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Finding Your Voice: What Chief People Officers Need from Comp Data

By OpenComp


Once a task-driven, compliance-oriented role, HR has rapidly evolved to serve as a collaborative partner of the CEO that ensures people alignment, engagement and retention. In today’s episode, we talk about the quickly evolving charter of a Chief People Officer in the modern organization — as well as the role that comp data plays in earning, keeping, and succeeding in it. 

Our guest is Joanne Simon-Walters —TEDx speaker, Ph.D. candidate and Chief People Officer of emergency response platform Simplesense, who also happens to be an OpenComp customer. With a personal mission to help underrepresented people tell their stories, Joanne is passionate about diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, acceptance, and working at a company that helps those who help others.

Join us as we discuss:

  • The shifting relationship between CPO and CEO
  • Comp data’s role in attracting diversity with pay
  • The importance of finding your voice



CAITLIN ALLEN: Welcome, everyone to another episode of high growth matters sponsored by OpenComp. I am your host, Caitlin Allen, VP of Marketing at OpenComp. And today, we talk about the rapidly evolving charter of a chief people officer in the modern organization, as well as the role that compensation data plays in earning and keeping and succeeding in in that charter. Our guest is Joanne Simon Walters, TEDx speaker, PhD candidates and Chief People Officer of emergency response platform Simplesense. And Simplesense also happens to be a new OpenComp customer. Joanne, welcome.

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

CAITLIN ALLEN: We're really thrilled to have you. And for those of you who are listening in on on audio, Joanna and I are both in resplendent Friday gear, I was really excited. She showed up with me on a Friday dressed as if it was one. So Joanne, let's let's dive in. We always start with one kind of more personal question, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? In Simplesense?

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: Sure. Well, you've already done a really good job of capturing who I am professionally. So I'm just gonna say thank you. And the way I'll go with this, then is I'll just talk to you about my personal mission. My personal mission is to make available and sustained platforms and mechanisms for underrepresented people to tell their story. And so for the people who crossed paths with me in this life, my hope is that if they need to heal from an undesirable experience from their past, and could be work experiences, that through their interactions with me, they once again find their voice. So I would say that's me. In a nutshell, in addition to all of the wonderful professional accolades you shared already, with respect to Simplesense, and what we do here at Simplesense. Try to make that succinct we integrate comp data and technologies to help operators and responders get the information they need to react faster in any emergency. And we collapse that to like the simple tagline, in line with our name, Simplesense of we help those who help others. So basically, the technology infrastructure that we build, it creates or improves access to critical information for 1000s of people sitting at MIT, military bases, operation centers, corporate campuses, and again, it's about getting them compensation data they can actually use in the moment to make good decisions to protect our safety and security. 

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love the brand continuity of all of that, but you know, your personal mission is giving voice to others, helping them heal. So foundational for diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, acceptance, and then to work at a company that helps those who help others. It's just it's very meta in some respects. So love, love the symmetry, I guess between your action and your your guiding principles and beliefs. What What's something that many of your co workers don't usually know about you Joanne?

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: Wow, I'm such an open book. That's a hard one. I talk a little bit too much. But I don't think that I often share that I'm a little bit of a fitness enthusiast and mainly because you know my weight is seen better days. But prior to having children I was actively training for my first fitness competition. And then I got pregnant with my son so that didn't quite play out. And years later I still have this like drive I you know, since then run 310 K's I just love picking up the iron and like the bar I'm just like all of my frustrations take it out on the bar. And I think sometimes when my co workers see me they're there or interact with me they think of a more Oh, I don't know, kind friendly not a grrr kind of person. I think they'd be surprised to hear that.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Well, it's clearly because you get out the grrr elsewhere. 

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: Yes. So I can show up as a very kind and passionate HR professional but I am.

CAITLIN ALLEN: love it. I love it. I out. Fitness is also an outlet for me too. So I completely understand. Well, let's talk about the evolving role of the chief people officer, the CPO and how the CPO can support CEOs in impacting their part of the world which is Something you talked about in our prep call, you know, how tell me about the evolving role of the chief people officer and that relationship with the CEO.

