Starting an HR Department, Managing Unprecedented Growth, and the Future of HR: 1-on-1 with LiveChat’s Chief People Officer
We all know that HR provides a critical role for businesses and employees. While their responsibilities vary from business to business, they often handle the recruiting process, including screening, interviewing, and placing employees. They also work with a company’s executives on longterm, strategic planning and act as a connection between management and workers.
Imagine taking all that on while also having to set up the entire department, manage 133% growth in employees, and, oh yeah, have to reconsider everything because of a pandemic. That’s precisely what Agnieszka Susidko, Chief People Officer at LiveChat, did. Recently, I had a chance to sit down with her to talk about those experiences and how the pandemic has changed the way HR operates.
How long have you worked at LiveChat?
Almost four years.
So tell me about your job. Tell me what you do.
I started here as VP of People. I was the first person in HR, so the first year was very hard. We take care of the recruitment process, people management, leadership structure, strategy. HR helps everyone and is kind of a backup for everybody.
Since May, I've been working as Chief People Officer, and I feel that I have an even more significant impact on our company. It's a big responsibility but also a big challenge. My mission is to make LiveChat a great place to work - the best place. My role is to support all business decisions and do an excellent job of serving all LiveChatters.
What's your favorite thing about working at LiveChat?
Meeting people and being an advisor and mentor for our C-level people and leaders.
How would you describe the culture at LiveChat?
Very open. Very transparent. We don't like bullshit. And we have a core value, which is teamwork. It's everywhere, and I really believe in it.
You mentioned teamwork. What does teamwork look like here at LiveChat?
We are a Team with a capital ‘T.’ We work together and help each other, if needed, of course. We can give advice if someone needs it, in case they have a difficult or urgent issue. We have a common goal and we try to achieve it together. We are very engaged, and we encourage each other to achieve our goals.
What about LiveChat brings the most value to our customers?
Our support. I think that our support is incredible. Since we started the company, the way we serve our customers has always been awesome. I really love these people. I think they work really hard to help our customers quickly. They're brilliant. Nobody really understands how much they do, and they know our products better than anybody else at the company. I think they are our heroes.
Talk about some important aspects of leadership. What's a good leader?
I think the most important thing is to be a leader and not a manager. I don't want to show you what you need to do, but show you how to do it. I want to be someone who takes care of their team. I'm here to help my team work better. I treat all of our leaders like they're my team because I help them with daily issues and issues with their teams. Sometimes they're trying to solve problems for the first time, so they need to come up with a plan and discuss what to do.
Do you have a particular process you go through to make decisions?
As the VP of People, I used to work closely with our COO, Piotr Bednarek. We talked about any problems we needed to solve and the decisions we needed to make. Right now, as the Chief People Officer, I do a lot of research on the market, check trends in HR, and then use my knowledge and experience to suggest solutions. I still work with Piotr, but I also consult with the rest of the CXO team.
How do you go about building your team?
Over the last two years, LiveChat has really grown. In December 2017, we had 77 people, and right now, we have almost 180. It's been a big change and very fast growth. Up until now, we only needed recruiters. We knew that we needed to hire people right away. Now, we need to focus on team onboarding. The main HR work to do is to take care of employees' experience, workplace satisfaction, and to keep our people motivated. We need more people on The People Team. Definitely. I talk with our leaders and our recruiters talk to candidates, but hardly anyone is talking with our employees. We don't have an employee branding vision yet.
We need to take care of our people and recognize that it's very expensive when we lose an employee. That's why we need to take care of them, and, for this purpose, my team has expanded into the role of Business Partner. Their task is to help leaders in their daily work with teams and also to be closer to each person working at LiveChat - their duties, doubts, daily project work, but also closer to their successes, even the smallest ones.
What's your favorite experience that you've had at LiveChat?
It was during the first year I worked here. It was so difficult. Nobody was thinking about HR, and we didn't even have a recruitment process. Our leaders were only our CXOs. They were doing too much. Some of our CXOs had 25 people directly reporting to them. We needed more leaders to focus on the product, support, and marketing. So, we created a structure and some processes for HR. It was a very important moment for LiveChat and it was really great to participate in these changes. Now, we’re seeing the results of those changes. Thanks to this change, we have gained engaged, independent leaders who work close to the teams, while also taking care of the areas they are responsible for. We are also more flexible and that helps us to release some features faster.
2020 has been a difficult year. Has that changed how the People Team operates? Is your department doing anything differently than in 2019?
2020 has been a strange time. The pandemic and social distancing that came after it has absolutely impacted how we work at LiveChat and, of course, in the People Team. Until March, we worked only onsite in the Livechat office, but Covid-19 forced us to move to remote work in just a few days. We had to set up teams' work in a completely new way. We started to recruit candidates and onboard new joiners 100% remotely. It was a very challenging project which required a new approach and establishing new rules in a short time.
Livechatters forced to work at home have needed a completely different approach to daily work from the company, and especially from their leaders. We tried to provide them with a sense of security and a flexible approach to various life situations that our employees have found themselves dealing with throughout the pandemic.
After it all, and despite many difficult situations and solutions, I think that, as a company, we managed this unique situation quite efficiently.
Do you think those changes will be permanent?
We are already talking about ‘The New Reality’ or ‘The Post-COVID World.’ This difficult time has shown that companies can work 100% remotely, that we don’t need ample office space, and that the Internet is a fundamental tool needed for the company to function. The time of the pandemic forced us to think about business or managing people in entirely new ways. The COVID-19 epidemic is an accelerator for one of the most significant workplace transformations of our life. How we learn, work, or communicate will be changed forever.
What does the future of HR look like?
We need to change the way we think about team management, people, and running a business. If the company is changing, HR must keep up with these trends. It's inevitable. What comes to my mind first is that the way we train employees, how we plan and settle the work of teams, how we communicate, how we work, and how we integrate teams will change. Each HR department certainly has slightly different challenges. At LiveChat, working from home apart from the rest of the group will definitely affect our work culture and, generally, the culture of the organization. The biggest challenge for my team will be that this culture doesn't change for the worse than the one we've developed over the years of working together in the office.