How do you scale a global operation, with remote workers spread out all over the world, and still maintain your company culture and connection to each other? Mariah Nagy, Head of People at Monte Carlo, says it’s about utilizing a “one size fits one” approach to the employee experience. It all centers around the relationship between a manager and his team member and their ability to understand and support the specific things that are most important to that team member. Mariah also stressed the importance of vulnerability as leaders, the vulnerability circle, and why ship and iterate is one of their core values.
I know you’ll find lots of nuggets and applicable tips in this conversation - enjoy!
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Mariah: We are in a situation with team members spread out across the globe. Some may see each other in person. Some may never see anyone in person. And so when you are thinking about influencing their experience, the first step, from my point of view, is that relationship with the manager and employee.
Aaron: How do we create a new world of work, one where companies succeed because of their leadership, not despite it? I'm Aaron Levy, the founder of Raise the Bar, and over the last decade, I've been immersing myself in this question. In this podcast, Raising The Bar on Leadership, we talk to people-leaders, founders, and culture experts about how they've created a people-first culture in the workplace, the challenges and hurdles, the wins, and the failures.
Join me in this movement towards creating the new world of the work we want to see.
Today we're lucky to have Mariah Nagy, the Head of People at Monte Carlo Data, a company that helps data engineers improve their data reliability and downtime.
Mariah was a college athlete-turned public accountant-turned seasoned people leader with 15 plus years of experience scaling high growth global companies. In this conversation, we talk about the vulnerability cycle, a one size fits one approach to employee experience, and all the other things that it takes to grow a fully remote global team.
I know you're gonna enjoy this conversation. There were a ton of gold nuggets and really applicable tips that Mariah shared, so take a listen.
Aaron: Mariah, it's a pleasure to have you on. Thank you for taking some time to chat with me today. I'm really excited to learn more about you and your journey.
Mariah: Aaron, thanks for having me. It's great to be here.
Aaron: I guess the most interesting thing I found was you began your career in public accounting.
Aaron: And now, you're the head of people. What inspired you to transition into the people area?
Mariah: It's a great question, Aaron, and I wish that I could tell you that it was a very intentional journey. I think, you know, I went into public accounting, spent several years there, and found over the course of my career and my time in that industry that there were some things that I loved about it.
And then there were some things that I didn't. The things that I loved about it were my interactions with people, and getting to understand and see different businesses. The things that I didn't love about it, funny enough, were, you know, the actual accounting and, I was an auditor, more specifically.
And so, I sort of went out on this journey of discovery, talking with a lot of people, a lot of mentors, folks who I'd encountered who I was really curious to hear from them, like, how did you get to where you are? What was your journey like? I asked for feedback a lot from people that I worked with.
You know, what do you think I'm good at? My skillset, what do you feel like it lends itself to, and that really helped. Those conversations sort of helped me shape a view of my strengths. It helped me get an idea of what the possibilities were out there. And ultimately going through that journey kind of gave me the courage to do a total career change.
And so it was one of those things where, having the conversation with my parents, by the way, after getting an accounting degree, taking the CPA exam, they were a little bit puzzled. Now looking back, I think that everyone kind of has a clear understanding of how I ended up here and why this is the best path for me.
I really, really enjoy working closely with teams, helping build high performing organizations. And so, yeah, I wouldn't trade the journey. I wouldn't trade the journey for anything.
Aaron: Yeah. I loved how you, you kind of said it wasn't so intentional, but then you went on to describe the steps you took, which were very intentional, right?
Like talking to mentors, getting feedback, getting clear on where you're at and what your strengths are. And then exploring possibilities. And I'm gonna go even one step further.
Before that you were a college athlete, and I've always been fascinated how college or just athletics as a whole in sport, have a connection to the business and the workplace. And I'm curious to hear what lessons from your career as a college athlete still apply or apply more now to the work you do today leading the team at Monte Carlo?
Mariah: So I think being a college athlete requires a ton of time management. So really, really close time management skills. I feel like in that situation you're kind of always strapped for time, and always having to focus on the thing that is most important and urgent at that moment.
And so that to me has been a really great foundation for working in high growth organizations. You know, knowing where to spend my time. Knowing where to not spend my time is equally important. And being super clear on what is the most urgent and important thing for me to be focused on.
So I think that, to me, was a really great foundation. I think the other thing as a college athlete is you're spending a lot of time with folks from different backgrounds, with different personalities, different perspectives.
I ran the 1600 relay, as an example. I had team members from across the world. And so, you know, getting to understand their different backgrounds, perspectives, where they come from, what's important to them. Again, it was a really, I think, good foundation, in terms of understanding different cultures, different backgrounds, and what makes people tick.
