Have you ever struggled to keep your team thriving, connected, and engaged instead of burned out and looking for another job? We were thrilled to have Kate Mewes as our keynote speaker at Connections 2023. Kate is the head of people at Saalt - a woman owned company voted one of the Best Places to Work in Idaho, which is an amazing accomplishment. She's here today to share her insights on using appreciation to cultivate a high performance culture.
With a firm belief that people are the secret sauce behind business successes. Kate's specialty lies in maximizing team talent through value aligned recruitment and leaning into team member strengths while making them feel exceptionally valued and supported.
Everybody can hear me? Okay. Perfect. First of all, thank you, Tressa. I cannot be the only one in the room that's incredibly impressed by this event, so let's give the entire SOLV team a big round of applause. I've done some event planning in the past, big, big conferences, and this is not an easy job. And the cool thing about it's that once they finish today, they start tomorrow and next year's event. So, <laugh>, very exciting. So thank you guys for having me. I'm really, really excited about being here.
Okay, so I'm gonna have a couple of slides up on the screen today. No pictures to be taken, probably of my slides because they're just a couple of quotes, which is kind of funny because I never quote quotes because I literally can never remember quotes. So I'm know I'm not the only one in the room, but my husband can remember every movie quote, not me.
I want to kick things off by sharing a couple of stories. I like to share stories because they tend to light people up, especially ones that are about recognition. And so why not start today off getting everybody excited and happy to be here?
The first story happened in 2021. It was on my birthday and I walked into the office at Saalt and noticed that there were some decorations at my desk, which isn't unusual at Saalt, but the decorations are a little more elaborate than they typically would be on a birthday.
So I walk up and I realize that the decorations are actually made by the kids from our in-house preschool, which may have brought me to tears at the time, <laugh>.
Once I sat down at my desk, I recognized that there was a little miniature pinata sitting on the shelf next to me. And as I grabbed the pinata, I realized that within the pinata were messages from my team telling me about all the great things about me and how much they value me, and how much they value me at Saalt.
So, as you can tell on my birthday that day, I remembered that thing forever, and I will remember that moment forever. I actually still have the pinata and I still have the things from the preschool. So that is a moment that somebody went above and beyond for me on my birthday that I will remember forever, and I felt obviously recognized in that moment.
The second story I will share is about our mailman, Rich. He's no longer a mailman, sadly. But he started being our mailman about four years ago. And if you're not familiar with Saalt, we are an e-commerce business that obviously ships things and we ship things out of a commercial business area. So it's an area that you're typically not gonna see a lot of packages coming out of. Our first office was really small, so Rich, the mailman didn't expect a lot of packages, but as Saalt began to grow, obviously our package amount began to grow as well.
And no one communicated to Rich that he was gonna be grabbing more packages from our office. So he was a little bit frustrated.
Fast forward about a year, we moved into a new office, and again, we continued to grow. And I sat next to the mail cart where Rich picked up the mail. And I would just say hi to Rich. I would ask him how his day was going. I got to learn more about him. He met my son, he also met my daughter eventually. I learned about his family. I learned he was a retired Air Force veteran, and I learned just all about him as a person.
And I wasn't told until probably a year after I joined that Rich used to be not very happy with Saalt <laugh>.
And I thought the really, really cool thing was that just the simple fact that I started saying hi and showed interest in Rich and was excited to see him each day after he actually stopped our route. He came by and visited, and he was so excited to come visit and say hi.
This is a great example, that recognition doesn't have to be big. It doesn't have to be like, confetti and balloons everywhere. It can be a simple hi and just noticing somebody.
So today's topic is simple, but it is not easy. Recognition is an ongoing effort that takes time, thoughtfulness, and energy. So to start, I'm gonna ask the crowd, what do you think of when you think of recognition? What are the words that come to mind when the word recognition pops up?
And I will, as, as I just said earlier, I will volunteer people if I have to.
Thank you. Thank you everybody for sharing. I'm actually gonna read the definition of recognition:
So I think one of the things that's really important to call out is that when we think of recognition, typically we think about celebration, right? But really recognizing or recognition goes beyond that.
