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Our next guest on the People Over Perks podcast is Jessica Hayes. Jessica is the VP People & Talent at Whereby.

In this episode, we speak with Jessica Hayes, VP People & Talent at Whereby. Jessica tells us about her experience of being a VP People in a remote business, how she is building up "people ops as a product", how she approaches building her HR budgets and a lot more.

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Full Episode Transcript

Andy Parker (host)

- Okay, so Jessica, thanks for joining us today on the People Over Perks podcast


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Thanks for having me.


Andy Parker (host)

- Let's kick off then. You are the VP, People and Talent at Whereby. To start with, I'd love to hear a bit about what Whereby is. And can you kind of set the context for us in terms of the size of the company and the growth phase?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yeah, absolutely. So Whereby is a video meetings platform. We pride ourselves in being a place where better meetings happen. We have kind of created a space that reduces Zoom fatigue and is a bit more friendly in terms of usability in UX and UI. You can join one click in your browser, you don't need to download any extensions. But it's also just designed with like, calm in mind and kind of ability to work, I guess, cohesively and in a human way. And it also has an API product as well. So if you're building a platform, so maybe a medical platform, or like a nail salon, maybe you wanna do video consultations, you can build, like ingrain that, integrate that, sorry, into your app by using Whereby Embedded, which gives you like an API to use video platforms on your own product. 


We are about 100 people actually. I think we're probably just crossing the 100 threshold this week. And which kind of crazy, actually I think we were, this time last year we were 25. So that gives you some of the context of the growth phase that we're in. A lot of it is very much kind of catching up. Obviously, Coronavirus has been devastating to so many industries, but it's been an incredibly kind of momentous, I guess, period for video conferencing and video communications and working remotely, which is kind of the space that we work in.


And we ourselves are a fully remote team as well. So yeah, that's, I think a bit of the context.


Andy Parker (host)

- Awesome, cool, thank you for that. And so how would you describe your role in a nutshell?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- You sent this question over and I thought about it for a while last night, I felt like, "How do I describe it? It's so complicated." I feel like I listened to this BBC podcast the other week about bullshit jobs. And like, if you can't describe your job simply then maybe your job shouldn't exist. And I was like feeling a bit self-conscious that I couldn't just come up with it quickly. But I think there's a quote that says like, "Work will never make you truly happy,

but it can make you bloody miserable." And I think it's my job with my team to do everything we can to prohibit work from making you bloody miserable. We can never make you perfectly happy, but we do the best we can to make people's working lives safe and enjoyable. And yeah, cooperative and collaborative, I guess.


Andy Parker (host)

- Cool, yeah, I think that's a good description. And so you mentioned that Whereby is fully remote. And obviously as a VP, People and Talent, your job is obviously dealing with the team very, very much. And how has that been for you? Is that the first time that you've done a remote VP-level role?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- So, it's the first time I have been permanently, fully remote. I've worked in teams that have had distributed in hybrid teams for quite a while. So in Wonderbly, we had a distributed team in Portugal. We had some members of the team working in Brazil and America. Our customer success team was fully global and remote. So I've always had that kind of elements for the last couple of years. And I've previously done a bit of consulting work and interim work with other fully remote companies. But this is the first time I've joined a company permanently, when I started remote everyone was remote, it just was the kind of state of the union. So it has been a little bit different in that respect, for sure. And also, I mean, COVID just makes even normal remote (and if you're listening rather than watching you can't see me doing air quotes here) but it makes even normal remote working different, right?


Andy Parker (host)

- Yeah, yeah, that's very true. And of course the last year has been an accelerant for all of us kind of getting used to working remotely. So yeah, it's been a bit of an experience. Cool, and then, so I'd love to jump to a certain blog post that you wrote and the title of that was "People Ops as a Product." Can you kind of give us the background as to what the essence of that blog post was and how did it come about?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yeah, so the essence of the blog post, I think, is: I believe there is a better way to approach

people operations and human resources, whatever you wanna call it, human capital management for my folks at Goldman Sachs, where I used to work. In my opinion, there are kind of two sides to the job. There are the human sides of the things, that no algorithm or system or tool could ever do. And that's like talking to people about their career progression, having coaching conversations, understanding the kind of granular detail of qualitative feedback that people are giving you, and so much more. And then the other side of the job is building tools and systems for people to use. And I think that side of the job is very, very similar to that of a product manager in a subscription product. There's quite a lot of

crossover and I've really, I try in the blog post to talk about how you can build your team that functions a lot like a product squad, so that you can ship more tools, more systems, more processes to better enable your team and create a better employee experience. Which is in my opinion, what the product is that you're kind of the product manager for.


