Ep. 123: Tracy Jackson - Training and Culture Gap

May 17, 2021 | 24 Minutes

Tracy Jackson, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at CVR Energy, Inc., joins Count Me In to talk about the training and culture gaps following the global lockdown and shift to remote work. Due to the virtual environment many businesses adapted to, the hiring, onboarding, training, and cultural integration processes changed dramatically. In this episode, Tracy discusses onboarding has impacted different employees, how to overcome the challenges of creating culture in a remote environment, and what organizations can do to help their employees close the gap. Download and listen now!

Contact Tracy Jackson: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tracydjackson/

Mitch: (00:00)
 Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Mitch Roshong and I'm here to bring you episode 123 of our series. Many businesses have had difficulty and/or needed to adapt to the way they onboard, train, and culturally integrate new hires following the lockdown and virtual shift to the business landscape. To explain how organizations can overcome these challenges and better help their employees become and remain part of the team, Tracey Jackson joined my co-host Adam for a conversation about the training and culture gap. Tracey is an engaging and energetic financial and accounting executive who serves as the CFO at CVR Energy. With over 25 years of experience across corporate finance, risk management, accounting, IT, and FP&A, she has developed extensive team building and change enablement skills. Keep listening for her insight as we head over to their conversation now.

Adam: (01:03)
Onboarding is something that can be very difficult with or without a lockdown. How has that impacted entry-level employees, especially?

Tracey: (01:18)
I think it's been another challenge on top of something that's already very challenging for organizations. Organizations, some do this very well, although not many, and some have continued to struggle with it even though there've been so many studies that show that getting someone hooked into the organization and integrated into the culture is part, the first step in successful retention. And I think the pandemic just gave us a curveball on something that was already very difficult to achieve. I can say that we've done some things very well and we've continued to fumble in a lot of different areas and the prep work that I did for the podcast actually gave me a lot of things to think about in terms of what we can do better. Specifically, a lot of our new hires come in on day one to the office even though quite a few of our employees are still at least on a split schedule, 50/50, and there was a lot of appreciation for that moment where they're in the office and they can see what the home office looks like, get their badge, hear about the company's goals and objectives in an onboarding session that HR hosts, meeting with their boss, if their boss is in the office beyond that, when people have received that initial landing, sending them back out over the last 12 months to work from home for an undetermined amount of time is where we really had to swiftly adjust. And I can say across the entire organization, we've done some of that well, and some of that not so well. The things that have been successful, I used to do a monthly luncheon with all of our new hires. It doesn't matter what level of the organization you are, I just felt like it was important to sit down with me and demystify the executive leadership team a little bit and talk about us as people and how we feel about the organization, what's going well, talk about our industry and I had to transition away from that obviously, and what I replaced it with was a webcast, that we do. And we haven't really been hiring as many people, so we haven't done it every single month, but every other month or so we get all the new hires are invited to a webcast with me and they can ask whatever questions they would like to ask of me about my personal life. I'm very, I'm an open book so, and I'm a divorcee and I have three cats so I might be a crazy cat lady, but, you know, really just making sure they know that we're all human and that we're real people because they don't even see us now. At least before I could go down to one of the floors that my folks were on and wander around and they could lay eyes on me, but now all they hear is my voice. If we talk on a conference call or on the phone for something, and then quarterly at our town hall meetings, which also had to change format, we used to do those in person and now we do a webcast for those. So lots and lots of challenges with just helping people feel like they've actually joined a new company and a new culture and understanding, why we do what we do and what our values are.

Adam: (04:52)
Yeah it's gone from having that personal touch of the face-to-face to a phone call or seeing somebody's face in that little box on the screen, you really lose that human connection. So you have trouble feeling like you're a part of the organization now.

