Nadine Blackie from Flare on how to build high performance teams and great company cultures

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To kick off the HR and leadership series, we will be interviewing Nadine Blackie.

Nadine is the Head of Talent Acquisition at Flare HR. She has over 10 years of experience in talent acquisition for high growth startups in the tech sector. She has built high-performance teams for venture-backed startups that have experienced rapid transformation and growth. She’s worked at well-known companies in the startups space including Flare, Ansarada, Relic Entertainment and Hootsuite across Sydney, Australia and Vancouver, Canada.

Nadine’s passion for people and high growth companies led her to working at Flare where she’s built a world class, mission-driven team and a balanced culture that is working towards Flare’s mission: to help every working Australian live their best financial life.

Here are the highlights from our interview with Nadine on talent acquisition and human resources.

What do you enjoy about working in Talent and HR?

In the world of Talent and People, you have the ability to positively impact others and brighten someone’s day. Whether it be putting a smile on someone’s face by calling out their win, or removing a roadblock for someone to be more productive in their day to day, or coaching a manager through a tough conversation.  It’s super rewarding work to be able to help others.

Where do you go to learn about HR and leadership?

I lean into my talented network and my mentors. They have a wealth of knowledge.

HR Open Source (hros.co) is also a great open source community and Facebook group where HR professionals share resources and tools with each other, such as: case studies, tools, engagement initiatives and wellness programs. When people are willing to share knowledge and give their perspective, we can more quickly level up and improve upon each other’s work. 

What are some new ideas from other companies which have inspired you?

I am inspired by companies and People leaders who challenge the norm and make proactive ideas come to life.

The global pandemic has caused companies to evaluate the current landscape and plan for the future of work. For example, Twitter and Facebook are now allowing their staff to work from home permanently if they wish.

In response to this pandemic, we will see new ideas emerge from People and business leaders and a new landscape will unfold. 

What is the culture like at Flare?

At Flare, we have a startup culture of taking big swings, building quickly and sharing in the impact of driving growth and positive change. We are constantly innovating against the status quo and learning new things.

Our team is a passionate and talented group.  Culturally, the team is down to earth, doesn’t take themselves too seriously, works at a fast pace, has full ownership to drive change and is accountable for delivering ideas. We are empowered to deliver quality work we are really proud of.

What are Flare’s company values and how do you uphold these values?

We have five company values which are embraced at Flare: People first, Bat .400, Trust the Process, Do the Right Thing and Act Like an Owner. 

I’ll discuss my two favourites:

  • People first is a value that drives our decisions and creates a strong sense of community at Flare. We have a culture of people constantly looking out for one another and working together. We have an engaged and supportive team where people feel welcomed and have a safe place to show up as themselves.
  • Bat .400 is a value that encourages our team to swing the bat to achieve 10x growth, and at the same time, allows us to embrace failures as a part of the process. I played softball for a large part of my life, so the terminology resonates well with me, but for those who are unfamiliar, Bat .400 is a baseball term. If you have a batting average of .400, it would mean you have the highest batting average in the Hall of Fame. To get that high of an average, you’ve actually struck out or failed more times than you’ve had success.  The idea behind Bat .400 is how can we continue swinging the bat even if we might fail or have failed.  If you don’t step up to the plate, you’ll never hit that homerun.

What do you do in the recruitment process to ensure a candidate is a good fit?

At Flare, we have a thorough recruitment process with a series of key stages to ensure a candidate is the right fit. Here are few things that are important to us in the recruitment process: 

  1. Understanding motivations. Understanding the motivations and ambitions of candidates can help us understand the type of learning and achievement that a person would need to be successful in a role. 
  2. Learning about their experience and way of thinking. We like to see people in action by giving them a technical challenge like a coding test or a specific challenge relating to a role. This helps us remove bias from the hiring decision and helps us see how people approach and perform the challenge. It also gives the candidate a good understanding of the types of challenges they could face in the role.
  3. Explore mutual fit. The final stage is diving deeper into getting to know the candidate and exploring a mutual fit. Interviewing is a two way street, so candidates are encouraged to ask just as many questions as we do in the process. Alongside the hiring team, we want candidates to have all their questions answered about starting a new adventure at Flare.

What is important for great leadership?

In my experience, great leaders are authentic, open, honest and always have the best intentions for their teams. Leading by example and showing up like that everyday is important to me, especially in challenging situations.

I believe that creating ways to help teams feel safe and supported leads to a healthier and engaged workplace. At Flare, we aim to share information and feedback as timely and honestly as possible, and we encourage open and honest communication. For example, we have an “ask_Flare” anything Slack channel, where employees can ask questions truly anonymously. These questions are responded to in the Slack channel, as well as, addressed every Monday in our all-hands meeting. We’ve found this to be a simple and effective way to hear what’s on our employees’ minds and address these sentiments in a transparent way. 

