Whereby COO Jessica Zwaan

Jessica ZwaanWhereby COO Jessica Zwaan

People-centered approaches to business emphasize the importance of prioritizing and supporting the well-being, growth, and satisfaction of employees. By adopting a people-centered approach, businesses can create a positive work environment that not only benefits their employees but also contributes to improved performance, productivity, and long-term success. In today’s episode, I sit down with Jessica Zwaan, Chief Operating Officer and at Whereby, to discuss her innovative, people-centered approach to HR and business development. Jessica is the author of Built for People, a best-selling book that offers advice and tools for transforming HR activities by incorporating elements from product management. In our conversation, Jessica unpacks how the best aspects of product management can be applied to HR to transform the value of your workforce and business. Learn about the type of rigor that HR needs to increase productivity, the ins and outs of streamlining your workforce to increase its value, reducing regrettable churn through effective HR, and analogizing people with products. Gain insights into why justifying an employee based on revenue is outdated, viewing the business as an ecosystem, and much more. Tune in and discover a different way of viewing company culture and employee value with Jessica Zwaan!

Episode Transcript

Rob Stevenson 0:05
Welcome to talk down to me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the front lines of modern recruitment.

We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions where they’re willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.

Rob Stevenson 0:21
No holds barred completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment VPs of global talent, CHR rows, and everyone in between.

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Talent Acquisition. It’s a fantastic career, you are trusted by the organization. You get to work with the C suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between and everybody knows you.

Rob Stevenson
I’m your host, Rob Stevenson, and you’re about to hear the best in the biz. talk down to me. Here with me today on top talent to me is an old friend of the show someone I absolutely loved recording with the first time and so you know, it’s gonna be a good one. When I bring people back for their return episode. She is the chief operating officer over at whereby Jessica Swan Jessica, welcome back to you. How the heck are you today?

Jessie Zwaan 1:15
Oh my gosh, so good. More better just for having seen you.

Rob Stevenson 1:19
Oh, you’re too kind. No one can tell because it’s an audio based medium, but I am in fact blushing right now. I’m so glad to have you on for a multitude of reasons. You have such an interesting background in addition to having this career as a head of people VP of talent. You also since we spoke I believe finished your law degree. Is that right?

Jessie Zwaan 1:40
Yeah, I finished my law degree. Oh my gosh, I forgot about that. Yeah.

Rob Stevenson 1:44
Oh, yeah, that whole thing that’ll chestnut? I feel like an era ago was was that like, was that a nights and weekends like thing you did just for kicks? Why did you go get a law degree,

Jessie Zwaan 1:53
oh, my gosh, I can’t help myself. I feel like I’m constantly looking for just something else to pile on top of my ever increasing pile. So I originally when I first got into university way back when I was a baby, not a physical baby. But you know, when I was like 17, or how old you are, and you pick university degree, I got into law and actually pulled out because everyone kept telling me how like terrifying it was going to be you’d never stop studying and blah, blah. And I was like, Oh my God, this sounds too much. So I pulled out I did journalism communications. And I kind of always regretted not doing it, because I really, you know, was really interested in it. And I, I always felt frustrated that I had like pay for employment lawyers, like do all this stuff for me. And I felt like I could just have done this myself straight away. I was like, but I was gonna get a law degree. So then I was doing it full time while working full time, which is something I don’t encourage to anybody don’t do it. That’s my advice.

Rob Stevenson 2:47
Well, Jessica, we have that in common because I also give up on my dreams to pursue a communications degree which I successfully attain. Thank you very much. So speaking legalese. Understanding the law is like a superpower, I have a handful of friends who are lawyers and their advice in certain instances has been it’s just so so useful. So what use do you make of your law degree now, because I don’t know how much it intersects with your current role, whereby

Jessie Zwaan 3:12
it’s actually so useful. Like I genuinely feel like it’s more useful than an MBA at this point. I kind of specialized in employment law. And I did my dissertation in the legal implications of cross border working, particularly in the EU in the UK. So very niche, but also very useful. And I feel like, there’s been so many times where I’ve been able to like read a contract or draft something simply or understand a conversation so much more effectively, than if I didn’t have a law degree. And also, like, when you’re a smaller company, or scale up or whatever you might be, you don’t always have the cash to splash on a just in case, should we get someone to review this. And it’s way easier for me now to assess whether or not like, we should definitely get someone to review this or whether it’s like, actually, we’re going to be okay with using the thing with us in the past or, you know, advice we’ve been given. And that’s been really beneficial. Just being able to tell when we definitely need support. And when we’re like taking a risk.

