psychological safety

Psychological safety makes the team work

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During Shortlist’s October edition of 17@7, Doris Muigei, Head of Business Development and Partnerships at Shortlist East Africa spoke about how SMEs can attract top tier talent. In case you missed it, you can watch the full video here. As you will learn, one of the pivotal conversations was that of psychological contracts and psychological safety, which emerged as critical factors when considering retention of unicorns (read: your awesome, top tier employees). 

So, what is a psychological contract? Simply put, it is an unwritten set of expectations, disparate from the official, codified employment contract. (Read More)

The psychological contract should not just exist as part of the recruitment process but should continuously be referred and adhered to. Perceived breaches can lead to mistrust, employee disengagement, reduced productivity, severed employer-employee relationships and ultimately, attrition. Consequently, the psychological contract is a key driver of whether top tier hires will stay and grow your business to the skies or dive back into the sea of organisations eager to hire them.

Companies ensure consideration for employees’ psychological contracts by creating a psychologically safe work environment. Psychological Safety, as described by renowned Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson, is “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” (Read More) It is about “giving candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes and learning from each other,” Prof. Edmondson further explains. Psychological safety involves creating an environment of fairness and trust where each individual is welcome to voice their opinions freely, experiment without judgement and fail without being marked a failure. An environment where all employees feel accepted and respected.

How can you make your workplace psychologically safe?

Creating a psychologically safe work environment requires consistent care and effort. While it is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation to uphold team values and norms, leadership holds the most impact. Employees are aware of and take their cues from their leaders’ behaviour. It is therefore critical for leaders to act in a way that encourages accessibility, fallibility, accountability and trust.

In a psychologically safe environment, people actively share ideas, challenge systems, ask questions and tackle tough conversations head-on. Imagine that. Imagine the output when people have the brain space to think outside the box, rather than mull over the validity of their questions or project ideas. Imagine the growth when collaborative thinking is encouraged and teams are allowed to reach their full potential. Haven’t we all attended a brainstorm session where everyone simply nodded in agreement to everything the most senior person in the room said? An effective team should share ideas, strengthen plans, ask questions and support each other. 

Psychological safety is the seed that nourishes curiosity, confidence, a speak-up culture and innovation. 

A few years ago, Google embarked on a project –  Project Aristotle – to unearth the key elements of effective teams. This involved a two-year study on what it takes to build high performing teams comprising over 200 interviews of 180+ active Google teams and administered by a team of psychologists, engineers and statisticians. Psychological safety, Google found, was the most important dynamic of the highest performing teams. 

Practical tips on cultivating psychological safety

Each individual and each team is different, so you will need to dig a little deeper to discover what works for yours. That notwithstanding, here are some practical tips to nudge you along the way: 

  1. Open up the feedback lines: Ask lots of questions during team meetings and one-on-ones to get you to understand how the team feels about inclusivity, the culture around failure and team dynamics. Open communication creates an expanse for honesty, clarity and healthy conflict, and ensures spirited movement towards shared goals. In meetings, active listening should be the order of the day – no phones, no emails, no latest music on Youtube – just intentional discussion between the people in the room. Two-way communication should not only be encouraged – it should be institutionalised.
  2. Share belonging cues: “Belonging cues are behaviours that encourage safe connection in groups,” Daniel Coyle explains in The Culture Code. As humans, we have a knack for reading cues. For us to thrive, it is essential that a sense of belonging is regularly refreshed and reinforced. This includes communicating with behaviour cues in mind: eye contact, turn sharing, attention and body language. Cues that communicate that you’re safe here, you can put in effort, you are a valuable part of this special group and we believe in you.
  3. Make sure that the learning never stops: A major part of learning and innovating is encouraging experimentation. If something goes wrong, take the time to understand why before abandoning ship and reaching to the next solution. Encourage curiosity by asking questions. For instance, when mistakes are made, place more emphasis on the resolution rather than the faux pas.
  4. Acknowledge your fallibility: admit to your faults. By admitting to your mistakes, you make it more comfortable for employees in the room to do the same. When you treat failure as a possible outcome, learning and fruitful discussion on working together to improve results is encouraged. Failure is an event, not a person; no employee, not even you as a leader, should feel like a failure because they failed at a task.
  5. Practice transparency: a common myth is that psychological safety is about being nice. The truth is, it’s about openness. It involves being real about the nature of work, engaging in generative dialogue and supporting each other’s growth. San Antonio Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich, embodies the spirit of psychological safety in the way he leads his team. “He’ll tell you the truth, with no bull**, and then he’ll love you to death,” assistant coach Chip Engelland says. Highly successful cultures may be energized and engaged but they’re not simply fun lighthearted places. They involve a mission to solve hard problems together which requires uncomfortable truth-telling and many moments of high candour feedback. With the right behaviour cues however, the team is strengthened. 
  6. Define your values: bearing this in mind, it may be helpful to have a written set of norms that guide employee behaviour; a set of values that everyone can hold each other accountable to. At Shortlist, our values are not only prominent on our website but on one of our Kenya office walls too. Our values are regularly referenced in feedback conversations and team meetings as well as used as a guide for work practices, daily decisions and performance reviews. This encourages a sense of purpose, inclusion and fairness, all tied to something tangible, transparent and understood by the entire team.

