44 min read

#3 - Building a People Org with Amy Robinson

#3 - Building a People Org with Amy Robinson

When should you start to think about building a People function? How do you find a great People leader? How does the People function change as the company grows and becomes more complex? How can leaders help the company navigate this change?

We sat down to talk about all of this and more with Amy Robinson. Amy has decades of experience leading HR in startups at every stage of growth, from very early through IPO. Today, she helps leaders scale as an executive coach and founder of Pivotal Moments.

Amy has tremendous insight into not just how People organizations get built, but how companies evolve, how leaders and teams level up, and how to stay grounded through it all.




Amy: People, more often than not have the resources, have the gumption, have the skills. But we kind of get trapped. We show up as smaller versions of ourselves, because we're just trying to fit into the system and think we should be doing this and what if I did do that? And it's like just quiet down and listen to your gut. Because when we lead from that perspective, we have the courage, we have the confidence, we have the conviction.

Andy: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the People Everywhere Show, where we explore how remote companies build thriving cultures. This is Andy Kitson.

In today's episode, Niko and I talk with Amy Robinson. Amy is amazing. She has decades of experience leading HR in high growth tech companies. She has led at every stage of growth from the very early days, all the way through IPO.

And today she is an executive coach. But not just any executive coach. She was my coach while I was establishing the People function at Redox, and her wisdom and support made all the difference in the world.

In this conversation, we [00:01:00] explore the role of the people function in startups. When should founders start to formalize a people function? What do you look for in a great people leader? And then how does the role and structure of a people function evolve as the company grows and becomes more complex?

This was a special episode for me and a real treat. So without further ado, here's Amy.

Amy's Story

Andy: Amy welcome to the show.

Amy: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Andy: Yeah, we're delighted to have you here. Maybe to start, could you tell us just a little bit about your career as a, as a people leader?

Amy: Sure. So when I went to college, I thought I was gonna be a teacher and I went in, I thought I was gonna be a math teacher and I ended up graduating with a psychology degree. And coming out of that, I student taught a bunch of fourth graders trying to teach them math and it just wasn't for me, I knew I had to be in business.

So I researched professions you could do, you know, with psychology degree and this thing called Industrial Relations existed. So [00:02:00] it was way back when the sort of forefront of HR. Long story short, I did an internship my senior year in college full time first semester as really an HR rep.

They had a bunch of turnover and I basically, am one of those lucky people who fell in love with the profession. I was really good at it. I had no experience. I was still in college, but I was helping to coach managers through hiring and firing and all of that stuff. Then landed my first gig as a result of that.

So I've had a 25 year career in human resources, primarily as a HR business partner is, is my track. So I was always in a position where I was really coaching, advising, and helping other leaders lead.

Couple highlights. So I had my first IPO experience in the .com era. That was crazy. I was the sort of startup scale gal. And then when everything went to, you know, fell apart, I learned some hard stuff around closing down offices and that side of, of growth. Right. Which [00:03:00] is, not fun, it's, you know, downsizing, but the, but the ride in being being part of that experience really got me hooked on startups in technology and rapid, rapid growth and scale.

I've got international experience. I lived in London for about two years. One of the companies that I worked for, I was overseeing all the people in EMEA and APJ. And that was really cool. You know, when you're in that culture and in these different countries, it really gives you just visceral experience and perspective around how, you know, how the values are different, how the cultures are different and how things get done.

And so that experience was, was not only was it personally like a lot of fun, like, I'd see a lot of places around the world, but really was formative in helping me really appreciate like the one size fits all US centric approach. Doesn't it, it doesn't work. It can't, it can't work everywhere.

So in my last most exciting experience was at Carbon Black. I joined carbon black [00:04:00] as the Head of People. They were a hundred people. And I left, we were 1200 people. We had gone public, we did a bunch of acquisitions. So managed through all the complexities of primarily organic growth as well as deals in The middle of it. Lots of change management.

Going through the IPO was very exciting. It was also a lot of hard work, I think from the outside in, it seems like there are so many companies that have these opportunities. But the reality is, is very few that actually, you know, make it that far.

And where I'm at today, I, I towards the end of my career at Carbon Black, I started feeling like I was a bit unfulfilled which was hard for me to admit, because I was at the top of my career who wouldn't want to be an executive at a publicly traded company. And I realized that was me and it felt all, you know, odd for a while, but I, I had the courage to pay attention to that voice inside of me. And you know, couple months it didn't happen overnight, but I became really clear on what I wanted to do, which is exactly what I'm doing now.

I formed a [00:05:00] company called Pivotal Moments Consulting, and what I'm doing is I'm helping coach up mentor the next generation of executives and leaders. So I help directors get to VP and what I call, stick the landing, you know, I think a lot of companies do the promotion part and then sort of forget, like it's a massive leap and people do need support.

And I love the work because I get to do deep work with people and I get to help many, many, many, many, many more leaders scale outside of the four virtual walls of one, one company.

So 25 years in tech and growth, and now four plus years on my own, as a solopreneur thought, I'd be doing this, but here I am.

Starting a People Function

Niko: Nice. I, I end up talking to a lot of startup founders who are trying to figure out, like, where do you start with the people function?

Do you start with getting a Head of People or does the CEO or founders do these sorts of things at the beginning? Like when does [00:06:00] that, when is the pivotal moment for the lack of a better term, where they should actually start thinking about having a dedicated people function. Like how does that typically evolve as you've seen it? And how would you advise a company on figuring out how to start that.

Amy: Yeah. So I wouldn't wait too long. I think you can get away without having dedicated resources, you know, under 50 people, but things start getting, you know, complicated from an administrative standpoint and just, you know, hiring . The people management tends to fall directly on the line managers, which I, I think is okay, you know, early on.

And what I see typically is, you know, you have benefits, what are the things that are really important early, early, early stages. People need to get paid on time. The right information has to get to payroll. And their basic needs through benefits, you know, are, are being met, not to say that people don't have other desires and needs early on, but many [00:07:00] times they're unmet.

