How A Personalized Approach Solved For Attrition with SugarCRM’s CHRO

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The Culture Code

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Turnover is costly, in terms of both money and culture. Research estimates show that losing an employee costs a company approximately 33% of that employee’s yearly salary. Additionally, turnover creates gaps in knowledge and rapid change in team and company dynamics. For these reasons, many companies will pull out all the stops to improve retention, such as delivering complex, expensive initiatives to drive engagement.

That’s why I’m impressed by the simple-in-concept approach taken by Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of SugarCRM Shana Sweeney. By individualizing the company’s recognition and treatment of employees both at work and in their personal lives, she observed a massive decrease in attrition (from 23% to 9%). This kind of simplification and execution is present in all of Sweeney’s work—whether she’s breaking down leadership development into bite-size chunks to prevent overwhelm, creating project boards that allow people to jump teams and devote 10% of their time to something new, or building out manager panels to bring critical skills to life for her leaders.

With 400 employees, SugarCRM provides a full suite of customer relationship management solutions: marketing automation, salesforce automation, and customer service tools.

Shana Sweeney, CHRO of SugarCRM
Shana Sweeney, CHRO of SugarCRM

SugarCRM Culture Is a “Vibrant Tapestry of Empathy, Collaboration, and Passion for Problem-Solving”

Highly authentic cultures have a way of pushing through the noise and sounding as unique as they are. “Our culture is a vibrant tapestry of empathy, collaboration, and a shared passion for problem-solving,” Sweeney shared. “We have core values behind our culture, such as:   

  • stronger together
  • just fix it
  • embrace change
  • believe in ‘Yes, if.’”

Initially, Sweeney shared that she was very skeptical of “Yes, if” as a human resources (HR) professional. “But when we analyze problems, we try to push each other to look for the ‘yes, if.’ This frame of thinking leads to a lot of creative problem-solving. It's a very positive, creative way of approaching problems and considering all the possible solutions rather than giving a hard no.”

A Thoughtful Approach to Developing Overwhelmed Leaders

Sweeney noticed that post-pandemic, many leaders at SugarCRM were overwhelmed. With this in mind, she focused on bite-size, highly consumable learning in 2022.

2022: A Weekly Bite-Size Newsletter—“In 2022, we created a weekly newsletter that we named Manager Minute,” Sweeney explained. “The newsletter provided a short bit of information on a topic so that super busy leaders could still take one minute to read it and learn something. Alongside our newsletter, we provided tools, resources, books, and podcast links, where managers could obtain additional information if the topic was especially timely or relevant.”

2023: Quarterly Manager Panels—This year, Sweeney and her team are taking a more hands-on approach. Each quarter, they train leaders on key development topics as identified by the executive team. “The HR team provides a short introduction to the topic. Then, we've selected a panel of managers for each topic who are unofficial leaders of that skill. HR facilitates the panel discussion, but all the managers in the room can chime in with questions.” The panel-style approach fosters collaboration and mentorship. It’s also a nice way to recognize people on the panel for their great work. In addition to the panels, managers have a collaboration channel and access to a portal full of tools, tips, and relevant information. Sweeney and her team use a hands-on approach, providing one-on-one coaching to managers.

The last panel Sweeney and her team conducted focused on managing up. They had received feedback from the executive team that first-line managers could use help managing up for their own benefit as well as their team's benefit. “We ended up creating profiles of several of the senior leaders in the organization from a style standpoint, and then we gave some recommendations on how to work with those different styles to achieve the desired results,” Sweeney explained.

A Personalized and Humanistic Approach Drives Retention

Since Sweeney became CPO, the company decreased its attrition rate by 14% (from 23% to 9%). She attributes this improvement to her team’s highly personalized approach. “We treat people as humans first and employees second. We try to show appreciation and support throughout their employee journey and in their personal life. We do things like send flowers, baby gifts, and handwritten notes to new hires,” Sweeney remarked. “We take a very personal approach. For example, we've hired a personal chef for an employee whose spouse was frustrated because they were on the road a lot, and for an employee with a serious medical condition, we made sure that their pets were cared for.”

New Undertakings in 2024: Cross-Functional Project Opportunities

Moving into 2024, Sweeney is trying out a project concept where employees can examine projects other teams are working on and potentially devote 10% of their time to that project. “We're exploring the option of creating a project board and allowing people to apply for projects on which they can allocate 10% of their time to help broaden their skill set outside of their current functional area,” Sweeney said.

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CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at https://leadx.org/preview.