Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica MillerMerr-ll, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, H.R., and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Episode 270: The Role of the CHRO Leading a Remote Workforce with Claudia Leitão (@ClaudiaLeitão)
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:27.64] Today is part of a podcast series on Workology that’s focused on the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer, or CHRO. The CHRO is an executive or C-level role that deals with managing human resources, as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. This podcast is sponsored by HUB International. Today I’m joined by Claudia Leitao. She’s the global head of People and Culture at Pipedrive. Pipedrive is the first CRM platform made for salespeople by salespeople. Based in Lisbon, Portugal, Claudia partners with business leaders within her company to enable and scale growth as well as improve people management programs and practices. Claudia, welcome to the Workology podcast.
Claudia Leitao: [00:01:37.72] Thank you, Jessica. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:40.60] I’m so excited for us to have this conversation. I want to start with some background. You’ve been in HR management for nearly 20 years. How did your experience and job titles evolve over time into the Head of People and Culture or CHRO role?
Claudia Leitao: [00:01:56.20] Ok, so. Well, that’s a very good question. It’s it’s definitely interesting to see how people management practices have changed over the years. I started my career working as a recruitment consultant, and this experience allowed me to develop a lot of relevant skills, such as negotiation, project stakeholders, management and also working with multiple industries and contexts. This was a strong start which allowed me to to grow really fast.
Claudia Leitao: [00:02:28.00] After my consulting experience, I embraced the areas of H.R. as a generalist and a senior assistant, which would be similar to the business partner that we have currently in the market. And after the business partner role, it was clear to me what I would like to focus on and how important our work is towards the success of an organization. I was working at a big multinational at the time, working as a policies coordinator, but I always felt that bigger companies tend to take longer to shift direction and adapt to change. That’s when I turned my attention to the startup ecosystem. Working at startups is a completely different landscape. We have to roll up our sleeves and take action. Everything happens in a very fast-paced environment, in a very fast-paced move. So we need to be creative enough and reinvent our people practices systematically. We always need to be paying attention to what the market is practicing and always trying to reinvent what we do. To sum it all up, in the last 20 years, I’ve seen traditional companies that took a very traditional approach to HR management being replaced by startups that need to, need us to be deeply involved and that ultimately require us to be really hands-on, but also needs to, needs us to be very strategic, making sure that we support our teams in the best way possible and allow the companies to scale fast. That is the ultimate goal. The CHRO is critical for companies to succeed. And this is the main change that I’ve seen over the last 20 years. Ultimately, as H.R. professionals, we also have to reinvent ourselves to keep up with the growing needs of the global market, but also the acknowledgment that our contribution towards company success is definitely stronger. Now, at least that’s how I feel. And this is a bit of my story and how I have evolved so far in terms of my HR, well, background. And for sure, I see a lot of changes when it comes to how the H.R. rule is perceived by the companies and towards the success and the growth of a company.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:54.58] So how big is Pipedrive? How many employees do you have?
Claudia Leitao: [00:04:59.53] Currently, we have seven hundred employees. We just reached the milestone last December.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:06.19] Very cool. And how, how big is your HR organization? How many team members do you have in H.R.?
Claudia Leitao: [00:05:11.29] We have twenty-nine, twenty-nine people and it’s growing, and it’s growing.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:16.63] One of the things I wanted to ask you is about skills and experiences. So what skills and experiences do you think are absolute requirements for that CHRO role, especially for HR professionals who are wanting to follow in your footsteps in this career path?
Claudia Leitao: [00:05:33.46] Oh, well, for sure, I would say creativity, a data-driven mindset, flexibility, and adaptability. And this I would say it’s by disorder, creativity, data-driven mindset, flexibility, and adaptability. This has been crucial for me throughout the last two decades. And I also believe that they are key for the future HR professionals. The CHRO role is more and more a strategic partner to the business and executive teams. And we need to be ready to propose new approaches supported by meaningful and relevant data that actually allow us to support the decision-making process. We need to be ready to adjust our direction and listen to what challenges and opportunities are in front of us. Our senses need to be exquisitely tuned to what happens around us, in our team, in our company, in our market, at a global scale. Well, it is fundamental.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:31.03] I love that you say all this data, awareness, flexibility, these are, I guess not things like I think about in my 20 years within HR, the things that I was taught when I first went into the position and started to grow. These are all new developments. I feel like I’m and I’m excited about the future for H.R.
Claudia Leitao: [00:06:51.31] Yeah, yeah. I’m super excited about and looking at what has been happening over the last two decades. Beckets for sure. I feel really excited about what’s coming next.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:05.51] So you have a global team and obviously, you, like everyone else, you and your team, the organization has been impacted by the pandemic. I wanted to ask you, how have you had to adapt to the global health crisis last year and then moving forward into 2021?
