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Values Over Culture

Zoe Johannas
Director People Operations
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"Don't be afraid of being wrong. We all make mistakes during our career - be the one who learns and develops."

Zoe Johannas

In this episode

The crux of Zoe's job is to connect Catchafire's employees to what they feel inspired by. Zoe shares how she incorporates this into Catchafire's recruitment process, the development of their culture and why values are typically a precursor to the development of an effective culture.

Tune into this episode to learn:

  • Why personal and professional development in the workplace is a necessity
  • What Catchafire looks for in their recruitment process
  • Measuring the impact of company that serves non-profits
  • Helpful people ops resources and activities that have a positive impact on work
  • The importance of team building activities

. . .

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In this episode




The Catchafire culture


Building culture


Driving factors that lead to effective leadership


Recruitment strategies


The Catchafire interview process


Recruitment advice for high growth companies


Quickfire Round

Resources from this episode

Transcript of episode

Cassy: All right, I am here with Zoe Johannas, the Director of People Operations at Catchafire. Welcome to the podcast.

Zoe: Thank you. It's nice to be here.

Cassy: It'd be great if we could if you could just tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

Zoe: Sure. As you already introed, I'm the people ops director at Catchafire. I've been there for about four years, a little more now, may go on five pretty soon. My role encompasses a whole bunch of stuff on a day-to-day, everything that typically falls into your HR buckets, recruiting, benefits, company culture, but also I get to do a lot of business partnerships too recently that I've really started to enjoy doing as a growing company, and one that's actually grown a lot from the time I've been there. It's been really exciting to also get to play a role in how our company grows and develops and gets to its next generation.

Cassy: Really? How would you describe the culture at Catchafire?

Zoe: I think the most important place to start with Catchafire's culture is the fact that we are a mission-driven social enterprise. That not only sets us apart, but I think it's really important to the people who come to Catchafire out of all the places where one can work and spend their time. If you think about how much time you spend working, it's pretty significant, there for about 40 hours every week, if not a little more.

I think what's unique about Catchafire is that folks have really chosen to be there because of the mission, because of what we're trying to do, and because we have a pretty innovative way of approaching social good and how to support other organizations that are doing great work in their own communities. What I think that does to get to your culture question is it creates a kind of environment where people really want to come to work every day and we all have the same goals that we're pushing towards. People want to collaborate, they want to work with each other. They want to help each other get to this common mission, the thing we're driving towards them.

I think it's really collaborative. I think everyone is really nice, fun, lovely to be around, and I think you feel the supportive team feeling when you come on board.

Cassy: what things are you actively doing to build culture there? I know it's a mission-driven company which is an amazing place to start, but there must be some really awesome things that you're doing too.

Zoe: This is a unique question now that we've all gone remote because of COVID. Not only where we were thinking about this before, but a lot of that has changed and evolved as we've now had to go from all being mostly together in an office in New York City to now all being in our homes, and then helping our culture still continue to feel like it used to feel. A few things we do. I think just generally, we put a big focus on our mission and values and trying to incorporate those into how we work, not just have them be something nice that appears on your handbook on the first day, but actually, it comes up throughout your time at Catchafire.

We also invest a lot of time in professional development. One of our values is a growth mindset, and we put a lot of company time into a professional development meetings, into what we call growth reviews which is essentially performance reviews, but even how we call them growth, I think indicates a little bit about how we think about them, professional development budgets, ways to get out there and then prove your skills to get better at your job and role.

I think those are some of the policy things, and there's also just a lot of team connectivity points we invest in as well. We try to do regular team Hangouts, we call it Fridays at 5:00 where you stop working around 5:00, we used to have drinks and snacks in the office. Now, we do remote, happy hours. We've started to do some fun activities during those. Last week, we actually had someone do a little mini dance lesson on one, which was really fun. Just creating opportunities to get to know each other and what makes everyone unique on the team, I think just helps bring folks together and remind you why you're there.

