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Season 01, Episode 08

Julie Menge, HR Operations Lead At Help Scout

with Sasha and Jake

About the Episode

In this interview with Julie Menge, HR Operations Lead at Help Scout, we’re talking about how to build career ladders, compensation strategies, and scaling your team.

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Full Transcript

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Sasha:
Hello, thank you so much for joining us. I’d like everyone to welcome Julie, to the show, Julie, she’s coming to us from Help Scout and we’re really excited to chat all things, people ops or pops as I like to call it, um, for the next hour or so.

Jake:
Yeah. Super excited Julie, to like, get your perspective on how things are working at like help scout, incredible startup, any of the past startups. I saw that you were at a company that got acquired by Squarespace and got to like work there for a little bit. So really excited to hear about your journey and you know, like the operational people side of everything you’ve been doing in the past

Sasha:
Dive right in. I’d love for you to set the scene. Tell us a little bit more about what your role entails at help scout.

Julie:
Yes. So I am the HR operations lead at help scout and that entails many things. Um, every day is a little bit different, but largely like I kind of say I keep the lights on in HR land. Um, so there is a lot of, sort of like the compliance pieces and the actual processes of, of getting things done. Um, but I also, you know, have a big hand in, um, like compensation research, uh, performance management, career laddering, sort of all of those things. So every day is a little bit different and, and I love it.

Sasha:
That sounds amazing. Um, what are you most focused on in the last quarter, or what have you, what have been the key priorities for you?

Julie:
Yeah, one of them, I guess there’s sort of like two things. So one is I’ve, I’ve had my eye on a lot when we talk about processes, just certain to think about, is there a tool out there that can help us, um, like with account provisioning, which sounds so boring, but, but as you can imagine, like when you’re onboarding lots of people, it’s literally like flip 50 switches, get all these things done.

Julie:
And there’s just a lot of administrative work that has to happen usually pretty quickly. Um, and you have to like shelve everything else. So looking into a lot of tools like that, um, and then also starting to think about, um, uh, promotion processes for, for next year. Um, and, and hopefully beyond, so trying to button that up a little bit more and having managers start to think more, um, into the future about, you know, their folks and, and where they’re going.

Jake:
So I definitely want to hit on that in a little bit, like, especially like the promotion piece, because that’s where I’ve seen personally. And like with other folks that like, you know, startup and startups, they, that they don’t even think about that. Or they think about it too late. And that’s where like, they, they hit this like a really hard spot of people been in the company for a couple of years. They don’t see that career path. You lose fantastic talent. You desolate, you hit a lot of friction. So I definitely want to touch on that. So that’s actual, let’s make a note. Um, well, let’s start off just like way more high level. I’d love to just hear from your perspective, uh, in like the people area, people ops, what’s the most common mistake that you see folks in the people function making? Uh, this could be like at your own startup and past stories from your peers, where do you see the common mistakes happening?

Julie:
Yeah, I wish I had a snappy answer. Like they always forget to submit this form or something like that, but

Jake:
TPS reports

Julie:
They’re always missing something. Um, but from a, like a high-level overview, I really think it’s the biggest mistake is thinking that when you’re in people ops that you don’t have to know about the business of whatever it is that you’re in, it’s sort of like why work in people ops so I’m all about, you know, performance and growth, which you are, but also I think not enough people ops folks lean in and really understand like business metrics and that’s advice that I would give to folks is buddy up with the head of marketing buddy, up with your CFO. And I feel really lucky. I report to the CFO and my current role. And it’s like, it’s like getting a mini business degree every single day and getting to work alongside her. I had a business degree, but this is, this is actually way more real life. And then that one, um, but just like understanding, you know, revenue goals. And I think having all of that information just helps you be a better partner to all the teams that you, that you work with.

Jake:
Yeah. That’s interesting. I want to take a little side path and it’s rare. I think both sides are two that you actually report into the CFO kind of happened that like, yeah,

Julie:
That is an interesting story. So when I came to help scout, so we have the people ops team, which is sort of like all the traditional functions you think about a people ops. Um, and they hired me and my title is HR operations. So it was really starting to like to look at, like I was saying before the really operational, like payroll, like that sort of stuff. Um, so it made sense initially to have my report to the CFO, but I feel like I’m sort of like a double agent because I spend a lot of time, like just as much time with the people ops folks as I do finance. And when I leave finance and go over to people, apps, I’m sort of like bringing that lens of like, let’s think about money and budgeting. And then when I come back to the finance meeting, I’m like, let’s think about humans and their feelings. Um, so it’s kind of like this really nice connection between, between both worlds

Jake:
I like that a lot. I feel like, uh, that that’s something that probably just should be happening more and more like that, that cross-pollination between functions. That’s really cool. Yeah. All right. So then, I mean, you’re going to have a, you are like a pretty unique perspective here, so I’d love to know more about what are the people related things that keep you up at night over at, at help scout what are you, what are you thinking about? What’s keeping you up?