Claudia Leitao: [00:07:25.24] Well, as any other change, the first reaction is to resist. I mean, humans have this amazing ability to adapt to changes, but we also resist that first, it’s inevitable after the initial shock of dealing with a global pandemic, which is something that I believe no one has experienced before. And all of the fear associated with this, I quickly shifted to a very pragmatic approach, reinventing and thinking of alternative solutions to what would bring us even closer as a team. Pipedrive has a very dispersed team, but we truly act as a global team, so indeed this global pandemic only reinforced the collaboration between locations.
Claudia Leitao: [00:08:11.11] I mean, the twenty-nine people that I have in my in my team, they are currently scattered in so many locations that I sometimes even forget about the time zones. So it’s, of course, a challenge to to keep in mind all of the time zones and be respectful of the time zone and the time difference. But the fact is that I honestly feel the collaboration even stronger. We are now all on the same page. No one is, of course, working in the same physical space. So now we are able to quickly adjust to the new norm and see ourselves altogether as a very global team. What we felt at some point was that the people were struggling to separate professional from personal life because of course, we have work and house responsibilities and the children and school home school. So of course it was a very different setting to what we were used to. But we were able to to reinvent ourselves and design coaching programs to support work-life balance.
Claudia Leitao: [00:09:20.17] We sponsored several moments of relaxation throughout the working day, like virtual coffees, virtual lunches, happy hours, etcetera. I mean, we never stop. We are systematically looking for new ways and new approaches to bring people together to communicate more and to keep that engagement not only between our team but also between global teams.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:44.50] I love that it really speaks to the flexibility part and the constant kind of communication and adaptability that you mentioned, it kind of at the beginning of our conversation. So just just building on that. But I, I love that you’re being mindful of time zones and people’s, you know, trying to balance these other parts of their life that are really kind of well in flux for for the foreseeable future.
Claudia Leitao: [00:10:10.45] Yeah, it’s interesting to see, of course, how many meetings we have with our kids, like on the background and the dogs and cats. Of course, it’s a different it’s a different setting. But at the same time, it’s what brings us closer because we are all on the same page. We are all on the same boat. We are definitely stronger as a team.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:32.68] You mentioned seven hundred employees globally and this is a recent milestone. I wanted to ask you how you celebrated that milestone of seven hundred employees?
Claudia Leitao: [00:10:42.67] Well, we did something truly amazing. We always like to celebrate these milestones in a very special way. But because most of our offices, of course, are closed now, we couldn’t do our usual milestone celebration. So we decided to do something different, kind of a presence not only to employees but also to the whole world. We partnered with the NGO to plant seven hundred trees. So one tree for each employee and we share the news in our Pipedrive end-of-year virtual gala, and the reactions were amazing. People felt a strong sense of pride and contribution to a very significant cause. I have to confess that I was very emotional at the moment that I was communicating the milestone celebration because first of all, I honestly believe that we are making a difference. We are all contributing and definitely seeing people reacting so strongly to our contribution that was something amazing. And again, engagement was, well, something phenomenal by that time, because, of course, people realized that Pipedrive is doing something that truly makes a difference.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:58.52] I love that what a great initiative using corporate social responsibility and to celebrate that employee milestone in a way that I don’t think I’d like. I want more of us to to think this way, like not just how can we inflate some balloons to take some Instagram photos and a couple of emails and a video. But how can we truly make the world around us a better place in celebration?
Claudia Leitao: [00:12:23.18] Yeah, definitely. I think that’s the future. Again, looking at the future, that’s the future of CSR for sure.
Break: [00:12:32.09] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you were listening to the Workology podcast sponsored by Workology. This is part of the CHRO series, which is powered by HUB International. We are talking with Claudia Leitao of Pipedrive.
Break: [00:12:47.07] This episode is sponsored by HUB International, your full-service employee benefits broker. Explore HUB’s 2021 Employee Benefits Outlook at www.HUBInternational.com for emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities ahead in 2021.
Celebrating Company Milestones During a Pandemic
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:06.56] You mentioned your gala, which I’m guessing was virtual. I want you to talk a little bit about virtual events and how they have impacted your employee engagement and a little bit more detail.