Aaron: And as you've grown Monte Carlo over the last year plus, it's been an explosive growth and you have quite a global team. How have you been able to navigate those cultural differences between the global teams, and how are you more importantly, supporting your organization to do that?
Mariah: Yeah, that's a great, great question, Aaron. So, Monte, Carla, we're in a really fortunate position that we have team members in the United States and Canada. Uruguay, Ireland, Israel, to name a few. So we have folks with this really diverse global perspective, and it's part of what makes us a really strong team.
And I think, when you think about how to navigate that, it's to me a lot about recognizing and celebrating differences. So understanding that there's different beliefs, backgrounds, religions, hobbies, experiences, and finding ways to celebrate those internally.
And so I'll give you an example. We have a ‘celebration’ Slack channel. And here employees own a lot of the posts. And they're sharing things like, ‘Hey, you know, how I celebrated this really important holiday with my family, what it means to us.’ So creating this global shared context, I think is a really, really important way to navigate those cultural differences. And then I think the second thing is, having the right conversations and encouraging feedback loops. I think you can do that through, round tables or AMAs, or, just making sure that you're creating a foundation of feedback within the organization.
So I'll give you an example where I kind of went wrong with the training, recently. So we were doing a feedback training and I wanted to bring this training to life and give different examples of what, you know, feedback looks like. So, really direct feedback and trying to categorize that and give examples or roundabout feedback and show people what that looks like.
And what I missed during that conversation is that feedback is delivered in different ways across the globe and in different groups. And having a real understanding of how people perceive directness or what directness means in certain countries is very different from what it means in other countries.
And so I am fortunate enough to have gotten feedback after that, where someone said like, ‘Hey, you know, I just wanted to highlight this to you that it's actually, it's not, it's not one size fits all across, across the globe. There are different ways that this can be interpreted.’ And I thought that was like, ‘Hey, this is an example of us having the right conversations.’
And so I really thought that was a good example. Really thankful that we have team members that feel like they can speak up and flag when things aren't quite right.
Aaron: I love that story for a number of reasons. One is what you just said, there was obviously enough safety that you've created with the team or that the team has or feels to be able to say, ‘Hey, Mariah, what you said misses the mark’ in probably, in a more polite way they said it right, mark in, this way or that way. Which allows you to then create that feedback loop.
Thank you for sharing something that didn't work. ‘Cause I think that's just as valuable to look at what is working, but also to look at what isn't working. And, it takes a little bit of vulnerability to do that. How have you, or do you plan to take that insight and apply that forward?
Mariah: Yeah. So this tends to be this perception that people leaders are always gonna know the right thing to say and they're always gonna know the right way to do it and they are just the experts in that way.
And I'll be the first to say I'm gonna miss things. I am not gonna be perfect. Every time. and I want people to raise it to me when they feel like there's something that I could have done better.
I seek dissent a lot. I go and I ask like, ‘Hey, you know, I was planning on doing this. How does this land with you? What are your thoughts on it?’ It was a really good reminder for me that that's something I need to double down on. And it's something that I do and will continue to do as I'm thinking about programs, initiatives, things that we roll out to the employee population.
Just because, again, having a diverse set of perspectives only makes any program, initiative, training, anything that we are putting in front of employees, that much better.
Aaron: There's something so powerful in what you just said. There's the learning from that experience, which is how do we get diverse perspectives or more diverse perspectives in this.
Aaron: But like what I'm taking on top of that, I don't always have the right answer. I don't know. I might get it wrong. I might screw up. And, in our work with leaders, that's one of the hardest things for a leader. You're promoted to a manager, you're now leading a bigger department or a bigger team and we expect that leaders have all the answers.
I've done this a bunch, like we ask in a room like, raise your hand if you think great leaders have all the answers and no one ever raises their hand. And I think there's something to it. There's like research by Elliot Aronson, it's called the Pratfall Effect, where leaders who show they can make mistakes are actually much more likable and generate more inspiration and power behind the work that they do.
And so I guess one of the things I'm curious about is how do you support your team in making that explicit? In creating a culture where that, and this might not be some answer you have today for Monte Carlo, but I'm just kind of riffing with you cause I'm, I'm very curious about it.
How do we as a, as a world of work, create a place where the act of showing that I'm wrong... how can we make that explicit so others can lean into that and see it as a trait to follow versus something that we hide.
Mariah: It's a really good question. And I think that to your point, it's super important for leaders to be able to do that.
Not just because it makes them more real, and more likable, but it also gives their team permission to take risks and to fail.
