humanizing technology through empathetic leadership
Meredith Bennett (she/her)
I am a strategic business leader who creates collaborative, psychologically safe work environments where everyone involved is able to bring their big ideas and authentic selves to the table. We execute innovatively to help our communities and positively serve the world at large.
S.T.A.R. is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, & Result. Hiring managers will sometimes ask an applicant to tell a story using the STAR framework, so it’s good to be prepared for these types of questions. Even if the hiring manager does not request it, they will likely ask you to give an example of something in your past experience. They might say, “tell me about a time when you…” or “can you tell me about a situation where you…” Use the STAR method to recall stories easily that are relevant to the job and company/industry. An easy way to come up with STAR examples is by using the STAR Miro template.
Miro is an online whiteboard platform that can be used for personal or business use. Miro boards can be created for individual ideation or for group collaboration. I have been using it recently to prep for job interviews.
I am at a point in my career where I am seeking a highly visible leadership role that involves business partnerships or clients at the enterprise level. Most companies go through an extensive hiring process for these types of positions, resulting in numerous interviews over weeks or months where one might meet with team members from all levels of an organization.
Sometimes some of the same people will be in multiple interviews with you, so it’s important to have several examples prepared to keep the conversation interesting and to help prevent redundancy.
Here’s an example of a STAR board I made for an interview the other day:
The purple, green, and orange stickies represent different examples I was prepared to share during the interview. For each example, I came up with a scenario (S), task (T), action (A), and result (R). I thought through the details of every story and used the stickies on the call to remind myself of the example and what I wanted to share about it.
Here’s the process for using the STAR framework:
(1) Create a new board with the STAR template and come up with a title that helps you find it easily among your boards.
(2) Think through the kind of company you’re applying to. What experiences have you had in the past that might relate? For example, if you’re applying for a sales position at a SaaS company, what kind of SaaS clients have you worked with before? Do you have a memorable moment where you provided this client with exceptional service or helped them solve a problem? Did you have a difficult situation that you had to resolve for them?
(3) Choose a sticky color for this experience from the stickies on the left-hand side of the board, or click on the board itself to add a sticky in the color you’ve chosen.
(a) Use the first row to add a sticky with keywords that remind you of the scenario. (b) Go into the second row to add a sticky with the same color that has keywords related to the task you did pertaining to this scenario. (c) Next, on the third row, put another sticky in the same color that describes the action you took. (d) And finally, on the fourth row, create a sticky in the same color that reminds you of the result of the action you took.
(4) Rinse and repeat with a new color for a new example!
A while back, I made a Career Needs spreadsheet that helped me establish a list of my Must Haves, Nice to Haves, and Can’t Haves related to my job hunt. The spreadsheet was focused around the role I’ve been looking for and the type of company I want to be a part of. It was intended to help me clarify which companies aligned with my values (and which did not). I have also used it to clearly explain my needs to career coaches and recruiters.
Developing the spreadsheet was helpful, but I later decided to take it a step further and map it out on a Miro board. I started with the Brainwriting template which looks like this (image borrowed from Miro…I hope they don’t mind):
This template is generally used for team ideation, but I selected it because its layout was ideal for brainstorming and was an easy way to grab a rainbow assortment of stickies and rearrange as needed. That’s one of the great things about Miro – use it for whatever you like! The templates are just there to get your ideas rolling.
I first thought through what my spreadsheet wasn’t providing me (no need to redo the work if transferring it to Miro didn’t elevate it). Along with identifying my Must Haves, Nice to Haves, and Can’t Haves, I decided to consider more than just the role and the company since there are so many elements that are important in a healthy work environment. The categories I came up with were: Company, Role, Coworkers, Manager, Clients, Community (initiatives/impact), and the Can’t Haves (since those needed to be pulled away from the other ideas for clarity).
I took the stickies at the top of the Brainwriting board to mark the categories and changed the colors so they were lined up by column. At that point, it looked like this:
Next, I added all of the content from the spreadsheet under the relevant categories, then came up with additional ideas so each category had a similar number of items.
Once I had all my ideas on the board, I started looking for themes. I identified that Behavior, Company Philosophy & Strategy, Demographics, and Benefits were key areas, and noticed how some categories had overlapping concepts (for example, communication is a critical factor for me all across the board, but especially with my manager, clients, and coworkers.
I rearranged the stickies, giving me the ability to see the non-negotiables from my list and to envision what my ideal future work environment would look and feel like. Who do I want to work with? What are the company’s values? What kind of support do I want? What types of clients energize me? What’s critical to my happiness and well-being?