And the first hire that you have I mean, it's typically somebody in the accounting team or the office manager does the benefits. First hire is usually a recruiter.

First Hire: Doer or Leader or Both?

Niko: Gotcha. I talked to a lot of founders about how to grow a sales organization. And do you hire a VP of Sales or do you hire like a salesperson and cause those are different sorts of flavors here.

And so same with recruiting. Are you hiring like a head of recruiting a head of talent acquisition? Or are you hiring sort of a sourcing sort of recruiter or kind of a, you know, person of all trades who can kind of work the whole recruit the recruiting pipeline.

Amy: Yeah. Typically what I see is it's not that TA leader yet. It is somebody who can, you know, can go out there and do a little bit of branding and marketing and actually post and hunt and sift through the incoming referrals and, and all of that. And manage the interview process.

A lot of times I find in early stage companies, you know, [00:08:00] people, the initial team attracts a lot of the first 25 people. So it's less around sourcing you know, of blind leads per se, and it is more around managing them through the, managing them through the process. And being enough of a strategist as a, as a TA person to understand the cultural implications of these hires. So even though you don't have, you know, a, a, a, a head of talent, you know, potentially at this stage, some of that strategic acumen needs to be integrated into the hiring process, through whoever your talent, you know, your, your recruiter is through the hiring manager. It, it's, it's integrated, you know, it's part of the system.

And then at some point it needs to be led and, and owned and, and driven. And then I'd hire your Head of People. I think it's absolutely critical. Just like your sales decision. Like you're gonna hire pretty much, you're gonna hire both out of the gate. [00:09:00] You're gonna look for that talented field sales person, but not wait until you find the perfect manager. But they come together pretty quickly. Cause you need both.

Andy: How do you think about that point where you go from really needing someone who's going to like be in there doing the work hands on, to like, okay, now you need the, the leader as well.

Amy: How do I think about it?

Andy: Yeah. Like what are some of like the, the, the signs you would look for that maybe like maybe kinda like on both sides of it where a company has hired someone too soon who's like trying to fill more of that leadership role. And ,on the other side of it, like waited too long?

Amy: Yeah. A, a lot of people will say, do I hire a recruiter or do I hire my head of HR or my head of talent? And I say, you hire both. But from a sequencing standpoint, I personally think as if the founders are clear on the culture you're trying to build. And those early stage managers have proven management experience, companies can get away with because again, you're all preserving runway and whatnot. If you could hire a great [00:10:00] recruiter or two, depending on how quickly, you know, you're trying to scale, I think that's the smartest, smartest move. I was employee number six at a startup. I was hired too early. Now it was a services company and the whole point was to scale quickly, which was all driven by talent acquisition and, and, and people.

But I was bored outta my mind until we were about seven, you know, 70, 50 to 75 people, because it wasn't enough to do, like you can get ahead of the curve and think about strategy and processes and whatnot, but really what's needed early on is operational execution. It's no different than any other function,

Andy: And it sounds like kinda like for at least a period of time, the more strategic or cultural things, they, they kinda like just come baked in the system. You don't necessarily need someone else leading that, is that kind of how

Amy: Yeah. And yeah. So let me say it a little bit differently. You know, the culture is led by the CEO and the founders period. You don't bring somebody in to define your culture or programatize it. Right?

So I think [00:11:00] great companies scale because they're laser focused on two things, strategy and leadership. Okay. And they go hand in hand, right? So you wanna hire your highly effective leader leaders who are capable of augmenting and shifting the strategy, communicating it and leading through it.

If you have great leaders up front, I don't wanna say the culture kind of takes care of itself, but you know, the culture is, I believe the culture is formed your, your, your first 15 hires set, set the culture, whether you're intentional about it or not.

What Founders Need to Get Right Early

Niko: Awesome. So as a founder, I always think about how it's, it's my job in the early days of a company to basically do everything until we start to hire specialists into various roles. What are the things that founders need to make sure are done before they hire their first people leader?

Amy: Yeah. I, I think from a fundamental standpoint, I think the most critical function within the people realm is compensation. It's the backbone that drives everything, right? It drives your [00:12:00] talent acquisition. Can you attract, you know, get a competitive enough bid, attract the people that you want. And it totally drives engagement, retention employee growth, you know. You can talk a good game about providing opportunity people, but what do people really want? Right. They, they want pay that's commensurate with it. So I think that's critical getting that right out of the gate.

So how do I see the mistakes show up? I see the mistakes show up when it is like the wild west and people negotiate, but none of it, there's no internal order and it creates a mess down the road to clean up and no one's happy. Right? Cause people talk and they find out.

The other thing is leveling. So why is compensation important? I think of leveling and titling as intricately. Linked. So the mistakes I see is sure. You can come on board as a VP. Sure. You can come on board as, as a director. And, and at some point you're gonna hire real VPs and real directors, and you're gonna have a [00:13:00] problem because you have, you don't have parity, you know, of titling.

So if you can pay people appropriately know what market driven pay is or like when they need, you know you know, increases and tie it to purposeful promotion planning. If you're a slower growth company, it takes you a couple years to get to 50 people. I think those are the, the real basics in terms of satisfying people's needs. They need to be paid well, and they need to know they're gonna have advancement opportunities.

Early Comp @ Redox

Niko: Gotcha. I, and I can, as, as you went through that, I was just thinking, thinking back to the work, Andy did early at Redox to establish those things because

Andy: With a lot of Amy's help, I wanna say.

Niko: Yeah, we, had a, and, and just to, to share, I think we, we did the pretty extreme version of how basically everyone at Redox made the exact same thing.

So we didn't negotiate. It wasn't people making all sorts of things. People could even be very transparent about how much they make, because it was all the [00:14:00] same in the early days. And, and that allowed us to avoid the question of trying to figure out how I wanna pay people. And instead try to get, I think it did a lot to establish the culture of like, we're all here sacrificing like what we cause it, because we were all, we paid ourselves. I don't remember how much it was like 40 grand a year or something like that. It was very low. So it was below all of our market salaries. So it sort of created this, like we're all here sacrificing. But it didn't, it wasn't sustainable.

