Interview with Sophia Jaffer, HR Lead at Collage
Jaffer's people strategy begins and ends with ensuring employees feel valued.
Read on to learn about:
The top 3 priorities to start your people operations function
4 tips to improve your onboarding process
The importance of providing employees with positive recognition
Jaffer’s unique approach to learning about diversity and inclusion
Interview with Sophia Jaffer, HR Lead at Collage
“HR has this stereotype of being a world of forms and rules and reprimands when in actuality, good HR is being able to support people with everything they need to be their best selves at work.”
Stefan: Can you tell me about yourself and why you joined Collage?
Sophia: A few years ago I was studying HR management at Humber College where I met Peter Demangos, one of the co-founders of Collage (the others being Elijah Moore and Steven Hanna). I was really impressed by their vision, and immediately aligned with the idea of helping small Canadian businesses take care of their employees. I became their first employee!
To me, the most exciting part of Collage was and is the opportunity to redefine HR as something more than administrative. HR has this stereotype of being a world of forms and rules and reprimands when in actuality, good HR is being able to support people with everything they need to be their best selves at work. This is what I strive to bring to my clients and colleagues every day.
For a bit of context, Collage is a fully integrated HR, payroll, and benefits platform that simplifies and digitizes complex HR processes like employee onboarding, performance management, and time off tracking, among other things. My role has given me the opportunity to work with and learn from many different companies across their different HR functions and help them succeed.
Growing the HR Practice Within Your Company
Stefan: When working with a new client, what are some of the base-level things they should get down before they start growing the HR practice within their company?
Sophia: Setting up HR from scratch can seem intimidating - there are so many places to start! In my experience, there are three key areas that have the biggest impact as you grow. These are onboarding, open communication, and performance management. To break it down further:
A solid onboarding practice
An employee’s experience during their first first few months have a lasting mark and are a clear predictor of how they will perform at their new organization. You want them to feel confident in their decision to join your team, and know their new role and work is providing value to the company. As a people manager, you can set your employee up for success by creating a clear set of expectations for their role along with milestones to hit along the way. Coupled with regular check-ins, this helps both sides understand where the employee is exceeding and where they might need additional support and opens the way for clear communication.
Transparency is a big buzzword in the startup world, and with the constant changes that come with a small company, being as open as possible with your team members is vital. Among other things, keeping the team updated on changes in company direction and product updates ensures everyone continues working toward the same overarching goal. Of course, there are boundaries to the information you might want to share, but keeping team members in the loop increases trust and keeps morale up which is extra important in harder times. Having an open door policy along with regular team meetings and stand-ups are great starting points.
A consistent performance management process is fundamental to employee success, which in turn directly impacts company success. Having clear goals for each employee helps team members understand if they’re on track with what’s expected of them while also discussing their own needs and expectations, and setting the stage for advancement. Start with setting up performance management conversations on a semi-annual or annual basis (with additional one-on-ones in between). The more conversations you have, the more you’ll be able to coach your employees to achieving their goals.
Improving the Onboarding Process
Stefan: Do you have any steps that someone can take to improve the onboarding process?
Sophia: Nobody’s perfect, and just the fact that you know onboarding is important means you’re on the right track! Each company is different, but here are a few tips on helping the process along:
Make employees feel welcome from the outset
Culture fit is important, we know this. If you’re very sure about a candidate, why not introduce them to their team? Set up a 30 minute chat for the candidate to come in for a face to face with their immediate colleagues and let the conversation flow. Employees are protective and proud of their culture, and if they can see their new teammate fitting in, they’re going to amp up the rest of the company in anticipation of the new hire. An added bonus - the candidate leaves feeling excited to join their new team and arrives ready to jump right in on Day 1.
When you have made the decision to hire someone, continue the warm reception at the early stages
I've know a lot of employers welcome new employees on LinkedIn, via Slack or company-wide email. This simple gesture packs a lot of punch and demonstrates to the employee how excited everyone is to have them start! I also recommend sending an outline of the employee’s first day with information on what to expect and when to arrive.
Make the process as seamless as possible
There’s nothing worse than being geared up to start a new role and then having to spend half of the morning filling in forms, in between meeting new teammates. Take care of as much of that paperwork ahead of time by sending it electronically. An employee’s first day should include a how-to on the coffee maker, a set up desk space and a calendar filled with meetings and coffee talks!
Check-ins at regular intervals
After the first week, set up a weekly check-in between the new employee and people operations. You can also assign someone to be the new employee’s ‘buddy’. This person can help with the everyday office things - the best burgers within walking distance, what to expect at an all-hands and anything else unique to the organization. Giving the employee a person other than their manager to check in with provides comfort and builds relationships outside of their direct reporting structure.