Rob Stevenson 4:09
Yeah, especially when you get into hiring across borders and looking at visas, that sort of thing. There’s a lot of legal know how that is necessary for HR pros as you climb the HR ladder. Like there’s a lot at stake here. So I can I can tell why you’ve been able to make use of a law degree was that your experience was that you were sort of running into this need to understand law that like just in time law understanding as you tried to make hires. Yeah,

Jessie Zwaan 4:35
I think especially with visas, visas, immigration is a big a big one, and things like layoffs and restructures. And we’ve got two different companies that were merging together like whose terms and conditions prevail, like these kinds of things right? And be able to make a quick judgment call on this is what we need to do or this is what we don’t need to do and oh, actually we need to get someone to come in and drop something here for us is like, so valuable in terms of be able to move quickly and that It’s one of the reasons that I actually found it so valuable. And also like, I mean, I get a lot of people to be like, can you read this contract? And somebody says, Can you do it? I’m sure we’ll chat GPG we’ll take that power off me at some point. But for now, it’s still fun.

Rob Stevenson 5:12
Yeah, it’s like, I have friends who are doctors, and they’re like, Oh, the amount of time people send me photos that’s like, does this look infected? Should I go get stitches is a lot. It’s also like, if you own a pickup truck in the United States, you’re gonna get asked to move. If you if you are a lawyer, you’re gonna get asked for legal advice. You know, not so many people asking for podcast advice? No. I will. I would help you out. Jessica. I’d love to but people, I have like more of a template response because people think they want a podcast and then they don’t. But I always tell them. Yeah, you should have a podcast. I think everyone should have a podcast. It’s harder than you think. But like, let’s figure out a concept for you. Like I do try and help people. But I think I am. I am asked for help less than a friend with a pickup truck or a law degree. I’ll say that.

Jessie Zwaan 5:55
And probably the best, I’m sure if like now actually, by the way, everyone listen to this podcast, I’m gonna send you an email and be like, hey, free podcasts one to one, right?

Rob Stevenson 6:03
That’s right. Yeah, here’s, here’s my advice, pivot to video.

Jessie Zwaan 6:07
Really, like, the thing is like, this is so stressful to me. I don’t even have like, I don’t have tick tock. I’ve never had it. I don’t have Instagram. And all of these people have commented like, oh, you should do like short form video content. And I’m like, this is actually my worst nightmare. I don’t think I could ever even try.

Rob Stevenson 6:24
Now, I can’t clear my throat in under six minutes. So I’m definitely not going to be doing 45 second videos, that’s for sure.

Jessie Zwaan 6:30
You can say in 45 seconds, just be rambling about something meaningless. And they’d be like, Oh, no, I’m running out of time. That’s it?

Rob Stevenson 6:35
Yeah. panicking. Yeah, exactly that. So Jessica, the last time we spoke, you were I believe VP of talent, maybe group head of talent at whereby now you are Chief Operating Officer. Congratulations to you. I know. It’s not particularly recent that you’ve gotten this promotion, but three sent to me anyway, and then speaking to you. So I would love to know a little bit about that transition for you. At what point did it become clear in the organization that like this was a better fit for you.

Jessie Zwaan 7:05
So I was group head at McCann and then I moved to VP people telling it whereby I had been thinking for a long time that I wanted to be more involved in like the business. And the commercials that I was in some of the other people taught roles had been in the past. And I think part of that came from the fact that like, I never studied HR, like I never, I didn’t have preconceived ideas of what HR was, I was just kind of following the problems that I was interested in trying to solve and enjoying myself along the way. My position within the business took a big shift, when I started thinking about things more from like a commercial perspective, from a product perspective, using that kind of language, thinking about those kinds of metrics and outputs, much more than I, you know, was when we’re thinking about a cost center, for example.

