Podcast: Building Culture Around the Distributed Workforce

Transcript

Mark:

Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. My guest today is Kelli Dragovich, the chief people officer at Pendo. Their 1000 employees aim to help organizations generate intelligence about the use of their products. Our talk will cover the distributed workforce, how you build a culture around it, and the impact of hybrid work all on this edition of PeopleTech. Kelli, welcome. First, can you tell me about Pendo and what it does?

Kelli:

Yeah. Pendo is a platform product that basically, in a nutshell, helps any company, any builder, any customer of a software product build the best product possible. For example, it’ll tell you how and when anyone is using your software, where they get tripped up, what the process is, you can give them feedback and give them real time direction on how to use a certain feature as they’re using it. So basically helps builders of products and users of products build and use in the best way possible. So it’s also industry agnostic, so we work with all the tech companies and help them build their products, but we also work with Mercedes and McGraw Hill and these companies that you traditionally would think would be non-tech, but every software product is tech. So it’s a really cool way to think about how to build and use technology products the best way possible. So we sit within those products.

Mark:

Now, it seems like it’s more of a technology business solution than what you’d call an HR workforce solution. First, is that true? And second, if it is true, how does that impact your product development?

Kelli:

It’s a great question. It’s both, but you’re right, we traditionally grew up as a tech product. So we would have product managers, engineers, these folks really working with us to help them build the best product possible by getting customer feedback and analytics as those people are using what they’re building. But we just launched a new product, if you can think about it, two sides of the same coin. One coin is Pendo helps builders build a great product, but the other side is our new adopts product, which is essentially that. It’s basically used for internal, so how are people using HR systems within a company, what’s your employee productivity look like? So we’re using me, the HR team at Pendo, is using Pendo to measure how do people use Workday. So it is something that big companies now are leveraging Pendo to understand how their internal employees are using all their stuff, which is cool.

Mark:

This might be an obvious question, but I can’t resist. If you’re using it to track employees use of Workday or what have you, what do you get out of that? You’re not the HR solutions provider, you’re the user. How does that impact your discussions with the vendor and your own internal thinking about what you need to provide?

Kelli:

There’s two things. So the first is efficiencies, which is a big word right now in the industry, how do you make sure you’re getting your bang for your buck, especially as belts are tightening and the macro environment’s going on. The second is adoption and helping employees become more productive internally via self-service. So for efficiencies, you see a lot of chief people officers, a lot of IT leaders, they’re like, “We have 200, 300 applications in this company. I’m spending X millions of dollars on software and systems, and these things, are they even being used? Am I paying 100 grand a year for something that no one’s using or are they log in once a year?” And so a lot of companies are using it for that perspective, which is saving tons and tons of money because you’re able to understand what’s going on and who’s using what.

            The second, and I’ll use Workday as an example again, is about leveraging self-service. For example, we don’t want 1000 people at Pendo to keep pinging our HR team, “Hey, how do you do this? I need this. Payroll, this, that, ADP my withholdings, my benefits.” That is a lot of time, energy and dollars. So we put Pendo and Workday and we basically guide you through it. There’s these things called guides, which are essentially popups, and they’ll help you through the process. So you’re in a tax withhold window on Workday, and then it says, “Hey, Mark, just so you know, to do this, you can do this,” and it helps you real time, probably saves like hundreds of emails a week asking our team for these questions, so it basically helps employees understand how and when and why to use stuff and makes it easier. So that’s the other piece of it in the guide perspective.

Mark:

Can you think of a time where using this has given you an aha moment to implement something you haven’t thought of before or fix something that you’ve been trying to fix for a while?

Kelli:

Yeah. It’s pretty new for us because we just implemented Workday, but the aha for us are these real time feedback moments. We’re leveraging Pendo Adopt internally to help actually build the Adopt product, which is cool. So Pendo employees will say, “That was helpful, but if this guide could pop up this way, or if I had the ability to provide feedback where I’m struggling with a Workday window, for instance, that would be cool, and it would save me a lot of time and it would give me what I need.” And so we’re using the experience of employees with these huge new implementations and pretty complex software systems to build the Pendo product even better. And so if you think about that aha in a GE where there’s hundreds of thousands of employees, that’s cool.

