Barb Bidan started out in sales and spent almost a decade in the fitness space prior to making her mark at some of the best-known technology companies in the world.
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An HR Podcast about how these leaders guide organizations through the turbulent times of hypergrowth by investing in human beings.
They lay the groundwork that makes the impossible, inevitable. Join Lingo Live CEO Tyler Muse for conversations on how they became the leaders they are today, how they’ve navigated their toughest challenges, and how they envision the future of work.
Barb Bidan started out in sales and spent almost a decade in the fitness space prior to making her mark at some of the best-known technology companies in the world: Blackberry, Yahoo, InVision, and most recently, Peloton, where she led the company’s transition to remote work through unprecedented growth during the pandemic. Barb now finds herself as the Chief People Officer at Boom Supersonic, the unicorn that’s breaking barriers for its ambition to build the world’s fastest airliner.
In this episode, Barb talks about the infrastructure she and her team are building to prepare for scale. We’ll hear which priorities are top of mind, how to keep the organization engaged in a virtual environment, and the story of a decisive meeting with her executive team that ended with a sigh of relief.
What We Cover:
[1:08] An intro to Barb
[2:27] The calm before the storm at Boom Supersonic
[4:50] Boom Supersonic’s recent growth
[6:08] Setting the foundation for future growth
[9:08] You can do anything with 200 rows of data
[11:18] Choosing the right tools as you scale
[15:26] A cautionary tale
[19:08] The 4 foundational HR pieces top of mind and why they matter now
[23:31] How Barb thinks about her role as an HR leader
[27:30] Barb’s approach to engagement survey data
[30:29] What makes InVision a strong culture
[36:39] Leading the transition to remote work at Peloton
[40:18] Thoughts on burnout
[43:11] Barb’s vision for the future of work
Welcome back to Groundwork, brought to you by Lingo Live. I’m Tyler Muse.
At Groundwork, we talk to Chief People Officers from the world’s fastest-growing companies. We get to know them on a human level and explore how they became the leaders they are today, how they’ve navigated their toughest challenges, and how they envision the future of work.
Today we’re featuring my conversation with Barb Bidan.
Great HR solutions need to understand that they’re there to fuel and empower the business, where the clients that you’re serving don’t feel like the HR work that they’re doing and partnering with your team on are detracting from their ability to deliver the work that they have to do, but that it’s actually fueling and amplifying and accelerating their ability to do the work.
Barb started out in sales and spent almost a decade in the fitness space prior to making her mark at some of the best-known technology companies in the world.
She led talent acquisition for Blackberry and Yahoo, and later became the Chief People Officer at InVision, one of the early pioneers of remote work. On the first day of lockdowns in the US, she became the SVP of Global Talent at Peloton, and led the company’s transition to remote work through unprecedented growth during the pandemic. Barb now finds herself as the Chief People Officer at Boom Supersonic, the unicorn that’s breaking barriers for its ambition to build the world’s fastest airliner.
In this episode, Barb talks about the infrastructure she and her team are building to prepare for scale. We’ll hear which priorities are top of mind, how to keep the organization engaged in a virtual environment, and the story of a decisive meeting with her executive team that ended with a sigh of relief.
Barb, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. I’m super excited to chat with you.
I am super excited to be here, Tyler, so thank you for having me.
Well, so before we got started here, you shared a little bit about what’s going on in your present day now leading the people function at Boom Supersonic. And I thought this was so interesting, because a lot of folks like you that have been in these hypergrowth environments, they they jump right into the deep end, there’s a ton of fires to put out the company’s growing like crazy. And they bring that skill set to kind of dive in as quickly as they can and solve as many problems as they can, while also laying the infrastructure for the scale. You’re in a unique situation with with Boom Supersonic. There’s a lot of press, there’s a lot of excitement about what y’all are doing. But you mentioned how you’ve got a little bit of a call for the storm of the hypergrowth that you’re anticipating. Can you share a little bit more about that?
I would say we’re still in a high-growth phase. But maybe I have a certain mental threshold for for when that crosses over into hypergrowth for me, and so what I’m experiencing here that I haven’t experienced elsewhere, because you’re right, normally you have the the foundation, setting the infrastructure building, and you’ve got to be flying the plane at the same time and getting all of the operational things done, like growing and hiring and onboarding people while you’re still building and setting the foundation and we don’t have the ramp for hiring at quite the steepest level that we will in the future. Because right now we’re we’re wrapping up our prototype aircraft, which is a single aircraft that is being built by a single team. And we are starting the design and engineering process on our commercial aircraft. But we don’t because that’s not in manufacturing, yet. We haven’t been climbing that steep growth curve. So it’s been pretty interesting because I am finding and this is all relative, but that I’m getting a little bit more breathing room than I have maybe in a traditional tech company or in software where things are faster to market and the time has been there to really set the right infrastructure and maybe bake it a little bit more than you have the opportunity to do and some of the other organizations that I’ve I’ve worked in so it’s unique and it’s been different.
