Announcing the 2nd Annual People Pioneers: Honoring the leaders of the people-first revolution

Increasing Representation at the Executive Level and Building a DEI Roadmap: Q&A with Noah Warder, Head of People at Guusto

Jan 5, 2023| Reading time: 10min

BY Kerrel Brown

Senior Marketing Manager

Noah Warder is the Head of People for employee recognition software and rewards platform Guusto. Noah also has the distinction of being named a 2nd Annual People Pioneer, honoring his work as a forward-thinking HR leader who has driven impact with people-first strategies.  

Read on to learn what it takes to build a people-first People program.


ChartHop: What are your responsibilities at Guusto?

Noah Warder: As Head of People, pretty much anything people-related falls under my umbrella. So that includes HR, compliance, recruitment, employee engagement, talent acquisition, and of course as a recognition company, employee recognition is really important to us internally.  

But I also focus on things like manager preparedness and leadership training to make sure that we’re a company that’s investing in our people through succession planning, year-end planning, and all that goes along with it. 


CH: You’ve built out Guusto’s People function from the ground up. From base policies like PTO and sick leave to structured competency and compensation frameworks to a DEI roadmap with metrics for success. How did you know where to start and what programs/initiatives to prioritize?  

NW: Coming in there wasn’t much, so as a first step I setup a talking tour with all current employees where I asked: What are the biggest gaps you see? How did you view the current culture? What are some of the programs and initiatives you want to see implemented?

Based on the responses, I made a list of things that we wanted to get done, weighed that against pressing compliance needs (e.g. ensuring our employment agreements are compliant in all provinces we work in), and then got to work building from the ground up. Ok, we don’t have a formal vacation policy? Let’s write one. 

The goal was to build a People program that gives people a very clear idea of how to work at Guusto, offers them easy access to everything they need to do their best work, and empowers them to answer questions with thoroughly written policies and guides. 


CH: You also created a DEI roadmap with metrics for success. How did you think about setting those goals and determining which metrics for success would be the most impactful?

NW: After the core HR policies were stood up (e.g. compliance, vacation, benefits, etc.) we knew that we wanted to tackle DEI, that it was something we wanted to be a focus within Guusto. We sell culture and it’s important that internally, we’re a culture-first and people-first organization that’s a leader in the space. 

In order to do that, we engaged a company called Diversio to surface any gaps and help us administer a DEI survey, analyze the results, and determine a clear path forward. 

We started this process in Q2 of 2022 and it happened in three phases:

  • Sending the DEI survey to all employees, giving about three weeks for the survey to run
  • Digging into the responses to find areas for improvement
  • Prioritizing next steps based on survey results

Once we had all of the DEI data, we built a roadmap. One of the key areas for improvement the survey identified was around mental wellness. Half of our company identified having some sort of mental wellness need, whether that was depression, anxiety, stress, or some other challenges. We immediately asked, how can we help these people more? We knew people were struggling and we had already implemented an employee assistance program (EAP), but now looking at 2023, how can we boost those benefits and make it even easier for our team to access mental wellness benefits and make it more of a frontline conversation that we’re having on a regular basis?

The other focus area that we saw was diversity on our leadership team. We had seven people on our leadership team, two of which were women and only a few POC and people who identify as LGBTQ+, so we wanted to continue to diversify that team. We also wanted to provide opportunities for managers and ICs to start gaining leadership skills. To achieve these goals, we implemented a leadership program for the executive team that’s now going to be rolled out to managers and then to the entire organization. Through this program, we’re upskilling the entire organization regardless of an employee’s current level so that they can start building those leadership skills, whether they apply those at Guusto or at their next company.

We now run the DEI survey every quarter and look at how things are changing to determine our metrics of success. So if our inclusion score is currently 8/10, we look at how we can work to make that a 9/10. We’re really focused on looking at our inclusion and diversity scores to see how they change QoQ and YoY, making sure they’re always going up and people always feel supported. 


CH: Since implementing that roadmap, what impact have you seen on employee engagement and how Guustonians show up to work? 

NW: One thing that we did after we completed the first survey and received our dashboard with metrics was present it to the whole company. We were very transparent with our inclusion score, the recommendations for improvement, what we’d be working on, and the roadmap to address those focus areas. We got a lot of qualitative feedback that people were excited that they filled out the survey and there was an action plan to address their responses. 


CH: You’ve also had a focus on increasing representation on Guusto’s executive team  (gender, ethnicity, mental wellness, LGBTQ2S+). Can you share the steps you took to make this happen?  

NW: I think a large part of it is our recruitment process and making sure our candidate pipeline is diverse. We’re also not just looking at traditional backgrounds and we’re very intentional when working with Talent Acquisition that we want to speak to more women, we want to speak to more people of color, we want to speak to more people who are not just the dominant white male in society. We make it very clear early in the process that representation does matter in this organization and we want to have those distinct viewpoints in our leadership. 

When it comes to our interview process, we bring in different perspectives on our interview panel so it’s not just all men or all executives on the panel. We’re bringing in the Jr Accountant to interview the Head of Accounting because we want their perspective on whether or not they want to work with this person. 

How we structure our job postings is also a large part of it. How we do that is very different from a lot of other organizations. We don’t put “you must have these qualifications” or “you must have these certifications.” As soon as you start putting must-have qualifications on a role, your pipeline is going to shrink dramatically because men will typically apply for a role where they only adhere to 50-70% of the qualifications whereas women and marginalized groups won’t apply unless it’s 90% or above. So we do away with that and tell people what they’re going to work on. If that excites them, we want to hear from them. 

Our job postings are very transparent and structured with:

  • What you’re going to be onboarded with in three months
  • What you’re going to execute on in 12 months
  • People you’re going to interview with
  • How many stages are in the interview process
  • If there’s a project, what it entails
  • Salary range for the job posting
  • Benefits you’ll be offered

We’ve received qualitative feedback from candidates that seeing the process and what they’ll be working on at the beginning of the journey is why they applied to Guusto. 


CH: What does being a people-first People leader mean to you?

NW: To me it’s just treating people as human beings with respect. They’re not a resource to be maximized. They’re people who have lives and other priorities. Work is not the only thing that they’re doing, so realizing that, acknowledging that, and giving space for that is important. It’s about allowing the people who work for your company to have their lives by giving them balance, creating flexibility, and knowing that things are going to happen and some weeks they’re only going to be at 50% and that’s ok. Just treating them as human beings is what it comes down to.  

More Lessons from the 2nd Annual People Pioneers

Interested in even more lessons learned from senior HR leaders? Check out the full list of 2nd Annual People Pioneers and read more about the people-first initiatives they implemented to drive impact through creating a connected team, growing intentionally and sustainably, implementing wellness benefits, and much more.

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