Rebecca Fouts: Challenge Accepted!

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Apr 28, 2021
This article is part of a series called SourceCon Digital Conference.

In her recent SourceCon Digital leadership track session, “Challenge Accepted!: Inspiring Remote Teams to Do Their Best Work”, Twitter’s Senior Sourcing Manager, Rebecca Fouts, gave a master class in how to build your interpersonal leadership acumen in order to succeed with distributed sourcing teams. Key excerpts from her advice follows:

Maintain a coherent plan

If you had major issues during COVID, your employees probably faced similar stressors. Not everyone does well with remote work. So give them work-life flexibility while maintaining structure, such as a no-Friday-meetings policy.

Talent Intelligence has become important during COVID, so keep a constant eye on layoff news as a talent source. Diversity became top of mind if it wasn’t already, and it changed company priorities. But Rebecca’s previous employer lacked a change management function, so they had to key into employees to help maintain their motivation in work and the company, but “motivation varies by individual”.

Harness the power of your team

She’s tried several things to help understand her employees, such as the personality tests DISC, MBTI (Myers Briggs), and Enneagram. “They’re useful” but also “put people into boxes.” When they get labeled, “you’re not tapping their full potential or seeing them holistically.” Instead, these became her most valuable evaluation (MVE) tools:

Operating manuals: a guidebook to your fellow employees. Make a template you share with your team that explains how to interact with you, covering things such as:

  1. Are you a morning or night person? How do you show up on your best day?
  2. How do you respond to stress?
  3. What should I do to help when you’re stressed?
  4. For feedback, what type and frequency do you want?

You can share these as stories during a team meeting or let people fill them out and store them in a central place.

Of the various tests, she found the Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 most useful. It’s inexpensive and she let everyone on her expense it. After answering the series of questions, it reveals five strength themes about yourself.  She encouraged people to set up virtual coffee chats with colleagues who had strength in common and looked for other commonalities. As a group, they reviewed what StrengthsFinder capabilities were missing on the team and incorporated that into their interview process to add that neurodiversity to the staff.

Other themes for team meetings: This can lead to other great learning elements to incorporate in team discussions, such as encouraged people to jot down answers to questions during a team meeting, such as what do you want others to see in you? Some takeaways might be to take one action that will help you and implement it in your life over the next quarter. In another team meeting, they reviewed “barrier words to your success” and discussed how to “change negative themes about yourself into something positive” by reframing and rephrasing. They also wrote “whykus”, short Haiku-format poems that revealed the “why” about themselves.

Roleplaying: she would put her sourcers in the hiring manager and recruiter situations. “It told me a lot about each person’s superpowers” and helped others to see “how to approach situations from a different perspective.”

Competency Check: A very important component of the process (which Rebecca is open to discussing if you want further guidance) on how to set expectations as a manager for each person. “I had them self-evaluate on a scale [on criteria] from initiating through executing. Everyone thought they excelled at what they did,” but it exaggerated reality. When she conducted the individuals’ reviews live and explained what she thought about each person on those scales, it was often illuminating.

“I prefer a mentorship over a management culture,” she said, where you acknowledge and correct for weaknesses and strengths, identifies areas of expertise and improvement, and ask them what they want to develop. That lends itself to a meeting theme on ways to improve as a leader. She created an enablement calendar where subject matter experts in each area would lead the meeting to show they invest in training and growth. She cited an example of a great sourcer who didn’t want to remain a sourcer. She saw her job as a leader to help grow him, so she challenged him to find relevant courses and he eventually became a scrum leader.

On holding people accountable, it’s “very important to me to set expectations on goals for the year ahead.” At her previous company, “there were 27 things I was responsible for completing” over the year. Rather than do them on her own, the team divided them between introverts and extroverts. They would check in periodically and everyone knew what they were supposed to do. The full list was not only completed but all goals were fulfilled well ahead of the deadline.

Be a consistent leader

For her, authenticity and vulnerability are hallmarks. “Things I’ve done wrong I’m transparent about: it’s ok to fail fast, ask questions and get better.” She took a course to improve her coaching ability, which required soliciting feedback from her boss and peers across the globe. “I got a lot of great feedback. I leaned into what I was really good at. I graded myself low in some things that my team thought I did well at.” She said the key was that “I was open on the issues I needed to solve and work on long-term and told them to hold me accountable for the baby steps to become a better leader for them. The two-way accountability was great — my team became my coach.”

Practice gratitude and fun

Similar to the “ring the bell” concept at staffing agency when a placement occurs, she starts every meeting with “shouts” – little things that make everyone successful. She summarizes and rolls those up to her leadership team. And she does the same to recognize their partners in recruitment marketing. “Spread the love, be public with praise, don’t miss life events, recognize volunteer work,” and run contests.

Some of the fun elements she uses – all of which are virtual since she’s always been a remote manager – include:

  • trivia games (which replaced happy hours, and some of her former team in attendance agreed these were fun)
  • murder mysteries (ping her for examples that work with groups of 8 or even larger)
  • icebreakers (many apps exist that generate random questions by category and can be used with a group)
  • participate in community volunteering activity (even better if being paid by the company to volunteer)
  • mental and physical wellness activities, such as craft-, religious- and holiday-themed activities, healthy foods, etc. The Outstepper app indicated “we were all lazy” so she encouraged walking meetings
  • corporate lingo bingo (to see who knows the definitions)

She will create a contest when there’s a hard goal to meet, such as the March Madness cold calling competition.

Final sage advice

In responding to a question about not having a great manager, whether due to unfamiliarity with the sourcing role or lacking strength in empathy, she agreed “you’ll work for people who don’t get you.” Instead of trying to change them, she advised to “focus on your strengths. Spend extra time on things that you feel valued in, and can add value to,” such as SourceCon, “even if your manager doesn’t get it. We’re all a work in progress.” We need to “go with a sense of grace in how we show up and behave to keep re-earning trust.”

If you’re a new manager of a remote team, she wouldn’t give different advice than to an experienced one. “My rule is no barriers to your success: anyone in the organization can call me anytime” and she expects to be able to do likewise, though you may need to reschedule the conversation to a different time if that exact moment is problematic. “It’s important to show people what the future looks like. They shouldn’t worry about their futures. Be over-communicative.”

She also urged that you “don’t hold onto judgment. Take the time to get to know your team” because they are far more than first impressions imply. The Clifton StrengthsFinder is really valuable for this stage. The underlying key is to treat everyone on your team as whole people, not just workers in a role.

Another side-effect benefit from this process, as evidenced from internal net promoter scores (NPSs), was a stronger sense of belonging. So you’ll end up with a team that’s not only better-performing but more loyal, committed, and a happier one.

This article is part of a series called SourceCon Digital Conference.