4 tips for designing your org’s post-pandemic transition plan

In 10+ years in SaaS, I don’t recall another time in which people practitioners have been so cosmically overwhelmed. When COVID hit, HR leaders had to modify their people and culture strategies seemingly overnight, leading their organizations through multiple traumas and crises. And it hasn’t stopped since; recent months have continued to bring unknowns. As we explore new ways of working (like hybrid work structures), there’s the added complexity of the employee post pandemic existential crisis and an ongoing raging war for talent

Despite how important the post-pandemic transition is, more than 60% of executives still don’t have a solid plan in place to support their employees through it. Smaller organizations in particular – those without a dedicated HR presence – are searching for strategies that align both to progressive practices and their goals around culture. Here are 4 things to think about as you work to cement your post-pandemic transition. 

1. Please don’t call it a “return to work.” 

The great philosopher LL Cool J once said, “Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.” It’s a lyric that’s been living rent-free in my brain for the past few months. 

That’s because every HR leader I’ve spoken to lately has had the same reaction to the phrase return to work: Annoyance and frustration. I’ve had the same reaction, and it’s largely just a syntax issue. Return to work may flow off the tongue, yet it implies that employees have been… not working

The reality of the pandemic year is that many employees have been working even harder than usual, while also balancing the seemingly impossible conditions and new responsibilities. It feels wrong – and condescending, honestly – to imply that these employees are returning to work, as if they’ve been on vacation this whole time. Words matter; as your company defines its workplace model, be sure to choose yours carefully. Before rolling out your communications plan company, ask your DEI leader, ERG, or even simply a diverse group of employees to provide thoughts and feedback. 

2. Get up to speed on Equitable Organizational Design

A strategic approach I endorse is one I first learned about from Operator Collective LP and Culture Amp Director of Equitable Design and Impact Aubrey Blanche: Equitable Organizational Design. While leaders focus on building a diverse and inclusive culture, this model encourages them to evolve their design practices towards equity and belonging. As Aubrey puts it, “Moving from inclusion to belonging is critical because it’s moving from ‘We created a space, and it’s fine if you show up,’ to ‘We created a space for you,’ or ‘We created a space with you.’”

Incorporating practices from equitable organizational design impacts not only the employee experience, but also the company’s bottom line. Companies mandating a return to the office are now watching employees quit, rather than give up their work-from-home lifestyles. As Lars Schmidt recently tweeted in response: “You thought recruiting was hard? Retention will be the biggest challenge companies face for the next several years.” Indeed, it is a whole new frontier.

Regardless of where your company lands on Equitable Organizational Design, incorporating some of the approaches SAP, Microsoft, and others took to research their strategies before rolling them out may help you avoid getting caught on your retention strategy heels.  

3. Leverage open-source resources to build your strategy

There’s no baseline practice for navigating the post-pandemic transition. When I co-founded HR Open Source in 2014, our aim was to create a free, peer-based community where HR leaders could open their playbooks, particularly where best practices hadn’t been defined. Today more than 11,000 practitioners across 70 countries share learnings, ask advice, and publish their work to advance everyone. This online community is now one of many that share free resources for everyone to tap into. Here are some places to start with regard to your post-pandemic transition:

4. Share your plan

You probably saw this tip coming from me, and I’m happy to say that this is already happening at a higher frequency than ever before. In the months ahead, I hope companies and leaders will continue to share not just what they are doing, but how they’re doing it on open source forums and communities.

By working out loud and sharing our learnings (and mistakes!), we can all move forward faster and better than before. It’ll also help us to define more progressive practices for the proverbial future of work that’s already at our doorstep.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator Spotlight: Chief People & Diversity Officer Tracy Williams

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Tracy Williams, New Relic’s widely experienced HR and People leader.  

You recently became New Relic’s Chief Diversity Officer, in addition to maintaining your previous role as VP of Global Business Partners. What are some ways that you integrate these two People functions? 

