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Elles Skony had the unique opportunity of designing the systems and processes when she joined the fast scaling XSELL Technologies as the Head of People several months ago. Elles wanted to put a process into place that speaks to every single part of the employee lifecycle and intentionally build a culture. Elles walks us through her plan, the thoughts behind each step and how she put the steps into place.

Here are my three big takeaways from the conversation:

  1. Elles took a purposeful approach to the things she started to build, beginning with the recruitment process.

  2. Identifying and defining the company’s core values was integral to making sure they were intentionally hiring the right people who share these values.

  3. From attracting potential team members to onboarding them to leaving the organization, Elles wanted the company’s core values to define those employee experiences.

So much wisdom and nuggets in this episode - Enjoy!


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Elles: We set up our strategy for the year and it is all within the employee life cycle, it goes from the attract phase, right? When you're just looking at our website and we're trying to attract you to coming here all the way through to hire, to onboard, to develop, to empower and to transition.

Aaron: Hi, I'm Aaron Levy. And I have this crazy vision of a workplace where your manager doesn't suck, where instead of being the reason you quit, your job is actually the reason you stay, where your manager is your coach helping you to reach your full potential at work. I founded Raise The Bar, wrote Open, Honest, and Direct and started this podcast to help companies transform their workplace by creating an environment where both the company and employee succeeds. In this podcast, I get to interview leaders who've built high-performing teams and learn from them what it takes to unlock a team's potential.

Today I'm lucky to have Elles Skony, the head of people at XSELL technologies, a company that uses artificial intelligence to transform the way businesses interact with our customers and build more meaningful relationships.

Over the last six months, XSELL has doubled in head count from 50 to 100 people all remotely. Elles was brought on to lead the people team and jumped right in putting her three-pronged plan into action before she even started. In this episode, Elles walks us through her plan, the thoughts behind each step in the plan and how she put those steps into place.

You're going to enjoy this episode. So get out your notepad as there's a ton of golden nuggets to take from today

Aaron: Today we're talking with Elles , who is the head of people at XSELL technologies. She joined just about five months ago to a team that has doubled in head count. In the last six months I want to start there, like as a new head of people joining this company, that's growing at an incredibly fast rate in a remote environment, what are the first steps you take? How do you go about beginning in a team like that?

Elles: Yeah, well first, thank you so much for having me and I really appreciate it and hi to anyone listening. So yes, it has been A whirlwind of five months, can't believe it's been that long. And then also feels like years in startup life.

So you know, I took a pretty purposeful approach to the things that I started to build right off the bat. And even before I started at the company, I rolled out an entirely new recruiting process with really purposeful training on interviewing really specific kind of behavioral questions that I knew were important to the culture, just through my, you know, many interviews that I had been having.

So that was the first kind of. Low-hanging fruit. Knowing that before I even started, they'd be hiring new people and knowing when I started, we'd still be on this kind of ramp up of hiring. I wanted to make sure that we had the foundation of the recruiting process bringing in, you know, an outsource team for the lift there and then making sure that everyone felt equipped to know what they were looking for so that we could just get really specific on the people that were joining, you know, post me being there.

Aaron: I'm so curious about that. You talk about before you even started, you said, I need to insert a couple of things like behaviors.

Can you tell me a little bit more about what you mean inserting some of the behavioral traits to look for and why was that? So like the first thing that you did and so important.

Elles: Yeah, absolutely. So You know, the, the interview process, it's kind of a take it or leave it for a lot of, of managers or a lot of employees. Sometimes, especially when you're interviewing a lot, it can feel, you know, repetitive in nature, but it is absolutely the most critical piece too. Bringing on the right people, bringing on people who have the values that the company wants. And so XSELL up until about a week ago, didn't necessarily have really specific core values that they, you know, had on the website or talked about in interviews.

But through my interviews and then through. You know, just some in depth conversations with leadership. I knew I could articulate what those were. And so when I say behaviors, I really mean I kind of just trained all the interviewers on here's the things that this culture already has, that are really important to you.

You know they, they talked about conversations happen in the room, in my interview process where they said, we want to make sure people are open and, and direct with each other. And so I just turned those into kind of behavioral questions so that interviewers could really dig into the valuable cultural pieces when they, maybe weren't being as intentional about that prior to me joining.

Aaron: And I love the word that you use intentional, right? And thank you for explaining it, because it's one thing to say, we hire for values.

But it's another thing to say, how do we actually do that? Right. It's like looking at those behaviors or actions that we look for in people and then asking questions and stories around it. And we often say that it raised the bar too. It's like, how do you get someone to tell you about a time where they had a challenging problem and they resolved it through communication, right?