Here’s what it looked like when I finished:
While rearranging into these new categories took the board completely out of the Brainwriting layout, I had accomplished what I needed from that initial format and was able to turn it into something that made more sense for me. That’s the great thing about visual storytelling with a tool like Miro! You may start with one format and end up with something completely different, but the process of organizing and reorganizing helps these ideas stick (they are stickies, after all), expand, and bloom into a far clearer picture than you had in the beginning.
I also believe that visualizing what you want (either literally or figuratively) helps you achieve your goals. By using a visual tool to expand on my career needs, I’ve been able to hone in on what matters most to me. Being a highly visual person, it helps these concepts attach to my brain so they’re at the forefront of my mind when I’m job hunting. It has also provided me with a great deal of clarity when I’m speaking with recruiters, coaches, and hiring managers, and has enabled me to spot red flags with companies or potential managers before I got too far in the hiring process.
If you want to work on one yourself, here are the basic steps:
(1) Create a Miro board (I used the Brainwriting template). You can set up a free account and do a few boards. I’ve upgraded to the consultant level so I have access to more features.
(2) Figure out the key areas that are important in your next role. My categories were: Company, Manager, Role, Coworkers, Clients, and Community, plus my Can’t Haves.
(3) Make stickies for each category and identify a color for each.
(4) Come up with a list of attributes for each category and write them on stickies that are color-coded to match the relevant category.
(5) Look for over-arching themes that come up repeatedly. I used Behavior, Company Philosophy & Strategy, Demographics, Benefits, and Can’t Haves. Recognize which themes are essential, nice additions, and the absolute “NOs” for you.
(6) Move the category stickies that initially topped each column over to the right and turn them into a legend.
(7) Go into a job board like LinkedIn and look for postings that correspond to things on your list. Save the role, then go to the company’s website and see if you can find additional attributes that match your goals.
I’ve used Miro on a number of development projects over the last few years, however most of the time I was working on a board made by our UX experts or designers who were using the tool to brainstorm with those of us on the product team or externally with our clients.
More recently, I’ve decided to start trying out some of the other templates in Miro to extend my capabilities in the tool. I’m currently in the midst of a fun side project that’s in stealth mode, so while I’m not able to share the Miro-related work I’m doing for that, I’m also using Miro to assist me in my job hunt and am happy to share those details with others.
On Monday night, I applied for a customer experience and program management leadership role which seemed like an incredible fit for my background and skills. To better understand the company, its product line, and the customer entry points (and to prepare for any upcoming interviews), I created a Miro board with the lotus diagram template. It fit my needs perfectly. It allowed me to research the company and gather my thoughts and questions in an organized fashion.
Here’s the gist of what I created:
Before I had the chance to send this as an addendum to my resume, the company reached out to schedule an interview. Unfortunately the salary range for the position was half of my salary requirements (put the salary range in your posts, people… it saves a lot of wasted time on both sides), so I opted not to continue in their process, but I sent along this board as a PDF in case it could help their team in the future.
By researching the company and their products with such structure, I was able to think clearly about my most pressing initial insights and the product-related questions that I wanted to ask during the hiring process. Hopefully this idea is helpful to other job applicants in the midst of the Great Reshuffle, so I’ll plan to post additional hiring/applicant-related Miro boards in the future here as well.
So you’ve finally gotten your leadership team on board with a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) strategy. You’ve hired a consultant, a DEIB manager, or you’ve added it to the (already overflowing) plate of your HR/talent team.
You’re learning about initiatives like those we adhere to at Baltimore Tracks, a coalition of tech firms in Baltimore working hard to resolve the diversity and equity issues in the tech community. Are you committed to the following?
Collecting employee data through a DEI audit/demographic survey
Publishing data and setting milestones for improvement
Sharing your best practices with other organizations
Sharing qualified, diverse candidates with other tech firms
Removing degree requirements (outside of those necessary for certain roles)
Paying your interns
Great! Sounds like you’re off to a good start.
So what’s a healthy next step? Take a good, hard look at your company policies with a DEIB expert and try to see where your well-intentioned standards might not be fair to everyone on your team. Case in point: in-person, hybrid, and remote work.
Obviously, some roles require physical work that prevents remote options — we’re not talking about those. But many roles are in-person solely because it’s always been done that way, the leadership team/CEO prefers it or believes it’s necessary, or there’s fear of employees being less productive away from the office.
According to Karl Moore, professor of strategy and organization at McGill University (via Kate Rodriguez at the Economist), only about 25-30% of CEOs are introverts. When the head of the company and the leadership team (who are frequently extroverted, well-off, straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied men or women who lack a diverse perspective) create a business office strategy, work environments will naturally reflect their own desires and comfort levels, often in the name of team cohesion, communication, and collaboration. At its heart, these decisions come from a good place, but they generally aren’t made with any consideration of diversity, equity, or inclusion.
While aligning your company with a strong DEIB strategy, it’s important to take into consideration the needs of the entire team, as well as the future employees you wish to attract.