TRACY: I really wanted to keep the HR Business Partner (HRBP) team after I took on the Chief Diversity Officer role. I knew that the HRBPs would be the perfect partners for the aggressive goals we were setting — not just for the year, but for into the future. Our HRBPs have strong relationships with the leaders they support, plus a high level of influence and trust across the org. They also have the pulse of the organization and continue to provide influential feedback on our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) strategy. The HRBPs make sure we keep the focus on the business, and we also knew they’d be champions out in the organization, talking about our company culture and working to build a foundation of DE&I across New Relic.

It was just announced that you’re going to be the new Chief People Officer at New Relic, too. How will this change your focus on DE&I?

Our DE&I initiatives continue to be a top priority for New Relic, so it’s important to note that my new job title is actually Chief People and Diversity Officer. This gives me the opportunity to have more influence in driving our DE&I initiatives at the executive level. It will also ensure that DE&I continues to be a focus that’s embedded right into the work our amazing People team does, from talent acquisition and org design to rewards, operations, and social impact. There’s been a strong commitment across the people team already, and I’m excited about all the things our People team will deliver this year, not just in DE&I.

What does the People Business Partner function specialize in? How do you measure the success of the team? 

TRACY: The People Business Partner is a business professional who happens to have a concentration in HR. They have a deep understanding of the businesses they support and collaborate with leaders to ensure that their organizations deliver value to customers by defining and delivering competitive strategies. They help shape the business strategy, conduct organizational diagnoses to determine which capabilities are most critical, design and deliver HR programs to accomplish said strategy, and coach business leaders to behave in alignment with strategy. They’re also key partners back to the rest of the People team, ensuring that our People programs fill the needs of the business and are executed out in the field. We use a few metrics to measure success: feedback from the leaders they support and our People team COEs on partnership and effectiveness, and the HRBPs ability to meet expectations on the many projects that they support.

In your opinion, what key metrics should companies track to gauge DEI? Does it differ for early stage versus later stage? 

TRACY: This all depends on where a company is in its lifecycle; what matters most is your commitment to tracking data. It’s hard to measure some attributes when you’ve only been in business for a short time or are still really small. The metrics we use are employee engagement, and hiring, promotion, and retention rates by demographic. We’ve also recently committed to participating in two indexes run by independent 3rd parties for gender (GenderIDEAL) and race (Race Equality). The goal of these indexes is to measure ourselves against a specific set of key metrics for our industry so we can continue to hold ourselves accountable. 

What’s one thing any company can do to foster a sense of belonging at work? 

TRACY: The one thing every company can do is make sure people feel like they’re being heard. People will tell you what they need, so collect the data, find themes, and act on the feedback when and where appropriate. You can use engagement surveys, listening sessions, or whatever other methods you use in your organization to communicate. An open ear and flexibility are essential.  

What advice can you share for early stage companies just getting started on their diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies? Where should they start?

TRACY: DE&I should be an important part of your thinking from the beginning. As a business, it’s important to think about DE&I from both a product AND talent perspective. Many companies have suffered unrealized revenue because, for example, they didn’t understand that their customer, a woman, would be greatly offended by the mansplaining in their advertising. Another example is the company that didn’t ensure their product wasn’t unintentionally biased against a certain demographic (think automatic soap dispensers and their inability to detect darker skin). On the talent side, you should have a representation of diverse perspectives and experiences if you really want to accelerate your growth. Look at the foundational systems you’re building and your internal processes. How are you recruiting talent? How are you developing your talent? You should ensure that as you build HR programs, you’re mitigating bias at every step, including hiring, development opportunities, and the performance evaluation and promotion process. Solicit feedback frequently, and set goals for engagement and accountability.

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

TRACY: A few jobs and experiences really helped form my views as an HR professional. Law school taught me that details matter. Customer service jobs (shout out to Taco Bell!) taught me to always put customers first. As an Employee Relations Manager at Esprit, I learned the importance of compassion and to always treat people with dignity, no matter the circumstances. As an HRBP/HRD at CJ Affiliate and Michaels, I learned I had to be a business executive first; that helped me connect with others and accelerate my impact. 

