Santhiago DeVicente - Organizational change needs honesty, not optimism

Welcome to the HR Leadership Podcast.

In this episode, eqtble Co-Founders Joseph and Gabe talk to Santhiago DeVicente, a Senior Recruiting Manager at Gusto.

It was a great conversation, with so many valuable insights. Before we dive in, here’s a little bit more about Santhi and his background.

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About Santhi

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Santhi has worked in recruitment and talent acquisition for 12 years, with a love for helping startups scale into stable, global businesses. 

Santhi is a strategic talent partner, career coach, and leadership mentor – with an enviable résumé that includes the likes of Slack, WeWork, and Gusto. He’s also a great storyteller and keynote speaker, who just naturally exudes passion and warmth. 

His work as a mentor and coach encourages leadership through kindness and openness. These are philosophies that he truly believes in, and his values are always at the core of what he does.

One of the biggest moments that Santhi has worked through was the acquisition of Slack by Salesforce in 2021, just as he became Recruiting Manager for the Americas. It’s a key talking point in this episode – but we cover a lot of ground.

We love talking to Santhi. We always feel better, enjoy ourselves, learn something new – or all three. And we’re sure you’ll feel the same.

In this episode

Here are some of the big points we discussed during this episode:

  • How do you help your people navigate big changes at work?
  • Getting comfortable with change
  • Enabling vulnerability in the workplace
  • What should leaders do when work gets scary?
  • Mindful communication
  • Where to look when addressing DEI

The details…

Navigating organizational changes – Slack’s acquisition

Gabe came out running, with the question we’d all want to ask the person in charge of recruitment at Slack during its $27.7 billion acquisition:

How did you get everyone through that change?

“You have to be able to know how to make your team feel safe.”

And by safety, Santhi isn't referring to job security – he’s talking about allowing your people to communicate and express how they’re feeling.

We’re still exploring the new era of digital work, and it can be lonely. Anxieties can be compounded in the post-covid workplace, and navigating big changes can be scary.

The only way out of that feeling is with communication.

“You have to be comfortable with change”

Startups should probably be renamed “changeups”.

The rate of change is breakneck, the pivots are frequent and acute.

Stability, which many workers yearn for, can be hard to come by in early phase startups. Every week is different. And that’s not exciting to everyone.

Related – The Downside of a Startup's Culture of Freedom

But Gabe notes that 100% stability is never guaranteed at any company. Santhi adds;

“Change is happening everywhere. Most companies are going through change. And change means so many things – it doesn't only mean a reorg.”

We discuss finding the answer to getting comfortable with change, as leaders and as employees.

Enable vulnerability

This chapter of our conversation kind of summed it all up.

“Helping folks navigate through change doesn't mean that you need to be overly optimistic – and often mask reality. Sometimes, it means being super transparent, even if that can generate some discomfort.”

Basically, leadership and people management need to be honest and truthful, even if it hurts.

“I used to navigate change by helping my people be overly optimistic. And maybe was that in tune with reality? Maybe at times not, but that's how you think you help people get through things. And then you realize that honesty, transparency, at the deepest level, is what helps people have peace of mind, and kind of know how to navigate things.”

And this brings Joseph to ask; how do you balance being in control as a leader, and being open and vulnerable – especially when panic sets in?

How should leaders navigate worry among employees?

What should you do when you feel the mood shift from “everything’s fine” to “everything’s not fine”?

It’s a big, deep question. Santhi offers this:

“When in doubt, be human. That’s always going to be the right answer.”

Everyone has values, and an internal compass. These ultimately guide our decisions and how we deal with things.

What is the “right” thing to do in these situations comes down to the individual, and their own internal compass.

As a leader, that compass can feel distant when there are hundreds or thousands of people between you and your guiding principles.

The needs of many can cloud your vision – even if you feel that what you’re doing is right.

There are other factors – legal, confidentiality, internal politics, safeguarding – things you can’t be totally transparent and open about, that can impact how you communicate during upheaval.

Navigating change and calming anxieties is hard for leaders. Doing what’s right comes down to your values, your relationships – and what you want your legacy to be.

Mindful communication from leadership

Imagine you’re a new hire, with a probationary period in your contract.

You don’t have a ton of experience, and you’re still learning everyone’s names.

Everything’s new. You’re excited and anxious. Then, you get this message in Slack:

Boss: can we talk for a moment?

How are you feeling?

Maybe you’re thinking, “what’s this about? Did I do something wrong?”. Your heart probably pumped a little extra blood as the message came in. You might have felt a swelling or rush in your head. A sudden loss of appetite. Tension. Worry.

Anxiety.

Many of us have felt that, and not just as juniors or new hires.

Communicating in the new world of work takes absolute crystal clarity, and mindfulness. It’s a little detail, but a really interesting one that has so much impact on how people feel at work.

A final thought – addressing DEI starts by looking inward, not outward

We wrap up with a profound talk about DEI and inclusivity.

“These conversations can often be very idealistic, and can often feel very big, and overwhelming – and while folks may listen to this and feel inspired, they go back to their day-to-day and they're like… ”where do I even start?”

It starts with education.

Learning is basically the answer to everything.

But it means more than reading books and learning processes – it also means introspection and learning about yourself.

What are your values, and why do you hold them? Where did you develop your relationship with the world?

Why are you like this?

Educate yourself, your team – build awareness on DEI, little by little. Encourage that thinking, encourage the mindset.

“As soon as people start thinking in an inclusive way, diversity is the outcome.”

Get the next episode, as it’s released

We really hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed recording it.

A huge thank you to Santhi – make sure you check him out on LinkedIn and Twitter – and subscribe to eqtble’s YouTube Channel to get notified when the latest episode of the HR Leadership Podcast comes out.

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