After three years on its board of advisors, Jeff Diana recently joined Calendly, a scheduling software and meeting lifecycle management firm, as its chief people officer.
Among his current challenges is to enhance the company’s value proposition and help employees become more forward-thinking, rather than reactionary or transactional, and better understand where they can add value to the organization.
Diana, who has a master’s degree in sociology and another in HR management from the University of South Carolina, recently spoke with HRE about his nearly 25 years of experience in the HR space and how he’s helping prepare the field’s next generation of leaders.
HRE: What were the first things you wanted to focus on at Calendly after you joined?
Diana: Organizations are living, breathing organisms made up of people, their experiences and their history and future. They’re very dynamic. The first things to learn are about the culture–How do you influence and move people?–the history of the business model, challenges, competitors, staff and also its vision of the future. I am also focused on where we’ve been, where we are today, what makes us special and where we’re going. We’ve got to pressure-test ideas that will help accelerate business growth and make sure individuals embrace it.
HRE: How are you managing your employees during COVID-19?
Diana: Our office in Atlanta is currently closed. We’re waiting to see how the flu season and COVID go before we allow people back in the office. We may use it for teams coming together or working sessions. But it won’t be our primary way to work. As part of our expansion and getting talent across the U.S., we permanently moved to a remote-first model.
HRE: What are you hoping to accomplish in your new role?
Diana: I’ve been lucky enough over the last few years to advise a bunch of companies, work with entrepreneurs and coach the next generation of people leaders. In terms of this job, it’s less of what I want to personally accomplish and more of what I can give back to a growth business. That’s really my goal: to position it for the growth ahead and also [develop] another model of what HR excellence could look like. Watching people go on to big jobs is always humbling and very satisfying.
HRE: What advice can you offer for those in the early stages of their HR career?
Diana: Understand the business, the customer, competitors, the P&L. HR people are notoriously bad at financial acumen and, when you understand those levers better, you can influence easier and make better programs to move the business forward. The days of arguing from subjective positions [are gone]. Data is king. The No. 1 thing is to learn P&L. Spend time with your finance people. They will be excited to share that knowledge and it will really differentiate you and put you in the top 1% of HR folks.
HRE: You believe the nature of work at tech businesses will never be the same. How so?
Diana: We’ve got to figure out, in this new way of working, how to help people collaborate, identify where they can have the greatest impact and then turn them loose. An appreciation for people matters quite a bit but you will need a more forward-looking lens and business-pragmatic approach. We’re really going to have to think differently about the processes, programs and experiences we create.
HRE: You jokingly say HR people are wonderful at cocktail parties because of their funny experiences. Can you share one?
Diana: Several years ago, an employee submitted a request for six weeks of paid parental leave when his dog had a puppy. He viewed it very much as his child, wanted time off to bond and felt he should have the same opportunity afforded to those who give birth [to babies–the human kind]. I said, “What should we do if someone has a pet hamster that gives birth, or a lizard?” He could not defend that theory and begrudgingly went along with our decision.
HRE: Since you’re new in this role, what would you like employees to personally know about you?
Diana: I spend a lot of time working with CEOs at start-ups on new HR technology–which is far from where it should be–like recruiting software to make the hiring process more collaborative and candidate-driven. Five years ago, I also began working with architects on designing home elements, ranging from the overall look of homes and outdoor spaces to cabinets and lighting fixtures. I designed my own home from soup to nuts.
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HRE: How can novice HR professionals blaze their own trail?
Diana: If you learn the business, think like a business leader and have self-confidence to take some swings and risks, you’ll be amazed at the things you can do.