Why Talent is the Strategic Thread in a Scaling Business

Listen to Megan give Grace and Ben a crash course in building a talent org in a scaling company—from building psychological safety, to interview processes, to ensuring values alignment. Come learn from Megan with us!


We're ecstatic to welcome friend of the pod Megan Jarvis to Start with Who! Megan is the VP of Talent at Lessonly, where she's helped grow the team from ~40 to over 200. Listen along with this episode to hear:

  • How the role of talent leader changes as the company scales and enters new stages
  • How talent leaders can show up at the executive table as a strategic partner
  • How to infuse values through the hiring and onboarding process—and build a community that lives out those values at work
  • How Lessonly achieved gender parity, now with more women than men on the team!

Thanks for joining us Megan!

Thanks for listening to Start with Who: The Interview Intelligence Podcast! This podcast is presented by Pillar—where we're on a mission to make hiring and interviewing more efficient and equitable. Come check out what we're building, or connect with Grace and Ben on LinkedIn! See you next time!


(Transcribed by robots...sorry for the errors!)

Megan: A business is made up of people, and in order for a business to accomplish its goals, you have your greatest asset of individuals who are helping you reach those goals. So how are you nurturing? How are you protecting? How are you progress in your greatest asset as you are looking to grow as a company?

Hosts: Welcome to Start with Who, the interview intelligence podcast, I'm your host, Grace Tyson, and I'm Ben Battaglia join us on our journey as we learn about talent acquisition, hiring and tackle the challenge of building an amazing team. One interview at a time. We've invited CEOs, innovative people, leaders, talent acquisition experts and DIY movers and shakers as our guides would love to have you join us. Welcome to Start with Who.

Ben: Oh welcome back to the start with who podcast, I am especially excited about today's episode because I get to welcome my friend and former co-worker Megan Jarvis to the podcast. Megan, thank you so much for coming on. You lead talent and people at Lessonly. and we're excited to have you.

Megan: Yeah, it's wonderful to spend time with you all today

Ben: for those who haven't met you yet. Could you give a quick intro about who you are and what you do?

Megan: Sure I'm from Indiana, grew up in the county that has that tree growing out of the courthouse to our good old greensburg, Indiana, went to Purdue, actually started my career in advertising after studying communication and made a career switch into talent. I've been in town for about 15 years in Indianapolis, quite a bit of time spent in tech in my talent career, married to a guy named Mac. We have four kiddos and I love spending time in our home downtown Indianapolis.

Ben: Yes, exactly. And both our daughters share the name Margo. Oh, they're blonde and cute and about the same age. We definitely bonded over that. OK, so we both joined Lessonly about the same time. There were around 40 people and we've ridden that wave of growth to about 200 people. I know you have crazy growth plans still yet to come in the year ahead. So I really want to sit on and talk about that growth for a few minutes. What was it like in your role as a people leader? How do you nurture culture so that you grow healthily when you're growing 5x over a few years because it's really easy to hire but way harder to hire healthily? Could you share a little bit about that and how your job changed from a company of 30 or 40 up to 200 plus now?

Megan: It's a great question. If I reflect on when I started with the company at that size of 30 indifferences to now it almost 200. One of the things I think about is process when we were 30. You can implement a process and if it wasn't working you could rip it out. It was easy to communicate around it and you could quickly start over on what you needed that process to accomplish. And at 200 you are still building a tremendous amount of process. But how you go about building it is radically different because you're thinking about process at scale. And when I think about process at scale, it is what you are putting in that is able to meet the needs of a larger group and knowing that what you implement, it's going to be harder to remove it. So really being mindful of what you need to accomplish before you're making your decisions. And then I would also say just communication around it, making sure that as you're implementing things, thinking through all those nooks and crannies of how your communicating process for 200 versus 30 speaking of communication, I would say that's also probably one of the major differences between 30 people and 200 people. When you've got 30 people, likely you've got 30 people in the room with you. You can talk to each of those people individually and you know them at a level where you probably have some indication as to how they're processing information. And if you've got change management and you're doing something different in the company, you may know how you need to follow up with them to make sure they're coming along with you, with what you're communicating about. And I would say moving to 200 thinking about communication. All 200 people aren't in the room anymore. And less than they are across the country now. And you don't know every individual the way you knew 30 individuals. And so as you think about communication, I would say 30 versus 200. What's been really important for us to think about is what is the culture in the environment that we've created that creates trust and that psychological safety. So that as you are communicating change, you know that you have individuals who trust you to raise their hand, to get what they need so that you can kind of meet together and they continue to track along with you through what the company is doing.

