Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
Inspire others to get more and to do more later in life.
Athena helps women achieve executive-level leadership expertise, polish their boardroom and executive knowledge, get closer to board seats, and make leaps in their careers.
Susan Alban tells her career story to date in three chapters: Chapter 1 at McKinsey where she honed core skill sets, Chapter 2 as an operator in multiple Silicon Valley companies, and now in Chapter 3 where she’s found a love for HR and all things people as an Operating Partner at Renegade Partners.
Today, Susan advises startup founders on how to grow and build the best teams because she believes that great employment outcomes create great financial returns. Susan is also a thought leader in the field of People, writing frequently on LinkedIn and Twitter as well as for other publications.
On today’s podcast, she talks with Liz about how she’s pivoted through her three career chapters and offers terrific advice on how to think about employment trends and retaining people in today’s hypercompetitive market.
2:37 Decoupling location from pay
6:53 Chapter 1: McKinsey
12:03 Chapter 2: Uber Eats to Zumer – learning to be an operator
21:39 Chapter 3: Finding Renegade Partners
24: 52 Current hiring trends
28:31 Total rewards trends
31:12 Employers filling the social safety net
36:40 What’s ahead in Chapter 4
If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe and share a review. Engage with more stories of those finding fulfillment in the third act of their lives on Liz Tinkham’s Third Act podcast at thirdactpodcast.com.
Liz Tinkham (00:18):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The Third Act begins when your script ends, but your show’s not finished.
Liz Tinkham (00:34):
On today’s show, I talk with Susan Alban, the people-focused venture capitalist. Susan is still actively working in her second act, but I found her career story to date, which she tells in three chapters, to be highly relevant to those of us who are thinking about switching careers. Susan started with two rounds at McKinsey where she honed core skillset and basic functions. While she enjoyed consulting, she knew she wanted to go deeper in a specific function, which began chapter two, with Susan as an operator.
Liz Tinkham (01:02):
During that chapter, she found a love and calling for all things HR and people, which has led to a different turn as an operating partner at the VC firm, Renegade Partners. Today, Susan advises startup founders on how to grow and build the best teams because she believes that great employment opportunities and outcomes create great financial returns. She’s also a thought leader in the field of people, writing frequently on LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as for other publications. On today’s podcast, she talks about how she’s pivoted through her three chapters, and offers terrific advice for how to think about employment trends and retaining people in this hyper-competitive market. Susan, welcome to Third Act. It’s great to have you. Thanks for joining the show.
Susan Alban (01:48):
Yeah, thanks Liz. It’s great to be here.
Liz Tinkham (01:50):
Where are you today? Physically.
Susan Alban (01:52):
I’m in Boulder, Colorado. So I’m in my home office that is off of my mudroom and kitchen in Boulder.
Liz Tinkham (01:59):
Now, did you move to Boulder during the pandemic?
Susan Alban (02:02):
Funny story, I did not. I had lived in Colorado about 10 or 15 years ago. Met my partner here, relocated to California, always had intentions of moving back and we happened to have just gotten very lucky on timing and moved a couple years before the pandemic. The pandemic has certainly normalized not living in the Bay, which has been nice.
Liz Tinkham (02:23):
You’re a leader in talking about that, about separating location and compensation. And just maybe to get right into it, talk a little bit about your thinking on this topic and whether or not the pandemic has changed that at all.
Susan Alban (02:37):
Yeah. So I think what’s interesting about the pandemic or what’s very obvious to us is that it’s decoupled location from knowledge work and an ability, I think, to have a high growth ambitious career. It used to be, “Oh, you’re leaving the Bay or you’re leaving New York. What are you going to do about your career? How do you feel about leaning out?” And I think that’s just not the case anymore. It’s really normalized not being in one of these major metros. And so what that’s now led to is just geographic dispersion of talent, really across the world, but in particular, across the US. And so in terms of compensation, what then happens is you have knowledge workers in particular who want to live in places like Boulder or other historically lower compensated towns.
Susan Alban (03:29):
And a lot of employers saying, “You know what, in this market where talent is so scarce, if I can get someone to fill this role, regardless of where they are, I’m no longer going to discount their salary because of where they live.” So it’s not just actually the pandemic, it’s coupled with an incredibly hot talent marker, so that demand side. And then the supply side just refusing towards in larger numbers in official high cost cities.
