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Designing HR with A Business Lens

By OpenComp


Meera D’Souza spent 17 years at McKesson after relocating from India. While at McKesson, she was promoted across many different departments, ranging from software implementation and product training, to customer education and leadership development. Meera then managed an offshore team at a call center, before joining a fast-growing SaaS startup in the Midwest as HRBP, which was acquired in 2021. She’s currently the VP of People at fleet operations platform Fleetio

In this episode, we talk to Meera about what it’s like to design HR with the business lens she’s gained over time, as well as a truly equitable candidate and employee experience that bridges cultural gaps. We also chat about tips for companies going through M&A.



CAITLIN ALLEN: So Meera D'Souza spent 17 years at McKesson, after relocating to the US from India. And while at McKesson, McKesson, she was promoted across many different departments ranging from software implementation and product training to customer education and leadership development. Meera then managed an offshore team at a call center before joining a fast growing SAS startup in the Midwest as an HR business partner, which was acquired in 2021. And she's currently the VP of people at fleet operations, platform fleet do. All of that is important, because in this episode, we talked to Meera about what it is like to design HR with a business lens, the one that she's gained over time in her many roles and what it means to develop a truly equitable candidate and employee experience that bridges cultural gaps. And we finally as a bonus cover tips for companies that are going through m&a. Meera, thank you so much for being here.

MEERA D'SOUZA: Thanks, Caitlin. I'm excited to be here.

CAITLIN ALLEN: We're really, really pumped to have you. So let's start off with the same question. We asked all of our guests to get to know them a little personally, Meera, what is something that most of your coworkers don't know about you?

MEERA D'SOUZA: Okay, so let's see, I work remotely, I think I shared with you earlier, so and that 60% of flea do does the same. So I think there's probably a lot of things people don't know, about, you know, what happens after five of what happens after six? Like, what kinds of things am I interested in? Maybe something that they don't know is that I love vintage supplies, and mechanical things. So I don't know how to type. But I for typewriters, I never learned how to sell. But I have three sewing machines that are repurposed into coffee tables and table lamps. And so I love to collect I love to meet the collectors and the pickers and just, you know, strike up those conversations. I know, here they are, they know I like to Wordle. And I have a great streak going on. But I also Candy Crush. And I'm pretty proud of that because I met a lot of them like three, two or something like that. Without a single in and purchase. I like to have a little bit of like an or sometimes I say do proline, I'm

NANCY CONNERY: No offense to our other guests. But I think that that was like the best data dump of what your coworkers doubt. You get an A plus. That's great, great information. Thank you for sharing. And so you began working in India and then restarted your career when you relocated to the US spending, you know, as Caitlin mentioned, and impressive 17 year tenure at McKesson with a number of promotions along the way. So congratulations, that is not easy to achieve. You know, what was that experience like for you? And what did you learn about the importance of neutralizing culture gaps?

