Sales Enablement Soirée: Building Inclusive Work Cultures, Fall 2020

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Welcome to the Sales Enablement’s Soirée session on Building Inclusive Work Cultures. This past year has been a transformative year in the way that organizations are shifting to approach team growth. The focus on hiring diverse talent and investing in inclusive workplace cultures is that the forefront of many organizational strategies for 2021.

I’m excited to have Blaire Hervey, the field productivity and readiness lead at Amazon Web Services join us to talk about how her enablement team is approaching this today. She has a unique blend of sales performance management, and employee and customer training experience. But most impressively she works to serve as a change agent with organizations that are experiencing rapid growth by championing inclusion with a build the people mentality, which we’ll cover today. Now I want to dive in with you Blaire and start talking about what an inclusive and innovative culture looks like. How should organizations approach building a more inclusive and innovative team?

Blaire Hervey: I believe that’s a great question and that’s a place where a lot of folks start. I always like to say first and foremost, you have to be real. Now what everyone is saying these days is be authentic, be your true self. Yes. But absolutely be real. Give everyone permission to feel the way they’re feeling to speak, how they speak and to have a space where they can share those thoughts, those emotions, et cetera. I think at this point, we truly have to activate our super power of being empathetic and understanding that everyone is feeling and thinking something different, but all of those things add true value to our teams, our departments, and our organizations. I’m sure we’ll talk a little bit more about how that tangibly fits into organizations and how they can see that outcome but the way that, you know, in a way that they can do that without thinking about the quantitative things is just thinking about the understanding and the core of their individual, people that are on their teams.

Shawnna Sumaoang: One thing you talk about on the topic of championing inclusion is build the people, right. And that mentality. So what does that mean? And how can sales enablement practitioners adopt this mentality to cultivate a high performing team within their organization? 

Blaire Hervey: Yeah, I think the challenges when people are thinking about building teams, they want the best, and they’re thinking about the end result, but they’re not thinking about how the sausage is made, right? If you eat meat or if you don’t, if it’s vegan sausage, whatever, you know, at the end of the day, it tastes great going in your mouth. It’s yummy. It’s a great feeling, but nobody’s thinking about how it was crafted. No one was thinking about how long it took, but all of those things are really important in order to get the outcome.

It’s the same with building a team. You have to build it from the inside out and as sales folks, sales practitioners, folks in L and D sales enablement, et cetera. We’re often thinking about, okay, well, how do we drive results? You drive it through the people. So in order to get to those results, we have to figure out, well, what motivates those individuals, what do they care about at AWS? We call it being customer obsessed and working backwards from the customer. We should all think about that in that same way, because we all have a customer. We all have someone to serve, whether it’s in the organization or outside. So I definitely believe building the people definitely starts with, being real, and laying this foundation of empathy and understanding and truly learning about people. You cannot lead people without actually having that conversation. 

Shawnna Sumaoang: Culture plays a huge role when it comes to hiring. So how should the sales practitioners approach hiring to build a more inclusive culture?

Blaire Hervey: Oftentimes in the spaces that I’ve been in, I’ll say as a sales enablement leader or on those teams, we’re often reactive and it’s for a plethora of different reasons. Either we’re trying to establish our credibility with the sales leaders in the sales organization so that they know that we are about our stuff. We know how to sell. We know that we can of course educate them or we’re trying to regain a positive reputation.

So we’ve done something, whether it’s built these programs in silos or built boring trainings or whatever, and we’ve lost the trust from those team members. And so we start just doing stuff. They ask for stuff, we do stuff, they ask for stuff, we deliver what we have to do in order to truly build a culture of learning and shifting that learning culture as sales enablement leaders is thinking about strategic programs. When we start thinking about strategic programs, working backwards from our customer, then when we’re delivering something, we’re delivering it based on getting to that end result, but we’re having to think about, okay, what is it going to take to get there? Oftentimes I’m thinking of three main areas. So even as a sales enablement leader, L and D in sales, I’m thinking about recruitment.

I’m thinking about retainment and I’m thinking about readiness. And so those are areas where sales enablement leaders can truly contribute, whether it’s through their programs, whether it’s through their hiring practices and how they’re working with human resource business partners, or how they’re building their teams, thinking about those three areas and focusing on those three areas. Building programs from those three areas will truly help them build a strong and effective culture and drive results. 

Shawnna Sumaoang: Now I feel like this is something that you and I can relate to in many industries, technology included. People of color, women, and other minorities are often the only ones in the room. What advice do you have for those who are navigating a business environment where maybe they don’t feel comfortable bringing their authentic self and ideas to the workplace? 