What’s your secret super power?  

TRACY: I’m not sure they’re secret, but I definitely have some super powers. I’m calm in chaos; when things get crazy, I have the ability to find the real problem to help get it solved. I also care deeply about people, so I build trusted and meaningful relationships with others. Finally, I have the ability to accept and act on feedback. Good feedback sometimes comes from unexpected places, and I recognize that I don’t know everything and am not always right. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.


A tech company’s new Most Valuable Position

There’s no denying 2020 brought an onslaught of business challenges. Among the eye-popping statistics is the International Labour Organization’s study showing 114 million jobs were lost worldwide in 2020Yet despite those numbers, the enterprise software landscape has never been stronger. When COVID took hold, companies who’d yet to embrace the cloud sank, while online companies discovered a competitive advantage. The world realized the need for the kind of flexible, work-from-anywhere infrastructure technology affords, which led to a jump in software for collaboration, automation, customer relationship management, and more. 

Now that economies are reopening, businesses won’t return to their pre-pandemic ways. Instead they’ll continue to rely on and invest in the technology platforms that ensure continuity. The software industry, much of which saw a boom during the pandemic, will likely continue to reap the benefits. People leaders, overwhelmed on so many fronts right now, have seen this coming for a while.

Technology is on the rise, but we’re still powered by people 

There’s been speculation over the years that the increased adoption of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will shrink the role of humans — but we’ve yet to see this theory pan out. Instead, we’ve seen the rise of more companies created to innovate on this trend. So while technology like AI has certainly eliminated some jobs, it’s also responsible for creating many others. 

At Operator Collective we’ve seen this growth firsthand. Our portfolio companies are all actively looking for both operators and individual contributors. We’ve heard from recruiters who were on the verge of closing a candidate, but lost out when another company swooped in with an outrageous offer at the 11th hour. And it feels like LinkedIn profile visits have tripled.

This huge demand underscores the need for one placement in particular: the Chief People Officer, or CPO. 

So how do you hire a Chief People Officer?

Tech companies are desperate to hire a CPO to help place qualified contributors, but people leaders are in such high demand that companies everywhere are struggling to find solid candidates. In something akin to a snowball effect, that one deficit leaves companies backed up in hiring across the board. We’re finally seeing earlier and larger investments in the People function, but even recruiting agencies are challenged to find experienced leaders. 

This is a shared and growing challenge — and while there’s not a simple or short-term solution, here are a few steps companies can take when kicking off a search.

Steps to help you find the right Chief People Officer or HR leader

  1. Evaluate your initial talent attraction strategy. What employer value prop or other company differentiators can you market to appeal to a CPO? Apply the same practices you would for a customer acquisition strategy. Going beyond writing a regular job description will help you stand out.
  2. Be prepared to demonstrate how you “walk the talk.” One of the ways HR leaders evaluate job opportunities is by pressure testing your commitment to things like company culture, values, and other declared people priorities. Include examples of how you operationalize and resource these areas.
  3. Build trust and credibility in your candidate experience. I often hear HR leaders losing interest in a job opportunity based on a poorly organized interview process or a CEO who doesn’t communicate with them thoughtfully. Spend time mapping this out and communicating it to candidates along the way.
  4. Get creative in your candidate profiling. With a shortage in senior talent, ask yourself if there is an opportunity for an emerging CPO to be successful in this role. If so, seek out communities like Redefining HR and the People Leader Accelerator.
We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Taking employee benefits to a whole new Level

The company: Level

Level is helping companies and their employees get the most out of their dental and vision benefit dollars by rebuilding insurance from the ground up. Simple plans, flexible networks, and instant claims mean companies can provide bigger employee benefits for less. Employees get more freedom, choice, and clarity in billing. And healthcare providers see claims processed in hours, rather than months. Level is changing the benefits game, and it’s giving everyone plenty to smile about in the process.  

