In this episode
After 10 years at Digital Ocean as the Director Of Employee Experience, Jessica believes that office and employee culture can have a massive impact on the growth of a business. Jessica shares that she loves people, that's why she thrives at what she does and mentions that it's crucial for people leaders to able to listen to other people before reacting or forming an opinion. Jessica then goes on to share about the type of values that are cultivated at Catalyst Software and how their CEO encouraged employees to take time off to preserve their mental health.
Tune in to this episode and learn:
- How a company can keep growth consistent during COVID
- Importance of team’s collaboration and participation of each stakeholder in a company
- How to maintain transparency in the workplace
- How to scale a company whilst ensuring a very low level of workplace toxicity
- How fun-filled activities can motivate employees to drive massive productivity
. . .
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In this episode
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Transcript of episode
Cassy: Okay, hello, everyone, and welcome to the Culture Builders Podcast. I am here with Jessica Marucci and she is the Head of People and Places at Catalyst software. Welcome to the show, Jessica.
Jessica: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Cassy: Why don't you start by telling our listeners a little about yourself?
Jessica: Sure, I am the Head of People and Places at Catalyst, which clearly is employee experience and office experience, anything that impacts your physical and mental well being and ensuring that people have a comfortable, engaging and high productive environment that they can work in. I've been at Catalyst for one year and two weeks, and prior to that I was the Director of Employee Experience for close to 10 years at DigitalOcean. Catalyst is my fourth startup.
Cassy: I noticed that Catalyst and DigitalOcean both seemed like total hyper growth companies, right?
Jessica: Yes, I'm fortunate and lucky to be on rocket ships. It's not that everyone gets to have that point in their career. At Catalyst, we're currently at about 40 employees, and we'll be at probably closer to 50 by the end of the year, and next year, looking to blow the roof off the place and really scale as much as we can to exceed our goals for customer success. We were bringing customer success to the centre of organizations, and we've been fortunate enough to not be impacted negatively by COVID because it's more important now than ever to retain your current customers and ensure that they are in a good place to stay with you and not go somewhere else.
Cassy: How did you get into leading people?
Jessica: People in general, most people, I got thrown in the deep end, probably 15 years ago, at one of the startups that I was at. I just was the only person who handled everything administratively and was tasked with hiring a team of telemarketers. Having zero management experience, just figuring out what an interview plan would look like, interviewing people, hiring them, and then just assessing along the way. Since then I've had the opportunity to take that from a management in managing telemarketers in very structured format to actually developing people and growing the employee experience function at DigitalOcean and now at Catalyst.
Cassy: What drove you to continue then after that first experience, and then today, after the last one, right?
Jessica: I love people. People are second nature to me and how we operate and what we do. I think if I go back to my earlier skills, when I was in high school, I was really good at technology, but I just could never find myself to be an engineer for my career. I would tell people like, "Yes, I'm really good at this, but I can't be in front of a computer my whole life. That's just not me. I'm too social for it." That actually transpired into a career in tech, but being able to impact my niche and just get involved with people and be in an area where there are a lot of people in tech who don't like the people aspect. Getting to be like an engineering whisperer, and talk to them and understand, what matters to them, and what makes them tick, and giving them the resources and support to do their best work, while also developing an organization and scaling organizations. It's been fun and it's engaging and what some people feel to be annoying in people and people management and challenging and difficult, I really thrive in.
Cassy: You seem like you're probably an incredibly patient person.
Jessica: I am and I cannot credit that to my children, but I just credited to being a sponge where you just have to listen to everything that's going on and try to get all angles before forming your own opinion in things. I definitely had to get coached on that early in my career where I couldn't just be trigger happy to be excitable and react to something and just pause and wait till other people respond to the e-mail and see other people's opinions before forming your own. It's been able to translate into a successful career in people leadership.
Cassy: Nice. How would you describe the culture that you're building at Catalyst now?
Jessica: A lot of companies say this, but it's truly in our practice to be transparent. We keep everyone abreast of what's going on with the board, with leadership, if there are pivots, understanding what the pivot is, why are we pivoting, what are we changing? We have all hands regularly, we have [unintelligible 00:05:14] weekly, which is just everyone coming together and chatting each other out and using that time to give updates that impact people. I think anyone on one side of the organization could tell you what's going on the other side of the organization.
