Your Introvert Employees Aren’t Shy – You Just Don’t Have the Right Structures in Place
Corporate philanthropy platform Causecast operates with a relatively small team – and a significant chunk of it consists of people you might describe as “introverts.”
“You might expect it’s our engineers who are introverted, but we have a lot of introverts everywhere,” says Laura Plato, COO and president at Causecast. “Our services team tends to kind of walk the line between introverted and extraverted, and even our sales team is not the most extraverted group of people, like you might think of in the traditional way.”
While this wasn’t exactly a calculated hiring strategy, Plato does believe that Causecast’s industry had something to do with the high concentration of introverts working for the company.
“Being in the field of social impact and having a group of people who care more about being of service than about making money has really attracted a lot of interesting folks in all areas of our business,” she says.
Introverts, just like their extravert counterparts, bring plenty of unique strengths to the office and also a few challenges. While introverts are not necessarily shy by nature, Causecast did find itself facing a problem: It seemed that many of its introvert employees didn’t feel their voices were being heard.
“We weren’t getting the value of their great ideas,” Plato says. “It wasn’t intentional. It was simply a lack of good structures. We didn’t have good structures in place to help these folks who communicated in a different way to get their words out there.”
For example, Plato says that when faced with a big engineering challenge, the leadership team’s strategy was to come in and quickly ask for an answer to the problem.
What they should have been doing, Plato says, was something more along the lines of “creating a structure where folks could have some time to think about [the challenge] together in a room, work on it on a whiteboard, and then go after it.”
Demanding immediate answers “is not the best way to get results from folks who are more introverted, as they tend to need time to reflect and think through something before they’re willing to come forward and share,” Plato says.
But before Plato knew any of this, she simply knew she had a problem. Her employees didn’t feel heard. So she started digging.
What’s Missing? Ask Your People
The first thing Plato did was talk to employees.
“I did one-on-ones with every single person,” Plato says. “What I heard was, ‘You need to create more safe spaces.’”
Employees weren’t sharing their opinions because they didn’t have the proper structures in place to do so. Once the problem was identified, Plato then solicited feedback on possible solutions. She asked around about the kinds of forums employees would like to have. Monthly meetings? Regular one-on-ones? Weekly sessions? Or maybe something else entirely?
“One of the other things we observed was our folks love Slack,” Plato said. Not a big Slack user herself, Plato started to explore what was happening on the platform.
It turned out that “people were having really great dialogues through online tools, so that led me to think about other tools that might exist out there where folks would have the ability to give their input in writing, text, emoji, or videos, so they could communicate their way rather than gathering around a table,” Plato says.
It was around this time that Plato first encountered Butterfly, a leadership coaching platform that aims to facilitate transparent conversations between leaders and team members, at an HR conference.
“As soon as I saw what they were doing, I thought, ‘Wow, this would be perfect for my folks,’” Plato says.
Butterfly gave Causecast’s leadership team pulse tools they could use to check how employees were doing, as well as anonymous communication channels employees could use to share feedback without fear.
“It helped me learn a new style of communication as a manager, too,” Plato says. “That’s one of the big challenges: flexing your own style as a leader and meeting folks where they are, rather than insisting they communicate the way you communicate.”
After bringing Butterfly to Causecast, Plato noticed employees were talking a lot more.
“I would get comments and feedback like, ‘This is really cool, thanks for doing this,’” she says. “We would enter the live chats and people would say, ‘Thanks for having this conversation with me!’ It got me thinking: People finally felt heard. It was because we were meeting them where they were.”
What Your Introvert Employees Might Want
When Plato noticed a problem, she did the best thing she could have: She talked directly to her employees to find out what was going on. If you’re noticing similar issues in your workforce, do the same thing.
But to give you some guidance for those conversations, Plato also has a few general observations about how you can help your introverts feel heard:
1. Allow Space for Introverts to Be Themselves
Plato suggests thinking about the kinds of structures you have in place and talking with your employees to see what is missing from those structures. Ask how they would like to express themselves.
2. Create More Time
“We are all moving so fast all the time, especially in the workplace,” Plato says. “You need to create time for folks to process information. Sometimes, it’s good to ask a question and let them go away and come back with a better idea.”
3. Look to Technology
Tech tools like Butterfly and Slack give introverts a little bit of space, so they “don’t feel like they’re being stared at constantly or put on the spot” when they share their opinions.
“Instead, they feel very comfortable because you have that technology distance that is really helpful,” Plato says.