The New People Teams: How 1stdibs Promotes Rapid Growth & Development

January 6, 2017

Over the past year, we’ve been covering the shift from traditional HR teams to the new People teams. What really distinguishes new People teams is their focus on maximizing employee value through strategic investment in practices like talent acquisition, employee onboarding, talent management, total rewards, employee experience and culture, and internal communications.

Want to read the rest of the series? Check out our profiles of EnigmaMedalliaBonobosRapid7, and Flatiron Health.

In today’s post, we caught up with Sue Choe, the VP of People at online marketplace 1stdibs to learn about her company’s investment in the People team and what that’s meant for all employees. Here’s what she had to say:

1. Can you give us a quick overview of 1stdibs in general and your People team specifically?

1stdibs is the premier global marketplace for rare and beautiful objects in furniture, fashion, fine art, and jewelry. We connect the world’s most respected dealers and finest galleries with sophisticated collectors and curators who share in the pursuit of beautiful design. In doing so, we partner closely with progressive dealers to define and shape the future of antique and vintage buying-and-selling.

We consider ourselves unique among other startups, because we’ve been around for 15 years—founded in 2001—yet still exhibit strong entrepreneurial DNA that informs how we operate and function as a company. Some may call us a “mature startup”—one without the day-to-day uncertainty of a startup, but with enough nimbleness and willingness to question the status quo that we can adapt quickly to unexpected changes.  

Re: the People team itself, we are an ultra-lean team of 5.5 employees, covering approximately 280 employees (including consultants, temps, etc.) across 5 locations—2 in NYC, and offices in LA, the UK, and Lithuania.

2. Did 1stdibs always have a People Team, or was it originally an HR dept? Talk us through any major changes to your team name or structure.

Our People team has gone through a reinvention this year, with the addition of a VP of People (that’s me!) who is part of the Executive team and reports directly to the CEO. Previously, the function reported to the CFO and was called “HR.” I promptly changed the name to People, to reflect my belief that our employees aren’t just ‘human resources’ charged with accomplishing tasks; they are people who should be able to share their whole selves with their colleagues at work. And it’s the People team’s role to enable them to do this freely.

The impetus for bringing in a VP of People after 14 years in business (4 years under the current leadership) was the recent hyper-growth of the company (~100 new hires in a year) and employee feedback about the ensuing challenges: organizational silos; cross-company communication issues; and desire for more professional development.

3. How is your People Team organized?

As I mentioned above, our People team is run ultra-lean, but composed of incredibly high-energy, passionate members who care deeply about employee engagement and business success:

  • People Operations—including talent development, compensation & benefits, employee engagement and experience, employee relations, etc. are led by:

    • Sue Choe, VP of People

    • Eva Amesse, People Operations Project Specialist

    • Mollie Zeitlin, People Operations Coordinator (part-time)

  • Talent Acquisition—both technical and non-technical recruiting are run by:

    • Ricky Tiscareno, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist

    • Ben Hayes, Technical Recruiter

    • Danielle Marchand, Recruiting Coordinator

The 1stdibs People team (from left to right): Danielle Marchand, Sue Choe, Eva Amesse, Mollie Zeitlin, Ben Hayes (Missing from photo: the fabulous Ricky Tiscareno)

These titles only scratch the surface of what each member does, e.g., Danielle recruits and runs our summer intern program; Eva runs payroll, conceives and develops a bi-weekly newsletter called ‘Dibs Digest; and recruits for and coordinates an internal employee-to-employee education series through Lunch & Learns (among many other responsibilities). Because we are so lean, each of us has to stretch—both in terms of capacity and abilities—and the result is rapid growth and development.

In the near future, we hope to add a Compensation & Benefits expert and a People Business Partner, which should enable us to do even more for our employees.

4. What has your People Team achieved so far?

In this first year, we have focused on 2 areas that were highlighted by last year’s engagement survey: 1) social connection and inclusion, and 2) developmental feedback.

