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And let’s be clear: The time period “tradition and worker engagement” doesn’t imply “Completely satisfied Hours” and “Pizza Events:” Navigating Market Downturns and Different Startup Recommendation with Melanie Naranjo, Head of Individuals at SaaS Startup Ethena


“You each have context for this introduction, so I’ll allow you to two take it from right here! I do know you’ll actually take pleasure in chatting.” That was the e-mail one among Ethena’s founders despatched to me and Melanie Naranjo on 8/21/21, a bit over two years in the past. On the time Melania was in discussions with Ethena about becoming a member of the startup as VP Individuals, fortunately employed at a bigger firm however figuring out she needed new challenges. I’d been an investor in Ethena since its first funding so had sufficient historical past on the place they’d been – and the place they have been going – to assist in giving Melanie extra context. I’m glad she agreed it was the suitable position – each her duties and the corporate (a frontrunner within the compliance coaching area) have grown shortly within the time since. So listed here are 5 Questions with Melanie Naranjo.

Hunter Stroll: One among my favourite issues to do for founders is talking with people who find themselves contemplating becoming a member of their startup. And I used to be lucky sufficient to have this chance with you, in August 2021, as you have been evaluating the chance at Ethena. What have been the ultimate issues in your thoughts earlier than becoming a member of, and the way quickly after you began did you are feeling like the choice was validated as being a superb one?

Melanie Naranjo: For me, two of an important issues I must really feel excited a few job are: 1. Figuring out that I’m working at a spot the place everyone seems to be equally captivated with doing nice work and serving to the corporate succeed, and a pair of. Figuring out that I don’t need to waste time making an attempt to persuade anybody concerning the worth of the Individuals operate. 

I keep in mind when Ethena first reached out to me as a result of I used to be instantly enthusiastic about the truth that they have been within the HR tech area. The thought of working at an organization whose complete enterprise mannequin revolves round catering to patrons within the HR area felt like such a breath of contemporary air. As a result of the unhappy actuality is: At most firms, the Individuals operate continues to be seen as a nice-to-have at greatest, and a nuisance at worst. 

However at an organization like Ethena, whose firm mission assertion is actually to construct extra inclusive and moral workplaces, I felt hopeful that my position and the Individuals operate as an entire can be seen for the strategic superpower they really are. And as I used to be making my last resolution about whether or not or to not be part of Ethena, my biggest precedence was ensuring I’d be becoming a member of an organization with a shared perspective on the worth of the Individuals operate: I needed to affix an organization the place I’d be arrange and empowered for fulfillment, the place my voice can be valued, and the place the management group cared simply as a lot concerning the firm’s Individuals technique as I did.

And I can say in all honesty that this turned fairly darn evident nearly instantly. The management group had devoted the time to place collectively a listing of Individuals initiatives they needed my assist on, they took the time to reply my questions and solicit my recommendation, and much more impressively: The management group had already been so purchased into the ability of investing in efficient Individuals methods that they’d already arrange the type of infrastructure most Individuals leaders need to combat tooth and nail for earlier than I even joined: govt group teaching, recurring company-wide studying periods, Suggestions Fridays (which each and every firm ought to actually be doing), and a lot extra.

Actually, I can’t say sufficient about how totally Ethena knocked my socks off once I joined the group (and the way extremely grateful I’m that I made the choice to affix). 

HW: Your position as VP, Individuals mixed a lot of completely different duties – a few of them extra market-facing than the normal individual in your seat. For a second although I need to give attention to the interior side of the job. Some individuals declare ‘tradition and worker engagement’ are luxuries you’ll be able to give attention to in good instances however throughout market downturns they need to be subjugated to enterprise KPIs. I’m going to imagine you disagree with this however how do you handle by way of a altering surroundings and attempt to hold a group regular throughout a enterprise cycle just like the one we’ve skilled over the past 12 months?

MN: I feel the place most individuals go unsuitable throughout instances of issue is to try to defend their staff from the reality — particularly when it will probably really feel scary. There’s typically a worry that staff gained’t have the ability to deal with tough information or will instantly soar to false conclusions, soar ship, panic, and many others.

For my part, although, most employers don’t give their staff sufficient credit score. Workers are good, and in case you deal with them like adults and talk with readability, context, and easy honesty, chances are high fairly excessive that they’ll get it. 

An ideal instance of that is the subject of pay transparency. So many employers thought a world with pay transparency was unattainable. They anxious no candidate would ever settle for a compensation package deal that wasn’t high of band.

Now that pay transparency has been enforced in a number of states, we’ve seen that — shock, shock — that simply hasn’t been the case. All candidates and staff ever actually needed was sufficient data to really feel assured in the truth that they’re being pretty compensated for his or her position. 

Tying it again to your unique query: The identical applies throughout tough instances. 

The extra you attempt to defend your staff (i.e. using poisonous positivity, downplaying potential dangers, by no means speaking concerning the elephant within the room, and many others), the much less your staff will belief you whenever you communicate. Workers aren’t dumb. They will see what’s happening within the firm, and so they can see what’s happening on the earth. When you by no means tackle the truth, they’ll be compelled to fill within the blanks with their very own (oftentimes exacerbated) assumptions.