Where did you learn your leadership style from?

I grew up playing team sports my whole life so my leadership style was initially developed from many years of playing on high performance sports teams. 

I also have two strong, intelligent female leaders as mentors. They both really push and challenge me on how to approach conversations with my team and define how I wanted to show up as a leader.

What are some leadership strategies which work well for you?

  • Always being clear and consistent in communication, expectations, and showing up as yourself.
  • Being empathetic and objective while balancing the bigger picture and execution.
  • Being an open book and constantly evolving. Always asking for feedback, constantly learning and observing and comfortable admitting when you don’t know, but look for a plan to figure it out. 
  • Focus on the team. Giving them the space to create the norms and define how, when and where they work best.
  • Hiring up so you can surround yourself with the best team.
  • Empower your team to do their best work by removing any roadblocks. both current and in the future. While supporting them through the challenges and celebrating their wins.

How have you engaged employees during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We’ve looked at ways to keep people connected and engaged from their remote work environment, as we shifted to a  ‘work from home’ policy during COVID-19.   Here’s some strategies we’ve implemented: 

  • Creating community Slack channels like lunch time workouts (#thegym) or grabbing an after work beverage (#palisadeshappyhour), which we see employees engage in regularly
  • Celebrating birthdays with gifts delivered to employees’ homes
  • Iterating our weekly all-hands meeting, so we have a format which supports our remote work structure
  • Setting a company-wide “no meeting policy” from 12-1pm to help promote this time to get away from computers, reset and take a break
  • Creating new initiatives and activities through our Vibe Team. Many fun and diverse ideas from this group have been implemented across Flare

How do you keep retention rates high at your company?

Gathering and actioning employee feedback is critical to employee retention.  We use employee engagement surveys to consistently checkin and understand how people are feeling in their roles. 

During COVID-19,  we’ve made these surveys monthly as things are changing so quickly. The feedback is helping us identify specific action items directly from our teams on ways we can improve their experiences. It’s important for us to create a place for people to share their thoughts, how they are feeling and share ideas around improvements while giving us insights to any undiscovered frustrations.

How do you ensure new hires have a great onboarding experience?

At Flare, our onboarding process is designed to help new hires transition into their new role in a smooth, informative and welcoming way. It is an exciting time for a new hire joining a company and a team welcoming a new teammate aboard, so both the big and little things in the onboarding experience matter. 

Here are a few things we do to support our new teammates:

  • Use Flare to preboard and onboard new hires digitally. This gives our new hires a seamless way to auto-sign and complete employee documents (ie. employment contracts, policies, and bank, tax and super information) – no paperwork required. We also gather information to shape our employee’s first day experience. For example, on an employee’s first day, there are a series of personalised welcomes and things that happen to make it memorable
  • Send out an onboarding pack before someone starts
  • Welcome them on their first day with a hand written note from their manager, their favourite coffee and treat, and arm them with a prepaid coffee card to the neighbourhood cafe which allows them to treat and  get to know their new teammates
  • Set them up with a buddy,  so everyone has a go to person for questions, over lunch they will learn more about the company from a different perspective
  • Add them to the #newbies slack channel. The channel has resources like company acronyms, a map of where people sit, other helpful channels to join.  Plus, it’s a space to ask questions or see what’s already been asked  
  • Run induction sessions with different leaders within the business, so they can learn how the business operates, put faces to names, and better understand how their role impacts the bigger picture and mission at Flare

How do you promote employee wellbeing?

We rolled out a new Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to proactively approach employee wellbeing. The EAP supports a wide variety of topics like mental wellbeing and manager coaching, while leveraging technology to create an accessible employee experience.

Through Flare Benefits, our employees have access to discounts and benefits from a wide variety of retailers like Woolworths, KMART and JB Hi-Fi.

We are currently working on other employee programs that focus on wellness (physically and mentally), and learning and development. 

Any final advice you’d like to share with our audience about how to lead people better?

In these unprecedented times, creating a people-first engaged workplace will help businesses thrive in the long run. At Flare, I’ve seen many people step up to lead initiatives, rise to the challenge and lean in to support each other. It’s incredible and inspiring to watch, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. 

Finally, remembering that we are all human and everyone is being faced with unique stresses during this time.  As leaders we don’t have all the answers, but being open and admitting when ‘we don’t know the answers’ is important. When leaders are transparent and honest, organisations become stronger and greater trust is built within people and teams. From my experience, when this happens, teams begin to work together more closely to solve problems, and can make the most out of whatever comes next.

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