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Future of Work

Part Manager, Part Therapist: How One Salesforce Leader Boosted Employee Success

part manager, part therapist

It’s hard to keep up with the latest phrase du jour describing the state of workforce discontent and uncertainty. 

First it was the ‘Great Resignation’ – employees quitting en masse because they felt unheard and unappreciated. That morphed into the ‘Great Disconnect’ and the ‘Great Realignment’ – companies and leadership trying to triage the factors that led to the ‘Great Resignation’ in the first place. Now, talk is focused on ‘Quiet Quitting’ – where demotivated remote employees do what’s asked of them, but not much else. 

At the core of all those trends is one intangible that, until recently, wasn’t front-and-center at most companies: employee success.

And while many factors play into an employee’s success at a company, ask anyone who’s had a bad boss how that affected their work. You’ll quickly find that a manager is either the golden ticket to feeling fulfilled and appreciated, or a main factor that drives someone to leave. 

Salesforce’s latest research confirms the role of the manager is as relevant and critical now as it has ever been, with nearly 9 in 10 employees responding that managers who not only offer flexibility – but those who actually listen and make them feel heard – bring out the best in them. 

In a recent employee survey, Salesforce employees reported — for the first time ever — their managers were their most trusted source of information. This led Chief People Officer Brent Hyder to declare that the manager is the new CEO, and that focusing on the collaborative nature of managers and employees holds the key to great experiences at work.

Two years of chaos forever changed how “good manager” is defined

Following a series of societal upheavals ranging from the pandemic to global uprisings over inequity, the role of the manager has never been more important, and it’s also never been as complex. Beyond managing business units, teams, and projects, managers now also need far more sociological skills — ones that might be more associated with a therapist or a life coach than a corporate boss. 

Salesforce’s Head of Global Talent Experience, Elizabeth Gaito agrees. “I’ve been in this field for the last 20 years and it’s changed more in the last two years than it did in the first 18. The role of the manager has fundamentally changed since the pandemic. Being a human to others, caring for one another, and delivering amazing results don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”

I’ve been in this field for the last 20 years and it’s changed more in the last two years than it did in the first 18… Being a human to others, caring for one another, and delivering amazing results don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Elizabeth Gaito, Head of Global talent Experience, Salesforce

With a manager’s role now so different than it was before, Salesforce, for its part, decided to change the way it trains and give its managers the skills to shine. In the past, for example, development programs and training for manager skills were largely nomination-based. Today, Salesforce has the Great Leader Pathways program, which supports any and all managers or aspiring managers who want to enroll in the program in their career development.

Each pathway is a personalized learning experience that focuses on the skills, mindsets, and competencies needed to succeed at each of the stages of leadership, and that meet the needs of today’s unique challenges. For example, the company rolled out new training subjects like resiliency and mental toughness, which weren’t offered until the pandemic started, and the feedback has been positive. 

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Since launching these pathways, the company has seen a 200% jump in sign-ups, with more than 24,000 managers participating. 

How one Salesforce leader adapted to being a good manager in a new world

Christina Romas-Cowell is Salesforce’s Director of Business Development for Nonprofit and Education. She also leads a team of 38, and like many leaders, her role took on a whole new meaning during the pandemic – one where “human skills” were the new business skills. 

“I always thought of myself as an empathetic leader, but these past two-plus years really challenged me,” Romas-Cowell says of her experience. She is the leader of a sales team, and found herself having to balance both the bottom line numbers and the overall happiness of her team. 

Romas-Cowell saw the challenge as an opportunity, tapping into her sales-honed ability to read people to change the way she managed. In this model, the goal wasn’t to simply drive the business, but to use her skills to help employees navigate the many challenges they were facing in their personal lives.

External factors like the war in the Ukraine, mass shootings, and other polarizing domestic events played a major role in how her team members experienced work each day. 

“The number of different topics that I’ve talked about with employees is surprising,” Romas-Cowell notes, adding that while these types of conversations can be tough, they ultimately lead to a deeper connection. “From their perspective, it becomes: ‘This is someone that can support me through this unique time in our world.’ I don’t think they look at our relationship just as manager-employee. But rather, ‘This is someone that I can talk to when I’m struggling.’”

I don’t think they looked at our relationship just as manager-employee. But rather, ‘This is someone that I can talk to when I’m struggling.’

Christina Romas-Cowell, Director of Business Development, Salesforce

Having managers who actually listen and do something with those conversations is exactly what employees are after. Romas-Cowell says she’s gotten positive feedback from team members who received either an outlet to speak to or “time to step away to process something.” 

Romas-Cowell gathers members of her team – many who flew in just for the in-person connection they’d been missing – at her home in November 2021.

Good managers put empathy at the forefront

Patrick Triplett Jr. was one such employee. Just months into his time as a Business Development Rep on Romas-Cowell’s team, his grandmother passed away, leaving Triplett struggling with work. 

Eventually, he explored the idea of taking a leave of absence, which he says Romas-Cowell, “fully supported and guided me through.” In fact, he didn’t even know that leave was an option until Romas-Cowell suggested it. 

Triplett took the leave of absence from June through October of 2021, and the time away was critical. As he worked through his grief, he also received an important diagnosis.

“During my leave of absence, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder,” Triplett says, adding that he “was fortunate to have time away to prioritize the beginning of what would be a new way of life for me.”

Taking the time away is one thing, but returning can often be challenging without the right manager in place. When he was ready to return, Triplett felt at ease thanks to Romas-Cowell’s ability to get him back into the flow of work at a speed and volume he felt comfortable with. In fact, he was more than comfortable – he was set up to succeed and thrive.

“With her guidance on balance, prioritizing mental health, and SMART goals, I was able to return from my leave and get promoted a few months later,” Triplett says. 

With her guidance on balance, prioritizing mental health, and SMART goals, I was able to return from my leave and get promoted a few months later.”

Patrick Triplett Jr., Renewals Manager, Salesforce

LinkedIn post from Romas-Cowell congratulating Triplett on his promotion | Feb 2022.

Triplett’s experiences on Romas-Cowell’s team, he says, showed “genuine passion for each member of her team’s development and unwavering support,” even on Slack or Google Meet. That compassion, he says, “is what sets Christina apart — her ability to see and value you as a person and an employee.”

Salesforce’s employee survey reveals that Triplett’s experience wasn’t a one off, either. Leadership support spans across the company, with 90% of employees agreeing that their managers support them to be successful in their role. 

Triplett is grateful for this level of support in a corporate setting. He’s “100% certain Romas-Cowell guided others in a non-traditional way and has had a great impact in their lives as well.” 

“That’s just who she is. I’m thankful for her.”

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