Since I was little, I’ve been told to embrace my uniqueness. “There’s only one you in the world!” “Don’t try to be someone you’re not.” “Accept people’s differences.”
Those adages are important—especially for building confidence in kids.
Why, then, do we assume every group or department in our organization should operate as if they aren’t unique or have different creative processes and challenges? Should we be embracing these departmental differences?
The different departments in our companies have varying skills, interests, functions, and weaknesses.
So, each team should be managed according to its own unique qualities.
During our conversation, she offers 3 big ideas right off the bat:
- The real magic happens when we celebrate departmental differences.
- Asking people across all functions to behave the same way stifles creativity.
- You have to live and breathe your core values while accepting each team’s diversity.
Wanna hear more great advice for leveraging departmental differences? Listen now:
Jennie Knowles: Asking everybody to behave the same way across all functions and locations. It doesn’t work and that’s where you get kind of stifled creativity.
Announcer: You’re listening to crafting culture, a podcast dedicated to helping CEOs, people ops and HR teams create an incredible company culture. If you’re looking for inspiration, practical advice or tangible examples of what great culture looks like, then you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get into the show.
Kate Marshall: Hey, it’s Kate here
Thank you so much for hanging out with me for another week. It’s been so fun to have these conversations. Talk about things that are really important to me and I know are important to all of you, so thanks for sticking around.
Today I’m chatting with Jenny Knowles. Jenny is the head of HR at Sendoso, a leading gifting platform that uses technology to add a personal touch to something that is not always so personal, corporate gifting. Jenny is known at the office for being very untraditional. She’s HR, but she’s still your BFF. A vibe I can absolutely get behind. Today we’re talking about how to take advantage of the unique personalities and differences of each department to enhance your culture. Not divided it. Let’s jump in.
Jennie: Hi Kate. How are you?
Kate: I’m great. How are you?
Jennie: Great. Thanks so much.
Kate: Good. Thank you for getting on a call with me today.
Jennie: Of course, this is always a great topic that I like to speak about.
Kate: Yay. I love it. Yeah, I’m really excited to just jump right in. I feel like we kind of have a lot of ground to cover, but first I will let you introduce yourself and tell us what you do at Sendoso.
Jennie: Sure. So I am Jenny Knowles. I’m the head of human resources for Sendoso, and have been doing HR for, gosh, probably 10 plus years now. Often helping companies start and build their people functions and Sendoso was a really great company to start with. I actually started when there was only about 50 employees with us. And it’s great to be part of these startups where there Sendoso wis actually creating a brand new category of sending. So it’s really exciting to be one of the first platforms out there doing this as well as helping create a new category in the industry.
Kate: Yeah, we’re kind of in that same space as Zestful where no one’s done exactly what we’re doing now. So it’s equally exciting and really scary.
Jennie: Yes. It’s exciting to help figure out problems that the company hasn’t gone through yet. Right. And getting to be able to help establish what’s the right way to do this and what’s the most exhilarating way to do this so that we do stand out in the crowd.
Kate: Yeah, for sure. While you guys are doing a great job and really excited. So on our first call when we were kind of chatting about topics and what should we talk about, uh, you said something that really caught my attention and it was that you know, that there are differences in between each department. You know, sales is going to have their certain personality, marketing’s going to have their certain personality and so on. And you’ve really found a way to honor those differences and honor those different personality types and actually use it to enhance your culture rather than divide it, which might be happening at some other companies. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today. I’m really, really excited. So my first question, like we just said, working with the individual departments, honoring their uniqueness is something that you’re passionate about. So tell me what kind of landed you in that head space and how you communicate that with your company.
Jennie: Yeah, so I think, you know, when I started my career, I started at very traditional companies or traditional like companies and where they almost expect human beings to be robots, right? Everyone acts the same, everyone dresses the same. And it really, you know, it really doesn’t work like that with humans. And it’s not a great way to help a rocket ship propel. Teams have different needs. They have different hiring profiles, there’s different work rules, there’s even different locations. Right? And so to say that San Francisco has to be the exact same as a Scottsdale, Arizona office. It’s a little silly when you think about it. There is just a whole different culture in different cities or even teams. I think about sales, right? Or engineers think about how different those two teams can be, right? Engineers may need more of a quiet space. Sales may need more of a loud and proud space. And I think when we celebrate those differences, that’s really where the magic happens, right? Asking everybody to behave the same way across all functions and locations. It doesn’t work. And that’s where you get kind of stifled creativity and it’s, it was a real eyeopening experience for me to see that and really take that mentality of that’s okay, that we’re not all the same and that’s okay that different departments have different rules or guidelines or even activities that they do to help celebrate what works best for them.
