Kate James, Head of People Operations at Curve, has been working hard at keeping employees engaged, productive, and performing, even in the midst of a global pandemic. She shared her tips and ideas and ideas with us on:

  • Performance management without micromanaging
  • Avoiding Zoom fatigue
  • What we can learn from Netflix about managing teams

Hibob: How do you measure productivity without creating a “big brother” feeling among your employees when you’re all working from home?

Kate James: It’s been a relatively easy transition because even before Corona we had practices in place that carried over into our remote work. I have morning and afternoon stand-up meetings with my team. And it’s not to micromanage, it’s to keep us connected.

When I’m in the office, I’m so quickly thrown into meetings that my team doesn’t get time with me. Having the daily check-ins means I can identify work that my team needs my help to unblock, that we’ve become more socially and personally connected. Those daily rituals are really important for sharing work information and building relationships.

Something else we do is PPP’s: identifying your progress, problems, and plans for the following week. We’ve always submitted those on a weekly basis. They keep us focused on what will create the most value for the business this week, and where to focus my attention so my work will have the greatest impact.

Hibob: Do you have suggestions for effectively fighting Zoom fatigue?

KJ: It’s important to balance when you’re in meetings and when you’re actually getting work done. I find it difficult if I have a meeting, then only an hour to do a bit of work, and then another meeting. To avoid meeting creep, I have a few strategies:

  • I’ve been trying to schedule my meetings at particular times of the day closer together to avoid the dreaded loss of productivity that comes with context switching.
  • Make sure everybody who needs to be on a call is invited, so you won’t have to repeat meetings or discussions. 
  • Produce agendas at the beginning of meetings. In our management business review meetings, for example, we share relevant documents ahead of time, embedding additional links where needed. At the beginning of the meeting we take ten minutes to read each other’s documents, and then start the meeting.

A meeting should be about making decisions, not just collecting information. So finding mechanisms that make your meetings more efficient should reduce the number of meetings that you’re having and increase their quality.

Hibob: What learning and development programs are you running right now, and are they different from initiatives you were operating before COVID-19?

KJ: We give all employees access to a learning and development platform, and they’re welcome to use external resources too. At the moment there are lots of free resources online for learning new skills.

It’s important that employees use this time to develop and have something else to focus their minds on, and it doesn’t have to be work-related. You can learn a language or anything else that you want to learn about. It’s a way to keep yourself occupied while learning a new skill. It’s also something you can share with your colleagues.

Hibob: Are you having performance reviews this year?

KJ: Performance is something we constantly evaluate using something called the Keeper’s Principle, based on Netflix’s Keepers Test. It’s a continuous process whereby you ask yourself, is this person a “keeper,” a “placeholder,” or a “detractor.”

  • If someone is detracting from your team, not doing the work, turning up late, being negative, you need to remove them as quickly as possible before that impacts your team. 
  • Then you have placeholders, individuals who consistently deliver, but may need some development to move up to the next level.
  • Your keepers are individuals about whom you need to ask yourself: “If another company were to offer them a job tomorrow and they would resign, what would I do to keep them?” And you do that thing today.

There are a number of ways to reward your keepers. I appreciate how difficult it is to give pay raises at the moment, but not everybody is strictly money-oriented, and you can do other things for these individuals. You can change their title or give a promotion regardless of monetary compensation. You can offer more stock options if your company does that. You can increase their access to resources, like a particular training course that goes outside of their learning and development budget.

Hibob: How do you stay connected with other HR leaders during these times?

 KJ: One of the first things that happened when we went into this period was that another one of our investors’ portfolio companies reached out and created an HR group. Sometimes, when you’re in a business and have to be the expert in the room, that can be very isolating. It can become quite difficult to figure things out on your own. So for me, during this period, it has really helped to have a community of like-minded individuals with a similar perspective.


From Shayna Hodkin

Shayna lives in south Tel Aviv with two dogs and a lot of plants. She writes poems and reads tarot.