I equate this to like a parent figure in your life, right? They're your number one hype man. They're your number one cheerleader, but at the same time, they know when you need to be held accountable, and they know when you're ready for the next step and when you might need some tough love.
So now I'm gonna hop into some of those principles and practices I talked about that hopefully will allow you to have recognition be a big part of your culture.
One of the things we do at Saalt that I think is really, really important is really seeing people as people and not "just employees". One of the things that I always encourage is frequently checking in with your team members personally and professionally.
So professionally, sit down and talk to with them about their goals. Sit down and talk with them about their growth opportunities and where they see those. You know, ask them that question, where do you see yourself in five years?
When you ask your team these questions, they're excited to talk to you, they want to grow and they want to be happy at your company. And allowing them to grow and allowing them to set that plan really allows them some ownership in that and really gets them excited to be there. We talk about this a lot, and I've actually been talking to Tressa about a lot. One of the things that we talk about at Saalt is if we can get people in the quadrant of like the spot where they love what they do, and it's something that they're also really good at, how much value that would add to an entire team, right?If we can all be in that quadrant of that where you love what you do and, and you're really good at it, your team would be amazing, right? You can do that by really leaning into them and getting to know their strengths. - Kate Mewes Click To Tweet
And then on the flip side, not the flip side really, but on the other side is the personal side, right? I know that sometimes we sit down in our one-on-ones, we sit down in conversations and it's easy to snap straight into work, right? Go into a work session, start talking about projects.
But one of the things I always encourage people to do at the beginning of one-on-ones is just ask the person, how are you doing? Is there anything that I can help support you with? Right? Because people are people outside of work hours, they have life happening outside, and life as much as we don't want to admit it carries over to work, right?
So check in with your people and continue to follow up personally and professionally. I think the worst thing that you can do is you can set these these check-ins and you can ask people how they're doing, but if you don't continue to follow up, they think that you forgot and they think that you don't care.
One of the things that I always love to talk about is people's love language, right? We actually just conducted what's called engagement interviews. And within our engagement interview, we actually have asked, how do you like to be recognized?
A simple question, right? And this is just something that you can sit down and ask. You don't have to do an engagement interview, but you can ask a team member, how do you like to be recognized? It's a simple question, but one that is so personal because not everybody wants to be called out in front of the team, right?
That's somebody's worst nightmare. We've actually had that answer on our engagement interviews of like, do not in any way, shape or form call me out in front of the team.
And so <laugh>, find that place whether it be a note, I told my manager that I like facials, so I'm expecting lots of those in the coming months. <Laugh>, okay? It's very important to ask, and tailor recognition to your team. I have team members here that are probably gonna nudge my manager to be like, get Kate some things. Yeah, <laugh>, please.
So it's really important to tailor recognition to each person. And I know that takes time and a lot of the things I'm gonna talk about take time and energy and effort, but it pays off so, so much and we see that at Saalt.
The other thing that I always recommend with as far as recognition goes is ensuring that it's authentic. And as I was working through this presentation, I actually found a quote that was super helpful. It was a study by Gallup that found that:
Strongly agree, authenticity is massive and authenticity starts at day one, right? You can't sit in on your first conversation with your manager with the manager just kind of like checking their phone, checking their laptop. Like, nothing makes you feel crappier than that, right? So make sure you are authentic from the very beginning. Give your full attention when it's needed, show interest, and you're gonna get tired of hearing me say this: Follow up, continue to follow up on things that your team members say.
The last practice and principle that I'm gonna talk about is feedback. And I'm gonna spend a little extra time on feedback because it's a really important part of a culture of recognition. People like to know if they're doing a good job, how they're doing a good job, or if they're not doing a good job.
As I was thinking through this, I realized that feedback is kind of like hitting your crush in grade school. Why did we hit our crush in grade school? Because we liked them, right? I might've hit a, you know, a little boy or two. I didn't get in trouble for it though.
And so feedback is one of those things that is just really important.
So important to remember that there's two forms of feedback, right? There's positive feedback and there's, you know, opportunities for growth feedback.