Kate: Yeah. Well, and you, you mentioned something about your different locations. I’m curious to hear what are some of the differences across your different locations, like your different offices. How do you communicate that with those remote remote employees that you don’t see every day?
Jennie: Sure. I think a lot of companies out there try to make kind of, you know, again that everyone’s the same. We want these synergies across different locations, and that is great. But to me there’s only one way you can do that and that is through your core values. You have to live and breathe those core values while accepting the differences. So I’ll give you an example. We do have a San Francisco office and a Scottsdale office. How do I make sure that, you know, we’re all one team but also that we’re celebrating those differences? San Francisco has a totally different talent pool than Scottsdale does. So Scottsdale tends to be a little bit more, you know, outgoing and, and you know, wanting to do really over the top fun things. Um, we’re San Francisco also wants to do fun things, but in a more elegant way. I will say that. And that’s great. It’s so great to have the two different cultures. Cause when they do come together, you, you go, Oh that’s so cool. How did you do it that way at that location? Oh, I’m going to implement that over here. Or I really like how Scottsville does this, I’m going to bring that back to San Francisco. And you actually get to have a really great juxtaposition happening where it starts to jive and ideas start to be forming across the different locations.
Kate: Yeah. And how are those shared? Do you, is it just kind of, does it kind of organically come up when you guys are talking about an event on Slack or do you, do you have someone that sends out an email with culture updates or how do you communicate that?
Jennie: Yeah, so we really pride ourselves on still doing a lot of travel. It’s a two hour flight. Southwest has really cheap fares every now and then. Right. And we try to have people come to the different locations as much as we can. I think it’s great, especially when teams are spread out against different locations. It’s great to have them come together a for camaraderie, right? But just to see how it’s working differently in different locations. And so the travel has been essential for us right now, but I will say we have great communication tools as well. We do use Slack and we have a million channels that we’re shouting out each other across locations, right? We’re talking about parties, we’re showing pictures about what’s going on in each location and sometimes that really sparks some great discussions about like, you know, they did this in San Francisco and I saw that picture. Can we do something like that here in Scottsdale? And the sharing of that, you know, just even the fun stuff really helps open up those dialogues across locations.
Kate: It seems like, I mean from what I can hear, it seems like everyone is really active in building this culture. I don’t see a ton of, or I don’t hear a ton of like walls being put up, which is super cool. It sounds like a lot of fun.
Jennie: Absolutely. I think when we talk hiring profiles and core values and all those kind of buzz words, right? I think it’s really hard. It’s really easy to say those words and it’s really hard to live those words. So one of the tests that we do as a hiring profile is we’re just not trying to a) put, you know, seats, um, you know, get all the seats filled up with whoever applies for us. We will wait to hire the right person and we do kind of a bus test, if that makes sense. So if I have to sit on a bus with you for the next eight hours, do I want to sit next to you regardless of what position you’re in, what’s your job function? Do we genuinely like you? And if we like each other in general or respect each other, then that goes 90% of the way, right. In terms of respect and sharing ideas and it’s celebrated, these differences are celebrated because we actually genuinely like each other. And that’s hard to do in a startup company when we’ve hired, you know, a hundred people in the last, in the last year and that’s hard to maintain, but as long as you may, you know, you’re very strict about that thus mentality. It all kind of shakes out.
Kate: I have never heard of that, but that is genius. Best test. I’m going to keep that in mind. Let’s steal that. Um, so you’ve mentioned company values a couple of times. It seems like that’s sort of your baseline for finding that those ways to honor the differences between departments, but also maintain that kind of baseline culture. Can you share with us what some of your values are and how those work to, how those work in each different department and how those work to build that culture?