Andy Parker (host)

- Interesting. And so, really making that direct comparison, then, you're kind of comparing the customer lifecycle in a subscription product to the employee lifecycle within the business.


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yeah, absolutely. There are lots of crossovers. And I actually did a keynote where I even drew the lifecycle and kind of said, "I think these points are very similar." But when you think about like, you know...An employment contract in a lot of senses is like a product that every single month you continue to subscribe to. And at one point you decide, "Actually, I wanna cancel my subscription, give them a month's notice and leave," right? So if you think about

it from that perspective that is all these stages that happen within that. Like, there's upselling, kind of similar to a promotion, and you kind of want someone to do extra stuff, or get involved in extra pieces. Now, the difference here is, more often than not, people want to get promoted than be upsold to. But, you know, there's

obviously... No analogy is perfect. You've got the whole marketing funnel,

and that's very similar to employer branding and the way that you do kind of warm candidacy. And then you have this process of onboarding someone onto your product. You're making them feel like they really are glad that they subscribed. This is the right decision for them, right? We can even compare, in some regards, like a free trial to the probationary period, where most people are likely to churn. That's the kind of highest churn period outside of the kind of two years mark. And when you think about it that way, and you start looking at things in, like... Our team uses sprints and we focus on product improvements and shipping small iterative changes that managers can kind of look after and use. It starts, I think, to make the whole people experience a little bit more commercial. Or the people function more commercial. And also, I think it just makes you more productive. Or at least I feel like our team is shipping more stuff. And the stuff is very useful

because we're taking that mindset of like, "How do we help people solve the problems that they're having so that they have, they're more likely to continue subscribing?" Rather than, "How do we solve for engagement?" Which feels so... It feels ephemeral or something.

Like, engagement is such a strange metric. I've always really struggled to kind of just solve for engagement. Yeah, and I think I'm rambling a bit now. But it kind of, the idea kind of came to me a bit through working a lot more with product and really understanding how they work and being really impressed by so much of what they did. For a long time I really

admired the engineering culture approach to open source and sharing things and events. And I think people operations functions have taken a lot from that culture lately. And you find a lot more communities now that are sharing ways of working and really learning from how engineers spread knowledge. And I think the same is definitely true for products. And I think there's other functions too that everyone can learn off. But I had a moment, I think

where I was talking to somebody, I suggested that something, they said they had a problem. It's like a peer, right? They said they had a problem, I suggested a solution, just an idea. And their reaction back to the solution was, "Oh, it wouldn't be very good for reporting. Like, it wouldn't work with our way that we do our reporting to do that solution." And I was like, "I've never heard a marketing person or a product person ever say that," like, if it solves the

problem, they would never say, "Oh it doesn't work with our reporting, so we're not gonna do it." It's just such a crazy different headspace that I was like, I really feel like people need to at least think about and challenge that presumption that reporting is more, process is more important than kind of solving problems.


Andy Parker (host)

- Okay, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And so, you wrote this blog post sort of in the second half of last year, I believe. And where would you say you are on this journey, then? Is this something that you've been doing for awhile now or are you still kind of figuring this out for yourself at Whereby?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yeah, so it's something that I've been kind of doing for a while in a way, but Whereby gave me the opportunity to really build my whole team with this in mind. I mean, I hasten this,

I don't wanna say experiment, 'cause I definitely don't want my team to think that they're like subject matters in some kind of grand experiment. They're definitely not,

they're doing a fantastic job. And I also don't want the board and our investors to be like "What is the VP People doing at Whereby?" But it's definitely an a non-traditional way to have built a team. And Whereby is the first time I've ever really had the chance to like, properly 100% invest into this structure. But I've done… I've used this methodology before in the past, like, I did this at Wonderbly to some degree. I did this in some of my consulting roles. And I've been doing this at various companies in different ways over the last, kind of couple of years. But this is the first full flesh out of building a team with an engineer and a marketer and the customer success person who are now all people operations people.


Andy Parker (host)

- Okay, yeah. And so, let's

talk a little bit more about that, then. These people that you have on your team, as you say, they have skill sets that are not traditionally HR, is that right?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yeah, yeah, definitely.