Grace: That's great and super clear in terms of the differences around communication and also the level of intentionality you really have to have when you're at 200. Is there anything specifically that you're really thinking about now in maintaining culture at 200 people that just didn't need to be thought about when you had 30 people?

Megan:: Talent can carry, does still carry at times and companies kind of a reputation of being a paper pushing, compliance driven like PIP-creating vehicle with. In a company and there are a lot of amazing leaders who are working to have talent be understood at what it can be, then it is not that and so much more than that that is very important to me. That is one of the reasons I took the job at Lessonly is because I saw an opportunity at less than lead to really focus on what I think talent can and should be. What gets harder at 200 is you have more external forces pulling on the function of talent to be in that compliance and that more administrative function of talent to as a talent leader, you feel a little bit like Gumby in that you still want to be that strategic leader helping to guide the organization through growth. But you're getting bigger and you have compliance forces on you. And as a leader and talent, you can't choose to look at some of those compliance related things. And say, I'm not going to do them. I'm going to ignore them because it creates risk for your business. So I'd say 30 to 200. I am much more living in that daily struggle of how do I continue to be a strategic partner into the company but handle some of the more traditional components of talent that Lessonly is really starting to get into as we become a larger organization. So it's on a daily basis questioning myself and the structure of our team and how do we bring partners into our team to continue to carry that load so that we can continue to show up as that strategic partner that we want to have at lessonly and greater kind of function of talent. Overall, what I want talent to continue to be,

Grace: I love that. And I want to know more about what you said, what talent can be and should be. And you mentioned strategic partner. So I think that's probably what you're thinking. I love you a little more about that in the broadest, most idealistic strokes. What do you believe talent can be and should be within an org.

Megan: A business is made up of people, and in order for a business to accomplish its goals, you have your greatest asset of individuals who are helping you reach those goals. And so how are you nurturing? How are you protecting? How are you progress in your greatest asset as you are looking to grow as a company? And if you think about your functional leaders within an organization, you have practitioners of sales and practitioners of marketing and practitioners of finance and operations. And I think about talent as being that strategic thread through each one of those. That is the commonality of people, because each one of those, what they're standing up, they have people is part of it. So who has their mind on how are people functioning through that? How are people being led through that? How are people developing through that? How are we continue to hire the right people that match what we need to do as a business and then retain them? And so I think it is just that voice at the table who is bringing that into how decisions are being made at the company?

Grace: Yes, yes, yes. I love that so much. It's so true. What do you think is the biggest misconception from leadership about the function of talent within an org?

Megan: I go back to there's the kind of old stereotype of what talent is. I think it grew up as kind of a more administrative function. And when you have a group of individuals in a room for a business, we're all bringing our own perspectives and experiences from past companies into that room. So if an individual who previously interacted with talent where talent was a very tactical function within an organization, that is what they know talent to be, that is what they bring with them into that room. And I think talent in a pivotal time right now to where we're carrying that kind of more tactical view of what talent has been. But businesses are recognizing what it can be strategically. So you are stepping into the room as a talent leader and you don't know what your metalist you don't know like is that person across the table kind of envisioning me as their strategic partner right now? Because that's what they've learned to grow and appreciate. Are they still kind of tactical mindset with me? And I need to bring them along into how I actually want to be a partner in this company?

Grace: Yes, just on that, we had another guest on the podcast join us of a large company and say, I like the way you put it was we're not order takers. It's really the backbone of the organization, making sure that you have the right people in the right seats. And that comes from the talent organization really being exceptional. So I love everything you said.

Ben: I really like the idea. You mentioned that talent is a thread between the different functional organizations. I've never thought of it that way, but I really like that idea that it's a connective tissue between all the different functional units. I'd love to sit down and talk a little bit about values. Lessonly has a quote unquote, award winning culture. Many people call it llama culture. And our CEO, max, wrote a book called Do better work. That's really all about some of the key values that are important to lessonly. And so with values being such a huge piece of Lessonly's identity, I'd love to hear how you think about your role as a people leader and ensuring values alignment in the organization. So what roles should people leaders play in relation to values? How does that play out in hiring as well as ongoing nurturing of values throughout the organization when an employee joins?

Megan: I kind of bucket this into people and process, when I think about the role that we play and to start with people you mentioned hiring, then I start with hiring. And how do we bring values into our interview process? Because if they're not present in our interview process to have conversations with a candidate about what those values are and how we live them in our organization and to look for connection with candidates in the interview process with those values, if that is not happening at that point in time, it is a heck of a climb after that. I think in bringing values and holding values through an organization.

