Episode 18

Setting up the people function and training for empathy — Lambda School’s Mark Frei‪n‬

Today’s episode is with Mark Frein, the Chief People Officer & Head of Alumni Programs at Lambda School and former CPO at InVision. As we dive into how to set up this essential startup function, Mark shares advice on everything from org design and onboarding, to development, skip levels, and hiring for empathy.

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Transcript

Mark Frein: [00:00:00] In programs where over the years I've done the most like a successful deep development of people. It's almost always about catching them at a time when the work that we do in the workplace, leaving aside, let's say technical training, but the work we do in the workplace about showing up well and being a good manager or being a good teammate is just about being a better human being.

We're all in this journey know in our lives of, of trying to be decent people. And the best development in the workplace is often just about exploring what it means to be decent with each other. I know it sounds kind of silly, but it's about how do we just be good to each other work is very stressful.

Work puts us into weird situations where we feel competitive, where we might have politics creep in. If we're going to do development of each other, let's do a development in the way that justice decency and caring and generosity back into teammates and work places. And on that basis, you can make magic happen.

Brett Berson: [00:01:01] Welcome to in depth, a new show that surfaces tactical advice, founders and startup leaders need to grow their teams, their companies, and themselves. I'm Brett Berson, a partner at first round, and we're a venture capital firm that helps startups like notion, roadblocks, Uber, and square tackle company building firsts through over 400 interviews on the review.

We've shared standout company, building advice. The kind that comes from those willing to skip the talking points and go deeper into not just what to do, but how to do it with our new podcast. In-depth you can listen into these deeper conversations every single week. Learn more and subscribe today@firstround.com

today's episode of the in-depth. I'm really excited to be joined by Mark Frye across this. Dear mark has gained so much experience in HR and leadership development, doing everything from running his own consulting company to teaching organizational theory as an adjunct professor. But for the last decade, he's been focused on serving as the chief people officer at venture backed startups.

In 2013, he joined return path, a company in the email marketing space in 2017. He signed on as chief people officer at InVision back when they were around 250 people, he spent the next three years setting up the HR departments that under his tenure grew the company to almost 900 employees and rolled out programs around performance management development, total rewards onboarding and people analytics in early 2020 mark joined Lambda school as the chief people officer and head of alumni programs as a really quick side note, several months back, our very first episode of in-depth was with Mark's exec team colleague, Molly Graham.

I definitely recommend giving it a listen. If you haven't. Now, our conversation today was really wide ranging. We covered everything from org design and our sites to employee feedback and career conversations. Since mark has spun up several startup people orgs. I was really curious to hear how he approaches the chief people officer role.

And he shared tons of interesting insights here from why you should match the employee experience to your company's competitive positioning, to why he thinks at its core, it's a data and analytical function. But in addition to sharing his broader people, philosophy and belief, that supervision is fundamentally about development.

Mark also gets really tactical. He gave examples of how to custom tailor your onboarding to your company's mission. Like how InVision has new employees that use the tool to design their own mock-up of a webpage. Even if they're in the finance department and inner discussion about hiring for empathy, mark shares the follow-up interview questions he uses to get around rehearsed answers to the classic.

Tell me about a time you failed question. He also delves into his unique approach to skip levels and the patterns he's seen after doing thousands of them across his career. And he reveals the one thing he never does in one-on-ones. There was so much wisdom in this one that it was really difficult to edit down.

I think that the conversation will be particularly helpful to both founders and early stage people leaders trying to thoughtfully scale this function. But there's also a ton of advice for just being a better people manager. I really hope you enjoy this episode. And now my conversation with mark, thank you so much for joining us.

I'm really excited for this conversation. You bet. I wanted to start our time together talking broadly about how you would describe your people philosophy and maybe how that weaves into. When someone asks you, Hey, what the heck is the chief people officer? And how do you know if you're doing an exceptional job and maybe put those two pieces together?

Sure. 

Mark Frein: [00:05:07] So my people philosophy is almost always going to start with the strategy of the company and in many ways, building a great culture is about matching the employee experience to the competitive positioning. Um, of that company and the way that I've operationalized this in the past is you look at a company like envision where I spent a few years.

One of the things that defined a lot of the cultural work that we did was design and user empathy and envision, uh, is a leading design, um, platform. So we took a lot of the approach to use a research, user empathy, and design thinking. And we applied that to the ways in which we built the architecture of the people function.

And ultimately we use design even in the creation of the services that we launched internally for the employees. So one of the things that I always think about is how can. The people team slash HR function create an employee experience that matches what that company exists to do in the world. And there's things that I'm going to do.

Every single company that I walk into, if I'm in charge of the people function, fundamentally creating a great employee experience is really important to me, but also enabling a workforce that feels seen and heard and feels included. And finally, an employee experience for people feel developed. There's very good reason to believe that one of the things that people value the most when they're in a company is if they're growing, that's something that is in some ways is easy to do.

If you know how to do it. And it provides some of the most high spikes and engagement to people feel like they're learning. And 

Brett Berson: [00:06:42] so let's build on a couple of things that you shared. The first is the idea of matching the people function or people architecture to the business strategy, and ultimately what the company is trying to do in the world.

Maybe talk about what that looked like. And you started to talk about this at envision and maybe contrast it with what it looks like at Lambda. I'm sure there's some overlap in terms of the impact the two companies want to have in the world actually, but they're 

Mark Frein: [00:07:05] quite different. Yeah, absolutely. So at Lambda, and this is one of the reasons why I was so excited to come to Lambda is we're in the world to educate so things that we have leveraged here, as we start to get the people function up and off the ground is a focus on learning and a focus on both being learners ourselves in the company, but then also fulfilling our mandate to teach.

So on a wide range of topics, the way we're thinking about how we build. No, the architecture of the people function is how does it support continuous development of a group of people who are trying to help the development of thousands of future data, scientists and engineers. And it's a, it resonates really well because we're in the, we exist in the world to do that.

We exist in the world to help people be their best selves and to help people get a career in technology. So in many ways, and then in Austin, I'll read our founder and CEO said at an all hands that should apply equally to ourselves as employees and members of the community here at Lambda is how can we also, um, foster an environment where we're the best version of ourselves.

So it's not that the programming of building a people function in a startup is radically different company to company, but the emphasis and the things you hook the programs off of it can be really important because they're distinctive and ultimately talent. Becomes a critical, competitive edge. You want to leverage the way you think about your company as a way to think about talent.

Similarly, like years ago, when I was running my own consulting company, we had a client that was one of the biggest mining companies in the world. And safety was something that was extremely important to them for obvious reasons, but they were very competitive in the mining market on their safety record.

So when we were doing programs with them, even if it was learning about finance with the managers that we were working with, even if it was learning about how to give and receive feedback, we interwove aspects of safety and safety culture just to hammer home the values that that company had. 

Brett Berson: [00:09:06] So if you sort of take this theme of continual learning, that's part of the whole ethos.