Andy Parker (host)

- And so, are you bring them into your team and then utilizing the skill sets that they have from their functional expertise, and applying that to the HR department and helping them kind of figure out the HR stuff along the way?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yeah. So, the way that it's built is you have Jessie, who's an engineer, she comes from engineering and she's now the engineering people partner.So she is the partner with them on all the human operations side of stuff And then in our squad, she is the kind of, she has a good insight on the technical way to work stuff. But also on what the engineers need. Ashley, same thing, but for marketing, comes from a marketing background. And then Hélène, same thing, but for customer success. She was previously a head of customer success. She's worked in sales, so she understands how to think about the way that they work in terms of how we should kind of make products or make tools, whatever you wanna call them. So, an example I often give, which I think is a good one to explain how we work, is like, thinking about the problem of holiday bookings. So this is a pretty common problem at a startup about 50 to 100 people. People start booking holidays and people booking holidays over the top of each other. You've got a lot of people booking holidays kind of suddenly. You've got people kind of clashing with projects, and it all becomes a bit unmanageable, right? And very often what you see the solution be or become is, "Well, let's just write a policy." The VP people usually writes to the head of people. So write a policy that says "You have to give us a month's notice, so you're not to take your holiday." And if you're booking a

trip with someone else, it's first in, best dressed. Which, like... If you're thinking about it. So, if you were a subscriber to a product and they treated you like that, you'd like,

you'd probably give them them a finger to be frank. I would be pretty upset if someone made me feel kind of patronized and infantilized by telling me that I can't do something unless I follow the strict process and policy. It doesn't feel aligned with a lot of companies' values either. And I always got to scratch my head about why people operations, weirdly enough, are allowed to do that kind of stuff which feels so anti... It is the opposite of the values that a lot of these startups have, some of the ways that people ops functions kind of operate. So, the way our team would kind of solve that problem, would be, Jesse might implement a little Slackbot that says, "You haven't used holiday this quarter, just popping up to remind you that maybe it's a good time. Here's some days in the next month that no one has holiday booked that you could take a day," just to prompt behavior. Ashley might write like, an internal newsletter that goes out during holiday downtime. Like, when people are less likely to book holiday but maybe still want it, to say, "Hey, reminder: This holiday vacation, locations you might wanna go to" or something else. And then also she could track the reporting on how these different campaigns and things are going. And Hélène might help us by partnering with another company, for example, Booking.com or Airbnb, saying, "If you book holiday six months in advance, we'll give you a free night's accommodation wherever you wanna go." So, those kinds of programs feel more aligned to the way that we work, right? And it's, yes, a bit more complicated to build. But if you kind of break those problems out into two week sprints, you can kind of ship all three of those things within a two-, three-month period and have a better way to try and solve your problems. At least, also data on like, which things work, which things do your team respond back to, which things do they like, which things are useless? So you can better learn for next time rather than just a blanket policy that you learn not a lot from and maybe disengage a bunch of your team.


Andy Parker (host)

- Yeah, yeah. I think that's super cool. And it makes a ton of sense to operate that way. And as you say, like, the employee experience is ultimately what you're trying to drive forward, right? And doing these kinds of initiatives in that structure feels like a great way to go. And so, coming back to your team, I'm kind of interested as to how you recruited for those roles. Because obviously I'm thinking about how you would write a job description saying that, "Come and be an engineer on the people operations team" feels like a strange pitch. How did you go about that? And how are the conversations like with candidates when you're hiring for those roles?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- I actually had a really weird experience. I posted it on like a recruitment, like maybe a subreddit, maybe even at discord. I posted it somewhere and I had this recruiter send me this hate mail. Like, "They're already aren't enough jobs for recruiters or people ops people, and now you're giving everything to engineers, engineers get everything already." And I was like, wow, I really didn't think that this was going to ruffle anybody's feathers. But apparently people quite, you know, people found it quite shocking. But honestly, I just wrote a job spec that said, "Hey, if you're working in engineering and you really like the people ops side of things or really like management, or wanna become an engineering manager, but can't see yourself working in engineering for the next couple of years and want a different path, then talk to me about this job." And I reached out to a bunch of engineers that on their LinkedIn profiles or their GitHub or their Twitter, or whatever, they had already taken a kind of a lean towards people ops. They were talking about how to do better interviews or how to manage a team, or how to give feedback. And I think there's this like, kind of presumption that because someone's an engineer, they don't want to try different things. But actually, I had a lot of candidates and a lot of really great candidates. We go to the final round and there was some really, really fantastic people that we turned down last year. And the same was true for the marketing and customer service, right? Like, I think the thing that I really like about the engineering role in our team is that particularly women statistically struggle to break into engineering management because they have to spend a long period of time as a technical expert in engineering before they're allowed to really shine at the people operations side of stuff or the people management side of stuff. So it becomes a bit of a glass ceiling for women. That's why one of the reasons why you see a lot of women not remain in engineering management and not get those skills they need. And maybe, they're also managed by not very good managers themselves, right? So they don't get to become what they want to be. For some of them, of course, it's to remain a technical expert. But for some of them, they wanna become engineering managers and lead a team. And we try to offer a pathway, you can actually do that in our team. So you can be a relatively junior engineer and step into the people operations team, still do coding, still work with the engineering team all the time, and then maybe have a chance of moving into an engineering leadership position or an engineering manager role. Because you've kind of got the skills that you need to have. There's nothing preventing you from doing that.