Why you should pay attention 

Employee benefits are vital to attracting and retaining top talent and the traditional insurance model most companies use to deliver benefits is slow, confusing, and always ends up costing both companies and their employees more than expected. Level is disrupting legacy models with a modern approach for people-first companies. Now, getting the most out of vision and dental benefits, understanding what they cost, and paying for them is simple, clear, and fast for Level members. No more paperwork and bills in the mail. It’s a new model, and it’s all in the Level app.  

The details 

Founder and CEO Paul Aaron was one of the first employees at Square and holds numerous patents in the payments space. Level is making paying for vision and dental benefits as easy as any other purchase. Companies like Intercom, Udemy, and Docker are seeing savings as they give their employees lots more benefit flexibility and choice through their Level membership. First Round Capital saved 47% while bringing bigger benefits to their team. Thistle saved 41%

How it works

The Level app puts employees in control. Level members manage their own benefits with transparent costs and a continuously updated individualized benefits balance. Level members can find and visit any provider, and can easily compare in- and out-of-network prices before deciding where to receive care. The app sorts out all the paperwork before the member arrives for the first appointment, and lets members pay on the spot for any out-of-pocket copays during check out. 

Why we’re obsessed 

We’ve witnessed the modernization of virtually every aspect of the workplace in recent years. Yet benefits and insurance, which are among the top incentives companies have to land and keep the best employees, has yet to transform — until now. Level is revolutionizing the employee benefits experience. It’s driving simplicity, efficiency, and value into the system for employers, employees, and healthcare providers. This space is ripe for disruption, and Level is the company out front driving it.  

Get involved

Partner with Level to offer modern dental and vision employee benefits at your company. Get a demo to learn more. You might also want to check out their open positions here.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator-investors: What they are + why they’re important


If you spend any time with startups, it’s not hard to notice the venture world revolves around founders and VCs – the people who start the companies and the people who fund their growth. But until recently there’s been a critical piece missing: Operators. Operator-investors have become a hot topic in venture capital lately, so let’s take a step back and talk about what they are and why they’re important.

What are operators? 

In the startup and tech world, operators are the senior leaders who build and scale companies as they grow. They’re not usually in the limelight; most often they’re the ones working quietly in the background, studying tactics, analyzing data, and figuring out what works. Operators are vital for the success of any startup because they’re the ones building the right infrastructure for scale and long-term growth. 

Why are operators important in venture capital?

Experienced operators – the ones who’ve gone through the product development, growth cycles, funding stages, hiring, and more – have exactly the knowledge new businesses need to grow and thrive. Yet operators haven’t typically been involved in the venture process; the industry just wasn’t designed for people who give 150% to their day jobs and use any time leftover for their families and friends. 

We wanted to bring operators into venture capital, so we created the Collective Venture Model, which brings together founders, operators, and VCs to find, invest in, and support the next generation of tech. The Collective Venture Model was designed to jive with the busy lives of today’s most respected tech operators, many of whom are women. These operator-investors bring not only their tremendous experience, but also empathy, critical thinking, and deep networks.

How the Collective Venture Model works 

Our operator-investors actively engage at every step.  

  • We collectively source. Our operator-investor LPs are our #1 source for inbound leads.
  • We collectively diligence. We engage our 130 operator-investor LPs for feedback.
  • We collectively partner. Our connections result in customer intros, exec/board referrals, and angel co-investments.

Beyond that, they share their expertise with our portfolio companies and offer advice through sessions on topics like building a world-class customer success org, establishing an ecosystem, and incorporating diversity in your executive team.

Our operator experience is unmatched

We’re proud to have a community of operator-investors as LPs to help our portfolio companies as they scale and grow: 130 ultra-talented leaders who bring decades of experience building and growing the world’s most admired companies. In fact, they bring more than 1800 years of collective operator experience. More than 65 of our LPs have built unicorns, at least 38 have taken their companies public, and at least 77 have founded a company. The amount of revenue they own and people they lead is staggering.

