We are delighted to welcome Kate Kodesh to Color as our Chief People Officer.
Prior to joining Color, Kate spent seven years as an HR executive at Lyft, where she helped grow the ridesharing company from around 100 to over 6,000 employees, and took the company through a highly-successful IPO.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kate and get her perspective on change, growth, and the lasting impact of COVID-19 on the workforce.
What excites you about joining Color?
Color’s mission resonates with me. One positive of a horrible pandemic is that it highlighted how healthcare is ripe for innovation and change. I think Color is in the perfect position to lead that. We have an opportunity to increase access and equity by bringing healthcare to as many people as possible. For Color, it’s about getting ahead of healthcare as much as we can while making sure that the process is democratized.
I also feel inspired by the executive team. There are a lot of female leaders, and it’s a healthy mix of those who have been there for the duration and seen the company’s growth, and those who have been in different industries and bring new perspectives.
What kind of advice do you have for leaders at a company of this stage and size?
A lot of leadership is about how to unlock the potential of your team. Companies at this stage often have a lot of first-time managers. It can be daunting; I want to train managers on how to think about scaling yourself. It’s okay to not be the center of every conversation. It’s about empowering your team to realize a vision, and how you create that vision for your team. You’re not the CEO, but there’s still a way to make sure people within your team feel like they’re marching towards the same charter.
From a people management perspective, what have been some of the biggest challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Going from everything onsite to virtual everything created a lot of disjointed communications. It made companies recognize that their internal comms and channels were insufficient. People had to be a lot more intentional. So creating the bare minimum comms was number one, and then engagement came second. People have had to be creative around virtual offsites and thinking through what mental health looks like when team members are physically and mentally ravaged, taking care of their kids and family at home, and maybe nursing themselves to health.
Part of our mission is around healthcare equity, but the pandemic has highlighted equity in general. Everything going on in society, like civil unrest, has obviously impacted certain employees much harder than others. People operations teams have had to navigate that as well. It’s not on the employee to navigate that alone; it’s on the company to help. People ops and leadership teams are not just about looking at the company and the bottom line, but looking at society and really being honest about what your workforce needs. That’s been a big shift and a positive one.
How do you see work changing over the next year?
People are starting to figure out that we can work remotely effectively. I don’t think remote work is necessarily going to be permanent at every company. There are still a lot of benefits of co-location. But the notion of flexibility has become almost the number one reason why people join a company. They’re asking what the model is, and whether they’re expected to have face time. That was never even part of the top ten reasons why people joined a company in the past.
Taking care of your workforce is going to continue to be a big priority. It’s about physical health, mental health, and more proactively, how do we think about people bringing their whole selves to work and what does that mean? How we think about that will forever change.
How important is culture in a growing business, and how do you maintain it during a pandemic?
At Lyft, culture was a crucial differentiator for both our product and employer brand and we had to live it day in and day out. It’s important for a company early on to establish values and operating principles, and not just say them, but really think of how they’re lived out at every touchpoint on the people journey, from initial outreach all the way to offboarding.
People who stay at companies cite culture as a key reason; they want to feel like they’re part of something bigger than just their job. People want to work where they feel appreciated, and where they feel they are marching towards something with other people. So culture is incredibly important; the challenge is how do you scale it?
You’ve been a human resources executive for about ten years. How has the role of HR changed?
HR has changed dramatically, and it’s been amazing to see. The biggest change I’ve seen between HR and people ops is perception. People used to think of HR as a kind of barrier or policing function that would just say no. The thinking was, How do I skirt HR? Now, people operations is a creative solutions center and a part of strategy development. Before it was like, here’s our strategy, now support it. People ops has become more of a baseline business need versus a cost center. That’s been a positive change. Instead of having to fight to be in the meetings, we’re already invited.
People are finally realizing that retaining and growing talent are good for the bottom line and for the business. Candidates want to choose places where they feel they belong, and where they feel like the company espouses the same values they hold personally. We have to establish values and operating principles early on, and really challenge ourselves to live up to them.
From a people perspective, what are some of the key considerations for a fast growing company in an emerging market?
You have to find the right balance between building processes and not being too bureaucratic. There’s a tendency to want to put process and guard rails around every little thing. Instead you have to balance what is necessary for that next stage with what would feel a little too heavy handed. For example, some of the foundational components — like how we think about performance management, compensation, or leveling — those things need to be there as building blocks for a team that is poised for that next stage. On the other hand, a company-wide hiring review process might be too much at this stage.
Do you have any closing comments or suggestions for other companies going through a similar phase of rapid growth?
The idea of belonging and inclusion are really important. You want to make sure people feel like they’re where they should be, and that they’re growing. That’s something a lot of companies don’t invest in early enough. They rely on people organically leading their own careers, which I think works when a company is much smaller. And that ties into performance reviews, promotions, and leveling — all that comes into play. And it needs to be intentional.