Liz Tinkham (04:00):
In my career at Accenture, we definitely had pay bands by city and it’s markedly different costs of living. And we were very set on that. Like, if you move from San Francisco to Indianapolis, you were not necessarily taking a pay cut, but you certainly weren’t going to get a raise. And I really like the thinking around, working is working, regardless of where you’re at.
Susan Alban (04:21):
I think large employers still may find the cost savings that they can get from having those kinds of pay bands, like what you experienced compelling. But where I spend most of my time which is in sub 1 0000 person organizations, the differential’s just not big enough anymore across a smaller employee base to want it. And in this competition for talent, that’s why a lot of them are throwing these pay bands out the door when it comes to geographically determined payments
Liz Tinkham (04:51):
So going back a bit to ground our listeners in your first act and your background, you went to Duke, you got a degree in economics and a minor in Japanese. So what’d you think you were going to do with those degrees coming out of college?
Susan Alban (05:01):
I was always a pretty quantitative person, and so for me, economics was just the most practical of the degrees that were quantitative in nature that I could find at the time. I grew up in Washington, D.C. in Maryland. I didn’t have any models for engineering or computer science. That wasn’t what my parents did, it wasn’t what parents of friends of mine or adults in my life did. So I just didn’t have exposure to what would’ve been other more quantitative applied degrees. And so, econ was the obvious one. Was like math, but I can apply it to my understanding of the world and how markets move or how organizations are run. So I think for me, the general surmise was always something in business, but I won’t pretend that it was more specific than that.
Liz Tinkham (05:51):
What about the Japanese?
Susan Alban (05:52):
Japanese was a bit of an odd one. I was lucky and studied Japanese in middle and high school. Duke back then still required a foreign language. And not just one semester, you had to have advanced understanding or three classes or more. Something like that in a foreign language. And I already had a foundation in Japanese, and I just liked the department. It was very small so it was my little micro home at Duke in this very, very small department with other Japanese minors. So for me, I’m not going to lie. Japanese, by the time I studied it in college, was a bit more of a hobby and more, just something pleasurable and fun.
Liz Tinkham (06:30):
It’s like me and Russian. The same thing. Middle school, high school college. I spoke fluent Russian by the time I got out of college and then did nothing with it. But interesting to talk about. So just moving on, you had two rounds at McKinsey and I love what you told me that round one was good and round two, maybe not so good. What happened?
Susan Alban (06:53):
Yeah. Well, let’s start with the good. I didn’t quite know ever what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I had this big hypothesis that it was something in business. It was something fairly analytical. And I think for someone like that, getting to do McKinsey straight out of college is a dream job. And I would recommend it almost universally for those young, early career folks who are ambitious or interested in business and don’t quite know what else, don’t quite have more refinement on top of that. And that was really exceptional, the kind of exposure and the kind of people I got to work with. I couldn’t have asked for a better learning environment. I think the challenge with going back my second time, one was a location challenge. I was in the Bay area, but my MBA had been sponsored out of the East coast.
Susan Alban (07:40):
And that was just problematic. The second was a life meld, but when I was 22 and straight out of college, it was exciting to get on a plane or to go travel, or to really immerse myself in a particular subject, regardless of what time of day it was or which meals I did or didn’t eat because I was just cranking at work. When I was, I think I must have been 28 or 29 when I went back after business school, I was married. I had a social life in the Bay that I cared a lot about, that I been cultivating for a few years, and I didn’t really want to be a partner at McKinsey. Some of it had to do not really with anything about McKinsey that I would point to, but just my own circumstance and goals and alignment changing. Ultimately what it came down to was, I still had this notion that I was going to be a generalist in business somehow, but now I knew I wanted to probably do something in tech, probably where I owned a P&L.
Susan Alban (08:40):
And I looked at the types of projects that I was doing. And I just didn’t have high conviction that two more years at McKinsey was going to get me closer to those ambitions. In fact, I was worried it might move me away from it or that I could accelerate those ambitions in another way. And this is something where I give coaching to founders on, which is really asking the candidate. Why? Why is this the right job for you? Why now? How does this align with what you’re trying to achieve? Because when that alignment is broken, and for me it was, that can lead to problems.