Rob Stevenson 7:51
interesting, so do you think that HR is siloed? A little bit from the way or is thinking about problems differently than the rest of the business tends to?

Jessie Zwaan 7:59
Well, yeah, so my first job ever in HR was, literally every day I printed contracts, took them to my boss to sign she signed them, I put two sided copies in an envelope mailed to someone’s house, they mailed me a copy back, I took it out, I scanned it, I uploaded it to a system, I emailed it to myself, I put it into a system, right. And that was my job was just doing that on repeat, because we didn’t have Docusign. And PeopleSoft required you to scan and upload things or email things through, you couldn’t just drag and drop warehouse or integration work, right? Hey, HR has changed so much from that time, it’s like almost not recognizable anymore to like how people and talent worked back then. So the kind of whole way of thinking needs to change as well. And like, we’re still buying by using the old model, in most HR teams, like the shared services model, where talent is really siloed. And HR is really solid. And we have centers of excellence underneath our heads off to have like a learning and development team and blah, blah. But that whole model was set up in like 1994, or something like, and the world has changed so much since that whole model was set up. And it was still building our teams around the exact same job descriptions, the exact same structures, like the exact same philosophy. But everything else about work is different. So for me, I’m like, really what was questioning? Like, if this thing has changed so much the work then why are we still building our teams in this way? Why are we still focusing on the same inputs and focusing on same job descriptions focusing on the same skills? And when I really started asking these questions, I realized that like, we just really shouldn’t be, I don’t think and when I started kind of making that kind of conscious decision to say, Well, I’m not going to do an overt model, I’m not gonna have shared services. I’ve got to think about this more in the way that the other teams in the business seem to have, like we are building a product, these need to be iterative. All of a sudden, I started speaking the exact same language as the rest of the people in the C suite and was able to think about things that outputs and use the Same kind of methodology around the metrics, I was looking at the way that I analyzed the data that we had. And it’s just made. It made the people teams that I looked after more like crucial central business functions that were there to drive some kind of revenue outputs, rather than just a means to an end to look after a call center. Could you

Rob Stevenson 10:19
maybe give an example of how a metric or just approach to delivering a product was before and then after you implemented this kind of approach?

Jessie Zwaan 10:27
Good question. I mean, what I want to talk about a lot, which is kind of like my favorite one to think about at the moment, is now what I would think about is like employee lifetime value to CAC ratio. So how much value does an employee one single one win the aggregate of all your Team Drive? versus how much it costs to attract and retain them and keep them in your business, right? And LTV to CAC is a very common product metric, like how much does it cost to acquire a customer how much they spend over the course of their lifetime, it’s largely a predictive metric, you’re trying to work out how much they’re going to spend over the next, you know, two years, I have a lonely average tie with customers in your cohorts are subscribed for. And to the same degree, I think you can apply that methodology to think about the LTV CAC, like, if you know what your current IRR is, you know what your ARR is hoping to be in the average 10 year period. And then you can split that across your entire workforce and presume, of course, all things being equal, that all of your employees are as necessary to achieve that as the other, then you can kind of get a rough idea about how much value each employee is driving over the course of your entire business, how efficient you are. And then you know, your HR budgets, how much you’re spending, how does fit into require somebody in talent, how much it costs to retain them, all of these things over the course of their tenure. And then you can look at those three things together and say, Well, how profitable are we in terms of our HR, like, efforts, right, and you can either adjust that by improving your HR spends on like, outcome basis, so like, still reaching the same Arr, or still having the same tenure, but spending less money, or spending more money and getting better outcomes. So we actually got to increase our benefits offering hope that people stay for the next five years, rather than 20 months, etc, etc. Right? So that gives you kind of a more commercial way to to adapt and also allows you to really like use the same language, as I said, as your other teams. Now, the way that we would have looked at things before was these extremely operated operational metrics, things like what is our current retention? Right? What’s what’s even regrettable churn right, which even like maybe slightly more sophisticated, but regrettable, churn and retention are pretty lagging metrics, they don’t really tell you a lot about how you can change things. And they don’t really have a connection to your commercials because ostensibly, we don’t know how much those customers are worth. So if a customer churns and they’re not paying for anything, then product managers don’t care. You know, if a customer is on a freemium product, and they don’t want to pay, then product managers aren’t super offended if they turn off the for the freemium because they’re just kind of costing margin and they’re never going to convert, right. But in HR, we look at these metrics, which basically say, Well, everyone is performing, presumably, because otherwise they’re churning. And then regrettable attrition says, Okay, well, we’re looking at performance. Now, the whole question about how we measure performance, and whether that’s effective is another thing. But by that time, we’ve already left they’ve already gone, and how do we apply whatever we’ve learned from that one person leaving to the rest of the people that may leave in the next six months? Well, it’s very difficult to do.