And obviously what, in the case of Lambda, the entire company is organized around. Obviously at InVision, you didn't hire people and say, well, we don't care about curiosity learning and development. So sit in your corner and just do your job, 

Mark Frein: [00:09:23] not at all, 

Brett Berson: [00:09:24] but he's wanting to educate their employee basis, but I'm curious how the ethos or the goal of Lambda as a company impacts the way that you actually achieve 

Mark Frein: [00:09:36] that.

Yeah, no, that's a fantastic question. So with Lambda, you think about what is the talent that we are bringing in to Lambda, to be part of the contribution here that we're trying to make in the world. We have people who are typical folks from a lot of other startups in terms of technology, backgrounds, and product backgrounds.

We also have a high number of people who have a higher education backgrounds or educator backgrounds, and some of the things that we're doing here that are different than what I've done in the past or the way in which we're rolling out programs with a focus on using people in the company. To help roll out training and development that we want to roll out.

It was a great one. I showed up here at Lambda and I think I was maybe my first month and I was looking around and asking some people on slack and otherwise, what are you doing in terms of supervisor develop on things like feedback. And I think I had at least half a dozen managers contact me and say, I'd love to be involved in how think about and roll that out.

So we have people who are on staff who are helping roll those things out to the rest of their peers. So we have particularly trainers that are already employees who have an experience and an interest in facilitation who are doing the facilitation for their peers. And that is something that wouldn't happen at every single company.

Just based on interest and background. 

Brett Berson: [00:10:54] You shared this idea of great employee experience, regardless of where you want to go. That's something that's super important to you. What does a great employee experience look like? 

Mark Frein: [00:11:03] Everybody's going to point to companies that they feel have been great examples of doing this.

And I mean, a lot of people have heard of the way Netflix, for example, approaches this. And I mean, nothing against us, like I said, it looks like a minute, always has been a great company, but there's a famous Netflix PowerPoint about what they do to foster talent. And the problem is, is that, you know, company to company, you can't cookie cutter what they do to make their situation work compared to what we would do at Lambda to make our situation work different company, different culture, different value, scheme, different talent.

So there isn't a playbook that is recipe one, two and three that you can cut and paste from other companies it's really about figuring out what drives the values and the culture of the company in question, and then building an experience around that. I would say further, the most important thing is that employees ultimately feel they have a voice.

And feel that the company sees them and hears them. If an employee comes into a company and just feels like another employee, a number it's very difficult for them to ultimately have a great employee experience. So the design that's very consistent in the things that I, I tend to build when I go into a company are ways in which we can help someone feel connected to the mission and the values very early on and ways in which they can feel connected to each other.

And that throughout their experience, they feel like they are being seen and heard. If you can achieve that, then there's a lot of things you can do from there. If you can achieve that and people don't feel seen and heard, it's very difficult to build an effective employee experience. 

Brett Berson: [00:12:37] Let's take each one of those interns.

So getting an employee connected to the mission and the values, can you share some stories, rituals, anecdotes that come to mind, maybe across a few companies in terms of this specific ways in which you did that. 

Mark Frein: [00:12:51] One thing that for me is a fundamental component of the people tech stack, literally from month one, when I joined the company is a strong engagement platform and by engagement platform, I mean a way in which you're going to track engagement and solicit employee feedback, I've used CultureAmp now for multiple companies.

I've I think was one of the early adopters about 10 years ago, but it needn't be them obviously, but it's something that helps you. Get continuous anonymous feedback from your organization. And I say that it's not just the technology, it's the act of making that part of your fundamental tech stack and doing it with rigor and discipline the way I think about building the let's just call it the foundational level of people.

Organization is about the sources of data. So absolutely crucial is being able to get the voice of the employee. You can't get the voice of employee. You just go out and sort of ask people every once in a while. Um, either now of course, on, on soccer zoom or in the past to sort of in drive-bys in an office, you're not going to start to build this feeling of systematic data that's coming to you.

So you can't really design for a company if you don't have a good data source. So that's, that's one thing that. Fundamentally, I would recommend anybody who's going to stand up. A people function is to get their engagement data in order very, very quickly in terms of things I've done at Lambda, we've designed our first version of new employee onboarding and the things that we have, the, the folks who are joining encounter during onboarding and week one include, you know, being exposed to our company values.

But also, especially with some of our key senior hires, we ask them to be a student for a week. So you get through employee onboarding, and then we ask you to go and sit in the seat of one of our students for at least a week to really get a sense of what happens for our students. And that's something that obviously wouldn't happen in a lot of companies because we don't have that kind of system.

We can't toss them over to the customer side, but that's the best approximation. Similarly at envision, one of the things that we did during employee onboarding was we actually had the groups of people who are onboarding, use the envision product suite to design their own mock-up of a web app. And week one, even if they were coming into like the finance department or the HR team, and even if they would never touch the platform again, we wanted them to walk in the shoes of a customer.

So you can see the pattern. I mean, it's, can we really deeply empathize with those who the company impacts and if we can get them to, to feel what it's like to feel the experience on the other end of the company, that's going to translate very powerfully back into understanding what the company is all about.

So those are just examples of how we've tried to really, really hit very early and very deeply people identifying with how the company is different because ultimately company culture and company values, no matter what words you have, it's about the experience of those. That's unique to a company in question.

Are 

Brett Berson: [00:15:49] there other examples of how you weave mission and values throughout the life of an 

Mark Frein: [00:15:54] employee? Totally. So, I mean, I just touched on onboarding, but in other company environments, when you start doing rhythmic performance development and performance evaluation, one thing that I did at envision, and I would hope to do here at Lambda pretty soon as we sort of get everything set up is bake in literally the value statements that you have defining your culture and components of the mission and make them part of the way in which people are assessed on their performance.

Make it part of the way people are selected when it comes to new hires. We actually at Lambda, we already do have our values as part of our assessment criteria and our applicant tracking system and our ATS. So every candidate who comes through our recruiting and hits the hiring manager, and it hits the people who are screening that candidate have questions to fill out the key exactly to our values.

So, you know, one of our values is go for it. We want people who are just going to take risks, innovate, and try things out. So how does this candidate. During the point of hiring, do they show evidence that they can do that? Or are they a little bit more cautious? So if you think about making the values of live in a company, you think about adding them to every touchpoint of evaluation of succession, of the way in which you both develop and evaluate people.

If you weave them into all of those touch points, the values will really have strength and solidify around the culture. If they're just up on the wall and the missions that are up on the wall, they don't do a lot of work for you as a culture. And so 

Brett Berson: [00:17:20] when you look at the values of InVision versus the values of Lambda, are they so different that the types of people that would thrive what's rewarded are just entirely 

Mark Frein: [00:17:30] different.

I wouldn't say entirely different, but there's going to be differences at envision. We had a very, very strong design bent for obvious reasons. At Lambda, we have a very strong student band and we care that people are student obsessed, that they really care about the students. So while you could say both things are of value around being customer centric, There's different kinds of people that you might hire at envision.

