Many organizations hesitate to move their employees either vertically or horizontally. After all, if you have a good performer, part of you wants them performing. And no one likes interruptions to work flows. Alyssa Lahar, CHRO at ZoomInfo, however, believes in the utmost importance of ignoring those barriers and giving every employee from top to bottom a chance to move and develop.
How did you find yourself in the world of HR?
I took the pretty traditional route. I started my HR career working for a recruiting agency, from there went into compensation and equity, and then ultimately HR business partner. I think I was fulfilled by that human connection, so I realized that some facet of human resources is ultimately what made more sense for me.
Thankfully, in this world I get to do a little bit of everything, which is ultimately, for me, the ideal HR situation.
I think that there’s a certain quality that is shared across most HR people where they really need that constant challenge, and the role is perfect for that. You never really know how your day is going to go, right?
No. Not at all. Really, it’s about solving problems and helping, whether it’s employees or managers, leaders, what have you, really helping them solve business problems through people.
It must be very satisfying.
How do you guys develop your employees?
We prioritize development within the organization for employees, leaders, and all levels of the organization, really. We start off by doing a gap analysis, which sounds more complex than it is. It can be a simple conversation with an employee to just understand where they want to get to, what skills they have today, what’s lacking, or what could be developed.
Then we have all sorts of different training. We have live training, which is done virtually, but soon will be back in person. We also have self-paced training around all sorts of different topics, whether it’s technical skills, soft skills, or product knowledge. There’s a lot.
In addition, we also have partnered with an external vendor for coaching. Whether it’s for our employees that have an interest in becoming leaders, or, for our leaders that want to develop their leadership capabilities, there’s opportunities to partner with an executive coach. They can meet as frequently as they like—most do it weekly—and just kind of talk through some of the issues and third party’s perspective on it. With that comes different micro-learnings as well. So development of our employees is really important.
We also give them opportunities to move within the organization. We have almost three times higher the internal mobility rate than our industry benchmarks would suggest, so it’s really important for us to grow our employees both up and also horizontally, giving them opportunities to learn new skill sets, be part of new organizations, visibility, and so forth.
Employees want to know where they can go. They want to know from day one, “Do I have a future here? Am I just doing this role or am I going to be developed? Are my skills going to stay relevant?”
It sounds like your approach to your program is spot on, but it has to overcome a lot of natural barriers. Because if you get someone that’s good in the role, the instinct is to say, “Let’s just keep him there. They’re doing great. Why would we change that?”
Or you might get concerned that there’s going to be a holdup in the workflow if you move someone. Was that always the case at your organization—this is just an approach that we do—or were there ways you just consciously overcome some of those natural barriers?
Succession planning is really top of mind for us. I think what that does, aside from being able to have a perspective on our top talent, is help allow employees to move freely within the organization, because we’re constantly looking at, if this person moves into this role, what would their successor look like?
Proactively doing that puts us in a position where we don’t get nervous when someone says they want to explore another opportunity. We’re just thrilled that they want to stay within the company. For an example, I’ll use sales. Our average internal Sales Development Representative (SDR) is promoted out of that job into either an AE or an SDR manager or whatnot, almost everybody, within 11 months, so they have the opportunity to really move quickly throughout the organization, and we’re just constantly developing a pipeline of SDRs so that people have that opportunity.
It’s no different in any other part of the organization, from researchers to HR professionals to the vice president of customer support. It doesn’t matter. We’re just always thinking about if this person were to go—because we want to give new opportunities to our top talent—so if this person were to go into another role, what would that look like? We find ourselves in a really good position to promote that.
I imagine that once you get going with something like that, there’s a lot of momentum to it.
Automatically, the new people that come in are going to see the situation, they’re going to see it happening, and then they’re going to support it as they move through the company.
They do. We had an SDR recently who had expressed some interest on the recruiting side, and when we reached out to the manager to see, hey, would you support a top SDR moving into recruiting, not only did he say, “Absolutely,” he said, “We’re coming to the end of the month. Let’s make it first of the month.”
They were a very strong performer, but yet he knew that she wanted to try something new, so he was very supportive, and I think that’s unique to this company, that people are so happy to allow people to explore new roles.
You mentioned that you guys are going back to the office soon. How did you navigate company culture issues during the pandemic?
We had a lot of opportunities for employees to network virtually. We held open-mic nights, which was a lot of fun. We had members of our organization sing and play instruments and people would join. We had a drag show event where people could come, and it sort of served multiple purposes. One, it was an educational event held by our Pride ERG. Also, if you were interested in donating, it also raised money for charity. And third, again, it brought people together as an opportunity to network and meet people, and so forth.
Our onboarding is very comprehensive and is very specific to each individual, so we make sure that each schedule for each employee is tailored to them, so it’s giving them the opportunity to meet certain people. They spend a lot of time understanding our values, and helping them to resonate with them.
We also offer things like yoga during lunchtime, and again, an opportunity for some movement and some exercise, but also an opportunity to spend time with their colleagues. We have lots of fun. We have a Slack channel that is my favorite, where people can post pictures and kind of come together over a shared interest.
We are planning to come back on a hybrid basis. We were very much an in-the-office culture prior to COVID, and so, for us, there’s a lot that went into determining kind of what was the best way to return. We talk to employees a lot. We do a lot of feedback sessions, and thankfully, our employees are very forthcoming with opinions and feedback, so that just helps us get better.
What we heard from our employees is that they do miss their colleagues, they do miss the collaboration and the brainstorming, but they also miss some flexibility in their schedules, and so forth. We collectively decided that we would come back in the hybrid schedule, so they’ll come back three days a week and they’ll be remote two days a week.
What’s something over the next 6 to 8 months that you’re really excited about?
I am excited that we’ve recently hired a number of new, really strong leaders. We hired a new CMO. We’ve hired a new CIO. We just went through an acquisition last month, so we’ll be building out a larger organization in India now. We’re expanding in Israel. There’s just so much international growth and opportunity there, so I’m really excited about that.
There’s a lot to be excited about, I think. My CEO talks a lot about how people always reference the IPO, which was amazing to be a part of. But what he always says, which I think is important, is the IPO is just one milestone on a really long journey. There’s so much outside opportunity ahead of us that we feel like we’re at the beginning.
Do you have any advice for anybody that’s just entering the HR field?
My advice for anyone entering the HR field would be to try to do a stint in recruiting. I’ve always felt like that is so critical to being successful in HR. It forces you to be able to speak about the company, the competitive landscape, the market, develop great customer service skills, and learn to talk to people at all different levels of the organization.
I just think the skills that you learn as a recruiter are transferable, whether or not you want to continue to grow in talent acquisition or you want to move into another facet of HR. Those skills are so critical to your success, really, in any role. But if you have the opportunity, I think that’s always a great place to start.