Rob Stevenson 13:23
Yes. So the I’m glad you called out the performance measuring there because that is really squishy, and it’s different for various functions, or is it maybe is that just my outdated way? Like, how do you start thinking about measuring someone’s LTV, like their lifetime value as an employee?

Jessie Zwaan 13:41
So the way that I’ve kind of built my little model at the moment is, is very, very simplistic. It basically takes your current revenue, plus any growth you project for the average tenure of your employees, let’s say everyone lost in your company for 12 months, right? So it’s easy to model. And you’re predicting 135% to predicting, you know, 35% growth year on year by the end of that 12 month period, well, then your ARR now, plus that growth divided by 12 is the monthly value that all your employees bringing in, divided by the number of employees, then again, all the things being equal, each of those employees are ostensibly as important as another and driving that value. That’s one of the principles you have to believe. And I think you have to believe that because if you weren’t, then HR is inefficient, right? So then you have another lever you pull, which is do we really need all of these employees if they’re actually not all equally important? It’s an interesting discussion of how it’s done recently, who said, Well, you can’t say that the VP of sales is going to be driving as much value as a executive assistant, for example. Well, in that case, why don’t you just hire 500 VPs of sales? well, no,

Rob Stevenson 14:50
Right, is it like, Oh, they’re driving value commensurate with their compensation? Is that like a better way to look at it?

Jessie Zwaan 14:57
Yeah, I think it’s kind of that but it’s also like, you know, or your company has a system. It’s not just a group of individuals, it’s not just this purely individualistic way of working. And you, you know, this has been part of the marketing function to some degree, right? Like, if we cut, if higher cut this pod, there has to be some argument that there would be some kind of revenue or brand impact, although it’s just the point of having the pod, right. And the same is true for people operations. Like if we cut the executive assistant, if it doesn’t have any impact on our ability to live it, then why do we have the executive assistant? So I think we need to kind of use the same level of kind of rigor. But the problem is a lot of HR metrics, the way that we think about things for a very long time, haven’t had that kind of level of rigor applied to them in terms of outputs. So we hire somebody that we think we need, because somebody is struggling, we rarely do some kind of ROI assessment of whether or not this person is going to help us do anything. And maybe it’s impossible to do it, I’m not sure. But then when the person leaves, we only measure whether we regret that decision. And not actually like, is that person or that roll that headcount? Unnecessary to actually increase our arr. One interesting thing to think about here is like, a lot of these large tech companies made very dramatic headcount changes, and did not see changes in revenue. So then, okay, is it r&d spend? Is it future revenue, we’re hoping to drive? And that’s a much more difficult question. Because then you start getting into, like, attribution models. And if you work in marketing, you know, attribution models are kind of terrible, and they don’t really do anything valuable. So do we build an like an r&d attribution model? No. For the same reasons, marketing probably shouldn’t. But this kind of conversation is a way more intellectual conversation I think to be having with your C suite team, then. Oh, no, we’re seeing our regrettable churn increased by 10%. quarter on quarter, why who are those people? Are they driving value? Well, we don’t have all of that data for you,

Rob Stevenson 16:50
I think is useful to call out certain metrics that are like maybe somewhat trivial to pull and put in a report and build a keynote presentation around. Right. But like, are they actually helpful? And so I guess, what are the questions that like, you ask when revisiting performance metrics, for example? I’m just curious how you start to think deeper around this thing? How do you look at something like, for example, regrettable churn, or any other output any other reporting? And be like, Yeah, but this isn’t telling us the whole story?