MEERA D'SOUZA: Yeah, I mean, you know, it was a while back, so I have to go back to like, almost 27 years ago, was when I first made that transition, right. And so it definitely feels a lot easier today, when you look back in hindsight, but I think the transition was actually more difficult than I had imagined it to be. Because I was coming from a country that I was familiar with, where I had grown up, I understood the employment marketplace, I understood how to interview how to get a job, and then I come to a country that seemingly has a lot in common, right. Same language, the dress is not a, you know, something that I'm unfamiliar with. We did listen to music from the US, you know, we could claim that we were watching Hollywood movies, you know, so far for us, and that was like the view into what life in the US was right. But it was still unfamiliar for me in terms of like, how do you navigate the workplace? Where do you even start to look for a job given that this was pre social media pre Linked in? Where a jobs advertised, you know, and some well meaning advice, you know, just in terms of like, you know, you do better if you just move to computer science, if you were an end New York, people are used to seeing more engineers, more programmers coming from outside the US. And for a hot minute, I did consider that. But then I decided to stay with HR and see what would come out of it. Right. So yeah, as luck would have it, for whatever reason we had a home computer, we have a dial up connection through the library, and newspaper was just about beginning to digitize a few job ads. And so through that is where I found the opportunity at McKesson and apply for it. And that was the first step that I took to kind of restart my career. Now, I would say that, you know, again, without social media without that pressure, it was a couple steps back maybe even more than a couple of steps back in terms of the level of job that I was starting at. And I'm sure if I had talked to like five or six colleagues or friends, they'd be like, don't do it. It's not good for your career. But it's what I needed, right? Because I had to understand what are the rules of engagement? What are the legalities? How are the benefits done in the US compared to in India, so it was for me, even though a few steps back of good starting place. So I'd say that, you know, the, the transition in that case, for me was a little bit more stark, maybe than it would be for most people, because it was an international relocation, right. But I'm sure every one of your listeners is experiencing some type of transition, right? Whether you transition from one company to the other, you transition from one job to the other one level, to another, you become a director or VP, you begin to work with new new generations in the workforce. Every one of these brings a cultural nuance. So you know, maybe geographical, the relocation makes it a much more stark contrast. But any migration, any movement can create that same cultural kind of dissonance, like you're used to one thing, you came from something familiar, and you have to learn the norms and the values of something else. Right. So from that perspective, I like to use the analogy of the iceberg. Right, we're above the waterline, you see the things that are more obvious, right, the things that are well stated. That for me, coming to the US, I knew the language was common, and I knew about dress and your music and your movies, like I said, soap operas. This was above the waterline, but life is really below the waterline, right? Like, how do you get a job? How do people make decisions in the workplace? You know, how do you advance in your career? How are things communicated, you know, a very direct versus what direct communication style, I think in the US compared to more of the indirect communication style that I was used to. So really, you know, understanding that, that what's under the waterline below the what you can see is what you really have to decode. And the best way to, for me to decode that was just to keep a healthy curiosity, like, you know, know that this could be different, maybe I should ask a few more questions. I'm also like, you know, big into, like, just observation, like, I love to sit and watch and see how things are happening. So that was very helpful to me, as I would see what was successful for some people, or how different people approach different situations. And of course, just having a good sense of humor. Because, you know, invariably, you will say something that is really different. And everyone's just staring at you, because it's not a word that they might be used to hearing. So in, I think, when you begin to look at it, as you know, there's things that you know, and that are well stated. And then there are things that you have to get to know. And to get to know that there's a lot of give and take. And it really is about giving before you take, right? Like you have to share why you think differently, or what you were thinking about a particular situation before people realize and say, Oh, all right, if that's the case, then we approach it slightly differently here. So, to me, that was a big part of like navigating and exposing the parts of the cultural nuances that are much more difficult to discern if you were just looking at it from the outside. So one example I like to give is just, you know, communication patterns in the US are more direct, and there's a great use of active voice, a lot of II statements and a lot of results and accomplishments that go with the statement coming from culture which was more collective, you know, we didn't use a lot of it. We use more we rarely do you talk about results and accomplishments, you talk more about process and collaboration. So very different approach, right? So it's just a simple question. Like, if someone assigns me a project, and they say, in Europe, can you do this? And my answer was usually, I think, very indirect. It took me years to figure this out. But it was always like, yeah, it can be done. And the minute I would say that, I get peppered with questions, right, can be done by who? Asked me, you know, are you going to be able to make the date? Do you need help? Like, you know, why is it so vague, right. And that took me a really long time. And through the power of observation, seeing particular coworker not have to go through this. It's like, what does he do that I don't do? As simple answer was, if he got asked that question, he simply said, I got it. I got it. And that just changed my perspective. So it was that curiosity, it was that, you know, just digging my heels in to figure things out. So I think I would just me, I would say that using that analogy, wherever you go, right, irrespective of what that move is really understanding what's below the waterline and decoding it will really help you to kind of bridge those cultural gaps. So that dissonance that you might feel, from moving to something less familiar.

