Remote Work Interviews

Conversations with leaders and innovators about how industries and organizations think about the future of remote work.
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Leslie Neitzel: VP of People at Pendo
July 3, 2019
Interview by Sophia Bernazzani
Leslie Neitzel is VP of People at Pendo, a product experience platform that helps product teams create software experiences users love.
Leslie Neitzel is VP of People at Pendo, a product experience platform that helps software product teams understand and guide their users. In this interview with Owl Labs, Leslie shares her insights about the difference between HR and People Ops, whose job it is to focus on building and maintaining company culture, and how companies need to think about employer branding to compete for top talent.

Owl Labs (OL): Tell us about how you got to where you are in your career today.

Leslie Neitzel (LN): I started my career in finance and then had the opportunity to bridge both the numbers with the people in an acquisition team I was a part of. After that, I was hooked on People. I enjoyed connecting how a business operates from a financial infrastructure perspective to the people who really drive it forward. After several HR experiences, I ended up building my career in human resources. 

OL: You were a VP of HR before you became VP of People at Pendo. Is there a big difference between those roles?

LN: It's really the same thing, but the different titles reflects the evolution of how businesses are understanding the HR function. HR traditionally has been operational in nature, and over the years, businesses have begun realizing that it's really about people. While the nuts and bolts of my role haven't changed much, the VP of People title puts more emphasis on the important work of recruiting, hiring and supporting our people.

HR and People Ops are really the same thing, but the different titles reflect the evolution of how businesses are understanding the HR function.

OL: Tell me about the people at Pendo. What do you think sets your company culture apart?

LN: Pendo is a group of passionate and diverse individuals, and that's a big part of what sets us apart. We have a strong leadership team, the right strategy and vision, and a culture that is driven by a set of core values that our employees embrace and take pride in. 

OL: Many startup founders and leaders tend to wait too long to focus on company culture and start building out a people team. When would be the ideal time for a startup to hire someone like you? 

LN: Founders should start thinking about the culture they want to build from day one. It should be front and center in the early days of the business, because the tone that they set drives how they hire, how the organization performs, and the impact of the employer brand. Does it evolve? Absolutely. But just like any house or building that you build, the foundation needs to be strong. If you don't set that up in the beginning, it will eventually erode.

A lot of organizations wait too long to hire someone like myself. Do I think it needs to be at 25 employees? No. 50? Maybe not. Somewhere around 75 employees feels like the right number. If you have the right company culture, tone and DNA from the beginning, someone like myself can help carry it forward.

OL: Are there many remote workers at Pendo, in addition to those working across your multiple office locations?

LN: We do have multiple office locations. Our headquarters is in Raleigh, N.C. We also have growing offices in San Francisco, New York, Israel, London, and Sheffield, UK. We also have several remote workers across the U.S., so we're a hybrid team of both in-office and remote employees.

OL: What have you learned about collaboration and communication from working across so many different offices and time zones?

LN: Face time is absolutely critical, and I don't just mean in person. As a company, we bring everyone together once a year and each department holds various offsites throughout the year. But I also think facetime in the form of video/virtual communication has become the norm for remote workers. If we didn't have that as an organization, we'd feel the impact quickly.  

We're very intentional with our communication so nobody misses out on any important updates. We hold a bi-weekly town hall meeting, which is an opportunity for the entire company to get together. Everyone dials in through video conferencing or in person, depending on their location, to hear various company updates from our leaders. Employees can submit questions anonymously, and we talk about what's on people's minds. It's a very intentional and open communication atmosphere.

Company culture should be front and center in the early days of the business, because the tone that they set drives how they hire, how the organization performs, and the impact of the employer brand. Does it evolve? Absolutely. But just like any house or building that you build, the foundation needs to be strong. If you don't set that up in the beginning, it will eventually erode.

OL: How can companies build a strong culture from the start, and then maintain that culture when employees are distributed?

LN: Every decision, even the small ones, has to be viewed through the lens of the people who are impacted by it. We also ensure that every decision we make upholds our core values. That's what enables us to sustain our culture and create the same experience for every employee. As an example, it's not just in Raleigh where we hold celebrations; We have office ambassadors at each office and on our remote teams to help those teams celebrate and to drive a sense of connection and belonging. When we have meetings, we are mindful of the fact that some people will be dialing in and have outfitted our conference rooms to allow for a seamless experience for all. 

OL: You mentioned celebrations. Are you thinking about different ways to acknowledge work anniversaries and birthdays for your distributed employees?

LN: Absolutely. We do a great job of celebrating both individual moments and company moments with our entire team. Whether it's a birthday or customer win or major product announcement, we use tools like Slack to share and celebrate the news. Slack brings down the physical barrier of where employees are located and provides an avenue to either share to learn something. We also use Town Hall meetings to celebrate anniversaries and new hires. As I mentioned above, we do have cultural ambassadors across our offices to plan in-person celebrations and activities, and we encourage remote participation in what we call our "culture club" so we have the perspective of employees working from all over.

OL: What other tools does your team live and die by for that remote and distributed communication and collaboration?