Liz Tinkham (09:14):
What’s interesting to me, because I’m also a consultant, that you had the clarity at that age to leave consulting when you did, which I think is great, because I think sometimes people stay too long and then they miss out on some of the operator opportunities that they have. One of the things that I love so much about your story is that you described to me in your career to date in three chapters, each which builds different skill sets. So let’s talk a little bit about those chapters, because I think they’re really instructive to our listeners. So what’s chapter one, and what did you learn in chapter one?
Susan Alban (09:45):
I tend to orient all of these chapters or phases in careers around hypotheses. Hypotheses that you have about yourself or about an industry, or about a market or about a function and its relative interest to you. That’s how I’ve organized my understanding of my own kind of professional experience. So for me again, chapter one goes back to not quite sure what I want to be when I grow up, but it’s probably something analytical and something in business. And when you know that about yourself, but you really don’t know a lot of other things, to me that led to a very obvious drive to collect fungible skills. How do I learn things that are going to be broadly applicable, regardless of my ultimate destination? And so that was where I spend my time when I was a couple years at McKinsey. These are executive presence skills and problem solving, and client service and business analytics, and how do large Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies even work, make decisions about strategy or whatever the case may be.
Susan Alban (10:49):
And that was a little bit of it. I then spent three years in private equity as an investor. Also actually working with a bunch of ex-consultants, so they had some similarities. And it wasn’t that I was so deeply had strong conviction that I was going to be a private equity investor, but at the end of the day, again, it came down to, how do I continue to learn really fungible skills.
Susan Alban (11:12):
To me, this private equity forced me to get even stronger on my analytical and financial skills. Forced me to think more deeply, not just about the company and its macro environment, but the micro. Is this a team that I want to invest with or alongside? Do they have defensive systems or processes, customers and so forth. It was just continued work and actually very similar in some ways to the kinds of consulting work that I was doing, just to apply it in a little bit of a different way. And then I got an MBA. So that’s what I would call chapter one, is, “She doesn’t know what she wants to do when she goes up. So, let’s get a lot of skills.”
Liz Tinkham (11:53):
Pick up fungible skills. I think that’s great advice. So chapter two, you become more of an operator and what’d you learn in this chapter?
Susan Alban (12:03):
Yeah, I think chapter two, I was really lucky. I think you made an observation that some consultants stay too long at the party. At the consulting party, I should say, and delay moving into operating roles. I think what was helpful about going to Stanford was operating was a normal thing to do. A lot of Stanford people were starting startups, joining startups as early employees or going into operating roles in technology. And so that was just an obvious example or alternative. For me, I continued to go along my path and think, “Okay, I’m still not quite sure what I want to be when I grow up. But I think, being in a high growth tech startup, our tech environment is going to be a good fit. I think I’m going to be able to take the things that I’ve learned, work with great people, move the needle forward, have impact and so forth.”
Susan Alban (12:59):
And so that’s where I spent my time. I went first to a startup that eBay had just acquired then the mothership at eBay. I have been recruited by Uber and moved to earlier stage startup. And for me, I gravitated towards roles where I would get to own the P&L or owning some kind of a cross-functional team. Again, it comes from this continued self knowledge of, I don’t really know how to specialize or maybe I just didn’t want to specialize, went from “I don’t know” to “I don’t want to specialize.”
Liz Tinkham (13:32):
Self-aware as well.
Susan Alban (13:33):
Yeah. And so, those were the kinds of roles that I really gravitated towards. And in some ways it was like chapter one in that I was sort of continuing to build these fungible skills as now a business leader working within the context of a tech company.
Liz Tinkham (13:50):
Somehow you got attracted to being a people lead. What drew you to that?
Susan Alban (13:55):
Well, that’s a great question. That’s I guess, what I would call chapter three. So I was at Uber and was very fortunate to have been invited to one of the first GMs of the Uber Eats business, which was very hard for a while until… I don’t want to say until it wasn’t, but things just started to click in 2016 in particular into 2017, as we built the business. I had great people who I was working with. Folks on my team, people who had initially been hired as individual contributors, but now were managing teams and leading teams. And I found myself as the general manager of this business, no longer working quite as much on experimentation of how we get this business off the ground, because it was off the ground. But much more focused on, how do I enable this organization, my little corner of Uber to thrive?