So positive feedback instead of saying great work, again, make sure it's specific and make sure people know why they're doing a good job. And same with that kind of growth opportunity. Be specific with it and give them examples of what they did that wasn't in what that was, you know, needed some help and you know, how they can improve.
So one of the things that I think you can really utilize or lean into as far as feedback goes is really having open lines of communication. So this will provide a great foundation for feedback to flow both ways. And one of the ways that I encourage people to do this is to share examples of where feedback has benefited or not benefited the company, right?
So give an example within the company that maybe somebody provided feedback early in the process and it changed the course of a project and show them how successful that was. And then on the flip side, talk about a time maybe where somebody didn't speak up and somebody didn't share feedback and it hurt a project or a program. It’s really, really important for you to share those examples from your company so that people know what that looks like at your company.
The other thing that you wanna remember with feedback is make sure you're providing it in the moment or as quickly after as possible. Take the person aside and chat with them about it. Because timing really is very, very valuable as feedback.
Another practice we like to lean into at Saalt is called the Four A’s. Is anybody familiar with the Netflix culture?
Have you read No Rules Rules? Highly recommend doing it. It's a great book. Netflix culture, if you haven't heard it's an insanely different, but insanely just cool culture. And I highly recommend reading that book. No Rules Rules. There's also a book called Work Rules that's on Netflix as well. That's a tangent <laugh>.
So Within No Rules Rules, they talk about the Four A's of feedback, and it's a great way to craft your feedback so that it's meaningful. I won't dive into the definitions of the different steps here, but I will list off the steps. So aim to assist, make it actionable, show appreciation, discard or accept.
It's really important to craft feedback in that manner so that it can be meaningful and so that people can take actionable items away with from it. What it comes down to with feedback is, like I said, people really wanna know how they're doing a great job if they can continue that same direction or if they need to improve some things, what direction that is.
Now I'm gonna transition into talking about one of the things I love talking about, and that's Saalt. And what what recognition looks like at Saalt.
One of our core values at Saalt is being invested in people. And obviously recognition plays a large part in that we try really hard to recognize people with celebration, support and everything in between.
I'm gonna talk about our recognition in two different buckets. So the first bucket being kind of those simple pieces that you can really input into your team that don't take a lot of work, but they have a big impact. And then the second bucket I'm gonna talk about is some deeper things like those engagement interviews. They'll take a little bit more time and energy, but will be incredibly impactful in your team.
One of the things that we do at Saalt is we really try and lean into our technology. Probably a few of you in here know what Slack is, and you can really utilize Slack for recognition. And if you aren't familiar with Slack, it's a like public communication tool essentially for teams.
So we have a channel on our Slack that is called Go Team. And the cool thing about Go Team is that it is a peer-to-peer recognition. So on a day-to-day basis, people shout each other out on the Go Team channel.
"So and so did a great job at this presentation." So it's really cool because a lot of times that peer-to-peer feedback has a lot more of an impact than feedback from your manager. It makes a big, big difference. And on that Go Team channel, I mean, it can range anywhere from 30 to 50 Go Team shout outs a month.
And the cool thing about the Go Team channel is that if you land on that each month your name goes on a wheel at our all hands meeting we spin the wheel. And if you get landed on, you get a gift card.
And then the other channel that we utilize on Slack is our Celebrate channel, which is pretty self-explanatory, but we do birthdays, anniversaries, big team wins, anything that's like a big win we celebrate on the Celebrate channel. So again, just a good way to call things out on the team, those wins. We also have a huddle every Monday morning, and we celebrate wins in our huddle every single Monday morning.
The other thing that we do at our All Hands meetings is we have core value awards. As I mentioned earlier, our core values are a big part of who we are and what we do. They really drive our business decisions on a day-to-day basis. So when someone exemplifies a core value at Saalt, we call it out. Again, it's a peer-to-peer thing, the peers nominate peers for a core value award. And whenever somebody exemplifies a core value, they submit a nomination, they're anonymous at the time. I go through the nominations each month and then we award two people those core value awards each month.
