Insights from a CHRO: Grabango’s Saralynn Malott

The HR standout brings extensive experience to a fast-growth tech start-up.
By: | April 22, 2020 • 4 min read

When Saralynn Malott joined Grabango, the Berkeley, Calif.-based provider of checkout-free technology for existing brick-and-mortar retailers, as vice president of human resources in February 2020, she’d already logged more than 15 years in the technology and e-commerce industries. Most recently, Malott served as head of people at TaskRabbit, a San Francisco-based online and mobile marketplace that matches freelance labor with local demand. Prior to that, she held HR positions at LeTote, Child Abuse Prevention Council, Jozu and BPO Management Services.

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Malott now leads a fast-growing team of talent managers and recruiters at Grabango, which has tripled its workforce since emerging from “stealth mode” in January 2019. Since then, it has signed four major U.S. store chains that generate billions of dollars in revenue, serve more than 600 million shopper visits per year and cover a combined 29 million square feet of floor space. The company plans to double in size by the end of 2020 to support client installations.

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HRE spoke with Malott to learn about her plans for attracting top talent to Grabango, her thoughts on the future of HR and how she unwinds after long days in the whirlwind world of fast-growth tech start-ups.

HRE: What lit the spark inside you that started you thinking about HR as a career?

Malott: I initially wanted to be an attorney and I did a year of law school, but quickly found out I did not want to practice law. I did some soul-searching on what it was about law that sparked my interest. It came back to really wanting to help others. I chose to pivot out of law school and finish my master’s degree in employment law. That created a career path into HR that gave me the opportunity to help others and make a difference.

What has been the biggest evolution in the HR function since you’ve been in the field?

When I first started in HR, it was very much transactional. Over the last several years, companies and leaders alike have shown an interest and a need to lean on HR as a strategic business partner. I’ve been honored and privileged to work with teams that have leaned on me as the subject-matter expert as it relates to all things people. That’s been really rewarding.

HRE: What lasting impacts do you think the COVID-19 outbreak will have for the HR function?

I’m a firm believer that HR responsibilities include being the voice and advocate of employees. That means hard conversations and decisions will need to be made by leaders in the HR space that don’t only look at the typical company objectives, but rather focus on people first. By doing so, employees feel valued and cared for. This will allow us to continue attracting and retaining top talent and increase employee engagement. By putting people first, we meet company objectives together.

HRE: How has the pandemic impacted your job?

Malott: Now more than ever, it’s important for employers to provide guidance and support to their employees. Everyday I’m partnering with leaders in our organization to stay abreast of the ever-changing dynamics, and working to keep employees well informed. Employees want to understand how this will impact their life, and I believe we have a unique duty and obligation to our team to provide that guidance and support.

We have been fortunate to provide work-from-home opportunities to our salaried employees and have quickly shifted gears to embrace the remote setup. Leaders across the organization are holding daily stand-up meetings with their teams and virtual lunches, and weekly all-hands meetings are held every Friday where our CEO Will Glaser leads the team and shares what to expect for the upcoming week. Employees are finding ways to be collaborative and engaging through our various forums of communication. It’s important to keep lines of communication open and build on our existing culture. It takes each of us to make a positive impact, and the Grabango team has all leveled up to contribute their ideas and resources. It’s been really wonderful to see how everyone has come together during these challenging times.

HRE: You’ve spent more than 15 years in the technology and e-commerce industries. What do you bring from those experiences that will be most beneficial to Grabango?

Malott: Diversity and inclusion is key. I bring experience in building that out in a talent-acquisition strategy and making sure it’s high-priority for teams as they’re looking to scale and grow. I’m excited to help enhance what they’ve already created from a culture perspective and continue to build that out.

HRE: What is one thing your new colleagues would be surprised to know about you?

Malott: I do a lot of training and development on emotional intelligence and self-awareness. With that, it requires that I’m very engaging and often have to dial up this high energy, so when I share with individuals that I’m actually rather shy and consider myself to be an introvert, they’re often surprised.

HRE: What are your most pressing short-term goals for HR at Grabango?

Malott: When I start with a company, I like to take the time to understand the business itself and the goals that we’re working towards and, most importantly, understand the people. During my first two-and-a-half weeks, I took the time to meet with each of our 100 employees one on one. I enjoyed getting to know them, understanding how they are uniquely wired and seeing how I can help support their career aspirations and align us all as we work toward our company goals and objectives.

HRE: What are your long-term objectives?

Malott: We have some aggressive hiring goals and growth opportunities that are really exciting. I want to build out a strategy that complements the company strategy that helps reach those growth goals.

HRE: Do you have a personal mantra that keeps you motivated?

Malott: I have a couple. I always say you should leave people and places better than you found them. Secondly, and probably most importantly: Stay humble, stay kind and stay curious. By being humble, you are really grounded and, by being kind, you have the ability to practice empathy and connect with others, which is really important for me both personally and professionally. And lastly, stay curious: I’m a lifelong learner so, by staying curious, I’m continuously learning and growing.

HRE: When you’re not in the office, how do you unwind?

Malott: I’m not sure if I really unwind. I’m a mom of three, so I’m really active and involved with my kiddos. They are the highlight of my life, so whether it’s running around to their different sports or dance events, it’s my time that recharges my batteries and I feel refreshed and whole.

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HRE: What about once the kids are in bed at night?

Malott: When they are in bed at night, I like to practice self-care, so meditate, yoga, reading. That falls in line with continuing to be curious and continuing to learn. Sometimes, you’ll find me knee-deep in a good book and that’s my time to engage in self-care and unwind.

HRE: What future challenges do you envision for the HR profession?

Malott: I think HR will have to continue to advocate to truly be utilized as a strategic business partner. Also educating the wider audience on what HR really is. There are some common misconceptions that we still have as HR professionals. We have some work to do in breaking down those barriers.

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Are you a CHRO or do you know a CHRO with insights to share? We’d like to hear from you.

Julie Cook Ramirez is a Rockford, Ill.-based journalist and copywriter covering all aspects of human resources. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.