Building happy, productive teams is hard to do. Learn how to approach Organizational Health from both a quantitative and qualitative way to implement effective strategies to meet company goals.
Pendo.io is a platform that utilizes analytics and user feedback capabilities to help companies create the best product experience without all of the guesswork.
Bryan Smith, founder at LEON and the host of the Organizational Health Podcast, talks with Kelli Dragovich, the Chief People Officer at Pendo about how she strives to strike a balance between data and experience to achieve optimal Organizational Health.
Key insights include: NEED TO UPDATE
Bryan: Hey, what's going on everybody? For LEON, I’m Bryan Smith and you're listening to The Organizational Health Podcast. It's a show where we get down and dirty for 15 minutes with people leaders, executives and founders on the Playbooks they use to improve organizational health. In today's podcast, we have Kelli Dragovich, Chief People Officer at Pendo. Along with Pendo, she's held similar roles in companies such as Google, Looker, Hired, GitHub and Yahoo and is currently an adviser/investor at companies such as Knoetic, Trusted Health and QuotaPath. Kelli, you are the stud of the HR world. So congratulations and are you ready to kick this off?
Kelli: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Bryan: Yeah, no worries. So listen, tell us about your background and why HR and People Operations.
Kelli: Yeah, really quick. I was born and raised in the Bay area. I was in college at Santa Clara University. I was actually pre-med for two years so I was going to be a doctor. I think I took some psychology classes along the way, dropped out of pre-med after organic chemistry, which almost killed me, and really enjoyed the business courses I was taking and then the psychology courses. But I didn't enjoy one or the other so much as to just do business or just go into clinical psychology. And I remember one of my professors said, hey, have you ever heard of industrial organizational psychology and I said, no, what is that? And basically knew that was me off the bat. So it's this perfect blend of people in business together in that environment and went after it. So I went to grad school for that right after college. You know, I think everything is kind of luck and work at the same time. I was lucky to land into it back in 2000, almost 23 years ago. And ever since then just fell in love with tech, fell in love with this work within tech companies and has spent the last 23 years doing that. So those 23 years were basically built up between half of that was in larger companies like Intuit and Yahoo and in the back half of that - the last 12 years or so have been leading people teams in venture backed, high growth tech companies, usually in the enterprise SAAS space. So it's great. I think it's the best job. I think that the tech environment you know provides the ability to be innovative, strategic, kind of all those things and that demand for that type of talent in this role has grown significantly over the last even like two years.
Bryan: Okay, cool. So give us some insight about Pendo currently. So size of company, head count and size of your people team.
Kelli: Yelp, so Pendo’s about 1000 people plus or minus employees. Our people team’s about 55 at the moment plus or minus. Distributed company, right? Kind of hybrid, distributed all over the world and the US. So that's the environment. That's the ratio.
Bryan: Okay so you know over the past 23 years the term organizational health has probably been thrown around and butchered a million different times. Right? Regardless of if it was McKinsey driving that conversation or was the company like Headspace driving that conversation right? So in your own words how do you define organizational health? And what is the organizational health strategy at Pendo currently?
Kelli: Yeah I mean organizational health I think the crux of it - it's really building happy, productive teams and that's hard to do. I think for me, we think about organizational health in a qualitative way and a quantitative way. You see a lot of people they accent towards one or the other. We blend those things together. So we look at metrics, we look at feelings, we look at all those things and have a blend of 10 to 12 different metrics to do. So a lot of companies use those metrics and report out. I think for us it's the authenticity and the story behind that. So I think you know for us - how do we interpret that, build relationships with the employees across the company, even the most vocal or disheartened folks, and use that to actually put together that story from a quantitative perspective. So, we do use metrics. They're necessary, not sufficient but organizational health overall is how do all these things blend together ultimately, to meet our goals, right? Our revenue goals or product goals, all those types of things.
Bryan: So why is that? I want to get back to the metrics in a second. Why is organizational health so tribal in nature? And why do you feel that specifically in HR we tend to bucket ourselves into camps of like the yoga camp or the engagement camp or whatever it is. And why are we missing the mark when it comes down to holistically looking at organizational health? And when I say that, I mean that from an organizational resilience standpoint, that should be anywhere to finances, to funding and whatnot, but all the way down to the mental health and well being aspects. Where are we missing that picture?
Kelli: Yeah, it's a good question. I mean, I'm definitely not an expert in knowing that exact reason, but I'll give you my personal point of view which is - I just feel like the HR function in general, Bryan, has just been kind of slow. It's very like traditional, it's very, hey, we've always done this, we're going to keep doing it and the HR teams that I've seen earlier on, they're kind of on the periphery, so they're kind of doing their own thing over here and they’re doing great work, right? Like to get into it, we did this engagement survey, it was once a year and you think, you know, the world had stopped and it was cutting data and it was this and at the end of the day it really didn't get to the crux of what matters. And I do think that we've been a little slow on the draw to put together kind of - so what does all this mean? And I think it's been largely very academic exercise where even if you just have metrics, that was considered a win. We can measure it. We have metrics. We report on it. But the reality is these leadership teams, the CEOs - they never really listen to it as much as I think they needed to. And I think the HR leaders at the helm weren't - I think we've failed to talk about it in a way that's brass tacks, that's tied to what's going on in the business, that is just kind of layman's term stuff. I think we've really made this thing as too much of a science where no one kind of understands. So it's nice to talk about it within revenue attainment, within shipping product, within how we're doing. And if you can understand the science behind it, then connect it into that story and your priorities and what you're doing and talk to the company about it - that's when people start paying attention because it is important. It's very very very important.
