Silicon Valley Bank Financial Group’s Chris Edmonds-Waters on how HR can pave the way for what's next

Liz Fosslien
Head of comms and content

The future of work has never been more uncertain. On a recent webinar, our CEO Laszlo Bock spoke with Chris Edmonds-Waters, CHRO at Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) Financial Group, about how HR leaders can best support their people and plan for what's next.

Laszlo Bock (LB): What’s your top priority at SVB right now?

Chris Edmonds-Waters (CEW): Our biggest priority is taking care of our employees and their families. At SVB, we believe that our people are going to be happy if their families are happy.

LB: In the midst of so much uncertainty, it can be hard to figure out what to tell people and when. How have you approached this challenge?

CEW: At the beginning of the crisis, we were all operating off of fumes. We went into triage mode quickly, with the idea that the crisis--and the shift to remote work--wasn’t going to last that long. A few months in, we realized that was wrong. I remember thinking, “Oh wow. This really isn’t going away.”At that point, we decided to be as transparent as possible and to reduce decision fatigue for our people. We clearly laid out our plan for the next eight months, and told everyone we would be working from home through the end of 2020 at least. Providing some certainty helped employees make plans, and reduced the psychological and emotional stress of not knowing what’s next.

LB: How do you see the future of remote work evolving?

CEW: The pandemic has opened up our thinking quite a bit. Going forward, we’re probably going to spend less on real estate, and broaden our view on where to source talent and where that talent might be located. We’ll have to think much more deeply about how to build connectivity within a distributed model.

LB: Do you have any advice on how to approach the connectivity piece?

CEW: You have to be really purposeful about it when everyone is remote, especially for newer hires. If you and I have worked together for years, you can arch an eyebrow in a staff meeting and I’ll immediately understand you. But people who have just started working together don't have the kind of established relationships that make remote work easier. At SVB, we try as much as possible to emulate what we did in a face-to-face setting. It's the small stuff that can really make a difference. For example, when you get on a call, don’t immediately jump into the business part of the conversation. Spend 10 minutes talking about something non-business related. The connectivity piece is ultimately the glue of an organization. It leads to better results and higher retention.

LB: How do you see nudges helping employees at SVB feel more supported and included during these times?

CEW: People don’t have to wait for management to roll out a time-intensive program. Humu provides our employees with relevant, customized feedback that’s not generic or mundane. Nudges democratize the employee engagement process; they make learning much more timely and easy for everyone involved. We have a 70% open rate, which means it’s going really well. Our employees really dig it.

LB: As most of us have experienced by now, working from home can make it harder to detach and even lead to burnout. Has disconnecting been a challenge at SVB? If yes, can you talk about how you’re helping people find a better balance?  

CEW: The longer the crisis continues, the more and more we have to be concerned about the lack of boundaries between work and home. At SVB we put mental health front and center. We know everyone is feeling cooped up, so we address it. We rely on technology, webinars, and weekly conversations with our teams about keeping your mental health up.

LB: When times get tough, what one piece of advice would you give to HR leaders?

CEW: Do what you do best, and let everything flow from that. Act in service of the organization, avoid politics, and be the adult in the room.To find the courage to do that, especially early in your career, you need a really good coach or confidante, clarity about what matters most to you, and the willingness to make mistakes. That last one is especially important. It’s great when everything gets tied up with a nice bow. But from a learning perspective, what you get out of an experience really increases when you screw things up. And while that can be painful, if you keep perspective--and you’ve made well-informed mistakes, not poor decisions--a lot of growth can come from it.

LB: Is there a nudge that you’ve found particularly helpful?

CEW: There’s a nudge about taking time for yourself. I tend to move quickly; that small reminder to slow down and take a breath was cathartic. It gave energy back to me. Others at SVB have felt the same way. It’s a non-traditional nudge. I think it’s really great.The right nudge at the right time really makes all the difference.

To learn more about how Humu can help you offer your people the best support possible and drive meaningful change throughout your organization, request a demo.