Andy Parker (host)

- Interesting, I think that's super cool. And so then, very practically then, these people at the moment are reporting to you, but then they have dotted-line reports into, let's say, to the VP of Engineering within Whereby as well, or is it more separated at this point?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Well, it's just like any people partner kind of reporting line, I guess. So they have a reporting line to me, but the majority of their kind of human ops work happens with… And also a lot of the reporting on how they're actually doing day to day, happens with the leads of the function. So, you know, if a team is having an issue, let's say marketing is really struggling with something,  our marketing people operations partner, it's her role to speak to the team, kind of disseminate the feedback that's being given, understand the kind of broader picture, come to the people ops team with some solutions. Say, holiday's a problem or feedback's a problem, here's some ideas that we could do, help set up some sprints

and release a project. And then of course, I'll ask the marketing CMO or the marketing directors like, "How do you feel like the people operations partner went in solving these problems? So they're responsible, I guess, for giving the majority of the feedback that leads me to understand the performance outside of just pure people operations.


Andy Parker (host)

- Understood. Okay, very cool.And then you mentioned earlier that you've always found engagement a kind of a tricky metric to sort of try and improve. And so in your team then how are you measuring your success? What metrics are you looking at and how do you know if this is working out long term?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yeah, so we're doing two things. The first thing we do is we do this test called the Rands tests, which I really love. It's an engineering test that I've kind of co-opted and edited somewhat, but basically it asks like 12 questions, which are yes or no questions. And it gives you a score at the end. And basically, it's just testing the people ops infrastructure. So it's questions like, do you have a regular 1:1? Do you find that 1:1 useful? Do you have a regular team meeting? Do you find that team meeting useful? Do you find yourself doing lots of status reports and updates rather than strategic work? And you get a plus or a minus point depending on the outcome, right. And that gives us a read on like, do we have the basics in place? Because you could have a team that is saying they're very, very engaged, but they don't have regular 1:1s, they don't have team meetings. They don't have communication structures. If those things don't exist, then I actually don't really believe... You can't be doing your best work. Right? And someone might say, I to work like, I recommend working at this place because they have free coffee and free, I don't know, bring your dog to work policy, but I don't really want to know if people are happy with the bring your dog to work policy and the coffee. I wanna know if they're having regular 1:1s, feeling engaged with the work that they're doing, feeling like doing strategic work, that's more important to me. So that's a series of questions we ask. We used to ask it every quarter, we now ask it every year because we've moved on to, we got bits, we started getting kind of perfect scores, which is a good place to be and you should constantly check that that remains the case. But now we use a tool called Platypus and what Platypus does is, it asks everyone in your company to stack-rank their values and what they care about most. I mean values not like integrity, honesty. I mean values like diversity, inspiring leadership, transparency, like, business values, right? And it gives you a print of the entire company. And then you can ask specific segments of that, how we're doing on those values. So if someone says, for example, "I really, really care about transparency. That's a 10 out of 10 important for me, like, transparency is the thing that makes me most engaged," we can ask everyone that's given a 10 out of 10, "How are we tracking on transparency for you?" And see that that is a better driver for engagement than just asking like, "1 to 10, how would you recommend this?" Because if you ask somebody that, you know, if you ask everyone, "How do you feel about transparency?" for example, and most people feel kind of middling about it, you're gonna be isolating a huge amount of your team. So it just basically gives you a better way of understanding how the tools and processes and things you're implementing actually impact people's genuine feelings about the values that they share with the business. And that's what we're using at the moment. And you can also have spot checks about various things as well.