In order to build a culture that embodies psychological safety, it is important to also recognise the different subcultures that exist in your company and constantly check in with your team to ensure that if changes are necessitated, course correction is done in a timely manner. 

It takes time and deliberate effort. Keep going…you’ll have a more productive organisation as a result!

How do you create psychological safety in your organisation? Tweet us at @Shortlisthires and watch out for more resources on company culture during our ongoing culture code campaign that will run until February 2020! Looking to Hire in India? Let us help you

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Millennials at the workplace

Millennials at Work: Let’s bust the top four myths

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The ‘me me me generation’, ‘narcissists’, ‘lazy’, ‘the joking generation’…there are probably more problematic names you have heard associated with millennials. Millennials, born between the 1980s and early 2000s, form a huge chunk of the global workforce and are steadily becoming key business decision-makers in the workplace. While the impact this generation has had on the workplace and the economy cannot be overlooked, there still seems to be a pervasive negative buzz around millennials at work.

How can this generation be better understood and equipped for success in the workplace? Let’s debunk some millennial myths as we explore some of the ways we can create a work environment for all generational employees to thrive:

Myth #1 – Millenials are obsessed with technology 

The gripe that millennials cannot go a minute without checking their phones may not be far from the truth.  However, given that this cohort was brought up right in the ascend of technology… it follows that phones, computers and tablets are a key part of their lives. This could, in fact, be a win for companies that millennials have no hard barriers between work and home life. This means they would work from anywhere at any time to beat deadlines.

Being the most connected generation in history, with the exception of Gen Z of course, millennials seek to make the best use of the technology available to them. At the workplace, this group wants to use the latest technology for efficiency and productivity. Getting stuck in old technologies while laying claim that millennials are slaves of new technologies could keep your company from achieving the best results. As we all know, slow internet and clunky systems frustrate both the old and young.  Consider taking what is available in your company a notch higher, to enable the new generations to perform at their best.

To further demystify this generation’s attachment to technology, a study shows that millennials actually prefer face-to-face communication to emails and texting. This goes to show that while they may make the best use of the new technologies for your company’s productivity, they are still interested in in-person conversations, for instance, when receiving or giving feedback.

Myth #2 – Millennials feel entitled and all they care about is money

A Shortlist survey that sought to understand what candidates value most in potential employers recently revealed that millennials are more interested in competitive salaries and promotions than any other age groups. However, while this stands true, it is fair to note that good pay is important to all employees. We are all hungry for opportunities to step up in our careers just as millennials are; the only difference is that millennials daringly ask for what they desire, and are more likely to move on to another job should they not receive the fulfilment they seek. This does not mean that they are selfish or entitled; rather they are brave enough to demand what they want while other generations may shy off or play cool.

This insightful report by CNBC further emphasises that millennials value opportunities to grow more than a competitive salary. An organisation that offers opportunities for professional development and pays fairly hones a high performing workforce. The key takeaway here? Millennial satisfaction does not come down to bean bags and 24-hour coffee.

Myth #3 – Millennials’ career goals and expectations differ from those of older generations

Millennials have been said to have career goals and expectations that are different from those of older generations. Top of this list is the hope of making a positive impact on society. While there is truth to this, doesn’t the need to make an impact cut across individuals from all generations? Rather than view this as a mean value, organisations should support these projects as they are important in affirming employees’ need to be part of a bigger picture. In addition to this, it further bolsters a company’s image and employer brand, which helps to build client relationships and stand out from competitors.