Operator Collective channels this experience to bring new perspectives and a welcome level of diversity to any cap table. Please connect with us here to learn more, join our community, or submit a funding proposal.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.


How we close the patent gap and diversify innovation

You’ve probably heard of the wealth gap, but do you know about the patent gap? It’s the term used to describe the discrepancies in the makeup of inventors and patent holders. Just like other gaps, the patent gap is detrimental to our system. We need to increase the diversity and inclusivity of our innovation ecosystem and help more women, minority and low-income entrepreneurs patent and commercialize their inventions.

I was recently invited by Senator Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to testify and offer suggestions at its hearing on Improving Access and Inclusivity in the Patent System. A slightly edited version of my remarks is below.  

My background in patents

I’ve spent my career furthering innovation – starting with patents and now with startups. I’m an unusual combination of IP attorney, operator, founder, and investor.

For many years, I was the VP of Worldwide Intellectual Property at Cisco. When I was promoted to that position in 2005 there were so few women Chief Patent Counsels that it was front-page news. That led all seven of us to start a nonprofit called ChIPs, which is now the world’s largest organization for women in patent law with almost 4,000 members in 17 chapters worldwide. My ChIPs co-founder, Michelle Lee, was the first and still only woman, and the first and still only person of color, to serve as a Senate-confirmed Director of the PTO in its 219 year history. I then built up a startup called RPX that helps companies reduce and insure against patent risk. I’m also a member of the National Council for Expanding American Innovation.

Bringing diversity to venture capital

A few years ago, I actually invented something – the Collective Venture Model, which serves as the basis of my current startup, a venture fund called Operator Collective

If you spend any time with startups, it’s not hard to notice the venture world revolves around venture capitalists and founders. Both homogeneous groups that are about 90% male, predominantly white, and 40% of whom went to Harvard or StanfordBut having been a founder, investor, and operator, I saw a huge missing piece: operators. Operators are those who are often not the founders, but the ones brought in to build and scale companies as they grow. They are not typically in the limelight, but the ones quietly working in the background. 

So here are these wildly experienced operators who have exactly the right skill sets to help businesses grow and thrive, but they’re typically left out. Most people aren’t trying to exclude these operators, it’s just that the system was not built for people who give 150% to their day jobs and use any time leftover for their families. 

I knew operators were the critical missing piece. And since the traditional model didn’t work for them, I created a new model that would, rebuilding it from the ground up to optimize for bringing in busy women operators. To do so, we added three things: education, accessibility, and representation. 

  • We knew women operators didn’t have ready access to the right information, so we created short, enjoyable programs.
  • We knew a big hurdle was the cost of entry, so we created a sliding scale for financial participation. Another obstacle was time, so we made it flexible by crowdsourcing deals and diligence, and creating redundancies.
  • We knew women are often criticized for self promoting, so we built a supportive community that does it for them.  

In short, instead of making women conform to a rigid traditional construct, we changed the system to make it easier and more user friendly for women. Today, our $51M fund has over 130 operator investors who are 90% women and 40% people of color, over 70% of whom had never invested in venture before.

How this relates to patents and innovation

There are several parallels to the patent world. Data shows that “children born to parents in the top 1% of income are 10x more likely to become inventors than those born to families with below-median income,” and that whites are 3x more likely to become inventors as blacks. Women’s rate of patenting has increased from 2.7% to 10.8% in 40 years. (Assuming a consistent rate of increase, it would take 194 years to increase that to 50%.)

Securing a patent is complex, daunting, expensive. You have to learn a system that uses terms outside of everyday language. You need to dedicate time on top of your day job and family obligations. And you have to have the financial means to hire an attorney or agent. 

The system wasn’t built for today’s would-be inventors who have countless other projects and obligations. If we want to capture the innovations that reflectrst-time inventors having to recreate the wheel just to know where to begin, we have to make it easier to understand. We also need outreach to underrepresented communities early and consistently.