NANCY CONNERY: Great, wonderful advice. And intel.

CAITLIN ALLEN: such good examples to Meera, I, what's coming to mind for me, because I'm currently taking Spanish lessons on my phone. I used to be fluent in college, my daughters live in Mexico, my stepdaughters live in Mexico. And I was with them last weekend. And there were about a half a dozen examples over the course of the weekend, where I said something my APA told me to say, and they explained to me why that didn't happen in Mexico. And it's a small example of what you're talking about. But I am so understanding. So thank you for giving us the practical,

MEERA D'SOUZA: absolutely. And even things like you know, just sometimes it will degenerate into laughter, because I will use the word fortnight to say, indicate like this will happen every 15 days, and I would get corrected to that's bi weekly. And then, you know, bi weekly is twice a week. They're like, No, then what do you think bi monthly is? That's like, that's twice a month? No, that's every two months. And it would just degenerate into like, we're saying the same words. But they mean different things, depending on where you know, where your English was anchored, right? British English versus American English. So true.

CAITLIN ALLEN: So next question, you you came to the US on a dependent visa, which at the time was not a problematic category. But today, the HNB, green card process can last a lifetime. And it can prevent a large pool of talent from working simply because they lack the employment authorization. So I'm curious how that experience of yours shaped your approach to crafting a recruiting experience that perhaps is more equitable and diverse than the norm?

MEERA D'SOUZA: Sure. You know, I, you're right, right, when I came in, like it was a much shorter process, but it didn't feel like it. So even though I received my work authorization within eight weeks, and you know, our green card came through in six months, the rest of the cultural assimilation, driving, for example, to get to a job, these activities took longer. And what it did for me in that one year was, you know, I kind of oscillated between feeling hopeful that at the end of that, I would find something, but also sometimes feeling very hopeless, like losing my confidence, because it was taking longer than I would have imagined to get back on my feet and be financially independent again. So seeing how difficult the program is today, I recognize that it must be 10 times as stressful for creating spouses when they're coming to the country relocating and seeking to kind of get their balance and what does that do to their confidence and their sense of hopelessness, right? But it also prompts me to think of like what other groups might be impacted because they just don't have the access to the right information or the resources or they face barriers to entering the workforce. So a good example could be, you know, first time college grads, no one in their family has graduated from college. They now have no mentors to to be able to guide them to get into the workforce, how should they interview how should they do their salary negotiation? There are no role models for them, like how do they start? How did they find their feet? Are we mean in general, right looking at in this was an interesting thing that we are my colleagues at flex had done, which is like looked up all this research that said that women don't tend to apply to jobs unless they feel like they meet 100% the requirements. So, you know, really trying to identify not just one group when what groups get marginalized, for what reasons. And then how can you construct employer, or other support mechanisms to help them through that journey, I think was one of the important things that I took away from my experience. So for example, with the trailing spouses, right, just educating employers about what that immigration status means, it's actually a very fast way to get someone to work for you, because you don't have to do the immigration process for a trailing spouse that has the work authorization, and they're very talented, they're available to work immediately. Most of the time, they are also they have longer tenures with you. So that part of the education for an employer becomes important. But I also tried to kind of pay back into the immigrant community through volunteer work that I do. So there's a young lady who has a small business called the immigrant Academy. And she offers like these boot camps on work, workforce readiness for people that have their work authorization. So I'll conduct a simple session for them on interviewing. And then I would share the material with Union feel like there's nothing new here. I know this all, but it's amazing how new it feels to every one of them because the rules of interviewing are different in each country. So that's one thing that, you know, has really helped me kind of give back more from an individual's perspective, educate from the employer perspective. But I'd love to share the example of what we did successfully, my colleagues did successfully at Plex, which is in casting a wider net for people who want to only apply for a job when they meet 100% of the requirements. So we took these jobs, and we separated out the need to have versus the nice to have. And as easy as that sounds, you know, we all like to write the job description that makes it feel like your dream job. But it's not the dream for everyone, when you include everything in the job description, it actually becomes a barrier after a point for some people. And so really separating out the need to have making it focused on what you absolutely must bring us table stakes. And then using the nice to have questions more in the interview process like that, I think and again, we can only say anecdotally, but we immediately felt a lift in the number of women who were applying, or other groups that were underrepresented, because of the way we tailored the job description. So I just tried to keep those learnings in mind, you know, put myself in those shoes. And think about like, what would be helpful. And so these were just a couple of examples that I thought I could share with you.

