together, we can ask empowering questions and bring awareness to our fears. When the awareness is there, we can usually get unstuck and move forward in the hiring process.
Do you offer your employees any kind of flexibility, such as working remotely, or staggering their schedules? Why or why not?
Yes! Trust is an important part of striving to be a WE community. Flexibility comes easier in trusting environments. At Aileron, the flexibility is different depending on the work. If your work can be done remotely (using your computer, phone, or video conference), we have the resources to support that. We also have clients on-site at Aileron every day, Monday-Friday so if the work requires you to be on-site, we trust you to set a schedule that makes sense, striving for win-win-win: for you, our clients, and the whole organization.
Flexibility is important because we value the whole person which includes more than just work. Things like family, health, spirituality, faith, community, are all important factors that help us value a person in a holistic way.
What considerations do you think are most important for employees in taking a job with a particular company today?
I think self-awareness is an important piece of the puzzle. You can ask yourself powerful questions and have good listeners ask you the same questions. What are my values? What other jobs have brought me joy? How could I live my purpose through my work? If you can build that foundation, first, it becomes easier to spot companies that will be a fit for you. Flexibility and benefits are perks; truly caring about your work is the most important consideration.
What are the biggest challenges in retaining employees and keeping them engaged?
Some challenges include creating systems that foster growth, changing work, celebrating progress, and making sure people can connect their work with the big picture. Engagement doesn’t happen because of annual performance reviews or company happy hours. Engagement happens when people know what they do makes a difference in the grand scheme of things.
Sometimes creating the culture you want for your company means people leave. That’s not always a bad thing! Not everybody will like what you’re building, and parting ways could be the right thing for both of you.
I think we can ask ourselves better questions about retention and engagement. Questions like: Do our people believe in our mission? Share our values? Do we have systems to support people’s growth? Do our people understand how their individual work drives our mission?
How do you see technology and the changing world of work affecting HR’s methods and goals?
I think technology and the changing world of work gives us more possibilities. We have an opportunity to explore what we hope will be different or what we hope to achieve and why. Technology and different ways to work provide methods that will help us get there.