Julie:
Yeah, and I think about it, so we are a 100% distributed, fully remote company, even before COVID okay.

Jake:
Before COVID that very decision that your company made.

Julie:
Yeah. So that really didn’t impact us really a great deal other than, you know, like folks like me, like my son is at home and anybody that’s obviously dealing with hard things. Um, but in terms of, you know, just like what keeps me up at night, having people. So we have people in 20 different States, 16 ish, different countries around the world. Uh, it’s really like employment law, things that really, you know, make me nervous and make my heart sort of like thump a little bit. And sometimes when I’m talking to folks around the company about these things like I’m interested in it. And sometimes it gets sort of like, glassy-eyed, I’m like, no, this is, this is really important. Um, so, you know, especially, you know, going back to COVID like this year with the FFC FCRA, um, which had folks don’t know what that is, there is a special part of that law that required employers to give, you know, pay, leave to folks who were in the position where they had to care for kids who their, their school was closed or if they themselves had COVID. So just like being able to keep up with that stuff. And we don’t have an in-house lawyer, so to have an employment lawyer that we can call, um, I li I follow employment lawyers on Twitter, like real cool feed, uh, but just like figuring out like, Oh, if some law changes in Massachusetts and I live here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, how do I, how do I figure that out?

Sasha:
Do you, Oh, sorry, go ahead. Go ahead. Good cutoffs. Um, do you guys currently still use Justworks or have you pivoted,

Julie:
We are still using Justworks and they do send what you probably know, like a monthly blast. That’s like, here’s all the updates and things that have changed, uh, around the country, at least, which is, which is pretty helpful,

Sasha:
But you have employees in 16 other countries, not just in us. So do you have any other resources, like, uh, like a PO or international lawyers? I don’t even know what you would use for that.

Julie:
Yeah. So there is like the equivalent of an international PEO like kind of like adjust works, but for the world. And that’s actually another thing that I’m, I’m, I’ve started to vet some companies for, um, 20, 21 to start to move in that direction. But yeah, that is one where it’s sort of like when we hire somebody, especially if it’s in a new country, uh, one thing is our bank has a list of countries. That’s like, Hey, if you’re wiring money to, you know, this country, and you’ve never sent, like, why are you sending $10,000 to Ukraine? We’re like, Oh, no big deal. So stuff like that just sort of like comes up and you learn as you go on occasion. Wow.

Sasha:
What advice would you give a company that is thinking about hiring internationally?

Julie:
Yeah, I think there is this big misconception out there that if you’re a remote company, you can just hire from wherever you just sign them up and they come on and it’s, it’s easy peasy. Um, I would say earlier on in the process, start to look at some of these international PEOs, or sometimes they’re called employers of record if you want to Google that. Uh, and so they can actually tell you like, Hey, when you hire somebody in Germany, for example, here’s the leave laws. If they, you know, if somebody leaves and has a baby, or if you want to terminate somebody, countries are very different. Sometimes, you know, the concept of at-will employment in the United States doesn’t really exist in other countries often. So it’s like you have to have a good reason for letting somebody go. And so there’s just a lot of things that might not even occur to you. Uh, if you’ve only worked in the United States for your career.

Sasha:
Wow. My mind is blown right now. Well, I want to switch back to the promotion path because I know that’s such a huge focus for you, the career path thing, the promotion path and get into some of the performance and compensation pieces as well. Uh, but what’s the current methodology for promotions as it stands at help scout?

Julie:
Yes. So our philosophy is that you can be promoted basically at any time. So your manager has to make a case for you essentially. Um, and even going back a step, I think Jake, to your earlier point of like, just thinking about promotions in like the grand scheme of things. So usually once a year, and then we’ll have like mini pokes along the way, but we’ll, we’ll kind of ask all the VPs and managers and say, Hey, look at your team, just take a guess, your best guess of who’s going to be promoted this year and around what month you think that’s going to happen. And it’s always going to be like, give or take it’ll move forward or back a little bit, or maybe one doesn’t happen or maybe one sneaks in, but best guests just for budgeting purposes. Um, and then what I’m doing now is every quarter I’m pinging all of the managers and saying, okay, on deck for Q1, we had these three people.

