Key learnings from the Greenhouse podcast: People-first

Portrait of donald knight with people first podcast cover art

8 mins, 26 secs read time

People-first companies prioritize their people and foster a culture of hiring. They understand that people are their most valuable asset, so they treat all their people practices – especially hiring – as strategic, rather than administrative, functions.

In the most recent season of the Greenhouse podcast, People-first, I had the privilege to sit down with individuals at innovative organizations to discover how these companies prioritize their people. Every conversation sparked so many insights and takeaways that it’s hard to fit them into a single blog post, but I’ve tried to do exactly that. Here are the highlights I want to share with you.

Episode 1 with Foram Sheth, Paul Saiedi and Will Leahy

To kick off the season, in Episode 1 I spoke with Foram Sheth, Chief Coaching Officer at Ama La Vida, Paul Saiedi, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Uber and Will Leahy, VP, People Development & Business Partners at Greenhouse to discuss how to prioritize inclusion in the face of different hiring challenges.

We covered how conflict can actually be healthy – especially when you create an environment where people feel comfortable speaking out against something that doesn’t feel right. You build inclusion by being there for your people in those quiet everyday moments and not just in response to a current event. And simply by stating your intentions and being transparent about what you’re hoping to achieve, you can build a lot of trust among your people.

Companies need to get intentional about which people we’re putting first, when – and then articulate the why.
–Paul Saiedi, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Uber

Episode 2 with Chris Rainey and Natasha Rainey

For episode 2, I was joined by my favorite British power couple: Chris Rainey, Founder & CEO of HR Leaders and host of the HR Leaders podcast and Natasha Rainey, Founder of All Inclusive Media and host of the All Inclusive Podcast.

Chris described what it means to lead with empathy, sharing how he learns about his team members’ personal goals and backgrounds in order to better support them and welcomes input from his team – even if that means they’re contradicting him or telling him what he’s getting wrong. As a married couple, Chris and Natasha spoke about how they’ve supported each other with their professional aspirations and remain open to feedback, even when it’s tough to hear. Natasha has encouraged Chris to prioritize DE&I at HR Leaders and to speak out about high-profile public events like George Floyd’s murder, because “saying something means everything.”

Great leaders genuinely care. Be curious and ask questions, but also be vulnerable yourself.

–Chris Rainey, Founder and CEO of HR Leaders

Episode 3 with Everette Taylor and Elisa Colombani

In episode 3, I sat down with Everette Taylor, Chief Executive Officer at Kickstarter and Elisa Colombani, Chief People Officer at Artsy to discuss how employers should understand the alignment between a business strategy and its people.

Elisa described her people-first philosophy, which involves moving away from an adversarial employer/employee relationship. It’s much better to think of managing a company like managing a team. Elisa said: “On a team, you get pushed, you get challenged. You do what’s good for the greater team and the win. You have a common goal.” Everette shared some of the qualities he prioritizes as a leader, including authenticity, transparency and humility. He believes great leadership involves being receptive to feedback, even when it means revising one of your previously held beliefs.

We try to be as honest with people as possible about what to expect and what success looks like.

–Elisa Colombani, Chief People Officer, Artsy

Episode 4 with Jennifer Remling and Robyn Tombacher

For episode 4, I was joined by WPP's Jennifer Remling, Global Chief People Officer and Robyn Tombacher, Global Chief People Operations Officer, to discuss moving away from a leadership model of "command and control" toward "support and empower."

Jennifer spoke about the importance of giving people a platform and opening doors so they have the opportunity to present their own work and gain visibility. “If you feel like you’re supported and empowered, you can come up with breakthrough ideas,” said Jennifer. Robyn shared a similar perspective, describing the importance of learning people’s strengths and motivations. “The leaders that stand out are the ones that think about how to empower and excite the people that work around them,” said Robyn.