Andy Parker (host)

- Interesting, cool, thanks for sharing that. And so, the survey that you mentioned at first, that was the Rands survey.


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- R-A-N-D-S, if you look up Rands test, you'll see a blog. And yeah, it's really good.


Andy Parker (host)

- Cool, awesome, we'll be sure to link that in the show notes. And so, coming back to sort of how you operate as a team. You mentioned that you work in sprints. Can you kind of go into

like the tactical details, how do you work as a team? What do your meeting structures look like? How do you manage your people ops squad?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yeah, so we have, we work in two-week sprints in what we call three-month epics. So, the start of every quarter, we will get together for a retrospective where we look about the previous quarter and how things went to give people, the same as any retro. And we also do a planning session like a day later or a couple of days later. And in that planning session, based on the feedback from Platypus and Rands tests, and also kind of qualitative feedback we've talked about during the quarter, we will have decided on, I will have decided generally actually on three different epic options we can have. And any three of those epics would be things that would push the strategy in the right direction. So for example, it could be an

epic focused around learning and development, an epic focused around embedding values, an epic focus around employer branding. So I would give the team three options and we go through a process of looking at the different data that we have from different teams, the feedback, talking through different ideas of projects that we think would really kind of push that in the right direction and we land on two to three projects that we think that we can ship that quarter, that associate with that epic. So for example, the epic we're doing right now is all around the lifecycle of working at Whereby. We noticed that there was a lack of clarity of exactly how the different tools we were shipping connected to each other and they lack to kind of underpinning that connected the whole kind of employee experience. So the projects that we're shipping out of that is a progression framework. We're also shipping a guide, which is like a big handbook with every single process we do in people operations, like beautifully illustrated, and you can see all the different stages of it. And then the final thing is a management guide that is a kind of baby version of that for managers to say, "If you are a manager this is the stuff that you need to be thinking about while your employee works for you." So we decided those projects, someone in the team decides if they want to lead one of those projects. And then they go away and break it down into how do we get from today an idea, to somewhere between six to 12 weeks away, a fully shipped piece of work that solves a problem, this problem that we talked about in our retrospective and planning session. And then they'll break down all those steps. So like, well, the first week we'll do ideation and come up with some inspiration, the second week we'll do some research and start sending surveys out or start looking into market research, what are other companies doing. Third week we'll set metrics, like what metrics we do through until reaching for. Fourth week, etc., etc., right? And then we break it down to sprints and then every week we catch up, we have a head of the sprint, at the beginning of the sprint, and a kind of mid-week, mid-sprint check-in where we talk about what needs to happen. Who's been delegated what, how we're tracking. And we also have a mid-quarter check-in where we have a full hour where everyone presents what they're up to. And we have a chance, then, to kind of, what we say, ruthlessly reprioritize. If things have come up that have changed the way that we need to ship something, we will take that opportunity to say "Let's cut this whole section out," or "Let's actually remove this project for now," or "Let's change the shipping dates," and have that kind of chance to do that. So that happened actually yesterday. And then we finished the quarter with doing the same two-week sprints and then we ship the projects

and do the whole thing again. 


Andy Parker (host)

- Okay, interesting. And so, is that kind of instead of OKRs or are some of these initiatives

formulated into OKRs?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yeah, we do have OKRs 'cause we have company OKRs. So our planning sessions

happen around the same time as that OKR-setting. So I always make sure, like, that's my responsibility, I'm accountable for making sure our projects match our company OKRs that

we're delivering to the board. So this quarter, our company OKRs are, well, sorry, our people operations OKRs that connected to the company as OKRs are around everyone in a company having had a career progression conversation in the last year, everyone in the company being paid fairly, which is connected to the progression framework in career, sorry compensation methodology I just published fairly recently, and everyone having some understanding of what might be next for them in their career. So kind of, they're gonna be based off surveys we run at the end saying, "How many of you have had a conversation about career? How many of you have some idea about what might be next? And how many do you believe are compensated fairly?"