  • Social connection and inclusion initiatives have led to 80% of us believing that our community is welcoming and inclusive, and 86% of us feeling that our colleagues are helpful and supportive when we collaborate (an increase from last year). Our goal as the People team is to encourage employees to feel empowered to propose and run programs that are in line with their own personal passions, rather than looking to us for social programming. I’m a strong believer in the value of employee-led initiatives, which engender a sense of ownership for the community (and scales more easily). The People team supplements these with broader social offerings that wouldn’t necessarily be addressed through employee-led events. Some of these initiatives have included:

    • Monthly Leadership Design Labs workshops (in partnership with LifeLabs NY) that engages a cross-functional, cross-tenure group in workplace skills like conducting effective meetings, becoming more productive, asking the right questions, etc.

    • Lunch & Learns led by employees who volunteer to share their passions and interests with their colleagues. Recent topics have included growing succulents; an introduction to interior design; and selecting inexpensive yet delicious wines.

    • Bi-weekly company-wide newsletter called ‘Dibs Digest that includes snapshots of new hires; a calendar of upcoming ‘extracurricular events’ such as yoga, climbing club, volunteer opportunities, etc.; a team and employee spotlight; company and personal announcements.  

    • Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Seminars (DIBS) led in partnership with an expert from Paradigm IQ.

    • Monthly celebrations for birthdays, life events, and holidays—the usual ones as well as the quirky ones such as Pi Day, May the Fourth, etc.

    • Employee-led initiatives include:

      • Dibversity—an employee group that’s passionate about diversity in the workplace and in the external world

      • Outdibs—an employee group composed of LGBTQ colleagues and allies

      • Sports and games—seasonal sports team (‘Dibs on Dribs) via ZogSports; cornhole league; summer karaoke league

      • Other: monthly movie night; trivia night; hackathon

  • Developmental feedback initiatives have led to a significant increase in employee agreement that their job performance is being evaluated fairly (the largest increase across all of our survey questions); and an uptick in employees believing that their managers provide useful feedback. There has also been a substantial decline of free-text comments asking for more feedback, from ~10% of employees last year to nearly none this year. That may be because our goal for this first year was to equip both managers and employees with the tools to give and receive high-quality feedback. Some of these initiatives included:

    • Structured semi-annual reviews, embedded in a set of high-level skill and behavior areas we care about as a company

    • Training for employees and managers on how to give and receive feedback

    • Emphasis on real-time feedback and recognition, supported by using a tool created by Reflektive

    • Roll-out of competency matrices that provide guidance on performance expectations—this should happen by year-end, in anticipation for Q1 performance reviews

These are just a few of many People initiatives that we’ve focused on during this first year. Other important programs may not be as visible to employees (evaluating and changing to a benefits broker who will provide more focused wellness programs and highly competitive renewal rates; development of a coherent compensation model and employee levels; creation of quarterly People dashboard; publication of the employee handbook, 1stdibs 101, etc.) have also been some big ‘wins.’

5. What does your People Team still want to achieve?

We’ve only scratched the surface! Year Two will likely include:

  • A more purposeful and universal learning/training program that will be timed to hit developmental inflection points: new hires; early managers; early directors; etc.  

  • More focused effort on refining our recruiting process, based on data collected on candidate experience, time-to-hire, etc.

  • Director-and-above leadership development

  • Automation of the more rote aspects of the People function, e.g., onboarding process

  • An emphasis on internal communications

We use employee feedback to help guide our priorities, so as we hear more from them, we’ll likely fine-tune our goals.

6. How does the People Team see its role/place in the overall organization?

We see our role at 1stdibs as being the team responsible for unlocking and growing the potential of our employees—in collaboration with other leaders—and creating the environment and conditions for employees to do their best work. This covers a lot—which I illustrate in the chart (below). I circulated this among my team when I first started, borrowing from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

We are very much regarded as partners to both employees and leaders in making 1stdibs the best place to work. One of the wonderful things about being on the People team is the appreciation we hear from our employees about how we impact their daily lives. We aren’t viewed as HR police, or policy-spouting bureaucrats, and that’s by design. We make sure to explain why we do what we do, so that employees can understand the underlying rationale, which drives further learning for them. At the end of the day, it’s all about employee learning.

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