Blaire Hervey: Yeah, I would say a couple of things. I mean, I’m preaching to the choir, so I’m speaking to us, right. I’m speaking to us as women of color. I’m speaking to us as those minorities. And I have to remind myself too, that I’m not a token. I am chosen. And I’ve been saying that for the past year and a half or so. And what I mean by that is oftentimes organizations, departments, sales leaders, they’re checking a box. They’re filling a quota, especially with everything that we’re hearing these days. Like we need more diversity. What does that usually mean? We mean more black people, or we need more women. And for most of the time, those are the two areas that they’re thinking about. Or if it’s too hard, then it’s people of color and they open up that spectrum. 

But as an only, and being either the only woman once upon a time being the youngest person, maybe not anymore, but being a woman of color, a black woman, a single mom, all of those things. I have to remember that it could have been a plethora of other different black women, the talent. The pipeline is full, so let’s not get it twisted. Oftentimes we hear these leaders out here saying it’s just too hard to recruit people of color. The talent isn’t there. That’s not true. That is so false. The pipeline is full and I’m still having to compete against those other individuals of color. And me in particular, I don’t have a degree. So my grittiness and my passion in my experience is that competitive factor. 

So when I get that role, when I get that job, when I get that position or that seat on a board of directors or whatever the case may be, I have to stop thinking it’s because they needed a black person. Or because they needed a woman. It’s because they needed a Blaire. And so I think about that, I show up with my red hair, my natural hair girl. I show my earrings. I show up with all of my energy, not only for myself and in my authenticity, but because it gives Shawnna the same permission to be herself because she may see me. Maybe not just you, but say, “Wow, I didn’t know I could come to the table like that.” And then we are starting to duplicate that effort and then there’s just less only’s and then we become more of a force together. 

Shawnna Sumaoang: I couldn’t agree more and Blaire, I think that that’s spot on. Now, for sales enablement practitioners that are interested in understanding how to go about advocating for the importance of investing in D, E, and I with their leadership teams, what would you recommend? 

Blaire Hervey: Absolutely. I’ve gone about this in two different ways, because I knew I had to think about this particular programming. So whether it’s for diversity, equity, inclusion, and I add a B, which is belonging. I know that that feels good to me. I know what makes sense to me and the people around me who have similar experiences. And of course we want our leaders to feel the same way, but at the end of the day, they’re thinking about business objectives. They’re thinking about the dollars and cents. So I had to start thinking about ROI and all of the other things that are important to them. So if you are a culture influencer, even as a sales enablement leader or whatever your role is, you can do this one of two ways.

Now you can start with the top and you can try to get their buy-in and, you know, reach out to all the stakeholders. And I hate to say this, but oftentimes you’re going to be disappointed because they’re not going to share the same passion for you because they’re focused on a different end result. That’s fine, starting a grassroots campaign, if you will. And really getting that groundswell by talking to other individuals who may have similar experiences and learning more about how we can attribute to their retainment, then that’s a number. And then that’s something that’s quantifiable you can take back to leadership. You can take that impact that you can make there and let them know that we can make an impact by focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging programs. We can make an impact on retainment by this much and by doing so that saves the organization this much, because now we don’t have to rehire and retrain.

And additionally, we can focus on grooming these individuals and helping them become our next set of leaders, which also means that could be less for training. And that could be a less tedious succession plan because we already have the folks in house. So there are several different ways to do that. And I can share some examples later on if we have some more time, I’ll be happy to dive into it. I love that. 

Shawnna Sumaoang: I want to dive in just a little bit more on that one question. Blaire, if you don’t mind, I want to talk about, you know, you mentioned a few specific programs to help with things like retention and readiness. I would love for you to elaborate a little bit more, just so that our audience can really kind of understand how they might be able to bring this to life within their organizations. 

Blaire Hervey: Yeah. One of my former organizations I had an opportunity, I led a team of about 16 people at one point, and that was the end result. When I first inherited that team, I think I had about nine people and a couple of people trickled off, you know, how that happens when leadership changes. I ended up at one point with an all white male team and we all looked around at each other and said, something needs to change. And I love that I had their quote unquote approval, but they were into it as well. They understood that something needed to change. And so what I did was I started working very closely with my HR business partner and my leader at the time. And my leader was very focused on the backgrounds of the folks we already had on the team. So they were already, they came from sales. They may have had a certain degree. They may have gone to a certain school. Those things were not important to me at all. 