Bryan: Yeah. You know it's funny and I've seen the same thing in work with my time in professional sports - where you know - 20 years ago and professional sports started using data science to sort of, you know, “moneyball” type stuff. It was the same exact thing. It's just like how do we make this data actionable and diagnostic enough because at that point all they were doing is much like we're doing now with founders where they get an engagement metric, understand is that within the benchmarks, within the norms that we're trying to hit and that's it. They don't actually action off that data or dive deep enough to diagnose what the actual problems are. They only look at data from a signal standpoint, but that's it. It's just a signal. It tells you nothing right?
Kelli: And the survey is one point in time. I mean, if someone has a bad day, it's so lagging like we, you got to get in there and kind of live in the bowels of the organization and stay in front of that eight ball. It's just not about the metrics.
Bryan: Well what’s great about that and you understand this, what with your background. I love the question - on a scale of 1 to 5, how are you feeling today? Okay. One or five, it doesn't freaking matter but the thing is that is a snapshot in time of how you feel today, right? And from a psychology perspective, everything is fleeting. We always have these windows right and you have your window of opportunity - is open or closed on any daily basis. Right? So to your point - data needs to be real time actionable and deep enough to really understand what the hell is going on vs just saying, hey 1 to 5, everybody is a 4 - good. Let's push harder.
Kelli: Yeah, it could have nothing to do with work. It could be like I had a great day at home or you know, and I will say the last thing that - and I grew up as an HR business partner, right - a people business partner of those folks in the organization that sit with each business leader and that group is so instrumental to kind of to your point really understand what the hell is going on. It is the COO of any people team and if you have a strong HR business partner team, you can really get in front of anything. You can influence things, You can shift things. A lot of times, people teams don't have that and it's just a disconnect from the business. So you got all these centers of excellence, right or design experts, survey experts, benefits experts and they're sending surveys out and no - they don't know what's going on because it's a number. They don't live with these people and have their trust.
Bryan: So to that point, you mentioned metrics before. What metrics are you guys tracking and what is your north star metric if you have one? And then what does your HR tech stack look like currently?
Kelli: Yeah, I like, I like the NPS score, you know, I think it's a very brutal unforgiving formula as we all know but it's a good one. I mean like I had a company, the NPS score was 3. At Pendo, it’s 65. I mean, I think that's nice. It's a very telling thing because you can't unless you're a 9 or a 10, it kind of doesn't count. So I think it's a good way to set a high bar and get that barometer. So I do like that. We do look at kind of all of the usual pieces right? Attrition, hiring. We look at headcount. We look at those things together, right? So every quarter we have about 10 bar charts of our headcount. Who we’re hiring. Who's leaving the organization? Get a sense of that Churn. It's not just about attrition or not just about hiring, but you blend all that stuff together. You could have like a 600 person blood transfusion in one year and that changes a lot of stuff with health, with culture etc. We look at org design a lot, right? A healthy span of control. I think a lot of these companies, they grow so fast and when the money was freer a few years ago, it was like hire, hire, hire! And you kind of look at the distribution across the organization of like levels and layers and spans of control and it can be a real mess. And if you have kind of a screwed up org design that has impact on org health because it changes the way people can get stuff done, make decisions, right? How do those things happen? That's a key factor on org health.
Bryan: It’s built in redundancies and it also creates organizational resilience, right? And you know, it's funny right now and then I'll ask you one more question before you gotta jump. You know, during Covid we had a lot of conversations around companies putting out content related to increasing resilience within your people right? But it's interesting where the place where right now where it's now companies need to start understanding how resilient they really are and I mean that from a structural perspective, right? So I love your point on organizational design. So this is our last part, so top three at three. What are you reading right now, what book would you recommend?
Kelli: Yeah, I'll be really honest, I live and breathe my job and data and reports and articles all day long, every day. I don't really read a lot of books Bryan, business books. I will, I mean - right now I'm reading Molly Shannon's memoir, it's great. So I'm a big fan of balance. I've also been kind of a learn by doing person you know, you read the book good to great. You have all of them. I just feel like the experience and talking to people, I'll talk to 20 people in a day. It's better for me than a book. So if I read, it's for fun.
Bryan: OK, who do you look up to? CEO’s, founders, people leaders, George Washington. Who do you look up to?
Kelli: Yeah, I look up to people who initiate change. I look up to people who speak truth. There's been a handful of people leaders, a handful of CEO’s. I look up to people who no matter who they're talking to or when or where, it's consistent. They’re forces for good. They are authentic. They're genuine. I'll be honest where the tech industry is a tough business, there's a lot of competition. There's a lot of, you know, competitive people out there and I look up to those that are consistent throughout their time and that's the kind of team that we have and the leaders I hire and the leaders I develop.
Bryan: Awesome. Well Kelli, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it and we’ll talk again. All right. Cheers, byebye.
Kelli: All right. Cheers.