Marie, how did you get to where you are right now?
My first work experience led me to Operations. I got hired and promoted because of a strong "doing whatever needs to be done" mindset. In retrospect, this mindset was rooted in my can-do attitude but also in my lack of confidence in my own worth.
I joined Learnerbly as Office and Operations Manager with that bagage. My focuses were Executive Assistant, Data Operations and Office stuff.
That’s how I discovered Learning & Development. Learnerbly is a workplace learning platform that enables employees to own their development through personal budgets and a bottom up approach - and they’re a super supportive bunch.
I got stuck in every L&D, Culture or People opportunity I came across - Learnerbly focussed on building our Learning culture really early on and I was loving it. I never thought you could get paid to enjoy work so much 😂. After building their open-source employee guide, I became their first People Operations Manager.
People Stories is an independent community of people with similar roles who want to help each other out and share their expertise with each other - so that no single person ever has to reinvent the wheel from scratch.
In my role as People Operations Manager, I built the People function of Learnerbly. From employer value proposition to hiring, onboarding, development, implementing the first tool stack, and so on.
I was approached to join another company as People Lead 18 months later. I got a stupidly good offer, so I loved my job at Learnerbly but I left.
But not all that glitters is gold, and in the end, the new company wasn’t a good fit for me so I resigned after 6 weeks.
That's when I became a Boomerang employee and joined Learnerbly back as People Partner.
I had learnt a lot as a People Lead and my development needs had changed. Learnerbly changed too, and reorganised the people team ahead of expected growth and Series A fundraising. That all made it a great fit for the both of us.
I first interviewed with fantastic companies who made compelling offers but I chose Learnerbly because their offer was tailored to my ambitions and learning needs.
And here we are!
"You're never alone. Reach out to people, ask for help, seek out communities and mentors."
What made you choose to focus on People Operations?
I got the opportunity to get stuck in L&D initiatives, and I loved how People Ops empowers others while playing to my strengths of being empathetic, creative, structured and strategic.
As I grew People Ops expertise, I also grew more hunger to drive change at a systemic level.
I love that People Ops is responsible for building structures, processes and policies that impact people's lives, and I want to drive positive social change.
There are a bunch of factors that are outside of my control that came into play. We're complex and our identities are multi-faceted so please caveat those by appreciating that they’re very much interconnected.
Let’s look at them from some of the high level categories used to classify users:
- Gender. Because ultimately women are socialised as carers and enablers and that impacts our career choices.
- Class. My parents could afford to put a loan through for me to do my Masters in the UK. They supported me financially when I was a London unpaid intern with a part-time job on the side. That’s why I was able to find my first job in London.I come from a lower-middle class background, and didn’t expect that work could be fun and enjoyable. That played a part in how much motivation I put in my development when I discovered People Operations and L&D.
- Race. For all the biases and challenges I never experienced, that means white tech workers are the majority of UK tech workers.
- Mental health. I have premenstrual dysphoria so being able to drive change in mental health at work resonated with me on a personal level and motivated me.
- Being abled. Because that also can have a huge impact on your relationship to work that I wouldn't know of.
- Opportunities. Because I heard of Learnerbly in conversation, not on LinkedIn jobs.
What do you think are some of the most useful skills to have as a People Ops professional?
I'd say skills that will enable you to put People Operations Principles into practice.
In my opinion, corner stones would be across Operations, Product, Psychology, and Marketing.
So the skills would be along the lines of project management, communication, empathy, commercial thinking, coaching, problem solving, user-focussed, and being familiar with a few precepts like Lean/Design thinking, Agile, Jobs to be Done, Servant Leadership, UX and more.
What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned in your ops career?
- Always start with WHY before you get things done.
- You're never alone. Reach out to people, ask for help, seek out communities and mentors.
What resources have inspired you and helped you to develop professionally during your operations career?
For books, my favourites have been:
- An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organisation by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
- Own Your Culture + Culture Decks Decoded by Bretton Putter
- Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed
- Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- People Like Us by Hashi Mohamed
- Divergent Mind by Jenara Nerenberg
- Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
"[Some of the most useful skills to have as a People Ops professional] would be along the lines of project management, communication, empathy, commercial thinking, coaching, problem solving, user-focussed, and being familiar with a few precepts like Lean/Design thinking, Agile, Jobs to be Done, Servant Leadership, UX, and more."
If someone wanted to learn how to be a great People Ops professional, what advice would you give them?
Ask people who inspire you for a chat, join communities where you can learn from others.
I'm saying this with the caveat that this suits my learning style, but we're social creatures so give it a try even if it's scary!
Perhaps try sending a LinkedIn DM that goes: "Hey, your work inspires me and I admire what you do, specifically X. I'd love to learn from you if you could spare an hour sometime? I'll happily work around your schedule as I appreciate you're busy. If now's not the best time, I'd be grateful if you could point me towards someone who might be able to support my development in People Operations. Thank you for your time and your help." 🙂
What's next for you? What's the next tool you want to add to your operations toolkit?
Next for me is being the best People Partner & Programmes Designer I can be at Learnerbly, so every leader here can do their best work and enable their team to do the same.
The next tool for my operations toolkit...
Finally, a couple of rapid-fire questions inspired by Brené Brown's Daring to Lead podcast:
ON: Fill in the blank: Operations is..
ON: Your manager asks you to do something you think will be extremely difficult to do. What’s the first thing you do?
Marie: Tell them where I stand (this will be extremely difficult) and ask for help (both internally and externally).
ON: What is one thing you’re deeply grateful for right now?
Marie: Being able to get out of the house.
ON: If you could shine an ops spotlight on the next person, who would it be?