Mark:

Now, you are a good size company, I’m not sure exactly how many employees it is, but…

Kelli:

About 1000.

Mark:

So you, like everybody else, have been through the ringer the last three years or so with the pandemic and remote work and now trying to get things back together, how is a tool like this going to help you develop your approach to hybrid work, remote work, rebuilding the company culture?

Kelli:

We use it for a lot of our internal cultural programs too. So we have internal [inaudible] awards, we have internal affinity groups and communities, and so we leverage Pendo to connect those folks even more and, for instance, remind people, hey, we have an open round table tomorrow, log in here. And so it basically lowers the burden of employees having to figure out how to connect with people, what’s going on when, et cetera. So you hear now, Mark, a lot of people using the product led movement, it’s like a customer back mentality, and we’re distributed now and so we think about it that way. We have half of our companies in Raleigh, which used to be 90% of employees and now it’s 50, and 50 are everywhere else around the world.

            So whether or not we’re remote or hybrid or whatever you want to call it, we’re a distributed company and that’s not a pandemic related thing anymore. It just is. And so how do we use Pendo? How do we use other software products to easily connect people? We have mentorship platforms that we’ve connected with Pendo where you can just find people that are like you, not just for your day to day job, but just life advice, career advice, hobbies, and that’s a cool thing we’ve weaved in with Pendo in a mentorship platform called Tribute. And it’s really helped people understand how to get the best value out of connecting people. We’ve been really accenting on those things, especially the last two years where people aren’t together all the time and they’re not going to be even five years from now because we’re globally distributed. So how do you keep that authentic culture that we have and connect people without them them having to work really hard to figure out how and when and where to do it.

Mark:

Which actually I want to shift gears a little bit, but you just brought me to my next question, which is if you have a distributed workforce and you’re global, how do you build a culture? How do you get everybody into the same place in how they approach their work?

Kelli:

Culture, as you probably know, it’s been a buzzword for years. Culture, culture, what is it? How do you define it? How do you scale it? How do you keep it the same? And the short answer is you can’t keep it exactly the same. I’ve been working in venture backed high growth companies for 12 years. This is probably my fifth or sixth one, and that’s the biggest thing people try and do is be exactly how they were when they were 10 people. And it’s impossible when you go from 10 to 1000 to work exactly the same. For us, Mark, the trick is, one, to acknowledge that transparently because it just is, and talk about it all the time. And two, understand that’s fine, but what are the core elements, the two or three things we never want to change, and we’re going to work our butts off to make sure those things don’t shift even when we’re 3000 people.

            That’s the approach that we’ve taken. I joined Pendo because it was very, very authentic, real, genuine, pure. The values, especially in founder-led companies, they just stick there. It’s how the company was built and we still have our founders, our CEO, so that purity continues, but we basically took the company through that journey. A lot of these companies, they keep that conversation with the top six people and no one knows what’s going on, and it’s like one big game of telephone. When I joined, we were about 450 people, we spent six months doing a full bottoms up, basically an extraction of our values. And not to change them or rewrite them or do these superficial things, we basically dissected what they are and looked at them from every angle and talked about it as an entire company and literally kept it forefront for six months and then explained the back end of what does it look like and feel like, and that just transcended into our hiring process.

            So we have a full values based hiring committee and that’s really helped bring people into the company that align with those things, but also they understand us before they even get here. Whether or not they get the job or not, they understand the elements of that. So that’s how the values have taken the company along. And the last thing is culture, in my opinion, it’s not a list of values or a perception. They’re experiences. They’re the sum of hundreds and thousands of different data points throughout a day, a week, a month, a year of how people experience a company and the culture can only be as pure as if all those millions of data points across 1000 people are consistent with those values. So that’s how we talk about it, describe it. And so people in Tokyo, Sydney, London, San Francisco, New York, Raleigh, they’re all on the same page with that no matter where they sit, because we’ve just been obsessed with talking about it and keeping it forefront, which I think is the key versus just a list of values on a wall or whatever, people forget about it.