And the thing I think is cool, the person that nominated you comes up and they actually read the nomination. So it's just a really, really cool way to connect people, tighten those bonds and just get people excited to continue to lean into those core values and continue to call each other out. Not everybody likes to read it, but we kind of make 'em so they have to deal with it.
Okay, so then the other thing that I'll talk about like briefly because I talked about feedback, feedback is a big thing at Saalt. We ask for it from everybody for everything. If I'm not on the marketing team, I will still provide feedback to the marketing team whether they like it or not. <Laugh>, and people listen, right? I think we try to have a relatively flat organization as far as feedback goes. Feedback from an intern is just as important as feedback from our CEO, and we truly live that on a day-to-day basis.
The other thing this might be a personal thing because I love just celebrating people in general, but we're big into birthdays and anniversaries and all the other celebrations. So birthdays as many people as we can sign a birthday card. We also buy the person's favorite dessert on their birthday and sing them Happy birthday. And they get some funds for buying a birthday gift. And then I also shout them out on our go or our Celebrate channel. And I make personalized posts every single time for every single birthday. I batch 'em at the beginning of the month so that I don't drive myself crazy all month, but highly recommend calling your teams out that way.
And then anniversary, same thing. So on your anniversary you actually get a card on your desk from your manager with a note for thank you for being there. You get some funds for buying a gift, and then you also get a shout out on our Celebrate channel. Then also there's other things obviously that we like to celebrate in people's lives. Weddings, babies, houses, right? So we throw bridal showers, we throw groom showers, we throw baby showers. All surprises typically, even though the person probably come knows it's coming. But we do a great job of just celebrating people because truly, the more that we can celebrate people, the more excited they are and the more recognized they are gonna feel on your team.
And then, like I said earlier, recognition isn't just about the celebrations, right?
There are things that people go through that they need support into. I cannot tell you how many groceries I have sent to people. I think almost everyone on the Saalt team has had an Instacart delivery, whether that be for Covid, maybe another struggle within the family, anytime that we can support them, food really tends to try and bring people comfort, but it also takes some stress off of people as well. So I highly recommend getting an Instacart membership and utilizing that as much as possible.
And then recognition really starts from day one, right? So one of the things that I, that's like a mantra of mine at Saalt: I want everybody to have the best first day they have ever had. And the news is in: most of the time, that's true.
So one of the things that we really try and do is we make sure that their desk is set up for them. I can't tell you how many times I've had somebody say, at my last job, I had to set up my own computer and I go, oh, no. So set people up for success, right?
Okay. So the second kind of bucket that I mentioned I was gonna talk about is kind of those deeper and maybe higher investment as far as energy and time goes. One of those things I talked about is our engagement interviews. We actually just did our first set, I think some of them are still being finished up right now.
But within those engagement areas, we ask about 10 to 15 questions depending on the person. Everything from, what do you like about your job, what do you like about Saalt, to how do you like to be recognized to, you know, is there a different role here at Saalt that interests you? And really having those conversations and opening those conversations that you might not typically have. It makes the time and the space for the manager to ask those questions and for the team member to answer those without pressure to do anything else.
One of the things I will say is that my, one of my goals that I will have for next quarter is to really dive into those, take action items and like I've said before, follow up with managers and make sure they're acting upon those things that they learn within those engagement interviews. (They're also called "stay interviews", but we thought engagement sounded a little bit friendlier.) <Laugh>
Next thing I would say, and that I've talked about a lot, is just really leaning into strengths. So once you learn about those strengths within your interactions with people, lean into those because that really is a win-win for the team member as well as for the company. I touched on this a little bit already, but really recognizing that people are people and that they have things going on outside. So you know, life happens, support people through those things.
We also provide a really flexible schedule. I know this seems like maybe not related to recognition, but in my mind it is recognizing that not everybody works well on a nine to five, right? That schedule's not going to work for everybody, and that's okay. What we say at Saalt is, come in, get your job done, get your job done well, make sure your team is supported, make sure you're showing up for meetings. And other than that, we don't care when or where you work. And I think that, like I said, really recognizes that like maybe somebody doesn't work as well nine to five as they do like 6:00 PM to two p 2:00 AM right? People like to work at different times. So really recognizing that flexibility is important.