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: Definitely very different from where the world of HR started, right, where we were like very task driven, compliance oriented, kind of telling the organization, how to not get in trouble, how to tell the managers how to not get in trouble and more of that like view of being protectors of the organization rather than champions of the people. And our world started demanding something different A while back, but 2020, like threw us light years and seeing like, move this light years ahead with like, Look, if people are not going to work for you, if their values don't align to yours, you're not going to get the best people if you're not taking care of employees holistically. And if you're not hearing that this is important, whatever those set of values may be, is important to them. So chief people, officers and the whole people operations piece of organizations have really evolved into more collaborative partners, have the CEO to help them better understand what is really going on with the workforce? And how do we ensure that what we're doing in our values are attracting the best, but also keeping the best engaged in their work. So I'm excited because I've been there for a long time, I like to say that I was a millennial, or a Gen Z, or before it was popular. I'm actually a Gen X er, but I was like, this didn't work, you know, for a long time. And that needing, as you mentioned before, the synergy between my personal mission and Simplesense. It's intentional, like I was drawn in by the fact that we help those who help others. That's who I am. That's what I want to align to. And those are the kinds of people I want to be around.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. And I love the continuity of it as if it's not. It is an evolving role. But it's, it's rooted in something so human and so impactful that there's like a long time continuity in that mission. Let's talk about comp data, HR data specifically. I know that for you compensation data is part of how you use your voice as a CPO. What would you say there around that relationship?

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: Well, for me, compensation data is critical like it because initially when you hear it, you think more of like finance and accounting roles. And you think of people or human resources as a sort of touchy feely. But here's the thing, if you are making decisions that are impacting lives of people, you better have sound comp data to support those decisions. When we talk about pay ranges, pay bands, is not only about pulling people in who want to make a certain amount of money or feel they're qualified to make a certain amount of money. But it's also the impression that everybody else in the company gets about your view of equity, your view of belonging like you want the people you attract, to know that they are valued from the very beginning. And I sort of went a roundabout way to get to this point. For far too long, we have had women and other underrepresented underrepresented groups be offered jobs based on making more than I made before. Well, the problem with that is if you've always made less than you are worth in the market, you're never going to be able to catch up to those who've always been compensated at or above what they're worth. So for us, it's Simplesense. And for me personally, it's very important. I never asked the question about even before all these patrons Pharisee laws. I never asked the question about what you made before because I don't actually care what you made before. Yeah, what I care about is what is this role? How was this roll valued? At simple cents? How is this roll valued at the company that I'm with? And how is this roll valued in the market? What value does it have to us? And that's the offer I'm giving you. And I've many minorities, many people of color, many women who have actually said to me, Oh, wow, thank you. That's so much more than I made before. And I'm like, right. And to be quite frank, there's also been many of the dominant culture who have been like, Hmm, you know, I was, I was targeting much higher. Well, you know, because they've always been compensated at a certain place. It's very interesting. Oh, one other piece. And when we talk about like being able to attract more diversity into companies It starts with pay. Because trust me, there gonna be some very, very thankful people who are really committed to your work and to your mission. Because from the very beginning, you demonstrated respect for them respect for their time and you compensated them like a professional and not based on what you could get away with.

CAITLIN ALLEN: You got right at the heart of that I love it, there is such a personal relationship between someone's pay and someone's loyalty, their retention, their performance. It all starts with having access to that information and having a fair and equitable approach to accommodate us specifically, in this case, how? How do you use compensation data then Joanne to develop pay ranges and create job levels? It's Simplesense.

