Asana's Head of People Ops Shares What Goes Into One Of Tech's Best Company Cultures

We got the chance to speak with Anna Binder, Head of People Operations at Asana, about Asana’s workplace culture, how they’ve scaled their culture across the years, how they drive employee retention and more. Asana is known to have one of the the best company cultures in tech, and Anna shared some insights into what goes behind the scenes in making this happen.

Anna Binder, Asana’s Head of People Operations- from Asana's blog

Anna Binder, Asana’s Head of People Operations- from Asana's blog

What makes Asana’s culture different from other companies?

Every culture and every personality is different. Your culture is a combination of how do you connect your business goals with the values that you have as leaders and founders with all of your people programs and all the things your employees touch, your norms and your behaviors and connecting all those three things is culture.

If I have to point to one thing that makes our culture unique its really a focus on clarity of purpose, plan and responsibility. We have a deep commitment in ensuring that those things are there in everything that we do. Quite frankly, this is the case when we launched the product 5 years ago and now we have 20,000 paying customers earlier this year and this is still the case.

How has Asana scaled its workplace culture as it has grown its employee count in the last few years?

One of our core values is around mindfulness and in practice that translates to thoughtful planning and reflection. Each year, we have 10-15 company objectives that allows people to focus on what the important things are and have clarity right off the gate as employees plan their year, and as they make their way through the year and all the decisions that they make. Then 3-4 times a year, we have a very deliberate and mindful planning week that is dedicated to planning across organizations—we call it roadmap week.

During roadmap week, different committees form and organize themselves around products and initiatives and come together to reflect on what’s working and what’s not working and to plan for the next few months. These are all very cross functional groups and all these projects and initiatives help advance our company’s objectives. During that planning week, the company commits to key results that we achieve during that quarter. This allows everyone to go off a little bit on their own to execute key results and support their objectives.

Another thing that we do is we go pretty overboard in the best possible way when it comes to onboarding. New people get up to speed on everything that they need to know in the first 30 days. In those 30 days, there’s somewhere between 30-40 individual sessions to help get people up to speed. It ranges from how do you use the product to how do our customers use the product to a day in the life of every group. You learn to do what engineering is doing, you learn what customer support looks like, you learn about the history of the company, you have dinner with the founders, you have a buddy/mentor for onboarding and more.

This not only gives employees an understanding of all the different groups and departments that make the machine operate. But it also gives employees a lot of empathy down the road. Because we’ve invested so much on onboarding, there is openness to understanding another point of view.

What is Asana doing to drive employee retention today?

We want to make sure we are creating a workplace that is radically inclusive, and we’re committing to this notion of thrive. One of the things that it means to us is really true empowerment of our employees in their decision-making.

We have something called the Area of Responsibility (AOR) system. Anything in the company you can imagine, if it’s important enough to do, it’s important enough to have an owner. To the extent that there’s any ambiguity when you’re building a company, you often hear ‘who is responsible’ but because we have this AOR system, we know who is responsible, and that person is responsible for making a decision and resolving what’s stuck.

To me, for employee retention, it comes down to three things. First, are they being successful in the role they’re in, and if everything that the manager and organization does is helping them be successful in that role. Second, are they growing and developing? Are they moving themselves forward? Are they experiencing new challenges? Are they learning new things? Third, do these things lead to happiness and impact? These three things I believe drive retention.

One more thing as it relates to specifically to retention, the fourth thing for empowerment is trust. We have built an environment where you as the AOR holder are responsible for creating space that collects input and hears peoples’ opinion and collects all the important information and once you’ve made that decision, we trust you because you’ve created space for us to give our opinion and you can’t be successful without our trust.

A glimpse of the Asana HQ

A glimpse of the Asana HQ

What are some of the challenges you guys are facing?

One of the things I’m working on is how do we scale this system of empowerment and mentorship. The more complicated and overlapping our processes get, the more challenging it is so we are committed to improving the AOR framework and making sure that it evolves as the company evolves. In typical Asana fashion, we put together a committee and roadmap week meeting, and work on it together as peers.

What are some trends you’re seeing within the field of people operations?

There’s an increasing emphasis of the role of the manager, one from being a director of activity to more of an enabler, a coach and an advisor. If you think of 10 years ago, 15 years ago, the McKinsey model of cut your bottom 5 percent, incentivize your top 20 percent with bonuses and reward them, that was all the rage.

Today, I don’t think that’s true. If you look at the research that is coming out, it is really much more around creating a motivated, engaged and thriving teams, and providing definitions of what awesome is. It’s about being really clear with expectation and giving employees more autonomy and room to make their own independent decisions and in that model, the manager is less a director but more an enabler.

The Cost of a Bad Hire

Every company wants to hire the best people. But sometimes the cost of making the wrong hire isn’t entirely clear. And the consequences maybe be more severe than they initially look.

Bad hires end up costing companies a lot of money- up to $1.5M for executive replacements. Costs don’t stop there, however. A bad hire can spread bad habits throughout the organization, leading to lost sales, unsatisfied customers, and more work for A players, leading to burnout.

There are steps companies can take to reduce bad hires. By hiring proven internal candidates and being specific about the company’s needs in job descriptions, companies can increase their quality of hire and reduce bad hire costs.

5 Internal Mobility Trends for 2017

Internal mobility is critical to a top-tier talent operation. It's essential to efficiently attracting and retaining the skilled workers needed to drive growth and stay ahead of the competition in today's labor market. Over 75% of companies surveyed by LinkedIn report that internal mobility is a critical focus for this year, so understanding where the space is headed is crucial for success.

