We talked with Nicole, the dedicated professional behind the people operations at Levels, a forward-thinking remote company. Nicole shares her journey into the field, the challenges she faces, and the initiatives she spearheads to improve team culture and employee ROI. With a focus on balancing accountability and compassion, Nicole sheds light on the unique approach of Levels and the tools they utilize to foster a thriving work environment.
Why did you decide to start a career in People Operations?
There's a common trend among many people in remote companies who start in different areas. I initially worked as a community manager, focusing on external community building and customer relations. Over time, I realized the importance of internal community building, which is how I view HR, especially in a remote company. At that time, our team consisted ofaround 25 people in 2014 when remote work was still relatively new and innovative.
I became the first one to consider taking a family leave at the company. I conducted research and proposed a family leave policy for our team. About a year later, I was the first one to actually utilize it when I had my first child. This experience sparked my interest in internal operations policies. Along with one of our marketing teammates, I branched off to become the people team for the company when we reached around 50-60 employees. From there, I continued to develop my skills, obtained my SHRM certification, attended conferences, and joined learning groups.
I thoroughly enjoyed the unique approach we had as a values-driven and culturally-oriented company. Personally, I don't think I could work in a traditional office environment with a clock-in, clock-out mentality when it comes to human resources. I'm drawn to the people-first approach of forward-thinking companies, especially in the remote work setting. It has been a fun journey, and I recently found a great opportunity at Levels, where we currently have around 60 employees. It's a similar environment, with a one-person people team managing all aspects of HR, which I find exciting.
What do you consider the most challenging aspect of People Operations?
Balancing the competing interests is the most challenging aspect for me. There's a fine line between achieving tasks, holding people accountable, and treating individuals with warmth, compassion, and kindness. It's crucial to consider what is best for both individuals and the company. Currently, at Levels, we are focused on being a performance-driven company, maintaining high standards, and meeting our business goals. This is deeply rooted in our value of "We're a team, not a family," inspired by Netflix's culture. We aim to treat each other well while also maintaining a strong connection with our values and a mission to solve the metabolic health crisis.
It involves handling deep emotions and feelings. However, we must be honest and direct about whether something is working, whether individuals are meeting the required standards, and whether they are the right fit for the company at its current stage. While we consider personal circumstances such as being the sole provider for a family, if someone isn't driving the team forward or helping us achieve our goals, it's important to recognize that they may be more successful in a different environment. Therefore, the biggest challenge lies in navigating the nuances of kindness and finding the most compassionate path forward, which often involves honesty, transparency, direct communication, and maintaining open dialogue with individuals.
Are there any initiatives in place to improve team culture or increase employee ROI?
Yes, we're currently fine-tuning our performance review process. We recently reevaluated our internal career leveling and aligned it with more accurate salary data. Our goal is to ensure that our practices and all components are scalable and sustainable, both for the company's financial health and for providing employees with clarity and growth opportunities. However, we also need to maintain flexibility since we are still an early-stage startup in Series A. We have to be honest about what we can and cannot offer as a company. For example, we might not be the best fit for junior developers at the early stagesof their careers due to limited mentorship capacity.
We aim to have a clear framework for career advancement that aligns with our business needs. These are some of the major initiatives we have been focusing on. Additionally, we have formalized and structured our meetups to foster better team connections. While we are an asynchronous and remote-first company, we encourage small team meetups when necessary, but they remain optional to accommodate individuals who prefer not to travel. These are some of the key areas of focus for us this year as we strive to make swift product decisions and move forward.
Do you conduct any surveys to assess employee satisfaction as well?
Yes, we conduct quarterly surveys and occasionally pulse surveys as well. These surveys are non-anonymous, meaning the aggregated results are visible to managers, but individual responses are not shared company-wide. This approach has helped us achieve about 99% participation since we can send reminders to complete the surveys.
In addition, we offer an anonymous form for anyone who prefers to share feedback anonymously. I also have frequent one-on-one chats with random teammates each week and regularly check in with managers. When we have in-person meetings, we receive valuable feedback, which we take seriously and address as needed. We strive for continuous feedback and aim to maintain open communication channels.
What is your KPI? How are you evaluated?
Currently, my main focus and goal revolve around building confidence and trust with our managers. It is essential for them to know that I have a close view of performance and ensure that we maintain high standards in that regard. I achieve this through discussions with managers and individuals, reviewing performance check-ins, and closely monitoring everyone's progress.
My primary directive is to address any culture misalignment, value misalignment, or performance issues. As for specific KPIs, I don't have dashboards or numerical goals. Instead, we prioritize healthy attrition and ensuring we have the right team in place. We utilize the "keeper test" inspired by Netflix. It involves asking managers how hard they would fight to keep an individual on the team if they were considering another job opportunity. If someone doesn't meet the "keeper" standard, we develop a plan to help them reach that level or consider parting ways with them. Ultimately, my focus is on maintaining an elevated and high-performing team. This is the standard we hold ourselves to, and I aim to ensure the CEO, executive team, and leadership feel comfortable and confident in our approach.
What kind of tools do you typically use?
We heavily rely on Notion as our primary tool. Levels originated as a documentation-heavy culture, and we continue to prioritize this. We lean towards memos rather than meetings, so there's a significant emphasis on creating and using documents. Notion serves as the central hub for all our documentation. We also use Athena to access executive assistants, encouraging delegation whenever possible. All of this is managed through Notion. In addition, we have an internal tool called "comms" that we built ourselves. It replicates some of the older features of Threads
People Ops Leaders
24th March, 2023
1st April, 2023