Julie:
Is that still right? Or does somebody need to wait a little bit more or is somebody, you know, ready in January versus March? Uh, so then we sorta look at the budget and it’s like, Tetris, we move things around and make it all, kind of come out in the wash. Uh, but what they do is, so I have created, um, career ladders. So, and again, if that’s new to folks listening, that’s literally a document where it shows, okay, at this level, you are expected to do this thing at the next level, you are expected to do this plus one, or, you know, have this extra, a bitter responsible responsibility. So that is what the manager will base their argument on. I call it promotion court. There’s no court. It’s so easy, but just to say, Hey, I want them to, you know, have, you know, some sort of backup that like, yes, this person is ready to be promoted. Um, and it can happen. Like I said, in any given month, like maybe we have five or six people being promoted, maybe the next month it’s nobody.

Julie:
Right. Huh. That’s so interesting. So then do you share the career ladders and all of that information with the individuals so they know what they need to do? Or is that something only for the management team?

Julie:
It, uh, yes, it’s for everybody. Literally, that’s been like a project all year of actually getting the career ladders in place. So at the very beginning of the year, we created kind of like a generic one that it’s like, okay, a mid-level human in any role at help scout should be able to do this. And it’s things like quality and delivering results and your scope of impact. So whether you’re an engineer or an accountant or a designer, it’s sorta like you can use general enough terms to describe those things. And then throughout the year, each team has been taking that and then customizing it to their teams. So when somebody in engineering who maybe they’re a real go-getter, an individual contributor might say, Hey, I want to look at the career ladder. And then they actually, it turns around. So they make the case to their manager sometimes and they say, I think I’m ready. And then it opens up this really nice two-way conversation.

Jake:
Um, I’m curious. So, all right. So help scout was founded in, like, I think it was 2011 in my research. Uh, I know that you’ve been there for about what was it a year, year, and a half, not a year and a half. Just about, so you said that as the bigger part of this year, like this that’s the project you were going through, right? Yes. Your ladders, what exists before that? And like what, what prompted like that? Oh, we really need to document how people progress.

Julie:
Yeah, that’s a great question. So there was this concept of levels before, so we have levels one, two, three, four, five, and roughly that means like two sorts of like entry-level three, mid four, senior five is like, you’re like a senior leader at the company. Um, so those existed in just like that general concept existed in people’s brains. And there were some words associated with those things. So it wasn’t like nothing was, was around. Um, but true. So whatever I started, one of the things I looked around and thought was, well, some managers are, you know, maybe really generous and some are like, I don’t know if this person is ready to move up because there’s nothing like describing that. So that’s where I really felt it was very important to take away, um, or reduce bias as much as we can and give actual employees kind of what I was saying before. Just have them feel a little bit more empowered about what is my career path, um, because I’m sure, you know, you’ve taken engagement surveys. Are you using the engagement survey tool? Um, that’s always something that comes up on that survey people saying, I want to understand where it is. I can go in my career here

Sasha:
With, uh, the cross-functional visibility of all of these career paths. Have you found many employees wanting to move laterally into other departments or psych this role seems interesting and here’s where I could slot in?

Julie:
That’s been, yeah, that’s come up and we’ve had it happen. You know, we actually had somebody like the move from support and to marketing, um, or like from support into people apps. So it’s happened just sort of like naturally over the years. Um, but that’s a question that’s been coming up more and more and folks are saying, well, what if I’m in this role? And I want to move into a junior developer role, like what are the basic things that I would have to have in order to get there? And so I think we’re not quite that sophisticated yet, but that’s why I think it’s so important to show like, maybe you’re a level three over here, but if you move, like maybe you would actually be like a level two over here. And here’s what that means in that role.

Julie:
Interesting. Okay, cool. This is also fascinating. Um, so as far as compensation goes, what does your current structure look like for your pay bands? Because I know it helps, Scout’s pretty transparent publicly with how they’ve structured their compensation and their compensation philosophy.

Julie:
Yeah. So like I was saying, so we have this level one, two, three, four, five, and then within each of the levels, there are bands, a, B, C, D E. So it’s literally like a five-by-five grid, um, for each job family. So like engineering, marketing, finance, et cetera, et cetera. And each one of those points is an individual like discreet salary. So whenever we hire somebody, we’ll say you’re a three CC and this is what that job pays. Uh, and that really helps us reduce it. We, we, we try not to negotiate. Um, so we kind of explained to folks when they say, okay, you made this offer, I want $2,000 more. So the discussion then is, well, we don’t want to reward people who negotiate better than others. That’s a big part of our philosophy, but then we can go back to and say, and here’s why we slotted you into this role base under the sound like a broken record.