Susan Alban (14:51):
What are practices that I can put in place to support really good feedback at scale, how do I maintain a high bar on hiring? How do I build a culture that this team really wants to stay part of, during this crazy time in Uber’s growth? And that was some of my first thinking. I think simultaneously in Uber, I was exposed to great recruiting. Uber had borrowed some of the Bar Raiser program which is pretty famous at Amazon, and had been brought over to Uber. Not everything was perfect, but we were maintaining a very high br and moving very fast in a competitive hiring environment. And so I was getting exposed to HR, I would say, or culture building, the organization building internally. But then I was coupling that with some knowledge around recruiting. And then I ended up moving into a cross-functional business leadership role at an early stage startup, where HR ended up being part of my portfolio.
Liz Tinkham (15:55):
I think you told me you built pretty much all of it, right? A lot of the HR functions, recruiting, did a lot of that from the ground up. Onboarding. What else did you mention?
Susan Alban (16:05):
Yeah, when I went to that startup, originally, and I think this comes to alignment, this really interesting thing. I was hired to be the VP of Finance. And I was very focused on all those pieces, but when it came down to it, I think about half of the company was reporting to me. And so, because I had also a large hourly workforce of drivers, employee drivers and customer support reps, at one point our commercial kitchen ended up reporting to me down the line. So fairly big teams, and I had more salaried folks on business intelligence and so forth. And so ultimately again, to me, the realization I think was that people are going to be the enablers of success. And so I started leaning in and doing HR without a lot of permission to do so, but that’s the way it goes when you’re a startup leader, is, “Oh, there’s a problem to be solved. I’ll just go figure it out.”
Susan Alban (17:04):
And so first it was on recruiting, which was taking a lot of what I had learned at Uber about great recruiting at scale, playbooks, cases, how you get six different people on an interview panel to each play a part, such that you actually evaluate candidates consistently and hopefully end up with the right hire for your organization. I just started doing it for my team, because I didn’t have recruiters, we didn’t have sourcers, we didn’t have recruiting coordinators. So I was all those things plus the hiring manager. And I figured, let me start modeling this. And so I was probably overly documented, but I would document these two page hiring plan docs for each role. And then I would circulate them among other executives or other parts of the organization that I wanted to be part of the hiring panel. And it was modeling and doing that work, that was a piece of it.
Susan Alban (17:56):
And then another piece was, we had this large hourly workforce. Really wonderful, really driven and a very competitive labor market. This was down in Mountain View, in 2018/19. So Uber, DoorDash, Lyft, everyone was competing for hourly employees or hourly workers as the case may be. And so I had to take a pause and try to articulate to our teams internally and perspective team members. This is what employment looks like. This is actually what compensation looks like, or benefits. I wasn’t calling it total rewards or using all of the HR jargon, but that’s what I was doing. Or this is what a career path looks like. This is how you might go from being a frontline hourly driver to being a shift supervisor or moving over to customer support, or even having classes sponsored by us. Whatever the case may be. So again, I just started doing HR without calling it that, and that’s ultimately what led me to find my professional home in that arena.
Liz Tinkham (19:02):
Eventually you end up at Zume as the VP of Talent and People Ops, how did that come to be?
Susan Alban (19:06):
That was that role. So my first tracks, yeah. I originally had joined Zume as again, this VP of Ops and Finance, and that’s where I ended up migrating and morphing my role into HR.
Liz Tinkham (19:24):
Okay. So one of the things, you are still pretty young, you’re still quasi and you’re what I would call second act career, but you’ve made a big pivot to go to venture capital. So how did that happen? Talk about that. And how did you find Renegade partners?