We had a lot of people in who had a design background of some kind, even if they weren't properly a designer at Lambda, we have a bunch of people who have an education background of some kind, even if they aren't the people teaching the students for example, long, long before I became the people executive, um, I almost became a prof.

So deep, deep in my own background is an interest in teaching and learning and working with students. One of the main reasons why I was super interested to work with Lambda is I got to be in touch with that side of myself. Again, 

Brett Berson: [00:18:26] you talked about connecting to the mission and the values, and you also talked about connecting to people or I guess, connecting to each other.

And so one of you spend a little bit of time talking about that and maybe some of the rituals that you use to make that happen, particularly in this environment where most of us are working remotely. 

Mark Frein: [00:18:40] Absolutely. I think human connectivity is tantamount to having people feel like they're having a great experience at work and there's various ways to do that.

The thing that's really important to me is making sure that people understand that one of their most important roles, for example, as a supervisor, is ensuring their people feel listened to and make sure that people feel like they're empathized with. And it's harder over the screen. It's harder over zoom or over slack, but as possible, what it takes is a little bit of a focus on, uh, selecting for that when you're hiring and training for it at envision, during employee onboarding, I used to say, Hey, welcome to envision.

You know, you're about to embark on a, whether or not you've been working remote all your life or whether or not this is your first time. This is a challenging environment that takes a little bit more effort to punch through the two dimensional screen and connect with people. On the other end, you've got to start with an interest in getting to know your coworkers.

And lean into that. I would say the same thing is true of a working person. We want to be our whole cells at work. We want to be treated like a person, sort of our name first, our role second. And that just requires cultural reinforcement and it requires leadership reinforcement. So one of the things that I think I probably preach and talk about every single company I go in is how can leaders model empathy and how can leaders create places where their teams can feel like they're truly themselves.

And so how do you do that? Good question. Well, one is you need to hire for it. There are leaders who are very talented at this naturally there's leaders who aren't there's leaders, who don't care about it. And leaders who do I can help a leader who cares about this, but maybe isn't naturally gifted at creating a safe.

Environment for their employees get better at it. I haven't yet figured out a way to get someone who doesn't care about this to care. And the most important thing is practice. So almost, almost always within the first, say six to 12 months. When I joined a company I've already launched a management development series that I often start by leading myself.

And then when I get up to scale, I pass it on to somebody. If I'm able to hire a manager of L and D. But what fundamental to me is getting that first round of management training going where most of what we focus on is empathy. How we listen deeply to both each other, into our people, and you can practice it.

You can practice it in a whole variety of ways, but fundamentally what you're doing is you're having people slow down and listen, before they judge, as a friend of mine says, you, you can't be curious and judgmental at the same time. So how can I get you to stop your normal managerial mindset, which is all about judging and decisiveness to listen to someone and really get curious about them before you start jumping to the decision point, I can train for that.

I've seen people really blossom in that, but it does take commitment. We're 

Brett Berson: [00:21:31] really interested in this topic. So can you share more if I were to be a fly on the wall and watch, let's say Mark's intro. To teaching managers, how to have their teams be seen and heard, what else would I be watching? Or what kind of content would you be sharing to help me as a person that wants to grow in this area?

But I don't have the, the toolkit 

Mark Frein: [00:21:54] yet. I'll give you some very specific examples. So at Lambda, within the first six months, I had booted up my first management session with a number of managers here at Lambda. And I dug out of my really old. Chest of goodies, these videos that I recorded when I had my own consulting company, they're now coming on, boy, I don't want to say exactly cause that ages me, but let's just say it's a couple of decades.

Luckily there's definitely there, there were fielded pretty high fidelity. So they're still VHS. Excellent. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Thank you, Brett VHS. No, but they're, they're still digitized. And what I asked, some people that were working with me to do, I said, look, I'm going to record you. And I'm going to ask you to tell a story of when you were really blank with blank, being a strong emotion.

So we know what, tell us a story of when you felt really angry or tell us a story when you felt really sad or happy or, you know, when it doesn't matter. And what's really interesting. And this comes out of a research basis on emotionality, is that when people recount a strong emotion, they usually begin to feel it again.

Or at least they have to. Handle it again. So I have these videos of old colleagues of mine, narrating stories of when they felt in this case, I did to people who were narrating their anger, and you could see one of them in particular got angry, again, got worked up and the other who was much more in tune with her emotions, didn't get angry, but you could see her processing a little bit.

So Al and especially in a remote environment, I showed these videos to my. Alyssa Scarlet my management class. And I asked them to get curious about what they're seeing and to begin to offer explanations of what they see of these two individuals who recorded talking about the motions. And what I really do is, is focus on stopping them as soon as they want to judge.

So I remember even in the Lambda class, when we have great managers across the board and within that group, there were great managers who still could not quite resist the urge to start diagnosing and fixing. So, oh, I know exactly how to deal with this person. Uh, he needs to blank by biotech. Like, hold on, you're already to the, you know, I'm going to solve his problem before we even understand what might be the problem.

So let's back up a second and just talk about what we're seeing and what we're hearing. And sometimes I metaphorically talk about manager's ability to read emotions as a little bit, like training yourself, to be Somali, like learning, to taste wine or learning to taste something. You get a whole new language about it.

Like, how is that anger? Is that just frustration? Is that person in touch with their emotion right now? Or is it to seem like they're not? So you're developing a little bit of a vocabulary and that vocabulary helps you step back, not judge. And if I can start to get people to really work that muscle, the curiosity before judgment, the listening before.

Uh, developing an action plan. I know I can get them down a road where they become amazing at empathy with their team and amazing listeners who will create very safe, transparent, and environments for people feel seen and heard. 

Brett Berson: [00:24:50] Are there any books or articles that you share as people are developing 

Mark Frein: [00:24:54] this muscle?

I like Bernie brown stuff. It's very accessible. And her Ted talk stuff is both famous and very good in terms of books. There's a lot of things Goldman's work on EEQ is one that's standard and a very strong piece of work. I think the thing I probably fire around quickest is Bernay brown talks on empathy and listening that I just think are so compelling, not just because of the content, but how she tells stories.

She's an amazing storyteller. So that's one that I would give a, a, an easy, strong thumbs up on 

Brett Berson: [00:25:26] one thread I wanted to pick up. The, you talked about a few minutes ago is the simplest place, or the place that you tend to start is in the hiring process and hiring for this. And you said you don't necessarily only hire people that are exceptional.

At having their teams feel seen and heard, but it's something that they have to care about. So if I'm on a loop and let's say you're interviewing me, or I'm watching you interview someone what's going on in the interview, maybe what are the questions you're asking? Or what are you looking for? 

Mark Frein: [00:25:49] What you would see or feel if you, if I was interviewing you, Brett would be, you probably wouldn't know unless you have been through a lot of interviews of this kind that I'm looking for, evidence of this, rather, you would find that I try to get us into a conversation very quickly.