Julie:
But sounds like based on the career ladders, how they’re defined, which is another reason why I said, Hey, these are really important to have because this is how we make hiring decisions for people. Um, and one of the things that I want to avoid is having, you know, somebody, uh, in, you know, maybe a high cost of living area, because a big part of our philosophy also is we pay people the same, no matter where they are in the world. And I can come back to that. Uh, but you know, maybe somebody comes in and they say, Hey, I want this salary because that’s what, you know, I think it is in my, in my neighborhood and somebody else might be like, no, for the same job, I want $20,000 more. So that’s where we, we even explained people we’ve copied and pasted like here’s our philosophy. And here’s why. And like 99 times out of a hundred, uh, the person says, Oh, thanks for the information. And, and it’s fine.

Sasha:
Hm. Do you get much pushback? Like if they’re able to see the career ladder, is there ever pushback, like, Hey, given my experience, like point to specific things, like I would actually put myself at a four D and how do you reconcile the difference in

Julie:
It’s funny, you know, we say we don’t negotiate on salaries. Like we’re not going to change a salary that we actually already use, but to your point, then somebody might say, okay, well then I’m more senior than the thing that you said I was. And we typically, we haven’t shared like an entire career ladder, uh, with, you know, applicants, but it’s, I mean, it’s happened before sometimes we’ll take a look and say, you know what, you know, you’re right. Or we’re right. Um, other, I think another really interesting thing about this whole concept of you can get promoted. Anytime is it’s not uncommon for people to come in and then move up a band within their first year. Sometimes people move up to bands within their first year. And I don’t like to use that as like a lever to pull and say, but wait, like, you can accept this salary and maybe three months from now it’ll be this. Um, but it’s, it’s definitely possible.

Sasha:
So interesting. I feel like compensation is one of the most complicated things to master if anyone’s ever mastered it, right. I’ve always admired how to help scout has been so transparent and, and buffer. And there are a couple of others that have been super vocal about like, Hey, we’re trying this we’re transparent. We want our employees to know that we trust them and they should trust us. And like, we’re all figuring this out and making updates as things change. But it’s one of the things that I think makes people the most emotional when you attach a dollar amount to their worth and like I’m desperately trying to get right and figure out how to do it. Right. But I don’t think there’s necessarily right. Answer, but

Julie:
Yeah. And it’s, you know, one of the other parts of our philosophy is, you know, with all these salary surveys that you purchase or you can find for free if you scrounged around it on the internet. So we use PayScale to do our salary research and you have to tie it to a location. Um, so even though were, you know, distributed, you know, all over the place, we tie our salaries to Boston. Uh, and we, we pick Boston because as a company and this was before my time, you know, it was decided like, Hey, maybe we’re not in a position to pay like San Francisco rates, like top 10%, but we can do Boston. Like that’s not a sleeper city by any means when it comes, to compensation. Um, and then we want to pay in the top 25th percentile based on similarly sized tech companies in that region. And even being able to share information like that with folks, they’re like, Oh, you’re not just making this up. This is actually like, based on a thing that you thought about.

Jake:
I liked the idea of because I’ve, I’ve worked at a company that had the same philosophy. It’s like, am I, if you’re in, you know, some, you know, nowhere town in the Southwest or you’re living in San Francisco, in New York City, you’re all getting paid the same based on role. It’s hearing about how you’ve anchored that it’s like, all right, we’re picking the top 25% for anyone living in the Boston area. So that might really great for folks in like fly over States or, you know, wherever, not major cities and still probably kinda, you know, fairly competitive with folks living in major Metro areas and a basis behind it. I liked that a lot.

Julie:
Does it mean we miss out on, you know, great candidates in San Francisco sometimes? Sure. But there are wonderful people everywhere, which is, and since we have the luxury of being able to hire from pretty much anywhere, um, that’s really exciting to know that we can find interesting people all around the world. Nice.