That ties to bringing CS in the center, but just in general, engineering always knows what the product road-map is, and what they're building, and why they're building it. You could talk to an engineering manager and they know they're building this feature because this customer on the other side really wants it and really needs it and this is what they're going to use it for. The level of transparency is not just top-down, it's across the organization. People really communicate pretty often to make sure there is that cross-org alignment.
Cassy: Maybe you can speak from past experience, but you're 40 people today now, in your past experience you were at DigitalOcean when it went from 5 to 500 plus, so how do you make sure that you continue to have that transparency from 40 to 500 at Catalyst?
Jessica: That's a great question. I think as long as we can always keep the why as a part of the conversations, if we are making changes, if things are happening, giving people the reasoning behind it, as opposed to just saying that something is changing, is the key to making them feel included in the decision. I talk about this for change management often where it's okay to feel frustrated, annoyed, upset. You can feel all of these emotions, those are natural, but one thing you're not supposed to feel is confused.
As we scale the organization, and as we grow and focus on different endeavors, or we're hiring different people, or why we made this hire, or why we prioritized this hire, as long as we're keeping people included in those decisions, then there's no guesswork. The negativity, the toxicity that comes from confusion and comes from the place of silence, where if you don't give people a reason, they're going to paint their own reason, and 9 times out of 10 that reason is going to be pretty terrible and not likely what the initial motive was as for why we're doing what we're doing, or how we're doing it.
Cassy: How do you continue to develop those people now that you're 40? Some of these people, I'm guessing, maybe weren't managers before, and they're probably going to be put into new roles that they've never experienced before.
Jessica: When I was employee number 18 and that's a pretty big deal for any startup hiring their Head of People so early on, so I had the opportunity to be proactive instead of reactive. In the approach of being proactive, we've been able to implement bi-annual feedback cycles, we've implemented a leveling system early on, we've implemented cadence of one-on-ones and checking in regularly for those people. Our engineering org was entirely flat when I joined, just like most startups, rebuilt an org so it wasn't even a reorg it was an actual organization for the first time. The three engineering managers that are currently in place today, and they've been in place since November last year, are doing management for the first time. That includes regular coaching from me, I meet with each of them weekly for an hour just talking about any people issues, talking them through scenarios that they're going through with their team or with each other, and just regularly checking in with both the other leaders in the organization and myself to make sure they feel supported.
It's one thing to decide to be a manager from an IC at a startup, and it's another thing for you to actually be supported through the process where we're not just giving you the keys to the kingdom and letting you figure it out, we're helping you along the way and giving you the resources and tools that you might need that, frankly, we didn't do at DigitalOcean because it was so early on. We just did it and figured it out and now, in a place to be proactive and not reactive like we were, I've been able to support the people through that process.
Cassy: When you started as employee number 18, did you have a budget? Did you create a budget? What was the budgeting process?
Jessica: I don't know if I should say this, there was no real budget because they didn't know what to purchase. My first purchase was Lattice which was a tool that I knew that I needed, I'm like, "I need some resource that people are going to be able to look at an org chart, that people are going to be able to use for their reviews, that people will be able to use it as a tool for one-on-ones." I was looking at Lattice for like a couple of years and haven't been able to pull that trigger. This is much harder to pull a trigger on a huge ship of 500 people than it is for a startup of 20. I just implemented that early on in saying that this is something that we need in order to do the things that we want to do as an organization.
Cassy: What did you set as a success factor in your role when you joined? Did you go, "These are the things I want to achieve. Here's what success looks," or was there a plan there?
Jessica: Not entirely, but my own personal metric is making sure that people aren't leaving the organization for reasons that are not okay by me. If someone gets an incredible opportunity, and you can't pass it up, I'm the first person to be like, "Hey, I'll give you a referral. You've got to go," but to have a turnover for reasons that we could have prevented, is something that I'd love to alleviate. It's been okay since. We've only lost one employee and a year, so our turnover rate is low. We're ensuring that people have what they need and there's just an open door to feel supported and have that level of partnership.
Cassy: That's great. 1 employee out of 40 in a year is pretty incredible, especially in a job market like New York. Is 100% of your team in New York?
Jessica: We are 100% in New York. We just actually hired our first San Francisco person, but we were 100% in New York. COVID has impacted our stands on being remote. We were entirely in the office, and we had a very engaged office where people were in daily and were hanging out after work and just participating in collaborating regularly. It has been a transition for us to go remote. Some people have moved out of the state just temporarily, through COVID, naturally, but we did just make our first San Francisco hire.