And by that, I mean a natural conversation. So trying to get to a point where rather than feeling like you were onstage to do an interview, instead, we're just having a really. Good back and forth conversation. And some of the elements of that conversation would include questions that ask you to self-assess yourself, both your performance, maybe a little bit about your career history, maybe about things you learned by succeeding.

Maybe some things that you learn by failing or failing and trying again. And I remember very specifically when I had a hand in designing a sales recruiting process, we baked in a set of questions that were specific to failure and good SAS. Salespeople are people who are going to have a lot of confidence, but I also wanted to see evidence that those people were capable of self-assessing with humility, that I tried this thing, it didn't work, it failed.

And then I had to pick myself up and try again, or I just had to learn from it. And you will see people if they are able to pick a story. Be authentic on what they learned in their, in their struggles and learning it. You know, you have somebody who at least is capable of being humble. If they're humble, they're almost certainly going to be empathetic or capable of empathy.

If they are effectively incapable of talking about things that they might've done wrong. So it's a warning sign, at least for me, the way 

Brett Berson: [00:27:25] that you phrase the question or structure it, that helps you get to truth there. Meaning like what I find is, is when somebody is preparing for an interview, Everyone has their failure story ready in the back of their head.

Tell me a time that things didn't go your way. So obviously the interview can be gamed and one of the foundational problems with traditional interviews, but curious to understand more about how you poke and prod to sort of get that information. 

Mark Frein: [00:27:49] Yeah. So you might still do, it's called a behavioral question.

Tell me a story when something didn't go your way, but some follow-ups that can really help get that a little bit deeper are, um, you know, talk to me about how, how that impacted you or how did you feel you can really catch someone when you ask them how they felt about something, where it was a struggle, if they didn't seem to blank and they don't even remember how they felt, or they are surprised that you care about how they feel, or they don't even know how to answer that.

At least I find it. Uh, relatively easy to see someone who has a pat story about a failure, but they don't really think it was a failure. When you ask them, you know, tell about your emotional journey. And when it came to that failure and they struggle, it's like they're giving me a story that they think I want to hear that they've concocted about a failure that really, they didn't think it was anything having to do with them because they can't talk about it with feeling.

And if they aren't capable of being in touch with their own emotions and self-reflective about it, it's highly unlikely. Especially as a leader, they will create environments where their people can be in touch with their emotions either. 

Brett Berson: [00:28:52] How do you think about the interwoven nature of supporting people emotionally?

Making sure they're seen and heard and driving a high-performance organization. And I think that in its most simplistic set of ideas, one could think that these are opposing forces. My sense is that you think that they're incredibly interwoven and actually complimentary, but you can easily think one end.

There's been a lot of writing around Frank Slootman of snowflake in some of his orientation, which is maybe simply defined as more militaristic and we're here to get a job done. Let's get this job done. And the other is you're in a Stanford touchy feely class, and we're talking about our feelings and I'm supporting you.

And those can be seen as, as things on the opposite end of the spectrum. I I'm curious. Maybe you could talk about any of those, those sort of ideas. 

Mark Frein: [00:29:41] Yeah, well, I mean, you hit on a number of things, but I think about it this way. And if you just want to get super practical and concrete, I'm a basketball fan have been for a long time.

I often defined really interesting work metaphors in basketball and you know, obviously sports isn't for everyone, but it's a good environment because a lot of what you see in any sport or even theatrical pursuits or performing arts dance theater, you see it more evident that the ability of a, a troop or a team or the coaches or the directors to really help people feel that they can bring all of themselves to something makes a tremendous difference in the output you get.

So I remember watching, I was originally a Phoenix suns fan when Steve Nash was playing, but I became a San Antonio spurs fan, especially when I moved to Texas and I would follow some of the. Dialogue that that team had about itself. And they would talk about the ability to challenge you that are very directly.

So they would talk about Tim Duncan feeling that he could challenge even his most senior teammates and vice versa as a key ingredient for their consistency. The way I think about it, this, this, and some people may know Patrick Lencioni's work about team trust and how it allows for everything else to be part of a team performance.

If I have teammates and I know that they're going to give me their best. Because I trust them. And the only way we've established that trust is to be who we are together like that I can be mark, and you can be Brett, and maybe we don't share a tremendous amount of interests outside of work, but we really know each other as human beings.

Like my, my willingness to go to bat for you and to prop you up and to pick you up, if you fall down and vice versa, it goes up tremendously. If I don't see you for who you are, or don't see you as a full human being at work, it's just a lot harder for me to bring everything that I have to help you out.

So I haven't had any reason in my 30 plus years of work experience to feel that passion does anything other than help an organization to succeed. I think part of the problem we know where this is split into two ends of a spectrum is people worry that certain kinds of emotionality are all about making people feel good.

And that means that I can't really drive them. That's a misconception of the whole thing that what you want to do is you want to let people bring all themselves, including their emotions, to work in a, in a respectful, constructive way. If you can do that and you can get people really in touch with their passion, they're going to contribute so much more than if they feel like they have to leave it somewhere else.

So it's really about human beings with emotions and passions. And we want, we want to feel like our cells are engaged in our work. So let's, let's make environments where that's true and you're going to get more out of your people as opposed to leave your emotions at the door and just put your nose to the grindstone that you might get results for a little while, but you're not going to get building on 

Brett Berson: [00:32:35] that.

You shared this idea that interpersonal dynamics of an executive team are sort of simultaneously a reflection of the relative state of the business. And a contributing cause to the state of the business. Can you expand on that a little 

Mark Frein: [00:32:47] bit? First of all, it's hard for an executive team sometimes to really be a team in the input.

What do you mean by that, mark? I mean, by that, that even in really highly functioning executive teams, in many cases, there isn't a lot you do together. Oh, you each have your functional roles. You go in and manage your functional teams. They do work in either their functional areas or overlapping with other functional areas, but it's not like you're all sitting down, designing a product together.

So in some ways the executive team shows up each in our own domains trying to contribute to the success of the company. I think high performing executive teams still have one thing that they always have to do in common, which is reinforce and create the culture and the experience of work at that company.

So, I mean, also obviously they have all have a hand in influencing strategy, but it isn't just my job as a people executive. To ensure that we are an employee centric and strong culture. It's the collective job of all the executive team. In some ways we're creating the shared experience of working at a company at Lambda at envision, all the places I've worked.

So the health of that executive team sets the tone for the health of the company in general. And if a company is absolutely knocking it out of the park, the executive team is going to be excited and going to be thrilled. And that's going to cascade down. And if a company is really struggling, that might cascade down, but either in the most amazing growth scenarios or tough businesses scenarios, the executive team, I think has a collective responsibility to figure out like, how are we going to run this company?

And by running, I mean, how are we going to lead this company? I've been in wonderful executive meetings where that question is a really critical question. Like what is our approach to being leaders here? And that's just, that's not just my answer. Like as a people executive, it's not even just the CEO's answer or founder's answer, that's like the almost heart and soul.

