People Spotlight: Emily Disston, VP People & Culture, BetterCloud

People-Centric Processes for the People Team

The role of HR Leaders or better named, People Leaders, continues to expand and now often encompasses culture, people experience, growth, retention, employer branding and even employer marketing.  With this enhanced responsibility it can be a daunting task to ensure all processes align with the growth of your organization and in general human nature.

Psychology and HR go hand-in-hand. Understanding human nature provides a foundation that will allow you and your people teams to create processes that help your employees flourish.  Not sure on how to keep human resources, human? Read on to learn more.

Meet Emily Disston, the VP of People and Culture at BetterCloud – the first SaaS Operations Management platform, empowering IT to define, remediate, and enforce management and security policies for SaaS applications.

As an undergraduate at Tulane University in New Orleans, Emily saw first-hand the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the effect the devastating storm had on the city and more important, it’s people. As a Psychology student, Emily assisted in support groups for the community- this solidified her desire to continue her education in Psychology.

From Tulane, Emily attend Teacher’s College at Columbia for her Master’s in Psychology. It was there that she learned to breakdown barriers in order facilitate conversations and guide individuals for counseling. In HR, so many issues arise that often times its necessary to act as a counselor for employees.

Having training on how to talk to people allowed me to handle so many situations within the realm of HR. The tools from counseling comes into play with coaching managers, speaking to employees, being an active listener, and questioning someone to guide them to a solution rather than telling them. 

After school the 2011 job market wasn’t favorable to continue in counseling, so Emily set out to find a temporary job in HR. She landed at OppenheimerFunds where she was exposed to various facets under the People Team. It was there she began her HR career and her skills as a people professional.  After OppenheimerFunds, Emily went to a rapidly scaling start up in California which really accelerated her growth in the HR field as she was given more and more responsibility as an HR Generalist. Then she moved to BetterCloud to be there first HR person and build the HR function. When she started the company was at 80 people and growing. As the first HR person she was tasked with creating human-centric processes and helping the company scale. BetterCloud is now at 200 employees with sights to grow to 400.

To create processes that scale, we use a hands-on approach, creating a transparent and continuous feedback loop. Everyone has a chance to discuss what is on their mind and there are no surprises. 

Every 6 weeks HR and managers have a check-in, called the “health-index.” During these meetings managers discuss how their direct reports are performing on a scale evaluating work contribution, satisfaction, and overall performance. In addition to the number scaling, comments are also recorded so the organization can have a clear understanding of each employees performance and what motivates or de-motivates them. In addition to check-ins with managers every 6 weeks, employees take a pulse-check survey to see if their manager’s reports align with their self-reports.

Using these notes and self-reports allows for an easier performance management and review, which are conducted every 6 months. Employees also fill out a career survey each cycle that reflects what motivates them, their careers goals, what are they doing to progress, and how their manager is supporting them. After these reviews, 2 SMART goals are set up between employees and managers.  Managers then check-in with HR on these goals during the “health index” meetings, and the process continues.

While clear career pathing and guidance helps with retention, how does Emily create a scalable people-centric culture?

Managers and Recruiters know our employee value proposition inside and out- we are very clear about that with candidates, so they know exactly what to expect with a position at BetterCloud.

Being transparent has become a trend in many tech and start-up organizations. At BetterCloud transparency means that all anonymous questions are answered at every all-hands company meeting.  This also provides clarity on where the organization needs to focus as a whole and how employee goals align with the larger organization mission.

In addition to transparency, the culture at BetterCloud helps those in leadership and managerial positions lead their teams effectively. Monthly interviews are held to facilitate 360 feedback, for individuals from their direct reports and key stakeholders at the company. From these comments, a report and action plan are developed to ensure feedback is provided from the bottom up and that all leaders are continuously improving as managers.

Particularly for the Millennial workforce, transparency and continuous feedback is craved. People want to improve both professionally and on a personal level.  Emily has created an engaging and effective process using both psychology tools and her HR experience to improve recruiting and retention, professional development and performance management.  This all leads to a happier and more productive workforce.

Emily shared one last tenet on how to succeed at any stage of a People career:

Helicopter and get the high-level view of the organization.

It’s tempting, when a figurative fire starts, or an employee comes to you seeking solace, to jump right in and remedy the issue.  However, if you get too deep in the weeds you can forget about the overall health of the organization.   As a member of the HR team, you can’t be stuck in the weeds, rather you must focus on the organization in its entirety. Forcing yourself to become a helicopter will allow you to develop the habit of thinking “bigger picture” a useful skill to have throughout your career.

Think high level, develop people-centric processes, and scale.


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