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HR Survival Tips for Going Global While Raising Multiple Rounds

Nov 8, 2022 2:00:00 AM | By


Hypergrowth has a reputation for being complicated, and few executives have lived the ride through multiple funding stages during global expansion. In this episode, we talk with Krystal Shields — who’s done so twice. She began her career in finance at Common Sense Media and before transitioning to people operations and talent management at Lendup, D2iQ, and Harness, where she’s currently Senior Director.

Join us as we discuss:

  • Asking for help as an HR leader
  • Advice on common areas of missing knowledge amongst HR leaders
  • Variance in pay transparency around the world
  • Guiding principles for navigating hypergrowth

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CAITLIN ALLEN: Hi, everyone. Good morning, happy Tuesday. And welcome to High Growth matters, the official thought leadership podcast for open comp for Chief people, officers and those who want to become 1000s of today's fastest growing businesses use open comp to get clarity at the point of every decision about pay. And I am Kailyn Allen, the VP of marketing of open comp. Today, we are going to dive into the topic of going global while raising multiple rounds. So hypergrowth has a reputation for being complicated, to say the least. And there are not many executives who can say that they've lived the ride through multiple stages of funding during global expansion. And so today we are going to talk with crystal shields, who has done it not once but twice. And she began her career in finance at Common Sense Media and, before transitioning to people operations, and Talent Management at companies like LendUp and mesosphere, which is now due to IQ Unharness, where she is currently senior director. So with that long Leeton, I will say welcome, Krystal, thank you for being here.

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Thank you so much for having me, Caitlin. Very excited.

CAITLIN ALLEN: We are to where I am, too. I'm not a rolly. So let's let's dive in Krystal, we'd like to ask the same question to kick it off just to kind of get to know you personally. And the first question is, if you could tell us about something that most of your coworkers don't know about you?

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Well, I would definitely say it's that I did transition from accounting to HR, it seems to be sort of the thing that really surprises people, although it is really common for people to transition from finance, and accounting into HR. And funny enough, maybe about a decade ago, around the time that I was at Common Sense Media. Someone asked me, you know, would you ever move into HR? And I said, Absolutely not. Not interested. That's not my area. I'm an accountant. That's all I want to do. So, you know, I never thought that I would, you know, have made the transition, but has actually been really positive. For me.

CAITLIN ALLEN: That's really neat. But what I think it probably shows underneath the covers is the ability to be resilient and curious and grow. So I'm excited to be exposed. When you joined harness, when the company I believe, had about 120 employees, right after it had raised its series A and I'm curious if you can walk us through what has changed since then, in terms of company size, and the number of countries you've expanded into?

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Absolutely. Well, the biggest, you know, obstacle or challenge we had obviously was COVID, no one anticipated that happening. And so, you know, we were on a really sort of very aggressive growth schedule. And like everyone else that came to a halt, a screeching halt until everyone sort of understood where we were, how we were going to work, how we were going to interact. And it just makes it that much more complicated when you're global. Because, you know, for HR people, we typically like to be like, right in front of folks talking to our people interacting with them, reading their body language. And all of that is a little bit more challenging when you're remote. And then add to that this like huge global expansion. So I think we were in about four countries when I started, which is very modest. It was, you know, maybe about a third of what we were we were in at mesosphere. So I was very comfortable there. And now we're looking, you know, to be almost 20 countries, where we, where we have employees, and that's a huge difference. And from, you know, a business perspective, I think a lot of startups are going global early. So you really have to be able to figure out ways to pivot support the company and be really flexible.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I can imagine how large is the how many employees do you have now?

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Just over 800, globally,

CAITLIN ALLEN: okay, so like 7x growth on the employee size? And then you said four to 25x growth in the countries? That's

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: roughly Yeah, we're getting there.

CAITLIN ALLEN: So in our pop call, you said something along the lines of You observe the HR leaders should assume they don't know what they're doing and ask for help when their companies are expanding globally. And I thought it was a really interesting comment. So I think our audience would too. Why is that?

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KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Absolutely. I think it's really important as your company is expanding globally to not assume that at what is happening, what their laws are, what the rules are the culture, that is the same as your your home country. And for many of us, that's the United States. And it's just very different. And I think it's important to have a certain amount of humility and respect for the different ways that countries operate. And to just, you know, hey, I don't know what I don't know, ask questions, that's always really the key. So, you know, don't make too many assumptions, do research and tap into experts when you can.

CAITLIN ALLEN: And we're gonna dive into some of those nuances globally, which will be really fun. When you say, when you say that HR leader should ask for help crystal. Is that just a general principle? Is there anyone in particular, they should ask for help? I imagine it relates to the countries in which they're going into what guidance would you give there?