And can you give us a sense for kind of the numbers you talked about your threshold for hypergrowth. So you’ve you’ve been at Boom just almost coming up on a year and you mentioned y’all are at 200 employees now. So where were you at from an employee headcount standpoint when you join?
It’ll be a matter of whether I can do the backwards math, a number that is sticking in my head, because I just shared it with the team yesterday is that we had 37% year-over-year headcount growth last year. And so to put that in perspective, relative to, you know, I don’t know exactly where my threshold is, mentally for hypergrowth, but other companies have, you know, been in the realm of 100%, year-over-year growth, and we’re gonna hit that here soon at Boom. But 37% feels more than more than what you would experience in a mature company, for sure. But it feels so manageable to me in some odd way. Because I’m used to the 100% year over year growth, or 65%, year over year growth, but 37 is where we were at, and our head counts around the 200 mark, right now.
This is such a unique situation, because you know, what’s coming, but you have that, like you said, the calm before the storm to kind of prepare for it. So what are you doing to prepare for what’s some of that kind of foundation that you’re putting in place now in anticipation of that growth?
What I am observing that’s similar to what I felt in other software companies is that in the earliest days of a company, and Boom has been around a little over six years at this point, but in the earliest days of the company, you’re being scrappy, right? You’re trying to do a lot with a little and you know, you’re you’re okay with solutions that you know, you’ll iterate on later. And that’s really what I encountered when I joined them about a year ago, and understandably so. And what we’re doing now is we’ve kind of crossed this threshold where we’re moving and we’re still obviously being very responsible. And you know, how we use our investors money, because we’re a little while away from from revenue, but we are investing more. And now we’re building the real infrastructure. So we’re doing things like I mean, right now, we’re doing actually a lot of things all at once, it feels like what the start of the year, but we’ve launched a proper annual performance program, for example, we launched in December. And we’re kicking off again, for this year in terms of providing performance feedback, we’re trying to launch some framework for building a culture of ongoing feedback where feedback is, you know, not an event. But a thing that we all give and receive regularly, we’re about to hit a comp planning cycle. Right now, next week actually been kicking that off for like an annual comp planning cycle, but we didn’t have yet all of the appropriate compensation infrastructure to do that properly. So we’re laying that foundation and then running a cycle, for example, those are a couple of the things but we’ve got a whole, you know, a whole roadmap, right. So if you think about the various areas of HR, we have projects that fall under literally every area, and typically, I would describe the projects that we have in the next year as the first one to two major things in each area of HR B, talent, attraction, or talent management, or diversity, equity, and belonging, the first few foundational programs or projects that really start to build out that sub function of HR.
Yeah, and that’s, it’s so cool to hear you talk about that, because, you know, we work with hypergrowth companies, and oftentimes, they come to us years after the point that you’re at, because to your point, I think they’ve been so focused on recruiting and onboarding hundreds of people that things like performance management and feedback or fair and equitable compensation. These are things that they just haven’t had the luxury I guess, of being able to really think sophisticated Lee about and put some structure in place, because to your point, they were also flying the plane at the same time. So that makes a ton of sense. What do you feel like is the biggest advantage you have, Boom, right now like the wind that’s at your sails that you feel like is really propelling your growth as a company and your ability to be successful as a as a people leader there?