Of what an executive team can do together, figure out what that answer is going to be, and then make sure it's normed and held in 

Brett Berson: [00:34:48] common. And so when you come into a new executive team, 

Mark Frein: [00:34:50] how do you do that? You make time to talk about it. You make time to talk about norms. You make time to talk about culture, you align.

And even if you don't align, you, you figure out if you can get aligned on the things that you're going to care about. From a culture standpoint, you try to do work to grow together. And if you grow together and learn together, you're beginning to get those norms all in common that let you lead with a common approach.

And employees will feel that palpably, what can be tough is when an executive team develops into a fiefdom set and then each function feels like a fiefdom and you don't really have a company. You have a collection of fiefdoms. That doesn't mean the company is going to fail. It just means there isn't a common cultural approach, which just leaves some stuff on the table when it comes to employee 

Brett Berson: [00:35:30] experience.

And so you go and you create space as a leadership team, let's say in your Monday meeting or wherever to talk about culture, to talk about values, how do you make. Good use of that time or how do you structure the conversation? So it's not just some meandering open-ended philosophical 

Mark Frein: [00:35:45] discussion. Yeah, absolutely.

I will go back to the importance of data. What can often happen in early stage companies or even mid-stage companies is you're grounding a lot of your belief on how the employees are feeling or how the culture is doing on one-to-one conversations with various people. And that's fine. Like you always want that subjective.

Data as well, but if I can be almost regularly sharing data on reasons for people leaving reasons for people saying, yes, what do people say after 30 days? What do people say? The two to three times we do an engagement survey every year. You begin to have this just powerful backbone data on the employee base that grounds the conversation so that I'm not walking into a room with my colleagues and saying, I'm really worried about this aspect of the employee experience, because I just talked to somebody down the hall or virtual hall that got me thinking about it.

You're saying I'm really worried about it because every third person who has left the company in the last few months has referenced. They don't resonate with the mission anymore, for example. So, you know, just, just as another functions that have really evolved data functions, marketing, or finance, the people function these days, I think is at its core, a data and an analytics function.

And then you layer on top of that. The work with the employees to enhance their experience. But I am a very, very strong believer in a data backbone for a modern people organization. When 

Brett Berson: [00:37:06] you think about engagement surveys or questions you ask or exit interview questions, are there specific pieces of data or questions you're asking that you lean the most on, or you find the most signaling 

Mark Frein: [00:37:16] most important thing is you asked the same questions over and over because that begins to have, I mean, think of it this way.

The reason why NPS net promoter score is really popular for product marketing is because you ask it in the same way every single time and you start to benchmark it. So my one piece of advice would be if you're going to start asking employees questions at exit at entrance, during lifecycle, try to be consistent and ask them the same things, because then you can start to compare like, how are we doing.

Last year, this time when it came to a question like how confident am I in the success of this company? Just ask it the same way over and over and over again, because at least then it'll show you trends. If you're not asking the same questions over and over again, you don't have a data foundation that you can actually do.

Good analytical work on. So, I mean, I would say the power of contemporary HR, contemporary people work lies in really smart analysis of data and then combined with great intervention strategies based on that data. 

Brett Berson: [00:38:17] Just a little bit more specifically. So one important idea is the standardization. So you can look at it over time.

Another one I assume, is there may be, are specific questions or a specific number or something you're you tend to look at most often that you find quite revealing. Are you there? 

Mark Frein: [00:38:31] So the standard in the engagement set of questions, for example, on a survey like culture amps engagement survey, let's just say on the question of inclusion.

A question that can be really powerful if you ask it the same way over and over again is I feel like I belong at company blank. Simple question, simple phrasing, you know? Sure. There's going to be ways to interpret that question, but someone answering, yes. I feel like I belong is almost certainly, you know, feels a pretty positive sense of being at your company.

Somebody who answers that unsure negative, and there's something you better watch out for there. So, you know that question, like, I feel like I belong at Lambda school. I feel like my input or voice matters in decisions made at company X. Another great question on a feeling of involvement, inclusion, 

Brett Berson: [00:39:18] any non-standard questions or anything that you found enlightening either in a structured way or just one-on-one.

So an example is I was talking to a CEO and he said one of his favorite questions that they put in their engagement survey is who's somebody that's overlooked in the company. Who's somebody that's quietly having an enormous impact and the reason it wasn't to necessarily go to that person and elevate them, or, but to start to say, okay, well, why is this person who's doing a sensational job overlooked and what can we learn about our culture or the way that we behave?

And so I was just interested. Are there others, maybe what my beans that are non-standard questions, it could be, you know, you do a skip level one-on-one and you find that it surfaces insights that you can access 

Mark Frein: [00:39:59] in some way. I mean, that's an interesting question. I think there's some risks in asking that question.

Um, I think that's a really interesting question to ask. I'd be interested in asking it and see what happens myself. But now that you give that example, here's something very specific people likely don't do anywhere near enough skip levels, and probably don't do them in a way that really helps. So I'm a huge fan.

Oh, skip levels in my team. And there's a certain size of team where it's very hard to do schedules of everybody who reports to my directs, but I typically hold on to my skip levels as long as I possibly can for a couple of different reasons. One is, it just keeps me connected to everybody in my downline too.

It also helps make sure that my directs know I'm keeping them honest in a, in a friendly, open way. Like I don't hide my skip levels. Every all of my direct reports know that I'm talking to their direct reports. So it's not like I do it secretively, but there's an honesty and transparency of, you know, I'm going to be talking to your reports like once a month or once a quarter.

In-depth to just find out how they're doing, not to spy on you. I don't ask questions like that, but just so that I know what their experiences and one of the things that I don't do in those is I don't go in and like hammer those folks with, with a whole bunch of questions. So maybe this is sort of a little bit of a judo or Zen, but I go in to those skip levels and I tell the.

You know, oftentimes more, you know, much more junior employee. I said this time is a hundred percent yours. If you have absolutely nothing to talk about, I have some questions I will ask you, but I am giving you this time with me as entirely your time. That means you can ask me questions about how we're doing as a business.

You can ask me questions about my vision for the team. We can talk about struggles you're having at work. We can talk like we can, we can talk about anything you want to talk about. And I want you to ultimately know in the skip level that you own this time. And even including if you want to cancel it, it usually takes a few.

Times for folks who are new to working in my organization to get used to this. And like the first or second time, I know I might not get much. And they are wondering, am I really in charge of this meeting? And then eventually it's like, it, things start to come out and they start to talk about stress that they may have in life that is impacting their engagement at work.

They may start to ask me career advice. Like they're worried at first, like if I talk to mark about career advice, he's going to think I want to leave. I was like, no, of course not. I mean, I'm here to help you think about your career. So it comes over time, but fundamentally it's about giving them the power and not dropping in as like their executive officer and peppering them.