Jessie Zwaan 17:18
You know, I think it’s actually kind of an interesting conversation, because you are almost on the analysis side, right? You are actually in the team right now that talks about these things as it applies to commercials. And I am in the team that talks about these things, as opposed to people. So maybe it’s an interesting kind of dichotomy that we’ll have here. But for me, the idea of analogizing your People Operations function to a product, just the basis of doing that and say, Okay, well, if we are a product, and we are a subscription, and we want to have the ideal customer profile, subscribe to us. Well, what is an ideal customer and a product land, right, ideal customer is going to be a customer that’s strategically aligned with you because they’re going to spend more money and be more efficient and require less hands on we have high and high margins, basically, right? Okay, well, what does that person look like for us, it’s in People Operations, somebody that’s like highly aligned with the mission and vision of the business that understands it that has a skill profile that fits now, but also grows with time because, of course, in product management world, it is a customer that likes the product we’re building today, but also will continue to get value out of this product as it evolves and changes over time becomes an advocate for that product. And I think the same is true in people operations. And ultimately, the underpinning of that is like, will they pay? Will they pay us money for this thing? And in people versus land that is like, will they drive us value? Will they help us get more revenue? And at the moment, we don’t have a very good way of assessing that in people ops, because all of our that’s basically performance, right? Like, is someone a good performer, and we can kind of assess if somebody is a good performer in terms of their cultural impact. But even then, I would say it’s kind of on shaky ground. It’s it’s pretty hard to assess whether people are driving value because the way that we’ve built all of our infrastructure is extremely based on like, paper forms with a nice UX. Now

Rob Stevenson 19:09
this is it comes down to like, I think on an individual level as an employee, justifying your existence in the company with a revenue amount, right, no matter what your function is. And like, it’s easier to do if you’re in sales, because there’s like a scoreboard. Like, I’m element marketing, I’ve worked on brand stuff, or I look in demand gen. It’s like you still have to connect it to that, or you’re an executive assistant. And it’s like, the executive whom I assist is this much more productive because of my work therefore, like, you get squishier, but it’s the same thing is you were saying earlier, these big tech firms over hired cut a ton of people and they didn’t see an effect revenue because in these times of economic boom, when everyone’s making money and everyone’s hiring, there wasn’t a need for people to justify their their existence with a revenue number. And so then you start trimming all this fat, so I heard you sigh when I said justify your existence with revenue, which is a very awful late stage, capitalistic way to view a human person with thoughts and feelings and dreams and goals and ambitions, etc. But yeah, kind of what we’re talking about, isn’t it kind of where you’re putting a value on someone and like analogizing? A department to a product?

Jessie Zwaan 20:16
Yeah. I mean, I think you’re right. I say because I’m kind of, I think there’s a couple of things. It’s like, first of all, I think that the experience is the product, right? And people are people subscribing to that experience. And it’s a mutually beneficial subscription. Just like you know, if you’re purchasing a product, you’re receiving something, it’s not because you love the team had HelloFresh. So much, we just want to make sure that they have jobs is because you want to be able to make a meal, right? Like it if they stopped providing a box, you’re not going to pay them anymore.

Rob Stevenson 21:01
we need Yeah, we use a different podcast for that, let’s say.