Well, I think it ties back to what you were just describing, right? Because I’ve been that leader and the 5000 person company that grew so fast that you didn’t have time to build all of the stuff that I’m building now at 200 People like I’ve been there and I know how hard it is when you have a business that’s running and an employee base of 5000 and you’ve got to go do all this stuff that I’m doing now. And so the for me personally as an HR leader on my team, the the wind at my back is that we have the very great privilege and and fortune to be able to do the things that I’ve done before at 5000 People can do it now and do it. Well. We we joke about this that you know having Several of the leaders on my team have also been worked in much larger companies, public companies, and so forth. And you know, where a spreadsheet that you might be looking at for compensation planning or something like that has like 25,000 rows of data, right and it. And so we joke that you can like brute force anything at 200 rows of data. And that that feels like a gift, right? Like, I realize that’s a gift that a lot of hypergrowth leaders don’t have, and that I just haven’t had in the past. Like, you can’t brute force through something very easily when you have 25,000 rows of data. And if you have to kind of plow your way through something, you can do it right. Like when a leader on my team will often say, you know, I can do anything with 200 rows of data and Saturday afternoon if I have to. And and it’s true, right, so there’s some some fortune in that. And I want to make sure we don’t, I want to make sure we don’t squander that. And we take advantage of that opportunity to lay a really, really great foundation here. Maybe a foundation that I would have like wished to be able to lay and other companies, but because of time and bandwidth and, and the fact that there’s already 5000 people in the company, I maybe haven’t been able to do all of those great things and as great away as I might have wanted to and I feel like I feel like we’re gonna get to do that here.
Yeah, that’s awesome. And, you know, we’ve got Chief People officers that are at hypergrowth companies that listen to the podcast, like when you think about that performance management piece or feedback piece or compensation, any advice in terms of tools or partners, or just things that you’ve tried here that is working really well for you all that you could share?
I think with and maybe philosophically, let me give an answer that’s a little bit more philosophical around tools, because I think hypergrowth has shifted my view on this over the past five years or so there are so many great and I use the term endpoint solutions. And by that I just mean, you know, a tool like culture app for performance, for example, or greenhouse as an applicant tracking system, right. So a tool that does kind of one thing in the HR tech stack really, really well. And I used to earlier my career be much more sort of end to end, right, like, let’s just get everything integrated, all in the same system. And I think my advice to anyone maybe thinking about, like, the need to do it end to end is to really reframe, and think about whether you, you actually can, with the way APIs work, choose the very, very best endpoint solution that’s going to deliver the best consumer ask experience to your end users, be it hiring managers, leaders in your organization, team members, whatever and choose the right tool for that thing. And don’t worry about trying to choose a single tool for all of the things which just is, so it’s just a place where my thinking has evolved, because I really, and I think the tool that is the best for each thing is going to vary. Depending on the team then much more contextual. I think there are lots of great tools out there and choosing the right it’s like choosing the right hammer to hammer in the particular nail that you’ve got to nail in this case is important. And that tool might change depending on the company.
Versus in the past, you might say well just try and find one hammer and hope that it you know, nails, all these different nails, you’re saying no find the best hammer for each of those nails, you might have, you know, a lot of different tools in place, but you’ve learned that’s actually a better way to proceed than trying to centralize.
Right, like we used to, we used to tolerate less than great, you know, we’d choose a tool because it had the best applicant tracking system because we were in high growth mode. And turns out that maybe it’s not gonna it’s not going to work well with your HR system or the talent management module that that sits with that tool. Like if you think about some of the really big enterprise solutions, right from like the big software like SAP, Oracle, etc. You end up delivering substandard solutions in certain areas because you felt compelled to choose a tool because it was great in other areas and I just don’t think you have to do that anymore. And I stick on this point because I actually like what for my own learning I actually think I I held on to my belief about like end to end single solutions longer than I should have and I it’s like maybe I feel like I’m like the veil has lifted and I wish that veil would have lifted sooner. So that’s where it maybe ends up being pertinent advice to other leaders working in similar situations.
Yeah, no, that’s great. And I gotta be honest, Barb, it seems like the situation you’re in is pretty ideal. This whole calm before the storm, you’ve got the resources you need to kind of lay the foundation but you don’t have this pressure. kind of flying the plane at the same time that you’re building it. I’m curious, are there any downsides, having been in that environment where you do have to kind of do both at the same time? Do you see any downsides? Or things that you think that there actually are advantages to having that pressure of having to keep growing headcount while you’re laying the foundation? Or do you feel like no, this is actually the ideal situation to be in?