Susan Alban (19:41):
Yeah, I think maybe from the outside, it looks like more of a pivot. For me is actually really organic and natural extension of the work that I have done at Zume. Which I was there in these different leadership roles from about 30 or 40 people up to about 500, 600 and through capital raises of over 400 million. That’s what at Renegade we actually called it the super critical stage of growth. The stage of growth, where you start out with some early customer love and early exec team. And you really need to build the organizational underpinnings that are going to enable you to scale. And so it, I think from the outside again, looks like a big pivot, but it felt more natural to me. How it actually played out was I’d found my professional home at Zume in the HR function. And I was like, “Oh, I love this.” I’ve been dabbling, I’ve done marketing RBD or run sales teams, ops teams, all different things.
Susan Alban (20:42):
And HR, I think this is my calling. I feel great about this. And lots of, I don’t want to say overachievers, but call it lifelong learners. I felt a little bit of FOMO for not having found HR sooner. I was like, “Oh, I didn’t grow up as an HR VP in Google, or this isn’t my third HR gig. This is only my first, how am I going to expand my learning, my understanding of this function, how to be a nuanced leader in this space.” And so I started doing a little bit of CEO advisory work on the side, frankly, as, as a hobby almost. And so, as soon as my title on LinkedIn was switched over to HR, I got lots of inbound from recruiters. And in some of those conversations, I said, “Listen, I’m not looking for a new job, I’m actually quite happy at Zume, but I would be happy to connect with the CEO. If you think I could offer any valuable counsel, I’m in this role now. So maybe there’s a fruitful conversation to be had.”
Susan Alban (21:39):
And in a few cases, I ended up building relationships with founders directly and advising them. So that was happening, and then my now partners, Roseanne Wincek and Renata Pantini was thinking about leaving their venture firm and starting a firm very focused on this exact stage of growth and some of the exact challenges that I was working on. And over so many months and lots of conversations that were really wonderful, really important in terms of building alignment, it became very clear that we were radically aligned and how I was working, thinking about the function and what they saw as missing from their vantage point in cap tables and investors. And that’s why I was essentially the first hire. I started on day one when we raised our first find last year.
Liz Tinkham (22:29):
And I love the premise of Renegade that creating great employment outcomes creates great financial returns. I totally agree with you. So if I ran my own company and I had a board of directors, I think I’d get a very distinguished HR person who really understood the landscape as one of my first board members, because I think especially now, people are your most critical assets. So give us a couple of examples of how you see the link between great people and talent to great financial returns and some of your portfolio companies. And what’s your role in working with the portfolio CEOs and getting that done?
Susan Alban (23:05):
If you zoom it all out to why is the organization here and what does it want to achieve, so if that’s the highest level thought when you’re looking at an organization and then you keep zooming in and zooming in and zooming in, actually, it comes down to people. It comes to who’s the who, and how do they work together, and having the right goals for sure, articulated. But even just having the right goals is a function of having a credible leader standing in front of them are working together to create those goals and rolling them out and so forth. So to me it’s just such an obvious linkage. Some of the more specific ways that it can come out are, do you have again, structured hiring processes?
Susan Alban (23:49):
Some of those that I borrowed from Uber that are rigorous, that help remove bias, that help create more predictable outcomes in a very unpredictable process. That’s one piece, another piece is, do you even have a compensation and benefits architecture that makes sense in the crazy, rapid-changing market that we’re in? Are you putting in place, people programs that are mostly going to unlock the behaviors that you want and hopefully, not take up too much time, and not create too much organizational overhead because you build up some undue process. It’s those kinds of things that I think really create the scaffolding that can, again, create both of those two things alongside each other.
Liz Tinkham (24:31):
As you look ahead, because you’re really on the forefront with the portfolio companies. What other trends do you see, especially as we’re coming out of the pandemic and if I’m a listener and I’m an HR, or a hiring manager, what should I be aware of, or what should I start thinking of to be prepared for the next 12 to 18 months in terms of hiring and retaining people?
Susan Alban (24:52):
So let me start by just throwing out some things that are big trends that I think are here to stay or will persist. So, remote work or either whether it’s fully remote or remote inclusive is the phrase that I heard recently, which I do like.
Liz Tinkham (25:09):
What does that mean? What does remote inclusive mean?
Susan Alban (25:11):
It means building an organization that may have offices. It may even have a headquarters, it may have hubs, but that is very pro remote. And it wants to make sure that its employee experience both from candidates, all the way through onboarding and someone working with someone on an ongoing basis is very… Remote individuals are first class citizens, so to speak.