Jessie Zwaan 21:05
We’ve already mentioned late stage capitalism, once at this point, guys that I think we can get too deep. There is a mutually beneficial system there that we kind of, I think we shy away from a little bit. And people have spoiled because we’ve been taught to do it to some degree, which is the idea that, you know, work is not a contract at the center of it. But like really the core product of work is literally you get a paycheck, I you do work. That’s that is it right? There are all these other beautiful things that are rounded, they create this experiential product for you. And I think even to some, I could even argue it’s like always it’s it’s part of the transformation economy, like some jobs, you do them, because you genuinely believe you’ll be changed as a person and you’ll be better after you like finish that role. And that’s a that’s a beautiful product to be selling. But you’re still doing, you’re still doing job for money. Like that’s, that’s what it all boils down to. Right. So it is kind of it, I don’t want to be too reductive. And say like it’s a product that you exchange values, like so value for cash, I do want to acknowledge that there is another whole layer around that in order to get the highest quality customers get the best strategy to reach these outcomes. Like there’s this really interesting transformation economy element. And this kind of augmented product that exists that can stand you out in the marketplace, it’s more than just a job. And people really do need that constant sense of identity. But it’s not. We don’t want to be too reductive. And I think the one more thing is I am rambling slightly now sorry about this is the idea that the performance is just a revenue number for an individual. I, I’m a very strong believer and research actually does back this up right that one of the most important behaviors that matters to a company’s bottom line is your ability to collaborate with other people. Teams are more valuable together than they are as individuals. So I don’t want to turn this into some kind of a crazy libertarian intensity, which is everyone’s out for themselves where all VP sales like make it happen. Because ultimately, what research does show is actually when we work together as a team, we are more effective, and like Burson did a big analysis on this I posted about on LinkedIn the other day, where the findings was that for the industries that they looked at of the for all of them with companies with higher predicted 12 month growth rates had teamwork and collaboration has been one of their most important values to focus on for top line growth. And all of the companies over the sorry industries that did not have growth rates in the 12 months that were at the top of the game, they did not have teamwork and collaboration. They all had things like technical ability and individualistic traits. Right? So that’s my little soapbox about those two points.

Rob Stevenson 23:45
Yeah, that is helpful. And it is reductive to point someone to revenue. But it is useful. I think, as you said earlier, in response to like, oh, well, then if the VP of sales is more valuable, we should just only hire VPs of sales. We’re a company of VPs of sales, we have 200 of them, and highest revenue drivers in the company. Yeah, it’s, it sounds silly. But as you pointed out, you must view the organization as like an ecosystem, right? Where we people contribute in different unique ways. And they’re all valuable in their own sort of way. So pass through that lens, then what is performance analysis? And is it different for every person, every function? I

Jessie Zwaan 24:20
think there are standard behaviors, competencies, whatever you want to call them that are agnostic, they’re team agnostic, they’re individual agnostic. And I think to some degree, maybe even kind of level agnostic, I’ll talk about I mean that but there is a lot of research that says that those behaviors like I just mentioned before, like teamwork and collaboration is one of them. The ability to execute results and those results may be for an executive assistant, you know, efficiently booking in a company off site for VP of Sales might be closing a million dollar deal, right? But it’s importantly you’re able to execute whatever those results are that you’re accountable for. Motivating growing others is another one that’s really important your ability to have a positive Have halo effect on those people around you beyond just being a nice person to work with, but actually like kind of lifting the bar of others. And then customer focus and customer centricity is actually really important as well as the research, right. So the ability to think commercially, the ability to think about your your company, not just as a place you work, but actually like, you know, existing within this kind of ecosystem has marketplace itself. And then, you know, your company may have their own ones, they want to look at creativity, maybe one or innovation or grit, whatever they may be, I think that they should be things that kind of Pierce across all of your departments. It’s silly to me that we were, you know, assess finance on their ability to be strategic, for example, and then tech at the technical capacity. But we’re not looking at the same things across all of your team, because I think that incentivizes the same kinds of positive behaviors, and it helps people understand them. So, you know, I think that performance assessment, we should be looking at the same kinds of behaviors as one day, and that we should be building systems which are built for the way that human brains work, that’s probably the best way to describe it. Humans are really bad at synthesizing gigantic quantities of qualitative information, like performance rubrics, one of my least favorite things in the entire world that have ever existed been invented. They’re impossible to penetrate. Sometimes they’re 25 sheets or like tabs on a sheet. All of these cells describing all these competencies describing all the levels for all the functions that exist, people just we know that research says that people cannot synthesize that, let alone and then adding on top of that values and how you feel about a person and all of your biases you have and being remote or non remote. And then for the last, what, six to 12 months, like there’s just too many things for a human to take on board and and say, This is how this person in my team is performing against everybody else, it’s not possible, we should be focused on building things like organizational network analyses, and peer incentive grading and different ways to actually capture information in a way that humans are actually capable of synthesizing and delivering. And we’re just not doing a good job of that right now.