Cassy: Have you done anything to support those employees now that they're remote through either growth initiatives or just supporting them?
Jessica: We've done a lot of things on the culture side, as far as hosting monthly events, we were doing weekly game nights, we had catered lunch in office daily previously, and now, we do a weekly team lunch where we give people a seamless stipend so that they can order lunch and then eat together. As far as their growth and development, it's just ensuring that managers and leadership are regularly checking in. Our CEO has told people at these [unintelligible 00:12:28] meetings every week, "Make sure you're taking the time off that you need. It is incredibly important to reset." I myself took a week and a half off recently and felt the difference in coming back refreshed and just not being on a screen. It has nothing to do with the work that I'm doing. It's just the physical environment of sitting on a computer with headphones on all day versus just getting out and having that reset piece, but it's a constant reminder from our leadership team to the whole entire organization, "Take the time that you need."
In addition to that we implemented summer Fridays, where we gave six different Friday's off through Memorial Day to Labour Day, where if you don't even feel comfortable taking off, because we recognise that some people feel like they have FOMO, the company will shut down. Nothing is going on. Slack is empty. On these days, no meetings are happening. You're not missing out. We're forcing you to get that mental health break and take time off the computer.
Cassy: I know Catalyst just raised a $25 million round in April, Series B, what are the plans for growth? Where do you think you'll be in a year?
Jessica: I think we will likely grow probably another 50% a year from now. We're reevaluating what our office environment is going to look like. Actually, it's going to exist in New York, we don't know, but I know for whatever we transition towards, we're going to have more space, we're going to have an open environment, we're going to be precautious for people travelling and coming into the office. Scaling wise, it's taking care of our employees. If you take care of your employees, they'll take care of your customers. What I hope to do with the money besides hiring the top talent in New York is making sure that our teams and their families feel supported through this time and beyond.
Cassy: We'll start with a quickfire round. I've got a couple of quick-fire questions for you. You can just answer with the first thing that comes off the top of your head. Question number one, what is your favourite culture-related resource?
Jessica: Kim Scott is pretty awesome to follow, but I also get the Harvard Business Review articles and they're pretty spot-on for what's going on in the world, the culture, what can be impacted and things that you can do differently.
Cassy: Which people leader would you most like to take for lunch?
Jessica: I was fortunate enough to have coffee with Mark Levy who coined employee experience at Air-BNB, multiple-- It was probably five years ago at this point for when I had coffee with him, and he validated a lot of my efforts and thought processes behind employee experience and that felt really good for my career and moving forward. I was lucky enough to have that. This is probably not an answer you'll get from anyone else, Derek Jeter. He was the captain, he got the best out of people, he was respected by everybody in the league, like competitors.
Cassy: Single piece of advice you would give to new people leaders?
Jessica: I would say, really try to channel your physical and mental feelings for what you look forward to in a day. If you're getting ready for your day and you cannot wait for your team meeting, or you're getting ready for your day and you're dreading this one-on-one with the person over and over again, listen to your body, listen to your head, your body is telling you, your head is telling you, "Something is up, something is going on, and I need to alleviate this." If you don't listen to it, and you just choke it up as people management, you're likely not managing that person right and you're likely either going to lose them, or you want to fire them and you're not even doing anything about it.
Cassy: Your favourite team-building activity?
Jessica: It may be corny, it may be basic, but just team dinners. There's nothing like a round table team dinner at a restaurant that has something for everyone because that's also awkward, but if you choose a restaurant that is inclusive for a meal for everyone, there's nothing that can be better than that.
Cassy: What do you do when you're not leading people, Jessica?
Jessica: Raising my two sons. I have a seven-year-old and a 21-month old. With my seven-year-old, we've taken on Animal Crossing since COVID started and we play that pretty regularly or Smash Brothers. My baby just loves seeing me around so much that I have to dodge him half of the day, but I just spend time with my family. I've been fortunate enough to have a backyard so we could just play anytime we want.
Cassy: All right, great. Well, Jessica, thanks so much. Is there a way that our listeners can follow you?
Jessica: You could follow me on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
Cassy: We'll include a link on the podcast page.
Cassy: Great. All right. Well, thanks so much for joining us.
Jessica: No problem. Thank you for having me.