It's about, it's all about doing the reverse, giving them a chance to, to have complete control of the mic and the space and, and ask me anything they want to get. Like, how can I be of service to you? How can I be a value? And how do you 

Brett Berson: [00:42:41] synthesize that content? In a way that allows you to make the manager that, that person's reporting to 

Mark Frein: [00:42:48] better question my objective isn't just to do a skip level to make their manager better.

So sometimes it doesn't matter. I just want to make sure that my team feels connected to my organization, but perfect example, if someone says I'm struggling. Working with your direct report, mark, like I'm struggling working with my manager or your direct reports, direct report, depending on the size of your organization.

I asked them about what they've tried out. I asked them what they intend to do. I may gradually go into coaching mode. What I don't do is I don't say, oh my God, let me take this and go and do something about it. Even if I feel that way. I mean, honestly, sometimes I do feel that way, but what I don't do is that why?

Because I want to teach everybody in my organization that the first step, when something isn't quite the way they want is to talk it through and begin to problem solve as best they can for themselves. But I don't want them to do is get addicted to, I'm going to complain about my manager, that I know he's going to go and yell at that person and who, okay.

I'll have taken care of that. It creates a team environment of lack of trust, and it also can create a situation where people. Don't take it upon themselves to do the work of communicating with, with their own managers now, I mean, there's extreme situations, but generally speaking, I just, I, listen, I ask questions and I'll begin to coach.

If it looks like there's an opportunity to do that, but it's more about coaching them on the action that they want to take, as opposed to leave it. This, this me, I'm going to go and deal with this for you. 

Brett Berson: [00:44:08] You've obviously had, I assume hundreds of these skip levels over 

Mark Frein: [00:44:12] decades. Yep. Well thousands maybe, but yeah, sure.

I'm on the older end of startup land. Let's just put it that way. 

Brett Berson: [00:44:21] The wiser end, the wiser end when you reflect on them, when someone's voicing an issue with their manager in whatever flavor that is, do you find that one? The thing that they're concerned about is actually, you know, 70% of the time it's X or Y or is it completely bespoke?

And when you think about when you either help them get to the answer or you. Guide them to the answer that 80% of the time, the path to resolution is X or Y 

Mark Frein: [00:44:52] 80% of the time, the issue is problems in relational communication. And what I mean by relational communication. It's people being able to talk about what matters to them as a person, a feeling of not being listened to because someone shut me down a feeling of not being respected because a manager is not showing interest in.

In one's opinion or one's life circumstances or something. So I'm, I'm, I'm gonna even go on a limb and say 90% of the time or higher it's about a failure in human to human communication, as opposed to say a failure in process or a failure in transactional communication. So what are the remedies? And sometimes the remedies are hard and sometimes the remedies ended up not being possible, but the remedies when they work are almost always about sitting down and having a more direct and caring conversation and going back to something you said earlier about this whole putting on a false spectrum, being an emotionally connected person versus being like, let's say a driver or a results oriented person.

It's really important to me that I exercise my direction of people in the workplace through caring. When I have to discipline someone, when I have to fire someone, I'm going to do it from a place of caring. And then that's hard. I coach managers when they're letting people go for performance or otherwise, like, how can we do this?

And we can care about it, even though that that's hard because it's really easy to dehumanize. And it's really easy to just give the shrug and like, you know, it's a talent market and they don't find another job right away. And well, what about ever as soon as you kind of go down that slippery slope, it's just easy to do that over and over again, and think that people are replaceable.

People are people. And if we can coach with care, if we can communicate with care, if we can sit down and really fight through difficult situations where people don't feel like they're on the same page or don't feel seen and heard you're going to solve it through talking. And more importantly, you're going to solve it through listening.

In most of the cases, it's one person has been doing all the talking and the other person doesn't feel heard once in a while. I'll intervene. And I'll, or I'll suggest an intervention before I'd even do that. I'll just say, Hey, have you really sat down and had this conversation directly with care with the person that you're struggling with?

And if the answer is no, it's like, well, I want to see you try that. And if that doesn't work, there's other things we might do. But if we can't try that, we're not going to make a lot of progress. What does it look 

Brett Berson: [00:47:19] like to fire somebody with a caring orientation? 

Mark Frein: [00:47:23] Well, it, it sounds and looks like this.

Someone has reached the end of their line with a role or with a company you want to be clear, so, you know, good. Basic firing technique is getting to that quickly and not beating around the Bush and not doing a tremendous amount of, you know, but not doing any preferably apologizing about having to do it.

I've often had to teach a manager. Hasn't fired people before. It's like, we're not sorry. We have to do this in terms of what we're going to tell the person, you might feel badly about it, but we're not going to tell the person, we're sorry, because you tell the person, you're sorry, you have to fire them.

Why are you firing them? You know, I'm so sorry I have to fire you today. But what you can do is you can feel for them, right. So what does it look like? It looks like someone is there for that act. With the gravitas it deserves, which is, it is a major thing in a person's life. You know, if you've been fired, it's a major thing in your life, and you're gonna always remember.

It doesn't mean you hesitate doesn't mean you guilt yourself into thinking about it. It just means you understand that this is a, this is a big thing that you're about to do. And if you understand that you can empathize. And if you're empathizing, as you are firing someone, the likelihood of them feeling that they still are cared for is very high.

If you walk into a dismissal conversation and you've psyched yourself up by saying, this person is no good, I'm here to make sure that the only thing that matters in this organization is top talent. And, you know, it's revolving door. Then the likelihood that you're going to be dehumanizing in that firing conversation, very high.

So in organizations that I want to work for care for people from the point of entry to the point of departure, And that doesn't mean it's, you're always going to get it right. It doesn't mean that you might not miss step. It doesn't mean that you're gonna, you know, not make mistakes, but, um, can you hold yourself to that standard?

Can you 

Brett Berson: [00:49:12] a little example of what that would sound like? I think the tricky thing is to your point, and I thought you said this well is where you can quickly go into apologizing, which doesn't seem like an effective way to go about it. And so maybe what's aligner, if you think back to a story of somebody years ago, you had to let go, how do you communicate 

Mark Frein: [00:49:30] that to someone?

So I can't give like a recorded version, but you know, if were firing you, I'd just, I would, this is your last day with us. I would look you in the eye. I would wait to let you breathe. I would, in my own mind and my own heart, I would be. Letting you sit with that news and tell myself that it's important that I care about your reaction to that.

Meaning you might get angry, you might get very sad. I've been in situations where I've fired someone on they're angry and it's my job to be with their anger. And that made that made some a little bit funny, but I'm going to let you be what you're going to be in that moment. If you are profoundly sad, I'm going to let you be there.

And I'm just going to sit with you. So, one thing, not going to go into all the details of the story. So I don't want it to be overly personal, but I fired someone up terribly terribly long ago. I remember person was very, very impacted. I was in a role of HR and I wasn't the manager, but I was doing it on behalf of the manager.