Mariah: And I think in a startup environment in particular, the only way that you will innovate and move your business forward is if you are able to take risks in a safe environment and to say we're not gonna get this right every time.
Hopefully we get it right more often than we get it wrong. But the only way that we ever get better as an organization is to try new things and sometimes we are going to fail. And, I don't know that I have the perfect answer for you, Aaron. Other than that, I try very hard to keep that top of mind, and try to share with my team on a regular basis like, ‘Hey, here's the thing that I did that flopped, you know, or, you know, here's with the benefit of hindsight, here's something that I would've approached differently.’ And I think in having those conversations and doing that over and over and over again, it sort of ingrains into your culture that it's okay to fail sometimes. It's okay to mess up.
And we're here to support each other and we're here to get better and to try again. And, and it's just, to me, it's been one of the most important parts of growing as a leader. I know when I first moved into management, I too had that impression. Ooh, I better have all the answers or else, my team's not going to trust me.
It's actually kinda the opposite, right? Like, I think you build trust by showing that you don't always know the right thing to do and the team together will get there.
Aaron: Yeah. I'm nodding my head and saying, yes, yes, yes over here and loving it. And I think it's easy to think about for those who are listening and running and leading people teams to think about, okay, what process, what structure, what training do I put in place to enable this to happen?
I think what you said is super powerful in the fact that it's not necessarily that there is an explicit, or drawn out process or plan. Rather, it's how we show up as leaders, or how I show up and make an effort to consistently say, here's what I did that flopped, here's what didn't work.
Aaron: We just did like our reviews and resets, which is kind of our quarterly assessment of how we do and did the same exact thing.
I went through my goals and objectives and went through how I lived into, or didn't live into our values this quarter. And gave myself a B minus in one of the areas and shared why. And I think it was naturally to what you're saying, it was making it clear that not hiding behind our failure, and instead sharing them is a little scary.
It takes a little bit of vulnerability, but also is something that, you know, gives the team permission to take risks and to fail and to learn and to grow. And that's the necessary ingredients for growth.
Mariah: 100%. I've been in a lot of trainings over the course of my career.
I've led a lot of trainings over the course of my career, and I honestly believe that the best way to do this is to lead by example. Like you just, it's gotta start at the top. People need to see it happening on a regular basis, for them to feel that they have that safety, to be able to do the same. So I think super important for leaders.
Aaron: Yeah. It needs to be practiced. One of the things we talk about all the time, knowing what to do versus doing it, are two different things. In order to do it consistently, you need to practice doing it. And I think this is a great example on highlighting the importance of practice.
What have you been explicit about doing differently in a remote team? We talked about a global team, but it's not just that you're leading a team on different time zones with different cultures, but you're leading and growing a team that has been ranked high as a, as a remote place to work. so there's obviously some things that you're doing right. What have you learned either that didn't work, that you changed or that is working to create this special remote environment?
Mariah: Yeah, so remote work I think has just been a really interesting challenge and interesting evolution over the last couple of years.
And I think at the beginning of the pandemic, as I remember, we were sort of in this spot of, alright, how do we replicate everything that's happening in person and just replicate it and do it remotely? Which I actually over the course of the last couple years, I've found that to be the wrong approach - at least for the teams that I've worked with.
It's really to me been more about recognizing that remote work, and like building a remote culture, is a distinctly different way of working than having people who are seeing each other in an office every day. Yes, there are pros and cons to each.
But I think that there tends to be sometimes this feeling of connection, connectivity. How do you keep connection across a global team? To me that seems like there's always this spin of being in a remote environment must be a little bit worse than being in person.
And I don't believe that, for me, what I've found over the last couple of years is that when you're looking at remote work, it's you're influencing the things that you can influence. So, being really intentional about the times that you meet as an organization, being really intentional about your communication channels, how you keep people on the same page. You need to acknowledge what you can't change.
Like when I wake up in the morning and I'm getting my kids ready for school, we have team members who are ending their day in other parts of the world. I'm never going to be able to change that. And I think acknowledging that time zones can create challenges is an important part of continuing to build the best possible remote culture.
And then celebrating the experience that you're creating as a remote team. So we have an extremely diverse team with different backgrounds, different experiences, and that is something we couldn't replicate if we had to be in an office every day. And again, while I know there's no replacement for in-person connection, there's benefits of being remote that you just don't have when you have everyone in an office.
So I think about it, like I said, in those ways. So influencing what you can, acknowledging what you can't, and then celebrating your experience. As it relates to things like personal connection across the team, one learning for me is I really think in this environment, moving away from one size fits all employee experience to one size fits one is more appropriate.