Ben: is there any part of the hiring process or the interview process where you're specifically diving deep or double clicking on values? Do you evaluate specifically for values?

Megan: We do. And I'll get less and less specific with my answer here. There are a couple of things that come together to help us evaluate for values. And I start with intentionality and our interview process because it could be easy. If you're thinking about values in the interview process to just assume you're going to like. Randomly collect value data throughout the interview process, and I would love to think that that's true and there's probably a little bit of that that's true. But if you leave it to chance, it doesn't feel awesome. So I think in the interview process, in thinking about values, it is being very intentional about the process you set up. And recruiters go through a discovery process. When we decide we're going to post a job, we sit down with the hiring manager and decide what is this job, what are the skills that are critical for this job? What is the scorecard that we're building that's going to look for these skills in this job? Then what are the phases that we are going to use to evaluate this individual through skill and that individual being a member of the community? And as you do that, what points in your interview? Our skill specific, what points in your interview? Our community and values specific so that when you come away from the interview, you know, you've had the opportunity to really lean into those things and understand if you're seeing them and giving yourself the point in time to have a conversation with the candidate about the values at your company to kind of seek out that connection. One of the things that Lessonly does is a part of each one of our interviews there, at some point in time, we hold a culture interview and it's that moment to pause and skill conversation to the side. Let's just have a conversation with you candidate as a person and learn about you and tell Lessonly's story and let you as an individual, tell your story and see how that's connecting with value. See if that individual, as we're asking them questions about how our values connect to them, what answers are we getting back? So that I would say on the other side of the interview, going back to that intentionality purpose, when you're done and you've run your process, you can say we evaluated skills. We evaluated this person connecting into our community through values and we feel good. We want to move forward.

Ben: That makes a lot of sense. I was always surprised and impressed how many people showed up at a pleasantly interview and had some comment to say about values already. I think the combination of do better work the book like laying out the values and a number of people reading that, and then also just how prominently we talk about them in application or on the site or whatever. It was always fun when someone came in. Frequently people would have a comment about a value that even before they were even a candidate or before they were even employed, had a value that meant something to them share before ready or something like that, which always was a cool moment.

Megan: Well, I think one of the things and then I remember you and I talking about this at one point we started for and this is part of just with Do Better Work at Lessonly and that movement around do better work and wanting to bring an individual into the story of our values while they're thinking about joining us. When someone is moved through to a final stage of interview with us, they get a copy of the book. So that they've got an opportunity to kind of read with it, connect with it and ask some questions as they're coming into their final interview. Because, know, our view of the interview is it's a two way street, like we're interviewing you. You are interviewing us like this is a massive commitment. We want to make sure that there's the right alignment there.

Ben: Yeah, call me biased, but I think that every employer giving out a book to final stage interviews that says, here's how here's what we believe in. Here's our culture, like, what better pitch could you make to someone to say, like, here's everything we're about feels like a huge win. So I really love that. OK, so we talked a little bit about the interview process. I interrupted you. So when you think about values like nurturing values later stage, you've hired someone. How do you continue to nurture values in a culture post hire?

Megan: I use the word community as I think about that, and at Lessonly, one of the pillars of our talent organization and how we think about our work and what we put on our road map, one of those pillars is community. And so it's what are we doing within the community to continue to talk about our values, learn about our values, make sure we're thinking about our values in the same way. I'm going to go back to what we were talking earlier about. 200 people in the room. You bring 200 people together. We have our list of values. Everyone has different life experiences and professional experiences that when they read one of those values, they may not think about it in the same way. We actually want them to think about it then. And it's not awesome if we're never explain it, if it's like, well, here they are, but they're left to you to interpret and then try to apply at Lessonly. So I would say our community focus and talent part of our job is making sure that we're bringing a definition to those values, that individuals have a clear view of how we want them to live through those values and less and so on boarding. It's a part of the lesson that an individual receives going through a lesson about our values. If someone didn't get the book for some reason in their interview process, they're getting the book is a new hire. We also periodically take moments where max talks about the book, just kind of open conversation and learning around the book. It's touch points outside, specifically talking about the values, but I think reinforcing what the values mean. So we do, It's called masterclasses. It's a learning opportunity. We typically try to do once a quarter, that is rooted in our values of supporting the individual and being vulnerable community with each other and learning through our mass class about a topic that's a personal or professional topic. So just continuing to find those moments with community and their onboarding and throughout their life cycle, the reinforcing of you're talking about a lot of getting values, alignment by people is starting right.