Sasha:
So I feel like help Scouts a little bit later stage than some of the other people, people, people that we talk to, um, because I feel like people ops a lot of times as an afterthought or until something breaks or something is like horribly wrong, then they’ll bring in someone to build the infrastructure. Or I think it should be very proactive. I think help scout was the same way. Um, but then early on it doesn’t feel like compensation and performance and the infrastructure to take care of employee growth. And the career path thing is a priority because it’s chaos. Like there are so many other priorities. Why would we care about your growth? We’re just trying to keep the lights on. Um, so do you think that de-prioritizing performance and compensation and infrastructure is the word I’m married to today? Um, but this infrastructure is a mistake. If it’s, is it a mistake to put this on the backburner early stage? Or do you think that smaller, early-stage companies should invest in this? I’m gonna keep asking more questions or do you think that it makes sense to wait until a later stage when you’re more established? Do you think there’s a point when you should, or should everyone do it really early on

Julie:
To your point? You know, when you’re like a brand new startup and maybe it’s a couple of co-founders, they’re not like, Hmm, Hubble our promotion, cadence look like, and, and, you know, often, you know, maybe those folks, sometimes founders, you know, maybe they haven’t worked at like a traditional company before and they don’t even realize, like, that’s a thing that makes you think about not dunking on anybody. Um, what I’ve seen happen most often is, you know, when a startup, you know, they hire their first few engineers and, you know, some designers and whatever, and its sort of like everybody comes in and you’re a software engineer and you’re this, and there’s no concept of leveling. Sometimes that is like a philosophical stance. I think that newer companies take like, we’re all in it together. We’re all the same. Um, and that holds up for about a year or two.

Julie:
And then usually those folks start looking around and they’re like, how do I move up? How do I get more money? Like, how do I show that I’m growing in my career here? So I think it’s like a day, one thing, like write out your career ladders and create your, your salary bands. But there should, I think it should come, you know, maybe once you have like four or five people in a role. So then when you start to think about like, okay, we’ve got all these people doing the same thing, some of them are going to start to stand out, uh, or move up and we’ll, we’ll need to hire a manager eventually. So to consider how all of those things will work, um, a really good resource that I’d like to recommend, um, is this website called progression.fyi, and it’s this like open source, uh, career pathing, uh, that a bunch of companies has published there. We don’t have ours there yet. Cause I feel like they’re just not, they’re just not ready, but if you go there like it’s really well-known companies, I think like the buffer is on there. So if you’re like, um, I’m starting from scratch. I don’t know how to write a career ladder to think about how compensation should be tied to things you can sort of start to grab bits and pieces off of that.

Sasha:
That’s perfect. You basically answered my next question and they put the TLDR version of a solid yet, not the too robust performance and compensation philosophy, a one or two-person people ops team could deploy successfully to help their teams and help them scale without being too burdensome and feel like it’s a drain on the business rather than a value add. So I’ll just send everyone to progression dot, dot, and over and out,

Julie:
But I can speak a little bit more to that point of like, okay, what should, what are the actual things that we can be doing? Because I’ve definitely been around, you know, I ran performance reviews for a company where it was, that was my full-time job. It was like, get it set up lunch. It, it takes six months before people actually get their reports, and then it’s time to set up the next cycle and, and then people get their reviews. And they’re like, I did this six months ago. Like I am ready to be promoted to the next band already beyond that. Um, and then other companies, and this is sort of like the way a lot of companies are going. They’re just getting rid of performance reviews altogether. So what I really like, and that we’ve been doing at help scout is we have twice a year just like focused, uh, not performance reviews.

Julie:
They’re more like career growth discussions. So it’s like sacred time that, you know, okay, your people ops folks are gonna ring the bell in like November and June ish and say, Hey, sit down with everybody on your team. Uh, we call them roadmaps. So we, we take this document where it says, what did I do the last six months? What did I think I was going to do? You know, this six months, what, you know, kind of slipped away, what do I want to do the next six months? So, and it’s, you don’t walk away with a rating, like adequate or meets expectations. Um, but it at least is a time that you can really sit down and sometimes people say, I want to be in a banjo band or, you know, I want to move on and do this other thing. Or they’ll say, you know, in the next two years, I really want to be the director of this team. So really starts to just shed light on where, where do people want to go in their career?

Jake:
That’s really interesting. And that was actually like leading into the question I wanted to ask was more around performance philosophy so we can take it from like help scout. You said that you actually ran this process with another company. What company was that? That your performance review process

Julie:
It’s called Argo AI.

Jake:
Nice. What? Let’s just start, like, let’s just make it a whole level higher, like overall, personally, for you, what would you say is your own performance philosophy having seen like all shades and colors of what this thing?

Julie:
Yeah. Uh, so I really like sort of like this, like I, don’t a layered approach. So I consider the one-on-ones that you have with your manager, whether they’re weekly or every other week, that’s part of it. So it’s like that again is also a sacred time that should be on your calendar. And that’s one of the first things I say when people onboard is your manager, they shouldn’t be canceling your one-on-one. You shouldn’t be canceling your one-on-one regularly. Like, get to that meeting that that’s your time. Do you have, even if you think you have nothing to talk about, whenever you get into the room or on the zoom, oftentimes you can sit there and go on for, for quite while. So, and that’s an opportunity every week for a manager to be giving just like really lightweight feedback. It’s not like a barrage of like, here’s a list of things, but maybe it’s one thing every week or so.