LN: Everybody has a Zoom account, and it's a part of our DNA as a company. That's how we communicate. We also use a tool called 15Five, where every employee submits a weekly review/update to their manager. Because transparency is one of our core values, 15Fives are intentionally open for all to view.  Making sure everybody has visibility into what's going on with the rest of their co-workers helps us stay connected.

We're very open with our recruiting candidates about our communication practices, so everyone knows what to expect from the start. We do a lot of recruiting and interviewing via video conference, which helps us set the stage from the beginning about how we communicate with people who may not be in one of our physical offices. We talk about how we get the teams together, and then we fly candidates to the office of the team they'll work most closely with so that they can start to build those in-person relationships early.

OL: What does recruiting look like when you're recruiting for someone who will be full-time remote, or when you're recruiting for somebody whose manager will be in a different office?

LN: We're very open with our recruiting candidates about our communication practices, so everyone knows what to expect from the start. We do a lot of recruiting and interviewing via video conference, which helps us set the stage from the beginning about how we communicate with people who may not be in one of our physical offices. We talk about how we get the teams together, and then we fly candidates to the office of the team they'll work most closely with so that they can start to build those in-person relationships early.

OL: For those full-time remote employees who are based near an office, can they travel to an office regularly, or is travel usually just team-based?

LN: We don't place any restrictions on when and how often someone can travel. If it's important for them to be in an office, we'll make that happen. But people shouldn't feel that they're not a part of the in-office culture if they work remotely, either. I haven't had any experiences where a remote employee has told me, "Hey, I feel like I'm missing out." So much of what we do is through video that it's like having another person in the room who just happens to be on a screen.

The generations coming into the workforce have very different expectations than those who came before them. It's a competitive talent market, and people are used to providing feedback, interacting via social media, and being able to get a sense of what a company's culture and brand are like even before the interview.

OL: What are some myths or misconceptions about company culture that you personally would want to dispel? 

LN: It's an interesting time in the workforce right now. The generations coming into the workforce have very different expectations than those who came before them. Any company that's trying to be successful at hiring top talent needs to keep that in mind. It's a competitive talent market, and people are used to providing feedback, interacting via social media, and being able to get a sense of what a company's culture and brand are like even before the interview.

Leaders need to realize that culture is part of a company's ongoing success, and that it isn't something that's set by one person and left alone. It will constantly change over time, and every employee is a co-creator of who you become as a brand. Many people feel it's an HR job to maintain company culture, when in reality, it's everyone's job to keep it alive and continue to shape it in the best interest of the company and the employees.

I'm fascinated by the evolution of the workforce. People don't join companies for the same reasons they used to. They want to be part of a powerful story, and be a creator or a driver of that story, and that's what we're trying to help people do at Pendo. We try to make sure that everyone we hire and support during their time at Pendo is leaving their mark in some capacity. People want to feel like they're making a difference versus just having a job, and that's now a big part of HR. 

OL: Do you have an employer branding team or folks who are specifically working on that on the recruiting side?

LN: Yes, I have someone on my team who partners with our marketing team to make employer branding campaigns part of our social presence. It's not their full-time job, but it is definitely a part of their job. It's such a driver of how we recruit. People go onto Glassdoor or other social media pages to see what our perception is as a brand. In most cases, perception is reality, and that has to be taken into consideration by brands trying to level up their recruiting.

OL: What are some ways employers can distinguish themselves when it comes to writing job descriptions and employer branding online?

LN: Reflect your values. At Pendo, we have great core values, but there are two that seem to stand out most to candidates. One of them is "Bias to act," the idea that people want to be creators of a winning story. At Pendo, that means, if you have an idea, go. Do it. Run with it. If you fail, that's fine. What did we learn from it? What are we going to do differently next time? What were the key accomplishments? That bias-to-act value is incredibly powerful in how we recruit. When you join the team at Pendo, you're coming into a company and you get to create it and be a big part of it.

Leaders need to realize that culture is part of a company's ongoing success, and that it isn't something that's set by one person and left alone. It will constantly change over time, and every employee is a co-creator of who you become as a brand. Many people feel it's an HR job to maintain company culture, when in reality, it's everyone's job to keep it alive and continue to shape it in the best interest of the company and the employees.

OL: What does inclusion mean to you, and how is your team focused on making Pendo an inclusive place to work?

LN: We're extremely passionate about inclusion —it's a key priority for us to recruit and retain a diverse organization. Affinity groups are a big part of that, and we started building them early on. A lot of organizations wait until they've reached a certain scale, but why wait? These groups have given diverse groups of individuals at Pendo a deep sense of community at Pendo; they've helped to educate and inform the broader team and are having an impact in our local communities through events and volunteer activities. 

Though these groups have a distinct voice at Pendo, we make sure every individual had a voice, too. We seek and expect regular feedback from our employees, and everyone carries that sense of personal responsibility for making the company a better and more inclusive place to work. Our culture of trust allows people to come and bring their whole selves to work.

OL: What do you love most about what you do?

LN: I love working with people. That's why I'm in this role. It's the opportunity to get inspired by somebody, to learn from somebody, and then to have an impact on someone's life. That's what I love.

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