How this HR leader is ‘organizing, aligning and inspiring’ people

New Relic's Kristy Friedrichs puts strategy at the heart of HR.
By: | November 4, 2020 • 5 min read

For Kristy Friedrichs, chief people officer New Relic, the path to her HR leadership role was built from the inside out.

“I’d always been interested in people and organizational culture as a way of adding to business results, and I found that at New Relic,” says Friedrichs, who joined the software company in 2017, after nearly 16 years as a consulting principal and later head of consulting operations for Bain & Co. “People are so core to getting anything out of the business and for organizing, aligning and inspiring people. Without that, you have nothing.”

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Until this spring, Friedrichs and her team focused on several HR initiatives. They scaled up the talent acquisition function to help the company go from 1,000 employees to about 2,300 today. They also built growth, learning and professional development programs to energize employees and managers. Finally, she worked with the functional executives to ensure leadership team alignment, so everyone was marching in the same strategic direction.

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“The value you get from [your job] is that you believe that your work has a purpose; you care about the mission of the company and how your work aligns with it,” she explains about her HR philosophy. “You’re doing something that matters—you’re learning and growing so you’re getting something out of it. And you belong and can be yourself. When I was early in my career, I called that [having] fun at work, but it’s more than that. It’s truly feeling like you belong and you have a place there.”

HRE: How did the work you tackled before the pandemic affect New Relic after COVID-19 hit?

Friedrichs: One of the things that has worked really well is that New Relic has a very strong, connected culture, which is one of our authentic core values. For an organization of our size, we care about each other a lot. We make time for each other and invest in each other and, when you all of a sudden all have to go home and work from home and only see each other through video, that [connected culture] actually translates and enables you to continue to connect to each other and the team.

Onboarding [of new hires] was tough. [They said] ‘I expected to be in an office and wish that I’ve had that sort of connection and tether, but despite that, I feel cared for [and] connected. People are going out of their way.’ Laying this kind of culture of inclusion, belonging and caring has really made a difference. I honestly think that is the differentiator that enabled us to withstand that rapid change of working from home in the pandemic.

HRE: How have New Relic’s benefits and policies addressed employee issues during the pandemic?

Friedrichs: The group we were most concerned about was parents of small children, who suddenly had their kids at home. In the early days of the pandemic, everyone was scared and so nobody had outside help or childcare providers, and they were feeling overwhelmed. We also have [people] who live alone [and can’t come into work] to have that social connection.

Our first priority was about safety and just the physical ability for people to work from home. The second priority was mental health, support and connection. We are continuing to figure out ways to hack that connection we used to have just by walking around the office. Our video conference provider has breakout groups and we have employees who lead 30-minute guided mindfulness meditation sessions weekly. Another employee is a DJ, so he would go on Twitch and host a party. A lot of it was organic and could be cultivated.

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To help plug the gaps, we partnered with Care.com for daycare resources and with Ginger for mental health coaching on demand. These were already in the works pre-pandemic and launched right after the pandemic hit. We have seen a lot of uptake on the Ginger mental health support, which supplements the mental healthcare that we provide through our healthcare benefits. This is a slightly lighter-touch support; you can access a coach to talk through things.

The virtual Baby-Sitters Club is a genius start-up company. Actors and folks who love theater are not working right now and they engage your kids. We have a corporate partnership and parents can sign up for free.

We recently announced a formal program to allow folks to go part-time or take a leave of absence temporarily. We haven’t gotten a lot of uptake on it yet, but we have gotten a ton of feedback that it’s appreciated as an option.

HRE: Tell us a little bit about your life outside of work.

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Friedrichs: I have a 7-year-old boy who started second grade a few weeks ago and he’s going remote. He’s just remarkably able; I think every generation gets successively more comfortable with technology. He’s making it work and building social connections, because I think it’s so important, especially at this age. My 4-year-old daughter is going to school with masks and hand washing and class pods that can’t interact. It’ll be weird but it’ll be really good for her. Also, we do like to travel as much as we can as a family.

I enjoy doing calligraphy; for example, I lettered our wedding invitations. I learned calligraphy in fifth grade and I’m basically as skilled as a fifth grader. There’s a calligraphy institute in San Francisco; call me in 10 years and one of my interests will be that I’m great at calligraphy… but I’m not there yet. It’s very centering in these times.

Maura Ciccarelli is freelance writer based in Southeastern Pennsylvania. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.