But it did create that first, you know, you mentioned the cultures created with the first 15 people. That's kind of how it happened at Redox? Yeah, because we were trying to avoid that, I guess.

Amy: Right. Well, and I think you, you, you made a choice, right? You had a strategy, the overriding strategy was coming up with something that is internally equitable for everybody, and you wanted to be transparent about it. So equity, transparency like, you're right. Through pay, that was a good example of putting those values and perspectives and mindset [00:15:00] into into action.

Andy: And then it. It didn't well, how do I wanna say it? Eventually we had to introduce flexibility. And then how do we do that in this context of this very well established, clear way of doing things. And that was a whole like that a beast to figure out.

Amy: You had to change it. Yeah. And, and, and, you know, like what got you here? Isn't gonna get you there. So, all these philosophies and structures need to continually evolve for different stages, stages of growth.

Andy: Yeah. So it sounds kinda like in the early days with comp making it sort of like wild west, anything goes, like that's an easy way to like mess it up and kind of dig a hole that you then have to like dig out of later.

Amy: Yeah. It's an, it's the easiest strategy to recruit people. Right? You give them what you know. Right. So, but it's like, you wanna be mindful and think about all the interdependencies, like you knew there was a tradoff if you were making, cause you were gonna [00:16:00] face some noise down the road, you know, that was the, the, the trade off of having this sort of one size fits all pay approach.

It worked for you. But I suspect was it hundred people, hundred 50, like the noise, the chatter started increasing

Andy: Oh, earlier than

Niko: It was Yeah.

Andy: before that yeah.

Amy: Right. So there, so there you have it. Right? The advice to founders is knowing that nothing is a one and done. You know, you make these decisions and they're the best decisions for the next, I don't know, 12 to 18 months, and you're gonna be back, you know, making decisions.

Yeah. Just like, you know, product roadmap, trade offs, and all of that. It's like, it's no, it's no different.

What to Look for in a First People Leader

Niko: When you actually are looking for your first people leader, what should you look for in that person? Like what differentiates a good one versus a great one. And you know, I think it's a common question and as a founder of like, how do you hire people in a function that you've never done before and don't have much expertise in?

So that's sort of the general question, but then getting. What does that look like in a, in a people leader or your first people leader? Because your [00:17:00] second and third one might look different than that first one.

Amy: Yes. Yes. So I say, hire the person, not the paper. Right. So I think all too often, we're like, have they run TA before? Have they hired in high tech? Have they, you know done performance management? Do they know compliance? Like all of, all of that is important, but I think what is more important in an early stage growth company, because you're right, if you were 2000 people, you would hire, you know, something different, because you'd need different skills at the top, but early you want a risk taker. You want somebody who is strategic minded. I believe you want somebody who is assertive and sees the people function as a critical enabler for the business. Not as a support function.

I think you wanna hire somebody who has demonstrated resiliency and they're composed under pressure because you know, it's like, oh, we got this round of funding. Oh, we need to close all of the, all the reqs are gonna be on hold because [00:18:00] Q1 is blah blah. Like that yoyo happens all the time across every function in startup. So I think resiliency is really important.

And I think somebody who is very comfortable and I think this goes back to the assertive piece, very comfortable managing through conflict, conflict of decision making, you know, having to make that choice. Do we pay everybody the same? You know, when is it time to maybe shift that policy?

And you know, at the end of the day, what I'm describing our leadership qualities, that I would recommend that you look for in any leader that you're bringing in, whether they're running marketing or sales, you know, or, you know, early on and somebody who has ambition and drive and energy. So the been there done that people leader, I'm not a huge fan of because I think too many leaders think that they want it and then they get in there and they're like, oh my God, like, I don't have all the operational tools and engine and people and whatnot. This is a lot of work. [00:19:00]

So I always, you know, sort of saying, it's my lazy way of saying, hire a director, hire somebody who wants to lead, and this is their shot. And, you know, they're gonna learn on your dime. They are gonna lean in and they are, you know, they're career oriented. They want that risk. They may not succeed. But they wanna go for it and they want the shot.

Niko: Do you have any tips for how to assess for these attribute?

Amy: No.... I'm kidding.

Niko: Good luck.

Amy: Well, I mean, I think part of it is you can look at the paper. Did they take a conservative path? So there is a little bit of of, of that you can sort of just tell from, you know, what they've done and whatnot, but I think you assess for it in the interview process. And you ask questions that, you know get under the covers of figuring out, like, what are the risks that they've taken? Give me another example. Give me another example. Tell me when you have been humiliated at work. You know where you felt, right. It's a good one. And they're like, oh my [00:20:00] God, I would, you know. Then you can suss out the other values are, are they vulnerable and willing to be honest? Like I ask that question to someone and they're like, okay, I'll tell you this. I might not get the job. I was almost on a PIP on my first management opportunity, what I realized is I was immature. I was politicing. I wasn't listening to feedback. I was a real jerk. And thank God that happened. First of all, it took me a lot to, you know, to accept, but thank God that happened, because it was a defining moment.

And you know, it's like, it's not what happened per se. It's like, well, how did you handle it? So it's like, how did you recover? Not every risk pays off in the moment. Well, I think it pays off over the long term because it builds, you know, that grit and that learning mindset, growth, mindset perspective, building that I think is so essential for leading through any, any function, any company, you know, these, these, these times [00:21:00] are hard, right?

I mean, when I was in the seat, I didn't have to really worry as much. And neither did the leaders who I was working with about sort of global socioeconomic issues and, you know, all of the, you know, climate and corporate responsibility, it was more like this thing, but it was more noise. And now, in addition to this, I think the, the, some of the leadership competencies that I just shared there's other expectations on leaders.

So that ability to think quickly, be one step ahead and not be afraid to make mistakes, you know, so that it doesn't become a like rinse and repeat. It's like, let me learn from this and figure it out next time. I, I think is critical.

