Giuliana Zara is the Head of People at Aper, a cloud commerce platform for banks. 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 Giuliana to learn more about her work at Aper, which includes reducing employee churn by 80% and growing employee net promoter score (eNPS) by 70%, all while doubling the team size year over year. She credits the team’s success to a focus on more strategic headcount planning and a concerted effort to reinforce Aper’s culture and values throughout that growth.
ChartHop: What are your responsibilities at Aper?
Giuliana Zara: As the Head of People, my responsibilities are to plan and execute on our human resources strategy and to manage our talent acquisition, talent development, communication, culture, and business partner teams.
CH: You built out headcount planning and talent acquisition processes that helped Aper double in team size in 2021. What did those processes look like and how did you work with functional leaders along the way?
GZ: The first part of this work was establishing a clear compensation strategy, which includes career levels and salary bands for each one. Previously, we managed compensation on a role-by-role basis, but that made it difficult for our team to plan and challenging to set expectations for our employees.
The second part was to communicate the need for this type of process to our leaders since it was the first standardized approach to headcount planning for the company. This helped avoid resistance and ensure everyone was aligned on how to execute our growth plans. We decided to meet with each department leader and their hiring managers to involve them and explain why we were making these changes. Those meetings also gave us a chance to understand their needs and help them prioritize based on a budget, all without losing sight of how we can make growth sustainable over time.
CH: You also led the effort to strengthen Aper’s culture and values alongside this growth. What did that effort entail and what has been the response from employees?
GZ: When I joined Aper, I realized that the company’s culture and values were shared by every team, and that was easily one of the most valuable aspects of the company. People here are very committed to the vision and objectives, and they live them as their own. That passion and effort are contagious, and we thought it was important not to lose it as we grow. I also consider it a key driver of the achievements we had as a company in 2021.
In response, we started to lean on all of our people to ensure our culture grows with the company. We do this by including the Aper values in every process that we launch or modify, that way it serves as the roots for everything we do (including feedback surveys, salary reviews, and onboarding). We also feature our values front and center during company-wide events like Town Halls and when we recognize our people’s achievements. Finally, we created the new role of HR Business Partner to better listen to what our people want out of their careers and reinforce our culture in meetings with leaders and their teams.
CH: How have you measured the impact of all these changes? What have you learned from that data?
GZ: Information is key to making decisions and understanding our teams. We needed a base of metrics that would allow us to make more efficient and well-informed decisions. We also needed data to highlight both the areas where we’re doing well and the pain points that we need to focus on improving. In this way, data guided all the changes we implemented.
Specifically, we implemented a lot of surveys to measure everything from hiring and onboarding to exiting. We even measure the satisfaction level of our people regarding the HR team’s work. Our ultimate measure though is eNPS, which grew 70% between 2020 and 2021.
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?
GZ: It’s hard to choose just one since it was a very happy year for me at Aper that was full of great moments, challenges, and lessons learned.
Personally, after working for more than 10 years in the world of multinational companies with more than 2,000 employees, I found out how challenging and rewarding it feels to do things from scratch. Aper has given me the opportunity to believe deeply in a product, in a business model, and in a group of people that brings all of their talent together everyday to build something. This has been immensely valuable for me personally and professionally, and I want to pass that on to my team every day.
I wouldn’t do anything differently because even though we still have a lot to improve, we have a lot of great insight to know where we need to focus.
CH: What are you most excited to accomplish in 2022?
GZ: It’s tough to choose, but what excites me the most undoubtedly is the growth that we still have in front of us, the new structures and teams we’re designing, and the talent that we’ll keep adding to our team. Overall, I’m excited to continue working with the people who are building this great company.
Some of the biggest initiatives we have planned for 2022 focus on implementing new processes and management systems, making ongoing improvements to our existing systems, and introducing new ways to attract and retain talent in such a competitive market.
Finally, at the end of 2021 we launched a diversity committee, and I’m excited to run with that in the year ahead. We’re already thinking through ideas we want to implement through this committee, and I think that’s important for both our organization and society in general.
CH: What is your advice to fellow people leaders who want to find new ways to better support their workforce in the year ahead?
GZ: What’s most useful to me is to first diagnose, understand, and inform before making decisions. Not everything we see other teams do is a magic recipe that we can “plug and play” and assume will work in the same way in every environment. Each organization is different (and it’s even different at various stages of its own growth) and it’s important to recognize that.
As a people leader, it’s important to never lose focus on what matters most, which is the people in our organization and how we can all contribute to something greater. This means we need to prioritize strengthening relationships, building trust, working with empathy, and practicing active listening as the basis for everything we do. The most successful teams will share the same spirit and values, keep the culture alive, and be motivated to work together.
To close, I’d like to thank all the leaders and teams at Aper for the openness and effort with which we work together every day. Especially our awesome people team – Melanie, Analia, Lucio, Marcela, Paula, Noelia – thank you for your effort and commitment!
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 revamping performance management.