Guest: Dana Barzilay, Chief Human Resources Officer at Cyberbit

Employee engagement is always a challenge, and for Cyberbit, a company providing a cybersecurity skill development platform, it was even more challenging. Unlike most startups that begin their journey as a couple of founders and a small, engaged team of pioneers, Cyberbit was uniquely created through a merger of companies and therefore lacked the inherent involvement and buy-in of a startup. The HR team was faced with the challenge of creating a connection between people from various companies, a challenge that was exacerbated when the company was forced to go remote at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. That is why, in March 2020, the company decided to embark on a deep process around engagement with nothing set in stone and everything open for discussion.

“The competition is extreme, and people have other options,” says Dana Barzilay, Chief Human Resources Officer at Cyberbit “So we decided to focus on listening to people’s pain points. And we decided that it wouldn’t be an ‘HR project’, but would include the main stakeholders and leaders in the company. However, in order to involve the entire team, you need buy-in from the CEO. Luckily, Cyberbit’s CEO understood the need and was willing to make the changes. I also involved other people in all steps, making them feel like it was their project.”

Before launching the project, the team created indicators of success that would allow them to assess the initiative, including the less-tangible components. They also invested in roundtables and mapped main pain points. Not running away from the challenges – instead, they created a pain point survey both to let people communicate those challenges but also to recommend solutions. “You get a lot of harsh feedback when you ask about pain points, but that was the way to deal with it at the source level,” says Dana.

Pillars of the model

After mapping the pain points and determining the indicators of success, Cyberbit chose a model with several pillars.

1. Work Security

Following the multiple mergers, employees were looking for a sense of security. Transparency and sharing information was key to giving them that stability by letting people know what was going on in the company. They created more channels of communication, both formal and informal, including communication boards and regular conversations with the CEO in open spaces. There was a concerted effort to communicate all the time and make it part of the frequent routine. “We have a ‘gong’ ritual to let everyone know about every deal that’s closed. We show it in real-time, and also share monthly and quarterly updates.” says Dana.  

2. Wellbeing

During Covid, work and home life blended and Cyberbit made a conscious decision to connect to employees holistically. “We got to know their families—we sent their kids birthday cards, and gifts when they had key family events. We sent our employee’s parents wine for the holidays and made company mentions whenever a baby was born. We even sent every new baby a company onesie!” Dana noted.  

They also invested in creating connections between employees, and not only between people who work together on a regular basis or as part of the same team. Despite the inherent challenges posed by the pandemic, they even held in-person company fun events but transferred them to the open air.  Much of what they did was directed by the employees themselves. “We have a budget for wellbeing, and we let the employees choose how to best use it. They choose what they want to do, what snacks they want, and what they need to feel good at work,” she says.  

3. Relationships

Although they invested in supporting many types of relationships in the company, the relationship between employees and their direct manager was a key focus, something that they aimed to make part of the DNA of any managerial position. The HR team focused on how to empower managers and give them more authority. “In addition to training courses for managers and ongoing mentoring, we also gave managers a toolbox they could use, things they could do to treat and motivate their staff,” explains Dana.  “We empowered them to take a real role in employee wellbeing.”

4. Personal development

Cyberbit invested heavily in the personal development of each and every employee, creating a personal training plan tailored to their interests and skill set, and designed to allow them to advance in the company. “Employees don’t only want to do their job, they want to develop skills for the next job, skills that will allow them to advance,” says Dana.

However, employee development is often a cause for concern among managers. “Managers often feel that if they train an employee, he or she will leave,” she says.  Therefore the HR team also worked with the managers to allay their fears, and demonstrate the value of the program.  

5. Meaning and making a difference

Cyberbit also invested heavily in giving employees a sense of meaning and positive feedback. For example, at the end of each product sprint, every employee involved explains what he or she did during the sprint and the managers and other team members acknowledge their achievements. “We gave managers a toolbox for recognition,” says Dana. “Every week the managers can choose someone who did something special and send them a gift or do an employee spotlight. We focus a lot on recognition, with things like ‘rockstar of the day’.”

Moving the engagement needle

It was important for Dana to set goals for the program so the company could assess its success. The goals and indicators of success Cyberbit set at the onset of the project shows just how successful it was.

One of the goals was to create strong connections between employees and management, with a metric of lowering voluntary turnover. This was achieved with turnover reduced to 0.9%.

Another aim was to improve employer branding, which was also achieved as ratings in best employer sites improved by 12%, and cost per hire was reduced by successfully transitioning to a 100% direct hiring process in Israel. Additionally, the company was recently listed as number 5 on the Duns 100 list of best startups to work for, published by Dun and Bradstreet.

Equally important to Cyberbit was employee satisfaction which increased by 10%, according to internal surveys. Six months later, the results are clear. “We significantly surpassed all of the indicators we defined for ourselves—it was very successful. But it’s ongoing, we need to continue to invest. The employees have the answers, but we need to listen to them, and we have to focus on that,” she explains. “Sometimes, when you’re trying to do something, it’s patchwork. But we really tried to define all of the pillars at the beginning, and advanced everything at once, which allowed us to achieve the impressive results we achieved. If you want to make an impact, you need to hit all of the issues that are of concern for employees. You need to look at the full cycle,” Dana concludes. “But it’s not magic or rocket science. It’s a long journey, an ongoing journey, not a quick win.”