  • Second, we must make it more accessible in terms of access to resources. The America Invents Act added four satellite offices. A good start, but more would be better. Another idea is to revisit the USPTO’s patent pro bono program, potentially to have it apply to underrepresented groups with a traditionally low rate of patenting.
  • Third, representation. Highlighting inventors from diverse backgrounds helps create a new normal. It’s always easier to do something when you s the contributions of all of America, we need to evolve the system. That includes the same three things: Education, access, and representation. 
    • First, education. Instead of fi

    ee someone like you doing it already. This includes having a USPTO Director from an underrepresented background.

We cannot measure progress if we do not track our results

Finally, there is one fundamental piece that underlies this all, and it’s something the tech industry has been doing for years: data. The PTO is not permitted to track even the most basic demographic information, such as age or gender. Senator Hirono’s IDEA Act goes a long way toward ensuring this fundamental piece. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.


A data workspace flex? That’s Hex.

Hex is a Data Workspace platform that makes it easy for teams to connect to data, analyze it in collaborative SQL and Python-powered notebooks, and share work as interactive data apps and stories. The company was founded by ex-Palantir and TrialSpark engineers – all users and builders of data tools. They’ve felt the acute pain that Data Scientists and Analysts endure having to distill insights from fragmented sources, make do with inadequate tools, and report out in antiquated ways. That’s what inspired them to create the data workspace product they always wish they had: Hex.

Why you should pay attention 

Data Scientists and Analysts are among a business’s most strategic players: they illuminate insights that can bend the trajectory of a business. Yet they’ve had to work with tools that are riveted to the past: jumping between local Python notebooks, traditional BI platforms, spreadsheets, SQL scratchpads, visualization tools, and scripts and more. Hex is changing that game. Companies all over the world including Glossier, Imgur, Pave, and many more are using Hex to bring a whole new model to how they explore data, collaborate on analyses, share quick reports, build complex apps, and bring strategic insights to light. 

Game changer 

Not long ago Data Scientists and Analysts had to also be software engineers. No more. With the Hex data workspace, configuring local environments, data connections, and compute backends is history. Sending copy-pasted charts, emailed CSVs, one-off decks, and PDF’d docs is in the past. Data Scientists and Analysts now have advanced tools that allow them to get out of the weeds and elevate the impact they’re making to the business.  

How it works

Hex integrates with popular data warehouses, including Snowflake, Redshift, and BigQuery. It stores credentials securely, eliminating friction around environment variables or plaintext tokens. Its built-in SQL cells are fully-featured SQL editors. Hex has a Python and SQL notebook environment with a built-in Chart Cell that makes visualization easy. Its collaborative notebooks deliver a true analysis workspace for teams with features including real-time multiplayer commenting, granular permissions, and version control. The App Builder makes it easy to turn analyses into interactive, shareable apps. It lets stakeholders see for themselves “what happens if…” by using pull-down menus and check boxes that anyone can use. It’s built from the ground up to support secure data connections, deployment to customer clouds, full end-to-end encryption, SSO integration, and other security-focused features vital in today’s data-everywhere world.

Why we’re obsessed 

Hex helps data teams make their work more impactful. It turns notebooks into collaborative, interactive documents and apps. Hex’s simple but powerful UI allows the entire organization to benefit from dynamic analysis and modeling. Hex’s users are vital to every business, and Hex turbocharges their productivity. Data Scientists, Analysts, and the stakeholders they serve can see and share real time data and immediate outputs with Hex. This company is defining what’s next in Data Workspace.

Get involved

Access to Hex is currently invite-only, but new teams are added every day. To get on the radar, reach out directly to Hex and share why you’d love to join the early access program. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator Spotlight: Technical Leader Nancy Wang

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Nancy Wang, the General Manager of Data Protection and Governance services at Amazon Web Services.  

You oversee a tremendous amount of technical operations at AWS Backup, which in turn has a tremendous customer base, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. How has working remotely affected your operations? Do you have any lessons learned as we all start to think about a “back to work” structure? 