Stages of Company Growth

Andy: Yeah. So we started out with just founders kind of through maybe like 50 people or so. What are, what are the other stages say that like a, a business goes through as it, as it grows in terms of like how the, the needs of the organization relative to the people function, change, maybe the role of the, the people leader as an enabler, like [00:22:00] change? How, how do you think about like the, the growth stages of a, of a company?

Amy: I think it's zero to 50, it's that pure startup where it's about the founders recruiting their team and their people. And then those people attract their folks. And you've got one or two recruiters that manage folks through the process.

The next stage, I just, I'm just gonna give it to you in head count. And I, I think is like 50 to 250 people, you know, give. Or take 50 to 200. And at that stage performance management, you know, having feedback cycles and processes that are documented and clear that will, you know, enable for growth, I think is critical. You start paying attention to engagement and serving folks. Career planning starts happening.

And at that point at 250, depending on certain functions, yeah, you're gonna need to start thinking about what are the layers? You know, sales tends to grow fast, right? Whether you have field folks inside folks B you know, BDR. So from an org design standpoint, it starts emerging. I, I think not everybody needs that [00:23:00] capability and support at that stage, but, but certainly the more advanced, you know, functions.

250 to 500, I think is critical for making sure from a people standpoint that that leader has his or her or their management team in place. A very solid director of TA a very solid director of talent ops, a very solid head of, you know, business partnership or a people enablement, you know, you can title these differently. But absolutely, I would say any executive, not just the people executive needs to have leverage at that point.

And, and it's okay. Zero to 50, 50 to 250, you know, that head of talent is in there interviewing maybe everybody, you know, in the final stages or whatnot, but scale and leverage has to start emerging at 250 to, to 500, because that's when, in my experience, focus on management development, leadership development executive comp different than, you know, broad based [00:24:00] comp, all the leveling, you know, might need to get upgraded again.

And I would just say 500 to 750. That's where you need to have robust people operations. Like processes, systems. So I think the old rule of thumb was you need to have a scalable you know, from a people standpoint, a scalable people system in place, because you don't wanna break when you're passing a thousand people.

Obviously you don't wanna break when you're passing 750. So getting a Workday in place, that's got, you know, one stop for everything critical. Because if not, what ends up happening is you throw people at the problem. So I, I am a fan. I'm sure the question's gonna come of. How should I think about how many people and what's the ratio, talent acquisition critical. You're gonna have a lot of people on that function. As long as you're growing people, operations critical. That's where your analytics are. Your business processes, ultimately shared services, light HR business partner [00:25:00] organization. The mistake that I see people companies make is they go all in on TA and all in on HR.

People generalists Strat like whatever roaming around and it's like inefficient, really inefficient and costly. So I think there's a way to do it that is more strategic and has, has have the op some operations run centrally so that the folks that are out there in the field supporting your leaders, you know, it's not like you have to hire one for every 50 people, you know, a really good HR director or people, whatever you wanna call it can handle, you know, a team of, up to support a manager of a team up to 250, 300, you know, 400 people. If they've got operational services and support and their function.

The HR Business Partner Role

Niko: And, and specifically you're talking about the, the business partner

Amy: Yes.

Niko: group. This is a. I didn't, I didn't know anything about that role or that function until Redox. [00:26:00] I would love it if you could just give an overview of what that group does and when that work needs to start.

Amy: So that's a team that's deeply integrated into departments, into regions, for example. So let's just keep it simple and say, okay, you've got a go to market organization and a product organization. You've got two hR business partners. One is dedicated to supporting the go to market side of the house. The other is dedicated to serving the product and tech side of the house. They show up, so the business partners show up and participate in the CTO or the head of sales. They're part of their leadership team.

Niko: Mm.

Amy: Okay. Like that, that's the most important thing they might actually. Now we're talking, the world has shifted a lot in the last couple of years and you know, to the point where most companies are, are remote or some mix of it. But in the old days, when I was working in offices, these [00:27:00] business partners would sit with their people. So they would be part of the sales team. So not a back office function. And what they do is they design, they tweak. So whatever the core programs are being developed leadership training, you know, performance management, they take that core process in that approach and they tweak it for their team.

They might adjust timelines, they might add some stuff to make it work for their, you know, particular population. They get involved in the hiring. So the recruiter, recruits people, the HR partner is involved in the decision making process because they have an eye towards what does the team really need.

And they have an eye towards, you know, scale in like the implications of hiring what doesn't work is having these siloed functions, right? Where TA does all the hiring and then hands people off to the people ops team once the hire happens. This business [00:28:00] partner is a key integrator.

Developing Pillars of the Function

Niko: Cool. , I really love the way that you stratified the growth stages. I think it's super clear.

So just to repeat back what I heard, so 50 to 250 that's, that's kind of like at the 50 person, mark, that's kind of, when you should be thinking about hiring your Head of People and you mentioned a director level, so someone who's gonna learn how to, how to thrive in this function. So they're doing a lot of the work, but they're also establishing some systems and potentially hiring people that will do it, and probably recruiters to start out with and then kind of growing it from there.

Amy: Mm-hmm

Niko: And then once they, once they pass that 250 mark, your Head of People really needs to have their lieutenants in place, their directors of each function their director of TA of people, ops of business partners. Am I missing? Is, is there just those three

Amy: In general. Yeah. And like the world has changed too. Right? So maybe some, one, a company might have a fourth pillar that they need, you know, for, for, for their health and wellbeing. I'm just, I'm just making it up. But yes, you want to have [00:29:00] directors, directors capable of leading, not managers. And the reason why I say this is because the pressure of rapid rapid growth can do a number on any manager.

So if that person, whether a manager, senior manager, director, isn't at least a step ahead of where the company's at, they're gonna get crushed. So directors who aren't really directors really managers, or, or don't really directors are gonna show up as managers. And that's not what you need. It's not enough capability.

Managers vs. Directors

Andy: What's the difference there. Like if, if you're just to kinda like summarize the director versus manager

Amy: Direct. So I, so I, so how I would define it as a director is capable, is capable of developing some strategy

Andy: Yeah.

Amy: and really they're able to see the, the big picture, connect the dots and connect that strategy into operational plans, key projects and initiatives, you know, roles, resources.