Closing the Awareness-Action Gap

Despite the strong awareness around the importance and need for mobility, at present only 24% of LinkedIn's surveyed companies had a well-structured program for surfacing, developing, and promoting top talent. This signals that mobility has become top-of-mind only recently. This disconnect has largely been addressed in the fast-moving startup world as workers can quickly gain many responsibilities, but expect the gap to close significantly in more established companies in the coming year.

Better Evaluation and Performance Tracking of Internal Hires

Most companies are sitting on mountains of data about their employees between performance reviews and manager evaluations, but these reports have traditionally been used as an accountability measure rather than to encourage development. A strong internal mobility program will leverage this existing data to shift the focus away from evaluation and pay-raises and towards understanding where an employee's skills lie and how to best utilize their skills and encourage their growth.  Talent profiles are already proving effective in succession planning and company-wide skills evaluation in companies like Alcoa and Caterpillar, and Oracle asserts that talent profiles should be the foundation of your internal mobility efforts.  The next step that they identify in this trend is a two-way flow of information, where profiles “consider the career aspirations and interests of internal candidates”.

Internal Mobility Linked with Talent Brand

While many have linked internal mobility to employee retention, fewer have linked it directly to talent brand. Despite this, a quick perusal of strong employer brands demonstrates an emphasis on the skills and career development that comes with mobility. In fact, some companies such as Hootsuite have actually centered their entire talent brand around mobility. As talent brand is a huge priority for companies across the globe, creating a dialogue between your HR and marketing teams will better allow your external communications to showcase your internal mobility efforts.

Better Internal Candidate Experience

No program is effective without proper buy-in. Some Fortune 100 companies have already spent the resources to build career pages that extend past listings and success stories to portals where employees can identify opportunities and be engaged with their development across departments. Microsoft's career page is one highlight of this trend. Leadership programs that highlight intra-department movement have also proven effective in facilitating mobility while driving retention and employee satisfaction. This signals the importance of readily available information and planning resources for employee engagement with mobility. Expect more companies to invest in internal experiences and development programs that facilitate movement in the next year.

Predictive Recommendations

As machine-learning and narrow AI continues to permeate technology solutions, even finding homes in our iPhones and cameras, predictions will start to move past of shopping carts and face recognition and enter the growing people analytics space. Companies like Glint and Peoplise have started this movement with external fit prediction and attrition detection. Meanwhile, our own technologies are based on powerful adaptive machine learning algorithms that leverage both company preferences and employee skills.


The internal mobility space is young and quickly adapting to solve a major HR problem. Twine's top picks for the near future of mobility reflect the fast-paced movement and rapid technological advances of the current job market. We can't wait to see these trends play out!

The Future Leaders of Your Company are Already Working for You

Maintaining a strong and clearly defined pathway for employee advancement can play a key role in securing the future of your company.

What's at stake?

Preparing internal candidates for leadership positions in your company is a lower-cost, high-efficiency, and high-value move.

 By the Numbers

  • 18% premium on salary for external candidates for leadership roles compared to internal promotes

  • 2 years longer for external hires to get up-to-speed on organizational expectations compared to internal candidates

  • 3.8x higher success rate among internal promotes than external hires in senior positions

Despite these numbers, large companies are failing to retain their top talent. Research from Willis Towers Watson shows that almost 50% of high potential employees leave their organizations to further their careers when they fail to see development opportunities internally.

Given the value of homegrown leaders and the flight risk of your top talent instigated by employee perceptions of what it takes to advance, it's important for organization to demonstrate that staying offers employees growth opportunities.

People analytics can help

Credit Suisse used people analytics to inform their "Grow Your Own" talent strategy. The bank identified the key factors that weighed into why a top-performer would leave and performed logistic regression analysis on that data to predict an individual's likelihood of leaving and to provide insight into related risk factors.

The findings from the analysis have contributed to the firm building out a formal program for internal advancement. This includes the creation of new training programs, the addition of a dedicated internal recruiting task force, and the use of metrics to measure outcomes on internal upward mobility.

A platform like Twine can help your organization identify skill and experience gaps between what your current talent pool has to offer and what the organization is looking for. This can serve as a starting point to create internal training programs to help employees get the skills they need to move up.

How can you make your organization more attractive for advancement opportunities?

  1. Analyze the factors contributing to attrition in your organization and take these into account in your employee development and retention strategy. The reasons why employees leave vary from company to company. People analytics software can streamline the process of gathering and synthesizing information on attitudes and attributes that offer insight into the likelihood of a looming departure.

  2. Increase transparency on advancement criteria and opportunities. Employees value fairness and transparency within their organization, especially when it comes to advancement. Having clear criteria in place helps set employee expectations on their next steps and keeps them from looking elsewhere to measure up on salary and job responsibilities. After Credit Suisse launched a clearer pathway to advancement through “Grow Your Own,” internal candidates filled 65% of senior roles compared to 40% three years prior. Consider creating a reference for employees to gauge themselves against the desired competencies needed for a promotion and an idea of what a commensurate pay increase may look like.

  3. Integrate classroom and e-learning training programs with on-the-job learning to allow for active application of new knowledge. Companies with formal training and educational opportunities shouldn't let the learning stop in the classroom. The perception of low-relevance between formal training and job responsibilities can be a barrier to learning. Bridge the gap by making specific work experiences part of the training curriculum.

