Interview with Marie Krebs - a journey across People Operations
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Interview with Marie Krebs - a journey across People Operations

Created
Sep 23, 2021
Tags
People Ops
Author
Charlene Chen

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We had the pleasure to interview Marie Krebs, People Partner at Learnerbly and Co-Founder of People Stories, a community for people ops professionals in startups.

Marie walks us through her career path into people operations and brings up some interesting insights and tips for the role.

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.

When I got the People Ops title, I had very limited experience. Throughout my time in Operations, Ops Stories had been an incredibly salvatory community and resource. That’s why I sought support from them and co-founded People Stories.

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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 thinkingAgileJobs to be DoneServant LeadershipUX and more.

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned in your ops career?

  1. Always start with WHY before you get things done.
  2. 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?

We put a list of our favourite resources on the People Stories wiki, and then my faves are the There's this thing at Work podcast.

For books, my favourites have been:

"[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...

I'm very very inspired by the work that Leapsome does - love their community and podcast too!

Finally, a couple of rapid-fire questions inspired by Brené Brown's Daring to Lead podcast:

ON: Fill in the blank: Operations is..

Marie: Intense!

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?

Marie: Oof. So much Ops love out there... Penny Penati (Head of Operations at Jude, Chief of Staff at Ok Mentor) is the person I most recently spoke to whose work I really appreciate!