Season 2, Special Episode: Elise Raher

Kristen Gallagher: Hi, welcome back to Up Right and Better, the podcast where we talk about growing businesses up and to the right and up and better. On this show, it’s not just about scaling for scaling’s sake. It’s about making organizations that deliver value to everyone involved. I’m your host Kristen Gallagher. All right welcome back to Up Right and Better. This is a special episode. We’re doing this episode for human school, which is the conference that is coming up in just a few weeks. Unfortunately, in this episode we have a little bit of glitchiness on our tech end. You’re going to hear a little bit of that poor network connectivity. I think that overall we got really good stuff from her. Elise has a background in communications, human resources and employee engagement. She’s currently at Mammoth HR here in Portland, Oregon. She’s combined these skills and is now practicing organizational development and helping organizations and employees thrive in times of change and rapid growth, which is really apropos for the times that we’re in these days plus human school.

When she’s not working you can always find her enjoying the incredible coffee, donuts and beautiful running trails of Portland. It’s important to note she doesn’t do all of those at the same time, otherwise she would be an Olympian. Thanks so much for being here with me, Elise. I’d love to open up by just asking you what it’s been like to participate in Mammoth’s growth over the past two years. I know that it’s been a pretty intense level of growth.

Elise Raher: Yeah, absolutely I’d say over the last two years we have experienced a lot of growth and change, which has been very exciting but also has obviously come with its challenges. I’d say from a people operations standpoint it has just provided me so much opportunity to be able to re evaluate where we are as a company, to look at the systems that support our employees, to go through a couple different office relocations and changes and really work with employees to make sure that we’re maintaining a culture that’s true to our mission and values as we experience such rapid growth, a really exciting time.

Kristen Gallagher: How are you adding in the new OD work that you practice now? I know that you have a really interesting background especially with working with students I think.

Elise Raher: I do have an interesting background.

Kristen Gallagher: There you go, you should own it. I think it’s really cool.

Elise Raher: Yeah, I got my masters in counseling. I thought I wanted to be a marriage and family therapist. I was doing that while also working at a large university in the bay area and doing a lot of student engagement and community building there. It actually was a really a great experience to have coming into the workforce that I work with now because I work with a lot of employees who are fresh out of college. I feel like it prepared me for that experience pretty well. I would say that from my people operations chair, that my focus was a lot around people, around our employees and reacting to a lot of their requests and feedback that they had to try to create a really great work place for them.

Although I absolutely take that lens with me now in my OD role, I also gained a lot of appreciation for the value of process because even people, the best people with the best intentions and great skills, if there aren’t processes in place to support them, it’s really hard for them to be successful, especially for a company that’s trying to grow and scale and is experiencing rapid change. In small companies often people, there’s a few people doing a lot of things. That’s only sustainable for so long. The processes that we’re trying to implement right now at Mammoth are allowing people to operate with a little bit more clarity and clear expectations so that they can really be successful and we can measure that success.

Kristen Gallagher: That’s wonderful. I would love to see or hear about some examples of what those processes are. You talked about the process is really designed to allow people to operate with clarity. I think that’s a really great phrase that we’re not trying to, I’ve had leaders tell me process is like concrete, it doesn’t help me, it hurts me. I would agree with you that the reality is that if you have these opportunities, these sort of road maps labeled as processes, it allows people to do better work faster and iterate more frequently.

Elise Raher: Yeah, absolutely and also to have a baseline understanding of where you’re starting and where you’re trying to go. I think a very prominent example that we’re trying to do right now is make sure that every employee knows what the key performance indicators are for their role. We are working with employees to say their ideas on the company’s goals and the strategies that we’re using to get there, what are some things that you can do in your own role to measure how successful you’re being at your job. By individuals being able to connect what they’re doing at their desk with the strategies of the company, it really allows for better alignment so that we’re all swimming in the same direction. That’s a process that we didn’t have in place. We knew that we had great people that were all working really hard. We didn’t have a way to measure and then celebrate the success that they were having, the contributions that they were making in a way that felt really meaningful and also very clear.

Kristen Gallagher: I really appreciate that perspective that it’s connecting what people are doing day to day with the mission of the company and where we’re all going together that you and I may do different things on a day to day basis but that we’re contributing to the same overall goal.

Elise Raher: Absolutely.

Kristen Gallagher: I’m curious how does Mammoth help small companies? It’s kind of cool to be a small company who’s going through some of these things, who could also lend that expertise and that advice to other companies.

Elise Raher: Yeah, absolutely. I think a big goal that we have and the way that we approach our relationships with small and medium sized businesses is to meet the client where they’re at. We work with anyone from the office manager to the CFO to the CEO depending on the size of the company. At small companies or medium sized companies sometimes the CEO is doing everything including human resources. We like to meet the client where they’re at to hear what their goals are and where they would like their organization to be going and then help them to build the strategy, put the processes, understand the regulations and the compliance pieces that need to go into place to really help them thrive.