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: Um, well, what I really like about OpenComp is the ability for me to run various scenarios, and it really helps us when we're planning as an executive team. What is the skill level that we're we start off with? What is the skill level we're really looking for in this position? What do we really need? What is the the way I look at job descriptions? In general? What are the essential skills? Or what's the baseline you need to be successful in this role? Now we have all the pie in the sky nice to haves, and we all want a unicorn that can do it all. But I start there, like what what is essential to us? Then take a look at what does that mean, in terms of number of years of experience? So is a person with no zero to two years or two to four, seven or more years? Are they? Do they have the minimum needed for that to be successful in this role? And then what's our geographic strategy? Like? Like, like, really take a look at whether or not we are paying somebody in Alabama? Far less than somebody we're paying in Denver, Colorado? And how do we feel about that and our value of people first. So for me, the establishing of pay bands is more the work happens in the planning, and how we are conceptualizing a roll. And then looking at the hard numbers. Okay, now that we conceptualize this, and this is what we believe is what we need. What does that pay in Denver? What does that pay in San Francisco, if that's not hitting the pay that we thought, then I'm not interested in changing the pay, because I'm gonna be based on data and compensation data that is measurable and data that I can support. If I ever need to defend that data. What I do is take the team back to, then is this really the role? Maybe what we thought we needed is not what we need. So let's let's bring the conversation back to that. It's been empowering to have OpenComp, because let's face it, I work with a bunch of engineers. And engineers are definitely very detailed, very analytical. And being able to speak to that level of granular detail with them has been really helpful in one getting their buy in, but to helping them to continue aligning, aligning, excuse me to the values that we have. Because what I will say that is really great about all the members on our executive team is that we all come from a place of wanting to do the absolute right thing by people, like we do, we may come at it from different directions. But being able to have OpenComp and being able to have that tool to use to help coach and craft the conversation has been eye opening for them for me. And it helped us like start to speak the same language around compensation. So I've enjoyed that quite a bit.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, and speaking the same language is a really, it's a great starting place for alignment. I really like what you said, in terms of one, it starts with philosophical agreement, what is our compensation philosophy, and how does it get applied in different geographies? And then how does that influence developing of pay bands and then doing headcount planning because obviously, pay bands are kind of the one of the foundational inputs for headcount planning. But what I see in that that is a common approach. What I don't hear companies saying or CPOE saying is often is what you just said around closing the loop of all right, if, if we're off base in a particular role, then it's actually a chance for us to go back and look at are we thinking about the roll in the right way? Is are the things that we're trying to do? Are they too aggressive? Are they not aggressive enough? whatever word you want to use. So I think that that's, it's a very uncommon insight, and you referenced coaching to Joanne so I'm curious, you know, I'm assuming it sounds like you have a leveling system in place and maybe some career pathing what does that data then look like to shape coaching Conversations.

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: Well, and actually that is in flight, really the development of professional development, how we structure our one on ones, making sure that every manager is doing it in quite the same way. That's, I would say, in flight, we're building that. But where I was coming from with that is that our managers are encouraged that if an employee is expressing that they want to take their career in a particular direction, we're not holding you back from taking your career in a direction that may not align to the work. That's a Simplesense. Like, that's a very personal goal. And if when you say to someone, like you can't pursue these things that are personal, as well, it also, it kind of causes them to be a bit disengaged, what we look for is Where where are their synergy? So you want to take your career in a particular direction? This is what the direction we see ourselves today going in Simplesense. This is the potential for earning as your role either expands horizontally or vertically. And and does that align and how can we help to support you with that, like, so it's more of a helping an employee understand that all promotions or, or job changes, so to speak, don't necessarily look like becoming a manager of people, or having that that type of move, because we're not a company with 1000s of people. I mean, let's be frank, we don't have those positions. But if you are looking to expand your career and grow beyond where we are now, maybe the direction that you're going is something we could potentially explore. That's the beauty of being in such a small company, maybe there is something that we can explore there. And this is how compensation will look as we explore that. And potentially, you're a part of that exploration. So I know I said a lot there. But

CAITLIN ALLEN: I'm following. I really am following. I think that the visual that's coming to mind. And this is because I just took my daughter's to do this recently. But is is bumper bowling, where it's like there's there's lanes that are next to each other. And then each lane kind of represents different career path opportunities, and then the bumpers on each side or the bands. And so you get to kind of explore, you know, which lane Do you want to be in? And do you feel good inside those bumpers? And but regardless, you as a company, and you as an employer working together to decide how do we get towards those pitons and knock them down in the way that we want?