Tracey: (05:05)
Now one of the comments that I got from someone was that they, now that they're back in the office, this individual has their own office so they can shut the door on and so they feel safe, so they're here quite a bit and then as the staff that are in cubes have been rotating in and out, they've been trying to introduce themselves to these people that they've maybe never seen before and they've been startled to find that these are actually individuals, some of them, that they've had extensive conversations on projects, but they had no idea what they looked like. So it's definitely changing the way that we interact with each other and form our persona of people because when you only have a voice paint your own picture, and when you see somebody in person, you have so many more cues as to what really makes up that individual.

Adam: (05:57)
You know, you've already mentioned some of the things that your organization has done. What are some of the things that you can do to help these employees? Because even when you're in person, we lose the facial cues because our faces are covered up by a mask.

Tracey: (06:12)
Right, and this gets to just a personal philosophy. I have found that our productivity shifting from a hundred percent in the office to nearly a hundred percent out of the office was not negatively affected. If anything, we may have been more productive and my personal opinion about why that is, there's less water cooler talk, which is not necessarily a good thing, but it sure does take away from wasted time. And you, we didn't have hardly any HR issues over the last year like we would have had in the past, because we didn't have cube mates bickering over things and we didn't have silly HR scuffles that we had to deal with. They were bigger picture issues about caring for a sick loved one and how did that impact their work schedule when they're at home. And so anyway, my personal opinion is that we have to make this adaptation on a permanent basis because efficiency and productivity and lease space and all of those things, companies are going to figure out, I can save a ton of money if I don't have to lease five floors in a building. And so, things that we can do to help bring them into the fold, I think really fall to the individual's manager and the individuals commitment to come into the fold. A lot of the past has been the expectation that companies feed new employees, copious amounts of opportunities to learn and integrate and interact and become a part of the culture and do networking events and volunteer events and that dynamic, that entire landscape is gone now. And so one, we have to train our managers better about the importance of bringing someone into the fold. And two, we have to express our expectation that the employee has an obligation also to buy into the new way and be willing to do, whether it's webcast events with their entire teams. And we all, I think at this point, everybody has a camera. Whether it's on your computer or not, you still have your phone and nearly everybody has a phone with a camera on it at this point. So participate on webcasts and help demystify what people look like. Don't get on a webcast and not show your face because we don't know what you look like, we don't know what you're thinking and you may be, you know, sitting, doing your emails instead of being present as present as you can be and with the conversation and the individuals, because you do get those facial cues and I mean, people who participate in webcast with me know that I'm extremely animated with my face, I talk with my hands, I can't sit still, but if you never turn on a camera, people don't know that about you. So participate when the opportunities are given to you as an employee and ask questions. If there's something that we're not doing, make a suggestion. I think one of the things that helps the human species live this long is that, you know, if there's a problem, somebody says it out loud and then people work on it. But if you as an individual choose to never say anything didn't go well. We don't have the opportunity as a company to try and continue the adaptation that we need to be going through.

Adam: (09:41)
Definitely. I think you've really touched on a major point of cultural integration and part of a new company. And when you're a new hire and you're hired virtually in a remote environment, you can't get into the fold, you can't become a part of those water cooler conversations that you are, that you don't get to hear all the gossip and all the things that are happening, not that those things are good, but a lot of times, those things are part of the integration into the company. You hear about what so-and-so is doing, what happening there, outside of, you know, the day-to-day operations, you get a part of who's who and what's happening and so, some of the things you mentioned of like, what you used to do is like kind of demystify who the senior leadership is. What are some ways to get away from the traditional face-to-face interactions and how do we adjust getting people into that culture, especially now, you know, one of the big things you already said is turning your camera on. I worked remotely for a number of years and no one ever turned a camera on. Now that everybody's remote, everybody turns the camera on and I love it. But how do you get people to kind of get into that mode of turning their cameras on and, and other things that they can do to kind of integrate into the culture, outside of, you know, just your day-to-day activities.