Andy Parker (host)

- Awesome, very cool. And so, one last question before we sort of shift gears a little bit. Lots of our audience are obviously also senior-level, are people operations leaders. For somebody listening to this, and if this was a sort of like an entirely new way of thinking about managing their team for them, what would your sort of first steps or advice be for somebody who's considering implementing this?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- I don't think you need to kind of scrap your current people operations team. That's the first thing that people ask is like, "Well, what am I supposed to do with my current people team? I'll have to just like fire them and get engineers?" Like, no. You know, I've never met, I've never had anybody in my team, people operations or otherwise, who have not had a real genuine interest in being more commercial, learning more stuff and broadening their role. And I think if you want to do this, you can start teaching product management best practices to your team, like go to a product management course, read more about product, have some members of your team go and do like a coding bootcamp or product bootcamp and just have them understand how that works. How does sprints works. But sit down with your design team or your product team and actually just listen to the sprint planning and say "What

could we take from this? How can we take this on?" If you can start working, starting to work towards working in sprints and working on projects and kind of using data to inform what projects you want to do and then shipping them, I think that would take you a long way. And then what you can gradually do is start identifying who in your team might be more aligned to taking on the technical responsibilities. And maybe they'll never be an engineer, but they could hire an engineer consultant two or three days a week during peak periods of your project where you need an engineer support. And who is most aligned to kind of the employer branding, the marketing, the analytics side of stuff, and get them to really focus on that and start kind of trying to build this squad where people have those responsibilities. So when they come together they're a harmonious squad rather than three people ops people who just do what I call Russian doll versions of each other's job, where everyone's just doing a slightly bigger version of the same thing, sort of an inefficient way of getting stuff done, in my opinion.


Andy Parker (host)

- Got it, cool, thank you. And so, shifting gears then, so, in terms of your career to date, you've now held a number of senior-level roles across different companies. And you've also consulted with a number of companies as well. I'm curious to, what do you typically, like, try and tackle in the first few months in those roles, and are there any common themes that you spot where, often there are sort of things that you often know or you observe that need to need to be fixed, let's say?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- I don't, I used to think about common themes. There are definitely trends of different size companies that you join. Like, you'll see similar things happen at the kind of 50-people mark, you'll tend to see some churn happen at the kind of 100 and 150 mark. And you need to be thinking about that. You'll tend to see a pretty bad org structure crack start happening around the 50, 75 to 100 mark, like those things are kind of that, they're the trends you tend to see. In terms of like mistakes founders make or mistakes that, maybe hiring mistakes that I see every time, or bad policies or projects that have been implemented that I have to kind of come and rip out. I don't tend to see very many trends in that perspective because founders, leadership policy, cultures, they're just so different. That something that works really well in one company just won't work at all in another one. And I think approaching it as like, "Oh here's that trend of this thing that's bad" might actually shoot you in the foot sometimes. But yeah, I think it's more structural. It tends to be more structural, like, to know kind of the patterns a company goes through and people go through ahead of time is really beneficial because it really helps you set your strategy and your kind of roadmap ahead of time and say like, "I kind of know that we'll probably have some structural changes." Either people deciding that the size is too big for them at Whereby but we've gone from 25 to 150 over the next six months or us realizing that managers can't manage that many people. We need to kind of start getting leaders and shifting stuff around. And I've known that for months. So I've already prepared myself that like, okay, well, in the next couple of months now this is the thing that I've got room for in my kind of schedule. So I think that's the most helpful thing.


Andy Parker (host)

- Got it. Cool, thank you. And then coming back to, there's something sort of very tactical. Obviously in your role as VP you're gonna be managing the HR budget. And I know that, in one of your previous roles at Wonderbly, I believe you worked with an HR analyst. And can you talk us through that process? Like what did that look like? And why did you choose to do that?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yes. So, Wonderbly was a very seasonal, and still is, a very, very seasonal company. They sell children's books, if you do not know what Wonderbly is. And because of that, we had this kind of very crazy kind of roadmap where basically nothing can happen except for selling books and keeping the website up for like two months of the year. Like November and December, it kind of, it has to be the whole company has to turn its attention to like keeping the website working and keeping out production, cranking out books, millions of books all over the world. And for that reason, recruitment has to completely stop in kind of end of August, start of September. Because we realized that anyone that joined in October, November, and December was either extremely unhappy and it took us a year to turn it around, or they churned and they just left, they just couldn't, either they decided that it wasn't for them or we decided that it wasn't for us. And that wasn't really acceptable. So we didn't have a huge amount of cash at this point. We were really working very hard to start getting towards being self-reliant, which means you have to be very, very mindful about how you spend money. And when we did have recruitment, because we've been kind of saving it up from like September to January, all of a sudden we had a new year, new budget, heaps of cash, just come in from the Christmas period and recruitment went wild, right? So all of a sudden we had 25, 30 open roles and we needed someone to look after them. Now, it didn't make a lot of sense for us, headcount-wise or money-wise, to hire a full-time permanent recruiter all year, because half the year they were just doing like sourcing, prepping for the next year. And it didn't make a lot of sense for us to hire somebody to help us plan for January, February, March because when the planning happened we were just so focused on delivery that they would have had nothing to do. So the way I decided to do it was we hired a recruiter that worked for us from January until August or September. And they worked really hard on delivering all of our equipment. And then we had an analyst that worked from August until January on looking over through all of the data that we'd collected and created, looking over our entire roadmap, what we'd shipped, what we hadn't shipped, our snags, our concerns, and then helped me work out what do you need to focus on when you get this cash in the bank in January and you need to run full steam ahead. And they presented like the different options, the data, they did surveys, they did all of that for like four months during that kind of period where everyone was working so that they could deliver, I can start delivering straight away in January. And it worked really well, in my opinion. I think it worked well. 