No, I think there is a downside, not the least of which is I think, as my team listens to this there, because there there are there sufficient pressure right on certain other things mentally, I can talk about that a little bit, but they’ll probably kill me for for the calm before the storm description, because it’s not actually calm, and they’re gonna probably hear this and ask me if I’ve lost my mind. But but it’s, it’s differently, it is calmer than other other circumstances. So something I’m learning is, I think when you’re in that hyper, like the other type of hypergrowth, not what I’m experiencing at Boom, you are, you need to be so fast to deliver solutions that everyone including myself, right gets, I may have a super high quality bar, right? Like I want like the world’s best solutions out there. But in a hypergrowth situation, you have to not let perfect be the enemy of of good. And so you kind of, you don’t lower your quality bar, but you get more okay with like, let’s put something out there. And let’s iterate. And here we have a little bit more opportunity to maybe take good to great. Still not perfect, still don’t let perfect be the enemy of great, but let’s get to great versus good. Because we can take another beat to get there. And that’s been a shift for me because I have been sort of serially working in companies where we didn’t have that time or that luxury. So the downside, I think is what I’m what I’m saying there is like don’t, I have to be careful to not go too far in the direction of going, ooh, this is cool. We get to do great here instead of just good, right? And, and not to get greedy and go Well, let’s now do perfect because we can do great and, and and because we don’t, we still don’t have time for perfect and perfect is never perfect. Anyway, by the time you roll it out. It’s no longer perfect. So you still need to be able to have an iterative approach to how you improve programs over time and all of those things, but and so for me, it’s like I saw this other way of like, oh, I can get to great and how do I not? How do I not get greedy about that? And, and demand perfection? I think that would be the cautionary tale that I’m mentally telling myself here.
Yeah, I can see that being a hard balance to strike, right, you still have to be nimble and iterative. So don’t let that kind of luxury of maybe more time more breathing room help you fall into a trap of kind of perfection.
Yeah, like you’ll always find, yeah, you’ll always find things you can make better. And that’s kind of the point, right? Like, if you have a learning organization, and you want to have approaches that sort of follow a continuous improvement mindset, there should always be things that you find that you can make better. And so don’t confuse yourself into thinking that you should find all of the things before you take action, right, because you can get into a paralysis situation and start moving too slow. So it’s sort of you know, you got to avoid both poles, right, like, Don’t go so fast in a hypergrowth situation, that you’re rolling things out that are like not even partially baked. And they’re confusing, and they’re not going to land well with your team. But also don’t go so far the other direction that you strive for perfection that you actually like don’t roll anything out ever. And then people are struggling because they don’t have the stuff they need to to do their jobs, or they don’t have the right HR support from your team to be really successful as employees within your business.
I’m curious just to close out this point of kind of what you’re focusing on. When I asked you kind of what does that calm before the storm look like? What is that foundation you’re trying to lay? The first three things you mentioned, were performance management, giving feedback and compensation strategy. I’m curious, like why why are those three things so important at this stage as you’re anticipating that type of growth?
Since you’re asking this question, I probably should have not forgotten engagement survey because that was one of the other foundational items that we actually just finished because I did include that in that group. And so now that I’ve added to my list engagement survey, I think is important because the more quickly you can establish a baseline of data around how your employee experience is landing with your team members. The better right because then you know how you’re doing and you know how all of the rest of the things that you do after are either toggling that engagement level in an upward or downward direction, right so you can like measure the impacts of your your work. The other things I think about as one way doors versus two way doors. So to me I want to things that are, you want to kind of set something and not change too much around over the short term anyway, are the things that you want to want to lay first. And that’s where I think compensation fits in for me, right? Like that does not get any, that does not get any better to fix 5,000 people, it’s 100 times worse and harder. Because you know, you’ve got all of your legacy team members that you’ve got to figure out how to fit into a structure that’s new, and that sort of thing. So to me, and one way doors, I’m sort of talking like a funhouse door, right? Like once you’re out the door, like there’s no handle to go back. And so things that are one way doors, I are like things you want to kind of focus and spend some time on first. So I’m using the calm before the storm to spend the time and mental energy on getting a one way doors, right where when I say two way doors, it’s like the the kitchen door and restaurant, right? Like if you, if you forgot something back in the kitchen, you can turn around and the door swings either way, you can get back in there very quickly. And those things are probably the second order items that that I’d be inclined to get to once we set the foundational items.
So can’t that’s such a great point that one way door, verse two way door, you got to when you have the time to make these decisions that are basically irreversible, which is this kind of one way door metaphor, you’ve got to make sure you get it right. So take advantage of the time that you have to get that right. And you’re saying, comp is definitely one of those would you say performance management and feedback are also a one way door.
