I’ve been lucky to work for amazing organizations throughout my career. I say that all the time. My good friend Anna once told me “Stop saying you’re lucky. You’re not. You turned a job into an opportunity, that’s not luck”. That comment got me thinking about what made me think I was lucky.
I realized that it was because I got to learn so much in all the companies I worked in. Some places were definitely more comfortable than others though. Why was that?
I worked for a prestigious law firm a couple years back where I collaborated with incredibly smart people and I loved my HR role there – but why was I going home frustrated, on a regular basis? Why did I have 2 “me’s”: one Lisa-Lisa and one work-Lisa. It wasn’t clear.
I then worked for a big Canadian corporation that had been around for more than a century but still felt creative and innovative. It took a little longer for me to feel those frustrations. They happened less often.
I then started working for a Canadian startup (not so much a startup anymore!) called Shopify. I’m still here by the way. A year and a half later I’m yet to feel frustrated. There’s also only one Lisa left now. The one I am at home, at work, and everywhere in between. Wow. How exhilarating is that you ask? Really crazy! I get to explore my creative side, integrate it in my work and coach others.
Realizing how great that was got me back to thinking on why it was so great. Why did I feel so caged in at the first place, a little better in the second and amazingly free, autonomous and successful in the third? My conclusion was : the way we did “HR”.
Most companies have HR policies that are applied to all employees. You must take 3 weeks of vacation and we will count down the days for you. You must give at least 2 weeks notice when you leave with a letter, oh and an email, and send it to your lead first and then HR. You must arrive before 9 and then you can leave when your 8 hours are done. You must have 5 years experience to be considered a senior. You can’t really apply for a job internally before 1 year tenure. AHHH! This drove me crazy because although they are good guidelines, they never fully apply. It never ALWAYS makes sense. And I was there to apply them anyway and found myself saying “well, it’s just the way it is”. Which I hated, every time. Every single time.
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The big difference with Shopify is that HR policies don’t exist. HR guidelines were never written. My colleagues and I have a completely different way of working, and that’s encouraged here. We never address a situation the same from one to the next. This sounds completely crazy to you, right? It does to everyone for the first couple weeks and then it’s complete bliss. Let me walk you through it.
You actually get to do what is the right thing in each situation. I’ll pause here.
You get to treat employees as humans, and fairly instead of equally.
You get to have a strong opinion about something and make the right decision.
All sounds great, right? Ok, so I must tell you, in practice, it could be the scariest thing in the world. You become the one-source of truth at times. You are faced with a situation and nothing is helping you decide what to do. You worry about starting a precedent that you won’t be able to keep. You question everything you’ve ever done.
I have been actively working on this for the past 18 months so I thought I would give all of my tips away at once to help you accelerate through the uncomfortable place you will face in the first couple of months working for an awesome place that’s scrappy like Shopify.
My wonderful boss and mentor, Brittany, once told me “Lisa, I know you feel like you don’t have all the information to make a decision, and that in a couple months, we will probably ask ourselves, what were we thinking..but right now you’re the subject matter expert. At this very moment, you have gathered data, you have the context from different people around the company, you’ve done extensive research, and therefore have an opinion to make an informed decision”. And that’s when it clicked.
There will always be an opportunity to gain more context or information on something that would make us way more comfortable with it all, especially that -remember- there’s no guide, policy, or archived bible of truth to help us through this. But that’s not the point. The point is that as HR Partners we are often the ones with the most context on something. We have regular conversations with employees, with leads, with Directors, with Execs. We’re aware of the different projects going on in the departments and groups we partner with. We know about the challenges the people are going through because they confide in us. We know about the success stories because we help prepare promotions and we know about the failures because we help prepare for their exit. We have so much information on everything through our conversations.
So even though it was really scary, I started seeing myself and feeling like a subject matter expert. The fear of failing was strong. Although now, it’s pretty exhilarating. And if I don’t fail at least once in awhile, I know I’m not trying hard enough. But that’s ok, just fix it.
Knowing how to be comfortable being uncomfortable has become my reality. Instead of trying to avoid the ambiguity, I look for it and try to figure it out by solving the problems, one at a time, but quickly.
What I mean by that is, instead of trying to research best practices, what really cool companies are doing, what was done in the past, I focus on gaining context from different places, connect the information, build an opinion on it that will benefit the individual and Shopify and make a decision.
I trust my gut – we haven’t talked about this yet, but trusting your gut is key. It’s super weird, because everyone feels a lot better with data and numbers…but if you can listen to your gut and trust it, it will be the best tool you’ll ever have. And people will seek your “gut opinion” with time. Trust me.
You need to remind yourself that the decision you made is the right decision with the context, the information and the connection you made at the time. It’s the right thing to do for Right Now! But you also need to be comfortable with the fact that this decision will be stale in a couple weeks and you will need to make another with the new context and so on.
This has been a huge success piece for me. By nibbling my decision making and building on top of it, I’ve been able to push through some super exciting and challenging projects/initiatives at Shopify. I have led and/or collaborated to revamp our parental leave program, review our career path for our technical groups, build the growth strategy for R&D and so much more. I’ve been able to take on an incredible amount of challenges through many different large groups and help the company grow and push things forward quickly.
In my attempt to sum this up, I would say that finding a company that allows me to fully be myself has been my biggest piece of success. Working in a company where my values and thirst for experiment aligns with the way we get things done, has made me be at my very best. This has also allowed me to contribute and have a strong impact over here. Win-win, right?!