There's a lot of autonomy in roles at Saalt. And this takes a lot of trust, which I know is sometimes hard within organizations. But if you can trust people, give them autonomy in their roles, that's recognizing that they have the skills and the capabilities to do their job and they can kind of be the subject matter experts, right?
If everyone's a subject matter expert in their role and they're doing their job really well, and they're trusted in that, you're recognizing that you know they're skilled and talented and they can carry out all their work tasks.
On top of that, we also provide a lot of opportunity for people to grow in different projects. I was talking with Tressa earlier about what my background is. It's not in HR, it's not in people, right? But when I was hired, Saalt saw that I had that capability to do that. And every single thing that I've done in HR has been completely new to me. And the cool part is that my confidence level in my abilities has never been higher because I've been given these big projects. I've been entrusted to do these projects by my company and by my team.
And then the last one that I'll talk about is professional assessments. So things like Strengths Finders, Myers-Briggs. I know that there's a little bit of a financial investment with this and time investment, but I highly recommend doing it. The more that you can dive into these and pinpoint what makes people different, the more you can lean into those differences. And again, make sure you're following up with them. Do workshops with your team and just make sure you're utilizing those as much as possible. Okay?
That's the end of what we do at Saalt. And one of the things I will say is that putting these programs into practices into place is the easiest part of it, right? Implementing them, getting buy-in from your team and checking back in on those programs is the harder part. Maintaining them takes a lot of work.
And so it's important that once you start a program that you are all in and you're excited to jump into that. You're gonna have to make time. Maybe put a little financial backing into it as well.
I'll also say Saalt is not perfect and <laugh>, I'm laughing because I have team members in here. I'm gonna say this, but I think at Saalt we probably have the ability to improve some of our recognition at the office, right? There's always room for improvement. And I always make sure people hold me accountable for improving those programs, right?
Also not every program is going to work for every company. So that list that I just went through, none of those might work for you, right? So it's important to test, fail, win, learn, and repeat. Learn from the mistakes of the things that didn't go well on that first try of whatever that new recognition program is and move those mistakes or learn from those mistakes and learn, take those learnings onto the next piece.
What it really comes down to is when people feel recognized, they're excited to come to work and they're gonna come and do really good work for you, right? If you see people for them and you recognize them and you lean into their strengths and you get them excited to be there, they want to come do great work for you and with you.
Lastly, it isn't just team members that like to hear "thank you" and like to be recognized. We all have clients, customers, vendors, partners. Tell them that you appreciate their relationship. Thank them for going above and beyond, going above and beyond for them. Provide feedback, practicing the Four A's, and let them know that you recognize their contribution.
So the other thing I would say is that it's not just people within our work that like to be recognized, friends and family. Everybody else that's in your life also like to be recognized. Send those thank you notes. Target has lots of them. Really just recognize people. I loved the activities that were up in the vendor room today. Showing gratitude really, truly does make a difference. So make sure you're spreading that within your life.
Hi, I'm Sherissa and I work at Intuit, and we used to like, prior to COVID, obviously a lot of things have changed, but across business units we would recognize each other. Like our dev team would recognize our customer success team and vice versa, where we would basically get a either 1, 2, 3 or four people that we had to basically bring a little note to about how they we've impacted or they've impacted our business unit and thank them for all that they do. And being able to do that for a full week where it's like parfaits for Sunday, lunch on Wednesday, and then a party Fiesta on Friday kind of thing. It's always really nice to have.
Okay. At my last company for the month of November, which we associate with gratitude, I printed off card stock and you put everybody's name on this card stock piece of paper. And then everybody had a folder with their name was on it and it went into like a file folder thing. And throughout the next couple weeks people could come and pull the folder of different coworkers and write notes of gratitude, things that they appreciated about them or thanking them for something or some sort of kudos or shout out. The first year we did it when I talked about, I think that's a great idea, but people loved it so much and they would keep those notes up on their desk a year. And some of the notes, because I'd have to check like my strengths, harmony, I wanna make sure everyone's getting notes <laugh>. But some folders would get really full and people would have multiple for that year and those notes meant a lot. And I loved watching people's faces when they read the notes. So this is a small thing you do with those verbal recognition for are appreciated. And sometimes you don't feel comfortable going up and saying, Hey, you know, right in someone's face 'cause they can feel embarrassing or awkward, but you write it on notes and it makes you <inaudible>.