And so when he put his foot down and said, I’m not looking for diversity, that shook something in me, Shawnna, that I will, I can never explain. And what I said was, “We do need this opportunity.” And I spoke to the HR business partner. And the great thing about that moment was, although I felt shut down in that meeting, she heard me. So we set up another meeting and she said, talk to me more about your ideas. And I said, well, firstly, our job descriptions are way too lengthy. Most women have a tendency not to apply for a role if they don’t feel a hundred percent qualified for that role. Now men on the flip side, oftentimes that does not happen. Oftentimes, I lean towards that as well. I’ll read a job description and just the first paragraph on it. I’m like, I’m good, I can do this. It doesn’t matter about the degree. Doesn’t matter about the years of experience. I’m just confident in that way.

But for those who aren’t men, women, or anyone else, we have to be able to have a set of basic requirements and a set of maybe stretch requirements. We started doing that and we increased our female candidates by almost doubling it. So we had a ton of female candidates at that particular point. And what happened inadvertently because I didn’t want more black women on my team and people of color. We started getting more people of color that were applying. More women and people of color because we broadened our spectrum and the way that we thought about it. So from there, we actually created a diversified panel. So on our panels, instead of just having, you know, me, or one of our leaders who were white men, we had three people.

We had, we made sure that there was a person of color. We made sure genders were represented in that space as well. And maybe someone from a different team. So if they weren’t a good fit for sales enablement, they may be a good fit for another team. And then from that point, we were able to increase diversity on our team by 38% in 90 days. Now that I’m proud of, but what happened as well? Since we bring in these people that are different, it ultimately raises the bar because everyone else is thinking, I’ll shoot. Like this person has this background. I don’t know anything about this. Like maybe I need to, so it starts this healthy competition. They raise the bar and these folks that were coming in, they learned our technology so fast. They were able to teach our customers how to learn the technology twice as fast as well. So when, again, I’m having these conversations with leaders, it’s not just about, “Hey, we increased diversity on our team.” Now we are the rainbow coalition, which, you know, again, we’re proud of that. And it makes a lot of sense, but we can also say how this attributes to and contributes to the business objectives of the organization. So those are things that are really important. I love that particular example. That was a very shining point, not only in my life, but my team as well.

Shawnna Sumaoang: Now, as you’ve mentioned, this is the time to be creative and this is the time to be innovative in how we approach business. So how do you foster innovation and collaboration amongst your team? Especially in a virtual environment. 

Blaire Hervey: I would have to say that, you know, being real, authentic, definitely just, it works out for me and my favor and my sanity, I can put the code switching on pause and really just show up and,whatever they get is what they get. And so what they usually get, and when I say they, it’s my team, it’s my leaders. I’m asking questions. I’m just asking and it’s not to be disruptive. That’s not true. But it’s to be disruptive in a positive way and challenging in a positive way. I don’t mean any other intent than that because I want to know not only what answer there is, but I want to reveal alternatives. I want to hear the different, the larger scope of perspectives. I don’t want just one answer. I want the alternatives. 

So in order to be creative and innovative, we have to create these safe spaces for people to fail for people to show up as their authentic selves. And once you hear that input, we have to do something with it, acknowledge that someone has said something that may be different than what you believe is necessary and ask them to run with it. You know, Hey Shawnna, that’s a great idea. I didn’t think of it that way. We may have done something like this in the past, but guess what? You were hired to do something very spectacular. I know that you’re going to add all your swag to it. Go ahead and bring that to the table and we can talk about it next week. Like help people feel empowered and then they will definitely take ownership. And that definitely attributes to that innovation and that creativity. 

Shawnna Sumaoang: Absolutely. Thank you, Blair. Now we are enclosing in a time when many teams are starting to plan out their 2021 strategies, how can sales enablement teams really bring inclusion and innovation into the year ahead?

Blaire Hervey: I mean, I would definitely say the same way. So working customers back is huge. Having a better sense of what worked and what didn’t work. I mean, quite simply you could do a stop start and continue, right? I mean, you know, traditional and that’s old fashioned, but it’s quite effective and stop doing the things that don’t work and stop creating things in silos just to appease our stakeholders. Come to the table with ideas and you have an opportunity to truly show your value because you’re bringing value.

I used to say, who are you at the barbecue? Are you the person at the barbecue? That’s showing up with your utensils and coming to the table and eating up everything. Are you the person that brings a cute little libation? a little conversation as well as a dish? Like you want to be the person that brings value because people will look forward to seeing you in those spaces. And so going into 2021, you have to think about not only how do we become much more inclusive cross-functionally, but how do we become much more inclusive with the people we’re serving and the leaders that we need buy-in from as well.

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