Tracey: (10:48)
Yeah, it's interesting. I think there's a little bit of self-awareness that has to happen when you turn a camera on. I know for me, I mean I get dressed up every day for work, but a lot of these folks that have been working from home for months at this point need to get out of their pajamas in the morning and dress like you're going to go to work because you are going to go to work, whether you move from one room to another room or you get in your car and you drive there. And the other is just being able to look at yourself because you see this little tile of yourself, and you're not used to looking at yourself all the time and that can be startling. It's kind of like the first time you hear your recorded voice and you're like, I don't sound like that. Well, yeah you do, but not in your own head. And so for instance, I had no idea so much of my hair was white. And so this has been extremely startling for me, but I've just sucked it up and gotten over it. I've earned every one of those gray hairs. So I think there've been a lot of creativity that has come to the table. For instance, I host a women's leadership group here at my company and one of the things that we do, we used to get together in a conference room over lunch, and we would read a book together or talk about somebody's specific challenges and help each other solve problems and really create a support network outside of the normal people you interact with every day. And, we went virtual and went to the webcast and decided that, one of the meetings that we had would, we wouldn't do anything serious, we would play games. And so we did, we were 30 something of us and so we had to break up into smaller groups and use the breakout functionality that you have on some of these, tools that allow you to zoom or webcast or teams or whatever you use, they all have that functionality and play, because you learn about people and their past and their experiences through play. We did it on the playground as kids, we did it at happy hours when we could still get together and we just have to do it differently now. And so, you know, wine tasting events, I participated in many, many of those with my memberships in various locations around the world. But there's no reason why you can't do wine tasting with whatever organization. And some people used to not want to do things with their peers in off hours times because they wanted to get home and spend more time with their family while they probably, at this point, have had enough time with their family that they would like a break and getting on and doing a wine tasting with each other and you learn about people's trips and the fun things that they've done, and that can be humanizing. And I think now more than ever, we need that because we forget when we see each other on the streets and people are all wearing masks and we're all literally walking across the street and getting on the other sidewalks so we don't have to walk next to each other, that we're all still people and we need to make those efforts in all different aspects of our lives.

Adam: (14:08)
You know, that's super important. I know my team has done like one of those wine and paint things and we sent everybody the supplies, we were all in the zoom doing the painting with the person, and we've done virtual lunches where everybody goes out and buys a lunch, or like Uber eats to deliver lunch to their house and we all eat lunch together and chat and, we're able to connect. We've been so focused on work and you can just get lost. It's nice just to remember that we're all human and we all have different issues going on, whether you have kids or don't have kids and we all have so many different things that we have going on that we deal with each day.

Tracey: (14:43)
Right, right. And, to that end, I think some of the things that we've done in the past or chosen to not do in the past, like mentor programs, lots and lots of companies have done mentor programs and some not so successfully and some successfully, because I think you have to want to be a mentor to actually mentor people effectively. And so when you come into a new organization, we don't really know your personality and we don't know anything about you, but even if we just simply asked, do you want us to give you a partner, an integration partner, don't even call them a mentor, those develop organically, but you know, do you want a partnership with someone who's been here for two, three plus years, that when you're stumped on any topic you can reach out and they can help you think about what you should do, who you should reach out to, and give you some perspective into the lay of the land that you don't have.

Adam: (15:48)
Yeah. I like that integration partner that's a better way of saying it because calling it a mentor almost seems forced.

Tracey: (15:57)
Right, right. And mentors, that's a hard role because you have to, mentorship is both delivering good news and bad news and helping people deal with problems and challenges and, that's not necessarily the role we want somebody that's helping you integrate into the company to take on.

Adam: (16:18)
Yeah. So speaking of like integrating the company, a lot of times when you come into a company, there's a lot of learning that has to happen. You know, and some things I've been reading is a lot of companies are moving to self-paced learning to kind of help employees with training and development. But when it comes to like a professional who's like fresh out of college, this learning's going to be ever more crucial. How can teams prepare so that there's no lack of support, but they're also learning, you mentioned a integration partner, what are some other ways that we can get people up to speed so they can help support the team?

