Devin Blase is the VP of People at Truework, a software company that provides the income and employment verifications behind home, auto, and personal loans. She recently earned the recognition of being a 2022 People Pioneer, a peer-nominated award celebrating HR leaders who are pushing boundaries to positively impact their companies and employees.
We sat down with Devin to learn more about her efforts at Truework, which have centered around building a world-class performance management program that ultimately helped them double headcount and win several “Best Places to Work” awards.
ChartHop: What are your responsibilities at Truework?
Devin Blase: I lead our teams focused on HR, talent acquisition, and logistics (which is our admin team and those in charge of our offices).
CH: You made performance management a key focus for Truework in 2021, including implementing pay bands, leveling, formal career paths, and bi-annual performance reviews. What was the impetus for making these changes?
DB: Part of it was informed by my own experience when I worked in talent acquisition. I was once at a company where I brought in an enormous amount of people, but then I didn’t see any corporate investments made in their professional growth. It felt like I had cheated them a bit – convincing hundreds of people to leave their jobs and come work at this company, and then we didn’t really deliver a career path in return. That was actually my impetus for transitioning from talent to also owning HR.
When I was interviewing with Truework (many companies later), I really dug in to make sure the founders and I were in alignment about being hyper-transparent to employees about what we will deliver to them over their employee lifecycle. I find this to be especially important at companies with a super high hiring bar – if you aspire to bring in the best of the best, you better make sure you are constantly delivering on their career growth. I take this people-first view because I believe if you deliver for your employees, they’ll deliver for you. It’s not all selfless .
I try to take a practical approach to this mindset, boiling it down to what people want out of their careers and then giving them a transparent roadmap and timeline for how to get there. At Truework, that meant 1) introducing career levels right away, 2) designing a performance review cycle with the goal of giving employees visibility into what they needed to accomplish to move to the next level, 3) implementing pay bands to ensure better pay equity and market competitiveness, and 4) formal career pathing done on an ongoing basis to help people understand their progress.
CH: How did you prioritize where to start with all of those efforts?
DB: When we first started, I made the mistake of trying to tackle everything at once. All of these efforts are so intertwined that they can’t be done too separately, but eventually I found a way to somewhat stagger the investments.
First, we needed career levels in order to create pay bands. Even if you don’t have all the levels fully fleshed out, they at least provide a framework for how many pay bands you’ll need to create.
After this foundation was laid, we started to architect what our performance review cycle would look like. Typically you back into this, starting with the question of ‘What do we want our performance review cycle to accomplish?’ This might seem obvious, but it’s not. The bummer is that performance reviews are often created as a band aid for a poor performance culture. For example, I’ve seen so many performance review cycles crafted with the unspoken goal of illuminating underperformers that managers were slow to fire – and when that happens, that witch hunt overtone is subtly felt by all. And who wants to be a part of that? So when crafting our performance review cycle (which can be done with a dozen variations), we were very intentional about what we wanted to accomplish, because it was critical to getting the outcome we wanted.
Lastly, we book-ended these investments with a formal career pathing exercise with every employee.
CH: How did you communicate those changes to employees and to what extent did you involve them in the process?
DB: When I first joined Truework, I felt like there was a bit of hesitation around a leadership HR role being brought in, and I believe it’s because some employees thought that HR was all about rigid compliance and being the fun police. That’s not my background, and it’s also not my personality. My first priority was to communicate that I wanted to assess the gaps in the employee experience, so that I could address them and make the company a better place for everyone to work. Establishing that point of view as the motivation for my work laid the foundation for a more trusting relationship.
After an initial assessment, I sent out a spreadsheet of areas I wanted to tackle in the next six months, how I anticipated it would impact employees, and a rough timeline for the changes. I solicited feedback on that list and we had about 25% of employees jump at that opportunity to participate, which was really helpful, because we were then on the journey together.
CH: How have you measured the impact of these changes? What have you learned from that data?
DB: The majority of my former bosses were founder/CEOs that were engineers by trade, so data being the north star for all decision-making was already deeply ingrained in me from past work experiences.
The first metric we looked to measure was quarter-over-quarter voluntary attrition, especially that of high performers. Second, we looked at employee referral rates and how they fluctuated as we implemented our performance management. Third, we looked at our eNPS from our bi-annual engagement survey and measured it in a variety of ways: overall for the entire organization, by team, and by performance level.
We really dug into the data of our high performers and implemented an action plan specifically for their retention. We indexed on the NPS of this employee subset (high performers) because we believe that (outside of the founders) our high performers are most responsible for influencing the company culture.
CH: You’ve also introduced new technologies to help support these updates. How do you think about the role technology plays for your team?
DB: I’ve worked at companies that had a really tight budget for HR and told me we can just do various HR projects all with Excel, but the truth is that only gets you so far if you don’t have deep modeling skills. To be nimble with data, answer questions quickly, and implement changes easily, you need technology. Having platforms that can help uncover data that’s not naturally illuminated in spreadsheets allows for more data-driven decisions and faster insights.
Finding a platform like ChartHop that complements our HRIS has really helped with that. For example, at Truework we have both full time employees and hourly overseas contractors, and the latter group doesn’t live in our HRIS. We needed a way to bring data from both of those groups together to understand breakdowns like gender by team, attrition by ethnicity, and so on, and ChartHop allows us to do that easily from a single platform.
CH: What was the most surprising thing that you learned over the course of the past year? If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
DB: There’s an understandable amount of upset about diversity in tech, especially in light of the events of 2020. I felt like I was hitting a wall in this area. We were making heavy investments to change the landscape of DEI at Truework, but I’m the first to admit that it’s very easy for these types of investments to become performative, and people can see right through that. We eventually realized that our employees might not be comfortable giving HR honest feedback, so we looked for a way to change that.
The idea that worked best for us came from our Senior HR Business Partner, Lauren Gist. We nominated DEI delegates from each part of the organization, choosing people who were trusted and had deep, natural connections with their teammates. Those delegates go out once a month and share what HR is working on to get direct feedback from their teams and to solicit new ideas. We’ve gotten some incredible responses from this approach. The big surprise for me was how successful this program has been at delivering non-performative, highly impactful changes.
CH: What are you most excited to accomplish in 2022?
DB: We laid a really good foundation in 2021, but it was definitely a building year and we still have room for improvement. How we grow over the next 2-3 years could deliver two very different end products once we are ~1,000 people. One way, you grow fast, but the workflows are sloppy, the data hygiene is poor, and you honestly have to do a rebuild of your HR/talent teams and infrastructure before you can go public. The other way is harder: you have to slow down and constantly invest in structure, workflows, and efficiency – but the end product allows for your department to sail off into the IPO sunset so much easier. I’ve learned enough lessons, as this is my fifth high growth startup, and I am 100% building for scenario #2.
CH: What is your advice to fellow people leaders who plan to revamp performance management in their companies in the year ahead?
DB: Set aside your ego. Even when you try your best and invest a lot of energy, sometimes things still fall flat, and that’s ok. Solicit advice, frameworks, and ideas about what works well and what doesn’t work well from later stage and more experienced People leaders. I have three CHRO mentors who have taken companies public multiple times, and I regularly ask them for templates and examples. Ultimately, smart people learn from their mistakes, but really smart people learn from others.
More Lessons from the 2022 People Pioneers
Interested in even more lessons learned from HR leaders? Check out the full list of 2022 People Pioneers for inspiration on how to approach critical initiatives like embedding DEI into company culture, supporting employee well-being, and reinforcing company values through hyper growth.