Okay. So that was like, kind of step one. What were some of the other like big buckets that you focused on when you first started coming in?

Elles: Yeah, so kind of along the lines of you know, there were some, some of those. Again, I'm going to say low-hanging fruit a lot, because that's really where you, where you have to focus in the, in the first few months. But some of those cultural values were socialized already, you know, the company knew about them.

So I cemented them for the interview process, but that wasn't an official kind of roll out of value. So one of the larger projects that I've been working on is getting to a place where. We have a defined culture. So again, making sure that we have a mission statement that reflects our current mission, making sure that we have a culture code and core values that all of our employees are aware of.

And then more specifically and Aaron to your point, just now how we are defining the behaviors within those values and how we're developing those. I think something that is sometimes missed in the development of core values is that it's not just defining what the company is today. It's also making sure that we're defining what we aspire to be.

And then probably even more importantly, identifying that we need to develop that, right? Like having a conversation in the room, being. Direct with empathy and candor. That's not something that you just can do because I told you it's a value of the company. And so the other thing that I've been building is just, you know, that full kind of organizational development plan which was kicked off last week.

And it's starting to get rolling where we actually have training against the core values. You know, what does it mean to communicate well and collaborate? Well, what does it mean to have the best chapter of your career, all of those things again definitely with the underlying theme of intention. We're at a really interesting spot in growth.

We have the opportunity to be at a hundred people and define who we want to be. So the time is right now to very, very intentionally build the culture the way that we want it to look, you know, five, 10 years from now.

Aaron: Yeah, it's exciting. I'm excited over here listening to like there's, there's these things that you're saying, which are so important, you know, I think one, when you talk about values being not just aspirational and inspirational, which they should be both. But also something that we live in today, right. It has to have all of those traits. And then you added this other, is it, it needs to be able to be developed. It needs to be able to be like, when we talk to leaders, we always say like, how are your values or agreements measurable?

How would, you know, if someone's succeeding in living up to your values? And that's kind of what I'm hearing you say is we need to be able to know what it means to live into this value. And we need to be able to then know what it means to be able to measure, but also be able to train people to that.

Elles: yeah. the way that my team, the people team, we set up our strategy for the year and it is all within the employee life cycle, not sure how familiar you are with it, but you know, it goes from the attract phase, right? When you're just looking at our website and we're trying to attract you to coming here all the way through to hire, to onboard, to develop, to empower and to transition, right.

Whether you're transitioning out or whether you're transitioning into another role within the same company, those are all stages where you want employees to have really specific experiences.

And so we work towards those experiences as an HR people team and what we do to make sure that the values are living and breathing throughout as we have kind of tactical ways that in each of those stages, we're providing a story or we're articulating about our values, we're using the language.

And those day-to-day things where as an employee, you might not even realize we're doing it because it's not saying here's our core values, but it's, it's a really deliberate narrative. And so we feed it into that entire employee life cycle, which is how my team kind of rallies around and sets our goals for the, for the year.

Aaron: Hmm, so you, I like it. So bucket one is like values, as it relates to how we interview for values. Bucket two is valued as it relates to how we develop, train and codify our values. What were the other buckets?

Elles: Yeah, so you know, the, probably one of the more obvious ones is the attract, right?

So we have a really robust strategy for recruitment marketing this year and getting our employer brand out there. And so that's in that attract phase. So how are we making sure that people are self-selecting in, when they decide to apply for something that they know that these are our non-negotiable values, that these are important to us.

So just, you know, attracting the right talent, the top talent that we want through that and you know, really all the way through, from the experience and how we treat each other. Right. So in the transition phase, you know, for my team, it doesn't matter if someone is leaving our company, they should have just as great of an experience as when they're, you know, at our company or joining our company.

And so the value of just doing it the XSELL way, which is an important one for us. That's also kind of just there from an expectation of my team. And making sure people see us setting the example through all the stages. So there's so many avenues that it comes up. But yeah, some of the more overt ones are specifically, you know, providing interview questions against our values, then onboarding right.

Having a really robust onboarding where we're explaining and really giving the stories behind the values. So new hires really quickly understand the cultural norms and really quickly kind of understand those expectations. And then in the development phase, making sure that people are really strategically getting trained on the value, right?

Getting trained on how to have those open and direct conversations, getting trained on how to work well as a team and becoming self aware of where they need to improve and develop as well through, you know, performance reviews and growth, you know, conversations.

