Is HR an extreme sport? You might think so when you’ve finished talking with Megan Masoner Detz, Chief People Officer at VARIDESK. She finds helping companies undergo rapid growth to be particularly exhilarating.
What do you love most about your career in HR?
“What I love most about my 20-year career in HR is having the opportunity to work with really high growth companies.”
What drew you to VARIDESK?
“VARIDESK is a great place to work. As an HR professional and a people professional, my job is to enable the business to create value and to grow and scale and certainly to be profitable companies. I then had the opportunity to work at a place that cares equal parts about people and culture and driving profitability and just elevating people. Our tagline is simply elevating people; we say that around here a lot. So, what prompted me to start working here was just the vision of what was being built and helping to leverage my larger scale background and expertise to help scale the company here for growth.”
What is it that you enjoy so much about scaling companies?
“I just think it’s an exciting opportunity. As an HR professional, you can certainly find great value in helping make people’s lives better anywhere, right? HR teams are out there to really help elevate people. I think the difference with scale is just the excitement of the build. This year alone we’ve promoted a significant population of our workforce. Being able to be a part of a scaling company as a people-care leader really helps to think a little bit differently about how are we going to grow and develop and train; how are we going to promote from within; and how do we get a lot of things done with a new workforce. And that’s with recruiting, attraction, and selection.
“I think what’s exciting about the build is that in any HR role, you get to help make work lives better. But in a rapidly scaling company, every week or 2 weeks, you’re bringing in new talent. And, you’re figuring out a way to bring in talent that’s aligned to your core values and helping the business excel. So, the pace and the challenge are just a little bit faster. And I like the idea of the capacity for the build piece of it. In a preexisting billion-dollar entity, you have pretty established HR processes, but here we get to create in addition to implement.”
Since you are growing without relying on acquisitions, does that mean you’re afforded some unique culture-building opportunities?
“Yeah, absolutely. I think I’m probably a very rare HR executive in the sense that I have an entire culture and community team. I have a leader who leads our culture team, and that team is fairly significant in size. We have five people in our corporate headquarters who are a part of the cultural team, and then we have two additional staff members there at one of our ad hoc buildings. But our culture and community team at VARIDESK is unlike any company I’ve ever worked at before. These are dedicated resources that literally are focused on the employee experience. Our culture and community team oversees our Varifun committee, and that is a committee that is employee-driven.”
How about you individually? Is there perhaps something less analytical that you look for or you identify in your potential hires that says, “Aha, this is the one”? What’s your individual approach?
“Yeah. I would probably say VARIDESK is not any different from any other company. When I first got here, I couldn’t quite figure out why, but the attrition was higher than I would have expected. You have this amazing culture, and literally, people loved working here. The number one most described phrase about the company was actually, “I love working here.”
“The executive leadership team and I probed into the issue a little bit more, and we found that we had hired people who wanted to work at VARIDESK because they thought the office was awesome, and the open floor plan was awesome, and the coffee bar was awesome. But, they lacked motivation for the job.
“I would ask, for example, “Sally, do you love your role in sales?” And Sally would say, “Well, I don’t really want to be a salesperson.” What we had done is hire for availability of the job that we had open but not necessarily direct motivation for the job. I would say when I interview talent, I’m absolutely looking for the skills and competencies to do the work, and I’m looking for that value fit.
“But, I’m also looking for someone who’s really motivated to do the specific job we’re hiring for. That means asking behavioral interviewing questions that are probing like, “How are you going to find a better way to do this job? How are you going to raise the bar? How are you going to add value?” And I think that helps us to get talent that is more engaged because they’re passionate about what they want to do, but we also know they’re going to be a right fit from a value set perspective of really challenging how we deliver work.”
In what way have your experiences as an HR individual shaped your personal life?
“I think that’s a great question. I went to college here at Texas Christian University, and I started in sales and business development. And I think one of the primary factors for success in my career has been that my very first job in the workforce was a customer service-oriented job. When you’re in sales and business development, you’re really servicing a customer, and I think that’s been a pretty solid foundation of my career. I ended up going back and getting an MBA in business and obviously gravitating toward some entry-level HR roles. I was able to rotate and do almost all facets of HR before coming into my role as chief people officer. But I would say that what’s shaped me is certainly a customer service orientation and really understanding that we are here to serve people.
“I think the other thing that’s shaped me is I’ve always been a pretty inquisitive person, and HR is an amazing job in the sense that the job changes every single day. We have to solve problems, and sometimes those problems are really old problems, like recruiting talent. That’s not a new problem. Or getting employees engaged. That’s not a new problem. But you have to really think, How do you create value and HR programs that are going to drive based on the business conditions and climate of the moment? So, what shaped me is probably that customer service orientation but probably also the problem-solving element of always wanting to find a better way and to introduce new programs that are going to drive the company to be more successful.”
I don’t think employees understand how many risks an HR individual has to take. HR is on the hook for things like poor engagement scores or high turnover. Maybe it’s not HR departments’ fault, but they are the ones who have to fix it. They are the ones who have to bring new problems to the leaders. And, they are the ones who have to bring the leaders’ problems to the employees. What advice would you have for an HR person who’s not sure how to handle that kind of risk and stress?
“As a true HR professional who is going to excel, I think the best guidance that you can have is to maintain consistency. You can’t hyperreact to the negative and really overcompensate. You have to apply consistent discipline in the process. And I think that steadiness helps handle a situation, for example, where an employee maybe doesn’t love a benefit or doesn’t really like the attendance policy. If you can meet the problem with consistency and a calm nature, explain the facts of why things have to be that way, and listen with an active listening ear, I think employees really feel and can understand sometimes harder news. I think true HR professionals are pretty solid ships, and they kind of sail pretty steady in good times and bad.”
You know that you can react kind of pretty judiciously to employee concerns. We’re in the process of doing benefits enrollment, and one of our employees came to see me probably my first 2 weeks on the job. He said, “My wife and I want to adopt a baby. Do we have adoption assistance?” And I said, “No, we don’t have adoption assistance at this time, but thank you so much for sharing it with us. And we are constantly listening, and I’ll cycle back to you if that becomes a reality.” Anyway, we modified our program this year for paternity, adoption, and maternity; and he came back to see me a year later and said, “You listened.”