A manager, I think is more reactive and is basically taking direction from [00:30:00] somebody else. And they're they're leading at an individual level, whereas a director, I believe what starts emerging is that they're able to lead at a team intra team level. They're not doing all the work either, cause

Andy: it sounds like they're

Amy: on hygiene.

Andy: yeah, kinda like more outward focused into the organization and like, they have like a longer time horizon that they're, they're working

Amy: Exactly. Exactly.

Leaders Keeping Up with Company's Growth

Niko: So, so this question will certainly apply not only to looking at directors and managers in the people function, but just any leaders within the organization, but how can founders or the CEO really think about whether a leader is keeping up with the company's growth and the needs as they grow? Cause I imagine sometimes you're gonna have people who will keep up and that'll be amazing.

And other times you'll have to replace people and, and look for people who kind of have that next level. How should they be thinking about.

Amy: So I think the first thing is knowing that not every manager and leader you have in place at one stage is going [00:31:00] to be interested, enabled, and effective at that next stage. Right? So your true creators are gonna start getting bored quite frankly, at the 250-300 person mark, because it ends up becoming more of a management job.

The slog in all this is, yes, you're gonna hire leaders and risk takers early on, but the drag, as you scale puts more burden on every leader to manage. And so I think paying attention to that sort of each leader and not dismissing the noise so that I think the mistakes I see founders make is they just remember that person from two years ago when their technical brilliance or whatever it was and can get detached from reality.

Right. So listening to the feedback that is coming from peers and other functions not saying that everyone else is always right, like the person in the seat has a stake and, and, and certainly an opinion in it too.

I, I personally made this [00:32:00] mistake. I did not, I hired the wrong TA leader at one of my companies early on. He could not scale, really fell down on the management piece. And I knew him, like I had recruited him, I had, I had too much emotional investment and it took the business like an extra three months, you know, to convince me that this was real. Like, I didn't think he would make it past 500 people. It turns out at 250 to 300, he was really struggling. This person was struggling. And having, having the ability to listen and act, I think is, is, is critical. None of these decisions in and of itself, you know, unless it's somebody who is really toxic are gonna make or break the company. But if there's a pattern of dismissing the feedback and being unwilling to move people around doesn't mean you've got a fire and move people out every time.

Right. But there is ego management, you know, nobody likes to be told, Hey, I was part of the founding team and [00:33:00] now I'm getting layered again, and again, but the truth is there are stages of growth that people are better served at. And our egos, you know, get in the way. I should be here through IPO. I should be able to it's like, well, is that let's have a real conversation? Is that really what you wanna do? you know, what lights you up?

And so I just think having those conversations versus performance management, well, you didn't do this and you didn't do that. It's like, let's talk about what brings you joy. How can I create an environment or create a role that allows you to do more of that?

And then you don't have to run programs to drive up employee engagement. like we haven't even talked about diversity, equity and inclusion, and I have opinions on, on, on, on that too. But I just think as leaders, we shy away from the hard truths too often and on ourselves too, like there being might be some messages that you Niko, you know, are like this can't be true. I'm not listening to it. You know, I don't know if [00:34:00] that's true or not, but in my experience, usually there, there is some pattern of, you know, there is some truth. And so just being humble enough to listen to it and decide if you want to take the feedback and course correct

Niko: Mm-hmm

Amy: Or not. That's your choice.

Niko: Yeah, there's, there's a lot of truth to that. I've had a, a good dose of humble pie in the past couple years. So that resonates.

Amy: Yeah.

Andy: Amy. You, you're talking about how the work itself shifts for a people leader towards more managing as the, the, org grows. Could you just like go layer deeper on like what that means and what, what it like, feels like maybe when you're in the seat?

Amy: Yes. So well look, if you've done a good job in building out your team and advocating for their resources, right? So you get a management structure underneath you. There's not a whole lot of work to be done actually in the function. Right? So, my job and I've, I've had the top seat twice. Once you have those, you know, deputies, you know in, in place, people who you can fully trust, [00:35:00] you know, your role and your time is really spent counseling, advising the CEO, working with the executive team or the management team, whatever you call them to operate more, you know, effectively as a group. So it's really about working. Your team changes, right? Your team is no longer functional team.

Now, the management stuff, running off sites, doing it for your team, doing it for the company, being part of, lots of cross-functional meetings, where the people perspective is important and you know, and is needed. The KPIs and the reporting and the, the board decks and the compensation committee meetings.

I mean, there's a lot to do to just manage how like, and oversee how the function is being run in report report on.

Andy: Gotcha. One, one piece you mentioned there about like, making sure that your, your, your team is well resourced. How do you think about that? You hear benchmarks out there. Benchmarks are often just kinda like a single number and that conflates a lot of [00:36:00] variation. And it's maybe you should be above or below or yeah. How, how, how do you think about like what the right amount of resources should be directed towards a, a people function?

Amy: Yeah. So I'm not a fan of ratios because I think what's, what's missing in all of that is context. And so, and I guess the other thing, and this is just This is my own bias coming in. But like, what are the function is really pushed to come up with a ratio I've never had a salesperson have to justify how, you know, how many people they should have.

Right. They, they, they do the math a little bit and they're like, Hey, if I can hire 10 more sales people, this is the revenue that we can do. So there is, you know, a little bit of that. Product, same thing. So I think part of it, that question to me is a bit of a a red flag, quite frankly. And in general, what I would say is listen to the noise, what needs to, for your organization, what needs to get done based on your values and the things that are important to you, where do you wanna invest if you choose that? [00:37:00] I don't care about the health of the organization. I only care about filling up the bus. in a talent acquisition. Getting people hired as quickly as possible. And assimilated then put a ton of resources there don't invest in, you know, some, some of the other areas, but I would say put your money where your mouth is.

And if you really are interested in health and wellbeing of people, you know, benefits is an easy thing to say, oh, we added X, you know, X amount of things, but like, look at your resourcing. Are there other functions? You know, do you have enough people in the HR team to actually listen to folks and be there for them?