NANCY CONNERY: Hi, that reminds me, you know, being sensitive to kind of the the whole partner equation when you're dealing with visas and, you know, just remembering that there's there's oftentimes families involved. And so you know, it was very important to us back in the Salesforce days when we did a lot of visa work was to make sure that communication was so crisp, so clear, before they asked the questions. And so I wholeheartedly agree with that. And it's I also love the way that you give back to so great, great work there. And, you know, so you led talent development at a company in the Midwest, and it was eventually acquired by Rockwell back in 2021. And, you know, a significant cohort of our listeners live and work in the Midwest. And, you know, it is for all intensive purposes, a little bit of a different startup scene, if you will, then kind of being the in the hub of it here in the Bay Area where I'm actually located. You know, what nuances accompany being a part of a SASS company in that part of of the, in that part of the country?

MEERA D'SOUZA: Yeah, you know, and I didn't work on either coast. So this is all I've seen great. And, and I think what is amazing, is for three companies now, so including the original company that I joined with at McKesson, it was a tech startup in the 1970s doing online billing for healthcare providers. And you know, thinking wow, that was pretty revolutionary for us. So different, right? And likewise, of flex radio, etc. Like great ideas are not bound by geography. They are everywhere. And so I think that's what valuable to know that there are a lot of successful entrepreneurs in the Midwest in the heartland. And that, you know, when what they're interested to do is to scale those ideas, right? monetize those ideas, to basically solve in a very unique way, what the customer pain point is, create gainful employment for their workforce, and make money at it. Right, grab the market share, make money at it, I don't think that is different, irrespective of where you're located. But then, about five years ago, when I heard frustrated leader, justice, express, why can I just keep getting this Midwest nice? And what's like, what's Midwest? And like, it's like, I've only been in the Midwest, like, what are they talking about? And it can't be something that is very specific to it must be a matter of perspective, right? And so I kept digging to see like, what does he see as the difference? What would he like to see instead, and like I said, the business reason to do start up a company or a tech company, a SASS company remains the same, irrespective of your geography. But when you look at the culture spectrum, and if you have relationship first versus task first as the spectrum, I think it matters, or is a little bit different on what is your starting point to get to that business objective. So maybe in the Midwest, we like to start with the relationship first, you know, where we want to know, like, before we work together, let's get to know each other a little bit, let's get to know your background, let's share with you where we've been, what we've done, you know, the typical, like, we've tried this before, and we've tried that before, it's almost like a showcase of each other's capabilities, getting to know each other. And when we feel secure in that relationship, then, you know, it's like gangbusters to get to the business goal. Whereas if you're coming more from a task first, right, in a task first, it's like, let's work together, let's figure out what everyone brings to the table, their domain expertise. And then when we have a successful outcome, it would be nice to go out and grab a few beers or have dinner, and then we can accelerate the business outcomes even more. And so the difference sometimes is that you feel like when you're going for relationship first, that you're not hearing those terms that usually are the language around urgency, around risk taking around intensity. And for someone that's, you know, task first, they're like, I just keep hearing things like, oh, we'll figure it out, let's take our time to get there, the customer is always the most important. And really, these are not different ideas. They're just different starting points. So as a as an HR practitioner, if you're entering, you know, a workforce where you you're hearing that there is that dissonance between language that is spoken by different people, whether it's leaders, employees, newer people that have entered that company, it's like maybe look for is just the approach that is different. Because literally every company still does exist for the same reason is to solve the customer's pain points, and do it well with a very inspired workforce. So to me, that was one of the things that kind of stands out based on my experience, and just trying to understand what Midwest nice was.

