When the pandemic hit, like everyone else, I had my moments anticipating the worst for my company. But what happened next was a hard push on our growth accelerator. In the past year and a half, my people ops team has hired over 430 people, and our global head count is now well north of 500. In the last three months alone, we’ve hired more than 100 people. Given the “Great Resignation” that’s been spreading across the world, that’s not luck; it’s hard work, grit and determination to succeed. So how did we do it? How do we keep thriving through these times?
Figuring out why people decide to join a company and what keeps them there is important—and one of the many reasons that I love leading people teams. When a company gets it right, work is more than a paycheck; it’s an opportunity to align your values, stage in career and goals with the culture of an organization to hopefully hit upon something really special.
I think back to my own path. In 2018, I was contacted by the vice president of technology at a small tech company. At the time, my second son was only three months old, and I was deep in a fog of sleep deprivation. We had worked together back in 2009 at a London-based startup, and he wanted to know if I’d be up for it again.
My first reaction was a strong no.
With an infant and a three-year-old toddler, I was pretty certain I didn’t have the energy for another startup, but I have to admit I was curious and wanted to know why a team of just 30-plus engineers wanted to hire a people leader. I vividly remember packing a bag and bundling my baby onto the train to travel down to London for lunch.
I was hooked by our conversations, and I reflect on them now because I think it’s so interesting to ask, “Why does anyone really decide to join an organization?” Sure, we all work to earn money, but beyond that, how do we make decisions and what do those decisions say about that organization and its culture?
So why did I say yes? I said yes because of the CEO and the founding team. As a people leader, I need to work closely with the CEO and leadership, and it’s essential that I’m aligned with their vision of the type of organization they want to build. My gut told me that I could work with them because they were kind, they clearly cared about doing the right thing, and they cared about building a company and culture they were proud of.
During the last three years, I’ve seen that borne out in so many tiny decisions and actions, which built up into a consistent wave throughout the organization. Three top areas come to mind:
1. Culture: We’re committed to hiring smart, engaged people who care about our culture and are invested in helping to scale and evolve that culture.
2. Transparency: We practice radical transparency, sharing information to our whole team—it’s one of the key ingredients for making a fully distributed team structure successful.
3. Empowerment: And lastly, we believe in the value of being “respectfully empowered.” That means our team works with autonomy and has a real voice in projects, products and the direction of our company.
All of these things are critical to grow and retain a team. But organizations must also meet their people where they are at. The pandemic led us all to talk to our people to find out what they really needed in order to be successful. Here are a few things that we did, and that others can consider:
- On top of national holidays off and 30 days of annual leave, we added company shutdown days. As a global company, we find that it can be hard for our team to have a real vacation when the rest of the organization keeps on going. Company shutdown days are a great way for us to ensure everyone can step away from their laptop and truly disconnect.
- This year, we updated our parental leave policy to offer 16 weeks of paid leave to all new parents. This includes members of our team who are adopting or having a child through surrogacy.
- Last year, we launched an employee assistance program and a corporate account with Headspace. Members of our team also started a wellbeing employee resource group and run many events to invest in the wellbeing of our team.
For me, a company needs to be driven by heart. Even then, can we be perfect? Of course not. But we need to constantly try to get it right. So many of us are reassessing our priorities right now. The “Great Resignation” has been building pace throughout this year. Work is a huge part of our lives, and what we’re witnessing is a mass statement that we can do better. Our work should have meaning, it should be in pursuit of a goal that we feel is aligned with our personal ambition and our values, and it should enable us to have the flexibility to build our work and life in unison.
There is no work/life balance in my opinion, particularly for those of us wired to work for a startup. There is, however, a work/life blend that enables us to be present for both. And that’s something companies need to strive for. As someone with a young family, I personally value that a lot. I am so grateful for that invitation three years ago and the chance to keep trying to get it right.
Alice Farrell is VP of people ops at Grafana Labs, which provides a monitoring and observability stack built around Grafana, the leading open source technology for dashboards and visualization. In 2021, the remote-first company was named to Otta’s Rocket List, Inc. Best Workplaces and the Forbes list of America’s Best Startup Employers.