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26 Min Read

Building a Culture of Authenticity with Tyneeha Rivers (Podcast Transcript)

Adam Weber, SVP of Community

We’ve got such a powerful story to share with you. Today’s guest, Tyneeha Rivers, is the Chief People Officer at Curaleaf, and I think you’re really going to be blown away by how Tyneeha took a moment in her career where she didn’t feel like she was able to be her whole self at work, and she used that experience as a foundation for now creating cultures that feel safe and authentic for others. Tyneeha is a remarkable people leader. I’m excited for you to learn from her. So let’s jump in.

Tyneeha, welcome to the HR Superstars Podcast! I’m so thrilled that you’re here. I’m really excited to hear more about your personal story, and then also how that story influenced how you lead today.

And I wanted just to start about this concept of your own story and how that impacted your leadership and bringing your whole self to work. And so let’s just start there. Can you just talk me through the early part of your career and maybe moments in your life where you didn’t feel like yourself at work?

Tyneeha: So I started off my career over 25 years ago, and I started off in some larger Fortune 500 companies. And there was definitely a part of my experience where I just did not feel like I can be my most authentic self. I specifically recall a time where it was extremely tough that I spent most of my time crying in a restroom because it was a place where I felt like I did not belong. And I love doing fun things with my hair. Sometimes I wear braids, sometimes I wear ponytail. This time, I kind of shaved off one side of my head. I like to get fun and creative with my hair, and I really had a really nice style. I had my hair and braids tied in a bun, and I was tapped on the shoulder by a liter that specifically said that we really prefer your hair to be straightened, really don’t really love your hairstyle.

And that was really hard for me. And bear in mind, I was very new in my career, but I never forget that moment in time after that statement was made. It was hard for me because it really validated what I felt in terms of not belonging. And I said to myself, no matter what I do in my career, when I lead people and culture, when I lead HR, that I was going to make it my number one priority to ensure that organizations are creating a culture where employees can be their most authentic selves. And that is just being who you are, and not being afraid that some type of negative action is going to happen because of how you wear your hair, what you look like, who you choose to love, what your ethnicity is. All those things should not matter. What matters is that you can truly be yourself when you show up to work. So it’s just something that I’ll never forget that was a very pivotal point in my life at the time.

Adam: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that with us, and I’ll dive in later into how that changed you as a leader and how you create those environments, but I want to spend a little bit of time just on, from that moment early in your career, beginning to find your own voice and figuring out how to become your own authentic self when there wasn’t a leader like you in charge. Take me back to that early part of your career and how you started to find your own voice in the midst of those challenges.

Tyneeha: I would say that in order to find my voice, it was those tough challenges like the one that I just explained that really opened my eyes to see that, one, this is not okay. And then two, how do I stand up for myself to understand that when respect is not being served at the table, that is time for me to walk away. And it was at that moment in time where I was with the organization for quite some time, and I was like my father who wanted to work for organization forever and didn’t see that it was something that I should be looking to leave. That just wasn’t how I was brought up. But at that moment, I said to myself that I knew that the environment that I was in at the time, it wasn’t okay. It didn’t feel like a safe space for me. And that was the moment that I really felt my voice to say, one, that I’m not going to put up with this type of behavior.

I’m going to find an organization where I can be my authentic self, and also feel valued, appreciated, and supported. And I think that was at the time where I knew that I was discovering my voice. And not only just discovering my voice, but going to use that voice for good to help other people and to lead an organization where respect was being served.

Adam: And what I’m really struck by is that it wasn’t just like a… This wasn’t just like a, “Oh, I’ll speak up.” It’s like there was actually a moment where you go, “I actually need to leave. I need a fresh start.”

Tyneeha: Yes, I needed a new environment. And I think it’s hard too because a lot of us who are in the HR profession, we’re the fixers. We want to come in, we want to make things better. So I was torn at first. How can I stay to try to make things better, because I don’t want other people to feel like I felt, or do I leave to find the right organization for me? So I have to be honest that first I was torn on what to do. But through that self-discovery, I knew that in order to make change, it’s important for the leaders at the top to be aligned, right? If there’s no alignment at the top, it’s really hard for someone in the seat of people and culture to make a change. And that’s one of the things that I love about Curaleaf is… And I have to shout out Matt Darren. He’s an amazing CEO. He understands the importance of employee engagement. He understands the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

He understands that your employees are your most valuable asset, and that was when I said, okay, this is not what I’m getting here. I don’t see that at the very top. And that was why I made the decision to leave, to go find the organization that had better alignment, putting their employees first and understanding that you can’t do that without creating that culture of inclusion.