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Well, it will really depend on what resources are available to you, I think in most companies have access to legal counsel, but that's a very expensive resource. However, if you are tapping into legal counsel, you will get all of the information that you need probably more information than you need. But you can use that information over and over again. So every time you run into that situation, you don't necessarily need to go to an attorney. There are local partners, we work with a company called vistra. And so they help support our payroll and HR needs in different parts of the world. And so we can tap into them as well, much, much less expensive most of the time than an attorney. And then you know, in some cases, we have a co employment situation where we work with a company where we don't have an entity in that, that country. And so we hire people through another employer through PEO. And that actually really works because we're not on the hook for everything. They do have HR resources. And so that partnership really helps us navigate new situations and new countries.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Okay, so it's a lot of local vendors who specialize in the location. Makes sense? What would you say were common common missteps that you either made or for they might have avoided in the last three years at harness? You know, as it relates to things like banks or employee leave? Or you know, all of those things?

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Um, mistakes? That's an interesting question. I think the learnings are that really, you know, some things apply to multiple countries. So for example, many other countries outside the United States have statutory leave requirements. So that's very easy to look that up and Google it, right. And, and think of what else, you know, payroll is very different. Fortunately, I don't I don't run payroll, I think the partnerships that you have within your organization are also incredibly important. So working with your accounting team, working with your finance team, and working with your legal team, and asking questions, and employees are also a great resource. So surprisingly, enough, outside of the United States, employees usually really know what their rights are, they're very well informed. And, you know, most, you know, employees know that, hey, this is a new country for us. We don't have that many employees. You know, what are you looking for? What are you expecting, and then we'll go back, and we'll take a look at it, and we'll research it. But if anything, you know, what I've learned is, you know, trying to gather as much information as possible, making sure that the employees are getting the right information, then that they're taken care of, and then also that I'm protecting the business, right, we don't want to fall afoul of a local law, when we simply could have asked the question we've gotten?

CAITLIN ALLEN: Sure. And I think you did something along the lines of how different employee leave and exits are for employees in other countries, what are some of those nuances?

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Sure. So you know, a lot of other countries that have are required notice period. So we don't have that in the United States. Typically, it's about 30 days, sometimes it can be longer, sometimes it's based on tenure, you can usually have someone work during that time, or you can give them you know, pay the timeout, right, instead of having them work if you just don't need them. There's no projects that they're working on. Parental Leave is another big one. There's a lot of statutory parental leave in other countries where we don't have that here in the United States. And it can be very generous. And so helping the managers as well as the employees navigate that is really, really important.

CAITLIN ALLEN: What about things related to banks and opening bank accounts? That's not

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KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Yeah, that's not really my area. Our accounting team primarily does that but I know, particularly during COVID where a lot of government offices and government services were either shut down, or they, you know, reduce their working time that became incredibly tough. For us, it delayed, you know, setting up certain entities and certain countries, you know, by months and months, even close to a year due to that delay. And then there's a lot of information that they're also requiring information about your, your shareholders information about your local director. So there's a lot of legality that comes with doing that you can't just wake up one day and decide you want to get set up in a in a new country.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, that makes sense. I think you said something about how important it is to be aware of international tribunals too, which is a big part.


CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah. A topic that is, is clearly top of mind for many employers, and is one that I'm passionate about in particular, is paid transparency. And we've got many new laws on the books and coming about to be in effect in New York City on November 1 in California and Washington on January 1, and then I'm sure a host of others that will be on their, their heels. What how does pay transparency vary around the globe?

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Well, we're really not required to provide that information outside of the United States. And that's really in select countries, it's really going to be very interest interesting for us, because we are based in California. And California tends to be one of those states that has the strictest rules, which in a way is great, because we typically will apply that across across all of the United States. And so you know, trying to figure out what is the right thing to do, being able to not only manage pay transparency from an external candidate perspective, but also from an employee perspective. And it's one of those conversations that managers just are not comfortable having. So I think one of the key things that we need to do is making sure that our managers understand our compensation philosophy, our compensation practices, and how that relates to their specific employees. We don't right now anticipate having to 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. Naturally, an employee that is located in Germany may say, hey, why don't you know, you're telling the United States employees? You know, what the pay range is? Why are you sharing that here. And so I don't think that companies should default to just what the law is, but sort of really what the right thing to do is, and really make that shift into having more open conversations about compensation. What I will say, though, is that culturally, some of our employees are more proactive about having conversations about their own compensation, that might not be required by law, but they just naturally do that. And there are protections in the United States as well, around having conversations about compensation. So when managers say you're not supposed to do that, really they can't, right employees are allowed to have those conversations. The question is, why don't you want them to have that? Right. Right. Why do you not want them discussing compensation? Is because your compensation practices are, you know, not solidified? Do you not feel comfortable with them? You know, are they unfair? And so you don't we want to share that information? Or do you just not know how to have that conversation with employees and feel comfortable doing it?