Cassy: You have a really interesting background. You've been working in nonprofit and with companies that have a social impact for the last five years prior to being at Catchafire. How did you get into leading people and what drives you to lead people in being the people operations role?

Zoe: It's a good question. When I first started a Catchafire, I think the thing that really brought me to the company was the mission. I had worked in nonprofits before, as you mentioned, and I felt that the way we were tackling our approach to social good was very unique, and we were actually helping other nonprofits to get the tools they needed to do good in the world, and that was just something I really wanted to support and get behind. It really didn't matter to me at that point what roles that ended up being. I took on a very generalist role of our special assistant to the CEO and operations manager, which pretty much just meant whatever needed to be done on my plate, which was really fun.

Also, the time when we were about a 15-person company, it let me try out a bunch of different things and figure out what I really did like to do and what I was good at. I think right from the get-go, the people at Catchafire made such an impact on me and why I love to go to work, that I was naturally very oriented towards thinking about how can we support them and how can we support these people that have chosen to work here and work on this mission, which is something that I also care about.

I think that was probably the beginning, if you will, and I think over time, as I've started to take on more in the HR realm, it became more and more appealing. Recruiting was one of those 55 things that got thrown on my plate very early on, and I just found I love talking about why I love working at Catchafire and helping other people connect to the mission and connect to something in their day jobs that helps them feel they're giving back and doing something more. Once you're bitten by that bug, I think it just keeps growing and because I had such an interest in it, I was able to shape my own growth path in the organization and take on more and more to where I am today.

It's a little bit of serendipity, a little bit of elbow grease, and here we are.

Cassy: Cool. Zoe, I think a lot of companies like to think that they're mission-driven, but how do you describe the feeling and how do you know that you are truly a mission-driven company?

Zoe: It's a good question. A lot of organizations, as you said, think they're mission-driven or in many cases are doing something that is benefiting the world in some way, but I think what sets us apart is we are specifically tying our mission to social good and to helping social good organizations, specifically nonprofits, but also other social enterprises like us do good in the world. In that way, we're actually a lot more like a nonprofit ourselves and perhaps, other for profit businesses where we're really tied to that social mission.

We're also what's called a public benefit corp. That means in our charter itself, we're actually held accountable to that social mission and making sure we're meeting those goals as much as we're tied to, say, our financial targets and things like that. It's very, very core to how we are built and how we're still governed today.

Cassy: I think that's really important that in the DNA of the company, it has to be built within to actually have that. Then I'm curious, you mentioned that recruiting is something that naturally fell on your plate. What do you look for then to ensure that you continue to have this mission-driven culture at Catchafire?

Zoe: I think one of the main things we are looking for is that connection to the mission. I'm not saying that you've had to wake up every morning, craving to give back to nonprofits in the sector, but I do think a common theme is really believing that companies can have a social mission and that's worth spending time on. Also, wanting to do something bigger with your professional career, I think that's a common thread everyone has. Why it's important too is because we also get put in situations where we have to use mission-driven decision-making, and not always just business decision-making.

There are times when one path might look stronger from a revenue perspective, but the other path might look stronger from a mission and values' perspective and how we actually want to serve the nonprofits or organizations we work with. Having people understand those trade-offs and seeing the value and focusing on mission first is really key to not only wanting to be at Catchafire, but also feeling like it's the right company for you.

Cassy: Are there any interview questions or anything that you do in the interview process to validate whether that person is a good fit?

Zoe: Well, let's see. I think a lot of organizations do this really well. I'd hesitate to say that we're doing anything very unique, but we do spend a lot of time interviewing for and designing our roles not just around responsibilities, but also attributes. We're not looking for a "culture fit." I don't really like that term anymore because I think that implies just hiring more people and creating a more homogenous environment, but we are looking for what we like to call a values fit. People who really do want to approach their work with things like a growth mindset that I mentioned is one of our values before.