So I, my answer is I sort of feel like a politician, a little bit of a dodge, but that, but that is, you know, my true perspective. I mean, the old numbers you're gonna back me in it's one to a hundred.

Andy: Yeah. And that's when I always

Amy: that's crazy for a growth company. Like, forget it.

Andy: So it sounds like it's more [00:38:00] about don't think in terms of like these kind of overall benchmarks that, you know, you need to then figure out like where you are in relation to them based on growth or type of con like any of that, but more, just like a, what are the problems that you're trying to solve and also, like, what are the ones that you don't wanna solve and maybe are willing to live with and just kinda like more of a bottoms off approach

Amy: Yeah. Where's the noise. Yeah. Do you care about that noise? If you don't care about the noise, then live with the noise, but if the demand, I mean, you're executives and you're senior leaders at the end of the day, they can't operate without people to support them across a variety of different functions.

So I think what are they willing to invest in? I think is an important, you know, I think the people leader has to have a point of view, but what, what is the team looking for? And then I think it doesn't, you know, I don't wanna sound flippant, but it almost doesn't matter what the CEO thinks, right. Because they're solving for, for what the business really needs. And then you can make a [00:39:00] decision and say, okay, are we gonna hire five sales people or one additional HR business partner? And if the team says, we need those sales P people, it's more important, then you make that decision, but it's on the table.

Niko: So I wanna take us back to, you mentioned that you have a lot of thoughts on DEI. That's something that has been sort of the center of my work at Redox over the past year or so. Or I found myself working a lot on that and I've had a ton of questions about, should we have hired ahead of DEI years ago or is this kind of a natural progression and you know, we're at about that 250 mark. So maybe, maybe that's the point when it's, it starts to make sense, but yeah. What are your thoughts on when you actually start to formalize diversity and inclusion function and what sort of work does that start with?

Amy: Yeah. So in an ideal world, you wouldn't need that function for a long time because it will be integrated into how the company runs and how the leaders lead. So going back to strategy and [00:40:00] leadership, I believe, and again, some of this is a little bit maybe of a stretch, because it's not incorporating real world pressure of running a business, but when you hire leaders who are selfless, and truly want to collaborate and bring out the best in others and be part of a winning team, you know, like all that good talk like that is to me, that that sounds like a leader who is really passionate about including others and creating an environment where the best ideas come forward and heck may even win.

But there are no losers in that situation, right? It is this, you know, win-win for everybody. I believe that is the climate that, you know, diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging is an outcome. It's not a program.

Now at some point you wanna put attention to it operationally, for sure. So that just like any other critical business function has, has [00:41:00] resourcing, you know, you know, can have some, some momentum, but I would look for that capability in all of your leaders. I would look for that capability in your Head of Talent, right? Your Head of Talent could also be your, you know, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. You can make your CEO, that person, you know, there's a whole lot of ways, but somebody at the top of the house, I think needs to have that title. And I would love to see it as, you know, co-founder and chief, you know, equity and inclusion officer. I actually think that that would have way more power in, in punch for, for the, for the organization.

And I, I say punch, probably not the right word, right. Because that's about working against each other, but, you know, mojo.

Niko: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. Oftentimes when we hire from our networks, which is the first people in a company, those people are a lot more homogeneous because we've worked with them in the past. They're friends of ours. They look like [00:42:00] us. We went to school with them. They have the same levels of privilege that we probably all had. So, so you can kind of dig yourself a hole in the early days with your first 20, 30, 40 people, because they're all within the networks of your first five people.

So if, if you're not focusing on diversity at the beginning, I have just seen this certainly happened at Redox and I've seen it with, with other companies that I work with that you just kinda get in the hole where shoot, we have 50 people and we all look the same. Now we have a diversity problem. And a diversity problem comes with inclusion problems and equity problems.

Amy: Yeah. And strategy. Cause you'll think the same, you know, you could have major blind spots.

Niko: so so is it, is this, is this another thing where it's like, we have to be thoughtful at the beginning about diversity and it's not necessarily that we need someone focused on it or like diversity goals necessarily, but we do need to make sure that we don't create a diversity problem. And so for, for founders or people growing smaller teams, like it needs to be something we address early on.

Or yeah. How, how, how would you think [00:43:00] about approaching diversity in those early.

Amy: You bet. So I love the way where you're going with this. I, I, I would recommend that founders have the courage to say, I recognize that if we just hire from our network, we're gonna create a problem that we don't want. It's not gonna make us proud. So we're going to come up with a strategy you know, fight that, that, that natural desire, because what does your network give you? Tons of speed. And quality, right? We're gonna grow a little bit slower out of the gate. know, let's just say that first 15 five, you know, you make the mandate five have to be out of our network. And I don't think you have to mandate one female, one person of color. Like it's just that mindset of what we're trying to do is build towards or fight against uniform thinking. And we wanna bring in people from different cultures and backgrounds early on. Like to me, I always say how to solve your problem, put your money where your mouth is.

And, I think that the person and the [00:44:00] people who have the most influence in power in a company are the founders.

Niko: Mm-hmm.

Amy: So whatever you decide, people will, you know, they might get push back on certain things, but you've got a great reputation. People are gonna follow you and then admire you for having the courage to act and be thoughtful about it.

Niko: Yeah, I think, I think there's certainly the courage to do that, to do the right thing. But I think the harder part of executing on what you just said is the trade off of speed. And that's the, I guess that's where you need to have the courage to be able to go to your board and say, yeah, it is taking us a long time to hire this person because we're trying to do it differently.

Amy: Yes. I mean, I like what boards are doing now to push governance on this, but it's too late. If a company is so fully formed that they're just trying to get diversity on the board, you know, like I think it's all important. But the earlier you can start the better, like, I would love to see founders, like you Niko have those [00:45:00] conversations with VCs.

So then a decade from now, the VCs are gonna be mandating that for all of their early stage companies, you know, they've, they have the power recognition. Now, if you don't augment in your first 25 people, it's gonna make it really, really difficult. And we know that diverse teams outperform. So why would you not?

