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Inside Harness: Winner of OpenComp’s People-first Employers to Watch in 2023 Award - A Series D Company Backed By J.P. Morgan, Norwest & Others

| Nov 16, 2022 6:00:00 AM | By


Krystal Shields is the global director of people ops and talent management at Harness, a nominee for OpenComp’s People-first Employers to Watch in 2023 Award in the 500-2,000 employee category. In this interview, Krystal shares how Harness designs an employee-centric culture across so many countries and cultures that’s earned the company 4.4 stars on Glassdoor.

A little about Krystal Shields

When Krystal joined Harness three years ago, soon after it raised its Series A, it had 120 employees in four countries. Since then, the cloud computing startup has closed a Series D and expanded to 800 employees in nearly 20 countries—all while navigating the complications of a global pandemic.

Before landing at Harness, Krystal began her career in finance at Common Sense Media and She later transitioned to people operations and talent management roles at Lendup and D2iQ.


Tell us about Harness.

Harness creates software for software developers to make the process more streamlined and cost effective. The company last raised a Series D round, led by Norwest Ventures.


How do you define employee-centricity?

Because we’re a global company that’s distributed across the United States, it’s important for us to consider differences from geographic, legislative, and cultural perspectives. We gather as much information as possible, make sure employees are getting the right information, and that they're taken care of.


What are the pillars of your employee experience strategy?

As we expand globally, we try not to make assumptions based on the rules of the culture we’re familiar with. It’s important to have humility and respect for the different ways that countries operate, and to admit when we don’t know something. We ask a lot of questions, do research, and tap experts for help, whether that’s legal counsel or local partners and vendors in different parts of the world.

We also have a lot of support from the top. From the start, our founder Jyoti Bansal, wanted to give employees a positive experience. And diversity, equity, and inclusion has always been a priority, not just in terms of who we recruit and compensation. We want everyone in the organization to feel like they belong.


What do you do to optimize candidate experience?

In terms of compensation, we use compensation surveys. Our total rewards team is looking into some other options. Recruiters also provide us with a lot of information about candidate expectations and self-reported data, which is helpful to know when we recruit from specific companies. And employees often know that it’s a new country for us, so we’ll ask them about what they’re looking for and then do some research.

How do you approach career pathing?

Structure is essential for career paths and compensation. We go through career pathing and leveling exercises for each role to define competencies. And we also
make sure that our managers can have confident conversations about performance and compensation with their direct reports.

It’s really important to have transparent conversations with employees, even when it’s difficult because they’re underperforming. Don’t try to sweep it under the rug. And absolutely don’t wait until the last minute to have the conversation. Let them know that you appreciate their contributions, but that as a company, you’re expecting a certain level of performance and expertise. And then think about how you can make it a positive experience for them. What can they learn?


How do you ensure pay equity and pay transparency across the employee lifecycle?

Pay ranges are key to avoiding pay disparity because they help you make sure that people doing the same type of work are being paid fairly. That doesn't mean the pay is the same for everyone. There are many reasons why there could be differences, but someone shouldn’t be paid significantly less than their peers without valid reasons.

When I started at Harness, we didn’t have ranges or a real compensation process. Since then, I’ve put those into place and we’ve also established our first major total rewards team. This allows more holistic and regular checks for pay equity.

Another key is making sure that our managers understand our compensation philosophy, our compensation practices, and how that relates to their specific employees. Right now, we don’t have that level of transparency outside of the United States, but I see that following closely behind whether or not we are required to do so by law. I think that is important, especially when you're global, because there will be a sense of unfairness for people in locations where pay transparency isn’t required.

I don't think that companies should default to just what the law is, but what is the right thing to do. And really make that shift into having more open conversations about compensation. I think if you've put in the time and energy and effort to build a good compensation system, it may not be a comfortable conversation, right?

What tactics are you testing right now to improve the employee experience?

We’ve started doing stay interviews with our team in India, and are hoping to expand that to teams in other countries. We also send out an annual engagement survey and build action items from the responses.

We’ve recently hired a learning and development director to help build out L&D programs, which are key to retention.

Want to learn more from Krystal?

See all the winners of the People-first Employers to Watch in 2023 Awards