Tracey: (16:47)
That's a great question. And I think it's a huge concern and at the risk of outing myself, I will say we had some new hires that were right out of college and had only been on the ground working for a couple of months. And then suddenly we're working in a remote environment that are now back in the office on a 50/50 basis and we're seeing the impact because, you know, having come through the organization, so many of my leaders can see where those individuals are in their development and, they're not where we would have necessarily expected them to be if they'd been on the ground every day. So the ability to, you know, be a gopher where you stand up out of your cubicle and look over the wall and ask your cube mate, you know, how do I do this thing that is probably pretty simple and you wouldn't want to ask your boss, is gone and we've done a huge disservice, not addressing a problem I don't think we realized we had and so that is going to be, it actually is already a topic that some of my leaders are talking about because that hallway problem solving and being able to sit together in a cube and stare at a spreadsheet is gone. And even if you're both in the office, you can't sit in the same cube and stare at a spreadsheet anymore. But, you know, Microsoft gives us platforms where you can screen share, and we all are now wearing headsets and so you can still do those things, but there's more effort involved in doing those things. I do think that one of my, financial teams did that was really interesting is they just opened up a bridge in the morning and they're all signed onto the bridge and it's just a telephone bridge and they can talk to each other as if they're all together even though they're not, and otherwise just keep themselves on hold and then, you know, you can drop off or come back on for breaks or lunch or, you know, conference call you have to take, but there is a bridge there that somebody is sort of always sitting on and so you're never really alone. There's always that network there to pop into and say, Hey, I'm stuck on this. Or the other thing that has, has come up is really the IT side of integrating one of the, one of our new hires gave me a lot of great feedback. And they're in IT and basically said, you know we didn't even teach anybody when they were onboarded how to open a service ticket or who to call because it wasn't part of onboarding. It was just something you could always ask a cube mate when you had your first problem and that's when you learned it. And so we are going to start having an IT onboarding because every department has a unique set of applications and tools that they use and different people that you may have to call in IT, to get that quick help versus something serious enough to open a ticket for and try and solve through a formal process. And even simply publishing a list of people and handing it to them on the first day of, you know, here's the Microsoft office guy if you can't get signed in, or you have some problem that's quick, just call him. And if he thinks it's a bigger problem, he can tell you to open a ticket for it. So it's changing everybody's behaviors, the people that are here already, and the people that are stepping into bold around what do I really have to do to help onboard somebody into the culture and the day-to-day swim lanes that we're all in every day.

Adam: (20:30)
That's great. Yeah, it's going to change how we look at things even once people are back into the office, even more I think, because there's so much that's happened that it's like, wait, we've identified all these gaps, now if everybody goes back into an office, if that even happens in the future, you know, you've already adjusted how you're onboarding people even now.

Tracey: (20:52)
Right, and we're finding, we have a ton of remote learning capabilities that we just don't use and we're starting to use. One of the things that we had started long before the pandemic was a monthly lunch and learn and we harvest people out of our organization to teach us all kinds of things and it can be as simple as, I think this month’s lunch and learn was organization skills because you're not in an office anymore in the traditional sense, you're at home. Hopefully you're not working at your dining room table, but you very well may be. And so you need a portable, organization strategy so that in the morning you can land there and then in the afternoon you can get out of there because your family's coming to the table later. And so we actually asked one of our executive administration folks to walk us through just basic organization skills, not just paper organization, but email organization, and calendar management, and phone contacts and things like that to facilitate a more organized virtual environment and as well as just physical environment so that you can be portable if necessary and be more structured. But we also need to leverage like ADP. ADP has a module, a learning module, that you can self-populate, but you can also connect to other platforms and pull in. And so one of the things that I've asked my leadership team to do is put together, based on all of the libraries of virtual learning platforms that we have out there, what are your top 20 things that you wish everybody in your department had done and give it to everybody, but also give it to the new hires as they're coming in the door and tell the people that are there, Hey, we'd like you to spend an hour or two a month minimum and take the time to do some self-learning. And it's really, again, incumbent upon the individual to put forth the effort to do that. Before we used to say, here this is mandatory training, but we can't necessarily control what you're doing at home anymore.

Closing: (23:04)
This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.