And then the manager came in and said, this is, this is your last day. And then I, I was with the person that's often in this, the case with HR, people in telling them what was going to happen next. And the person was very emotional and. I remember telling myself, like, I am going to give this person back all the power.

And in doing that, what I meant was I'm going to, I didn't say this, but I, I thought to myself, I'm going to let them when I said, I like I got, I looked at my calendar, I've made sure I had a lot of time. You know, I'm gonna let them decide when this conversation is done. Um, I mean up to a reasonable point, but I thought to myself, I'm not going to try to get off this call.

I'm not going to try to end this call. I'm going to walk this person through the basics of the HR transactions around being, let go. But then I'm going to basically be here for them, given what they need. And so this person was very emotional. Ask questions about why ask questions about anything that they could do.

And we know I give the, all the answers, but at one point the person said, don't you have anything you need to go to or anything better that you need to do? I said, no, I'm here. As long as you need me. And that. Completely changed the demeanor of the situation for that person, because think about it. I mean, you just got fired.

This is probably your feeling about the most powerless you felt in a long time, even to something as simple as, oh, he's going to be here on this call with me until I also feel done that changes things a little bit and, you know, did it make the person feel great about being fired? No. Did it make the person feel differently about that situation?

Absolutely. Thank 

Brett Berson: [00:52:02] you for sharing that. I wanted to pick up something you said a little while ago at the beginning of the conversation where you were sharing a few of the things that really matter when you think about people architecture. And one of the few things you said was that people feel like they can grow and they have grown.

I'd love you to spend some time talking about how you do that, how you do that, maybe from a systems perspective or how it shows up on a daily basis. When you look at the organizations you've created, that did the best job at helping people feel like they really grew in the company and in their 

Mark Frein: [00:52:35] role.

Sure. I've had things that I feel good about, I guess, throughout my career. And maybe I'll, I'll pick some times where I think something really magical happened. And in some cases it wasn't even so much about the design of a program, as much as the context in most of those situations. There's some. Common themes to them, which is the links between where a person's at, in their personal journeys and where a person is at in their, in their career journeys.

So, one example, there was a person who was a general manager of a big mining site. And this was back when I was running my own consulting company and was known to be very tough with his employees and was almost kind of proud of that and was in a program, a managerial development program. And some of the things that we were doing in that program were about probably unsurprisingly, given everything we've talked about emotions and self-reflection and self-awareness, and one component of that was coaching.

So I was his coach and he. Said to me at one point it's really important to not show weakness when it comes to my people and to be tough. And we talked about it a little bit and talk about a little bit, and I asked him some questions and I sent him home, um, with some assignments. And one of the things that I did was I said, I want you to go home and let them be just around the dinner table.

Just get some feedback, you know, from your family, we can get feedback from your peers at the mine all the time, but just ask some simple questions. Like, when am I at my best? And one of my, not at my best, he went home and he talked to his family. He came back to me. He was really struck. And without going the detail, he basically said, you know, I need to make a change.

And I said, why? I said, he said, because I realized that the way in which I've built myself up at work is also what I take home. I've taught myself that the way to manage my people is to have them be afraid of me. I don't want that to be true of my home. And he, he was, he was a lovely man, but even just that awareness that, you know, you can't help take things between those two worlds.

You know, he did 180 turn on his management style. So, you know, in programs where. Over the years I've done the most like a successful deep development of people. It's almost always about catching them at a time when the work that we do in the workplace, leaving aside, let's say technical training, but the work we do in the workplace about showing up well and being a good manager or being a good teammate is just about being a better human being.

We're all in this journey. You know, in our lives of, of trying to be decent people and the best development in the workplace is often just about exploring what it means to be decent with each other. And I know it sounds kind of silly, but it's about how do we just be good to each other work is very stressful.

Work puts us into weird situations where we feel competitive, where we might have Prolexic's creep in. If we're going to do development of each other, let's do a development in a way that justice decency and caring and generosity back into teammates and workplaces. And on that basis, you can make magic happen.

So that's the. Common thread of some of the programs that I guess I would feel the happiest about. 

Brett Berson: [00:55:43] Does it ever get more tactical or the intersection of maybe kind of developing as the whole human end, developing competency? So like two examples that come to mind. One is, you know, you have somebody who's an HR analyst.

They're two years out of college. They work on your team and their clear vision for themselves in the next 20 years is to be a chief people officer. And that's the professional vision. And I assume that part of them feeling like they're growing and actually growing is moving along the journey. So that's kind of one archetype.

Another archetype is, I don't know, I actually don't know what I aspire to be. And that's kind of its own thing. And I'm curious to hear 

Mark Frein: [00:56:19] your thoughts on those two art of career conversations and a lot of that, artist's similar to good coaching where it's helping a person discover their own answers. I would say that one thing that's important about environments that.

Where people generally feel very strong that they are developing is that they're also safe if you've made it like, oh, I'm better, not better. Not really tell anybody when I'm thinking about my role or my career, my goals, because somehow it's going to get used against me. What's going to happen is you're often going to get the most political people advancing because they're recognizing that what they say about what they want is more important than what they actually feel.

So it, especially in the, in service of the mission of this podcast and being super, super specific and deep, you know, the best thing you can do to help people feel like they're on a great career directory is make it okay to think about careers openly and make it okay for people to really ask questions about what's next, 

Brett Berson: [00:57:13] when you have high fidelity information about the wants of a team member, do you have approach to sort of weave that through the way that you manage that person on a day-to-day basis or it's more isolated into these career 

Mark Frein: [00:57:27] conversations or it isn't like, I.

Just sit down once a year and have a career conversation with my reports, what I try to do when I'm, wouldn't say I'm always successful. But what I try to do is I try to get a sense as early as I possibly can of both my directs, but also my skip level of where they are and their own journey about thinking about their career.

So again, in a really super specific, I had a conversation with someone on my team, skip level, where it is one of these situations where it's not a hundred percent clear exactly where they want to go, but I want them to be okay, articulating that. But then it's a series of questions. Like where do you find your most joy?

Where do you find your biggest contributions? Where do you just get absolutely jazzed during your day and gradually helping that person see for themselves? And as they see that for themselves, it's a little bit like, well, you know, why don't we get you involved in some work if possible, getting up for their taste to that.

So when I begin to understand how concrete they are about what they want. As their next step in the stairway or next rung on the ladder or whatever, even if it's crosswise, I try to build it into almost every conversation I have. How are you thinking about what we talked about last time? Did you go and try that piece of thing and how did that go?

And the reason why I try to build it in almost every conversation, even I can't always be successful that way is I think supervision fundamentally is development. And, and I'll say that again. Like I fundamentally, as a supervisor, I am trying to develop my people and a lot of people might think, well, as a supervisor, aren't you trying to supervise them?

You're trying to make sure they get the work done. It's like, well, yeah, of course. But that's the easy part of supervision. Quite frankly, the hard part of supervision is to develop your people. So most of the conversations I have, or at least try to have, have some aspect of, like, I know that this person.