Ben: But then just those moments of nurturing with masterclasses and just thinking of some of the ones we've had, like we brought in someone during COVID to talk about compassion fatigue or like emotional well-being, communication and communicating nonviolently or max, just doing a math class about different chapters of the book definitely touch points to nurture values, kind of like reminders about each of them that they exist, little totems. So I love that.

Megan: And I think the other thing that we do as a community is we celebrate around our values. You learn about them and you create different moments to reinforce learning and show them. And then I think it's also examples of kind of living those values in. So we have our weekly MVP that is an individual that is showcasing Lessonly values and their work. We have a quarterly award of golden lama, again, someone who is just really living into being an ideal team player, showcasing lesson values.

Grace: Do you have a favorite one, Megan? A favorite Lessonly value or one that's particularly meaningful to you out of curiosity?

Megan: Yeah, I think the one that probably hits home the most for me is share before you're ready. That was a big one for me just developmentally in my career, I would say. Talent and me building my talent, career and previous organizations. I had been part of, that was one that I was not comfortable with and where less and less is as a company, how lesson is growing the leadership and lessons? It took me a while to really lean into that one and a lot of practice. So I do that amount of growth. I have seen from living into that value. And I would say my professional and my personal world has been great.

Grace: That's a good one. So something else that Ben told me about you, Megan, is that your gender parity is really important to you. And that's been something important to Lessonly as well. I think that everyone listening is probably interested to know what sort of actions and conversations you and the team had and took to actually move the needle at the IC level, but also at the manager level in terms of gender parity.

Ben: And just to brag on Megan for a second and her team, like you've been tracking this for many years. And when I left head crossed gender parity, where there were more women at less and less than there were men and trending that way on managers as well. So really some amazing work you've done there. So tell us about it.

Grace: Well, I love that.

Megan: We are actually still I was looking at it earlier this week for our quarterly board meeting. We are still for full employee population. We have more, more women than men. And it's narrowing on the management side. When I think about how it feels funny for me to say this, but it's the truth. There was never a pause and a conversation in a room that said, we have to address this. And so in thinking about it, where I go to is how our team functions in our recruiting process to run a recruiting process that is an equitable and fair process. And as a result of that, it has done its work to bring to us a team that has that much balance in it with gender. I am sure if I looked at our group of managers and I said, you know what, you don't have to post your jobs anymore, some of them might be thrown out because they could move faster. But that's not the type of organization that we want to be. We want to be a diverse and inclusive company. And with that, it takes that diligence and holding yourself accountable to a process that lets you create that. So when we have a job, we post to the job we posted externally. We talk about it internally, going back to that discovery, meeting our recruiters, having conversations with our hiring manager. I'm not who. But what is this job? What is this job accomplishing for the business? What does an individual who can do this job kind of bring to it and making sure that that is then built into the recruiting process. So that individuals who are evaluating the candidate are evaluating on skill and ability to do the job. And we're not falling into the bias that can so often creep into that to have you making decisions that get you to where we are today. I also don't think that we do a really great job of calling each other out and our recruiters help boost that. But if we are setting for an interview stage, if it's in person in Zoom interview stage, and we're going to have four people in that panel, are they all white males? If they are, why and how do we diversify that group to make sure we've got diversity and speaking to the candidate? So we're blessed with like a company and a leadership team that cares about it and then process to help us be able to accomplish it.

Ben: And correct me if I'm wrong, just for clarity. So at no point did the talent team or recruiters say, hey, we need to Institute x quota of people of color or women in a process. It was more of like a general process crafting and a community commitment to it that led to the outcome. Does that feel true?

Megan: Yeah

Grace: Yeah, I love it. I love what you said, too. I mean, it does it all starts with that, like you said, the recruiting and interviewing and hiring process. And then from there, if you get that right and you're equitable and consistent and fair and hold each other accountable, like you said, it impacts everything when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Megan: Yeah, because if you go back and you look at where we started, it was a white male company. And if we hadn't started to build in what we see as an equitable process in recruitment, it's very easy then that could still be the view of our company today. I think the other thing that we do in addition to recruiting is we have on our board of directors, we have an amazing woman on our board of directors. So also making sure that in addition to who we have in our day to day team, we are surrounding the business with individuals who are also diverse.

Ben: Yeah and the executive team to adding women to that and trending in the right way that way as well. That's great. Megan, one last question for you before we head into the speed round. We touched on this a little earlier, but this idea of people, leaders should not be just a cost center, should not be just paper pushers. As you said earlier, they should have a seat at the table and they should be a strategic leader. But so many leaders don't feel that way. If you were going to advise a younger leader or a leader somewhere who's saying I want to grow into a strategic leader as a talented people leader. How would you advise them to start doing that?