Have you had open, honest conversations with your team members to know what they’re up against on a daily basis? Is the work environment set up to provide the best space for extroversion AND introversion? Have you considered social, racial, or cultural differences? Psychological safety? Women returning to work after childbirth (e.g. those who need to pump and store breastmilk)? Elder or child caregivers? Immunocompromised individuals (or those with household members who are)? How about disabilities like ADHD, mobility issues, hearing/sight impairments, autism spectrum/neurodiversity, or light and sound sensitivity?
As a business leader, you are a community builder. What can you do to build a better, stronger community? How can you show your team that you trust them to do their best work in the environment that suits them? How can you set them up for success?
You can start by surveying employees anonymously via a tool like Typeform or Google Form Creator to get an overview of the company as a whole. Review the data, then speak with each team member individually to learn more about their unique situation and see how you can provide a space that suits their needs and life circumstances.
What about people who don’t work well in a remote-first environment? Certain team members — especially employees who are early in their career, lack clarity around their job responsibilities, lack a quiet office space at home, or simply thrive within in-person environments should have the ability to work in-person if that’s a better fit for them.
Consider offering coworking options. In-person team meeting days. Smaller offices with natural light and noise buffers. Open areas for collaboration. Offices with doors that close to allow for better focus and phone calls without distraction. Find solutions that provide in-person environments for those who want them without the expense of a long-term, large office lease.
Think about the preference of your clients as well, but keep in mind that most clients would much prefer a happier, healthier, motivated team that’s focused on their needs than one that’s forced to be in-person in spite of the challenges it creates for them. Life has changed so much since the beginning of the pandemic, and most people understand that business has had to adapt and evolve.
Determine your budget and requirements, analyze the options, see which projects allow for integration with your other systems, try the new tool out yourself, provide it to your team, get their feedback, modify based on input, and iterate as needed until you find the best collaboration stack for your team.
The last two years have shown us that there are many ways to operate in varied team locations, some solutions more successful than others. If you find that your team isn’t performing as effectively in such an environment, determine what’s causing this. It’s likely a Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) — a leadership, structure, or capability issue that can be solved once you determine the root cause(s). (The recent Better.com performance-driven layoffs appear to be a good example of FAE.)
If you’re not strategizing for the needs of everyone on your team, you’re likely missing out on creating a healthy, well rounded, happier community, while also pushing away the unique voices that can help to shape your most innovative ideas.
An in-person work environment can increase the stress of your team members who encounter microaggressions in the workplace, so being more in control of the environment can be a healthy benefit to remote work for many people. Don’t forget though that there is inherent risk to not having the entire team in-person, so do what you can to mitigate that risk through solid planning, communication, weekly check-ins, and strategy sessions that involve everyone, regardless of location.
It’s critical that your remote workers aren’t removed from key decisions, albeit unintentionally, through proximity bias or spontaneous in-person meetings. Pay attention to where there might be bias in your management style. Are you taking your in-person team out to lunch? If so, ensure that you’re also doing remote lunches with your WFH team via Uber Eats or Grubhub. Are you finding your in-person team can easily walk into your office to chat? If so, offer open office hours on Zoom where you’re available to anyone consistently each week.
By offering in-person and remote options, you’re expanding the potential candidate pool for future positions, and opening up opportunities to improve the diversity of your team. There’s an enormous amount of competition for great candidates these days, so utilize everything you can to make your work environment positive, motivating, and worth sticking around for.
Open up communication with your team and start working from a thoughtful, holistic approach to people management. It will make for a far more collaborative, cohesive, and DEIB-friendly environment than you ever could have imagined.
When living out in LA, I didn’t get the allure of hiking. It was hot, dirty, and there was always the potential of stumbling upon a giant rattler sunning itself on the trail. My ex attempted numerous times to convince me of its merits, but I felt it just wasn’t my thing.
Fast forward to 2010. My first in-person meeting with my new boss in Asheville, NC was a hike in the woods with our dogs. I loved it, and realized that my dislike for hiking wasn’t about hiking at all, but instead was a dislike of dirty trails filled with rattlesnakes.
A few years ago, I started a handcrafted pet product company and called it Devoted Human. It was an enormous undertaking, and a labor of love, but didn’t take off as quickly as my budget allowed. Aside from gaining valuable insights around ecommerce, entrepreneurship, and nonprofits, it also gave me the flexibility to get a puppy and take her on hikes through the state and federal forests multiple times a week. I miss the days when I had the time and convenience of near-daily hikes with my pup.
One of my best friends moved out to Southern California this year (funny how life flip-flops like this), and she came back to Maryland over the summer for a quick visit. We both love a good hike, so we headed out to Patapsco on a sunny Saturday for a hearty hike and a nice long catch-up chat.