People Spotlight: Sonia Mammen, VP People, Movable Ink
Transitioning from a corporate environment to a start-up can be challenging. Start-ups can be like the wild west, and as compared to the hardline policies and procedures at big corporations, it’s up to HR and the People Teams to guide their scaling organizations to attract/retain talent and grow the business to its potential.
Where does one start with so many variables at hand? How do you compete with large companies to attract and retain talent? With limited resources, how do you keep employees engaged?
Meet Sonia Mammen, the VP of People at Movable Ink, a cloud-based email marketing platform. It’s one of the fastest growing technology companies in New York City, ranking as the 13th fastest growing, growth-stage company in the US in the 2017 Inc. 5000.
Sonia began her professional career as a respiratory therapist. She shifted into HR after working as a healthcare and HR intern at GE and shortly after was accepted to the GE HR Leadership Program (HRLP) with GE capital. It was at GE that Sonia recognized her passion for helping people in the workplace and the opportunity to make a difference through people teams.
During her leadership program training, she built a foundation for HR, which has come in handy throughout her positions at start-ups where she implemented new processes, policies, and procedures to help companies become more established. Sonia has held various positions in HR and supported various facets of business groups which has led her to her current position with Movable Ink.
If you are passionate about a particular area in HR you can surely grow there, but it’s more beneficial to your career and growth of an organization to have experience in all facets of HR and supporting different teams.
For example, early in her career Sonia took an interest in Diversity and Inclusion efforts and took on the challenge to help businesses acquired by GE with their efforts. GE had established core groups for diversity and inclusion already, but she learned to take what corporate had already implemented and apply it to the smaller subsidiaries, allowing them to better integrate their businesses.
In today’s HR world, especially for start-ups, diversity and inclusion efforts are sought out by top talent. Having employee resource groups is a great way to retain talent.
While Diversity and Inclusion efforts are vital, for a start-up they can be a sensitive topic. Depending on the stage and maturity of an organization, HR will need to identify and evaluate what initiatives they are ready to implement.
At Movable Ink, diversity and inclusion efforts start with the hiring process by providing hiring managers with the training they need to avoid hiring bias. Within the organization, employees are encouraged to create employee resource groups they are passionate about. Movable Ink has groups such as INKclusive for their LGBTQ+ community and a women in the work place group, Movable Pink. Each is sponsored by an individual from the leadership team and both are great places for talent to grow and learn from one another.
Aside from D&I efforts, hiring in the start-up world especially in a city as competitive as New York City, can be a challenge. With a surplus of companies hiring and competition with companies who offer a laundry list of benefits and perks, getting individuals to find your company can be difficult.
In general being a start-up has many challenges- but for recruiting top talent, one of the biggest challenges we face is getting talent to find us. Not being a large name organization requires creativity and sourcing to find amazing talent and leveraging current employees to recommend great referrals.
To help address recruiting top talent, Moveable Ink takes a marketing approach to develop their employer brand. The company hosts industry events at their office to attract potential job seekers to their space. Each event focuses on different topics and projects the organization is tackling. HR and the recruiting team are present at the events to talk with attendees and garner interest from prospective candidates to join the organization.
Once talent has been recruited to the organization, focusing on retention is key especially in today’s market where on average individuals change organizations every two years. At Movable Ink, Sonia will be focusing on Learning and Development, focuses on learning and development, real-time feedback, and a recognition and reward program to combat turnover.
Learning and development is an important focus at a growing organization. Many leaders are managing people for the first time and need to learn the necessary skills to be successful. Education and training are important pillars to successfully scale a team.
In additional to L&D, real-time feedback has become more popular versus twice a year performance management reviews. Having real-time feedback allows for more concrete goals and rapid improvement for employees, which is needed at a fast-paced and fast-growing company. Sonia implemented this strategy at her previous position at Getty Images and found it to be highly successful.
Lastly, a recognition and rewards program is needed to help retain top performers. While this can be challenging, Sonia suggests implementing even small things that will be appreciated by employees.
By working with managers to realize what’s important to their employees, whether it’s coming in late one day a week to attend a fitness class or leaving early to attend their child’s school play. help them to figure out how you can help their team achieve that.
When Sonia was at Amex a similar approach to rewards and recognition worked well with all of the employees at the organization. Enabling leaders and management to bridge the gap between work/life balance with their employees can foster higher productivity and improve the overall happiness of the workforce.
Developing processes and policies at a new organization can certainly have growing pains, but that’s what is exciting- the challenge.
When you enter a new role, take a step back for a few months and watch how the current process works. Don’t set too big of a vision before you fully understand the needs and capabilities of the organization and your team. Go slowly and thoughtfully.
And as the last piece of advice for HR professionals at any stage of their career, Sonia left us with this.
Don’t be afraid to do something outside of your comfort zone, it will keep you on your toes and challenge you in the best way possible.