See, and I was trying to think of why I think we’re doing that for a different reason. And I think it’s communication, which feedback is a form of communication and in my mind is super critical in a high growth company. And in startups in particular, because we tend to be moving so fast that sometimes we’re not the greatest at communication. So setting some foundation that assures you that leaders and their team members are going to have regular opportunities for feedback, and everyone’s going to under so when I think of our performance program, the high level things that I’m striving to achieve there are really, that we are making sure that every team member understands how they are contributing to the success of Boom over the year, right, the performance year that we’re in and that they feel really tied in to those those goals and they know how they’re going to contribute. And then are they aligned on that with their manager? Are they speaking regularly with their manager about how they’re doing philosophically I believe that team members should, at all times understand how they are doing in their managers eyes, how they’re performing in their managers, eyes. And so structuring things in a way where we’re like really opening up those performance lines of communication. Because sometimes we’re just like running around so fast, that we don’t take the time to communicate with one another as we should. So I’m like trying to build that muscle early. So only trying to call that out because this may be a little it doesn’t probably fit with my like one way door to weight or situation. To me that’s more about a foundational piece of communication that’s like absolutely critical to have in business.
Well, there’s very, there’s very clearly focus on operations and setting the foundation in the system. And I know you started your career in the fitness industry as an operator, and you’ve pointed out how, you know, obviously, you’ve excelled in the field of HR, but you said that you remain grounded in your foundation as an operator. I’m curious if you could elaborate on that. What did you mean by that? What do you mean by that?
I think I can relate to the role of a leader and what they’re trying to do to deliver whatever it is that they are responsible for delivering within a business and I know that from a vantage point that isn’t just as an HR leader trying to deliver HR things to the business I’ve when I started my career in fitness I started in the sales and operations side of things so I was delivering revenue to to the business for bricks and mortar facilities and then I was a GM right so then I’m delivering not not I was never personally an instructor, but I had teams right where we were delivering like personal training services and so I can empathize with the real work that people outside of HR are trying to get done at work and understand how great HR solutions need to understand that they’re there to fuel and empower the business and they need to feel as helpful as possible with as light touch as possible. And by light touch, I just mean, where the clients that you’re serving don’t feel like the HR work that they’re doing and partnering with your team on are detracting from their ability to deliver the work that they have to do, but that it’s actually fueling and making an amplifying and accelerating their ability to do the work that they’re meant to do. And so I like I know what it’s like to have to deliver, I guess. And I don’t want my team to be ever interacting with our clients like the business in a way that feels like an impediment. Like, that’s not what we’re there for. And there are tons of HR leaders who think that way, I don’t think you need an operational foundation to do that. But for me, that’s what it means, right, is that I can I can truly say to leaders, I get it, like I’ve been in your shoes, and we need to keep this easy and manageable for you to interact with, right, let’s say a performance process, right? What does that look like so that it doesn’t take, you know, 50% of leaders productive time for 30 days to like, get through this process? And because all the while they’re doing that they’re not doing the actual work that they are meant to be there to do. So how do we make it important and make it a functional performance management process without being so overwrought, that it detracts from, like the business of your business.
Right. I love how you’re talking about performance management, because oftentimes, when you hear people not even just HR leaders, but I think also managers, we work with a lot of managers, and they think about performance management is really about one on ones and giving feedback and kind of holding people accountable to their roles and the responsibilities in their role, but also coaching and developing them in that stuff’s all really important. But the point you’re making is that ultimately, it has to connect to the business and what the business is trying to accomplish, not just from your specific domains, you know, perspective, but from a holistic perspective, and that you’re bringing that into everything that you and your team are doing is in service of what are the strategic priorities of the business? Where are we going? How do we serve that. And it’s interesting to hear how that connects back to, you know, that original first career experience you have in the sales and operations capacity in the fitness industry.
I just had this conversation with that leader at Boom yesterday. We were finishing a conversation about performance management and engagement survey. And I think from this individual’s prior experience, they were actually expecting me to have like a laundry list of, you know, 25 actions from the survey and I went in with a plan, we were gonna have one action from the survey, one company wide action that we knew was an actual engagement driver, that was a thing that highly engaged people in our team rated, well disengaged people in our team rated poorly. So it’s going to be if you can move that thing, it’s going to drive engagement. And so I presented one thing, and it’s like, I heard an audible like, sigh of relief from my peers in the executive team, because they’re so used to situations where it’s like, Let’s do these 25 things. And then suddenly, the business of your business is like doing these 25 improvement actions relative to your survey. And I’m like, let’s pick one and do it well. And then we we got off the call, and I shot him a note and I said the the one the one engagement survey action was for you, my friend, I know, I know, you do not have time to both fly a plane and and get 25 additional actions. So let’s choose the right one and like knock it out of the park.