Claudia Leitao: [00:13:19.62] Yeah. So in the beginning of the global pandemic, we quickly created a set of new traditions. We had our old traditions, so we had to reinvent, and of course, those new traditions would reinforce the engagement and the communication with the team. Currently, what we have in terms of virtual events, we have our Company Whole Hands, that happens on a monthly basis. We have the Fancy Friday, so everyone dresses up really fancy on Fridays and then we take pictures. Virtual coffee so that people still remember what it looks like and how it feels like to to just have those random kitchen conversations. We also have virtual lunches with our teams, virtual happy hours to celebrate. So definitely the most significant one was the Pipedrive gala night at the end of the year. We acknowledge that we’re pretty diverse with some exceptional awards. So it was a very, very fancy gala, of course, virtual gala. And again, we celebrated the seven hundred milestone, which I honestly believe that contributed a lot to an exponentially increase of the employee engagement with the company and the sense of belonging and the pride was present in every statement. Everyone that was commenting after the event, how people were sharing in their social media. We could truly see how it had impact people and how it really made a difference.
Claudia Leitao: [00:15:01.13] We always try to have virtual events and not only at a global scale, but also at a local scale, because we also need to remember that we used to have an office in each location. So it’s good to still remember those folks that we used to work with every day. So on a weekly basis, we always do something, even if it is like a recipe, a healthy recipe that we need to share, cooking something different, just randomly doing exercise. So we always keep a very active and open channel to make sure that anyone that wants to join is able to join, even if it is just too quickly just catch up and see how they are feeling. So for us, virtual events and this virtual connection is definitely crucial.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:55.99] Perfect and thank you for sharing, because I want CHROs and HR leaders to be inspired and to learn from each other in terms of what’s working for them to keep employees engaged and teams engaged and people excited about working and feeling like they’re part of something, even though we’re not connected in an office and in the traditional sense, maybe the way the way we were before. And you guys seem to be doing a phenomenal job of being able to build those relationships globally and virtually.
Claudia Leitao: [00:16:27.94] Yes. Yes. And I think that everyone is really proud of what we have achieved so far. It was a very, very difficult year. I will not lie. I mean, of course, we we had many ups and downs, but the overall balance of what happened in 2020 is, is definitely a positive balance because we were able to convert something that was supposedly a negative situation into, well, an opportunity. And we developed new ideas and new ways of of being close to our team. So it’s definitely the creativity piece working here.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:10.84] So one of the other things that has also recently occurred, you guys have been very busy, is the recent acquisition. And so I wanted to ask you about that and then talk a little bit about change management and other things that you’ve done maybe to help sustain your guys culture so you don’t lose that, even though there are so many different things happening. We got the pandemic, everybody’s remote, the acquisition. How do you guys still make this amazing culture thrive?
Claudia Leitao: [00:17:42.91] Yeah, this this is an incredible an incredible question. And I always like this question because it gives me the opportunity to share a little bit more about what we have been doing and how Pipedrive looks at culture. Because culture for us, it’s everything. I mean, our values, the way how we live by our values, it’s something really strong in our culture and, of course, at Pipedrive.
Claudia Leitao: [00:18:10.48] But ultimately, I believe that the culture is a reflex of what we do every day as a team, and that hasn’t changed. And I honestly do not expect it to change. Of course, we will need to adjust. And here comes in the flexibility and adaptability that we were talking initially. And of course, we need to adjust to different processes and different ways. What will what matters here is not necessarily what we do, but how we do it and how we do it is our culture. This is what’s most important. Naturally, this is something we will be paying really close attention moving forward. And we are working together with the executive team to make sure that we create the conditions to drive the culture. We know it’s the best and the right one for us. So of course, I’m putting together a culture committee’s brainstorming activities and off-sites, and these are just a few of the initiatives that we already started to to design. But the main focus will be to keep the good in our culture and evolve where it’s, of course, still space to to improve because it is a growing piece for sure. Again, we are really proud of our culture and our values. And for sure, this is what represents the how we do things, how we communicate with each other, how we how passionate we are towards our projects and how we deliver things so that I do not expect to change.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:45.35] I love that, I love that it’s it’s just fascinating to me and I and it also makes me just really excited to hear that even though all this crazy stuff is happening at your organization and in the world, you guys are still able to hold on to this great culture and ecosystem and a place where your employees can feel comfortable, safe and they are excited to be a part of. It’s just I think it’s something that everybody can learn and try to model. And which is why I wanted to have you on the podcast talking about this.
Claudia Leitao: [00:20:23.03] Yeah, it’s really important. And for me, the culture piece, it’s definitely something that I really, really value and protect significantly. So, yeah, really, really big.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:35.48] One of the things that I wanted to go back to is corporate social responsibility part. How does this work for your company? Who oversees CSR? Is it a joint effort? What does that look like for you guys?