From there, 30, 60, and 90 day check-ins are a great way to keep the employee on track. These are key to review the expectations and key milestones on the HR side, management side, and employee side. These help ensure the employee is progressing at the right pace, while helping the employee feel supported.
When all parties are in sync, you build a foundation of trust and can set your team up for long-term success.
Recognizing Achievements to Increase Employee Satisfaction
“Acknowledging employee contributions builds individual self-esteem and overall team morale.”
Stefan: Are there any exciting trends that you've seen within companies at this early stage that others could apply?
Sophia: One great trend I’ve seen is the celebration of milestones and achievements, both big and small. Acknowledging employee contributions builds individual self-esteem and overall team morale. It’s easy to get lost in our regular day-to-day work, and sometimes we can lose motivation. Recognition from our teammates reminds us we’re in this together and that everything we do is contributing toward the larger goal.
Celebrations and recognition don’t need to be excessive. Link it back to your company culture. At Collage, we do a monthly ‘kudos’ session where people can put forward an anonymous acknowledgement of something awesome a teammate did. It’s a fun way to recognize teammates in front of others and to many of us, the highest form of praise comes from our peers.
“We saw that this impacted employees in a really positive way. It empowered them by giving them the tools to take the time off they needed, and the ability to take their team into consideration while doing it.”
Stefan: Are there any other HR success stories that you’ve seen come to life when using Collage?
Sophia: One of our first clients was a small startup here in Toronto, and they didn’t really have a system to track time off, instead opting for an “unlimited” time off policy. While this was OK for the first 10 or so employees, as they grew, they were realizing it wasn’t working as well. An unlimited policy can backfire sometimes, because without clear expectations, employees are unsure of what might be viewed as “too much” time off, and then end up taking much or any time off at all. This led to a lot of unnecessary stress and speculation between each other, when the root cause was simply understanding the expectation and then being given the tools to make decisions on taking time off responsibly.
One of Collage’s top features is Time Off tracking, which gives employees the tools to both request time off and plan around other teammates’ schedules. Our client’s adoption of Collage and Time Off tool suddenly opened up this area of confusion by making it accessible and visible to employees. This subtle cultural shift in the organization gave employees visibility into their time off and the tools to use it effectively. As a result there was far better understanding and tracking of time off for all employees, resulting in happier employees and better performing teams.
We saw that this impacted employees in a really positive way. It empowered them by giving them the tools to take the time off they needed, and the ability to take their team into consideration while doing it.
Inclusion Implicating Diversity
“When we talk about diversity and inclusion, I like to think of it in the opposite order: Inclusion and Diversity. Focusing on being inclusive first can allow diversity to follow, naturally.”
Stefan: To finish off, we always like to ask our guests why is diversity and inclusion important to you, and what are some steps that you have taken to learn more about it?
Sophia: When we talk about diversity and inclusion, I like to think of it in the opposite order: Inclusion and Diversity. Focusing on being inclusive first can allow diversity to follow, naturally.
At work, it’s important to create a culture of inclusion and to work hard to tease out and listen to the ideas and needs of everyone there. Diverse opinions and ideas challenge status quo and force innovation - and they can come from any level of the company. In HR, you know that each employee is different in experience and thought but they are all part of your organization because they are valuable to the team. The best thing you can do is encourage those differences to come out in positive, productive discussion by fostering a culture of communication and feedback.
That being said, I'm still very new to the field of diversity and inclusion, but it's something I’m learning about, especially being in the tech industry here in Toronto. I think the needle is moving ever so slightly - we are talking about diversity and inclusion a lot - and that means something. Sure, there’s more to do, and approaching it with the thought that everyone wants to build a better company, and therefore, needs to push the boundaries harder on D&I means we can all share in these learnings together. I have to say, the community for small companies learning our way through this area is huge and so supportive! It’s great to know that there are a multitude of resources at my fingertips.
One thing I have come to realize is how much we can learn from storytelling. While not a theater-buff by any stretch of the imagination, I’m a fan, and I’ve learned a lot by attending performances with cultural storylines and backgrounds. Theater is a powerful medium that draws us in, and connects us to characters in a way that we can’t easily feel on our own.
There is so much that can be learned and conveyed through storytelling. The vantage point from which a story is told can really change the experience of the audience. Our desire to connect with other people and their stories is almost involuntary and this is in spite of our varied experiences and backgrounds.
I think learning through others - whether through conversation, a book or a play - is a great way to broaden our own perspective of the world. We are lucky to live in a city so diverse and have a wealth of different opportunities right here in Toronto to do just this. I also look for practical and strategic insights within the online HR community. For me, applying these learnings to my work allows me be more mindful of the workplace and culture I’m helping to create.
Thank you for sharing your insights with us Sophia!
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