And, I can explain a little bit,why,
Aaron: Yes, yes, please.
Mariah: Yeah. So, prior to this, prior to everybody working remotely, when we're in an office, we're running engagement surveys, we're analyzing the data by region, we're figuring out what programs and initiatives we should roll out at scale to support the experience.
Fast forward to today, we are in a situation with team members spread out across the globe. Some may see each other in person. Some may never see anyone in person. And so when you are thinking about influencing their experience, the first step, from my point of view, is that relationship with the manager and employee.
So having a manager really understand, ‘What's important to my team member? What connection are they looking for? What does that mean to them?’ Because it's different for everyone, I think. ‘And how can I best support them?’ And so we've recently done an NPS s exercise, and it's a one-to-one conversation that all managers had with all team members.
So they sat down with them, asked them, ‘Hey, you know, today, what's, what's your nps?’ So they get a number. Okay. ‘What's driving that?’ So they start to hear a little bit about how this employee's feeling. You know, it's either this day I feel disconnected, or I feel like I don't know what's going on. Or the flip side of it is I'm really enjoying the way that we're working, so they're getting to understand what's driving this person's engagement.
And then the last question we had folks asking is, you know, what could I do to positively influence that? And coming out of those conversations, I heard from managers that they were like, ‘I talk to my team member almost every day and these prompts, I got things from them that I never heard before!’ So I call that a success.
And so ask, yeah, ask managers, reach out to me if you have questions about how to support, and how to, adjust based on what you heard. and so it was just, to me, I thought a really meaningful conversation for all managers and employees to have. And it's something we'll continue.
Aaron: I love the name of it, NPSs conversation. We do something called the stay interview, which is very similar, and we do it once every I don't know, four or five months with each employee, and it's, what skills are you looking to develop and how can I support you? And it's the same type of desire, right?
Learning more about that employee in ways in which you wouldn't have known before, and opening that dialogue between the manager and the direct report is so crucial. And How do you encourage that more frequently or, or empower your managers with the ability to do not necessarily an NPSs conversation every week or month, but more engagement conversations like that or more, open dialogue in that way?
Mariah: Yeah. So, when we went through rolling out this NPS exercise I met with managers either in small groups or one-on-one to talk with them about tips, like how to, here's some ideas on how to have these conversations.
Some folks I think I could tell had a higher degree of comfort with it. Like perhaps they had had a conversation like this before, or perhaps it's something that they were already doing on their own. But there were others that were really curious, like, how would you phrase this? How would you ask it?
How would you support someone in thinking through ideas that would help influence their engagement? So we had a good back and forth on that with a lot of our managers just to ensure that they felt comfortable doing this. And then we opened it up to the organization too. So we went to the company and said, ‘Hey, this is what we're doing and this is why.’ Understanding what's driving your experience and your engagement at Monte Carlo is incredibly important to us.
And so having that communication, I felt would hopefully give people this feeling of, yeah, I have permission to be honest and to share what's on my mind, and do that all in the spirit of continuing to improve our experience, and build that relationship between manager and employee.
So I found that, that helped. I think the other thing, we talked a little bit about the feedback training that we'd recently done as well. And I think having a point-in -time conversation where we are as a leadership team and as all having all of our managers in one place talking about why this is important to have this type of dialogue, how you can foster open communication within your teams.
I think it's just that continued reiteration of the importance of, getting to know your team members, soliciting feedback and having open dialogues like that.
Aaron: I think the transparency of, Hey, we're doing this organization wide, and here's why we're doing it.
I often talk about the thing you're most responsible for as a leader is providing clarity on where we're going and what we're doing, and then context as to why we're going there.
And so, that is a perfect example of, at the high level, giving clarity and context on the follow through and the consistency being those conversations that were had, I think that, seems like a really good recipe for success, right?
And I think oftentimes what we see, and, for those of you who are putting together initiatives or plans where it might fall flat, is, is, what you've done is you've bridged the gap. You've said, ‘Hey, here's the high level, here's the steps we're going to do.’ Transparently explaining why.
Because if you had an NPS conversation and you didn't have that upfront communication, it might be a little bit awkward or weird. Or am I in trouble? Can I say what I really wanna say? What's the point of this? What's the purpose of this? And so sometimes we go in with the best intentions, but without that context setting, it can be really hard. And so I think that's, It's subtle, but very important.
Mariah: No, you're absolutely right. and I think with any initiative or any program that we execute at Monte Carlo, we always wanna think about what is our desired outcome?