You know, now if it takes you a year, that's a problem. Right. But having the fortitude to to stand up for what you believe in I have to imagine, know, reputable investors will back that. Because what are they back ideas and teams. And you're basically saying I'm gonna take a little bit longer to hire the best team.

Niko: Yeah,

Amy: Need you to have my back.

Niko: well, it, it might even, it might even go a step further and say, it'd be great. If the, if the founding team was diverse, because then it should, then we can use our networks and hopefully create that

Amy: Exactly. Exactly.

Niko: Gotcha. [00:46:00] Yeah. It's a, it's a tough subject I think. But it's, it's something that I certainly wish I thought about in the earlier days of the company.

Amy: Yeah. I also think you know, look around, you know, I bet there are diverse folks who need, you know, an accelerated who would benefit from an accelerated promotion. Like, so just thinking about, we always, I think, tend to think like, oh God, where are we gonna find people? You know, there are people inside your organization for sure.

That want advancement are ready for advancement. You know? So if you take that longer approach and say, Hey, if we keep being intentional about our internal pipeline in five years, we know it's not gonna happen tomorrow, but in five years or , heck, maybe even three, like we're gonna fundamentally, we're gonna look fundamentally different and we're gonna have a two prong, you know, multi-pronged strategy to get this done. That's our commitment.

Andy: Cool. So I wanna like talk a little bit about remote work. So a Amy, with your work with people teams over [00:47:00] the last few years as everyone's been trying to like sort out remote work, I would love just your perspective on what are one to three of the biggest challenges you see, like people teams really struggling with or thinks you think they really should be like, thinking about and focusing on.

Amy: Okay, so I'm gonna, I'm gonna slightly twist this and I will answer your question, right. But I, what I wanna do first is just celebrate the gifts that have come you know, from COVID in terms of implications on the workforce, like, so what have people leaders been fighting for for years and years and years: flexible work arrangements.

Now Redox, you've been ahead of this, right? Cause you are a hundred percent remote from the get go, but typically right, eight people, leaders have been fighting, you know, to convince managers that you're not gonna dip in productivity. So I feel like that is a win for people. A win for organization.

Second thing, family friendly policies. Trying to get more benefits and policies. Now it has just blown opened. You know, everybody like this authenticity thing where everybody can say, yeah, [00:48:00] I'm juggling this and that. I don't have to hide it anymore. I think that's a win for people and companies. Equity, just in terms of leveling the playing field promotion advancement and just access for in person.

Now everyone's on camera. I think that's a huge win. I also think like this whole concept of shutting down offices shutting down the company for a week or two to give everybody a break, like hu you know, huge, huge, huge win. So that's just me using this bully pulp, but to say there's been a lot of really good

And I think that it's forced companies to their managers focus a lot more on meaningful appreciation, meaningful recognition for their people. So I know it's challenging to work remotely. I don't want to be remiss if we didn't celebrate those wins. I think they're huge gains for people.

Niko: Woo. I love that.

Amy: You like it?


Niko: Let's celebrate.

Amy: Yes. Right. Let's let's, let's celebrate and it's not going away. Right. It's not going away. All right. So now back to your question, which is what are the challenges, right?

Andy: Yeah. [00:49:00] Or just like, what, what are, what are the things that are, are, are changing that yeah, as like a people leader you need to like incorporate into your toolkit. Like what are the, the, the big changes that you need to be grappling with?

Amy: As a manager leader or as a, as a leader of a people function.

Andy: Leader of a people function.

Amy: Okay. Well I think, you know, these, the, the Well, this is I'm actually, I guess, answering from an organizational standpoint, like slack, I feel like is so 1999 at this point, but having, you know, I think for the company making sure in addition to the, the, the CIO and the tech people advocating for the, for, for, for good collaboration, technology solutions absolutely has to be there. And, and I think it's not just one side, like the one size fits all. I think just doesn't, it doesn't work for people and teams. And I think that in itself is good, because it serves the local need, but then causes friction and noise for how do we, you know, how do we get our message to everybody? So, so when I think about your [00:50:00] question, that's not really a recommendation per se.

Right. But I, I do think having, yeah. Having access to the right tools for teams is critical.

Andy: Yeah.

Amy: You know, other than that, like, I, I, I don't know if this is a lazy answer, but I just think it comes down to good old fashioned management and checking in with people. And, you know, I think that there's, you know, maybe one of the misses has been like this over, over correction to get more people connection.

And it was just literally more FaceTime or more zooms. And it was like exhausting people, because it's not, you know, it's not the same. But picking up the phone and calling people just to say, how are you, you know, is so meaningful and you know, people ask me all the time, should I do half an hour? Check-ins what's the right cadence.

I'm like, I don't know, experiment for yourself. You know, [00:51:00] I, I feel like. Light touch high volume is good. Even texting. I don't need you to talk to me, but just sending me a text saying, Hey, I'm thinking about you. I know you had, you know, your kids got surgery. Don't worry about being in the office for the next week.

Are you okay? Yeah. Thanks. Like, I don't know. I, I, I it's like simplicity. I we've

Andy: So, so I, I, I,

Amy: that.

Andy: I love where you took this. There's a, a theme, I think, running through this of like, really understand your own needs, focus on the problems in front of you, care about like listening and talking with people, and being connected, and really focusing on on that and not so much on the, you know, what some podcast tell you that you should be thinking about, or you know, what's a benchmark say that you should be doing, but like, you know, either it's a problem that you can see and observe and hear people talk about, or it's not.

And just that like reorientation of like, you know, look [00:52:00] inward and

Amy: Yeah, I think there's not enough time spent looking inward. I mean, that's a lot of the work that I do with leaders on development and coaching. People more often than not have, have the resources, have the gumption have the skills. But we kind of get trapped. we play, we show up as smaller versions of ourself, because we're just trying to fit in, in the system and think we should be doing what if I did do that? And it's like just quiet down and listen to your, your gut. Because when we lead from that perspective, we have the courage, we have the confidence, we have the conviction.

Rapid Fire

Niko: I love that.