I learned leadership skills from watching others and being in the room. Don't be afraid to ask for help getting in the door.
–Jennifer Remling, Global Chief People Officer, WPP

Episode 5 with Kenysha Bartee and Jamie Adasi

I was thrilled to host episode 5 with Kenysha Bartee, SVP, People & Culture at SoundExchange and Jamie Adasi, Head of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Allyship (IDEA) at Greenhouse to unpack the leading characteristics of people-first companies. This was the first time 100% of the podcast guests were people of color. I think it’s worth mentioning because we believe inclusion happens when diversity, equity and inclusion are present and it was a rare opportunity to sit down with two phenomenal women leaders.

Kenysha shared a powerful perspective that being people-first means your internal values match your external values. This is a principle she uses to determine whether a company is worthy of her employment – and she knows many employees today share that approach. Jamie described how today’s workers are looking for psychological safety, approachability of leadership and genuine investment in diversity. “People will exit – or if they’re looking at a job offer, they’ll consider if a company is really serious about this,” said Jamie, citing research from Glassdoor.

Leaders should recognize that DEI is not a separate initiative. It's the thread that runs through everything.
– Kenysha Bartee, SVP, People & Culture at SoundExchang

Episode 6 with Edith Cooper, Jordan Taylor and Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri

Being people-first isn’t just about your approach to hiring, but also how you continue to grow and develop the talent you have, so for episode 6, I invited Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri, Partner and Chief Human Resources Officer at TPG Global, and the Co-Founders of Medley, Edith Cooper and Jordan Taylor, CEO, to discuss the importance of feedback loops and how to manage with intentional focus.

Anilu described the role of managers in people-first companies and how training your managers to develop their skills can have a multiplier effect throughout your organization. It’s ideal when companies provide structure for development, said Jordan, but individual contributors and managers should also feel empowered to take charge of their own growth. And as former coworkers, Anilu and Edith also shared how feedback has been critical to their own growth. Edith was grateful that Anilu took the time to share feedback about her communication style that was unintentionally preventing her team members from feeling confident and effective.

People-first is being human and really doing the work to create an environment where everyone can flourish.
–Edith Cooper, Co-Founder, Medley

Episode 7 with Lars Minns and Steve Ehretsman

We often talk about “bringing your whole self to work” and the guests from episode 7, Lars Minns, Chief HR Officer at Mercedes-Benz, North America and Steve Ehretsman, Founder & CEO at Shamrock Prosthetics, Inc. did just that for this episode.

Lars shared how his upbringing in the Bahamas and his small business owner grandfather instilled in him his work ethic and business acumen. Steve described how his personal experience with injury and amputation led him to start his company, Shamrock Prosthetics, to ensure that other amputees feel just as cared for mentally and emotionally as they do physically. Both Lars and Steve also described how they take inspiration from sports teams in their approach to being people-first. Focusing on others allows them to be better teammates.

On a team, everyone brings their own unique talent to the table. They may all come from a different walk of life, but they're all there for one objective.
– Lars Minns, Chief HR Officer, Mercedes-Benz, North America

Episode 8 with Brian Baker and Stephanie Kramer

To close out the season, for episode 8, I sat down with Brian Baker, Chief People Officer at Teneo, and Stephanie Kramer, Chief Human Resources Officer at L’Oréal USA. All three of us have had long stints outside of people teams and within other areas of a business, which gives us both a commercially focused perspective, but also the desire to be relational and impact-driven as people leaders.

Brian said one of his biggest learnings was to focus on outcomes rather than activities. It’s not just about the work you do on a people team, but the impact you have. Stephanie said she’s also aware of “the role of HR to be an engine that’s powering the rest of the organization to make real, impactful, people-first change.” This involves starting with the outcome you want and then planning the initiatives or programs that will help you get there.

The leading generation of People and HR leaders with P&L and business anchored experiences brings a radically different set of skills to the table.
–Brian Baker, Chief People Officer at Teneo

To hear more from all these incredible guests – from their favorite ice cream flavors and formative career moments to their most actionable tips for aspiring people-first leaders – check out the People-first podcast. Tune in here.

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Donald Knight

Donald Knight

is Chief People Officer at Greenhouse Software. He leads with a people-first mentality hoping to unlock the potential of Greenhouse talent globally. With a laser focus on the connection between people and the processes that serve them, Donald and his team create proximity by building bridges focusing on enhanced experiences that nurture culture and develop people.

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