And, for me and the people team, our job doesn't end with rollout. I wanna know in terms of our goals for this program or for this initiative, did this have the desired impact? Is this something we should continue? Is there a way we can improve our communication?
And so that follow-through and that communication loop on anything that you do, I think is just a critical aspect of making sure that it's successful.
Aaron: Yeah, it seems to be like a theme in the different stories that you shared. It's like the themes that I'm hearing are transparency in what we're doing and why we're doing it, and kind of the vulnerability of like, we might not get it right.
Then vulnerability of, we didn't get it right. We might not get it right. We're doing this, but we're trying. And then that last step, which is just such an important step, which is the follow-through and the follow-up and not letting it die at ‘Okay, well, we put this out there and so it's good, and now let's go to the next initiative.’
But it's, ‘What are we learning?’ Let's again, transparently communicate with vulnerability, what we're learning. And it's like, I'm drawing on my little whiteboard desk a little connected circle of transparency, vulnerability, follow-through and follow-up. Unlike those things, it seems like you're doing that in a repetitive cycle that is creating a space where people feel safe and have the permission to take those risks and fail.
Mariah: That is the hope. And by the way, I love the way that you framed that continuous circle. it is just part of our values and part of our culture here at Monte Carlo one of our values is “ship and iterate”. And So I think you see that as a theme.
It's part of what I love about our culture here, but you sort of see that as a theme in everything that we do is, we've got a hypothesis, right? We think that this is what is the best path forward. We're gonna iterate as needed though. We may not get it perfect the first time and that's okay.
We're learning, we're growing, and the next version, if there is a next version or needs to be a next version, will just be that much better.
Aaron: And that's what I, unfortunately, don't see as often as I'd like to is the connection to how our values actually operate on a daily basis. Right. Like what you just said is someone on the people team talking about how shipping and iterating is a part of not just what the engineers do, not just the 15 minute scrum meetings, but it's a part of how you operate and deliver with your team, how you operate and the team delivers with each other.
And so that's such a great example of connecting the values and not just connecting it. It's in your nature and who you are, but that being a part of your process.
And I love how easily it was able to say, yeah, ‘We do it because that's who we are and that connects back to that value’. And I think that ability to see that connection so strongly and so easily makes it easy for others to see and live into that value.
Mariah: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's values.
I very much gravitate towards organizations that have a very strong foundation already as it relates to their values and what they're all about. And it's part of what I found so impressive about the Monte Carlo team when I was introduced to them about a year ago. Just hearing this consistent message across all groups, all teams about how our values and our operating principles show up every day in the way that we work.
For a people leader, like now, I feel like my job is to continue to find ways to weave those values as well into our employee lifecycle into everything that we do, into all of our touchpoints with employees. There are values, for a reason.
They make us a stronger, more focused team. And so it's one of those things that I think a lot. And actually, I mean, I have it all written out on Post-Its on my desk actually. I think about it a lot. I look at them all day, and think about how, how can I ship and iterate.
How can I get a good V1 out there? How can I celebrate and have fun? As an organization, that's one of our values. How can I measure in minutes, which again comes back to this idea of focusing on the most urgent and impactful thing. So it's something that I've really enjoyed about my time here.
Aaron: Man, this is the moment where I wish we had our cameras on ‘cause my smile could not be bigger. It's funny, I have stickers on my laptop that have all of our values on 'em. And it's like that constant reminder, that constant, it becomes subconscious. And I tell my team, we will talk about our values until you're like, shut up, Aaron, we've talked about 'em enough. And so I just love that, I love that they're Post-Its on your desk and it's something that you think about and it seeps into how you behave and how you act. I did not know we were gonna go in this direction.
This has just been a tremendous conversation. I keep going back to this transparency, vulnerability, follow-through cycle and some of the themes and language you've used, which is gonna stick with me, right. The one-size-fits-one approach to employee experience and all of this supporting, not just people feeling good, which is nice, but teams growing and evolving. And I think that's one of the things you said very early on was we need to give teams permission to take risks and to fail so that we can move forward. ‘Cause that's how we move forward. And I think that is clear in the way you're communicating that that's the underpinning of all we're talking about.
We can't just have a culture that's nice to each other. We need a culture that performs. And we can also be kind to each other in that performance. So, this has just been a tremendous conversation. I'm so grateful that you've taken some time outta your day to share with us and, just grateful to have you here.
Mariah: Aaron. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for having me. This has been great.
Aaron: Raising The Bar on Leadership is produced by Raise The Bar, where we help organizations level up by empowering their managers with the tools, skills, and training to be better leaders of people. You can get in touch with us at raisebar.co. Thank you for listening and go put your learning into practice.