Andy Parker (host)

- Cool. And so, what would the sort of deliverables from that then? That was everything from headcount planning to new tooling to everything, and? 


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yes, headcount planning, roadmap planning with me as well. So, for example, I had some gut feels from the data which things might be right to implement, but they went through and really like, kind of looked. So, a good example actually was benefits. Like we had a feeling our benefits were maybe a weak spot. They went through and did a lot of research into our current benefit offerings, the kind of sentiment towards benefits, what our competitors were doing, whether people were churning because of benefits, whether people were at risk of churning because of benefits, trying to understand like, "How important is this problem? How does it stack rank against all those structural problems that maybe people don't talk about as much because they can't articulate?" So someone will talk about benefits 'cause you understand it if you're not in people ops, but you may not talk about a compensation methodology. You might just talk about your salary and it's a very different conversation that needs to be had. So yeah, the job would be to kind of really understand and get under the skin of the problems, help stack rank them and say like, "This is the actually the most important one you'll get the most value out of." And then I would kind of build my roadmap based on that. And also give me an assessment of how successful the things we had launched were through the same process, like asking questions, doing surveys, looking at the market research. And the year that I left the things that we were looking at with either benefits, diversity and inclusion in the leadership team, like how impactful was that issue if we tried to kind of really deep dive into solving it, kind of what solutions can we put in place? How much would it cost? How long might that take? Would we see returns? Etc., etc. 


Andy Parker (host)

- Got it, excellent. And so, thinking about career progression, particularly within HR and people ops, what would your advice be for somebody who is kind of thinking about taking that next step into a VP-level role?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Hm, that's a good question. I think it's really important that people moving to VP-level roles don't underestimate the commerciality of the job. I think there's a huge opportunity to be an incredibly commercial player in the strategy of a company. And I think it is quite easy sometimes to fall into, and I don't wanna discredit the work that gets done around some of the more kind of, I don't wanna say cultural, but maybe like well-being, or... The pieces of work that aren't... It's easy to do a lot of work that feels nice and has a nice impact but it doesn't touch the commercials of the company. So one of the suggestions I would make is really understand, sit with your executive team and really understand, "What kind of company are we trying to build in terms of our organizational design? What kind of goals do we want to reach with that organizational design?" Like, there's a big difference between an Amazon and a DeepMind. There's a massive difference between an ASOS and an Ocado, two delivery companies with very different approaches. And if you're trying to do something, you, as people operations have a unique opportunity to kind of massively impact the financials of the company and the ability to reach those goals through the kinds of organization you design. And those decisions are more than just hiring the headcount managers request and making them happy. Those decisions include building an organization that works well together, understanding how those different levels can interact, understanding how different senior leaders in the company vision their departments working and challenging them on whether or not those different visions work together in a cohesive way. And I think that, thinking about your role as a really commercial part of the business really does elevate your ability to deliver really exceptional work, I think. 


