High Alpha Leadership Forum 2022: Lessons for Emerging Leaders

Rising leaders across the High Alpha portfolio gathered at High Alpha to attend our fifth annual Leadership Forum. Here are the highlights.

Leadership Forum Logo on Black Background
Article By
Tatum Lynch

On September 8, 2022, High Alpha hosted 47 leaders for the fifth annual Leadership Forum, the first back in-person since 2019. This event brings together exceptional leaders across High Alpha's Studio and Capital portfolios to promote leadership development, obtain timely advice from the tech industry's best and brightest speakers, and encourage thoughtful connections. All attendees were nominated by their Executive team for their leadership skills and high performance within their company, and it was evident they were eager to bring back actionable items to help their companies succeed. 

The program included a keynote presentation from Anita Grantham, the Chief People Officer of Bamboo HR, a panel discussion with various tech leaders, functionally-aligned breakout groups, and a closing fireside chat with Ryan Barretto, President of Sprout Social. While our speakers had a ton of valuable knowledge to share, below are a few highlights from each session.

How to Lead When Uncertainty Is the New Norm with Anita Grantham, BambooHR CPO

The day started with Anita Grantham, a distinguished HR leader that built a culture recognized in Fortune's Best Companies to Work For and Fortune's Best Workplaces in Technology. Many of our nominees wanted to understand how to navigate the hybrid/remote work environment better and how they could best prepare for the upcoming economic challenges. Anita noted that 44% of workers experience daily stress, and she outlined four pillars to help our nominees lead their organizations through these uncertain times. 

Pillar 1: Take Time to Check-In. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Make sure you are aware of the work/life blur and make time for things that make you happy during the workday. Be intentional about putting wellness activities on your calendar; your employees and colleagues will follow by example.

Pillar 2: Be the Tree and Do Not Go with the Surf. Companies must align on their goals to survive this challenging economic climate. Anita expressed that companies will need to focus on the short-term and ensure they have enough cash to last the next 24 months.

Pillar 3: Building Culture in a Hybrid World. Companies must be rooted in a strong mission and vision as the basis for their culture. Anita explained that you should not add different aspects to your culture because "Google does it" but because it aligns with your company's identity. Developing a strong culture is crucial in the hybrid world we live in.

Pillar 4: Providing a Clear Vision to Drive Engagement and High Performance. Once companies clearly understand their mission, vision, and values, leaders must use them to drive action. Anita stated that 80% of over-performing companies link their performance to their purpose. Not only do company leaders have to develop a strong vision, but they must frequently communicate it for employees to understand why their roles are important.

Panel Discussion: Managing Hybrid and Remote Teams

Following Anita's presentation, leaders heard from Julie Barker, Cultivate Talent CEO, Steve Pruden, Studio Science CEO, and Kim Heger, Hakkoda Co-Founder and Chief of Talent. Each speaker operates in some variation of a hybrid work environment. Below, we share their advice for managing hybrid and remote teams.

Be Intentional with Engagement. Employees can miss out on "water cooler conversations" when they work in a hybrid or remote environments. Leaders must encourage – and sometimes even force – remote and in-person interactions. The panel reiterated that leaders must set an example and start developing these engagements with their teams. A couple recommendations included meeting for coffee with co-workers nearby or establishing a cadence for personal check-ins.

Frequent Communication is Key. Email inboxes and schedules get noisy, and it can often be challenging to remember the company's overarching goals and priorities. Julie outlined that frequent communication is critical in a hybrid environment, and weekly updates with highlights and top priorities are necessary. This communication must be distributed through multiple channels, and leaders align the company's priorities with the team's goals.

Force Separation. Employees can have difficulty separating themselves from their work in a hybrid or remote environment. Steve stated that if you see someone on your team working at 8 PM when they started working at 8 AM, you must force them to stop. Employees often feel burnt out because they struggle to end their work day. The panel expressed that leaders must promote healthy working habits and encouraged everyone to block time on their calendar for activities they enjoy. For example, Kim said that she always schedules time in her calendar for yoga. Incorporating small breaks in your schedule will help keep employees engaged, and it is up to the leaders to force this separation.

Break Out Sessions: Remote/Hybrid Teams Debrief

After the panel discussion, all of the attendee's broke off into breakout groups to debrief. Below are a few takeaways from my breakout session.

Remote Teams Must Focus on Connections. To start our discussion, our breakout leader asked the group who works fully remote, hybrid with an office option, or in-person. Most of our group worked in a hybrid environment and came into the office once or twice a week, while others were fully remote. We reflected on the pros and cons of remote work, but we kept circling back to the importance of connections. Having co-workers to rely on is crucial. However, our group expressed that creating those relationships in a remote environment is challenging, because they do not physically work alongside their colleagues. One group member that leads a fully remote team said, "I cannot even picture turning to someone and asking them a question anymore." Many remote employees do not experience those water cooler conversations with their co-workers that allow them to connect because their virtual meetings are time-bound and very intentional. Leaders must make it a priority to have non-work-related conversations with their teams when in a fully remote environment. 

Employees Miss Face-to-Face Engagement Without Realizing It. Within our group, most people worked from home. The leaders who did work in a hybrid environment only went to the office once a week or even once a month, and they preferred it that way. They shared that they save time on their commute, save money on gas, and have fewer distractions from co-workers. However, being at this event made some realize they missed face-to-face engagement. One of the leaders in our group that works remotely met one of her co-workers for the first time at this event. They took this opportunity to connect and concluded that they missed seeing co-workers in person despite loving remote work.

Fireside Chat with Ryan Barretto, Sprout Social President

To end the day, High Alpha Managing Partner Scott Dorsey sat down with Ryan Barretto, President of Sprout Social, for a fireside chat. The two focused on the importance of hiring, how to do it well, and how to lead your teams through uncertainty. They both offered great advice, and we wanted to share the key insights that bubbled up for our team.

The Right People Must Be on Your Team. According to Ryan, "if you have the right people on the team, everything else will fall into place." He claimed that leaders must invest their time in finding the right person for the job. Otherwise, the consequences could be costly. Ryan shared a few of his best practices for finding the right people for the organization. Ryan shared that he finds ways to "test" his candidates based on the company's values. He then takes the time to get to know each candidate, asks intentional questions, and has them create a presentation about themselves to discover their passions and see if they align with the company's culture. 

Make Sure to Subtract When You Add. In the current economic climate, organizations' priorities are subject to change. Ryan encouraged attendee's to challenge their teams to understand the company's priorities. However, leaders must subtract priorities when adding new priorities to ensure everyone is on the same page. Leaders must share at least one thing that is essential to the organization through their communication channels, so all employees understand the where the organization is going.

Explain the Why. As companies experience change, leaders must communicate openly and transparently about the change. Change can be difficult for a lot of employees; but they are more likely to get behind it if they understand the reasoning. Also, the reason for the change should align with company's mission, vision, and values. Employees want to understand why priorities change and will accept it if it makes sense for the company.

Final Thoughts

We're so thankful to everyone who took the day to learn and grow and hope to see these and other learnings brought back to their respective companies.