Breakfast Roundtable notes: People Ops & Goal Setting

Breakfast discussion

Learnitect and Ignite recently hosted a breakfast roundtable with People Ops representatives from over 30 fast growth tech companies including Treatwell, Google, Box, Lovecrafts, iwoca, Makers Academy and many more. We’ve written up our notes below for anyone that didn’t make it, and if you’d like to come to the next one, please email us.

// GOAL SETTING

  • There should be transparency across organization on organization, team and individual-level goals
  • Important that everyone in the business has a shared understanding of not only what the goals are, but also how the goal setting process works and expectations around them.
  • Good goal setting processes:
    • Team offsites are a great way to come up with team goals that support the organization goals
    • Process should iterate down the organisation (e.g. C-suite first, then each department)
    • Process should be short (2 weeks end to end at Lovecrafts), with the focus on doing
    • Use quarterly organization-wide meetings for each team to share progress on goals with each other
    • Link major team initiatives (and subsequent updates) to OKRs
  • Lots of companies are using OKRs, but there are a few caveats
    • These should be major points of alignment, not an attempt to cover everything
    • They should be understood as a framework for setting expectations
    • More suited to transactional roles (e.g. product), less suited to business as usual  (e.g. payroll)
    • In larger organisations (e.g. Box has >1000 people) then it can be difficult to link individual performance to company OKRs
  • Platforms for sharing goals:

// PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT

  • Perks for your superstar performers:
    • Increased development support from managers (e.g., biweekly 1-1s)
    • Coaching with external coach (e.g., discussion of individual’s strengths and weaknesses)
    • Rigorous development plan with stretch assignments
  • Manage underperformers with an objective of improving their workplace experience.  If this is not possible within the organization, provide support (e.g., career coaching, networking and introductions) to help the underperformer find the right role outside of your organization

// VALUES

  • Expected behaviour is more important than “values” per se
  • Values can be tacit as long as expected behaviour is clear
  • There should be boundaries (e.g. respect / diversity), but also a range within those boundaries
  • “Micro interactions” make culture work – constant reinforcement of what everyone expects
  • “Moments of truth” such as hiring and promotion form the backbone of culture, and are most important to get right

// ABOUT US

Learnitect

We develop outstanding leadership at the world’s fastest growing digital businesses. We organise programmes that pull together high potential team leads from different companies and teach them the skills they need to be excellent managers, as well as provide them with a network of peers for continued development. We make rising stars more productive, more professional and feel more valued. More information on our website.

Interview: Phil Blaydes @ Talentful


How did Talentful get started?

We started in mid 2015. Chris and I had both worked in agencies as well as in house (Phil at Mind Candy, Forward 3D and Thought Machine; Chris at Shazam and Audible). We were both contractors on day rates, but still delivering value compared to agencies working on placement fees. We asked ourselves: why is no one doing this as a business?

It wasn’t long before we started a relationship with Balderton Capital, who introduced us to our first deep learning client, and started a twelve month engagement with Zopa. Now we’re only two and a half years in, but we’ve served 102 clients and grown to a team of 40.

How did you grow headcount so fast?

We’ve hired almost everyone directly – we practice what we preach. We hired our own internal recruiter when we got to 15 people, and have been very lucky to attract so many people from personal networks. Now that Sophie Amato has joined as Senior People and Culture Manager, we’re increasingly values led in our own hiring. That said, we look for values add, not values fit, so personality wise there’s a lot of variety.

What are your values?

Focus, Grit, Partner, Action and Candour. We worked with Kim Stringer to do pulse sessions and tried to include as many people as possible, as we were very conscious not to have a top down approach. We wanted to codify the values we already had, rather than come up with something new. There were differences in opinion, but it wasn’t too hard to boil down to these five values. We’ve tried to stay humble as founders, and we work with a number of external advisors to support us – in addition to Kim, we have an executive coach – Viv Taylor, and Kevin Blair (VP Global Talent at IBM) as a mentor/non-exec.

Who gets coached?

Everyone that has a management role has a coach. Most recruitment companies just give their top biller a management role, without giving people the training and support. We want to make sure that we support people as they take on more responsibility, so managers get a two hour coaching session each month.

We’re actually spending 2-3% of revenue on coaching and developing people. It’s a significant investment, of course, but we’ve doubled productivity – in terms of number of hires made, per person, for clients – over the past 12 months. So there’s huge value to clients as well as our employees.

What else are you doing to develop people?

We have the Talentful Academy, which every new joiner goes through to ensure complete standardisation of knowledge across the business. This is predominantly delivered by Sophie, but lots of people across the business share their specialist knowledge. This helps to form networks across the company and is great for the tutors’ personal development.