  4. Provide a means for employees and managers to measure an employee’s acquisition of skills and provide insight into how that relates to advancement potential. Engage managers and key cross-functional collaborators to share in accountability and monitoring of an employee's development by implementing for groups to share feedback, such as your firm's performance management tool. GE has seen improvements in employee performance with its PD@GE (Performance Development at GE) app that allows team members to give feedback in real-time.

Sourcing High-Quality External Hires Starts From Within

When it comes to finding quality external candidates, your search should start from within. In a survey, Jobvite asked recruiters to name what source they would rank highest for bringing in high-quality talent, and referrals (34%) came in second only to internal hires (38%).

The numbers show real value in having a strong referral program:

However, recruiters also say that although 40% of new hires come from referrals, they make up just 7% over the overall candidate pool. It also doesn’t help that 37% of employers do not have a formal referral program in the first place.

Is your company on its A-game when it comes to referral pipeline?

Here are three questions to ask yourself to see if your organization’s referral program is on track:

 1. Are employees aware of job openings?

Employees not knowing what job openings are available can be a barrier to getting more referrals. With that in mind, Dell started a practice of sending biweekly emails that with job openings and messaging that encouraged employees to refer. That tactic, in conjunction with other changes, contributed to a global referral rate of 38% by 2015 for the company, up from 19% just 5 years before.

2. Are we actively encouraging employees to send referrals?

Only 3% of recruiters consider number of referral hires to be their main success metric for recruiting strategy, but your firm may benefit from having the goal of increasing referral hires as a company-wide objective. The head of talent at Figman, an interface design software startup found success in setting an annual target for the percent of new hires from referrals. Creating a benchmark spreads the accountability for meeting referral goals across the whole organization in addition to raising awareness of the importance of referrals.

3. Are we tracking and optimizing hiring workflow, especially when it comes to non-HR employee involvement throughout?

The hiring process is inevitably full of hand-offs, and candidates can easily be left hanging. This is problematic when a referring employee expects transparency and faster movement through the hiring process for their referral. A recruiting leader at Ernst & Young says that the firm puts referral candidates into the “express lane” in the vetting process—a practice that keeps both referral and the referring employee satisfied.

4. Do employees know what kind of candidates to look for?

Be clear about the responsibilities and requisite skills associated with a job opening so that employees know who might be a good match. A people analytics tool like Twine can facilitate the process by surfacing current employees with relevant background for a role, who may then be able to refer similarly equipped candidates to fill a role.

Pandora's CHRO Shares Best Practices For Better Employee Experience

Twine HR Expert Interviews: The goal of this series of articles is to help HR practitioners learn best practices from HR executives in top performing companies, and understand the various trends and technologies within the HR and people analytics space.

We got the chance to speak with Kristen Robinson, Pandora’s Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), about her work at Pandora, what Pandora does to improve employee experience, employee retention strategies and various HR trends. 

Pandora CHRO Kristen Robinson

Pandora CHRO Kristen Robinson

How did you end up in the HR space?

Never did I think I would be in the HR space when I started out my career. I was really good in math during my high school days so in college I studied accounting, and I started out my career in accounting. But through those early years, I gravitated towards the people side of things. Then after getting my MBA and a number of twist and turns in finance, marketing and new venture leadership, I found myself in the HR space because that's what I’m passionate about and that's where I could make the biggest difference.

What do you do to make Pandora’s employee experience better? 

All the work I do, whether direct or indirect, relates to our employee experience and within that, our culture, and making sure that our employees are performing at their best. At Pandora, we’re very purpose and principle driven, so people strongly affiliate with our purpose—believing in the infinite power of music.

What should companies be investing in when it comes to employee experience? 

Companies should be really explicit about their culture and who they are as a business, and making sure that matches with their internal culture. Once you're really clear with that, you can emphasize that and take the really important things.

For example, our conference rooms are graphically designed to represent different aspects of music so that purpose is very much in our culture and why we’re here which is to bring music to the world. We’re a very collaborative and respectful community of people so when we hire people, we are choosing people who aren’t just going to fit in our culture but also be consistent with our culture and also amplify our culture.

How do you measure success?

From an HR metric standpoint, I think there are a couple of different categories.

One of the things we try to measure is the health of the organization. Health of the organization metrics might be the representation of the workforce in terms of diversity. Health of the organization also includes attrition information. If you are constantly churning out your employees, it’s going to have an impact with business sustainability. We look at attrition internally, retention and compensation. We also look at engagement, and we do that through engagement surveys and that tells us a lot of different aspects of employee sentiment.

Then we also look at the effectiveness of HR. If we're thinking about leadership development, there are some basic metrics like the percent of our managers who have gone through those programs. We also have some people practices like growth and development. These are conversations we want our employees to have with our managers. Are they achieving their goals? What are some of the hits and misses they've had?

Then there's the last category of HR efficiency--how many spots do we fill per recruiting cycle. How many social impressions are we making per campaign per social media marketing person that we have? How many business partners do we have per manager? How many managers per HR business partner? Those are just a couple of quick examples.

What is Pandora doing in employee retention, what drives it and best practices?

There are so many different things that drive retention. We can see some of that analytically when we do our surveys because the technology has become sophisticated enough that we can look at correlations. If people feel like they understand their purpose and how the work they do contributes to it, we can tell how likely it is they will leave, or if people don’t feel like they have career opportunities, what's the likelihood that they might leave.

People want to feel like that they’re doing important work that is tied to the mission of the company so they feel valued. We want to make sure that managers are helping employees see their contribution and role in the bigger picture.

