The following is from an interview with Brian “Skip” Schipper. As announced in CHRO Moves, Skip became Chief People Officer of Yext in May 2016. Skip joined Yext with over 30 years of human resources experience, including a long stint at Twitter, where he oversaw global Human Resources and strategic people initiatives. Prior to his work at Twitter, he served as Chief People Officer at Groupon, and led human resources at Cisco.
Samuel: What made you decide that Yext was the right next career move for you after Twitter?
Skip: A big part of my decision to join was based on talking to Yext customers. It became immediately obvious that the Yext platform adds tremendous value to the businesses that use it – and not just in marketing, but throughout their organizations. I’m excited about the opportunity to contribute to the growth of Yext, it’s that much better knowing that the Yext platform is having such a positive impact for our customers.
Samuel: Tell us about the challenges that face you in this new adventure at Yext.
Skip: Yext has done an amazing job attracting terrific talent and creating a company that employees love. The challenge is to ensure that we continue to attract great people to Yext and make the employee experience even better while continuing to expand on our core strengths, attract more customers to our platform, and scale. While Yext has many large global clients, we’re only just getting started putting resources in markets outside North America as another growth driver. I’m looking forward to helping to drive our team’s global expansion.
Samuel: What are the top HR challenges that face growth companies today?
Skip: In their formative years, companies are built through the often heroic work of entrepreneurial team members. At Compaq Computer Corp in the mid-1980s, we used to characterize ourselves not as a small company, but rather as a big company in its formative stages. I think of Yext in much the same way.
Building a great company for the long run means building sustainable organizational strength. That requires moving past a dependency on individual heroism, to building organizational capability. To me, there are two tests for whether the organization has achieved a sustainable level of capability: whether the organization can both form and then execute on strategy and whether we have achieved the resiliency to thrive through the inevitable difficulties that all companies face.
Samuel: How do you develop other leaders?
Skip: The best leaders with whom I have worked are highly intentional about the job of leading others. Leading requires conscientious allocation of time to understand customer problems, creating a compelling vision of the future and forming the strategy to achieve that vision. And, the best leaders allocate considerable time in communicating to all their constituents. They don’t just lead their immediate teams–they lead and align the whole organization.
Investing in learning and sharing leadership frameworks has a place, but the best way to develop a leader is to broaden her or his accountabilities and expect real results beyond what the leader had previously proven. Because leadership involves intentional action, it’s important to ensure the developing leader is given intensified support and feedback around whether they are investing enough time with customers and with their teams, and whether the actions taken are leading to others internalizing the vision and strategy, and are thereby able to align their own work to the vision.
Samuel: Who, from your perspective and experience (other than the CEO), is the most important business partner to the head of HR in any organization? How can they work best together?
It’s important that the head of HR be fully integrated into the leadership team of the company. There is an art to being close and trusted, but it’s critical that the head of HR never compromise his or her integrity and objectivity. The business-facing members of the HR team need the latitude to build the relationships necessary to drive the people and organization agenda of the business units, geographies, or functions they support. So job one is ensuring those business-facing team members are highly capable and valued. In effect, they are the HR function to the part of the business they support.
With highly capable HR business partners in place, the CHRO inevitably spends relatively more time with the leaders of other staff functions such as the CFO and GC. I find many of the decisions that directly impact the employee experience requires close alignment and collaboration across the staff disciplines.
Collaboration and coordination requires face time. I’m in favor of having a governance framework in place that puts leaders of support functions around the same table with a regular cadence. Another approach I have seen work well is to hold periodic combined all-hands meetings across teams such as Finance and Accounting, HR, Legal, PR & Comms, and IT.
Samuel: What advice would you give to HR professionals who want to make it to the Chief People Officer chair?
Over a career, it is important that HR professionals prove they can both be an effective HR generalist (business partner) and lead one or more HR staff roles. These roles draw on often complementary skills and leading the function means having an first-hand experience-grounded appreciation for what it takes to be successful in each.
The analytical rigor, the compliance requirements, and the board exposure that often accompanies a compensation and benefits role are increasingly seen as important if not a necessary prerequisite for leading HR. The time spent leading compensation and benefits at several Fortune 50 companies has been invaluable to me in both heads of HR roles as well as the boards on which I serve.
Having functional expertise in compensation and benefits has also helped to build strong people analytics teams in my previous assignments. Investment in strong analytical capabilities within the HR function has enabled much more rigorous comprehension of people and organization problems, and much greater accuracy and efficiency in architecting low-tax solutions to those challenges. Too much of the work of HR has historically had a questionable ROI due to opinion-driven diagnostics and imprecise problem-solving.
Samuel Dergel is a Principal with Dergel Executive Search. He is an executive search consultant, executive coach, blogger, speaker, trainer and author.