Rob Stevenson 27:08
Jessica, this is an interesting way to really view company culture, like the squishy thing that people need, at least in my space. So the HR tech content marketing space have been desperately trying to define for a long time. And maybe a good definition is what are the competencies that are true for an employee no matter what their job is at the company? Because then you’re starting to get values a little bit, right, you’re trying, you’re starting to get out what really makes someone a success here, and a valued member of the team, independent of how much they billable earnings,

Jessie Zwaan 27:38
there’s been quite a lot of discussions that, you know, I’ve been part over the last couple of years, we’re just like, what really our values is that the what you do is the how you do it is the thing you will share. And I kind of actually think that this change in how you think about performance kind of cracks that open a little and says, I think value should be how you do something. So like, do you do something with kindness? Are you ethical above all else? Are you considering diversity and inclusion? And the behaviors? are the competencies are kind of the what you do? Like? Are you a business that deeply values technical expertise? Because you are a company that is on the bleeding edge of creating proteins in a lab? Or do you focus on customer centricity because you are a company that ultimately works in the E commerce space? And you really need to understand the market you’re selling to? Like, I think the same thoughts into the competencies kind of come into like, what is our ideal customer profile? What does our ideal customer profile look like? Are they tech savvy people? Are they really care about the environment? Like what are the things that we really care about people that will sign up as customers for us, because if those customers sign up, then research has shown and our strategy tells us they are going to be more successful long term. That I think is the kind of thinking we should be adopting here and not just on the finance team do that strategic thinking at a level I see for whatever, you know, progression framework that we’ve set up, which just to me doesn’t motivate people actually work.

Rob Stevenson 28:58
Yeah, that’s helpful. I do want to spend a little bit more time just on your own career progression from VP of talent to coo as you explained earlier, I can see why your strategic approach made you a good fit for it. But I would just love to know a little bit more about the experience, like what was it like in the organization? Was this your goal explicitly were you sort of tapped on the shoulder and said, Hey, maybe this is a good fit for you. I would love to know how you got there.

Jessie Zwaan 29:24
I think it was a bit of a mix. I had I think my personal interests and I kind of my approaches that is described already led me to wanting to build out things that had like a deeper intersection to like the commercial of the business. So I was building out like quite complex workforce planning, for example, and in trying to integrate that with budgets and those kinds of things. So and I know a lot of people do that. So if anyone’s out there like I did that, and I’m here to tell him I’m not going to be CEO, of course, maybe that’s totally fine. But like I was very interested in these things. I really loved doing them. So I was kind of leading myself into those things anyway. And then our CFO at the time moved into I have a new role who was much more his strength and he had kind of come from revenue in the background anyway. And my CEO and board asked me, Would you be interested in taking over the CEO role, we think you kind of know what you need to do. And I think one of the things that helps people in people roles or talent roles do this, or at least advocate for themselves, if they would like to, and I was really excited about and I definitely wanted to be more operational, is the fact that I took a position in my HR role that I was deeply curious about every single team was doing and how to optimize and help those departments. So I really need my numbers in the different teams. I knew like what our EBIT, da was until our financial report, like I understood the health of the business. And I also understood how different teams were thinking about their responsibilities within that kind of structure, right? And you should kind of know that anyway, if you’re in HR and talent roles, you should deeply know what everyone’s working on. But sometimes I find like, we don’t really know what to do with that information. And I felt like that was actually very helpful for me that I was able to talk about this like system, rather than just the people ops function as it benefited people, if that makes sense.