The other thing that drives retention is if people feel that they’re learning and that they have the opportunity to contribute in more and more impactful ways. We know from our surveys and exit interviews and this is very consistent with public information out there, the number one reason why people leave is because they want to pursue a different career opportunity. That’s one thing we’re really trying to work on because you can’t solve for one solution for everyone because if you think of each individual, their desires and goals are very personalized so we need to help people to feel confident that they can talk about their career goals with their managers.

What are some of the initiatives?

A couple of years ago, we created an internal policy and transfer practice. While we have an external career website for people from the outside, we created an internal career site where we not only have jobs but we also have profiles and examples of people who have moved from one function to another so they can actually see that somebody actually made this move from a finance to a data analytics team or from finance to HR to marketing so there are those real examples of how people have made those moves before.

What are some of the trends you’re seeing?

I would say at HR, the people analytics side of things is at its infancy but it’s extremely powerful. One of the things I mentioned before is the employee engagement survey. And we’re moving from a strategy where we do it just once a year to much more frequent pulses that allows us to get ongoing signals that give managers feedback, and tools that allow the managers to see the results. It gives managers insights and fuel, and democratizes the actions that people can take that will be the most focused and most effective on a more local scale versus a company wide scale. So I’m really excited for the years to come and what will happen in the people analytics side of things.

How to build your commitment to talent through diversity

HR Experts across the globe have identified diverse recruiting and management as a top trend for 2017, with 37% of experts noting it as a top priority. The appeal of diverse recruiting goes beyond a simple moral imperative. Companies that have more diverse workforces are 35% more likely to earn more than their industry average.  For these companies, diverse recruiting promotes the correct treatment of talent, builds smarter and more innovative teams, and improves alignment with diverse and global customers.

Diversity recruiting creates an ideal environment for talent

Diversity recruiting goes beyond creating quotas for ethnicities, gender, age, sexual orientation, or experience.  Instead, effective diversity recruiting solutions strip away recruiting bias by focusing on key skills, reaching out to broader applicant pools, and more strongly considering non-traditional qualifications such as success in community building.

Hires and promotes in a successful program are chosen for the right reasons – skills, experience, and potential – rather than for race or gender.  Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace poll found that management that “demonstrates strong commitment to diversity” had the best chance to increase employee engagement. 

Diversity leads to smart, innovative, and adaptive teams

Zooming in from company-wide vision, diverse teams fight complacency and are more innovative.  According to the Harvard Business Review, “By breaking up workplace homogeneity, you can allow your employees to become more aware of their own potential biases”. Diverse teams and perspectives encourage employees to pay closer attention to facts, analyze these facts more carefully, and discourage groupthink.  Proof can be found in an experiment in which groups of three from the same background were encouraged to solve a mystery. They were soon joined by another individual similar or different from them: those with an out-group newcomer were more likely to guess the correct suspect than those with an in-group newcomer.  A longitudinal study conducted in London found that the benefits of diversity carried over to product innovation as well, with diverse firms getting more products to market or updating production specs.

The benefits of diversity on market understanding is also significant. 80% of purchasing decisions in the UK are made by women: Given their knowledge of the market from making those decisions, it’s no wonder that a 10% increase in executive gender diversity was correlated in a 3.5% earnings bump for UK companies. Stories like the following are just one indicator of the benefit that diversity can bring internationally focused companies especially: “A senior executive at a global company in Asia stated an obvious if difficult truth when he said, ‘In our top-100 executive meetings we spend more than half of our time speaking about Asia. But if I look around the room I hardly see anybody with an Asian background’” (source).  Wal-mart has identified the same issue, identifying demographics and diversity plans for each country that it operates in.


Knowing the benefits of diverse recruiting and management, how do you implement it into your hiring strategy?  First is by focusing on key skills: Strip away extraneous requirements in your job descriptions and focus on the essentials. Software solutions to reduce screening bias include Blendoor or Twine (for promotions) which display candidate profiles with a skills focus. Alternatively, solutions such as GapJumpers or allow you to conduct anonymous skills interviews.  Broadening your applicant pool by reaching out to more hiring channels or parsing your job descriptions with Textio is another effective strategy.

Building an HR strategy that encourages diversity in hires and promotes is by no means an easy task, but in today’s global and connected world building a diverse team is an important and rewarding step towards future excellence.

Why IBM’s David Green Believes Every Company Should Start A People Analytics Function Today

Twine HR Expert Interviews: The goal of this series of articles is to help HR practitioners learn best practices from HR executives in top performing companies, and understand the various trends and technologies within the HR and people analytics space.

We got the chance to speak with David Green, Global Director of IBM’s People Analytics Solutions, about trends he’s seeing within the people analytics space, when a company should start a people analytics practice, the prevalence of internal mobility and more. David has been working in the HR and talent acquisition space since 1997, and has spent the last few years writing and speaking about the field of people analytics. You can find some of his recent posts here.

David Green speaking at the Tucana Global HR Analytics Conference

David Green speaking at the Tucana Global HR Analytics Conference

What are some of the big trends you’re seeing within the people analytics space?

Interest levels continue to soar, which is consistent with what I’ve seen since entering the space in 2012. Adoption levels are also rising though not on the same trajectory. I believe this is mostly due to a general lack of HR capability and appetite. It’s also not particularly easy to setup and then grow a people analytics function and I’ve encountered a number of organizations that have started and either failed or stalled.