It is also true that millennials are different when it comes to switching roles, jobs or expecting internal promotions. Unlike the older employees, such as baby boomers, who could stay in the same job for long and some from start to retirement, it now seems rare to see employees hit the 3-year mark. This does not necessarily make millennials less loyal compared to the older generations; rather, it means that they seek to be challenged, have a clear career path and to feel valued at work. This calls for managers to do what they can to support the dynamic younger generation workforce.

Myth #4 – Expect a medal for participation

You are probably already familiar with the statement that millennials expect a prize for everything they do…even being last. However,  this not true. According to an IBM study, a fair and ethical boss means more to millennials than praise for accomplishments. The research further shows that Gen X are more likely to want a boss who compliments their work, while baby boomers would prefer a boss who solicits views from them than millennials would.  It’s not that millennials always expect constant acclaim and think everyone should get a trophy for participation. What they want is a manager who is transparent and open to giving them feedback for self-improvement which you would admit, cuts across all generations.

It is important to note that, millennials will represent 50 percent of the entire global workforce by 2020. This is, therefore, the ideal time to stop shaming them and instead nurture their creativity, passion and ambition to achieve success and make a world-changing impact. Rather than consider millennials a generation of weakness, let’s recognise them as diverse risk-takers who are shaping the future of work.

Further given the current competitive hiring climate, the talent available to you directly impacts your company’s ability to deliver its goals. It is therefore important to develop the best strategies to attract top talent among millennials. These range from culture, management style,  recruitment and retention approaches that benefit all employees.

Millennials are encouraging us to challenge and improve workplace practices that are ultimately beneficial to all employees. If anything, the workplace evolution doesn’t end here, Gen Zs are already joining us!

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Onboarding Ideas: 3 Fun Tips for Startups and SMEs

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Great onboarding isn’t just for corporates with big budgets! Build an effective and affordable orientation program with these free and fun onboarding ideas.

Onboarding is a crucial part of recruitment, but often feels like an afterthought once you’re done with the screening, selection, and the offer process. As a super busy startup or SME, it might seem unattainable to dedicate even more team time and resources for onboarding.

onboarding ideas
Credit: Criene Images/Twenty20

However, you may want to reconsider. In addition to making new joiners feel excited and welcomed, quality onboarding processes have been proven to increase employee engagement, productivity, and satisfaction, and reduce turnover and absenteeism in the long run.

How to begin? In partnership with the Shell Foundation, we created a starter guide to help you build an effective and affordable onboarding program. Here are three of our favorite fun and free onboarding ideas for you to incorporate today!

Tip #1: Create an informative and fun welcome packet to prep new joiners ahead of time

Create a packet of key information that you share with the new joiner a week ahead of their start date. It can be anywhere from a one-pager to a lengthier document, to a video, and you can update it and re-use it over the years.

Some onboarding ideas for what to include in your welcome packet:

  • Your mission and vision statements.
  • A timeline of key company milestones and fun facts about your founding story
  • An overview of your key products with images and feature descriptions
  • Case studies that demonstrate your impact on customers and/or society
  • Organizational chart with names, pictures, and titles, so they can get a head start on learning names!

For bonus points: Print out your PDF and send it to your new joiner’s house so they can flip through it more easily. Everyone loves deliveries!

Tip #2: Time your existing company events to create an engaging and busy first few weeks

Does your team already hold regularly occurring internal events? These could include all-company gatherings (like Town Halls or leadership Q&As), functional team meetings (like brainstorms or check-ins), or social events (like a monthly happy hour).

Try planning your team calendar so that these events and meetings occur during your new joiners’ first two weeks at the company. With a little bit of advance planning or rearranging (and no extra cost), you’ve beefed up your new joiner’s onboarding agenda with fun and engaging events that help them dive right into your company culture and routines.

For bonus points: Load these events into your new joiner’s calendar so, on their first day, they see lots of fun activities already planned for them.

Tip #3: Pair the new joiner with a buddy

Setting up your new joiner with a buddy gives them an automatic friend on their first day! Ask for team members to volunteer to commit 2–3 hours in the next three months to be a buddy. Ideally, the buddy is familiar enough with your organization (over 6 months tenure) that they can explain team policies and culture, and are not the new joiner’s manager. Once you’ve selected a buddy, here are some activity ideas:

  • Introduce the buddy and new joiner over email about a week before they join, giving the buddy an opportunity to welcome the new joiner and share any informal tips before their first day.
  • Set up a lunch or coffee between the buddy and new joiner on their second or third day, so they have someone to share questions and observations with after the initial deluge of information.
  • Ask the buddy to schedule a one-month and three-month check-in with the new joiner, so that they don’t feel like onboarding stops at activities of the first week!