My first, I remember first did training in, I had a wanted somebody from HR show up branch I was walking into. So if you're having you know that first day, you don't know actually there tall that looks, imagine opens the door and she's like, welcome Romeo. Okay, welcome. I got to meet the branch manager, the loan officers, and she's like on over to your office walking up to my office and she's got laminated in color, welcome Romeo, no way. Says, well. She's like, good morning. And of course she got me set up to make sure my computer was working and dial logged me in and stuff. But yeah, bless her heart.
Laurie Colter. I'm at a former employer of mine that was a little bit larger. We had executive leadership meetings on a weekly basis and the leaders came in every week and at the beginning of the meeting we had what we call wow moments. And every leader had an opportunity to brag about their team.
Often as leaders, we don't have the opportunity to brag about our teams. We can give feedback down, but not necessarily up or across lines. So this was really impactful and really great way because the leaders were motivated because they got to brag about their employees. Everybody else got to hear about it. So when they walked out of the room, if they saw the person that that was recognized, they could actually compliment them and say, Hey, I heard you achieve this or you did that. And that they felt even better about their accomplishment because somebody who wasn't in their chain of command was actually aware of them and they had more trust in their own leader because their leaders championing them and making sure that others had visibility to what they did.
Linda, I guess, does anybody have any questions? <Laugh>, you gonna grill me about my kids again?
So it's from Netflix, so if you wanna get kinda like the full like, you know, full story, you can go on just lines, put it on the forays of feedback. But let me look at my shorts notes to make sure I see the correct ones. Oh, I forget right here. Okay. It is
And again, that's how you structure feedback. So it really is how you craft for it to be meaningful. And I think feedback, sometimes people get defensive and the idea would be that like this you know, crafts it a valuable and meaningful way. What else?
Yeah, that's a great question. I would say if you don't already have one-on-ones scheduled with like your manager on a regular basis, I would say that's one. Is that really just like communication is something that we actually have like a communicate with like my name communicate within our all hands meeting because I like to communicate.
I think talking and just learning about people and learning it, just knowledge in general makes a massive difference. So if you don't already have like one-on-one set up with managers, and those can be virtual, they're just as meaningful even if somebody's like, you know, if you guys have work from home. But I would say that is just like learning about people. Find ways to learn about your team members and learn and not necessarily just your direct reports. Find ways to learn about what other people are doing.
I know our CX team actually does daily check-ins. So every single morning they, I don't know the exact one, so Bridget, please don't kill me. But they check in like, you know, what did you do yesterday? What are your goals today? What's something in your personal life that you would like for us to know?
So like daily check-ins and just like learning little tidbits about people's lives. And the cool thing about that is that once you kinda learn those little tidbits, then that's when you can start leaning into strengths. That's when you can start leaning into the ways to recognize them. That's when you can just continue to check in on people. Again, it really comes back to like seeing them as people and finding ways to connect with them.
Yeah, yeah. I love that. I think the, the thing to note there is that recognition doesn't come natural to everybody, right. Saying thank you. It's not because you're not grateful, it's because you just don't think about it, right? So it doesn't come natural. So that's great. I have a million calendar reminders because you know, why not use automation? So that's a great idea to really remind yourself and really get that to the top of your mind.
I live to make people happy and live to people make an impact and make them feel good. So I actually have one more slide. It's my contact information. So if you have any questions about what I shared today, anything about Saalt, anything about anything, I'm happy to connect. I love the title of this event, Connections. It really resonates with me. I think that connecting with people is really what life is all about. So thank you guys for having me. Thank you SOLV again for having me. I really appreciate it. And thank you guys again for hosting this great event.