Julie:
Um, so I consider that to be part of it. And then also I really liked what we’re doing at help scout. So to have these two times a year, sort of like, it’s not a review, it’s not scary. It’s not a slog that everybody dreads. Cause that’s the other thing where whenever you’re doing these really long drawn out processes, the company basically shuts down because everybody’s writing reviews. You know the really popular person has picked to do 27 peer reviews. And they’re like, I guess I’ll stay up for the next four nights writing these. And they’re all terrible because you don’t want to be the 27th person that gets your review from that person. Um, so that, and then the third thing that I’ll add to that is separating like a performance discussion from compensation. So I believe 100%, yeah. Compensation should be reflective of your performance. But if you sit down and I’ve had this before many times where it’s like, it’s review time and they read through the thing, I’m not listening. They’re like Charlie Brown’s teacher, like get to the number, just read me whatever the rating is. And then that translates to there’s your 3.7% increase. And you’re like, thank you. And you don’t hear anything. You don’t really care like what the, what the plans were. So if the compensation discussion is like, you know, totally separate of that whole thing, I think it Liam’s a lot better.

Jake:
Nice. I like that. Um, that was what I wanted to get into Sasha. Do you want to take the next question? Yes.

Sasha:
I agree with you. I think that there’s tremendous value

Sasha:
In the one-on-one and these frequent, I like the roadmap conversation, the career path thing. Um, but I found not necessarily a Trainual, but in other places it can be a time suck and a burden. And I think some leaders will be more excited about their team’s growth than others. And it’s like pulling teeth sometimes. Um, so how do you balance this really important focus on employee development and career pathing, which I think directly feeds into retention with business objectives and ensuring that we’re keeping the lights on and, and not overburdening either side of the equation.

Julie:
Yeah. So it’s sort of, for me right now, I like that we can have this idea of you can move up and you can be promoted at any time. So it’s like, you don’t have to wait till June or November, December when that happens, because that’s where like the time suck happens where it’s like, okay, everybody in the company is doing this thing all at once. And then like, I have to stop everything else I’m doing to like, okay, let’s type in all these, these teachers, um, into payroll. So I do think though, so we’re at about a hundred people right now. Um, but on the other hand, it is every month it’s like a little bit of work. So it’s sort of like, I’m, I’m, I’m curious to see like me, me six months from now, or maybe a year from now, like how will I evolve this?

Julie:
And, and even just the idea of pinging folks quarterly to say, okay, let’s lock in a quarter at a time. That’s new before we were literally just doing it’s the 31st is anybody getting promoted tomorrow? Like, let me know, just send me a Slack, which is not, not great either. Uh, um, but another part of that, that I think about too, is just this idea of, you know, you talked about balancing it with just the the company needs. So something else you see, I think is this idea of you have to continually be promoted to feel like you’re doing a good job. And I know we’ve been talking about promotions a lot and it’s called, but we also really have a philosophy that like, you shouldn’t expect to get promoted every single year. Like maybe sometimes several years will go by and you’re cool. Just like hanging out at the level that you’re at. Um, and then also having dual career paths. So the individual contributor and the manager path, because there’s oftentimes where the only way to move up is to move into management. And the person’s like, I hate this, this isn’t what I wanted, but I guess I’ll do it because that’s the thing that makes sense. Um, and that’s when you know, you lose people or you realize, Oh, that was actually not what we wanted to do as a business. Right.

Jake:
Can we pause there for a second? Cause I think this is a super interesting point, especially from my perspective as like, um, I’ve been like a people manager for like a while on the operation side of businesses. It’s that I have lots of conversations with my team and they see that one ladder, the, okay, I want to be that supervisor or that people manager the director. I want your job, which is fine. Yeah.

Julie:
And you’re like, well, I’m going to be here for a little while longer, so

Jake:
Great. I’ll help you level up. But I like often I have, I sit down and have the actual conversation with them and realize you don’t want to do people management or they’d like, they just equate it to like, I’m going to have to babysit as like the word I keep on hearing. Like, I don’t want to be a babysitter or people. I want to keep on doing what I’m doing, but I still want that promotion. How have you gone about like at this company at other ones creating that, that I see that individual contributor path? I feel like that’s the thing that gets overlooked the most when it comes to career projects, like career progression, so she has startups.