Andy Parker (host)

- Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. And obviously in that role you're going to be working extremely closely with the founders or the C-level execs. And have you sort of managed to find any secrets in terms of evaluating what those, I don't know, how successful that relationship will be ahead of time or like maybe you could tell us a little bit about what do you think makes for a good relationship between a VP People and the C level?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

 - Yeah, I think the most important thing is like trust. People operations have a very kind of unique role in a lot of senses where you'll appear with everyone in the executive team, but in a lot of ways you kind of, you kind of aren't, you kind of know things about members of the executive team, and other members of the executive team might not know about each other. You have a greater leverage kind of culture and the ways of working some other members of the executive team. So that puts you in a slightly, you can be in a bit of a sore thumb position, I think for some people. And I think you need to, it's sometimes hard to allow yourself to kind of fall into that. But also you need a huge amount of trust and support from the CEO who you're reporting to to be able to do your job really effectively with those unique parts of it. And other executive teams have other unique parts, right? Like marketing has similar sore thumb kind of elements in terms of how customers perceive the brand. And that's very different than how the rest of the executive team gets treated when they're talking about customers. But when you're talking about your people, performance, happiness, people look at you and it's a very different relationship, right? So it's a really important thing to have a lot of trust from your CEO or your founder that you're making the right decisions because you're, otherwise it can feel a little lonely, I think. And I would, I've been bitten by founders before that talked a good talk and then didn't actually want to follow through with that. I think, ask a lot of questions and ultimately this is somebody that is going to have to uphold your, maybe not the exact same vision of what kind of organization you want to build. And there'll always be differences, right? Like I reached a point with my CEO all the time where I'm like, look I disagree, but I'm happy to go with your opinion on this, that's fine. The one thing you can't disagree with is how to treat people and the ethics, I think of the company, the way of paying people, the legalities. And if you start seeing those things get infringed upon, it will make you incredibly unhappy, but also it will make it very difficult for you to do your job well. So I would say, ask a lot of questions deeply around not just what they think about what they would like to do but what have they done in the past, because people can very easily say what they would like to do in lots of nice eloquent words, what they hope and dream, but when push comes to shove and you need to make a tough decision, will the founders stick to the ethics that you need them to stick to, is a very difficult question and it can leave a lot of people partners and VP peoples in very difficult situations.


Andy Parker (host)

 - Yeah, yeah, interesting, thank you for that. And I sort of have two last questions to close out. First one, are there any particular sort of like trends or developments in HR that you are particularly excited about in a way and where do you see like the industry as a whole going? And then, secondly, as a follow-up, like, are there any really kind of thorny problems in HR that you think are still unsolved and that you, if you could wave your magic wand, you would like to be able to solve?


Jessica Hayes (guest)

 - So where are they going? I think people operations is going into a much more commercial direction, much less focused around planning company parties or like managing the office, which has always been the bane of my existence. I've always managed facilities as well for the last couple of roles, and it's tough. So I'm glad that that kind of stuff is going away. It's becoming more of a strategic commercial part of the org where you're expected to be presenting in board meetings and you're presented, I think boards and VCs are now really kind of not just understanding, 'cause I think they've understood for a long time, but demanding that CEOs and founders have your VP people up and present about how you're going to improve the business for the people that you're bringing into the team. So I see that that direction and I think that's really positive. And I think it's super liberating to a lot of fantastic people operations people and really allowing them to kind of do their best work, which is great. And thorny problems... I mean, there's things I complain about all the time. One of them is engagement surveys. I really hate engagement surveys and I don't like the team having to constantly be filling out these little surveys all the time. I wish there was a better way to do that kind of stuff that isn't just lots of little forms all the time. I think marketing might even say the same thing to you. Like they have, there's like metrics and product and marketing of things like time spent on product or time spent interacting with other people, that doesn't feel like a right thing that you can do in people operations. There's something missing on exactly how you get under the skin of like, whether people are delivering work they're proud of and, in a way, that they're proud to deliver it. So I think there's work to be done there. And I don't really like the current... I like Platypus a lot, but it's still very small product, it's still in beta. I don't really like a lot of the other engagement tools that are out there. Not because I don't think they're doing a good job at all, I actually think that a lot of them are doing a fantastic job and great reporting. I just don't know if we're not getting, I don't know if we're getting under the skin of it yet.


Andy Parker (host)

- Okay, understood.


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Yeah, I don't know. And then there's also some questions around how to do a better job of diversity and inclusion. That's something that I'd love to, that's just me asking like, oh, can I just solve racial inequality? No, I don't. That's one magic one I'd love to solve but also kind of how to do that in a non-performative way in a company? How to do it effectively? And how to report on it in a way that isn't patronizing and doesn't make people feel they're just about diversity metric? And there's a lot in that space which I think amazing people are now really starting to think about, which I think is awesome. 


Andy Parker (host)

- Yeah, very cool. And with that, I think we should wrap it up, then. So, Jessica, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been a hugely insightful conversation, I hope you've enjoyed it as well. 


Jessica Hayes (guest)

- Great, all right, thank you so much.


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