Rob Stevenson 31:03
Yeah. So how much would you say, of your VP talent role has kind of carried over? Is it like a whole new slate of responsibilities? Or was it just this natural progression, some new things on the plate, but a lot of the pre existing responsibilities kind of bled over?

Jessie Zwaan 31:17
There was a lot of the same. And then actually, there was like, the first couple of months were kind of hell, but to be honest, like, first of all, I just, I was like, What am I got myself into this, all these new things like promotion should hurt, right? I really believe this. Like, there’s a reason companies don’t promote people, willy nilly all the time. And that’s because they’re painful. Like, if you get given a whole bunch of responsibilities, a whole bunch of view, autonomy and stuff to look after it, you should feel kind of stupid. And if you don’t, then something is either we’ve been promoted way too late, or you’re kidding yourself. And hopefully, it’s the first one and not the second one. But I kind of started this new responsibilities. And I was really particularly like, finance was a big area that I I knew how to run a budget, like that was easy. It was so much of a learning curve to understand how all of the financial aspects of the business worked together and things like management, accounting, statutory accounting, GAAP reporting, like so many new things I hadn’t, I’m not an accountant, right. So that was really painful. But ultimately, like, now, I’m in a much better position. And I understand that my job is not actually being an accountant. And just like, what my job was, when I was a recruiter was somebody it wasn’t being an engineer and understanding what engineers are doing. It’s understanding how to, you know, identify problems and solve them and put the right people on things and kind of cold bullshit where bullshit needs to be called whatever it may be. And my value is getting teams to work together really effectively on things that we’re good at, and solving problems effectively, much more than it is being an accountant.

Rob Stevenson 32:48
I love that you said that it should hurt, right. That’s what means getting outside of your comfort zone. And like it should be uncomfortable. It should be a challenge. But that’s that’s how you I think prove yourself worthy of those promotions. If you’re up for that challenge, right? You have to be ready for that kind of, it’d be about that action

Jessie Zwaan 33:02
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I think you know, people expect sometimes that these things will be a walk in the park because they’ve, you know, read a medium article or something. But ultimately, like, learning something new is really, really hard. And it’s super rewarding. And I love the work. But there was multiple times in the first couple of months where I genuinely was like, this is way more difficult than I could have imagined.

Rob Stevenson 33:24
Jessica, before I let you go, I just want to remark on something and ask you a question here maybe not ready for you comes degree law degree. Recruiter VP of talent group head of talent. Chief Operating Officer, author, what is next for you?

Jessie Zwaan 33:46
Man, I don’t know I like feel like every time we my husband got from loss of wine, we spent the whole time being like, what are we doing with our lives? What are we going to do? I am working on something in the performance space at the moment, which is why I’m so embroiled and passionate about talking about it. But I think for me, I would I think I really are just enjoying getting deeper into like analytics and kind of the business intelligence side of stuff right now I’m finding that really valuable. So we’ll see. But yeah, maybe building a new company, maybe. I don’t know going back and doing my PhD. We’ll see.

Rob Stevenson 34:25
Whatever it is Jessica I can’t wait to see it because I’m sure it’s going to be fascinating and intellectual like everything else you’ve done so I will be rooting for you no matter what. And for the folks out there in podcast land. I want to quickly plug Jessica’s book it’s called built for people get on that, that that that employee development stipend that your company gives you and if you like, if you like what she had to say here, there’s plenty more where that came from. Just wanted to make sure to check out that I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. And Jessica this has been an absolute blast. We need to not let it be three years before you come back on the show again because you know each time I’ve spoken to you you have just slipped blowing my mind in a few different ways so thank you again for being here and being yourself today. It’s it’s been great.

Jessie Zwaan 35:03
Thank you so much. I’m pretty sure you promised the lady here in New York next millennial a glass of wine so it should not be three years.

Rob Stevenson 35:08
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