Mindfulness is one of our values and having that be a part of your workday. That mission orientation is another. We spend a lot of time interviewing for those as much as we interview for, "Okay, what did you do at your last job?" if you qualify for this one.

Cassy: I think it's really cool that the DNA of the company is that the social impact is something that is so clear. Do you measure that and does the company have visibility over that impact?

Zoe: That is the question. Measuring good is probably one of the biggest challenges that social good organizations have, but yes, we try to. There's a number of ways we measure impact. There's a couple of metrics that just come directly from our platform and from our marketplace. If we're connecting volunteers to nonprofits, we can calculate. How much money do we actually save these organizations because they could use volunteer talents? How many organizations are taking advantage of this? How many organizations use multiple times? All these common metrics that you will see in other platforms as well or other online marketplaces.

There's also the hard-to-capture qualitative stuff that you don't always get just from looking at the numbers. For example, did we connect a nonprofit to a volunteer that connected to someone else that ended up becoming a major donor, that ended up being a board member? Did we help this nonprofit in a moment where going remote because of COVID response was incredibly challenging to them and an already under-resourced team? Did we did we give them some of the tools to help continue their programming and continue to help their constituents?

That's some of the stuff that we try to capture as well. We do produce a couple of public documents on it as well, including an impact report every year trying to demonstrate just what we're actually doing towards our mission to serve our nonprofits.

Cassy: Cool. Any advice that you can give to companies to have a more mission-driven culture and approach?

Zoe: It does start from within and I think there is a big component of it there, of getting really clear on the leadership level on what is important to your company and what do you value. Part of that can come organically too, how are things already working, what does the rest of the company feel is critical? At the end of the day, I do think leadership has to be very, very involved in setting those lines and being really clear on them, and then also being willing to adjust. Our values have changed and evolved over the years. What was really relevant to us when we were 15, 20 employees, whatever values was grit because you just got to get in there and be gritty.

That's so important, but when we reevaluated our values a couple of years ago, when we were about a 40-person company at that point, we were like, "Okay, was that the most important thing we're looking for anymore or should we adjust? Should we grow with the company?" I think it's those two things, one being really clear, but also being willing to evolve as you change.

Cassy: We're going to go into the quickfire round now. I've got about five questions for you. Just the first thing that comes to mind, you can just share. First question, what is your favorite people ops-related resource?

Zoe: Recently, LifeLabs has been super helpful to me.

Cassy: LifeLabs is great. Which people's leader would you most like to take for lunch?

Zoe: If I thought about it longer, this might not be my final answer, but I love Patagonia as a company, as a fellow B Corp and a social mission-oriented organization so I'd love to talk to their head of people. I know they do some pretty cool stuff like letting people take the day off and go surfing and things like that. I'd love to learn from them.

Cassy: What's your favorite team building activity?

Zoe: My favorite team building activity? I really enjoy what we have developed internally. Again, I don't think this is our idea, I think other organizations do this too, but we created a user manual that you write about yourself. It's like how to work with me best, am I a morning person, what are my favorite snacks? I love having people do those when they're new to the organization and doing a shareout every time someone joins the team, just learning a little bit more about each other.

Cassy: The single piece of advice you'd give to new people leaders?

Zoe: Don't be afraid of being wrong. It's okay, we all are. There’s a lot of people out there and there's just one you. It's okay.

Cassy: Zoe, final question, what do you do when you're not meeting people?

Zoe: Let's see. Well, I do a lot of crafts. I love anything that uses my hands to make something. I love knitting, sewing, ceramics, and painting. A lot of arts and crafts over here. I think that's my answer.

Cassy: Cool. Is there a way that our listeners can connect and learn more from you and stay connected with you?

Zoe: Yes, absolutely. LinkedIn is a great place to connect with me. Zoe Johannas, Catchafire is our company. I'm easy to find there. Also email, just is also a very easy way to reach me.

Cassy: All right. Well, thanks so much for joining us on the podcast.

Zoe: Thank you so much for having me. This is a lot of fun.

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