When Gavin and I started the Open Contracting Partnership, we were a team of two sitting with our own laptops at the Open Gov Hub in DC. Over the past six years we grew to a high performing team of 18 people working around the world to make public contracts open, fair and efficient.
We always tried to be a very ‘human-centered’ organization that fosters individual and team growth and strong personal connections among us. That became even more important a few years ago when we transitioned from being a DC-based organization to a remote team working from 8 different countries. We invested a lot to create connectivity, such as weekly virtual team meetings or in-person team retreats (which we now do virtually). We also created ways to connect as people by having a team Whatsapp group for kids and pet pictures and other life updates. We don’t always get it all right. Sometimes working across 8+ countries in a virtual setting can make it challenging to have quick decisions, productive co-working and strong connections but we always try and check in on how we are doing. Most importantly we always try to make space for each of us to show up as who we are – with our different lives and family situations while trying to shoot the lights out for open contracting.
At the beginning of last year our team gave us clear, constructive feedback that some of our HR processes could be stronger. Our team asked for clearer guidance on roles, career progression, professional growth, and also how we talk and listen to each other across countries and gender. We heard our team! With 15+ people and a budget of $4.5m we had clearly moved from a start-up into a more mature organization and we needed to lift our HR processes with us into our new phase of organizational growth.
We started with a salary market study and review process with the Birches Group to make sure that we pay fairly and in line with our peers. It was a really helpful exercise. Even though we consider ourselves a completely fair employer and it was a small sample size, we still found some discrepancies. So we immediately investigated and rectified these and added an annual gap review to our processes. It also enforced our ambition to diversify our Director roles. The process also led to our public salary bands.
We then realized that we also need better ways to transparently and fairly set out salaries within these bands. That’s when we started our journey into the world of HR philosophy, approaches and processes with mwah. Making Work Absolutely Human – experts in People & Culture. We partnered with James from mwah. who brought his expertise in HR and human-centered design to provide us context and thinking, which we challenged, checked, and applied to us.
We quickly understood that we must ensure our principles guide our way of working to be human, transparent and fair. We learnt that HR & Organizational Culture are a complex system that must work together – from purpose, to performance, growth, skill development, pay, communication and more – to build a culture where everyone can give their fullest contribution and unique perspectives.
We already had some solid existing practices, such as our weekly MMMs (Monday Morning Meetings), annual work plans and reviews, leader check-ins and feedback loops including ask-me-anything-sessions. But we had not yet articulated them in a coherent way, nor fully connected them to performance conversations, career paths or compensation. So, as we looked to design OCP’s next people practices, particularly around performance, growth and pay, an open and fair approach to build on our existing foundations was key.
What was our approach?
We took a highly collaborative approach with the OCP team and gathered individual input at every stage. We had some honest and courageous conversations. They were not always easy but we hope that they will make us stronger as a team.
With our team we created what we call our HR Principles, the areas that we stand for and that matter deeply to all of us. In People & Culture, there are always options to take, and we found these guiding principles helped orient our decisions on performance, pay and career pathways.
With the value of hindsight, we would highly recommend starting with your HR Principles, even before checking on things like market pay, to help navigate the People & Culture system.
What we have in place now?
We then translated these HR principles into some core practices and processes so everyone at OCP knows what to expect.
Compensation: We apply our principles to set pay using our public salary bands. We have a transparent process to review performance, competencies and growth and link them to compensation. We will do regular market reviews and annual salary reviews to make sure our salaries are fair.
Performance, competencies and growth: We value results (=performance), modeling values (=competencies), and professional development (=growth).
Coaching, collaboration and communication: We value continuous constructive feedback, we have regular check in meetings throughout the year to help each other be our best even when things get challenging, and an annual review to bring it together.
Learning: We offer professional development and support our managers to be great people managers through HR coaching.
To learn more see our website.
We are currently in our first round of annual reviews using our new principles and guidance. We will build on what we learn and continue to improve how we support growth and performance. We understand that People & Culture work is never done. It is about evolving our processes to make sense to your people – individually, and collectively. And we look forward to doing that with our great team.
We are now embarking on deepening our understanding and practices around diversity and inclusion. We have had first conversations about gender, race and creating inclusion at work to help support our diversity and get everyone’s fullest contribution. Our team gave us honest and constructive feedback. They told us we can do better here. So over the coming months we will have team conversations and sessions to understand our own biases, fine tune how we collaborate and communicate, update our policies and capture all of this in our first diversity and inclusion strategy, both internally as well as externally building on the great work by partners such as Hivos.
We will share back about what we learnt along the way, and always welcome hearing from our blog readers on best practices, examples and your experiences too.