Those organizations that have successfully invested in people analytics are reaping the rewards and I am seeing increasing sophistication in the nature of the work that is being undertaken. For example, analytics are increasingly being used to help improve employee experience and wellbeing through personalizing services such as onboarding and learning. It’s an exciting space, and there is huge room for it to grow.

When’s the right time for a company to start a people analytics function?

Anyone that hasn’t started already should start now. But it also depends on the size of the organization. Try to focus on some of the challenges your business is facing. If you’re an organization that is growing rapidly, there are probably areas in recruitment and retention that you can work on.

There’s a mix of skills that you need. You really need a supportive and involved CHRO. Without that, you may struggle unless you know another senior person in HR who is passionate about data and will link you to the right stakeholders. Obviously, there are the skills you need to actually do the work, but be cautious about hiring people at the right time. It is counterproductive to hire data scientists until you’re ready to do analytics.

Finally, this is a long-term investment. You’re not likely to see rewards straight away. It takes time. Look to build momentum, choose your first projects carefully – they need to be impactful and also relatively quick to implement. Once you’ve established your beachhead, look to build something sustainable both within HR but also just as importantly across the business.

How prevalent do you think internal mobility is? 

I think it is something that is overlooked a little bit too much. There’s a lot of focus from the vendor community on hiring external talent, and increasingly there’s lots of buzz about linking analytics to employee experience. But there’s less around the internal mobility space and that’s slightly crazy if you ask me.  

At IBM, we’ve instigated a personalised job alert engine called Blue Matching to help drive internal mobility. It analyses your skills, performance, location and level of expertise to help you find your next job by notifying you of suitable roles. To date the program, which is opt-in for IBMers, has already had over 40,000 voluntary employee participants with more than 450 job placements.  

Increasingly, as we start to personalize experiences for employees, programs to help enable internal mobility will become more prevalent.

What has surprised you the most from this space?

What I’ve encountered in this space is the thirst for learning is far more significant than what I’ve witnessed in other fields of HR. The second thing is the collaboration that goes on between organizations. I see a lot of heads of people analytics of large organizations working together to solve common problems. This is good because this helps move the practice forward at a much quicker pace.

What would your advice be to VP of HRs who wants to use more technology and data in their practice?

Obviously budget is typically limited in HR so I’d look to do pilots and proof of concepts with the suitable vendors. You may not realise it, but if you are a VP of HR in a large organization, you’re increasingly in an advantageous position as the vendor market is highly competitive. This means that in the battle for customers and market share, many vendors are open to pilots and proof of concepts.

Do a live demo. Clearly you’ve got to see it. Is this going to close a gap in a process? Is this going to help me solve a problem I’m working on? What do my peers think of this product? I would network with other people analytics heads and if 3-5 of them says I should look at a product, I’d take the time to look at it.

What do you think vendors should be focusing on and working on?

There are a lot of vendors out there but many of them are helping to solve just one problem e.g. helping to predict attrition. The challenge for these vendors is they obviously need to start somewhere but I believe that they also need to develop products for other use cases as well. It’s definitely a case of survival of the fittest and avoiding the risk of becoming a commoditized one-trick pony. That said, as adoption of people analytics continues to grow so will opportunities for vendors, and I expect to see increased interest from the investment community and also more M&A activity.

How Fortune 500 Company AXA Leverages Big Data To Drive Employee Retention

Twine HR Expert Interviews: The goal of this series of articles is to help HR practitioners learn best practices from HR executives in top performing companies, and understand the various trends and technologies within the HR and people analytics space. See more posts in our blog here.

We got the chance to speak with Nicole Hazard, AXA’s Head of HR Strategy, Analytics and Innovation, about her role at AXA, and how AXA uses big data to drive employee retention and engagement across thousands of employees from all over the world.

Nicole Hazard, AXA's Head of Strategy, Analytics & Innovation

Nicole Hazard, AXA's Head of Strategy, Analytics & Innovation


What is your role like as Head of HR Strategy, Analytics & Innovation at AXA US?

Nicole: It’s a very exciting role, because it's probably the most future-oriented of those in HR. My team is tasked with looking at workforce planning issues, such as the types of profiles we need in the future and how are these talents going to be sourced in the future.

So, we spend a lot of time thinking about the “build-buy-borrow-bot” equation, and we’re increasingly looking at the impact of automation for certain roles. We’re focusing on where we get the best talent.

My team’s charge is to look at how to marry technological solutions and HR’s core value to the company and its people. We explore new software solutions that answer a lot of common HR questions, and go through a fairly rigorous process of testing out new vendors in that area and validating them over a period of time.

What are key metrics when testing out these technologies?

Nicole: First, we look at the added value that the technology provides to us in terms of quality of the result. So, in terms of predictive recruiting, we look at whether this solution will give us better candidates in the long term

Second, we look at the user experience. Is this something that will have an enterprise application and touch many people in the company? Increasingly in HR, one of the things we’re really challenged with is creating apps and software solutions that resonate with our employees in the way that they use Uber and other apps in their everyday lives.

What is AXA doing to drive employee retention today? What have you found to be most effective?

Nicole: We have a number of different internal processes or software solutions that we’ve piloted in the last couple of years to answer those questions. We’re looking at tools that help measure our culture and gain real-time feedback from our people on questions like how they are experiencing the company, what their workplace aspirations are, and what their experience at AXA has been like given where they sit in terms of the business.

