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Reimagining Company Values and the Work Environment: Q&A with Natalie Rast, People-First People Leader

Apr 7, 2023| Reading time: 7min

BY ChartHop

Natalie Rast is a people-first leader and the former Director of People Operations at an email creation platform. She also has the distinction of being named a 2nd Annual People Pioneer, honoring her work as a forward-thinking HR leader who has driven impact with people-first strategies.  

We sat down with her to discuss what it takes to build a people-first People program.

ChartHop: What were your responsibilities at your last role?

Natalie Rast: I oversaw the full employee lifecycle for the US team. We had a unique structure in which I had a peer as Head of People in Latin America. So we worked really closely to provide a consistent and inclusive employee experience across the different countries in which we operated.

CH: You had a key role in redefining their company values, creating four new core values and rolling them out within 30 days of joining the company. What led to the need to re-examine the previous/existing values?

NR: I was the first People person in the US, so that definitely shaped my onboarding experience. Re-examining values came up because throughout my interview process, I couldn’t tell if we had core values; they didn’t feel like they were at the forefront. To me, values are really the guiding foundation for everything related to culture and the employee experience.

I wanted to be able – before I started any other work – to look at the employee lifecycle, figure out what was working well, determine what to change, and really understand and align our values. Values and DEIB are the driving foundation that you build everything else around. I therefore didn’t want to think about hiring, onboarding, separation planning, or anything like that before we were aligned on our core foundation.

CH: You worked closely with the CEO to redefine the core values. What steps did the team take to make sure the values would be meaningful and not just a box-ticking exercise?

NR: After chatting with the CEO when I started, I found out the company did have values; there were nine at the time. We did a little test and no one at the company could name all of them. We wanted to capitalize on the moment, so I started around the Thanksgiving holiday with a goal to launch them in the New Year. We asked the following questions to make sure we moved with speed, but not lose integrity in the process:

  • Where did our nine core values stem from?
  • What’s actually true to the company today?
  • What values do we want to take with us when we grow?
  • How do we make sure we’re hiring the right people, growing the right people, and making decisions the right way?

We then sent out a survey to our workforce to get their voice and input about their employee experience. We then carved out a three hour session to review the feedback and nail down our core values. From there, the CEO and I met a few more times and worked async with a task force of tenured employees to finalize what was important to the company and the people.

CH: What did roll out company-wide look like? How did you communicate the changes to employees to drive adoption and have an immediate impact?

NR: It was amazing to roll them out! But the question is: how do you make them a part of everything you do versus just words on a wall? We decided to create a quarterly value focus program, and it just so happened that we ended up with four, so it works really well. 

We’re also intentional about our actions and provide that intentional touch to each other and clients. And to really carry that mantra through the quarter, we do a values recognition program.

These values are also embedded into the hiring process, specifically, with a culture interview that asks questions targeted to each of the four values. That lens is used to ensure the right folks are being brought onto the team.

CH: Your previous company transitioned from a fully remote to a hybrid work environment. What were the biggest successes you found after launch?


  1. Having structured conversations. Hybrid work can be a polarizing topic, so it was helpful for us to be methodical when it came to structuring conversations around this decision. This looked like having an agenda, keeping it strategic, including data in our decision-making, and focusing on the results.
  2. Operating with inclusivity in mind. So when we’re thinking about our All Hands, how do we make sure that everyone has the same experience, whether they’re in the office or at home? It’s also making the most of the time you have in-person, like off-sites, and then understanding the impact of that time together.
  3. Encouraging work-life balance. There’s some key programming we’ve done setting best practices and taking proactive approaches. We’ve talked about communication (i.e. sending Slacks late at night and expecting a response), preventing burnout (and training managers to look out for signs), and then tactical resourcing (like mental health newsletter and free mental health memberships).

CH: What advice would you give to other People leaders looking to transition to a more people-first way of doing HR?

NR: What I love about People Ops, and why I got into it, is because we spend so much of our time at work. If we’re not using it as a place to better ourselves – not just professionally, but personally – then what’s the point? I think about how much I’ve grown as an individual and have learned so much from what I do. It’s beautiful that I get to do this work every day, and help managers and employees figure out how to do that too. 

You need to have that guiding lens that being people-first really matters. Every decision you make not only impacts people, but potentially the organization’s bottom line as well. It’s important to think about short and long term effects, and if those decisions will ensure your people are promoters of your company.

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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