Q&A with Julia Markish, Director of Advisory Services at Lattice

Media 7 | September 22, 2021

Julia Markish, Director of Advisory Services at Lattice, has a professional mission to impact the way work works so that people can live more fulfilled, integrated lives. She helps business leaders create inclusive, supportive, and effective environments that result in organizational success and thriving teams. She has advised executives on organizational culture through her independent practice, Orca, coached and trained leaders on how to achieve clarity for themselves and their teams via Talentism, trained and led discussions about Reinventing Organizations with the Teal Team, which she co-founded, and started and led the Employee Practice at Medallia.

It isn’t stated values, but rather behaviors and norms, that actually comprise a company’s culture.



MEDIA 7: Could you please walk us through your two-decade-long professional journey and what made you choose this career path?
JULIA MARKISH:
Coming out of college, I chose consulting as a profession for the common reason of having little idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I stayed in it for as long as I did, however, not because the work proved to be so perfect for me (it didn’t), but because at Bain, I felt like a valued and cared-for member of a community — I belonged. This was my introduction to — or perhaps induction in — employee engagement: I was engaged because of my sense of connection to the people, not because of a (lack of) connection to the work. That was what made me go snooping around the world of eNPS at Bain; it was what pushed me to take up managing LinkedIn’s Talent Brand, and it redirected me to HuddleUp, the front-line-team engagement platform started by Bain’s NPS guru, Fred Reichheld. After we were acquired by Medallia, I quickly became both the internal and external advocate for Employee Experience, leading the Employee Practice there for several years.

This was also the time when my compass underwent an evolution — when I started thinking more about fulfillment versus fun, purpose versus passion. I began to consider cultures — and the people who make up those cultures — more holistically, in the context of history, society, and the natural world. I did some independent work around organizational culture and alignment. I became an executive Clarity Coach with a forward-thinking coaching company called Talentism. I co-founded the Teal Team, based on Frederic Laloux’s seminal work - Reinventing Organizations. Finally, mid-pandemic, I found my way to Lattice, which was just starting to think about an Advisory Services function. The moment I saw Lattice’s mission, to make work meaningful, I knew it was the right next step.


M7: How does people strategy drive business strategy? Could you please elaborate?
JM:
Global industry has been steadily moving in the direction of people-centricity for the duration of industry’s existence, but it’s only become a common philosophy in the last half-century or so. Now more than at any other time, a company is more likely to be thought of as an ecosystem than as a machine. Knowledge work, specialization, continuous innovation, a focus on customer experience — today’s most valued attributes all rely on employees being valued and encouraged to be individuals. The hallmark of a machine is that while everything is interconnected, it’s also expendable — any one part can be easily replaced.

This kind of approach is what the industrial revolution was built on. In an ecosystem, on the other hand, there is a delicate balance between each participant — its hallmark is more or less the opposite of expendability so each part defines the state of the whole. This is where we find ourselves today. In an ecosystem, in order to care for the whole (execute on business strategy) it is imperative to also care for the organisms that make up the whole: ensure that they are well adjusted to the environment, that they have what they need to flourish, that they can contribute in a meaningful way. Translated into business terms: people strategy drives business strategy.


Knowledge work, specialization, continuous innovation, a focus on customer experience — today’s most valued attributes all rely on employees being valued and encouraged to be individuals.



M7: How does Lattice manage to make the 'Remote Work', work?
JM:
Lattice has a number of principles and tools in place that first helped us adjust to remote work, and have continued to help make it sustainable.

  • In terms of principles, the most important one has been ‘Clear Eyes,’ which is one of our company values. Clear Eyes means transparency and honesty, no matter what. Whether it’s leadership sharing a WIP remote policy to keep the company informed of their thought process despite not having an exact answer or plan, or it’s individual employees who have the courage to call out when they are confused or taking on too much.
     
  • This segues into the second principle, which is to truly be people-first. Our policies focus on how to enable people not just to work well, but to be well. Leaders model behaviors that support that, too — they take time off, they respond to all-hands questions with a lens of self-care.
     
  • And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Lattice uses Lattice — it’s been a critical tool for engaging employees in their work and each other, be it through private feedback, pulse surveys, praise, 1:1s, or even performance reviews.


M7:  Employee engagement and performance feedback help to shape company culture. Could you please shed some light on this?
JM:
I often remind our clients that engagement and performance programs are as much communication devices as they are requests for input. How frequently we run engagement or performance cycles, what questions we ask employees to respond to, the attention we give each cycle, and the actions we take as a result — in the case of engagement surveys, action plans at the team or company level; in the case of performance reviews, discussions between the employee and their manager — are all indicators of what’s important ‘around here,’ and what isn’t. For example, a company that asks only managers to provide a series of ratings for each of their team members’ accomplishments is sending a very different message from the company that requests qualitative input on the strengths and potential of employees from across multiple sources. These messages shape the company’s culture: they demonstrate to employees what behaviors are encouraged and which ones will go unnoticed. In the case of these two hypothetical companies, for example, I would expect collaboration to be much more prevalent in the latter company than in the former.


The most essential way to stay competitive is to continuously analyze for product-market fit.



M7: What do you think is essential to stay competitive in a market that is going through constant digitalization?
JM:
At the risk of coming off as simplistic, I think the most essential way to stay competitive is to continuously analyze for product-market fit. In addition, it’s critical to be aware of whether the digitization of a given market is accompanied by an updated philosophy, or if it’s simply a simplification of an analog process. Digital technology reaches different functions and different sectors at different paces, and it’s just as dangerous to try to ‘revolutionize’ a given sector earlier than it’s ready as it is to arrive as a late entrant to an already highly competitive market. When I look at the Performance Management industry, there are some companies that are running annual paper-based reviews, others that are relying on their HRIS to provide the digital equivalent of a paper-based review, and then there are those that have embraced a completely different approach to performance management — one that has only been made possible by new technology (continuous feedback, goal alignment and integration, and so on).


M7: What advice would you like to give our readers?
JM:
One of the biggest exploding-head moments of my career was realizing that it isn’t stated values, but rather behaviors and norms, that actually comprise a company’s culture. And that those behaviors and norms are not just a result of the combination of employees’ personalities; they are eminently open to influence. Just as described above, what the leadership of a company communicates to be important, worthy, rewarded is what rises to the top of the behavioral pyramid. And of course, I don’t just mean ‘say’ when I write ‘communicate’ — talking about the importance of something is step one, but then there’s ‘walking the talk.’ What gets spotlighted at allhands? Who gets praise during a team meeting? Who got the most recent promotion? What gets asked about in the engagement survey and what gets acted on? These are all signals that shape a company’s culture. And it’s only when the company’s stated values are aligned with those signals that the values are worth the paper (or walls) they’re written on.

ABOUT LATTICE

Lattice is the people management platform that enables leaders to develop engaged, high-performing teams. By combining performance management, employee engagement, and career development in one platform, Lattice provides powerful, real-time insights through analytics. Lattice's Advisory team brings together client data, industry knowledge, and market research to distill successful practices across People Programs.

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