NANCY CONNERY: It's a real thing.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Communication really is, I can even see that that the styles that you're talking about potentially being things that come into play it just between different teams to different departments.

MEERA D'SOUZA: So that's what it's like, you know, taking the time to understand those different starting points, is really helpful.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, it's so central to communicating. So, you've been on the acquirer side at McKesson several times. And then on the other side of the m&a fence during the Rockwell acquisition, how can companies bring people into the fold and make them feel whole during m&a? Which is a big question. So that's not something that is often the case.

MEERA D'SOUZA: Yeah, it can be challenging to navigate. Again, it's another transition, right? You were a standalone company. Now you're part of something bigger. And in every case, I thought that there was always excitement when that event took place, because for the acquiring company, it's like we get to you know, offer our customers great technology, a proven solution, you know, something that is so different that we could not have done it on our own. So there's a lot of excitement around that. And for the acquired company, it's like, wow, you saw the value in us, we can be the flagship product for your strategy, we can go even further now with your resources, and what you bring to the table. And so that initial excitement is very strong. And I think soon after that, like, you know, again, we talk about what's going on below the waterline, right? People just want to know, like, what does this mean for me? Right? What does it mean for my role? Are you going to find me to be redundant? What's the work design going to look like when we still have all the agility, flexibility that we have come to appreciate? And then, you know, more fundamentally, what about my salary? What about my benefits? What are you going to take away from me? Like these become real concerns, and they can become all consuming? If we don't take the time to kind of address? In what order should we address it, and what makes the most sense. So really planning, I think, for that, so that you don't lose the excitement of the business event. But you also take care of the individual during that time. So one of the things that we did it at Rockwell is we had a great partnership with the HR team. So the two HR teams together, really working closely to identify those things that were either common or better, and immediately, kind of explain that bring that to the employee base, so that they understand that, oh, this is something that's going to be continuing into the future. And then also having a list of things that were perceived to maybe be worse, because without due diligence, you actually don't know if it's worse, right. So a good example of that was our vacation policy, we were coming from responsible time off, which sometimes is just, you know, unlimited time off, right, is how it's interpreted. Where there was a more tenure based time off, you know, as Rockwell, if you just compared that one aspect, one fruit to the other, the apple to the apple, it would have felt that we were worse off. But when you take the entire fruit basket, and you look at what what other leaves, can we avail off. Under Rockwell, it was a much richer program. And so really taking each of those things, people have concerns with doing your due diligence, understanding whether there's adversity that is upcoming on any of those factors, seeing how best you can mitigate that adversity, and then communicating that early to people so that they have time to kind of get used to the new normal, or they can relax, that things will be fine for them. And I think we had a phenomenal partnership there with the Wroclaw HR team, where we were able to present that to employees, you know, several months in advance of the changes, and really help them get into the headspace of like, Alright, I'm going to be fine. Let's get excited about the business of here.

NANCY CONNERY: You communication is key in those situations. You know, let's talk you know about designing HR with a business lens for a minute if we can, which is something that you know you gained from working in customer in software education, then leadership development, then software implementation, kind of summarizing everything from your end, now then managing offshore teams at a call center, you know, how have you approached this process and flee do in your role as VP of people?