Jennie: Yeah, so one of my favorite one of ours is be human. So when we’re approaching either building the platform out or customer service or even just, um, let’s say HR functions, right? That happened on a daily basis. We always try to take a step back and really think about are we doing the best thing right for our customer or for our employee? And if it doesn’t feel right, if we’re not being human about the situation, then then we need to rethink this and take pause here. And that has done us really well because I think all the employees come here and they know that it’s not just, you know, everyone’s just not going to have a bad day because we’re really thinking about them and they trust us to think about them. And there has been big decisions reversed because of somebody said, is that the most human thing we can do? One of my other favorite ones too is one team. And I know we’re talking a lot about, Hey, we can have different personalities and different management styles and different locations, but at the end of the day we try really hard to stay in communication with each other. So even though San Francisco’s on different time than Scottsdale, how can we make that work and still, you know, have that great communication so that we feel like what’s happening in customer success in San Francisco is also happening here in Scottsdale and sharing all of that to make sure that we’re all on the same page and we’re all striving for the same thing.
Kate: Yeah. And you know, breaking it down even further, each manager has their different personalities and the way that they like to run their departments. How do you enable each department to keep this integrity without stepping on any toes?
Jennie: Sure. I think when you also have the mindset of success is fun, you can have these different personality types. Look, I’m in human resources. I’m not the right person to run sales. And so, um, understanding and having, remember that bus test we talked about, I genuinely like, right? The person that’s running sales for us and I respect what they do because I know that that’s their specialty and that success is fun. So when sales has a big success moment, the whole company celebrates that. When, um, HR runs rolls out a great new perk, we all celebrate that as a company. So keeping that success is fun mentality and understanding that each personality style helped form that success really helps those boundaries, right, be, be shaped and, and we all understand, look, that’s not my specialty. So if you know, I’m going to trust them when they make their decision and then if that bleeds into other areas, it’s not, most of the time that’s a good thing, right? Because they found success in, in what they’re doing. So boundaries are tough. Stepping on toes, you know, can be tricky. But again, if, if we use that bus mentality of genuinely respecting and like the people that we work with, usually that’s just a quick conversation. Right? And we all go, Oh, that’s not the intention and we can laugh about it over a beer later.
Kate: Yeah, for sure. Well, I love that thought and it’s kind of, it’s, it’s cool to bring it back full circle with the bus test. You know, you think like, I don’t know about this person’s, you know, leadership style or whatever. But then at the end of the day, if you would sit on a bus with them for eight hours, you should probably trust what they’re doing.
Jennie: Well, I, you know, and, and we’re really great at making sure that we find the right person. I would rather have that head of sales position vacant versus putting the wrong person into that role. So it’s critical. And so some of that trust is built with employees. By doing that, we didn’t just hire anybody off the street. We went through a lengthy process and that builds trust with employees because they know they got here through a lengthy process and they, you know, they grinded to get here too. And so there’s a mutual respect that comes when somebody starts here as well.
Kate: Yeah, for sure. And that’s so important to have that right off the bat too. It’s kind of one of those things that you can build over time, but it’s so much better and more genuine when it just kind of happens and everyone trusts each other without even really knowing each other.
Jennie: Yeah, for sure.
Kate: So last question, when it comes to maintaining those personality styles and having those kind of set the standard for each department, how does that, you’ve mentioned trust a few times, how does that build the culture? So how does honoring differences actually end up building on the culture rather than dividing the teams even more because of their differences?
Jennie: Yeah, I think sometimes in startups especially, you know, we have our, our head down, we’re grinding, we’re really trying to make this rocket ship take off and it’s so easy to get kind of in the weeds in your own space, right? And not think about other ways of doing things because you’re just going day to day to day. Right? And so what we try to do is even have the management team come together on a monthly basis where we share ideas with each other. Hey marketing, I don’t know if you guys thought about this, but I have this unique idea of what do you think? And so allowing other people to comment on your area is a great way of getting new ideas and helping enhance the culture there. Because you know what, if somebody wanted this perk implemented and you just, you never thought of it before. So having that, you know, regular communication and cadence really helps to do that. And we also, by the way, we bring all of our employees from all locations together each year as well. And that’s really important for us too, because even though we celebrate the differences across departments and teams, it’s so fun to come together all as one and do something really fun together. Last year we did a huge scavenger hunt in downtown Scottsdale where we had different teams. And that alone, where you get to work with people that you don’t normally get to work with not only builds ideas, but it builds synergies to trust communication across departments with people you would’ve never probably spoken to. And it’s so fun. That’s that successes fund mentality.