Adam: I am excited to hear about what you are building and how you’re transforming this culture at Curaleaf. I want to do one more question on this topic though, because this decision to leave concept and how you even just tied it to seeing a different type of leader, this actually comes up a lot in the community, people who maybe are trying so hard to make things work and they just keep hitting roadblocks. And you articulated that tension so well, of they feel attention of they want to be the fixer, but at the same time, they keep hitting these roadblocks. They don’t want to be someone that gives up on their people. What advice do you have for someone who’s trying to figure out maybe this is time to leave? What would be advice you might have for them?

Tyneeha: My advice is to ask yourself, have you done everything that you can do to inject change within our organization? Have you had those authentic conversations with the leader? Have you sat down and said, “Okay, here’s what we need in order to see significant change, to have an uptick in our employee engagement scores?” Have you had those conversations? And if your answer is yes, that you’ve done all that you can do, but you’re never going to see eye to eye with those who are leading that organization, then I would say then in your heart of hearts that it’s time to move on, that you’ve done everything that you’ve tried, and that’s all that you can do.

Again, I just want to reiterate, because I think it’s so important, if that CEO of that organization does not understand, despite your efforts, the importance of employee engagement, does not understand or respect how important it is for employees to be their most authentic selves, then I think that’s a hard road to travel, and I don’t think that you can really inject change without that alignment.

Adam: Yeah. I think that’s good advice. I have a hunch there’s a bunch of people listening in their cars or walking their dog right now just nodding their head going, “Oh, this might be the moment.” So thank you. Thank you for sharing that.

Tyneeha: I have to say this because this is the people and culture part of me, is that always be strategic about what you’re doing. So I’m not saying that, oh, everyone go into work tomorrow and putting your resignation. I’m saying that you have, one, made the connection that this is somewhere that you cannot be long term. And what do you do? You strategize and have a plan of a path moving forward. You start putting your feelers out there. You start networking. You start doing what you need to do to land your next opportunity, because you already made that decision that this is where you’re not going to be, so you know what you need to do. That’s one of the things that most of us do well, is networking because we know that’s the best way to find new opportunities. So I have to say that, but I don’t want people to make the mad dash.

Adam: In true HR form. It’s just like, and a disclaimer. Hold on, here’s the fine print. No, but I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that too. So then let’s talk about… You had this catalyst moment where you weren’t able to be your true authentic self. You were treated in a way that just didn’t give you the freedom and safety to do that, and then you then transition that into creating spaces where people could be there authentic selves. What does that look like at the macro level, creating safe spaces for others?

Tyneeha: What you really have to do first is train your leaders so that they know how to create those safe places for others, because oftentimes our leaders might not understand what that looks like, and it oftentimes is an intentional. I think we have to make the effort to train our leaders and to really help them be able to understand how to engage with their employees, how to connect with their employees. You said it earlier about how to really bring your whole self to work, right? We spend so many hours of our time at work. Oftentimes we spend more time at work than we do with our own family, right?

And when employees, or we refer to employees as our team members, so when team members show up, you can’t just focus on who they are when they show up to work. Get to know who your employees are. Ask about their families, ask about what they do outside of the work. Make them understand and show a really true sense that you care and you want to make a difference, and you want to know who they are, not just within an organization, but holistically within their life.

Adam: And I know one of the things you’ve been working on real time but right now is belonging initiatives at Curaleaf. I was curious to… I assume that’s tied in to this conversation. I was curious if you could bring that to life. What are you working on real time with belonging initiatives right now?