MEERA D'SOUZA: Yeah, and I think for me, you know, if it's like not having tunnel vision, right, I've been in HR for so long, that it becomes almost like what can be the next program that I designed, that's going to be so great. And that, you know, has a theme and graphics and all the good stuff, right. And when I took the role in the business meeting, the implementation team and the technical services team, I actually got to take some of my own medicine. And all of a sudden, it's like, okay, that program was great. But when you are also trying to manage a p&l and you are trying to handle customer escalations and keep the customer satisfaction high and resolve problems on the goal, you know, we were implementing in pharmacies that were attached to large hospitals, there is no time to make a mistake, right? You're running a very intense business. In the middle of that, if you have to stop to send a person to a three day training program. You have to take like, you know, one week off to do your annual performance reviews or participate in calibration or do compensation planning. It just felt like okay, if I get a chance to do this again, I would love to bring my business experience and become more Practical in the types of programs that I design or that I'm able to really help the company move forward with. So here at Video, like in flex two, like I really appreciated the HRBP role. And we started to build out that practice here, with really emphasizing that the B is for business, right, embedding ourselves in the business, understanding the overall business context, participating in business meetings, supporting leaders, you know, in the discussions that they need to have with employees, being available to our employees during interactions that are key to continue to anchor to the business. That's what we are striving for. And we have started to build out of that business partner practice here. You know, a simple thing that I'm doing right now, as we're building that practice is after our executive team meeting ends on a Tuesday, we meet as a people leadership team right away, so that it's like, hey, these were some of the concerns that came up from a business perspective, may have some people repercussions, look out for these issues, or dive deeper. During the week to find out if there are any concerns, if anyone needs our support, what do they need to move the business forward? So that's something simple that, you know, I've been able to do while we continue to figure out like ratios, and what's the support that's truly needed. And then the other thing would be just aligning your programs, you know, to be practical, as well as to match the business planning, right. So if you have a annual performance review process, but you do quarterly business planning through OKRs, right there, there's a little bit of friction, because the two things don't give the individual the alignment towards what the company is trying to achieve. So can we create, you know, performance review process that flows out of our OKR planning? Can we create feedback in real time, so that you have every week during which you might be able to adjust or tweak or maybe a month or a quarter during which you can take on significant projects. So that's another part of what we are trying to bring. And I think both of those, like were informed by my time in the business and realizing that if I can want more chance, I would love to be a different HR person.

NANCY CONNERY: Great Learning for that.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah. What is what's one common belief in the HR and people practice that you disagree with?

MEERA D'SOUZA: No, I don't disagree with but I always flinch just a little bit. When if we join a meeting as an HR person, or from a people team, you know, people are just wondering, like, why are you here? And we've got to do scary things, right. And I would love for everyone to see how if we truly partner with the business, and we are practical in our approach of how we do things, we can actually move the business and individuals forward. So I'd love for time when I joined the meeting, and I don't have a place to people. It's like, why is HR on the call?

NANCY CONNERY: There's definite truth in that perception, whatever we can do to change that perception, I think will go a very, very long way for sure. And I have a meeting coming up soon where that very topic came, you know, front and center. Yeah, and this has been such a great conversation with you today, Meera, and you know, we we always kind of end on a very high note with our listeners and ask, you know, ask our guests to say, you know, what's the top thing we can all take away from today's conversation with you?

MEERA D'SOUZA: Yeah, you know, I really do hope because you've covered such a nice mix of topics like I really enjoyed this conversation, I'm hoping that everyone picks up a little something to help them in their HR practice. I think from my own self, I would say that my learning was frayed out that keep your curiosity alive as an individual as a business leader, because there's always so much to learn. Never mind how long you have spent in the industry or in your profession, and really make it your mission to uncover as much of the iceberg below the waterline as you can. Because by making those things more visible, more accessible to everyone, you can start really making a difference to be more equitable, and have more of that outreach to groups that traditionally may not have the resources. I'd say a good sense of humor will never fail you. But if all else fails, you know Candy Crush it because it would give you a little bit of work, you know, just stress relief and make you feel like I got this if I can pass this level, I think I can solve the next problem as well.

CAITLIN ALLEN: What a wonderful way to end so thank you for that Meera. Before we say goodbye to our guests, please give us a five star rating and you can email me at If you have ideas for topics or guests that Nancy and I can speak to and just saying another thank you, Meera. This has been wide reaching and really, really educational and fun to chat with. Thanks

MEERA D'SOUZA: to you. Thanks, Caitlin. I really enjoyed this time together.

NANCY CONNERY: Thank you, likewise.

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