Julie:
Yeah. And that’s, that’s been part of the conversation this year of talking to folks because right now, so we have, like I had said like levels one, two, three, four, five, there are some people that have been around at the company for, you know, five, six years. Like they’re getting up there and it’s like, well, you know, what’s, what’s next for them. And just really starting to think more about, okay, if they were to move up, what are the responsibilities of like a principal software engineer? And we don’t even really use that title internally, but just to start to think about like, it’s not just about like, okay, they’ve been here another year. There, they’re still great. Let’s move them up. Like there has to be a, another thing that you know, that they can demonstrate that they do. So we’ve been thinking about that and really also kind of setting the stage.

Julie:
Like I mentioned earlier, that it might take a while. Like once you get to those upper levels, like you might sit there for two, three, four years before the next, the next level up comes. Um, and as you’re talking about folks saying, I want your job, you know, I want to be a manager and then I can’t tell you how many times people end up there. And they’re like, Oh no, this is a completely different job than I, and I still want to do my IC work and no, you can’t do both. And they just sorta like flap around for a little bit, till somebody comes in and says, stop doing the other thing. You gotta be all in on, on manager stuff. Um, you mentioned earlier what keeps me up at night. I think it’s actually like tossing people into management jobs without giving them any sort of training. So it’s just sort of like, here you go, it’d be like putting me in like a product designer role. I’d be like, okay, I guess I’ll just start doing this. Now.

Julie:
What kind of resources would you recommend? Uh, an early-stage team gives to a first-time manager to help them level effort to help them be successful? Yeah.

Julie:
I have, I have specific books and websites and things that I recommend pretty regularly. Uh, one of them is, um, Laura Hogan. Uh, she was, uh, uh, VP of engineering. I think you all probably know who she is, but from a couple of companies and now she just does full-time and not just, but she full-time management training. Um, so I took it, she has an online class. Uh, I think her website is called wherewithal, but if you look up Laura Hogan, uh, you can find that it’s and it’s excellent. It’s very actionable. It’s like how to give feedback, how to set expectations with your team. Um, she also has a book, um, Camille Fournier, who is the CTO at rent the runway. She has a really good book called the manager’s path, uh, which is it’s very specific to tech companies and sort of like software engineering.

Julie:
Uh, but it, it, I think it’s applicable to kind of any manager and it’s like, okay, you’re managing one person. Here’s what that means. Now you’re managing a team. Now you’re a director. Now you’re a VP. And, it kind of goes through all of them, the different levels. Um, and I think internally, you know, once you get to a certain size, there should be somebody that’s at least doing the nuts and bolts of how we manage at this company. So today you’re a manager. This means you should be carving out time twice a year for those roadmap discussions. And here’s how you have performance improvement plan discussions with folks. So actually have somebody like show them, like we have like a coaching handbook that it says, here are all the things that you will now need to do that maybe you just thought sort of magically happened.

Jake:
Oh, very cool. So your team designed its own internal coaching handbook, was that like borrowed from other places or it’s like did a team or a person like sit down and actually write what that looks like at help scout?

Julie:
Yeah. There are several humans. Yeah. They actually sat down and wrote it out and I’m sure that there was like inspiration, but it’s, it’s literally a document that we have in our Wiki. That is, it kind of goes through lots of different things, including, um, just like, you know, how to think about your own time as a manager and like how to like, keep your, keep your head on straight. So it’s not just about how do I fill out the form to get the thing done. It’s thinking more about the actual holistic view, of managing.

Sasha:
I love that. Woo zoom sound. Uh, we have one in our train account, quick plug. Um, and it’s fantastic to be at w w we’re going to have some, some new managers this year and be able to say, yes, I’ll be working with you every month to help you get up to speed. But we also have static content that you can view and reference back to. And all the best practices are huge. Uh, I think that’s something that people overlook in the early stage. Startups tend to hire more junior folks and promote, promote new managers into management roles. And don’t give them much guidance because there’s no time. And I’m a big believer that people leave managers and not teams most of the time. And so if you have a manager that doesn’t know what they’re doing, or is a crappy manager, then you’re going to see a lot of attrition and maybe unneeded or unnecessary. Right. What

Julie:
Are the other things that I, I just remembered that we also do is we call them to coach chats. So once a month we have, it’s totally voluntary, but coaches. So we call our managers, coaches, uh, at help scout, which at first I was, it was so difficult for me to get on board with saying it. And every time I said it, I was like, but now like, it’s, it seems so natural. And to me it’s like, that is what a manager does. They, they coach you. And it really, I think helps also figure out what it is you’re supposed to do all day as a manager. Like, no, you’re not doing IC work. Like you are, you’re coaching the people. Um, but anyway, so we have these chats and there there’s usually a topic or they’ll come in and say, let’s talk about X, Y, and Z, or a book that we all read this week. So it’s a really good way just to get people together, um, and sharing amongst each other. And it’s not like somebody’s job to be. I’m the trainer. It’s just, um, you know, chatting.