Liz Tinkham (25:33):
Okay, so you can do it either way. You can come in or be remote. It shouldn’t matter. It should be transparent from a worker perspective?
Susan Alban (25:41):
Yeah, and there’s subtleties to all these, but remote inclusive generally, not only are we remote tolerant, but we’re going to create processes that actually make remote easy. And hub and spoke model, but not hub and spoke, so hub models where there’s multiple little offices. Maybe you have one in Denver near where I am, or Austin. And New York and SF, and then there’s remote as well, layered on top. There’s all these different models. And I think what’s here to stay, is that there’s going to be all these different models. And very few of them, very few of them I think, are going to be headquarter-heavy, headquarter-dominant, headquarter only. And by the way, there are good reasons to do that. There are hardware business where you will need to have the bulk of employees in the office. There are credible and reasonable reasons to pursue that.
Susan Alban (26:30):
The challenge that those companies face, and where I think it becomes less tenable over time, is their access to talent. So in this very hot talent market, where I’m an employee who lives in Boulder, Colorado, if I encounter a company that only is open to my employment in New York, I’m just going to say, “Okay, I’ll find one of the many, many, many other employers who are totally fine with me living in Boulder, Colorado.” It didn’t use to be this way, right? Specific jobs and specific companies and opportunities were very tied to specific cities. And I think enough of the market has moved such that, talents’ access to alternatives is so high that those who don’t offer that will have a harder time attracting and retaining talent.
Liz Tinkham (27:16):
I know it applies in tech. What about other industries? Insurance, banking, CPG, do you think they’ll be as flexible as some of the tech companies, or have they caught that buzz?
Susan Alban (27:31):
I think it’s going to be, it depends. I think tech is certainly on the forefront here, and it’s also where I spend my time and have expertise. So I won’t pretend to have deep expertise in some of the other industries that you mentioned, but if I were to look at how trends start and spread, tech has been on the forefront of different kinds of HR practices. And so it may take longer and the adoption may be slower or in smaller pockets, for example, like you could see a CPG company, maybe they’re like, “You know what FP&A finance planning, that doesn’t have be at the mothership, at the headquarters. We’re actually okay, we’ll distribute it. And looking at it, my guess is it’ll happen, but it won’t happen quite as fast or in such an extreme way where there’s companies such as GitLab, that just went public, that is fully distributed, as far as I know. It’s the first fully distributed company to go public, and that happened in the last couple of weeks. So my answer is adoption, yes and trends, yes. Probably slower. And in silos and pockets.
Liz Tinkham (28:31):
What about total rewards? Any trends you see there?
Susan Alban (28:35):
That’s another one where… Total rewards, for non-HR listeners, is compensation and benefits. And anything else that’s related to your total package of work. So it includes vacation policy or parental leave. It includes your cash pay and any variable pay and your equity, all that stuff, also give total awards. I think actually segueing from the earlier point that you and I just discussed about remote work and that trend. If you look at parental leave, for example, that’s something where good parental leave has caught on and is spreading fast, right. And so, tech still leads the way, and that came from mostly companies in Portugal.
Susan Alban (29:20):
Google was out there early. I’m not sure of Apple, but Google, Facebook for sure. Some of the bigger tech employers had by far the most generous parental leave packages. And then it caught on rapidly in the past, I’m talking only two to eight years. I’m not even talking about decades plus, and such that now, good parental leave is becoming even the norm in the early stage companies that I support, where you have companies of only 40 or 50 people, and they’re saying, “We want to have excellent parental leave, what does that look like?”
Liz Tinkham (29:50):
Yeah. Same way with the companies that I’m on the boards of, we have really good parental leave programs as well.
Susan Alban (29:54):
Liz Tinkham (29:55):
And we should. That’s always been a baffling one to me. People have to have children otherwise, the species dies, right. So, yeah, it’s just nutty.