Tyneeha: Absolutely. So we just added the B for belonging, and one of our new initiatives is we are creating a DEIB council where we can ensure that we have our ERGs. And I have to get a shout out to our ERGs. They do such an amazing job. But in addition to that, we want to bring our council to life so we can ensure that the things that we’re creating within our organization is going to, again, reiterate and confirm our commitment to creating this culture where employees can be their most authentic selves. And it’s exciting. I got an email from Dan, who is our DEIB manager, is like, “T, here are all my thoughts for this council, and here are the people I think should be on this council. Let’s get this started.” And again, that just really confirms our commitment and what we’re doing to this space and ensuring that we’re continuing to move the ball in the right direction.

Adam: Yeah, that’s great. I’m curious, these belonging initiatives, when they’re up and running, what will be success for you? What will that look like for you?

Tyneeha: One, I think it’s hard. So I do want to say that, because oftentimes when we talk about all these great things that we want to do, we think we could just click a button and there’s instant change. Change takes time. So I do want to set the table with that. But I’m sure you heard this before, that engaged employees equals happy employees. Happy employees equals productivity. At the core of your business, you should start to see an uptick in productivity across the board.

And one thing’s for certain, employees will tell you how they feel, right? Numbers don’t lie. So you should be able to see an increase in your employee engagement score. I have the say in that you can’t change culture behind a desk, so leaders should be getting out there and talking to their employees and your people and culture team should be having focus groups and leadership workshops to really better understand how the employees feel, but you will certainly know. It’s going to show up in productivity, it’s going to show up in your engagement scores, and employees will be very truthful if things are moving in the right direction.

Adam: Yeah. And your like direct link to business outcomes I think is so clear as well. Obviously, someone who’s engaged, showing up, bringing their best self to work is going to be more motivated to do a higher quality and higher velocity of work, which is going to impact bottom line business.

Tyneeha: In fact, I’m doing focus groups right now. I’m on a tour. So I just started my tour in Pennsylvania where I met last week with our team members who work in our cultivation facilities and our retail stores. And we sat down, and I said to them, “One, let’s talk about what culture means to you. Because when I talk about culture, I want to make sure that we’re all on the same page.” So we talked about culture. I asked them for a grade on our culture, why they graded the culture that grade, and I specifically asked, “What do we need to do to make our culture better? What would you like to see to make you feel more engaged?” I saw something on LinkedIn and it said, you know when you don’t love your job when you start getting sick on a Sunday. So I said to our team members, I said, “I don’t ever want you to feel nauseous about coming to work.”

What are some of the things that will create that for you, prevent that from happening? And we had a really in-depth conversation, and we talked about things that we need to do to be better in certain aspects of our business. And I had a debrief with our leaders and shared that information with them, created an action plan on some of those suggestions. And I told our team members, “I’ll be touching base with you in 90 days to see how things are going.” I think that is just so important to get out of your office and get in front of those team members and talk to them. Let them see that you care. Let them know that you want to take a real interest in making things better. It goes such a long way.

Adam: And closing that feedback loop as well, which you did. It’s like, yes, you go and listen, but then also you’re going to close the loop and share what you’re going to work on or what the commitments are as well. You’ve done a lot of work around cultural transformation, coming in and transforming cultures. And I wanted to just first start, and maybe tell me a little bit about what cultural transformation looks like to you.

Tyneeha: Sure. I think before we really deep dive into culture transformation, we have to talk about exactly what I said when I talked about with our team members, what is culture to you? Right? Because there’s so many layers of culture. You have employee engagement. You have learning and development. You have diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. You have health and wellness. All of those things you have to look at holistically across the board on how you’re performing in all of those areas of culture. You begin need to do a deep dive and better understand how you can create a real goals and action plans in those specific areas.

I’ll give you a great example around learning and development. When I first got to Curaleaf, I did an assessment across the board, met with leaders, met with team members, and I said, “All right, let me prioritize some of the things that we need to do within our organization to improve our culture. And one of those was learning and development.” I said, “We need to do a better job of developing our leaders.” I have such an amazing vice president of organization and development.

She’s creating a learning and development curriculum. We’re rolling out courses, like leading with empathy, so that our leaders know how to really connect with our team members. And that’s just one part of cultural transformation, is looking at learning and development and putting together a real plan to approve in those areas.

