Katya Laviolette’s mission as the first chief people officer at cybersecurity company 1Password is a big one: Double a global workforce while expanding and maintaining an already strong human-centric culture.
With more than 25 years of experience in diverse industries from manufacturing to e-commerce, Laviolette brings more than just an HR background. Her business acumen has helped her support founders, C-suite-level teams and boards all while scaling up hiring and retaining exceptional people, 1Password CEO Jeff Shiner said in a news release announcing her hiring earlier this year.
Laviolette began her new role with a remote “listening tour” with employees, saying “I think it’s really important to come in and understand the soul of the company.”
As of the first quarter, the company was already well on its way to growing its employee base to more than 1,000 people globally by the end of 2022, she said.
“The more people you add, the more that can bring change,” said Laviolette, who is based in Montreal. “It’s an exciting time and an exciting business. We’re actually countering the Great Resignation trend by ensuring that we’re going to offer opportunities in a very high-growth market. We call them dream jobs for our engineers, who want to do stuff that’s really, really complicated and cutting edge.”
In February, prior to Laviolette’s arrival, the company raised base salaries by 7.5% for existing and incoming employees to help combat rising inflation. That came on the heels of providing all employees in September with equity in the company’s $620 million funding round. And a year earlier, the company rolled out a health plan with zero employee premiums. All these—along with the company’s ongoing commitment to a remote global workforce—are designed to keep employees and attract new talent in an extremely competitive tech talent space, she says.
Laviolette, whose background includes building and operating large-scale, global human resources functions for companies such as SSENSE, TC Transcontinental, CBC/Radio-Canada and Bombardier, recently spoke with HRE about her plans for 1Password and how her previous roles will inform what she does in the new role.
HRE: What lessons have you brought from your wide career to 1Password?
Laviolette: Wherever you go, it’s all about understanding who you’re dealing with, listening to understand [and] being curious. If not, you really can’t understand what’s going and be able to build solutions.
There’s an element of being somewhat risk-taking and being scrappy as well. I’m not very bureaucratic. I think we need to move fast, especially today, and we need to make conscious decisions that are well-thought-out. But, you can’t make decisions all the time on 100 percent of the information. As you gain experience in the workforce, you hopefully have seen a few things before. You can then put things together to be able to make good decisions.
Another thing is [that] we need to be leaders who can pivot, no matter what, personally and professionally. And, seeing things through a different lens where you might have said in the past, “No, I’m never going to do that” and actually coming to the table and saying, “Well, I guess we should actually do that” and, being humble enough to admit that maybe there’s a different way to do it.
HRE: What advice do you give to others in their early HR careers?
Laviolette: I mentor a fair number of young women in the HR function. I tell them that they just need to believe in themselves. Data is important, but there’s also something about leading with your heart. I think if you marry the two together and you have a sense of what’s important, you’ll make the right decisions.
It’s okay to make mistakes. You just have to get up, brush yourself off and move forward. I think those are the very things in my career that really formed me.
Building your confidence, believing in yourself, trying new things, challenging the status quo, being curious—all that stuff is super, super important—and not being afraid of being uncomfortable.
HRE: That loops back to your belief in learning how to listen, having open conversations and being authentic.
Laviolette: When I was younger I used to think I had to have all the answers. Now, I say, “I have no idea, but let’s go find out what it means.”
The people function is challenging because it’s a profession where many people think they know what they’re doing as well. How do you build it together when some people [say] “This is how we’ve done it before?” I say, “Well, things are always changing.”
HRE: Can you share a bit about your personal life?
Laviolette: I’ve been married 25 years to my husband. He’s on his third career. He loves to play music, so he’s producing music. It’s very different from what I do in terms of HR. We have no children, but we have four rescue animals that we adore. We’re super, super excited to start traveling again, getting out and seeing the world. And I’m a big runner. I picked up running in the last five years, especially during the pandemic because it was a very stressful time. I think exercising is really critical.