CAITLIN ALLEN: I love it. Love it. I'm really excited for this question. So you're a TEDx speaker. And I would love if you can share with us a little bit about that experience, and about the experience and the importance of finding your voice in that process and how it's informed your role as Chief People Officer,

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: happy to share that story. Because that was a transformative moment in my life, for sure. both personally and professionally. And my path to becoming a TEDx speaker, I didn't, I always enjoy TEDx and Ted Talks. But I didn't have this vision of like, oh, it's somebody I'm going to give one. But I had this experience at work. And it was the second time a an experience took place that was uncomfortable, which kind of goes back to my personal mission. uncomfortable, undesirable. We can attach the word bullying, I'm not afraid to say that. But sometimes people find that triggering. But it happened. And I found myself at a place where I felt very much like a victim. And I just hated the feeling of not being in control. I hated the feeling of not knowing what to say. And in my case, and actually both examples I shared in my TEDx talk, were where I was the second in command and human resources. And the offender was the chief HR officer. And when you're in human resources, everybody's coming to you looking for that guidance, support. Where do you go? You know, do you go to the company president, you go to the board, like you don't really have a lot of outlets. And, or any really, that can actually help you. And so you have to be the person advocating for yourself, you have to find your voice. And that's pretty heavy when you're feeling when you're you're feeling like there is not a place for you here and you're an outsider at work. So for me, I decided to take back my power. I mean, that's really what it comes down to. I decided that this was my story. It didn't matter who was gaslighting, and telling me I saw it differently than it really happened. It's the way I experienced it. It's my story, and it's my story to tell and it so happened that I was, of course, a fan of TEDx, there was a TEDx happening. And I pitched two different ideas. I was even uncomfortable with this one. But I pitched two different ideas. And they were really honed in on the, what eventually became my topic, which was the role of transformational leadership and eliminating workplace bullying, mainly because they said, a lot of people experience this and it goes unsaid, nobody wants to talk about being bullied, you know, again, it makes you feel like a victim sound like a victim. It sounds like something that would be happening in seventh grade, and you're an adult with like a whole family and a whole life and you're being bullied. You know, nobody wants to talk about that. And my perspective was, there were so many individuals who are the good people, and well intentioned people. But they watched so much, so much happened, not just to me, because you know, a person with this kind of behavior, they do it all the time. But they've seen it happen in other ways, and didn't speak up. And my perspective was, each one of us can choose to be leaders. Leadership is a process that can be taught that you can learn. And the four tenets of transformational leadership, really fit that like in your space, within your span of control, be a transformational leader. You know, when you see things that are not taking place, the way they should, when you anticipate something happening, that has the potential of doing harm, emotional harm to another employee, use your voice, be a transformational leader and make and create a different space and environment for them. So when I gave my TEDx talk, I tell folks all the time, I was probably about, I think it was like my second to the last slide. And I realized that I had just given this talk, I was so flying high, I was free. All of the stuff that I felt and all the emotions like that moment, I found my voice. And so much has taken place in my career based on my talk, but also just my ability to speak up for myself advocate for myself and be comfortable doing that, that I actually almost think my offender, right? You know, because in a strange way, by them being the way they were and creating the emotional struggle within me in the way they did. finding my voice is kind of up leveled who I've become. The next chapter of my careers like in my professional life is being written right now. There's so much energy out there of really positive things that are taking place for me. And it was because I was able to find myself again, I

CAITLIN ALLEN: absolutely, I think, thank you for sharing that. First it. What strikes me so much about that unlock moment in your life is the fact that regardless of whether we are professionals or not, we are people first. And so what the courage that you used in your life, to call something, what it was, and then to change your trajectory to act, regardless of being afraid, I think is just such a powerful leadership principle, regardless of whether you're a chief people officer, whatever, any, any department, so that we just want to call that out and acknowledge it. And then the second thing that's really striking me is the degree to which we have joy, we have direction, we have freedom as as leaders, what is what we show others, that's permissiveness, that's encouragement. And so that that voice, you know, it trickles down throughout your organization, it impacts the people you talk to it, it colors, how they see themselves, how they talk about themselves, and then how others see them and treat them. So it's just it I'm seeing again, just concentric circles or visual, apparently today, but I love that I really do.