We also have piloted a big data analytics platform that allows us to gain access to over a billion data points from all over the world – data points associated with compensation metrics, labor pool, supply and demand, job descriptions of other companies where the hubs of talents are, globally and locally. This has been a tremendous resource for us in terms of workforce planning. From there, we’ve gone on to look at tools in predictive hiring.

How prevalent is internal mobility and internal hiring in AXA?

Nicole: It's a big part of our value proposition as a company, and especially a differentiator for AXA as a global company. We’re very proud of the fact that we offer short-term and long-term assignments for people, based on performance and aspiration.

Internally, we are very vocal promoters of internal mobility and we make sure all our jobs are posted on the company intranet. We have strong conversations about people around what their next step could be within AXA.

This is not only informed by AXA’s general commitment to the development of its employees, it's also driven by business reality and social reality. We increasingly have people in our company who are accustomed to moving jobs every couple of years. We want them to have fulfilling careers and stay longer with AXA, so internal mobility is a big piece of that.

What are some of the challenges that you’re facing right now?

Nicole: I think we, like many companies, are trying to find a better way to have a more accurate picture of the employee life cycle. The challenge is that the data associated with all those different touch points reside in different systems. Being able to pull information on training, retention, engagement, and compensation to create a stronger picture of what works and doesn’t work for employees, that’s a real central challenge for most large companies at this point because most of us have somewhat inflexible legacy systems.

We’re trying to move from these manual ways of looking at people data to more automatic and insightful approaches. There is a term “data janitor,” meaning that you spend a lot of time trying to make sure your data is clean and that it can be read—our goal is to move from data point to decision-driver.

What advice do you have for the VP of HR of rapidly growing companies?

Nicole: I think there are a lot of terrific blogs available. Josh Bersin of Deloitte has a wonderful blog on HR technology. He picks leaders in a variety of HR tech spaces and provides information on their value and their relative strengths. So keeping up with industry trends through industry channels is a terrific way to stay informed. Frankly, that’s how I got started.

The other thing we at AXA have found to be useful is networking with other companies like us – and those not like us -- just to get their experience with different software solutions . A number of our peers are testing new tools. Some of these solutions are going to work and some of them are not going to work, so we’ve been trying to create partnerships with other companies to create an info sharing session associated with tech in general. It’s very helpful to all of us to continually share what we’ve learned.

Twine is people analytics software that helps Fortune 500 companies reduce employee turnover. Twine’s employee recommendation engine algorithmically suggests current employees for new job openings. By doing so, Twine helps employees find more fulfilling roles and companies save millions by tapping into their rich pool of existing talent. Learn more here.

Insights From Verizon’s VP of HR On How To Keep Over 160,000 Employees Engaged


Twine HR Expert Interviews: The goal of this series of articles is to help HR practitioners learn best practices from HR executives in top performing companies, and understand the various trends and technologies within the HR and people analytics space. 

We got the chance to speak with Martha Delehanty, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Verizon about what Verizon does to keep their employees engaged, the people analytics work they do, and the various employee retention and internal mobility programs Verizon has and more.


What do you currently do as Verizon’s SVP of HR?

Martha: A day in the life requires making sure all actions that we take when it comes to the fancy term of “human capital,” or how people get work done, is linked to the first value of Verizon’s credo: We have work because our customers value the high quality of our services. Every single day, my goal is to make sure that this is something approximately 160,000 people focus on.

I also work closely with our compensation team and our diversity team, and ensure that, again, the energy is really driven around satisfying our customers, approaching everything with a customer first mentality. We also look at obstacles that are in the way of our employees and identify opportunities for them to execute more efficiently

What do you do to make Verizon’s employee experience better?

Martha: First, we have a single employee portal called “About You,” which is where our employee experience begins. It is a virtual hub that is on every employee’s home screen, whether that is a laptop, smartphone, tablet or desktop. This allows our team members to enhance their work, life and employee experience. Critical information is housed on this one unifying site--all the guidelines, training resources, tuition reimbursements, the ability to apply for a career jump and the ability to learn about our employee resource groups, and more.

We also try to highlight the opportunities and experiences available to our teams in a very relevant way. The most important piece is direct connection with the front line supervisor. I believe HR’s job is to create and enhance the relationship between the frontline supervisor and not substitute and replace that. We create space in the day, month and time period for our employees to create these relationships with other people in career paths that may be similar to what they want.

For example, our AOL platform, MAKERS, is just amazing! The platform is built around giving a voice to women’s initiatives, opportunities and experiences. At Verizon, we’ve taken content on the MAKERS portal, and we’ve created a very easy way for a leader to bring 30 to 40 people into a room, show some of the videos and have an open dialogue about women in the workplace which has lead to pretty interesting discussion around unconscious bias: in short, what does it mean to be a man or woman, gay or lesbian, an African American woman, or someone from another country in the workplace. This creates an amazing discussion – and I believe creates an engaged workforce. Sometime the conversations are a little uncomfortable – but everyone always leaves learning something about themselves and the team around them. This makes us all stronger.

What does Verizon do in relation to people analytics? What types of data are being used in HR?

Martha: The people analytics function is interesting. It is about how we can best anticipate things like turnover, promotions, engagement benefit utilization. We have lots and lots of data; the real challenge, though, is what to do with all that information.

Here is a real life example – in training and development, data analytics is a key method to determine our return on investment and secure future budget dollars for investment. But this sounds easier than it is.