Jake:
Oh, that’s cool. Do you have like, in like your own employees or coaches come in and have those talks, or do you have external people that are, might be experts in the field come in and talk?

Julie:
Oh, it’s just been internal so far, but yeah, that’s actually a good idea to have some, some external folks come in.

Jake:
All right. Uh, Sasha, last question.

Sasha:
Yeah. Let’s, let’s wrap it up.

Jake:
Right. So this is the last question we want to hear like your advice. So one piece of advice that you would give to an early stage people ops head of, or someone on the team, uh, by that person looking to build a team and scale a culture, which is always like the tricky part with, uh, these early-stage companies. So what’s that one piece of advice that you’d give to people like in your shoes years ago?

Julie:
Yeah. And I think I started this a little bit too late in the game, but I would say network with other people ops folks, which is exactly how, how I met Sasha. So just talk to other people, because working in people ops at a startup can often be very lonely because usually, it’s just you, or maybe like you and one other person for a really long time, and it’s hard to, yes, you’re emphatically nodding your head. So lonely. You can’t like vent with a fellow manager and be like, boy, this person really stinks. Like that’s totally inappropriate. So to have like, you know, this buddy system of people that you can go to and say, Hey, like, I know that you did this program last year. How did that go? How did you like that tool? Or like my sister, she works in human resources, which is odd.

Julie:
Like we both just sort of happened into the field. Um, she’s in a very different industry, but like we’ll trade stories and I’ll be like, Whoa, like, I can’t believe that that’s happening over there. And just to get different perspectives from people in different companies and especially with, you know, zoom, like it’s so easy, literally reach out to LinkedIn and be like, Hey, want to set a 10-minute coffee chat? And most people are excited to do that. I’m in like 47 different people up Slack groups. I don’t participate in all of them, but it’s a really good place, to just bounce in like, Hey, I’m trying to buy this thing. What do you all think about it? And everybody’s like, no runaway or, yeah, definitely. That’s the one you want.

Julie:
That is such good advice. I think that’s something that I also wish I would have done earlier in my career is it is so fricking lonely. And some of it, some of the stuff that you’re dealing with is really heavy. Yeah. It’d be like sending someone’s employment and like I’ll sit and cry at home when that happens. Like it happens. And it’s so sad because you like to go through all the feels of what they’re feeling and try to make the experiences as good as possible. And like in that crappy situation, but it’s super, super lonely. But I, I think it’s exciting when you’re able to build a team, I think helps girls at a fun stage because you do have a team on the finance and the people side, and you have a group that you can bounce ideas off of and build really cool programs and do things to really impact your teams, which is amazing. And you’re not so lonely all the time to be clear. I do not cry. I still sound a little more emotional than I, maybe a year. I love my job.

Julie:
You know what my other, I have, like the kind of like a silly piece of advice would learn Excel or Google sheets because people ops are like, just like ripe with data and like learning to write like a really nice if statement or do some conditional formatting is gonna save you so much time. And, you know, I had somebody on my team. I’m like, let me show you this. Cool. If statement I wrote today, I’m so proud, but that’s like, literally my job is spreadsheets. That’s kind of what I, what I do all-day

Julie:
In finance will be so impressed with you. Exactly.

Jake:
Oh, I love that advice. Um, the guy on my team, usually it was like, um, showing people like, Hey, you can just do this really quick if nested statement and get exactly what you need. So awesome.

Julie:
Jake is the guy that I use for it that I’ve outsourced.

Julie:
Everyone has an Excel guy.

Julie:
Any last-minute questions, comments for us, Julie, if not, we can let you go and get the rest of your day back.

Julie:
Uh, I don’t think so. This is really fun. So it’s been nice for me to like think too about like what the questions like, Oh yeah. Like I do stuff or like, just to really think differently about the way that I approach things. When I actually sit down and write it down,

Julie:
It’s nice to get out of the minutia of the day-to-day and think like, why am I doing these things and the impact of everything that you’re doing

Jake:
Super fascinating. I’m going to have to like, go through this video a couple of times and like, jot down like the websites you talked about, the books, you talked about, some of like the ideas that you had around programs, you run a help scout, like really, really interesting stuff that I like. Some of it I haven’t even heard of from other companies before. So yeah, really appreciate it. Cool.

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