A lot of ingredients go into successful management. You need the ability to hear, empathize with and understand each employee on a human level while keeping sight of how their work fits within larger goals. You need to spot avenues for their professional growth while maintaining organizational cohesion. And you should want the best outcomes for your people.
We went in search of management advice from the local tech scene and found nuggets of wisdom covering everything from employee mental health to cybersecurity considerations. Whether you’re new to management or are refreshing your skills, this advice from four of Boston’s most innovative tech companies should come in handy.
The business case for meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace has always been clear. One of the best companies to learn from in this field is health insurance provider Humana. The company employs a large team of data scientists, engineers and healthcare experts in its Boston Studio H office, and ranked 25th on DiversityInc’s latest annual “Top 50 Companies For Diversity” list. That’s up from 42nd place in 2019 — the single largest improvement in 2020.
In a video posted to YouTube last year, Humana credits much of its DEI success to its nine network resource groups, designed to help people with common backgrounds, values, purposes and interests find one another and develop professionally. There are groups for African American employees, caregivers, women, veterans and others, along with a multigenerational network resource group designed to build ties between different generations within the company.
When it comes to retaining and attracting talent, it’s critical that people see themselves at Humana in every possible role.”
“You come with your own ideas, your own background and your own experiences and that really helps drive innovation,” Senior Vice President and Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Maria Hughes said in the video. “To me, when it comes to retaining and attracting talent, it’s critical that people see themselves at Humana in every possible role that we have. If you don’t see yourself, you don’t believe that it’s possible.”
Prioritize Mental Health
Over the last several years, a focus on employee health and wellness has become a major focus for employer branding. And during times of heightened stress — when major deadlines loom, or a team is aiming for difficult targets or a pandemic is unfolding outside — employee wellness programs come into their own.
In addition to financial stability and physical health, an employee’s mental health can have major effects on their performance and productivity. In a recent blog post, Graham Immerman — who serves as vice president of marketing at Boston manufacturing IoT firm MachineMetrics — outlined several ways managers can help support an employee’s mental health. These include making time to hear and understand what an employee is going through and making sure clear pathways are open for workers to take advantage of existing resources.
Sometimes no update should still be an update.”
Immerman also points to constant communication as an essential ingredient for employee peace of mind. “Sometimes no update should still be an update,” Immerman writes.
“The more you are able to send out updates and stay transparent the better,” he continues. “Not knowing and not hearing anything can absolutely invoke feelings of anxiety and uncertainty! Just be sure to not make any promises you can't keep.”
Choose To Engage
In an era of social distancing, hallway conversations and watercooler talk aren’t possible like when everyone was in the office. With this in mind, managers must make a conscious effort to check in on employees through one-on-one meetings, both to oversee progress of their work and for general chit chat.
That second point may be the most important of all. As Sam Mallikarjunan recently put it, “it’s a people update. It’s a time for them to share with you what’s on their mind and wax poetic about their current and future life at work.”
If you’re a manager and can’t invest that time and emotional energy into your employees, then you should consider another career path.”
For Mallikarjunan, who serves as chief revenue officer at Boston collaboration tool Flock, the manager-employee one-on-one is an essential forum for raising issues early.
“Just like it’s necessary to ensure that customers have easy feedback loops where we can learn and take action, it’s equally vital that our employees have feedback loops that make it easy and comfortable (or even enjoyable) for them to tell us what’s on their minds,” he writes. “If you’re a manager and can’t figure out how to bring yourself to invest that time and emotional energy into your employees, then you should consider another career path.”
In 2020, cybersecurity is a people issue, too. According to Proofpoint’s 2019 Human Factor Report, almost all cyber attacks observed by that organization required some kind of human interaction to succeed, with hackers shifting from large-scale email operations to more targeted social manipulation techniques.
The bad news is that automated scanners often struggle to identify these kinds of targeted infiltration campaigns, which can result in stolen login credentials and compromised systems. Cybersecurity firm Transmit Security specializes in passwordless access systems that use biometrics and other authentication technologies, and works to highlight how businesses can defend against common cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
“The best way to minimize the risk of an attack... is to monitor and react to changes in the user risk posture in real time.”
“To defend against these attacks you need to bolster your identity and access protections with additional tools such as multi-factor, 2-factor and passwordless authentication,” Director of Product Marketing Mark Byers wrote in a blog post. “The best way to minimize the risk of an attack, even with advanced 2-factor authentication, is to monitor and react to changes in the user risk posture in real time.”
Of course, IT teams’ responsibility is to ensure the correct tools are in place to secure operations. In another recent post, Byers recommended agile policies within organizations as a way to mitigate the effect of security breaches, for example. But when the biggest vulnerability in a system is human error, managers have a big role to play in helping employees remain wary of risk.