Everyone thinking about a management role in the business goes through the Talentful Management Academy. There are nine modules in total, covering everything from difficult conversations to understanding and motivating their team. So people get a mix of classroom training and coaching as they move up the organisation.

We also do a lot of “micro training” – individuals take responsibility for putting together modules on a fairly informal basis. They’ll just send out a message on Slack about the session they are running, and anyone interested can join.

Finally, we have weekly lunch and learns, which everyone is obligated to do at some point. These could be on anything: a challenge overcome, an issue with a client, or something we’ve learned from our clients – recently we had one on the anti-capitalist culture of the multi-billion dollar, Riot Games.

What are the main talent issues you see startups having? 

We’re starting to see a trend away from people valuing share options highly. People are starting to recognise the chance of a big payout is small, and don’t want to take the risk and a lower salary for that. Larger companies are also starting to catch up – they are working on interesting tech stacks and big problems.

You need to have a very good interview process as a startup to counteract that, and really sell the opportunity. This has to be a 50:50 process where the candidate is sold as much as assessed – the interview process itself is the best way for candidates to assess what the company is like and whether it’s well run. All too often we see startups with unrealistic expectations about how much people are willing to work, and how devoted they are to someone else’s vision.

Ultimately, if you’re growing fast then you need someone senior who is championing the recruiting process. It’s very, very simple. There’s a massive variation in time to hiring across the industry, and whilst employer branding makes a slight difference, it’s no substitute for someone at the top making sure recruitment gets the attention it needs. This has to be the focus of the whole company – making time in people’s diaries, ensuring there’s good feedback, and generally running a tight process.

In the absence of inclusion at the office, women and other minorities are less productive than they could be. This must change.

Abadesi Osunsade

– by Abadesi Osunsade

At the beginning of my career the word ‘underrepresented’ wasn’t in my vocabulary. I was a fresh London School of Economics graduate rushing around the Financial Times offices excited to be an editorial intern. Sure, there were hardly any people that looked like me around. Almost everyone was a middle aged posh white guy, but I was used to that. All my experiences of London’s corporate world, from interviews to internships, were dominated by this one type of person.

So, like all my prior work experiences, I sought out the people with whom I shared some similarities. I hung out with the other young folks, people on the grad scheme. I hung out with the other people of colour, many of whom were involved in the diversity scheme that helped me secure the internship. In the company of diverse people, I felt less like the outsider and more like part of the odd bunch. In a good way. I felt safer and more relaxed. I felt like I could be myself, ask questions without fear of embarrassment, and learn and blossom.

When I transitioned into the tech world, the word ‘underrepresented’ still didn’t register. My first tech job was a role in Groupon’s burgeoning London office a year before the record breaking IPO. Forbes had just named us the fastest growing company ever. Promoted to a team leadership role after my first eight months I was managing a team of 4, then 5, then 10. I was 24 years old. As a London-based tech startup with lots of international managers, and hiring more and more people each week, we had an amazing diversity of nationality, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, religion and sexual orientation.

But the leadership was mostly male. I noticed male colleagues getting away with behaviour that many of us women found unprofessional. I noticed male team leaders in my department adopting aggressive management tactics with their teams to great effect. When I copied them with my team, I was labelled “scary”. Literally. A direct quote from the company’s first round of 360 feedback. When I questioned my team later at the pub, one of my direct reports said that he used to find me scary, but then he started thinking of me as a guy and that made it OK. The rest of the team nodded in agreement.

I started to wish there were other women in the room, as leaders and as individual contributors, to help me fight against these ridiculous beliefs and misconceptions. Most of my headspace that week was spent digesting this information and stoking the frustration burning inside me. It was valuable mental and physical energy that could have been far better spent helping my clients, solving problems, and making the company money. I started to realise what it meant to be ‘underrepresented’ and the real opportunity cost a lack of diversity and inclusion creates.

When you have an office environment where minority groups are not treated as equals by every employee, you create an additional burden for them. The time and energy they should be spending on their job is instead consumed by the annoyance and discontent of being treated differently. Instead of having the liberty to just get on with it, they are fighting battles.  They may be answering questions about their culture or identity when they should be doing value-adding work. They may be thinking about the offhand discriminatory comment a colleague made in jest when they should be doing their work. They may be thinking about which of your competitors would offer a more inclusive working environment when they should be doing their work. This is why diversity and inclusion is so important to me, there is no level playing field until it is achieved.


Abadesi Osunsade is the founder of Hustle Crew, a career advancement community for the underrepresented in tech, and the author of new careers advice book, Dream Big Hustle Hard: A Millennial Woman’s Guide to Success in Tech, available on Amazon now. She has worked at Amazon, Groupon and is currently a part of the community team at Product Hunt / AngelList.