Megan: My advice would actually be it was advice from a mentor I have early on in my career innocently and passing on what I was given. It was what is my value system? So as a professional in talent. So I have my way for choosing to be in talent. What is my why? Why did I choose to be in talent? Why did I choose to take this position? And using that? Why with my seat at the table. So I go back to what we were talking about earlier of talent being that horizontal spread throughout a company that is in support of the tremendous ascent of people at a company. And so that why and what are my values as a professional in talent that I bring to my why that bring me my voice, my strategic voice at the table. So one of my wise that is part of my value system is someone and talent is being equitable. So if I am part of a conversation and there is something being discussed where I don't feel like we are approaching an equitable solution for members of the team, that's my wife. That's my value system. And that is what will prompt me to interject and kind of bring my voice into conversation to be that strategic partner, because we're not going to speak up on everything but can be sometimes interesting, I think, about being in talent is you're not in a function that always has data to support you. As we continue to grow as a company, we will bring more data as we mature. They'll be more data available to us. But there are times when speaking about people I don't have a data dump to give you. And so you can find yourself in talent. When you're in those situations. How am I handling myself in this situation? What am I doing? What do I bring to this conversation? And I think what helps so much as someone going into their career as a strategic partner is to have that why and to have that value system to know this is what matters to me. This is what matters to me in this role. And here I am stepping into now this conversation to be a strategic partner.

That's great. Thanks for sharing all that. It was great to sit and learn a little from you. We appreciate it. Would love to change the script a little here and switch from talent over to a little bit about you. Just the people who are listening who say who is Megan Jarvis could get a few little snapshots about you. So five quick questions. We'd love to hear what comes to mind. So first one is what brings you joy outside of work?

Megan: My kiddos ages ten, eight, 6 and 4. So we are a lively, busy little family, but they're energy. And who they are as people is phenomenal.

Grace: Get a full house over there. That's that's amazing. You do that. All right. Next question is, what is your favorite place that you've ever traveled?

Megan: Oh, goodness. I always get, like, just energy from going into a big city. So any big city is always a blast. But I think if I had to pick a spot, I would probably pick Seaside, Florida. I don't know what happens when I hit that little stretch of beach highway, but the mind is able to go into just shut down to where it's free and energizing thinking. That's just it gives from kind of a personal and a professional place.

Grace: I love that. I'm from Pensacola, Florida, so I'm a big fan of that stretch, as you said.

Ben: Nice what is one little luxury that's helping you get through the pandemic? It could be somewhere you order out from something you're eating or drinking, a TV show, anything. One thing that's been getting you through the pandemic.

Megan: I have latched on to you. I have a little green Yeti mug, and it's whatever's in that mug during work hours, it's like a homemade kind of iced coffee. And after hours, some type of cocktail usually lands in my little green natimuk.

Ben: I just got a Yeti and it's phenomenal. But I've exclusively been using it for coffee and you're making me realize I need to branch out, so. Oh Yeah. Branch out. I love that. I love it.

Grace: What's one thing you're grateful for right now?

Megan:  It's just that family and friends that have been a part of the last year and what's been a heck of a situation where you just value relationships.

Ben: OK, one last question, and I'm really not sure how you're going to respond. Do you believe that aliens exist? Why or why not?

Megan: Oh, golly, yes, I do, yes. Ben, are you no? 

Ben: that's what prompted this question originally, as I'm just not there yet.

Grace: He's the only one on our team who does it. And we had a big sizing of Ben to be like, come on, I'm surprised.

Megan: I totally would have thought you would have been on, like, the alien right off brand for him.

Ben: I know. But can you just briefly why? Like what? What makes you think they exist?

Megan: I just think we're such a little part of something so much bigger with that perspective. There's just no way that we are the only piece of land around here. I can take it.

Grace: It's OK. That's how I feel that that's about where I live. Megan, I'm to do you on that. So it just seems. Yes versus

Ben: Oh my gosh, I'm going to go ponder about the world and the universe. Thank you so much for joining us. It was wonderful to have you. Great to catch up. And Thanks for coming on. Start with you.

Megan: Great to be here. Thanks for the opportunity to spend some time with you.

Hosts: Thanks for joining us for another episode of start with who, the interview intelligence podcast presented by Pillar. Find out more about Pillar and how to do the best interviewing of your life and build an amazing team, all starting at pillar.hr. And if you like this episode, leave us a review or shoot us a note. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.