Mark:

All right. Obviously you think a lot about culture and you may have touched on this a little earlier, but I want to ask this specific question, how does something like COVID impact your approach to culture? Did you have to do repair work as it were? Did you have to change anything or refine anything? Because even though you have a distributed workforce, it seems like COVID hit everyone somehow or another.

Kelli:

No, it did. And the thing about that is it’s all different. You can’t assume it hit everyone in one or two or even four ways. It’s literally individual by individual. Everyone’s family situation’s different and we’re all home, and we have different stressors. And so the short answer on that, Mark, is that we jumped headfirst into wellbeing, belonging, mental health, keeping that forefront. So we implemented things like Modern Health platform, which is fantastic. Carrot Fertility is another benefit we introduced. So we invested a lot in these things that basically encapsulate any and all ways of wellbeing and holistic mental health. For someone, it could be financial health help because they’re stressed out about X, Y, or Z. For someone else it could be childcare. For someone else it could be stress and anxiety reduction. For someone else it could be taking care of elderly parents.

            And so we basically accented on choice, how do we implement things and acknowledge that everyone’s situation is different and take time out for that. So we spent a lot of time on that. We implemented additional mental health wellness days, usually tacked on to national holidays, so people are getting more time. And we also talk about it internally as far as taking the breaks, understanding all day Zoom isn’t healthy, thinking about other creative ways to connect with people, taking a walk, one-on-ones, et cetera, all those things early on, but now people are getting together more. So people are figuring out how and when to get together with their teams, how and when to work remote on Zoom, and the balance is becoming more natural. But I think the short answer is everyone’s personal life and their work life, which traditionally was more disconnected if you’re going into an office every day, it just clashed together overnight and it was a lot, it was overwhelming. I can speak for myself.

Mark:

My last question, if I may. Your title I noticed, chief people officer, I’ve seen more people with that title lately. What’s the difference between a chief people officer and a CHRO? Is it meaningful? Is it just a repositioning or what?

Kelli:

I’ll be very honest with you, I think some of it is optics. I think it’s just a natural, hey, this isn’t personnel, this isn’t HR from the movie Office Space. These traditional perceptions of what we do are negative. It’s the back office, it’s the evil HR person, it’s the police and says no. So I think some of it’s, to be honest, Mark, a rebranding of the name. It is better. Personnel is worse than human resources. So I think it’s a way to rename something that’s actually real. I don’t think the evolution is superficial. You can call it whatever you want, but there are people with the title HR and they’re wonderful, and they’re great people leaders, and there are people with the title chief people officer and they’re terrible, and they’re mechanical and they’re not…

            So a title doesn’t define if someone’s good or not. I think what’s evolving here that title shift represents holistically is a different way to think about this function. This function is not the police, the insurance policy, the backend, yes, no. This title now in these positions are business leaders and you’re seeing more and more companies at earlier stages put them in place. Before, companies would grow and they wouldn’t have these roles until something bad happened and they’re like, “We need an HR person.” And now I talk to founder CEOs probably twice a month, series A, series B companies, and they’re like, “I need this person and I need a certain type of person that can connect what I’m trying to do with this business and this market opportunity and this mission with how we build the organization.”

            That’s the difference now I think with people in these roles and most they use the term people officer, but this role has transitioned into a business role where someone can connect those two things strategically. Before it was I’ll grow the business and you deal with the people. And people are like, “Actually these things are very connected and you have to build them together.” And I refer it to a Jenga tower, if you’ve ever played Jenga, you got to put this block with this block and you have to build them together for that strong tower or else it’ll just topple. The key with high growth venture is how do you build that as fast as possible without it falling. That’s the difference in these roles. They understand the business, but they understand the nuance of how and when to connect the people strategies and the talent things and the culture with that specific business strategy and that culture.

Mark:

Well, Kelli, thank you so much. It was great to talk with you and great to meet you, and I hope we’ll talk again.

Kelli:

You too. Thank you.

Mark:

My guest today has been Kelli Dragovich, the chief people officer at Pendo, and this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report, we’re a publication of RecruitingDaily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs, visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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