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: I, it's I reflect a lot on that moment and how it's gone beyond the initial bullying and more of a pathway to freedom, that I hope that whatever transpires for me in this part of my life that's being written right now that I'm able to cascade that to others, like just heal, I want you to heal.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Well. And I think that's the power of the stories we tell ourselves and the actions that we take, you can transform a single moment or a single experience into something that becomes more of a universal guiding principle for your life. Speaking of which, my second to last question, so obviously, you're a professional but in addition to that, you're a member of many communities, a wife, a friend, a mom, a PhD candidate all at the same time. How do you think about Things like life integration or balance.

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: Why definitely refer to refer to it as work life integration, because I tried that whole balance thing before. And there's nothing balanced about this. This is more about making decisions that keep you whole and healthy. And you make those decisions in a pretty fluid and agile way day to day. A good example that I can use is I, for example, I will block out time after either something that was jarring or I anticipate to be somewhat jarring, I'll block out time on my calendar just to decompress, and decompress can look like whatever I needed to look like I call it focus time, it's private. And I really will not answer the phone or email or any other form of communication during that time. And what is striking me this morning is when I get feedback from my dissertation advisor and committee. So I finally figured out whenever I get feedback, even if it's positive, and though it really is, because that's just kind of a part of the process. I set out time to review the feedback, constructive feedback. And then I block time afterwards to decompress because it always hits me in a way that is the work I'm doing is so personal to me, and so personal to me my life and research that I want to bring forth that even if it's positive feedback, I may cry, because I'm just like, Oh, what, you know, my advisor says, oh, Joanne, this is powerful. And I'm like, oh, and I need a moment for that. I'm not serving myself, my company, my family, well, if I just hop right back into the next thing. So sometimes that means that some of the work that I do, it may happen at 7pm, or 8pm, sometime after dinner, because maybe at 10am I needed that space. So that's my approach to balancing, or integrating post PhD, it's gonna be even better, like the PhD life is it just adds a layer that is unexpected. And, but I've learned and grown so much, and I've learned so much about myself and the way I handle emotions in the moment, I'm through this journey, that I wouldn't trade it for the world.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Makes a lot of sense, I think, three or two things, really. So it's a realistic newness or realism about what you can actually expect from yourself in this particular season. And then to the you didn't say it explicitly, there's a prioritization of self almost from the perspective of you know, that you can prioritize others better if you make that space for yourself, which I think is an important concept.

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: I need you to write like all of my papers, copy, like you just got that perfectly well. That's exactly what I was trying to say.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Well, we can we can make a transcript of that. Thank you, Joanne, this has been this has been really enjoyable. The last question I'd love to ask you is why don't we ask all of our guests and in this case, I think is particularly a difficult one to answer. But of everything you've said today, what is one thing that our audience should take to heart and act on after they listen to this episode?

JOANNE SIMON-WALTERS: Hmm, yeah, that is a challenge. But I really think I would say prioritize self. And I know how controversial that is, especially with all the demands of work demands of family. And at least from my generation, the idea that the harder you work, the more successful whatever your definition of successes will become, you'll become. And what I've actually found is that if I didn't make that space for myself, that I could accomplish none of these other things, you know, that I, and I am well accomplished, right, but prioritizing self. Obviously, that does not mean that you never work or you're kind of always hanging out at the beach or at the spa is not what it means. But it means to take a pause in the moment sometimes you can't get away from a difficult situation. But you can pause you can breathe and you can give yourself the right and the space to be thoughtful about how you respond and what you choose to do next. One other thing, a piece I want to share is I came I saw this quote that I think is really appropriate. It says like you are not, you may not be the person responsible for your pain, or your trauma, but you are responsible for your healing. And so often when we find ourselves in situations like the one I spoke of in my TEDx, many work situations for underrepresented groups, we often fall into this space of Oh, woe is me, and it's okay. It's okay to cry and be upset. I mean, that's fine. But remember that even within that, you have choices. You have power, reclaim your voice, and make a thoughtful decision about how you proceed next.

CAITLIN ALLEN: This has been a particularly soulful episode. So Joanne, thank you for that. And thank you for bringing your energy and just elevating all of us with your story and your voice today. And for those of you who are listening, thank you for being here. Don't forget to follow us on whatever podcast platform it is that you're listening in on. And if you have ideas for topics or guests, you can email Take care everybody

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