Absolutely. And that’s it makes sense. connecting back to what you said about, you know, this idea of perfect is the enemy of the good. I use that quote all the time. But I think it can be a slippery slope. Because sometimes that could mean well we can do rather than doing one thing, great, not perfect, but great. We could do 10 or 25 things good enough, right? And the point you’re making is like no, there’s a middle ground between good and perfect, which is great. And let’s focus on great. And I’d rather be really great at this one thing that’s going to move the needle the most for the business, not just for, you know, the people space, then, you know, do a good enough job across these 25 other things. So I definitely empathize and I’m learning from what you’re saying, because I tend to lean more towards the scrappy, good enough. Let’s just get through these things. And I need to lean more into like, we’ll just pick that one or two things that we’ve got to be great at and focus on that.
Well, and for the most part, this isn’t this isn’t the last time we’re ever going to get to do this thing. Right. That’s that’s another thing I said when when I thought in that same conversation where we might have been going down a path where we were going to take on too much. And I said Let’s not forget that the survey is going to run again in a pulse fashion halfway through the year, and then a full survey. Six months later, we’re going to need actions then to write like, let’s remember that. Remember, we do not need to pull everything in now and do it now, if we can do something meaningfully, well, right now and then and then do the second thing the next time. And so how do you how do you eat an elephant, right one bite at a time. And it’s that argument as well.
switching gears a little bit, but it’s, it’s very hard to do, or all this, what we’ve been talking about becomes more complicated. In a remote world and you everybody now lives in remote right in some form or another. But you are unique in that you actually were at arguably the leader of remote work at InVision prior to the pandemic and one of the organizations I could count on one hand that have really kind of blazed that trail of like, this is what remote work looks like. And I know that you then brought that expertise to Peloton afterwards. So I’m curious like what do you think InVision did well, when it came to remote work? And what did you try to replicate at Peloton.
InVision’s culture with still I would still describe as one of the strong, strongest or stronger cultures that I’ve experienced, we effectively embedded the principles in everything we do. And I say everything somewhat aspirationally, right? Because it’s obviously it’s a it’s a path that you have to walk down. It doesn’t happen immediately, right. But if you truly can get your principles or your values to a place where they’re the they’re something you can evaluate yourself against, like, should I or should I not do this thing? Or should I not roll out this program in this way? Is this program true to our principles or values, we did a good job I think of embedding that, right. So we the principles were in our performance culture we had and it was kind of we were a little back and forth on the the cheesiness factor. But I actually love that we did this in a virtual setting, we sent everybody principals cards, which is a little low tech, but it was so sticky. And so it was basically like business card size cards that we sent out to all of our team members. And because everyone’s on video all the time, you could like flash a card, if someone was like, expressing an idea or doing something that displayed the principles. And so we tried it and it was sort of we’re like, I wonder what they’re gonna think of this right? Like, will people use it? Are they gonna think it’s cheesy? People latched on to it. And for that particular thing was I would describe was the thing that started to make the principles stick. And then you start to see the principles being used in people’s common language, right? So they’re describing things in terms of the principles there are people created emojis on Slack that were indicative of like one that represented each of the principles, and they would like react to people’s like Slack posts and messages with the principles. So they were like, everywhere. And so to me, that is something that builds like, if you if you want to have a culture at all, in a virtual environment, you you have to, I think do work like I’m describing we did at InVision, but that same sort of work I’ve now experienced works, whether virtual, not virtual doesn’t matter, right? It’s a great way to embed culture. So culture, I think was super strong. We also, you know, we got really good at the the foundational elements, right? Like, our systems worked well, we helped people to be really tech savvy, so they could navigate like using technology literally all of the time. And then we did some non virtual stuff. We brought the team together for in real life at least once a year that was actually a conference called IRL in real life. And to me that conference creates created like intentional collision points between people who might not otherwise ever meet face to face. And so then you have that conference. And it’s supercharges the relationship between individuals in the company so that when you go back home, and you’re not going to see people again for a while, those relationships have been supercharged in a way that makes remote work work, in my opinion, so I don’t think great remote work is ever like 100% remote. I’m not quite to that point yet, but I am obviously a remote work fan. And I actually went to InVision because all we were doing was relocating people from place to place and prior companies and rightfully so like I’m not knocking the practice of doing it, but I was seeing like the biggest players out there, right like the Amazons, Facebook Google really be focused on also wanting people to relocate to the center of their universe and I was thinking like at some point, they’re not going to be able to figure out how to do it and I really want to figure out how to how to make remote work, work at scale and InVision was the place to do it at scale at that time pre-COVID. And then just very randomly, and coincidentally, my leaving InVision to go to Peloton was very literally on the first day of the pandemic, which, none of it was planned. I actually had a long lead time to I had actually accepted the offer at Peloton before the pandemic started but my planned start date was actually the Friday the 13th of March I remember that day when everyone got sent home.