For bonus points: Try to identify a common interest or trait between the buddy and new joiner, which can help as an ice-breaker. Make sure to go beyond the obvious (e.g., same university) to highlight that team members at your company strive to connect over shared interests and behaviors that go deeper than surface-level.

Thanks for checking out our top onboarding ideas for startups and SMEs!

Download the complete e-book:

Download our e-book Onboarding Your New Hires: A (Practical!) Starter Guide for more onboarding information, tools and templates.

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Putting the “chat” in chatbot: Introducing our new features!

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At Shortlist, we want to make sure everyone has fun throughout the hiring process! We design human-centred products for our clients (employers) and candidates to help them enjoy the experience of recruiting and applying for jobs.

We’re excited to introduce our latest product — a new & improved candidate chatbot!

Candidates chat with a bot — that’s as sassy, funny, or straightforward as our clients want it to be — to share details about their background, skills, and experience. Shortlist configures the chat questions based on specific details employers need — no unnecessary questions, and no boring forms!

Today, we’re launching a more flexible and interactive chatbot that will enhance the recruitment process for both applicants and employers alike. Take a look at our latest features!

A more interactive application experience for candidates

Hundreds of thousands of candidates across Africa and India have applied to jobs on Shortlist, and we want them all to know that we’re on their side! We try to understand these candidates as people — what they love and hate about job applications, what aspects of the process stress them out the most, and what they’d love companies to do differently. (We also engage with candidates on several other exciting topics, but not all result in a new product build 😊).

We took all of this into account when creating our new chatbot. Here’s what candidates are most excited for:

Better communication: Candidates can preview a job application before they dive in, see how long they have before the deadline, and track the progress of their application.

Candidates track progress through the application and chat using an intuitive interface.

More human interactions: A WhatsApp-esque chat interface makes it more enjoyable for candidates to share details about their careers and interests.

Easier navigation: Unlike most structured forms, candidates can easily move through various stages of the application and come back to ones they want to complete later.

Friendly prompts help candidates understand what to do.

Clear instructions: Friendly prompts, cleaner drop-downs, and lots of messaging tell the candidates exactly what we’re looking for.

Flexibility: Candidates can answer questions in the format they are most comfortable with. For example, they can enter their salary in whichever currency and time period they’re comfortable they’d like.

More flexibility and customization for employers

Hiring managers — what if you could automate every question you ask an applicant during an initial phone screen? That’s essentially what our chatbot does for you! It takes in the key information you would ask to gauge if the candidate is a fit for your role. Here are the features that allow us to replicate the experience of a phone screen, at scale!

Employers only include questions they need.

More flexibility with the question flow: With our customizable chat, you make sure you’re only asking relevant questions. Depending on a candidate’s response, you can branch to a different set of follow-up questions.

Automated screening: Exclude candidates that don’t meet basic criteria early in the process, just like you would not continue with a phone screen if the candidate didn’t possess a “must-have” skill.

‘Boost’ candidate scores on core requirements. Branch to different sections based on a candidate’s response.

Automated scoring: Give different weight to questions you care the most about. For example, if your ideal candidate has 4–6 years of experience building financial models, you can “boost” responses to the question, and it will reflect in the candidate scoresheet.

Structured data: Responses to chatbot questions live in set columns in our database. If a candidate has answered a question for one of your applications, they don’t need to again.

See for yourself!

We’d be delighted to show you around our new chatbot — email us at sales@shortlist.net for a demo.

We’re excited about making the hiring process as fun and stress-free as we possibly can and there’s so much more we’re working on to achieve this. Stay tuned!

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Shortlist’s Favourite Reads of 2018

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2018 — what a year!

We certainly had a lot of fun building cool products, going above and beyond for our clients, and engaging with hundreds of inspirational jobseekers last year. We also grew as a team, adding 27 new Shortlisters (and 3 Shortlist babies!) to the family. We even found the time to brainstorm and make a crucial addition to the Shortlist values.

