Faces of HR

Nolan Church on the Value of Coaching, Technology, and Failing Forward

Nolan Church, Cofounder and CEO of Continuum, has been involved in the field of human resources (HR) for nearly a decade. For our latest “Faces of HR” profile, we sat down with Nolan to discuss how he got his start in the industry, his biggest influence, as well as his thoughts on best practices and technology trends for the HR industry. For the latter, according to Church, on-demand fractional talent can add value to HR leaders and organizations in 2022.

Nolan Church
Nolan Church

“I’m biased given that I’m building a company in the space, but I think fractional work is the future of work,” Church recently told HR Daily Advisor. “Scott Belsky calls it polygamous careers. This trend will forever change the way companies think about solving problems and will enable people to work on their own terms.”

In our latest Faces of HR profile, meet Nolan Church.

How did you get your start in the field?

I graduated from college and immediately moved to Stanford to be with my then-girlfriend (now wife). I had no money, no job prospects, and no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I reached out to my network and told folks I was in the Bay Area looking for work. A friend connected me to someone on the Apollo Group who had an opening for a new graduate on the recruiting team. I had no idea what recruiting was and wore a tie to the interview, but still somehow managed to get the job. 

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry? 

I’ve been so lucky to learn from some of the best leaders in Recruiting and HR. In my early days at Google, I was the notetaker for the People Operations Hiring Committee meeting. Every Monday afternoon I got to listen to Matt Worby, Becky Bucich, Frank Wagner, Sue Polo, and Tadhg Bourke debate every potential offer. I’m so grateful that I got to be a fly on the wall for those 90 minutes every week. It was my MBA in People Operations.

But nobody’s done more for me than Bret Reckard. Bret is a Talent Partner at Sequoia, and he met with me every quarter during my tenure at DoorDash. His guidance and advice kept me alive while I was solving new problems and hyper-scaling the company. 

What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

Not having an advisor/coach. Scaling DoorDash from 56 to more than 800 employees was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. I had to build a team, operationalize a recruiting strategy, and report progress to the executive team — and I’d never done any of it before. I grew through failure, but I would’ve saved a lot of pain — and time — if I would’ve engaged an advisor that had done it before.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it? 

My favorite part about People Operations is solving high-impact problems. All problems within companies are people problems, and there are new problems to solve every day. I’ve never had a boring day in my career. My least favorite part is the fluffiness. Unfortunately, most People Operations professionals I speak with are all talk and no substance. The best leaders operate at 70,000 feet and get into the dirt — we need more of them in our field.

It sounds like through your experience you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here. 

I’ve been obsessed with helping people reach their potential since I was kid. I took it to a different level once I learned that psycological safety is the secret to team chemistry. It makes intrinsic sense: if people feel safe, included, and heard, they’ll communicate openly with their colleagues. Those dynamics are key to getting the most out of people, but they’re also key to having fun. And work should be fun!

How can company leaders make HR a value within their organization? 

Make every manager a People Operations owner for their team. Most companies view these individuals as a service provider versus a strategic business partner. Most managers think they can offload all their people problems to HR or Recruiting, which is a recipe for disaster. The easiest way to change behavior is to empower leaders to own their team’s people problems. At DoorDash, we were struggling to hire fast enough and didn’t have enough recruiters to meet business demand. We asked every manager to start sourcing and included their sourcing metrics in their performance reviews. It completely changed the dynamics between the Recruiting team and business. That experiment was so successful, DoorDash continues the practice more than five years later. 

How does technology help in human resource management?

Technology helps us hire faster, see people problems we would’ve missed, and stay close to employees as a company scales. We’re entering the golden era of HR tech, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any other current trends?

I think we’re going to see more CHROs come from the business. McKenna Quint and Robby Kwok are just a couple of early examples. There are too many people problems and not enough competent HR leaders to solve them. 

What are you most proud of?

Failing forward. I’ve made so many mistakes throughout my career. But with every mistake, I learn from it and get better. It’s been my secret to scaling as an individual contributor, people leader, and now CEO.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Yes! First, orient your priorities around the business’ priorities. Second, get close to the decision makers in the organization and make their problems go away. If you’re able to do those two things, you’ll consistently add value and grow quickly in the organization

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