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think two things are really sticking out to me. One is the importance of equipping our people managers to have those conversations, I can't tell you, I'm probably exaggerating a little bit here. But I can think of a few times that half a dozen times where I've had to have conversations, whether it's about promotion, or adjustments, or whether it's actually making an offer where, you know, and there's where I'm, I'm telling someone $1 figure, and I have no justification apart from the actual dollar figure as to why that person is getting paid that amount. And, you know, in some situations where it's not with the top performer, maybe it's not as big of a deal, but in others, it really is something that matters so much so so as a people manager, I completely get that. And now, of course, I've lost my my second thing. Oh, it's, it's effective. I think what you just said was, we've reached a tipping point in the pay transparency trend, shall we say? And so I think it behooves us all, to not wait to react to legislation requiring us to do things, but instead to be proactive about just getting ahead towards where the puck is skating.

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: I think that is important, especially when you're you're global, because there will be a sense of unfairness for people where that you know, who live in locations where that's not required. And I think if you've put in the time and energy and effort to build a good compensation system, it should be it may not be a comfortable conversation, right? Culturally, it just really sort of depends But it should be a conversation that managers are able to have. And I think particularly for startups, where you have a lot of people who are high performing individual contributors, then moved into management roles, and you may not have the programming in place to train them up. That's just one more thing that makes it hard for them to become a people leader, right? They already are struggling with performance conversations and having one on ones and managing conflict. And then now you're, you know, expecting them to tell someone, hey, I'm giving you this compensation increase, and the person says, Well, I don't think that's fair. And they don't know what to say. Right? And it's always easier to give the employees what they want, versus really being able to have an informed and fair and open conversation about why they're compensated the way they are. Yep.

CAITLIN ALLEN: One of the things that I admire about people like you is that ability to constantly be resilient, reinvent themselves, right. Like it's a rare skill set to enter a company at series A and still be there at series, I think is D. Right? Didn't you recently it was a D. And so I'm curious, curious about two things related to that actually, one, like, one of your guiding principles been, as you've grown, like asking questions is clearly one of them. But you know, what are the other things that have kind of been guiding principles for you? And then second, as you look around you and help your people leaders think about their talent strategy? And I'm sure some of it that eventually involves replacing folks and realizing like, Hey, this is no longer a good fit for you. What do you do there? Two questions.

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Okay. I think for me, because, you know, this is my fourth tech company, and my third startup company, I was able to take those learnings and hit the ground running. So, you know, starting at harness in 2019, was a very familiar place. For me. I also partnered really closely with our other GNA functions, we were all hired at about the same time. And so that partnership was incredibly key in, you know, implementing our HRIS system and our payroll system and disciplinary systems, and the first performance reviews and all of those things. And so, you know, it probably wasn't until sort of COVID aside, it probably wasn't until we got to four or 500, where things maybe felt a little bit different. And we were starting to hire more specialists throughout the company. So it was a very comfortable place for me. I think for people leaders, when they think about, you know, are these folks the right fit. That's, that's a such a hard, it's such a hard decision. I've seen it happen. So many times difficult conversations to be had with maybe someone who's your head of product, let's just say just picking a random team, and that person has been with you from day one. And then you sort of get to a place where you know, you're at 250 300, you know, employees, they're not able to scale, not because they don't want to not because they're not smart or passionate about the company, they just don't have the experience. And then you start to get into a situation where you start to layer them, or they decide that they're going to leave, and that can be a lot of hurt feelings. And I would probably speak more to those employees who are experiencing that more so than the people leaders. And that, there still can be an opportunity for you to learn and grow at that company. If the person that they've brought in to lead the function can be a good mentor for you, and you can learn from them. Don't just leave, you've got to get over your feelings, you can feel how you feel for a little while, but sort of move on. And think about like what's the best interest of the company, you're probably a shareholder, you probably if you're early employee, you got a lot of shares. So think less about yourself, and more about what is in the best interest of the company. I think that's really important. On the people leader side, I think it's really important to have a transparent conversation with those employees. So don't try to sweep it under the rug, don't wait until the last minute, really start having those performance conversations, you're doing really, really great. We appreciate your contributions. But there's there's a place that we're going right as a company where we need a certain amount of experience and expertise. And you don't have that, and we can't, we want to train you up. We want to give you that experience. But you know, that might take 234 years or longer, right? So we really need to bring someone in. But you also have an opportunity to work under that leader. Hopefully it's a positive working relationship, and you can gain that experience so that the next time you find yourself as a head of product, let's say you'll be able to be in that role for a much longer period of time.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Sure, that makes sense. I'm thinking gosh, what was his name Daniel something he wrote Thinking Fast and Slow. And he said that good learning happens when three things are in play when you have passion when you bite sized learning and when you have repetition and I think there's no better way than learning with passionate bite sized learning repetition that when you've got an expert in the role that you want to be the to grow into yourself. So

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: absolutely.