Kate: Yeah. I love the scavenger hunt example. One of my other guests mentioned a pumpkin carving contest that they’ve been doing every year, so I’m kind of stockpiling these ideas as I, as I have these conversations, which is fun for me, and definitely a selfish reason for me doing this podcast.
Jennie: I have some great ideas. If your listeners ever need it, they can reach out.
Kate: Love it. So if there’s nothing else that you want to add, we will jump right into rapid fire. So I want to hear about some of the perks that you have at SIM dozer. Tell me about some of your favorites and if you had to choose just one to have for the rest of the time, what would it be and why?
Jennie: Sure. So we do a really great job at trying to maintain a work life balance for employees. So we give your birthday off, we do volunteer time that you get paid for. We have kind of that take what you need. Vacation policy across all positions. We give anniversary gifts, we have wellness perks like class pass, we give laptops to everybody so they can work from wherever they need to work from. And I got to tell you, my favorite perk of ours that I wish never ever goes away is we give vacation bonuses twice a year to employees
Jennie: So yes. So you can earn money literally by going on vacation. It’s a way for us to help promote that work life balance. And it’s so fun to see the pictures. So we have a vacation Slack channel where all you have to do is post a picture from your vacation and on your next check you get $500 and it, it helps not only pay for that trip, but it helps people get in that right mentality. Right? Like, dang, I haven’t been somewhere in a little bit and I need to go. And then the beauty is because everyone has laptops in a startup tech, let’s be honest. You know what I mean? You may need to jump on every now and then and do something, but you have the ability, if you need to work from Europe, go work from Europe, it’s great and get paid to do it.
Kate: Wow. That is, that’s a lot of money to go on vacation.
Jennie: Twice a year.
Kate: That’s incredible. Full support. And then what is your, what’s a perk that you don’t have but you wish you did and sky’s the limit. Think craziest thing.
Jennie: Yeah. I was going back and forth on this one a little bit and um, I think I decided on a treat yourself reward. I think all of us, especially in today’s day and age, we’re so committed to our work and our purpose, right? And making sure that we’re making an impact and sometimes I think you can negate yourself in that process. And so I think it’d be so awesome to see companies do a treat yourself kind of perk. Maybe it’s like 200, 250 dollars a month that you can choose to spend. Hey, I’m going to get a massage this month or next month I’m going to go get my hair all done, or whatever that looks like. Right? Or I’m going to use it as a staycation fund. I think it’s so important to to do that and I would love to see that perk one day where it’s treat yourself perk.
Kate: Yeah. Well you’re setting me up for the perfect sales pitch that I’m going to, but we actually do that at zestful and I have to tell you it’s as good as it sounds like it would be. Yeah. We have $200 a month to spend on whatever we want in the Zestful catalog and it’s, it is bomb. I usually end up spending mine at Target, you know, because it’s Target. But yeah, and that’s the wonderful.
Jennie: And that what’s valuable to you may not be valuable to the next person. And I think when you give employees that choice that lets them know that like again, they’re not a robot. Right. We’re celebrating humans and different personalities.
Kate: Yep. You are speaking right to my heart sister. All right, well thank you again for hopping on today. This was a really fun chat. It’s a really good reminder that we are all human beings. We’re all different and those differences should be celebrated, especially at work where we spend a ton of our time.
Kate: So if listeners want to stay connected to you, how can they do that?
Jennie: Sure. Um, I’m obviously on LinkedIn. Um, my little slashes, Jenny Knowles, J E N N I E, K N O W L E S or my email is always a great way to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kate: Awesome. Thank you Jenny. It was awesome.
Jennie: Thanks so much Kate.
Kate: Looking forward to speaking again soon.
Jennie: Me too.
Kate: Thank you.
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