Yeah, we had a board meeting that day. Okay. So that wasn’t part of the kind of… justification is the wrong word but part of the the scope of your work was like, Barb, teach us how to go remote. That was kind of something you had to figure out that once you got to Peloton because it was on an unexpected development.
Yeah, I mean, it was sort of Peloton was just figuring it out, right as I was landing, and I had just I was like the the person who had just come from a completely virtual world. So I think there were places where that expertise was certainly helpful and, and people asked lots of questions and appreciated like any insights and things that I was able to share. But I mean, having it wasn’t planned that way, but having it ended up being particularly relevant during that pandemic year at Peloton.
And did you try to replicate some of the same stuff that you talked about an InVision of kind of grounding people in the principles or was it actually a different set of challenges that you had to focus on vis a vis remote work?
I can take zero credit at all for Peloton having really strong and very embedded values prior to me ever getting there. I think the founders in the leadership team did an awesome job of that, like people, people really were hanging on to the values and really feeling them and acting them before I before I got there. So I think that that was already strong. I do think some of the things that we latched on to is like engagement like and I actually mean very little literal engagement like an interaction like trying to be as thoughtful as possible about social events and keeping teams that are used to interacting face to face in person keeping them interacting during the pandemic and so that it’s like I already knew coming in, you know, it took everyone like nine months through the pandemic to to get to the place where we’re like, oh, not another zoom happy hour. I already knew that Zoom happy hours were like, not good, right? Like people are like, awkward, like I had their small things but like the best things I had in my bag of tricks were like, Let’s not just do a bunch of zoom happy hours, let’s do some really cool things. And I would personally take no credit for where we landed, we had a really creative team who came up with cool things, but we did like you know, Virtual Family Feud and all kinds of events that required physical things I’ve done like we’ve done paint and sip virtual like things that actually weren’t made worse because they were virtual like a happy hour is worse when it is virtual period. Like you won’t convince me otherwise. But there are things you can do together and interactively with your peers and colleagues that are actually not necessarily worse by definition because you’re doing them virtually and like find those things and do them sounds like a small thing but like that keep in mind Peloton I was there during literally the height of the pandemic like the worst year of it right and it that’s what people need it that right well you’re right it was a really important thing.
You all were famously growing, too, right? People were ordering Peloton machines stuck at home so it was also a time of hypergrowth for the company, right?
I mean I had my Peloton before I joined so that actually is the only thing that really got me perked my ears up from InVision because I did love like really love the executive team and the the team that was working with that InVision but I was like a total Peloton fan and had been for a while before but yeah, it was hyper. I mean, everyone knows the story right of the the growth that Peloton experienced in that year and had just gone public you know, nine-ish months something like that prior to really hitting pandemic times and then everybody needed a Peloton it was it the joke the joke was you know it’d be talking to a vendor or any like it candidate you’re speaking to and you’re on a zoom call and it was like a prop in the background like everybody’s zooms like their their video setup was like in front of their Peloton, and There were times when I’m like that Is that for real or like did they move their camera so that their Peloton would be in the background, but it wasn’t like it was like everyone had like their work setup and then a way to work out at home and that was their Peloton sitting behind them. So I couldn’t have asked for a cooler a cooler time to spend there.
Well, and it’s a it’s really cool to hear that, you know, in a time like that when revenues growing like crazy customers are coming in the door. Often times when you hear about burnout, people burning out because you’re trying to do so much more with so much less than what you were resource for. And the fact that you focused on events, ways to bring people together and have fun and enjoy themselves I’m sure was was super critical to helping folks kind of manage that not only focus on this staggering growth that we now need to kind of figure out how to accomplish.
Yeah, I think so. And there was such excitement, right about the enthusiasm and excitement around that the Peloton brand during that time that I think there is something to be said. And we see this at Boom, too. And I’ve seen it in other companies where you know, when folks are so excited about what it is your company is trying to deliver to the world that for short periods of time for for sprint, stop marathons, you know that that energy that you get from being so tied to the mission is something that does help offset feelings of burnout for a period of time. And I do think we were in that zone at Peloton, right? Like, more so than burnout connections were still important between people. But you know, people were jazzed right about what the brand was doing.