For example, we made an investment in a three to four month leadership development program for our store managers. Afterwards, we interviewed and surveyed our employees who worked with those store managers. We asked them questions such as what it was like to work in that store, would they recommend their manager, what the customer experience was like and whether the customers were more delighted. Then we were able to compare this to store leaders that did not have this learning experience. The data showed that employees of the managers who completed the training had a higher satisfaction rating than employees who worked with the managers who did not complete the training – and this satisfaction translated in higher store sales. But that all took effort and proactive planning. I think this is a good example of how we’re using analytics to build our investment strategy because training and development can be very expensive from a business perspective.

What are you doing to drive employee retention today? What have you found most effective?

Martha: I would say the best employee retention is meaningful work, which is connected to doing something remarkable in the communities we serve. I think that is the most important piece, when an employee feels inspired by something greater.

An example is my recruiters and when they are just trying to staff up a call center versus framing it as, “You’re changing people’s lives by opening this telesales center in Dallas.” We’re giving people jobs with fully loaded medical benefits and getting them ready to serve our 100 million wireless customers. In the end, I don’t think employee retention is as important as employee engagement because you can have low turnover and low productivity. The question is how do you have a highly skilled and engaged workforce? The way to do that is to focus on meaningful work connected to a greater purpose.

What are some examples?

Martha: One is called the “Your Voice” program, which are small breakout sessions with our Wireless Chief Operating Officer where we bring in small groups of employees and say, “Hey what is working and what is not working?” We document the feedback and work to find solutions on what we can do from a systems perspective to help our employees deliver a better customer experience. Then we communicate back what is put into action so employees know their input matters.

We also have Verizon’s Leadership University, which has this suite of training experiences that bring people together. This investment is an investment not just in the content but also in the networking capabilities. We also have leadership initiatives for our high potential folks. The 6 to 12 month course includes training sessions that are conducted by district managers. This allows the district manager to learn about the talent, the training is delivered, and you know that the pipeline for future growth is built. In the end, the best source of engagement is the front line supervisor, because people generally don’t quit companies, they quit supervisors.

How prevalent is internal mobility in Verizon today

Martha: Very! I think it starts with what somebody aspires to be. Verizon is an iconic developer of people. We make sure that an employee doesn’t just have a performance plan of what they need in their job, we also have a development plan – i.e., what are their aspirations? Then we tailor that development plan based on what people want. I think the misnomer is that only “high potential people” want a development plan. If you’re a customer service rep and your aspiration is to be an awesome customer service rep, that’s great! And you still need a development plan. Maybe that person wants to get into community service or perhaps coaching other customer service reps in other stores or in the call centers. Hooking in to “aspiration” and then unleashing that aspiration as part of the development is the secret sauce to breakthrough employee engagement.

What are some of the things you are focusing on right now?

Martha: The concept of people being technical and having separate technical talent and operations talent. I think those lines are going to be blurred so we want to make sure that there’s a technical aptitude across our organization as we position for the digital future.

Second, our Chief Diversity Officer Magda Yrizzary has done an amazing job of introducing training about unconscious bias in the workplace. We all have them – and it has been very liberating to have this open dialogue around these unconscious biases and see how they are perhaps holding back our ability to hear all the voices at the table. Just imagine what's possible when all our employee voices are engaged – this is how we actually have breakthrough results.


Internal Mobility Primer (Infographic)

Employee retention is a top priority for firms around the globe, after all, millennial turnover alone costs the US economy 30.5 billion dollars a year. According to the LinkedIn Exit Survey, lack of internal opportunities was the #1 cited reason for turnover. These facts have led Fortune 500 companies to develop internal mobility strategies to increase employee loyalty, encourage strong performance, and save on hiring costs.

Many companies have internal job boards and consider candidates that currently work for them, but only 24% have a well-defined program for advancement opportunities.  A successful internal mobility program has a few components. First, it empowers HR managers to evaluate and select internal candidates when hiring for a position.  Second, it promotes internal movement as a positive and essential part of career development; Nielsen halved their voluntary turnover rate after they integrated internal mobility into their Emerging Leadership program. Finally, it surfaces internal opportunities which fit employee’s goals and encourages movement between teams.

Internal vs. External Candidates: What Are the Tradeoffs? (Infographic)


When a role opens up in your management, where do you look? According to data from the Society of Human Resource Management, over 70% of these open roles are filled by an external candidate. According to Nielsen SVP of talent Chris Louie, this discrepancy arises from the investment in External Hiring technology, the "shiny new toy" fallacy, and hesitation from managers to let their best performers go.

Understanding where this bias comes from is not enough; next we must identify what it entails for business and efficiency.  A study done by Matthew Bidwell of Wharton suggests that external hiring is risky for both firms and candidates, reflected in high turnover, wages, and lower average performance after hire.  External hires are more likely to be promoted again, however, signalling that external hires’ strong qualifications translate into team success if the fit is correct.

Internal promotes may not always have the performance ceiling of external hires, but promoting comes with significant benefits. Promotes display strong loyalty to their firms, cost less to hire (especially with a strong internal mobility program), and display stronger average performance in the years after promotion.

Choosing to hire internally or externally is not a binary decision. Your focus should reflect the goals of the position you are hiring for: If you need a team to innovate, hire externally but vet carefully. If you need a reliable, strong performer, hire internally.

Contribution, Performance, and Competence measurements were determined by employee managers during reviews. Contribution measures if an employee completed their annual objectives, Competence measures worker's skill relative to their job, and Performance was a company-wide ranking of employees in terms of organizational value (broken down into 10% 5's, 20% 4's, 60% 3's, and 10% 1's).

