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Navigating Company Culture

By Ai-Mei Zhu

Steve Hoffman is the VP of People at Mark43, and has over 20 years of experience leading People Teams. Mark43 is a public safety software company that considers law enforcement and the citizens they serve, in equal parts. Their mission is to empower communities and their governments with new technologies that improve the safety and quality of life for all.

 

Q: First, I wanted to acknowledge that this is a challenging time in our country, and for many companies, and it must be especially hard with Mark43 being focused on public safety software. How has Mark43 responded to this challenge?

A: Thank you so much for that acknowledgement, Ai-Mei. It is a challenging time, but Mark43 has responded quickly to some of the challenges for our customers and the communities that they serve. We have also done so in support of our employees. In response to recent events, Mark43 recently dedicated our summer hackathon to focus on ideas to help bridge the gap between agencies and their communities. The hackathon led to the creation of the Mark43 Accountability, Compliance, and Transparency (ACT) Package, which is now available to all departments in the US.

For our employees we have held five fireside chats with leaders in the public safety community. These have been extremely well received and have helped our employees even better understand the challenges of racial inequality in communities. We also maintained our summer internship program, which is a very important part of our culture and creates a great pipeline of diverse candidates for us. So, it’s been a really busy past few months!

 

Q: Thank you, it sounds like you have been busy! Shifting gears, why and how did you start in HR? What made you continue pursuing HR?

A: I have always had a strong interest in leadership, helping people and understanding what makes people tick, so it was a natural progression. After high school, I pursued a business degree in HR Management and my very first job after college was in Human Resources at a manufacturing factory in Florida. That was a great opportunity to quickly learn about many aspects of human resources – recruiting, total rewards, training, engagement, compliance – before moving into tech once I moved to New York City.

 

Q: What are the values most important to you and how do you showcase them in day-to-day life both at home and in the office?

A: I have a strong belief that people want their employers to be ethical and honest. This creates an underlying trust that helps people have psychological safety to do their very best work. In general, having true personal interest in people that work for and with you just helps to create a connection that helps build effective relationships and company cultures. To me, that means spending time understanding the needs of your employees, mentoring and developing, and celebrating successes both at work and at home. Just like in any relationship, it is often the little things that can make a huge difference.

 

Q: As a leader, how do you help build the team’s culture?

A: For me, the key is to provide a work experience and culture where employees in all disciplines feel connected to the mission of the company and department. Once you have that connection, you then start to focus in on transparency, autonomy and challenging work. But, you also have to be flexible in your approach. During the last five months of quarantine, Mark43 has shifted from monthly all hands meetings, to short, agile weekly all hands meetings. We discuss everything that is happening in the company and it gives employees a chance to feel more connected since we don’t have the opportunity for in-person contact. We also now hold weekly virtual social events, like happy hours, game nights, coffees, new hire intros. We also have something called “donut buddies” on Slack, where you are matched up with random people from inside the company each week. Where employees would previously go get coffee together, they now have virtual video calls to develop connections with folks in other departments. It’s been a great addition, especially now. It is important to meet team members where they need to be met, and so right now that means more frequent communications.

 

Q: What does your company do to value its HR functions?

A: HR and People Operations nowadays more frequently have a seat at the table, but to do that you really need to add strategic operational value. To do this, you have to have a great grasp of the business, the OKR’s and KPI’s and all of the important financial measures. Truly the only way to become more involved with strategic decisions, and help guide important decisions is to earn the trust of other executives that you are able to add value. Three of the largest costs to a business – compensation, benefits and real estate – are often the domain of People Teams. So, it is critical that I am able to make strategic decisions on how that money is spent and put to best use, not just for today but also for where the company will be over the next 18-24 months. This means obviously having a strategy to hire a diverse and effective workforce and then to provide meaningful training and mentorship opportunities. Then you measure employee satisfaction, employees performance and the impact of the programs you develop. So, our People team is right there, helping to guide important decisions every day.

 

Q: Many HR functions differ in the way they are set up, would you be able to provide some insight as to how yours is?

A: For our team structure, there are a couple of factors to take into account. I start by thinking about current and future business needs. What is going to help the business at this point in time and what are the future business needs? Are you growing internationally? Are you adding a really large number of people quickly? Do you have a lot of junior talent that needs development across the company? Then I look at the makeup of the department and the professional and workload capacity of people on the team. We have roughly 190 employees and our amazing People team is 8. Two handling recruitment, Two handling facilities and office management, two handling internal technology and two handling all other people functions. We are planning to add a few additional roles in the Fall.

 

Q: When talking about diversity and inclusion, what do you think is one way your company has improved?

A: In technology, people often talk about the pipeline problem. And while that has been a historical problem, it has started to improve as more women and people of color seek careers in technology. The other side of that is that competition for diverse candidates, particularly in the tech industry, is still very fierce. So you have to make certain that your compensation philosophy is clear and keeps you competitive. Where we can really make an impact for the future is by continuing to hire diverse junior candidates. Our 2020 engineering and design internship class is primarily female, with diverse ethnicities. For most of them, that will likely lead to job offers and future full-time employment with us. It is also critical that our diversity closely reflects the communities in which we serve. This helps us to more easily understand the problems in those communities, and to come up with thoughtful software solutions.

 

Q: What are some intentional steps you and your company have taken to promote diversity and inclusion within the organization?

We have built diversity and inclusion into our culture, and we have significant executive support. You have to measure the impact of your efforts in recruiting, compensation, training, and promotions. You also have to listen intently to what is happening inside your organization and make certain communications are inclusive. We have also run internal surveys specifically around inclusion, and ensure that there are ways that people can be heard, through diversity-focused slack channels, women’s working groups, and sponsoring and diversity-focused tech events. Our Culture Task Force is also consistently focused on initiatives around inclusion. One of my team members is leading our Diversity and Inclusive Task Force and she’s extremely excited to be focused on creating some new diversity initiatives and programs around HBCU’s, community support and youth mentorship. While we have had some focus on this historically, the last few months has created an opportunity for us to listen to both our employees and communities to truly commit to doing better.

 

Thank you for your time, Steve, this has been very informative!

Thank you so much Ai-Mei. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. It’s always a pleasure speaking with you!

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