Yeah, yeah, no, that’s, that’s a great perspective for folks out there that are at these hypergrowth companies is, you know, find ways to bring people together in a remote setting and do things that don’t suck more in a virtual format. But then also, like, lean into the excitement of that rocket ship and the ride and the mission, the fact that like, we’re hitting right now on all cylinders, and this is like what you try to do, and most companies fail to do it. And so, you know, it’s an exciting time, it sounds like it’s a delicate balance between kind of celebrating the excitement of the mission and the growth and all these exciting things that are happening, while at the same time making sure we’re not burning out here, you know, just hoping that folks can just ride this euphoria of excitement and then end up working, you know, 100 hours a week, and they’re, they’re toast.
Well, and we know that now, too, right? That’s like even just the pandemic in general, right that like 2020 was like the time when we literally were all like, literally all locked in our homes, right. And so hindsight being 2020, I think, that’s no pun intended there. But like that…
I was also gonna say, you talked about flying the plane when you’re talking about Boom…
I know, we throw plane and transportation analogies all over the place at Boom.
You are someone that truly has experience at groundbreaking companies shaping the way that we work. And so I’m curious to ask you like, what excites you about where we’re heading with work and what work means in the future?
I am excited about what virtual work and the fact that every company is going to at least be open to it in some capacity. If they aren’t already, the talent shortages are going to force them I think in that direction. And I’m excited about what that can do for unlocking opportunities for talent in well, we’re both in Dallas and love Dallas, love Texas. But when we talk about like large global technology companies, there aren’t like a ton there aren’t actually there’s significantly less than a ton of them here in Dallas, and what are the opportunities that would be unlocked for someone in who lives in Dallas like I do, and doesn’t maybe want to relocate to the Bay Area? What are the companies that are now open to hiring someone in Dallas that weren’t ever like those opportunity sets were not available. So you think about then unlocking that talent. And there have got to be amazing people in in amazing places in the US and abroad, who just have never had the opportunity to access a role in say, the Bay Area if they were never going to move there. And when, when the when great companies find that talent. It’s like this gigantic group of untapped folks who, whose ideas maybe were not being brought to bear in the biggest ways possible because they live in a small town in a small market and there are no large companies there but like, there’s just like, if we’re going to be able to put so many more human beings ideas into the mix, then that layers on to how that can impact things like diversity, equity and belonging if we open up opportunity annuities in to folks that are in markets, where more racial, ethnic, cultural diversity, then then there might be in certain other cities in the US and that talent comes to bear, what can we move the needle on with respect to representation in our workplaces? So I mean, to me that’s like the the mental chain of events that I start going down if you want to, like, think about what really makes me excited about where I think work is headed.
Absolutely. And just think about kind of what type of innovation that unlocks to it’s not just oh, there’s great talent in these markets. There’s great talent that thinks about things differently than in the markets that were used to hiring and brings unique perspectives and problem solving capabilities. And so what type of companies get built in that type of environment? I’m with you 100%.
Yeah, if the top 10 tech companies right are the top 10 Tech Cities, right? We’re kind of where most of the ideas were coming from. If we’ve just now blown that out of the water, like we’ve exponentially increased the idea pool, right, and the perspective pool that we can bring to bear against any business problem or problem in the world, because people have figured out that it’s actually possible to work differently. And we have no idea what things that can bring to bear in the world yet. And I’m I’m anxiously awaiting being able to start to see those things in real intangible ways. Like I think we actually can’t even imagine what that might bring yet in all the most positive ways.
Absolutely. Barb, thank you so much. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this conversation is a lot of great advice, good food for thought. And then also kind of interesting aspirations for the future of how we work that you’ve, you’ve brought to the show today. So thank you so much for being here.
This has been one of the most enjoyable topics to chat about in the last little while. So thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. I had fun.
That was Barb Biden.
You know, I love the point that Barb made about the calm before the storm, I’d never really heard anybody be in that situation before where you actually have the foresight to know what’s coming in terms of the growth that you’re expecting, but be in a place where there is calm where you’re not growing quite at that rate. And you can actually put infrastructure in place and start to think proactively and strategically about kind of what is it that you need to do to make sure that this company doesn’t fall apart when we start scaling really fast because we put the things in place that we needed to from a people standpoint to accommodate that growth.
You can find us online at Groundwork.show. Groundwork is produced by Mike Giordani at Flowship. Audio engineering by Alex Roses, production assistance by Casey Miller, music by Aaron Sprinkle, Adrian Walther, and Corolina Combo. Special thanks to Pedro Matriciano and Natalya Krimgold.
Until next time. Thanks for listening.