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

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

And let’s be clear: The time period “tradition and worker engagement” doesn’t imply “Pleased Hours” and “Pizza Events:” Navigating Market Downturns and Different Startup Recommendation with Melanie Naranjo, Head of Folks 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 in every of 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 Folks, 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 fitting position – each her obligations and the corporate (a pacesetter within the compliance coaching area) have grown rapidly within the time since. So listed below are 5 Questions with Melanie Naranjo.

Hunter Stroll: Considered one of 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 one?

Melanie Naranjo: For me, two of a very powerful issues I have to really feel excited a couple of job are: 1. Realizing that I’m working at a spot the place everyone seems to be equally obsessed with doing nice work and serving to the corporate succeed, and a couple of. Realizing that I don’t need to waste time attempting to persuade anybody concerning the worth of the Folks perform. 

I bear 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 recent air. As a result of the unhappy actuality is: At most firms, the Folks perform 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 Folks perform as a complete 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 a part of Ethena, my best precedence was ensuring I might be becoming a member of an organization with a shared perspective on the worth of the Folks perform: I needed to hitch an organization the place I’d be arrange and empowered for achievement, the place my voice can be valued, and the place the management group cared simply as a lot concerning the firm’s Folks technique as I did.

And I can say in all honesty that this grew to become fairly darn evident virtually instantly. The management group had devoted the time to place collectively an inventory of Folks initiatives they needed my help 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 Folks methods that that they had already arrange the type of infrastructure most Folks leaders need to struggle 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 completely Ethena knocked my socks off once I joined the group (and the way extremely grateful I’m that I made the choice to hitch). 

HW: Your position as VP, Folks mixed a variety of completely different obligations – a few of them extra market-facing than the standard particular person in your seat. For a second although I need to deal with the interior facet of the job. Some folks declare ‘tradition and worker engagement’ are luxuries you may deal with 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 a altering setting and attempt to maintain a group regular throughout a enterprise cycle just like the one we’ve skilled during the last yr?

MN: I believe the place most individuals go unsuitable throughout instances of problem is to try to protect their staff from the reality — particularly when it will possibly really feel scary. There’s typically a worry that staff received’t be capable to deal with tough information or will instantly bounce to false conclusions, bounce ship, panic, and so forth.

In my view, 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, likelihood is 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 inconceivable. They frightened no candidate would ever settle for a compensation bundle 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 info to really feel assured in the truth that they’re being pretty compensated for his or her position. 

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

The extra you attempt to protect your staff (i.e. using poisonous positivity, downplaying potential dangers, by no means speaking concerning the elephant within the room, and so forth), the much less your staff will belief you while you converse. Workers aren’t dumb. They’ll see what’s occurring within the firm, they usually can see what’s occurring on this planet. Should you by no means handle the fact, 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 might be along with your staff, the extra they’ll belief you to inform them the reality (even when it’s powerful), the extra reassured they’ll really feel that you’re actively monitoring the scenario, and the extra empowered they’ll be to accomplice with you on the answer. 

And let’s be clear: The time period “tradition and worker engagement” doesn’t imply “Pleased Hours” and “Pizza Events.” Certain, Pleased Hours and pizza events might be a component of your organization tradition. However what worker engagement really means is an setting by which 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 be sure 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 knowledge they must be part of the answer.

HW: I’m at all times shocked when somebody contemplating ‘becoming a member of a startup’ has put quite a lot 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 similar vertical however one new and yet one more mature. Whenever you’re hiring at Ethena, how do you assess whether or not a candidate is stage-appropriate?

MN: That is such an awesome query, and an space that I don’t suppose will get sufficient consideration. Particularly as a result of the corporate you might be as we speak — particularly in case you’re a quick rising startup — just isn’t the corporate you’re going to be one yr from now.

Which implies you shouldn’t simply rent for the particular person you want as we speak, however relatively, for the particular person 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 might 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 desirous to tackle new and sudden 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 a complete lot of transparency across the present group construction and the fact 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 attempting to woo candidates on the shiny points of the position and never sufficient time being upfront concerning the challenges that may include the position. They optimize for successful over the shiniest trying candidate vs removing potential mismatches.

In my view, it is a massively dangerous transfer. Essentially the most spectacular candidate on paper isn’t at all times the very best 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 a complete group of do-ers underneath them, it doesn’t matter how skilled they’re or how shiny their resume seems to be: You’re going to run right into a heck of quite a lot of points as quickly as you notice they haven’t needed to “do” in a very long time and aren’t in a position to perform as a group of 1.  

HW: Ethena delivers trendy compliance coaching, delivered through 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 subject – how do you keep on high of adjusting norms, new conditions? Like in a distant/hybrid office I assume there are a bunch 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’ve got extremely engaged — and I imply, impressively so — clients. 

The fact is, when you consider Harassment Prevention coaching, you don’t usually suppose: engaged learners. You concentrate on 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 some other function 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 almost 1 million learners), in addition they take the time to provide us suggestions. They share which modules resonated with them most, and what they suppose might make the coaching even higher. And since the staff are literally being attentive to and studying from the content material, they’re passing that info alongside to their Folks 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 straight from the folks interacting with and leveraging our product. We’re listening to firsthand from our clients concerning the influence and relevance of our coaching of their day-to-day work. 

Mixed with our group of skilled advisors throughout the compliance area and quarterly opinions of our coaching content material, we’ve been extremely profitable at holding our content material related by adapting to the ever-evolving shifts in: employment legislation, office norms, and cultural panorama. 
We’ve even branched into new areas of the compliance area — reminiscent of 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. Strive new issues. Take daring (however calculated) dangers. You’ll study a lot sooner and develop a lot additional, and most significantly: On daily basis at work will really feel like a enjoyable, new journey.

Thanks Melanie for sharing some recommendation with me/us. Comply with her right here for updates on free on-line trainings and discussions she runs on management, folks and tradition, and so forth.




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