The flipside, after all, is that the extra clear and direct you’re together with your staff, the extra they’ll belief you to inform them the reality (even when it’s robust), the extra reassured they’ll really feel that you’re actively monitoring the state of affairs, and the extra empowered they’ll be to associate with you on the answer. 

And let’s be clear: The time period “tradition and worker engagement” doesn’t imply “Completely satisfied Hours” and “Pizza Events.” Certain, Completely satisfied Hours and pizza events might be a component of your organization tradition. However what worker engagement really means is an surroundings wherein your staff are enthusiastic about serving to the corporate succeed. That’s it. Engaged staff need to be part of the corporate’s success. Disengaged staff couldn’t care much less. 

So if you wish to ensure you’re prioritizing a tradition of engagement throughout tough instances — and you actually ought to — begin by ensuring you’re empowering your staff with the data they must be part of the answer.

HW: I’m at all times stunned when somebody contemplating ‘becoming a member of a startup’ has put plenty of thought into business/vertical however not into stage of firm. For instance, in some ways seed stage firms throughout completely different industries are extra comparable than two firms inside the identical vertical however one new and yet one more mature. Once you’re hiring at Ethena, how do you assess whether or not a candidate is stage-appropriate?

MN: That is such an amazing query, and an space that I don’t assume will get sufficient consideration. Specifically as a result of the corporate you’re right now — particularly in case you’re a quick rising startup — shouldn’t be the corporate you’re going to be one 12 months from now.

Which implies you shouldn’t simply rent for the individual you want right now, however quite, for the individual you’re going to wish 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months from now.

At Ethena, we do that by evaluating for the abilities and qualities it could take to stretch and develop not simply inside the position, however alongside the corporate’s personal development. We search for staff who’re adaptable, who’re wanting to tackle new and surprising challenges, and who’re — to make use of an admittedly overused time period — blissful to roll up their sleeves proper alongside everybody else: low ego, excessive humility.

The opposite factor we be sure that to include is an entire lot of transparency across the present group construction and the truth of what a day-in-the-life of the job would seem like, together with the not-so-fun stuff.

Most firms spend an excessive amount of time making an attempt to woo candidates on the shiny elements of the position and never sufficient time being upfront concerning the challenges that may include the position. They optimize for successful over the shiniest wanting candidate vs removing potential mismatches.

For my part, it is a massively dangerous transfer. Probably the most spectacular candidate on paper isn’t at all times the perfect candidate for the job. To your level, in case you’re an early stage startup and also you rent somebody who’s used to working at a bigger, extra company firm, somebody who’s used to having an entire group of do-ers underneath them, it doesn’t matter how skilled they’re or how shiny their resume seems: You’re going to run right into a heck of plenty of points as quickly as you understand they haven’t needed to “do” in a very long time and aren’t capable of operate as a group of 1.  

HW: Ethena delivers fashionable compliance coaching, delivered by way of software program which permits for all kinds of enhancements on the ‘man with a slide deck’ mannequin from 10 years in the past. The primary product was round Harassment Prevention. Isn’t this a extremely dynamic matter – how do you keep on high of fixing norms, new conditions? Like in a distant/hybrid office I assume there are a number of various questions raised? How are you discovering Ethena clients evolving with, and adapting to, altering work environments?

MN: This query makes me particularly excited as a result of we now have extremely engaged — and I imply, impressively so — clients. 

The fact is, when you consider Harassment Prevention coaching, you don’t sometimes assume: engaged learners. You consider a bunch of heavy sighs and eye rolling whereas staff are compelled to take a coaching that appears prefer it was recorded within the 90s and doesn’t really serve every other goal besides to “test the field” saying that staff have taken their state-required coaching. 

With Ethena’s coaching, although, staff are literally engaged. Not solely do they take the time to fee our coaching (holding regular at a powerful 93% positivity ranking from practically 1 million learners), additionally they take the time to provide us suggestions. They share which modules resonated with them most, and what they assume may make the coaching even higher. And since the staff are literally taking note of and studying from the content material, they’re passing that data alongside to their Individuals groups, too, who then share much more suggestions with our Buyer Success group at Ethena. 

That is crucial to our continued success as a result of we’re listening to instantly from the individuals interacting with and leveraging our product. We’re listening to firsthand from our clients concerning the affect and relevance of our coaching of their day-to-day work. 

Mixed with our group of professional advisors throughout the compliance area and quarterly evaluations of our coaching content material, we’ve been extremely profitable at maintaining our content material related by adapting to the ever-evolving shifts in: employment regulation, office norms, and cultural panorama. 
We’ve even branched into new areas of the compliance area — equivalent to Nameless Reporting and Case Administration — as a direct results of buyer suggestions as they appear to consolidate all their compliance wants underneath one supplier.

HW: Any items of recommendation you bought from mentors prior to now that you just need to share and pay ahead right here?

MN: Optimize for experimentation, not perfection. Attempt new issues. Take daring (however calculated) dangers. You’ll study a lot sooner and develop a lot additional, and most significantly: Daily at work will really feel like a enjoyable, new journey.

Thanks Melanie for sharing some recommendation with me/us. Observe her right here for updates on free on-line trainings and discussions she runs on management, individuals and tradition, and many others.

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