Kristina Lilleõis, Head of our People Operations team, talks about the challenges and rewards that come with tripling Veriff's number of employees to 300 in just six months. This is her story.
Kristina Lilleõis, August 15th, 2019
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“And check in with this piece when we’re a team of 260 to see how it went, and whether we stuck to the plan.”
These were the last lines of my last blog post from February when Veriff added its 100th team member. Well, I followed my instructions and had a read through the post this morning. Actually, I’m way past the due date because the number has already passed the 300 mark. Oops, time flies.
So, want to know how it went?
I cried once, got frustrated “a few times”, and went to bed at nine on multiple occasions to get eleven hours of sleep. It’s been busy, tiring, and challenging. But most of all, it has been wonderful!
Yes, most Fridays when walking home from work I felt sincerely happy, accomplished and oh so proud of my team. The way they handled all the interviews, employment contracts, onboarding sessions, and office moves blows me away. They kept their cool and made it seem like the easiest job in the world. It’s astonishing.
I guess the fact that we did it, we got to 300 people in less than 6 months, is also a bit astonishing. So, it’s time for another reflection on how it went and what is yet to come.
What I’m really happy about is that the excitement hasn’t disappeared. We are still driven by our goal to verify six billion people by 2025, and technical advances over the past months made this goal more reachable than ever.
What is also great is that our OKR framework seems to work in keeping all teams aligned in terms of what we should achieve every quarter to get closer to that number of verifications. So far we did pretty well with long term and short term planning.
What we do have to improve on is the planning that comes in between. Identifying the milestones we need to reach as a company is something that would help us understand if we’re on the right track towards the bigger goals.
Next, we should repeat those milestones to everyone at every opportunity. In the words of Brian Chesky, Founder and CEO of Airbnb, “culture at scale is all about repetition”. Repeating the things that matter is how they stay in focus. I said this in my last post and say it again now just because it’s SO TRUE.
Another big “project” completed as we scaled the team was articulating Veriff’s values. To be honest, I was skeptical about this at first. It seemed like something a big corporation would do and I didn’t see the value in it (pun intended).
Eventually, I realized that was wrong for several reasons:
The challenge now is to figure out how to put these values into practice in a structured way. That way they can be used as a compass for all our team members to use in moments of doubt.
To do this, one of the first steps is to establish ways to evaluate values during job interviews. I also want to create guides for how to reflect Veriff values during semi-annual temperature checks and specific “Value Events” where a team would work only on “Value-Based” topics. Overall, there is value in our values and, if you want, you can read our values here.
We had to create many processes over the past months, and I know that not all of them were favorably received by the team.
People were concerned about losing the Veriff vibe, and that processes would turn Veriff into a corporation where things move slowly. Most of these are valid concerns (can’t see us turning into a corporation any time soon, though) and I’m definitely against having processes for the sake of processes.
However, with 300 people we have to have certain things in place for people are treated fairly. We can plan (for instance, how much office space we need) and make sure the same questions wouldn’t have to be answered again and again and again, wasting everyone’s time.
But we don’t want to lose our flexibility.
Even if we have a process in place for x, y, z, we can act quickly outside of that process to bring results home. That’s also one of the biggest goals for the People Operations department in 2019: processes without bureaucracy.
Another 2000-and-forever goal for People Operations is keeping people happy. Yes, we have perks like fitness packages, food, and dogs in the office, but that’s not enough. People have to feel that what they do is appreciated.
A couple of months ago, I felt that Veriff had a very strong feedback culture. This is great because it shows that people care. However, it seemed that most of that feedback was constructive criticism on how to do things better. What was missing was praise.
That reminds me of that one time when I cried.
It was after organizing a week-long Leadership Bootcamp training course for our 30+ team leads and getting one Slack 👍 in return (we also have a strong emoji culture). It is not that bad, we do have a Stars of the Week routine in place where everyone can nominate people who have done excellent work during the week. I guess I was just in a dark place at that moment.
All that aside, my wish to all of us at tech or non-tech companies, who are so focused on growth and getting things done better and faster, is to stop and just praise people. Tell people in person that they did well, or that they are great teammates. Maybe even set a conscious goal of praising at least 1 person every day. If it is sincere, it will make people happy!
But what about what makes me happy? I noticed that I enjoy helping people solve their workplace (and sometimes personal) worries.
However, it can also be emotionally draining. I have to learn how to rest and take time for myself and learning. It is difficult, especially since I also enjoy my work most when it’s busy, and when I have several things going on at the same time and I’m hustlin’.
I think it’s fair to say that I’m addicted to that because as soon as it’s not that busy I start doubting myself. Am I doing the right thing? Am I thinking strategically enough? Am I good enough?
I shared those thoughts with some team leads recently and it seems that many of them feel the same way. One of them said that it’s a busy-ness hangover, that feeling when you just don’t know what to do with yourself during slower times. So to be happy, I have to master that skill of being at peace with quiet. I’ll report back as soon as I figured that out.
For Veriff, 300 is not the end goal. We will keep growing and I’m sure that we will report back soon with another significantly higher number of team members. However, that number is not a goal on its own.
So many new people have joined our teams recently, so now it’s time to get those teams to grow together by using our values, OKRs, and team events. Also, as this is the first year for Veriff People Operations, we still have some initiatives to put in place.
One of them is a company-wide semi-annual temperature check meeting that allows team members and leads to share feedback. It will also help us understand how aligned our teams are. Another idea is to separate team leads during onboarding to help them settle into their new role faster.
And of course, we need to measure things that matter. Team NPS (net promoter score) is a universal metric that sums up the efforts of People Operations pretty well. Our goal from quarter to quarter is to keep that score above 70 (excellent), and so far we achieved that.
So this crazy, busy, wonderful challenge continues to run in full-throttle. The key is keeping our minds alert and our task-lists focused as we grow into a team in the high hundreds or thousands.
As the VP of People at Veriff, Kristina keeps over 230 employees happy and aligned in our ambition to build the infrastructure for trust online.