Susan Alban (30:05):
I don’t want to go down a total wormhole on parental leave, but I think that’s another interesting example of a trend that was nichey initially, ten years ago. And has become much more mainstream and has really pulled up a lot of other employers, such that it’s much more normal to talk about. And now when you see employees, if you have employees competing, maybe they’re that FP&A employee and they could go work at a CPG company, or they could go work at a tech company. The benefits that they see at a tech company may start to pull the market elsewhere, as different parts of the industry, different parts of the economy have to compete for the same talent. And then you asked specifically about total awards. One of the things that I see again, is decoupling geography from compensation. We already talked about that.
Susan Alban (30:50):
Just accelerating pay packages again, I think because of the scarcity of talent and the amount of capital in early stage tech companies, salaries are high and getting higher, at an accelerating clip right now. What else? Benefits, people used to talk about the benefits arms race, again, in regards to the Googles of the world, pulling up the market.
Susan Alban (31:12):
That’s not happening across the board. It’s normal again for a sub 500-person company to talk about a fertility benefit, a parental leave benefit, mental health benefit. I think one of the things that’s concerning to me a little bit on the benefit side is some of these are employers filling the social safety net in the US, where we don’t have guaranteed parental leave in most of our country. Or it’s not very good, when we have it, it doesn’t offer full pay or it doesn’t offer as many weeks as would be ideal. You see employers backed filling there. You know, I was even in a very strange conversation during the fires last year, some of the wildfires in Colorado, in California and elsewhere, where a bunch of HR leaders were talking about, “What should we do for our employees?” And you zoom out, and I’m not saying it’s bad to ask that question, but I’m saying it’s concerning from a societal point of view, when you have employers trying to backfill what should we do around national disasters for employees. Usually that’s something that you would expect the public sector to do.
Liz Tinkham (32:19):
Susan Alban (32:28):
Yeah. COVID’s the even more obvious one.
Liz Tinkham (32:28):
So many companies have really stepped up. Yeah. I totally agree with you. And the debate over the Biden infrastructure plan and around all that. And we won’t get into that here, but as a working mom, it’s just, to me, it’s still mind boggling. It’s like, how can the US be so far ahead in so many things and so behind in this? So I loved one of the things you had on your LinkedIn, which is your too long, didn’t read summary in LinkedIn. And it says I’m working to make work better, more fun, more meaningful, more successful, more equitable. So what do you consider your greatest success with regards to this ambition today?
Susan Alban (33:06):
Some of it is even having the conversation. It feels like my goal has been really normalized at Renegade in particular. No CEOs who, if we’re looking at investing in their companies, they never balk at talking to me. In fact, usually they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I would love to talk to Susan. Maybe I can problem solve something with her.” And I really haven’t been in venture for that long, but I’m not sure that that was necessarily the case 10 or 15 years ago. And the feedback I would hear from founders is, “Oh my gosh, this advice is super critical. It is so important during this stage of growth,” and it’s appreciation, it’s engagement, it’s vulnerability. It’s a true desire, I think, to solve some of these problems and to make employment great.
Susan Alban (33:56):
And maybe, by the way, that has to do with the founders who we gravitate towards and who gravitate towards us. There may be venture back founders who don’t care so much about employ outcomes, but the ones that we spend a lot of time with really do. And I think that that feels good. It feels like there’s good work to be done. I think in terms of some specific work, I’m really proud of some of the pay equity work that I put out there last year. Some pay equity playbooks and a couple pieces published around just fair pay and how to do that, and how to even do it as a very resource constrained order. That’s to me, at the bottom of Maslow hierarchy, if you want to use that comparison. If you can’t look at an employee, right?
Liz Tinkham (34:39):
Totally agree with you on this. Yeah. You have to.
Susan Alban (34:42):
Yeah, If you can’t look at an employee and say, “I’m confident that I’m paying you fairly and that, that has nothing to do with your race or your gender, or your status as a veteran, whatever. I’m only compensating for truly compensable reasons.” If you can’t do that, how can you really expect much of your employees? And so sometimes it’s pulling founders down to that foundation and I think fair pay, along with a few other things definitely belongs in that foundation. So that’s very gratifying. I also like it as a quantitative person who started out with an Econ major in analytical functions, you can measure pay equity. And so I really like that there are quantifiable ways to look at the scorecard here and see if good things are happening. Whereas some other things in HR can be a bit trickier to measure.
