Around the Bonfyre: Brian Sherman on Advancing Culture & Development in a Hybrid Setting - Bonfyre

Need to improve employee communication and engagement during COVID-19? Bonfyre can help! Get started here

Around the Bonfyre: Brian Sherman on Advancing Culture & Development in a Hybrid Setting

6 min

Brian Sherman is Sr. VP and Chief People Officer for Delta Dental of California and its affiliates, the leading provider of dental insurance in the US. Brian has over 20 years of people operations experience including management, human resources strategy, U.S. labor and employment law, and human resources technology. Here, he discusses how his organization is strengthening the employee experience in a primarily hybrid environment.

What’s something new you or your team is focused on in 2023?

Leadership development is a big priority for us this year. 

We’ve always had programs available on a self-serve basis, but where does someone go after completing a foundational course? We especially need to reach Supervisors up to Directors – how do we better connect with them to understand what it’s like to be a leader at Delta Dental and what foundation they need? And once you have that foundation, where do you go next? Which skills do you develop? It’s a multi-year effort.

Right now, we’re building out our framework of what it means to be a leader at Delta Dental. Over the last several years we’ve established our foundational elements of leadership and now are articulating our philosophy, how we assess work styles, and which tools and resources we will leverage to identify and/or fill gaps. We want to use what we already have but will bring in new capabilities when needed such as executive coaching. 

Sitting in the classroom or going through the training is the easy part. Applying it in the workplace is what’s hard. Assessments and even engagement surveys are helpful tools to assess the impact of leadership development, but understanding and quantifying if our leadership training is actually translating into better leaders is a gap for us and many organizations. It’s hard to directly measure. 

What’s your organization’s remote work policy?

We are fully committed to a hybrid, flexible work environment and have no plans to require any in-office time. Our team members can decide which days they want to work from home and work from the office (if any).

Related: The Biggest Challenge of Remote Employee Engagement

We know the benefits of remote work. What are your top 3 challenges with it so far?

Remote work was a big change for Delta Dental. We are a 68-year-old insurance company and have leaders who have never managed or led teams that are geographically dispersed. Pre-pandemic, we had 3% of our employees fully remote vs. 20% today. 90% were in the office and now 76% are hybrid. 

Supply chain: about 65% of our employees are contact center team members and delivering comparable telephony, computer setup, and even stable internet connectivity at home vs. the office has been difficult, driven mainly by supply chain issues in getting the right equipment to folks. This can create inequity with remote work – for some roles the equipment requirements and corresponding resource investments to meet them are more challenging.

Culture: With a geographically dispersed team, how do you ensure they are really experiencing the culture you’ve created? How do they have the experiences such that they like what they are doing and are happy to be a part of it? It’s much harder to do so when they don’t come into the office and don’t get to experience the social connections. When 4-5% are in the office and you’re doing something like customer or employee appreciation week, how do you extend that to a virtual environment so that everyone feels engaged? 

Development: We adapted our instructor-led training to be virtual and have a catalog of self-guided courses – we didn’t see any drops in engagement or participation because of going virtual. The #1 challenge we had with getting team members engaged in L+D before going virtual are the same ones we have today: workload. How do you make space for your team to engage in those things?

What’s different about Employee Experience in 2023?

One of the biggest changes I see is around interest in getting together in-person. During the pandemic everyone had a hard and fast stance against getting together or coming to the office. Now, we find that when we create meaningful events and purpose for being present in the office, people are willing to do so.

They still want the human connection; they just don’t want to come in when no one else is in or if they will end up just working in a cube and on a virtual call anyway. When we are intentional about in-person experiences, people reward us with their presence.

For example, last week the executive leadership team was in Alpharetta, GA for a 2-day meeting where we have a large contact center. On Thursday we hosted a “coffee chat” and invited anyone in that office to come have a light breakfast, mingle, and talk to Leadership about anything they wanted. About 150 people came in for this and, perhaps best of all, other leaders took advantage and coordinated in advance with their teams to organize other meetings and activities for their team and jointly with others.

It’s important to be intentional about in-person experiences and including a mix of work and non-work. For example, I hosted a quarterly update just for my team followed by Top Golf – we’re going to learn, update you on our strategic priorities, answer YOUR questions, and have some fun.

How is your organization leveraging engagement surveys today?

We do a pulse survey 3x per year.

We believe these surveys are essential to shaping and maintaining employee experiences, where our people can be successful and engaged, while also feeling seen and heard.

These pulse surveys provide a window into the minds of our employees. The feedback we glean from these surveys allow us to continue to fulfill the needs of our key stakeholders, drive the most impact for our business and deliver exceptional care. 

What is the post-survey action planning process like at your organization?

We encourage our leaders to review survey results and do post-survey action planning with their teams. In my experience, if you mandate it, Leaders will just check the boxes and enter it into the system – nothing matters if you don’t even take the time to read the results. 

Surveys are great but unless you have a lot of comments you don’t have all the context – it necessitates a strategy to go back and have a conversation with your team. This score went down 10 points, where did we go wrong?

Pulse strategy allows us to course correct and, with quicker feedback cycles, double down on initiatives that are yielding improvements. If you wait a year to assess if the action plan worked, you’ve lost a huge amount of time.

Related: How to Make Better Employee Pulse Surveys | Bonfyres

What do you see as the most compelling applications of AI?

Chat GPT is a fascinating tool and we’re quickly seeing the benefits and dangers of it. But AI is much broader than Chat GPT and we’ve been using it for years – robotic process automation (“RPA”) is a form of AI that intelligently moves work through the system and roots out transactional work that a human would have otherwise had to do.

AI is a broad topic, robotic process automation (“RPA”) is a form of AI that intelligently moves work through the system and roots out transactional work that a human would have otherwise had to do and we have been using it for years A recent example if of AI in practice for us, we just went live with a cloud-based, self-service interview tool that, after two weeks, has already transformed the way we hire and the experience for our candidates. To give you just one data point, it now takes about 43 minutes for candidates to schedule their interviews with us, because of the texting capability offered through this new platform whereas it previously could take days.

So, to answer your question,

I believe the most compelling application of AI is in its ability to realize efficiencies and create capacity for our people to do what they do best – consult, guide, strategize, partner – infuse meaning into the experiences we’re trying to create.

Go back to the top

Recent Posts:

Keep reading!

See more from this author

Want to stay updated?

Subscribe to our newsletters

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Bonfyre is committed to your privacy. We use the information you provide as described in our Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time.