Laura Dabkowski, our Vice President of People & Culture, shares her thoughts about the organization’s path ahead as Dexis explores the needs of a post-pandemic workforce – a workforce that requires flexibility, strives to optimize their work-life balance, and values diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Q: You have worked on talent development with some of the world’s leading organizations. In one word, what is at the heart of talent development?
A: In one word – trust. My work at GE was an amazing experience. GE is ranked among the best in the world for developing leaders – and for very good reason. We deployed dozens, possibly hundreds, of initiatives aimed at bringing out the best in people.
Now, having stepped back and considered what I really learned during my time there, it is that trust in the organization is the base on which all initiatives are built. We know this from organizational psychology research, but it is also innate in humans: A sense of trust and belonging is critical to feeling engaged, happy, and productive in any relationship. Work is such a big part of our lives so it is important to find a job where we feel like we’re important to the company, where we have a place and a purpose, and where we can make a meaningful difference. They say culture eats strategy for lunch. So true.
Q: What brought you to Dexis?
A: What attracted me to Dexis – and what bore out in the results of the staff engagement survey we just conducted – is the trust, relationships, and sense of belonging that is fundamental to Dexis culture. What we learned from the results of the survey is that there is a key relationship and trust factor between employees and their direct managers that people depended on for connection and a sense of belonging during the pandemic. I am energized by the fact that we have this great and essential factor.
Q: Organizational trust is not a new concept, so why focus on it as much?
A: It became obvious as the pandemic went on that our culture was suffering, but we needed to understand the reasons why. Dexis is a fast-growing company, but at the same time it is, and always has been, about ingenuity and putting staff at the center. The pandemic negatively impacted the interdepartmental relationships that depended on being together in person. The casual interactions when we were at the office created connections we hadn’t explicitly recognized as critical to employee satisfaction. In addition, staff missed the formal interactions such as cross-functional working groups, topical brown bags, and social events. They talked about feeling demotivated due to working alone at home, and the loss of informal interactions such as “drive-by chats” and being energized by meeting new employees.
Q: What is your focus for talent development at Dexis?
A: We are undertaking a series of initiatives, of which three stand out as the biggest ones.
The first is creating cross-functional cohorts of people who share common roles but represent different teams, with different perspectives. Cohorts unite people in a shared sense of purpose and can lead to significant cross-departmental cooperation and growth. We also plan to create onboarding cohorts so that employees have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them from their first day at Dexis. We’re also focusing on onboarding simply because we’re growing so quickly!
The second is reimagining performance management. Dexans use our performance management system to identify annual expectations and goals. We are currently working on maximizing the value of our system as an ongoing feedback and assessment tool that can be adjusted to ensure that every employee has a clear sense of what is expected of them, has the tools and resources to do their job, and that they receive regular and ongoing feedback – including rewards – from their manager.
Lastly, we are investing more in diversity, equity, and inclusion support, which has been a priority at Dexis. It was heartening to see that survey respondents commented on how they noticed and appreciated that commitment through our hiring practices and encouragement of staff-led initiatives.
Q: How can you be certain that the efforts you’re making are the right ones?
A: I don’t know that we can ever be 100% certain. When dealing with people, everyone is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all. Lives and minds change. Collaboration, continuous improvement based on a feedback loop, and a large dose of humility in the process can go a long way toward getting the efforts as right as they can be.
In addition, alongside every initiative, we’ll leverage what is already in place, like our employee thermometer, and we’ll design both quantitative and qualitative methods of measurement to provide a clear picture of the health of the organization. Looking at attrition rates, for example, can only tell us how many people are leaving, but without one-on-one conversations with employees and managers, we don’t know why. We need both of those things.
Q: What would you share with peer organizations facing similar challenges?
A: I’ve already talked about how we took some connections for granted before the pandemic. In a post-pandemic world, you must adapt and find ways to foster these relationships overtly and intentionally. Rather than return to pre-pandemic practices, this is an opportunity to be bold, to make mistakes, and to learn so that you can get it right in a sustainable way.
Laura Dabkowski is responsible for developing and executing a human resource strategy that supports Dexis’ strategic direction and growth plan. She drives employee inclusion, engagement, performance, development, and retention and sets the tone for making Dexis an amazing place to work. Laura brings a vision-driven, passionate, and hands-on approach to HR and organizational development that maximizes team performance to better serve clients and achieve business objectives. Prior to joining Dexis, Laura consulted in HR strategy and implementation and organizational design and effectiveness. She previously served as SVP of People and Organizational Development for ABS, an international NGO, VP of Human Resources at ARAMARK for both the Higher Education and Healthcare/Technical Services Businesses, and VP of Human Resources and Organizational Effectiveness at GE Capital.