3 Reasons to Develop an Internal Mobility Program Now

As demand for skilled workers increases, leading HR practitioners have identified internal candidates as a critical pool of underutilized talent.

Though over 75% of US companies have noted they will be focusing on internal recruiting in 2017, only 23% of those companies have well-defined programs to facilitate internal mobility and surface new opportunities for their workers.

There’s an enormous opportunity for companies to build better internal mobility programs to to improve their employee retention, strengthen their talent brand, and improve the efficiency of their HR departments.

1. Your best talent expects mobility

The job market has fundamentally changed: the rise of digital job boards, professional social networks, shorter hiring cycles, and an increasing demand for talent between startups and established companies has given job seekers more options and flexibility than ever before. As a result, 1/3rd of the US Workforce is expected to turn over in the next six months, and most of that is attributed to lack of clear advancement opportunities and poor talent utilization.

Moreover, a nationwide Jobvite survey showed that over 51% of full-time employed candidates are actively seeking or open to other roles.  Building a strong internal mobility program is the best way to satisfy your employee’s need for mobility, as 66% would look within their own company first.  

2. Building Internal Mobility strengthens your talent brand

Talent brand (or employer brand) is increasingly recognized as essential to effective talent acquisition and retention. According to a report by LinkedIn, 65% of US companies label it their top priority.  

A company’s career website and resources are the best way to build talent brand (say 61% of HR leaders). Moreover, opportunity for career advancement is one of the most important factors as to whether a candidate accepts a position (according to 45% of HR experts).  Creating a well-defined and publicized mobility strategy shows that your company is devoted to your employees and their personal growth.  

3. Mobility empowers HR efficiency

HR is moving from an administrative function to a core component of a company’s growth engine.  83% of companies identify talent as their top priority and regularly connect their senior executives with HR.  This influx of focus has created a huge demand for talent, with 57% of HR departments identifying competition for talent as their top problem.  HR departments with a clear mobility strategy can effectively evaluate and engage the talent within your company, leading to better team efficiency and significant financial savings.


These are just a few of the reasons why Fortune 1000 companies like Google, Johnson & Johnson, and Nielsen have started investing in building out internal mobility programs for their employees. With more and more research being done in the people analytics space, internal mobility is proving to be a priority for employee retention, talent brand and HR efficiency.

Our Mission At Twine

By Joseph, Cofounder & CEO

Our mission at Twine is to empower employees to grow with – not out of – their companies.

But first, let me take a step back.

You might be asking, “why should I even care about employees outgrowing their firms?”

The new labor market

We’re witnessing a historical change in the labor market – employees are leaving their companies faster than ever before [1], millennial worker engagement is at historical lows [2], and this disengagement-driven turnover is leading to billions in turnover costs for the US economy [3].


The #1 reason for the dramatic rates of turnover among young employees is lack of career advancement opportunities within their companies [4]. In exit surveys, almost 50% of workers cited this as their primary cause of departure.

We live in an era where the newest members of your workforce expect constant growth and diversity in their experiences. If that’s unattainable, they’ll leave for greener pastures.

I would know. I’m a data point in an increasingly visible trend line.

My story

Almost a decade ago, I was seeking my first job out of college. I had an offer at a Fortune 500 company. Things were going well – they flew me on-site to visit the office and meet my prospective team. My hiring manager, trying to entice me to join, touted the security of the job: “it’s a great role – my supervisor has been in her job for over 10 years!”

I turned down that offer the very next day.

What the hiring manager didn’t understand is that value he touted – security – didn’t resonate with me. I wasn’t looking for a role where I would trade professional development for safety. I was looking for a culture of mobility and a precedent of professional development.


Why we started Twine

Remember those bleak statistics I noted about 1 in 2 employees leaving their companies for growth opportunities elsewhere?

Well, the good news is that almost all of those employees indicated they would stay at their company if they found a better-fitting role internally [5].

With that context, and research coming out of Wharton - our alma mater - noting that internal candidates often outperform external candidates [6], my cofounder Nikhil and I saw a real opportunity in the market.

We saw a chance to build software that would drive better workforce retention by helping employees find new roles inside their firms. And we knew there would be deep institutional benefits – we’d enable large companies to better utilize their internal talent, to save in hiring costs, and to cultivate stronger networks and knowledge-sharing within their offices.



My story, revisited  

I ended up turning down my offer at the Fortune 500 company, and worked in management consulting instead.

The allure of the industry was that I’d be able to stay at one firm but would take on projects across a breadth of industries and functions. I wanted change, variability, and growth – and consulting offered that in spades. I ended up staying for several years because there was always a new experience around the corner.

We are embedding that philosophy into Twine. We are building software that makes internal mobility seamless – and by doing so, making it easy for corporate employees to grow with their companies.


...And why you’re reading this now

As we’ve built Twine in the last year, we’ve learned an incredible amount evangelizing internal mobility for better employee and employer experiences alike.

This is our opportunity to share our learnings from the front lines. We want to build an active dialogue around a topic that’s close to our hearts.

Maybe you’re a thought leader in HR. We want your reactions to our research – critical or positive.

Maybe you’re just building the foundations of an internal mobility program at your company. We want to equip you with the data you’ll need to make a case.

Whoever you are, wherever you come from, we’re excited to move this discussion forward.

There are many exciting things to come. From interviews with HR/People Analytics thought leaders to cutting-edge research on talent mobility, we have many stories to tell.

Welcome to our blog.