So I think when you ask that question, it’s like, look at all those layers within an organization and really put a plan together, prioritize those that are of the utmost important, and be able to move forward with a, I would say a 12 to 24 month strategic plan on how you’re going to improve in those culture. And we, as HR people and culture professionals, we have to get comfortable with data. We have to really understand the importance of it. I have my KPIs for my department, and we’re looking at those KPIs very often to see how we’re improving. And one of our goals is to improve our employee engagement survey score.

That’s important. We want to decrease our turnover. All of those things will reflect by the work that you do within culture. You’ll be able to see those. And if you’re not seeing the numbers, then that is a true indication that what you’re doing is not working.

Adam: Yeah. The strategic HR leader, I think, leans in to data and then leverages that data to gain alignment, to show that the work you’re doing is having an impact. I want to hear your blink reaction on your three most important KPIs right now. If yet pulled up a dream dashboard, what are the three most important KPIs you’re looking at?

Tyneeha: Sure. I mentioned two of them. So that’s easy. Thank you.

Adam: I should have given you more than three. So engagement score was one you said, right?

Tyneeha: Yep, that’s important. And not just improve the overall score of it, I want it to improve the participation rate, right? So if you only have 60% of your organization, even though you scored an 80%, it’s only 60% of your workforce, right? You want to at least have 80% of your workforce, at a minimum, complete your employee engagement survey, but you should have a plan to increase that. I also like to recommend, it’s something I’m going to do here at Curaleaf, it’s one of our goals, is to do our employee engagement survey twice a year, opposed to annually. I also mentioned turnover, and specifically looking at your voluntary turnover data. You want to decrease that year over year and really take a look at that data on a quarterly basis. Meet with your leaders. I was just talking to my head of people and culture operations, but I spoke with her earlier.

I said, “Listen, I want to do a deep dive into the data with our leaders. So let’s start scheduling a quarterly call where we get on the phone with our leaders and we really break down our turnover data. Let’s look for any trends. Let’s look at if we see our employees through the exit interview, data is telling us that they’re leaving for X amount of reasons, that we’re addressing those in real time.”

So again, it’s breaking down that data, understanding it, and coming up with an action plan based on what the data is telling you. So that turnover data is important, and we’re looking to decrease that. And then last, I would say another thing that’s really important to me is really understanding, and I think this is a controversy one, Glassdoor. That’s important. I want to improve our Glassdoor score. Because when people go and you have candidates looking for jobs, they go to Glassdoor. They want to see what other team members are saying about your organization so that we have a strategic plan to be able to improve our Glassdoor score.

But again, it’s the work that you do and how you treat your team members when they are with your organization. It’s going to reflect within those scores. So again, those are my top three metrics, but there are more, but let’s focus on those three.

Adam: That was great. So for those listening, engagement score was one, that turnover rate was the other, and then the third was Glassdoor. But I like that you brought up Glassdoor because I think it’s a reality that everyone needs to talk about. And you can have the most beautiful glossy recruiting webpage ever, but if how you treat people behind the scenes doesn’t reflect that it does get exposed, right? Your weaknesses can get exposed. None of those things are a perfect solution, but it’s something to be mindful of. It’s something to be mindful of to create a great recruiting environment, and also just to hold yourself accountable too. Are we living out the values? Are we actually living out the values that we say we have?

Tyneeha: Yeah, that can be tough because I think the challenging part of what you just said is that sometimes when team members are upset, for whatever reasons, they use Glassdoor as a way to express themselves. And it doesn’t always accurately reflect what’s happening at an organization, because sometimes we are expressive through our emotions, and can be upset at that point of time, but it’s not reflective of the, let’s say, the three years that you worked for an organization. So that’s the tough part about Glassdoor. But again, it’s important because it’s a reflection of how your team members feel, and it is something that they use to express how they feel.

Adam: No doubt that oftentimes, regardless of topic, it could be a restaurant you went to, it could be your employer experience, the time that you’re most motivated and the most emotional is typically not when you had a mountaintop experience. It’s when you feel like you were mistreated. And that’s the unfortunate reality, is that it captures a moment, but it’s maybe not the business at their best moment, or it captures a very specific perspective of a moment as well.