Is one step away from being a chief people officer, how can we talk about things in a way that gets them to see the way the world looks from my point of view in almost every chat we have, you know, so gradually introducing them to the world that I'm living in, even if they're not quite there yet. So it's almost about when I do my weekly one-on-ones.

How can I use those as opportunities to teach? I tend to think one of the worst ways to spend a weekly one-on-one as a manager to an employee is to give them work in that one-on-one it drives me crazy. And I try not to do it to my own reports. I can give them work in a slack message, or I can give them work on a Trello board or some other means in the one-on-one.

I want to talk about what they're thinking about, and I want to have them put things on the table for me, if I'm going to a one-on-one with my manager every week, waiting to get a list of things I'm supposed to do, it just makes me, it just fills me with a dread and depletes my energy. What I want to do is find out how they're doing and what I can do to help them.

Brett Berson: [01:00:10] So, as we get into the end of our conversation, I wondered if this little section that will brand the most important thing. And what I thought I would do is give you a series of topics that come up a lot. When we think about people's structure, et cetera, And just have you for 30 seconds or a minute, whatever comes to mind that you learned is like the most important idea or thing to do or practice around each one 

Mark Frein: [01:00:33] of those things.

Can I ask me what kind of tree I'd be if I were a tree? Well, 

Brett Berson: [01:00:38] uh, I get to be in charge of the question. So, uh, so first up, uh, performance 

Mark Frein: [01:00:44] reviews, an opportunity to help someone grow. That was less than 60 seconds. I mean, that 

Brett Berson: [01:00:49] was, that was 

Mark Frein: [01:00:50] phenomenally efficient. Okay. I'll expand. The reason why I said that is that in contrast the idea review, I step into performance reviews as a performance conversation, and I use that word really specifically.

This is a time for me and you to calibrate on how we are both doing. I mean, obviously it's my job. As your manager to ultimately say, rate you or give you some sort of evaluation, but it is a conversation is an exchange of thought. We need to align it. Isn't a chance where, you know, we sit down together and I tell you your number.

If it was just going to be that why bother sitting down performance review I'd strike out review, put conversation performance conversation. The objective is to help that person understand where they stand clearly cleanly and be able to take that feedback and make changes all hands meetings, information in a show wrapper, expanding on that all hands are a great time to communicate.

What's going on strategy, how you're doing transparently. So I'm a huge, huge fan of given the goods to the employees and not doing smoke and mirrors. If you're doing well, talk about what you're doing well, if you're not doing well, talk about what you're learning and not doing well. Almost always. You're doing a little bit of both get employees used to understanding the reality of the business they happen to be in the good employees, want to know what's really going on.

And they will stick with you for a long time. If they know what's really going on, but in a show wrapper use a little bit of theater. Think about this as an act of, uh, there's a little bit of Showtime. You want to make them fun. You want to be a little bit innovative and creative. You want these to be times where people want to come and listen to, and especially remote.

It has to be some production behind it. The most fundamental thing is rehearse. Get ready. Think about what you're doing. Think about who speaking. Think about what they're speaking on, do a rehearsal and then go and do your show. It's going to have a lot better results than if you just walk on, walk off and go down the list of items that you wanted.

Everybody to hear offsites, it's basically taking all of what we talked about, about connection and compressing it into a event off-sites that don't work are. Off-sites where it's mostly about people sitting there listening to executives. Talk about things. Again, why did we fly everybody somewhere to see whatever number of sages on the stage come up and be talking heads either virtually now or in person?

I mean, that's always the temptation is they need to hear from their leaders. Well, they do, but what they really need to do is they need to connect with their leaders and connect with the mission and connect with each other. So in planning an offsite, I would say like the most important word, almost every single time is connection, relationship design, and build and structure the time to allow for that both planned and serendipitously give people enough time to do it on their own so that they can walk away having strengthened bonds.

That's what you're doing in an offsite is making sure people feel. Connected to each other. 

Brett Berson: [01:03:48] And lastly, organizational structure or org 

Mark Frein: [01:03:51] design. That's a tough one to end on. I mean, I'll, I'll do my Quip, whatever works. I'm pragmatic on this one. I I've seen so many structures and designs and org charts, and it is really good when leaders have a vision of what they're going to do, but that vision can be very different depending on the context.

So I have a pattern I've used from setting up my people teams that I've used now, multiple times in a row. It works for me. That doesn't mean it'll work for everybody. And it works for me because I have a narrative around it. That makes sense to me and I can communicate. So I guess my advice here would be if you, as an executive, have vision of how your organizational pieces fit together, and you can explain that very succinctly and cleanly to somebody is probably the case that the org design is going to follow.

What I wouldn't do is I wouldn't do a super fancy org design without the narrative. Why are these pieces and parts separated in these functional areas? Why are these departments over here? Don't start with the S with the picture, start with the story, as opposed to trying to get really fancy on it.

Obviously it gets more and more complicated, the bigger the company and the bigger the organizations and tech, but ultimately we all work together in these companies. If people were to actually study where departments overlap, there's a lot more fluidity in org structures that people give credit to.

I've had circumstances where I, where as a people executive I've had knowledge management, I've had sales and service training report. To me. I have alumni programs at Lambda reporting to me, but I still treat those people as having their own stories. And we make sure we. Understand how those things fit together.

So, yeah, don't get too fancy, be pragmatic, keep it simple. Make sure you have your story straight. 

Brett Berson: [01:05:32] Just curious for your people org, what sort of your overall structure you've landed on or at least landed on 

Mark Frein: [01:05:38] today? Yeah, generally speaking, I have a stool with three primary legs. I mean, this is how I built them.

Over the last little while with a little bit of a forest, depending on the context. So one is obviously talent, acquisition or recruitment. And then second is people operation because the Google made it famous. People often think people operations equals the people team. For me, people operations is the guts of the operational side of the data and the tech stack backbone and the transactional service of the people team.

So people ops for me is like the engine room and it has benefits and pay and has the HRS in it. It often is the place where all of the tech stack is owned and the people in that department are often analytically bent in terms of their leadership and the program and process managers. And then I have sometimes I've called it employee experience.

Sometimes I've called it people development. I have the third leg of the stool as that group of people, professionals that acts on the employee experience most directly day to day in terms of human interactions over a course of days and weeks, et cetera. So it's almost like I portion it out into the team that brings them in the hiring team, the team that sets them up, which is the people operations department.

And it's the team that studies the data. Usually it's the place where I own engagement, surveying, and then the teams that helps them on their journey, the people development or employee experience team. And then the fourth leg sometimes is program management. I increasingly run my people teams a little bit more like a product team.

And often I want to have an agile PM. Like somebody who's going to run our shop in the same way that a product team would run. Wonderful. 

Brett Berson: [01:07:16] Well, thanks so much for spending all this time with us. This was fantastic. My pleasure.