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CAITLIN ALLEN: Second to last question for you, Crystal, and it's somewhat of a personal one. But what would you say your your proudest moment has been at harness so far?

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: You know, I think the thing I'm most proud of is the team that I have, I absolutely adore my team. And I know a lot of leaders say that, but I do. I think they're wonderful, they're smart, they're passionate about our team, I can rely on them. And you know, that's one of the things that really keeps me going. Because HR is it's just hard work. It's fulfilling in so many ways. But it can be really, really challenging. Dealing with people dealing with emotions, dealing with a lot of change and uncertainty. And I would not, I could not ask for a better team, hands down. They're wonderful. And that includes our extended people in places team, I don't want to forget about our recruiters, our workplace team, our total rewards team, I think we're just really in lockstep with each other. And that just makes things so much easier.

CAITLIN ALLEN: We spend so much time working, it's always nice if we actually like the people we work with,

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: oh my gosh, and it seems like such a small thing. But if you're if you just don't feel connected, and you don't feel like you're on the same page, and you don't feel like you're moving in the same direction, you're just not going to have a fulfilling experience at work, right. And the other things are important as well, good leadership, you know, great founders, you know, you know, a company that has a wonderful product, or product you feel like you're passionate about and feeling like there's a future there. But even if there's not, even if you you know, the company just isn't going anywhere, that doesn't mean you can't learn and grow and make connections.

CAITLIN ALLEN: So awesome. I like I said second last question. But this is actually my second lesson, though, I had the pleasure of meeting Matt Toller, who I think you report to or work with at harness I work. Okay, amazing background open door, like just the list goes on grammerly That at agora. And he spoke very highly of you. And and I think what it underscored for me in that moment was you, it seems to me, your team has done a very good job of showing the value prop of your organization, right. And you could say that in terms of like the seat at the exact table, or you know, the business case for total rewards, whatever it is, but how do you go about that? You know, is that a relationships play with other executives? Is it actual numbers in math? Is it the product of the people? It's probably some of all of those things? But how do you approach that?

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Well, I think it absolutely starts at the top, right. If you if your leaders, if your founders do not value HR, it really doesn't matter how great you are, you're just never going to convince them that HR is important to the company, and into the into the people experience. So for us, particularly our founder, Jyoti Bansal, already came in with wanting to support the employees and wanting to make sure that we had a positive employee experience. And then also our leadership. So Matt, and I both report to our chief people, Officer Lavon Lam. And he's been very open about our ideas. And I've always, I'm always coming up with something new to do. And he just nods his head and says, you know, go go do that. And so I think also creating a space for innovation. And creation in HR is really important. You can get inspiration from just about anywhere, but it's really about what's the best for you and for your team. And I think also building those relationships with the executive team. So I was fortunate, because I came in very, very early, I interviewed with a number of executives, also our founders, when I started, and so I was able to establish a relationship with them very early on. But I still check in, I still want to understand what are their needs? Is my team supporting them in the way that they they need the support? Is there something more that we could be doing? Keeping that connection with our senior leaders is incredibly important? You know, understanding what are their concerns, maybe it's specifically for their teams, maybe it's something that's, you know, broader, you know, for the entire company, and everyone has ideas about HR and people experience, right. And so nothing makes a leader feel better when you implement one of their ideas, and they feel like they're contributing in a different way to the company.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Sounds like marketing.

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Very similar. There are similarities really, you know, across the board, in many of our functions.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Well, awesome. I feel like I could keep going for a lot longer, but I'll be respectful of your time here. And we can close out with our our typical last question, which is among the many wonderful things that you've told us and talk we've talked about today, Krystal, if our listeners took one took action on one thing that we've discussed, what would you recommend that to be?

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: I would say two things. One, and I, and we didn't discuss this, but I think, you know, be patient with yourself. There's no way to be an expert in every single country. You just can't be right. There's some similarities in terms of the way that you might an entity might be set up what you know, the role that your team plays in that, but you just won't know all of the things and so, research or ask questions, you'll start to build on that knowledge, you'll start to know, hey, we're getting ready to terminate. And I know you asked me about performance management, we're getting ready to terminate someone in a particular country. Let me look at the contract. Let me you know, speak to local experts, if those are available to me to figure out exactly what it is that we have to do. So the more information you can bring to your leaders to protect them, protect the company and make sure that the employee is getting the rights that that they deserve, the better off you'll be.

CAITLIN ALLEN: They're your customers, and they are absolutely your customers. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Well, Krystal, thank you so much. This has been really enjoyable.

KRYSTAL SHIELDS: Thank you, Caitlin. Appreciate it. Thank you for having me.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah. My pleasure.

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