Tyneeha: Yeah. But look, here’s a little tip for your HR professionals that are listening that I think it’s important that we forget. Glassdoor is not just a place where team members who leave should be sharing those experiences for your current team members as well. So when you think and you get that great feedback from team members, when you’re out and about or you’re talking to team, they say, “You know what, T? I really love that course that you had. I walked away from one of your leadership workshops feeling great.

You really taught me how to engage with my team members. Thank you for doing that.” “You mind sharing that on Glassdoor? Thank you for the feedback.” How do you drive positive traffic to Glassdoor? That’s part of your strategy. Again, it’s like getting a holistic view of how team members feel about your organization, not just those that are separating, but those who are currently with your organization as well.

Adam: I love how practical that is. So I feel like you’ve given so many good practical nuggets. Before we move on to the next topic, I just want to summarize an earlier thing you said too, so it doesn’t get lost, was on this topic of cultural transformation. One small thing you said was that you go in, you assess these kind of core issues, you build a strategic action plan, and you order it based on priority, and then it can take about 24 months to really transform a culture. And I just wanted to highlight it because that feels very real to me. That doesn’t feel like a glossy… It feels like, okay, that’s how an actual strategic HR leader changes a culture. They go in, they assess, they’re methodical with what they build, and then they execute for two years.

Tyneeha: Yeah, it takes time. And I know that’s hard because we’re getting pressures from all across the board. I want culture change immediately, and that’s just not how it happens. You have to allow time. And when you’re building out in your strategizing, it takes time, right? You’re putting together a leadership curriculum or a training curriculum that may be job specific, you have to train your team members, and it takes time to do that. And I just think we, as people and culture professionals, have to be realistic, have realistic expectations of ourselves, and then being able to help our partners and our leaders understand to have realistic expectations as well. So it’s definitely not easy because people want change immediately, but if you really want to see true change that last over time, again, want to have consistent change that is long lasting, then you have to give it time.

Adam: One of the themes that has emerged in HR, and we just held an HR Superstar summit recently, and this was the theme of the summit too, but it was doing more with less. And you’re touching on it a little bit here with focus. I’m curious how you are thinking about that this year. How do you keep things like your engagement high when everybody’s being more mindful of the money that they’re spending right now?

Tyneeha: One is you definitely need to have a level of creativity, because I think… Look, if we be honest with ourselves, it’s easier when you have more of a budget to spend on external resources to help us, right? It’s easier. But when you have to get very lean and you have less team members that’s doing more, then you have to get creative to figure out how you can still engage with your team members. One of the things that we’ve done here that’s really working well and we’re building from it is we introduced our culture champ, where for those team members, leaders who are living out our core values of making a real impact within our respective divisions, we have this Culture Champion Award where we really celebrate them. We send out a company wide email, it comes from me. It talks about why this person was chosen for this award.

And again, I think it’s just giving the employee visibility, but also celebrating the wonderful things that they do to really show that we appreciate our team members. So that’s just one of the things that we’ve created. And I would tell you too, is again, oftentimes in people and culture, I like to say we’re like superheroes. We wear our capes all the time. And this is the time where you have to take off your cape, put it aside, and really get cross-functional and collaborate, right? So we created also our culture committee. And our cultural committee is not just those in people and culture. It’s comprised of professionals in our internal comms, our marketing, IT, finance. We have many different people, again, so we can collaboratively look at our culture on what’s working, what’s not working, and come up with a plan to improve it. Another one of our initiatives that I love is our leadership and development series.

Each quarter, our CEO is meeting with all directors and above, and we’re talking about topics that’s going to make us better leaders. Last quarter, we wrote a book called The Trillion Dollar Coach, and we looked at how we can have highly effective teams, and how can we lead, and we cascaded that information down with our teams. So again, these are cost effective ways to bring about real change, but you have to be creative. And don’t try to solve them alone. Be able to partner with other thought partners in other spaces outside of your own department.

Adam: Everything you just said was gold. Just for our listeners, just to recap, in a world where budgets are really tight right now, get creative. That creativity taps into your innovation, collaborate, get everybody else on board with you, and then don’t go at it alone. You have to, through that collaboration, let leaders be the hands and feet of the work that you do.