Liz Tinkham (35:31):
Years ago when Accenture was a privately held company, we were a partnership. And I think this is still true of other big four companies. The partners all got a list every year of how many units every other partner had and the unit had a value to it. And it was always the same day every year and people would rack and stack and all, but you knew exactly how much everybody was making. And as one of the very few women in the firm, at that point, I could see that I was being paid fairly. I was being paid exactly what the guy next to me was being paid because there were only X number of levels. There was no discretion.
Liz Tinkham (36:06):
And you write in your article about eliminating the discretion. And then when we went to a public company and there’s a lot more nuanced because we have so many different rules, but that discretion got introduced. And boy, once you get in there and I’ve been sitting in some of those. I’ve sat in many of those conversations and I can see exactly what you’re saying is, the discretion does play a factor sometimes, right? And maybe even call it unconscious bias, and figuring out a way to take that away is a good idea in terms of pay equity.
Susan Alban (36:39):
Yeah. I think that’s exactly right.
Liz Tinkham (36:40):
Yeah. So what’s in chapter four, Susan?
Susan Alban (36:42):
There’s definitely starting to be that itch and that desire and need to contribute to society and to try to make sure that not only am I helping build great employment outcomes for our Renegade companies and the CEOS and the orbit, but that some of that work also can be leveraged among things that hopefully create a really great planet, whether that’s nonprofits or education or climate. And so just thinking about where I spend my time, I’ve been talking with someone about generosity and what is generosity? What does that mean, and for me, the scarcest thing that I have right now, I’m very fortunate. I have scarcity in my time. And so to me, are there ways that I can be generous with organizations and helping build the kinds of organizations that I think are good employers or that achieve their goals.
Susan Alban (37:34):
And just zooming out the view a little bit. Might have something to do with it, but I’m not sure. It’s something I’m definitely been spending time and effort thinking about. I volunteer with an organization here in Colorado, that’s focused on helping underrepresented individuals get access to tech careers. Not just careers in tech, but technical careers, so it’s a nonprofit coding school. And I love that work, it’s a very similar nuance that I do at MD, but just in a different context, so that’s some of it and I’m not sure, I’ll have to regroup when I get there.
Liz Tinkham (38:08):
Yeah. You’ll have to come back. So I almost named this podcast, “I’m not done yet.” What aren’t you done with yet?
Susan Alban (38:15):
You’re never done with the people function. I think that’s one of the reasons why it frankly, has burned out leaders recently. There’s been multiple articles about people officers retiring and pulling back from the HR function. You’re never done, right, because it has to do with human beings and all of our complexity and our nuance and the market’s changing so dynamically and every organization’s changing so dynamically, and each individual’s changing dynamically. And I think that that dynamism can leave the job feeling unfinished. And I think some of the trick that I’ve found for myself personally, is being pretty prioritized and really focused with our CEOs, with our founders on what’s really going to move the needle for you now. And then let’s take all that other stuff, all the shoulds, and let’s move those shoulds off to the side for a bit. And I think that that’s helped. The job’s never done, because it’s just a complex world we’re in.
Liz Tinkham (39:13):
Well, Susan, thank you so much for joining me on Third Act. You’re a prolific writer, both on LinkedIn and on Twitter. So we’ll provide all those links in the show notes. And as I said, it’s a bit of a masterclass if I will, on some really interesting HR topics out there. So for those of you who are listening, who are managing people or in that function, I very much advise you follow Susan, and go out and read what she has written. Where else can people find you online, LinkedIn, Twitter, anywhere else?
Susan Alban (39:42):
Those are best spots. That’s the Amalgamation of all the stuff, or just reach out to us, especially if you are filing a company in this stage where we spend our time at Renegade, we’d love to problem-solve with you.
Liz Tinkham (39:55):
Great. Thanks so much, Susan.
Susan Alban (39:57):
Thanks Liz. Appreciate it very much. Have a great one.
Liz Tinkham (40:03):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act Podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios, and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham. I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
Want to share the story of your own Third Act on our podcast? We welcome stories from executives who pivoted their careers to find their passion and purpose later in their lives. Tell us more about yourself to be considered as a guest.