Aaron: It's a whole lot to tackle. And like knowing that the exponential messiness of what happens when you grow that fast, right? When you add 50 people in six months and go from 50 to a hundred. Yeah, it means there's a whole lot to do and a whole lot to be done.

And a whole lot of that gets broken along the way. How do you, as a leader of this team, and as someone who's coming in and trying to put all this in place, how do you balance your time? The priorities? How do you balance all that?

Elles: Yeah. So You know, run part of all of this, as I do feel incredibly grateful that I'm coming in, I was given, you know, a few headcount for my people team.

So I know that that is, that's not necessarily the norm for a lot of HR leaders and startups.

Aaron: So no, that is not the normal size. It's usually like a team of two or three, you know, like, and that's all recruiting.

Elles: Yeah, that's right. So we have built the team in a way where I have people on my team that I'm able to rely on for a lot of the day-to-day processes.

So the big, heavy lift for me specifically, was building the processes. Providing the framework and the tools. And then they, you know, are able to really execute that on a day-to-day basis. So we have our templates for our interviewing emails. We have our templates for our onboarding. We have everything built out and we continue to build the processes and templates as things come up.

But I do have a team that supports me in that. So it's just been everything; it's been incredibly helpful because where I've been able to focus my time is kind of you know, lots of competing priorities, but a big one being you know, looking at the organization as a whole and mapping out all of our teams and all of those roles and responsibilities within the team.

So more specifically from a tactical level, if anyone is faced with this right now in a growing organization, what I like to do is I map out the client journey. So I actually put up on a board if I was in person, but on a lucid chart for the purposes of the exercise. I talked to all the teams and I try to understand what our client journey is and not the experience of our clients.

But actually internally how we support that journey? So from pre-sale through to growth and retention, who's doing what in each of those stages on our internal teams and that discovery process was both really helpful for me, selfishly, you know, to onboard. But then what it's turned into is the ability to kind of Just get everyone organized, right. Be able to really clearly say, this is your responsibility, or this is what this team is accountable for. And then the kind of next iteration of that, that one of our teams is working on is how do you then create the processes and the documents and make sure that we're really setting ourselves up to scale against those things.

But that was a really big priority for me in the first few months, Getting all the information from everyone and connecting all those dots. So we have that kind of map for the organization since there was so much new really in the last six months.

Aaron: Yeah. And I absolutely love that too. And you don't expect to hear that from somebody on the people side, but actually maybe that should be the expectation. Yeah. As we really start to look at what's the role of people within an organization and it makes sense, right? You're thinking about how do our people operate? How do they work together?

And we need to know how they work together to deliver the service to the client so that we can know where things are broken, how to help people, how to stack all of that. That is like. I absolutely love that, that step that you took. And it's a great piece of advice for anybody, you know, whether you're joining or whether you're part of it.

It's probably something too, to constantly check back against is like, what is our process for how we work as an organization and how information and people flow to deliver our service.

Elles: Yeah. And that's, that's one of the things I'm really passionate about just through learning really, but it is always on my mind of how the things fit into the, into the larger whole.

It's really easy for departments to get into silos. Right. It's really easy for HR to just meet with each department head, get their head count requests, move forward and recruit accordingly. Right. But what happens is you find that there are redundancies that pop up.

There's people who come in and the role doesn't really make sense on that team or whatever it is. There's just so much interdependency at the size that we're at when most every role is new; also that I really believe that the responsibility from the people team side to connect the dots for those department heads and say, you know, That totally makes sense. But this other team has these responsibilities within their roles too. And when you're looking across for how we're supporting the client, where should it live? And then, you know, you get those leaders in a room and you just have that discussion. And it sets us up for more success on that, with that onboarding phase, for sure.

Aaron: So it goes from like the high level of like, Hey, this is, these are the big buckets, but really super tactical. The three steps that I heard was right from the employee experience and starting at how do we hire them? Right. Are we hiring them for the right values? That's one of the things you looked at, how do we codify those values and how do we get a picture of the full employee experience so that we can better serve at all different points?

It's a brilliant, like a brilliant framework for someone else to take. So thank you for sharing and thank you for coming on and thank you for giving us your insights.

Elles: Yeah, absolutely. Always happy to do so!

Aaron: Open Honest and Direct is produced by Raise The Bar, where we help organizations level up their leadership by empowering their managers with the tools, skills, and training to be better leaders of people. You can get in touch with us at Thank you for listening and go put your learning into practice.


1 Comment

meer hadi
meer hadi
Jun 18, 2021

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