Claudia Leitao: [00:20:51.20] And it’s actually now a joint a joint collaboration. CSR was something that we recently started to work on in a more professional manner. Let me be honest. We always had several initiatives that were supporting environmental sustainability, support to local communities to support, support to animals and education, and many others. But it wasn’t actually a part of a comprehensive strategy. We focused on giving back based on the feedback that we collected from our employees and of course, to our local teams and local leaders. But we weren’t really putting all of these initiatives in a comprehensive strategy, in a very organized way. We did it, but we didn’t know exactly what we were doing. So every year we would dedicate a specific amount to, to the CSR initiatives. But what would be the focus was always decided ad hoc. Now, I would say that 2020 was definitely a wonderful year, a challenging and wonderful year. Last year, of course, we started looking at CSR in a very different way. So now we are developing strong, a stronger strategy to be able to actually share with the world with high price supports as relevant causes.
Claudia Leitao: [00:22:11.61] Sustainability is always one of the most important factors when choosing between alternatives and making decisions, so Pipedrive has initiated systematic and long-term projects within the company to reduce our carbon footprint and minimize our impact on the environment.
Claudia Leitao: [00:22:30.57] And this is also why we decided to complete the milestone and celebrate the milestone of the seven hundred employees with the planting trees. We are dedicated to environmental friendly practices in our offices and we always promote a green lifestyle among our employees. But besides this, we are always also focusing on education and the local community support. So this is something that we have been growing. This is something that we have been putting into a very comprehensive strategy. And we did already a lot of these actions in the past, but we didn’t look at it as CSR per say.
Claudia Leitao: [00:23:16.53] So now it’s a joint collaboration between HR, between also our PR unit. So it’s a joint collaboration to make sure that we put in place the best CSR strategy.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:31.65] Awesome. Thank you for kind of talking about the different components, because CSR is kind of it’s relatively new and there’s a lot of questions about who owns this, where does CSR live. And so each organization is a little bit different. But it’s helpful to hear your perspectives and experience in this area.
Claudia Leitao: [00:23:52.47] Sure, sure.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:54.98] Also along the lines of CSR, for someone who is getting started, maybe there an HR person who listens to your interview is like, wow, this is exciting and inspiring. Where do you recommend they get started to kick off a CSR initiative at their own company?
Claudia Leitao: [00:24:11.51] Oh, for sure listening to their teams. Listening to their teams, to the employees, it’s important to create a safe space and involve everyone as much as possible. Of course, asking people what initiatives they would like to see the company sponsoring, but be very specific about the areas that are acceptable, because as a company, we also have this responsibility, the responsibility of setting the boundaries of what is acceptable for the company to sponsor and then always highlight areas that promote sustainability for the future generations, like education and environment.
Claudia Leitao: [00:24:49.16] It’s our responsibility as leaders to create a better world for the future generations. At least that’s how I see it. So if we always have this principle in mind of creating a better world for the future generations, I think that we will be fine by creating those and setting those, those boundaries and then ask the people what kind of initiatives they would feel strongly about, what kind of initiatives they would like to see the companies sponsoring within those boundaries.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:23.69] I love it. Communication, asking questions, checking with your people to to help drive those initiatives. This is a cornerstone of what makes pipe drives culture so unique and also I think is a real key to to your success as an organization and as an H.R. team. So thank you so much for, for taking the time to talk with us on the Workology podcast.
Claudia Leitao: [00:25:49.64] Yeah. Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate. It was lovely and I hope that anyone who has questions can definitely reach out.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:59.42] We will link to your LinkedIn profile on the transcripts of this podcast, then go the show notes so far and Workology. And I appreciate all your insights here. This is going to be so valuable to so many of HR leaders who are looking for people to learn from. And I appreciate your time so much.
Claudia Leitao: [00:26:20.78] Thank you. Thank you, Jessica.
Closing: [00:26:23.51] There have been so many changes in H.R. in the past decade, but we’ve never lost our focus on people and pipe drive and the work that Claudia is doing is testament to that fact. I love what they’re doing for their culture, how they’re engaging their people globally and online and using and leveraging corporate social responsibility initiatives to help further the work that they do, touching and improving lives, not just their customers and their employees, but just making the world a better place. The Chief People Officer. This is such a critical role, and I wanted to showcase in this interview and others how the strategy and operations and what are the key parts of what make great senior H.R. leaders that support the organization. This leadership position has a large role in technology selection, adoption, training and culture. And I appreciate Claudia for taking the time to share her experience with us today.
Closing: [00:27:21.08] Thank you for joining the Workology podcast sponsored by Workology. This series is powered by our friends at HUB International. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time you can visit Workology.com to listen to our previous podcast episodes.
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