So I think we should probably transition to our rapid fire questions, because I am very excited to hear what you have to say about some of these, if you're, if you're up for it.

Amy: Okay. I don't know all of them. So I'm just gonna give you my lazy, quick answers.

Niko: Can you share a story that illustrates what culture means to you personally?[00:53:00]

Amy: Yes. I have quite a few. Rapid fire.

Niko: It doesn't have to be that rapid.

Amy: Okay. Lightning round. I worked for company. We were breached, we were a secured cybersecurity company. We were breached big effing deal.

We didn't hide it, you know first couple days to figure out what's happening. Let's do damage control and we honored our value of having integrity, and speaking truth and transparency. And so we told the world and of course our competitors, you know, were pouncing on it. And we worked through a process with every single customer we did not lose. So this was the work that some of our executives did and our CEO did some of the best work during that crisis to really be there for our customers and have integrity and transparency and not and just live in the uncomfortable. And at the end of the day, we never lost a client during that, that, that process. And I'm really proud of that. I'm really proud of that.

The other same thing [00:54:00] different CEO that I worked with we made, we were, we were, we were getting ready to go public and, you know, talk about pressure and we hired a, a, a wrong critical executive.

Who was, you know, really integral to that process. And that person only lasted six months and, and that executive, it was a very hard decision for the company to make through the lens of, oh my God, it's gonna push off this whole other thing, like had major, major, major implications. But the CEO said, you know what?

I've got the right person, right? Executive externally, you know, the street will love this person, but I've got the wrong person internally. And I can't look our people in the eye and say that this person is aligned with our values. And so we part ways and you know, it still gives me chills to this day to think about being so, being so proud to be part of that team, because those are, were not easy, we're not easy decisions and we grounded [00:55:00] them in our values and then could talk about it openly.

Andy: I love both of those. So next one. What book do you want everyone you work with to have read?

Amy: So my lazy answer is Five Dysfunctions of a Team because I think it gives it's a, you know, practical read that gives, gives people like a insight into some of the, what I call hard lines. What are the structures and processes that you wanna have in place to enable a highly effective team? And then what are the behaviors? Those two, I think of those as soft lines you need both to to contribute, to, to, to keeping a team healthy and functioning.

My other answer is I don't require it. Like, I feel like there's too much effort put externally again on being an expert in the latest trend and the latest point of view. I think we've done too, too much pressure on ourselves to become expert at the latest sinking in management and leadership. And not enough time, I'd say, instead of reading a book, go take a couple of awesome [00:56:00] walks in the woods, and I'm telling you whatever that idea is, or that thing that you're, you know, noodling on, you're gonna come out of that with a level of insight and certainty that is way beyond what you're gonna get from a book. And I think people have way more potential and capability than we give ourselves credit for.

Niko: Ooh, love that. Don't read. Go walk in the woods. It's so good.

Amy: Yes.

Niko: Okay. So what do leaders too often, either under emphasize or over emphasize when it comes to remote company culture? So what's kind of over or underrated or you can pick which, which one you wanna go.

Amy: Okay. Overrated, I think is face time. We've gotta get people together cause we're not gonna create and we're not gonna collaborate without it. There is some truth there, but just getting people into offices at, you know, they, a lot of people gonna be pissed off because they've gotta, you know, do the commute or whatnot.

And having people in offices [00:57:00] opening up their computers to do meetings online, you know, is just, you know, a waste of time. So it's gotta be meaningful, meaningful interactions.

I have a client who is adopting this policy and they put it in place like last month. So it's still new and they're experimenting with it. But it's this concept of the office is the new offsite. So remember the days, right, we would co work in the office five days a week, and then every two, you know, twice a year, we'd go go together and, or once a quarter. So using office interactions as being really purposeful couple day team, you know, bringing in cross functional leaders, you know, to the degree that it's important and use that as an, an onsite is the new offsite.

But I feel like when I was in the trenches, the onsites were more like everyone's huddled together in a conference room for a day. This is different, right. This is trying to replicate that experience uh, in house. So I love the idea.

Andy: All right. Last one. [00:58:00] So what work changes have you made since the pandemic started that you plan to carry forward?

Amy: So I was making the changes anyway, to go a hundred percent remote because I realized it's just a way more efficient business model. And especially for the coaching work that I do, you know, it's hard for people to find privacy and like sometimes people don't want other people to know that they're being coached.

So my business is a model that lend itself quite nicely to to virtual. But I, you know, would always say with them at 10%, there are gonna be some local clients and sure. I'll fly there. If it's a team meeting. Now, it's I just don't do that. It's not part of my, you know, it's not part of my business model. Because for me, I love, you know, I do have an office upstairs, but you can see like, I'm now down in my kitchen, I move around and I like picking and choosing where I get, you know, where I get to work.

And, and when I have that autonomy and flexibility, of course, I'm going to be really on and engaged in and, and adding value to clients.

Niko: Those were all of our rapid fire questions.

Amy: [00:59:00] Okay.

Niko: You

Amy: Have all Right. Good, good, good, good.


Andy: won.

Niko: This was so much fun. I learned a ton. I took a bunch of notes. I'm sure I will have more questions for you. But thank you so much for taking the time for speaking with us and our audience and yeah.

Amy: I really appreciate it. This was fun. You were bringing me back bringing me back to memory lane in some ways. I'm glad I'm glad to be able to contribute. So thank you.


Andy: All right. That's the show. Thank you, Amy, for such a fun and insightful conversation. Uh, listener, you can find a transcript of this episode on our website at peopleeverywhereshow.com. And while you're there, make sure to sign up for a mailing list so you can stay up to date on new episodes as they come out.

If you listen on Apple Podcast, please leave us a review that helps a ton. And if you have feedback for us on how we can improve the show, please send us an email at hi@peopleeverywhereshow.com. We'd love to hear how you think we can make the show better. Anything from topics we should cover,

guests we should interview, formats we should try, and well how we can improve as hosts. We want to make the show great [01:00:00] and we'll need your help. So shoot us an email at hi@peopleeverywhereshow.com. And that's it. Thanks for tuning in. We'll see you next time.