Kristen Gallagher: I think that is exactly what the attendees of human school are experiencing right now. They’re coming from smaller but growing companies, mostly under a hundred employees where it is likely that they’re either fresh in that job or they’re the only one thinking about HR, thinking process or maybe even organizational development although probably not. It can be scary and isolating and confusing. Do you have any advice for newer HR professionals about how to change manage through that rapid growth especially if that’s not their background?

Elise Raher: Yeah, absolutely I would say, which would come to no surprise but communication is key. If you don’t give people the information then they will fill in the gaps with their own stories, which can lead to a lot of inconsistent messages and confusion. I would say help people understand why. Why are we changing? A lot of people feel things are great the way they are. Why do we need to change them? Most organizations are not growing just for the sake of growing but really to provide themselves and also their employees with more opportunities, more opportunities for growth and also so that they have more resources to be able to invest back in them and really continue to make the organization better.

I would say another thing is just as much as you can set really clear expectations for people and like we talked about with the structure for measurable results, so that you can demonstrate the positive impact that changes are having on them and on the organization and really connect it back to their lives. Then another thing I would say is try to have it not always be from the top down. If you have leaders, you have informal leaders help to engage them in the process. If you are going to put a process in place that really impacts somebody’s role, allow them to create the process. You can give them the vision but they know their job better than anyone else knows their job.

They’re more likely to buy in if they’re part of creating the process that they’re going to have to carry out. Then probably last but obviously not least, maintain an open dialogue. Instead of always downloading people and information and vision and the things that you want them to know, make sure that people have the opportunity to provide feedback on how it’s going, that they can have a real conversation and keep the human aspect to it because the organization is nothing without its people. It’s really important to keep a pulse on how people are doing with the change and either slow it down or speed it up based off of the feedback that you’re getting.

Kristen Gallagher: I think that’s such good advice that it can be hard to remember when you’re going through things so quickly and you want to give information here, here’s all the communication that it’s a two way street and that often it is just coming from us and not, we’re not necessarily always listening and taking back that feedback as much as we really should. I also love what you said earlier about the fact that people will fill in gaps with their own stories. I think that’s so true. It’s sort of, you end up with the need to come back and kind of clean up messes when that happens. People make assumptions. Their expectations aren’t aligned with what was actually going to happen but what was going to happen was never communicated or we made assumptions that somebody knew something. Do you have any sort of funny examples that you can share about that or any sort of lessons learned you can share about people filling in their own stories?

Elise Raher: I mean I think we see it on a pretty frequent basis or at least we did early on. In part, I think this is another challenge of growing is that when you are a small company who is trying to do something you’ve never done before, you don’t always have all the information of what it’s going to look like when you change. I think it’s also about defining what success looks like or what growth looks like. It’s important to allow employees and say okay I know that we’re talking about success and we’re talking about growth and we’re talking about change, remember that the principles that are going to guide us and are going to stay consistent along the way are our values and our mission. If we’re staying true to those two things then it’s easy for us to change but still have a lot of things that are very important to us and that guide us to remain the same.

Kristen Gallagher: That’s I think perfect advice and a really good place for us to kind of stop so we can prepare folks for human school, which is coming up in just a few weeks. I think that that advice is so important for not just the leaders that accompany and the HR individuals that accompany but every individual that sometimes we’re doing things in our day to day work that we assume that they did get communicated or we assume that we did share that information and it didn’t and so it can cause a lot of fear and reactivity rather than proactivity.

Elise Raher: I would just add to that, people’s emotion and reactions although they’re not always exactly where we hope that they are as people who are leading some changes in a company, it often stems from the fact that they’re really invested and that they are coming from a company where they know that they have a lot of impact and where they feel really passionate about the company and the direction of it. Although at times I think from a human resources seat it can be uncomfortable to manage the resistance, I think it’s always better that people are passionate whether they are resisting or excited about the change because it shows how much they care, trying to keep that lens as well when you’re working with employees that may not be at the same stage of change that you’re at or that you’d like them to be at.

Kristen Gallagher: That is such a golden piece of advice that people do respond because they care. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t say anything, I think is important to remember. Elise, thank you so much for your time. I really am excited that we got to do this little special episode right before the conference. We hope to see everyone there. I hope that you enjoy everything that Elise had to share with us.

Elise Raher: Thank you so much, Kristen.

Kristen Gallagher: That’s it for today. Thank you so much for joining us for another episode. If you’d like to ask a question or suggest a guest email me at hello at Up Right and Better dot com. Until next time, grow better.

Share