July 05, 2021

Redefining culture — A conversation with Maureen Crawford Hentz

Heading back to the workplace is turning out to be a far more complex issue than many of us may have guessed. Polarizing conversations are likely splitting some company cultures, and the realization has set in that there is no silver bullet to accommodate every employee’s needs. As we head into this next phase of work, it’s imperative that we move thoughtfully and with great care.

For our fourth and final installment of the Redefining Work series, we spoke with Maureen Crawford Hentz, Bravely Pro and VP of HR at A.W. Chesterton Manufacturing. “We’re in a singular moment here. What we thought was impossible was proved to be possible.” Many organizations have been shocked to find a long list of benefits for remote workers beyond just the employee experience. Performance and productivity have been up since knowledge workers went remote. “Our company [A.W. Chesterton] is 132 years old. If we can navigate the change to a remote workforce, anyone can.” 

Curate a culture of authenticity.

In recent years, employees have been encouraged to “bring their authentic selves” to the workplace to cultivate a sense of inclusion and belonging. It’s often unclear what that means, and it can feel more like a trendy platitude than a genuine sentiment. Crawford Hentz offers that “bringing your whole self to work is about curating a culture where it’s safe to say things like: ‘I’ve really been struggling with depression lately,’ or, ‘ I went to a Pride march and I saw a kid booed and I can’t get it out of my head today,’ or ‘My kids have to be dropped off at 9 and I’m supposed to be in the office at 9, and I can’t do both.’” Unfortunately, the structural support for people “bringings their full selves” hasn’t caught up to its popularity as a mantra. It’s on leaders to uphold transparent policies that allow for the “bring your full self” ideal to be lived. 

To curate a culture of authenticity, leaders need to voice vulnerability, model authenticity, and be self-accommodating. Creating a safe environment for people to be their authentic selves is “not incumbent upon the individual, it is incumbent upon the leaders of the company, both individuals with the power of Influence and the power of position,” Crawford Hentz says. People should be prepared to give themselves what they need, but when they’re left to create their own accommodations, there are necessary improvements to be made by the organization. 

Define your value hierarchy.

It’s been just over a year since the death of George Floyd and the tidal wave of conversations around equity and diversity in the workplace. Transitions are a moment to reflect on where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and how that will inform the next leg of our journey. Crawford Hentz suggests to HR leaders: “Think about your value hierarchy. Really think about potential conflicts. For example: equality and equity. If you have to choose, which one do you choose?” Even the most tightly-defined company values leave room for interpretation and difficult choices. 

Keeping momentum for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives is imperative in the fight for building a more equitable workplace. As companies form affinity groups and mentoring programs, they should investigate potential conflicts that may arise. Crawford Hentz says, “[Give] people what they need, not what you want to provide. Not every person is going to need to learn about gaining a voice, some people are going to have to learn how to give power away or how to take turns speaking.” 

Cultivate a culture of meetings where everyone is heard.

Consider the ways you’ve been pleasantly surprised throughout this COVID-dominated era. People are more willing to change now than ever before. Crawford Hentz says leadership at A.W. Chesterton was “old-school” and “profoundly impacted by the inability of people to come into the office to work” at the start of the pandemic. Then, she says, “We looked at every job description and asked which jobs could continue to be done remotely. We’ve been trying for years to have workplace flexibility but could never make movement on it because people were afraid of performance dropping off.” 

A.W. Chesterton’s leadership has made a 180 pivot on his position regarding remote work, now insisting that people “come from where you are,” literally. All meetings are required to be remote-accessible. “You can join just audio or on camera if you feel like it, but we have to set up conference rooms in the building now so that all meetings are hosted on [video-conferencing software.]” Crawford Hentz adds that all meetings include a facilitator, whose goal is to help everyone feel heard. She’s been charged with creating an internal “Best Practices for Meetings” handbook.

Crawford Hentz shared, “I was afraid that we would come back to the building and not reap the benefits of performance-based culture that we’ve gained over this last year,” but upon taking inventory of the ways that these new practices have shifted her company’s culture for the better, she’s hopeful for the future.

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