But when we weren’t at work, we spent time refreshing our knowledge and discussing the latest trends across startups, talent, technology, and beyond! Without further ado, here’s what we loved reading last year (and why):

Paul Breloff (Co-founder & CEO of Shortlist and self-proclaimed bookworm):

The Culture Code — Probably the book that has had the most significant impact on how Shortlist thinks about teams and culture, and inspiration to this blog. It’s particularly exciting when a book can break through the noise and provide a compelling answer to a simple, huge question like, “why are some teams great, and others aren’t?” Daniel Coyle goes through the steps leaders can follow to build great environments that enable teams to thrive — as well as highlighting some of the common ways leaders and their teams muck things up.

The Fifth Risk — In case anyone needs any additional reasons to believe that the current US political situation is dangerously crazy, this book helps you understand why the apparatus of the US government is actually really important, beyond the politics, for things we really should all care about. Only Michael Lewis can make big bureaucracy fascinating and scary and a page-turner…

The Overstory — Will never look at a tree the same way again. A big-ish book but fundamentally changed how I look at nature, the delicate balance of our ecosystems and globe, and the philosophy-beyond-pragmatism import of caring about life forms even if they move slowly and don’t show signs of sentience.

Bad Blood — I definitely wanted more from this Theranos blow-by-blow, like a little bit more “what does this all mean, how can things get better” — but it still delivered a gripping page-turner of “How on earth did none of these adults stop this?!



Ariane Fisher (Managing Director — East Africa and one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs!)

Becoming — My favorite book of the year. Michelle Obama’s story is vulnerable, honest, and filled with insight on how to build a life of meaning.

Barbarians at the Gate — The incredible page-turner tells the story of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. It’s the ultimate story of greed, backstabbing, and corporate intrigue.

Educated— Tara Westover’s thought-provoking and moving memoir of growing up in a survivalist family in rural Idaho is at its core a story about the meaning and value of education.



Mridvika Raisinghani (Managing Director — India, saleswoman extraordinaire, and supermom to adorable 6-year old twins who are taking Mumbai’s junior chess circuit by storm)

Built to Sell — Some interesting sales anecdotes and perspective (e.g., don’t hire fancy country clubbers; hire 2 sales people at once and get them to compete), but packed with lessons far beyond sales and marketing alone.

Zero to One — A quick and fascinating read for any startup enthusiast capturing Thiel’s lessons from founding PayPal to becoming one of Silicon Valley’s most successful investors.

The Difficulty of Being Good — Gurcharan Das uses the 2000-year old Indian epic, the Mahabharata, to describe the failings and virtues of its major characters and how they relate to the ethical and moral dilemmas that we face in today’s complex world.




Rhea Mehta (Director of Assessments at Shortlist and mother to one of the three Shortlist babies born in 2018!)

[Podcast] The Sorting Hat — This episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain plays out the Harry Potter analogy to expose the risks of using personality tests to screen candidates for jobs.

Babyhood — A parenting classic on developmental psychology (and an engaging respite from reading about pureed foods, sleep, and diapers). Penelope Leach addresses how our minds develop and helps us understand why people behave the way they do.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go — This upbeat and easy to read Dr. Seuss classic, written for children aged 1–100, is one of the few books I consistently read to my daughter. It’s always fun to revisit Dr. Seuss’ lyrical adaptation of life’s profound truths — “You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose!’




Pranay Merchant (That’s me! Manager — Strategic Initiatives, recruitment geek, and startup and tech enthusiast)

The Hard Thing About Hard Things — My companion on a visit to the sunny beaches of Varkala, Ben Horowitz’s practical guide on how to navigate every hairy problem you can possibly encounter while building a startup is a must-read for every startup employee or wantrapreneur! Don’t be startled by the occasional hip-hop song lyric or liberal use of profanity.

Mindset — Stanford professor Carol Dweck distills decades of research on success in school, work, sports, and nearly every field of human achievement into a simple yet groundbreaking idea: people that think their abilities are unchanging — or those with a fixed mindset — are far less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset (the belief that one’s abilities can be developed through effort and embracing failure.

How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You) — Fascinating long-form article from one of my favourite blogs, Wait But Why. In classic Tim Urban fashion, this piece breaks down a large and consequential question into a digestible framework for how to pick a career that reflects “who you are, what you want, and what our rapidly changing career landscape looks like today”.

[Podcast] Talent, Tech Trends, and Culture — No prizes for guessing why this episode of the Andreessen Horowitz podcast makes my list. 🙂




Over to you… What were some of YOUR favourite books or blogs from last year? Let us know in the comments!

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