NANCY: Software businesses like AWS are fortunate in that I don’t think remote work hasn’t really affected our day-to-day operations. We now have a better appreciation for which tasks can be taken “offline” and handled asynchronously, and which tasks actually need everyone to show up in a single conference room. As we’re finding out, building software is an extremely team-oriented sport that requires many parallel threads. For that reason, I’m eagerly anticipating the day when I can collaborate with my team and other cross-functional teams in real-time, physically together. 

What are some things product and engineering teams should prioritize over the next 6 months? 

NANCY: Product teams should prioritize meeting customers where they are, whether that means meeting them in their old offices, new offices, or continuing to meet online. There’s no substitute for earning trust with customers by spending time with them. 

Engineering teams should prioritize supporting each engineer as an individual. I’ve found through my career that engineers tend to have less awareness of what they want for themselves (both professionally and personally) than their counterparts in other job families. Exercises like self-authoring (where they deliberately write about what makes them happy) can really help engineers and their managers understand what kind of experience each engineer wants, plus drive greater job satisfaction and retention. 

What will change for technical leaders post-COVID, and what’s here to stay?

NANCY: One of the themes I’m tracking is whether COVID causes the geographic dispersion of technical talent away from Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest, and what that means for technology leaders. AWS is investing in HQ2 in Crystal City, Virginia, and many tech companies are moving to Austin. Boston, because of its proximity to MIT and Harvard, has historically attracted talent as well. The question is whether the new leaders in these places will develop into equally influential tech leaders, or whether they will advance their careers by moving west.

You founded Advancing Women in Tech (AWIT) in 2017 to empower women throughout their technical careers. What was the impetus for starting this organization? 

NANCY: When I started at Google, while the leadership was excellent, there were no immediate female leaders for me to look up to. Several female colleagues and I decided to create an open community of role models, so future women entering this field can have access to more mentors for their own careers. I’m proud to say that hundreds of women in the AWIT community have now gotten promotions and raises. My philosophy has always been: if men can refer one another for promotions and roles in their communities, why not expand this club to include women? Enter AWIT. 

What’s one piece of advice you’d offer other women looking to build a career in product or engineering?

NANCY: My advice to anyone, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, is to be persistent and have grit. If you truly want something, you can’t let rejections or mean words from others distract you from your career goals.  

What’s one thing leaders can do to foster teamwork and a sense of belonging right now? 

NANCY: Our leaders are here to create the vision of the future and to advance everyone – customers, potential customers, and team members – toward that vision. So leaders need to be careful about being drawn into tactical issues, no matter how tempting, until everyone else on the team has tried to solve it but failed. If they are constantly dealing with a particular customer, employee, or project, then everyone else – particularly high-performing team members – will notice and naturally ask, “Where is my leader?” and “What’s my future here?” 

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

NANCY: Out of college, I was recruited to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where I helped build healthdata.gov. This was a formative experience because it changed my professional emphasis from becoming a doctor to becoming a technologist. I’m happy to see schools and nonprofits introduce technical training earlier in girls’ educational journeys, so that some of them have the same realization.

What’s your secret super power?  

NANCY: Discretion. If your super power is secret, you shouldn’t talk about it 🙂

(Jokes aside, empathy. It will help you get through the toughest trials of management and later on, leadership, when you are managing managers of managers.)

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator Collective announces new Board of Advisors

Great news: We’ve formalized our new Operator Collective Board of Advisors. The Board consists of four of the most sought after and admired leaders in technology today, positioning Operator Collective to have an even greater impact on both our portfolio companies and on the Venture Capital ecosystem at large. As members of the Board, they will serve as strategic Fund advisors and will help our portfolio leaders and their teams as they build, grow, and scale their companies.

This group represents the very best of what technology has to offer; each leader is passionate about helping Operator Collective shepherd in a new wave of tech companies and a new level of diversity in Venture Capital. 

