The Path Between People & Operations

People Spotlight: 

Cindy Anzel, Associated VP, HR & Operations, The NY Stem Cell Foundation

In recent years titles associated with human resources have transitioned from HR to People Operations.  How did this convergence happen?  Perhaps the answer is moving towards humanizing the role with the overarching responsibility of what is considered by many as the most important asset to any company, its people.  It only stands to reason that an experienced operations professional, with years of management of large teams at high growth companies under their belt, would be a standout human resources leader.

Meet Cindy Anzel, Associated Vice President, HR & Operations at The New York Stem Cell Foundation.  Cindy started her career in facilities management and administration but always had a hand in the human side of the business.  About ten years into her career she knew she wanted to pivot into an HR role because her passion lied in that aspect of her responsibilities.  Although she felt fulfilled in both roles, having gone to school for sociology she wanted to focus on people and expand that skillset.

Never one to be afraid of a challenge, Cindy threw herself into her work leading operations and administration at rapidly scaling startups during the first “dot com boom.” Her work at Scient, a high-flying technology consulting company, had her managing a global team of staff including Office Services and Travel. This would eventually lead to her landing the job of Director of Office Services at where she was responsible for Operations, Facilities Management, and Administration.  If its sounds like a large undertaking it was, but it was nothing Cindy couldn’t handle.

Given Cindy’s vast experience at growth stage companies we asked her for her top insights for scaling organizations.  Here’s what she shared.

  • Expect the unexpected.  Making plans is a critical step in building a strategic organization but be prepared for obstacles in the road because they are inevitable.  Flexibility is key as is a willingness to make modifications to your plan along the way.
  • Be creative.  It is possible to make something out of nothing.  The example she shared for this point was “if a new hire shows up on Monday, you need to find a new place for them to fit in the office even if it doesn’t exist, there is always room for one more desk.”
  • Build a strong foundation.  Whether the team has been built and the systems are in place there needs to be strong underpinnings to building out any organization.
  • Be proactive.  Plan for now but always think about the future.

Another one of Cindy’s areas of expertise is Facilities Management.  One of the most common struggles that high growth start-ups face is finding the appropriate office space to support a scaling organization.  Cindy had some great insights on strategies to tackle this challenge.

Whenever possible someone from facilities management needs a seat at the table. The Facilities staff have insight into the day to day needs of the organization. This will help so the planning is proactive (see her tips from above) rather than reactive.  Whether it’s an office manager, member of the HR team or facilities management they need an opportunity to be involved in the planning discussion.  Of course, some things you can’t plan for but trying to have the right people at the table early on will help you avoid future problems.

Planning your headcount is a moving target and never something that you should put on the shelf.  Again, including the right people in discussions about growth is critical.  Having a representative from the staffing team involved in budgeting and recruiting goals discussions will help with planning.

As for securing the appropriate office space, always refer to industry standards as a guide and customize for your organization.  Having the responsibility of building out hundreds of thousands of square feet of space in NYC, one thing is for sure, it’s easy to search the “square feet needed per person” for similar organizations but every company is different.  Some are more traditional and want the large corner office for the CEO, whereas other companies want a large open floorplan but need many conference rooms.  Adjust the standards for your company culture.  Some things to consider when planning your space: conference rooms, break-out spaces, casual seating, need for video conferencing, consider what’s important for your employees.  You may even want to send out a staff survey to give them an opportunity to participate (hint – great engagement strategy) with the top attributes they want in an office.  Make sure to get input from all levels of the organization.

It’s clear that Cindy is all about giving the right people, whatever their level in the organization, a seat at the table.  Given her background she’s accustomed to working across all levels of an organization, specifically the C-Suite.  We asked if she had specific examples on gaining executive buy-in and she shared the following.

You always need to pilot projects to show data for implementing new programs vs. just rolling something out.  She’s testing a program called “Donut- Let’s Meet”.  The idea being, whether a small, medium or large organization, many people don’t have an opportunity to get to know their co-workers.  The program utilizes a slack channel to connect colleagues with one another. Once a member of the channel, staff are auto-paired through the app’s algorithm with someone they don’t know that well, so they can grab coffee, lunch or a donut with them and get to know them.  This is great for bridging the gap between the various hierarchies in an organization as well as spread trust and collaboration across your organization.

Knowing that Cindy has done a lot of work building start-ups we recognized that this clearly covers the world of talent so we asked for some ideas for recruiting and retaining quality team members.  She shared the following:

  • Good people know good people – implement a great employee referral program.
  • Cast a wide net – always publish jobs on multiple channels to draw a diverse talent pool.
  • Align with organizations that support your industry – eg – in her current role she aligns with scientific organizations to connect with people in her industry for referrals.

As a final discussion point, we asked Cindy if she had any last words to share:

All great changes are preceded by “controlled” chaos.

These words had been hanging on a piece of paper in Cindy’s office for years.  Having worked for fast paced high growth organizations with a lot of change, it’s important to roll with the punches and be flexible.

Her role is to make sure that everyone else has what they need to get their job done, she does not do what she does to serve herself, but to serve her employees. She believes if she gets people what they need they will be successful and that’s why she does what she does.

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