The Operator Collective Board of Advisors:

  • Tekedra Mawakana, Co-CEO of Waymo. Tekedra is widely known for her operating prowess and strategic thinking, both of which will help our portfolio companies understand how to plan for growth while remaining nimble.

  • Claire Hughes Johnson, COO of Stripe. Claire’s keen sense for how to scale companies into empires makes her one of the most sought-after minds in Silicon Valley and beyond. Her knowledge will be a critical piece to help our portfolio companies as they build and grow.

  • Stacy Brown-Philpot, Former CEO of TaskRabbit. Stacy knows how to lead organizations through change. Her deep understanding of what it takes to be an exceptional CEO will be invaluable to our portfolio company CEOs as they scale.

  • Erica Schultz, President Field Operations at Confluent. Erica is known to run the most effective revenue organizations in the valley; her understanding of how to scale through change will help our portfolio companies position themselves for success.
We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How to set your customer success org up to thrive

Building a customer success (CS) org from scratch is a major initiative, but the right hiring strategy is what sets the entire business up for growth. 

Growing the customer success team should truly be a top priority for any early-stage tech company. Unfortunately, though, SaaS companies often forget to think seriously about scaling customer success until they experience a major outage or crisis but by then the damage is done. It’s important to start early with a hiring strategy for the different stages of growth, but what specific skills should you look for in your first few Customer Success Managers (CSMs)?

Where do you even start?

I spent 14 years building and growing the Customer Success org at Salesforce, followed by 4 years as Slack’s first CCO and Global Head of Customer Success. Both positions taught me a tremendous amount about the hidden growth opportunities a great Customer Success org brings, but at Slack, I learned firsthand why it’s so important to get the right team in place early. 

I spent my first several months there interviewing and hiring candidates. Slack was growing extremely fast, and I knew I had to get the right team in place to manage both into the executive team and out to the customer, and also to handle volume. I was lucky to have several amazing CSMs already in place, so I could look to fill in the leadership positions. 

Making your first customer success hires

Earlier in your journey, you’ll want more of a product-expert-type CSM. This is simply because your product is still new and you’re trying to achieve product-market fit. Since you’re probably in high growth mode, those CSMs might need to have more of a sales lens. In the early days, your product is still new and your customers will likely be fairly small, so it’s also wise to lean on reps that are more technical oriented. 

In later stages you’ll want to hire reps and leaders who think about how to create the right processes, training, and systems in order to scale but in the very early days, you simply need people who care deeply about helping your customers.

Growing your customer success team

In the early days your success team has to focus on the reactive work of service and support and of course you have to keep that going. But during the growth stage, you’ll also need to start building the team that’s responsible for the more proactive work of customer retention.

I often think of the perfect CSM as a unicorn – a mythical creature that embodies the best parts of other orgs. After all, customer success managers need to be…

  • Product experts to be able to talk through features and workflows 
  • Engineers to tackle the integrations and nitty-gritty questions 
  • Management consultants in order to extract what the business value is
  • Sales people to promote add-ons and features 
  • Communications leaders to relay tactical feedback to the product team
  • Presentation gurus to impress both customers and executives

Can you find someone who embodies everything? You may need to pick and choose which of those functions is most helpful or necessary at any specific time. While you may start off with the more technical CSMs, as you get bigger, you’ll want to hire CSMs with more of a consulting background because they’re really having to orchestrate value propositions and bring all these different resources together to ensure that a customer is successful. As you interview candidates, it’s important to consider where you are in your journey and what your product type is. 

Get creative in your hiring

Hiring is difficult right now because everyone’s looking to grow their customer success teams and there just aren’t enough people who’ve done it. You might have to get creative when looking for folks. I’ve had great luck hiring former consultants and also former communications and media backgrounds, since both functions involve a high-touch model and the use of detailed analytics to prove value. 

As mentioned, it’s difficult to find those perfect all-in-one CSM creatures – so when you find them, be sure to hang on tight. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.