The Hidden Ripple Effects of Personnel Changes with Reprise's Phoebe Farber
Sean Lane: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Operations, the show where we look under the hood of companies in hypergrowth. My name is Sean Lane. When someone new is hired at your hypergrowth company, they open up their computer and everything just magically works, right? Territories are assigned. Comp plans are shipped. They have the logins for every tool they could possibly need, just automatically, right? This may be the expectation, but it's certainly not the reality. There are operators behind the scenes making this magic happen. New hires, promotions, exits, they all require a unique series of steps to execute seamlessly, all while considering the ripple effects of those transitions. On today's episode, I'm joined by someone who has mastered the art of these personnel transitions. That's someone is Phoebe Farber. Phoebe is the director of operations at Reprise, the demo creation platform for teams that wants to create live and guided demo experiences. In our conversation, Phoebe and I break down an ops team's role in personnel transitions, we talk about the importance of empathy and discretion in sensitive situations, and why her legendary checklists have no less than 15 items per transition. To start, Phoebe taught me that communication is everything when it comes to these changes inside of an organization. So I was curious about the lines of communication she sets up when she first comes into a new company.
Phoebe Farber: I think each organization's been a little different. Each has been relatively early stage, series A to C. Some have had sales ops before. And for some, I was the first sales ops person. So it's interesting just kind of understanding what's in place today, how are things managed and communicated. Historically, consistently, I've had to understand who in HR our people ops exists? Who is in IT and who manages that? Are there any other ops people? So kind of understanding who are the players, then understanding what the typical conversation is like. So when the main types of transition, someone's either joining the business, they're moving around within the business, they're exiting the business, so understanding how the communication flows that way. From the op side of things, I usually take an inventory of tools and understand which tools people use and how they use them in each role. So understand what you need to de- provision, provision, change, based on those changes. So kind of understanding all that foundational stuff. And then putting together a somewhat consistent communication path. For example, in one company, it was much more email heavy, and so we had people ops who would start that process. They would kick off an email for each of those things, and there would be a distribution list which would include myself, include IT, include our CFO. In another company, we're much more Slack heavy. So in this company we use Slack a lot, so we have a channel for each of those types of transitions that includes all the people to be relevant. So just kind of understanding what information needs to be communicated, who needs to have a communication, and then separately coming to terms with what information needs to be communicated. So I made a list of, I need name, manager, email, effective date of whatever change it might be. And then the last piece is kind of understanding the timing. So for example, with new hires, we've asked, ideally as soon as the offer's accepted, but at the very least can be a two- week heads up, because that's a very known transition for instances of, say, involuntary attrition if it's a PIP. The manager knows they're are on a PIP, if they can give us a heads up, and then if we can, in the last week of the month, connect to understand there's something that could happen in the next week that could impact the team. Same thing with promotions. So understanding what's a reasonable timeframe to loop us in so it's not like, " Hey," day of, " This is happening." So that way we can plan a little better.
Sean Lane: I want to pause here quickly because chances are, if you're in ops, you're nodding along with Phoebe or taking notes on the different factors that she's describing. If you're not in ops, you're like, " Wait, doesn't all of this stuff just happen automatically?" When it comes to personnel movement, we all tend to take a lot of these moving pieces for granted. As Phoebe points out, you need to know who are the players, what are the tools, what types of communications exist today? What info needs to be communicated, by when? It's a long list. So with the realization that this laundry list exists, now we're going to need some kind of blueprint to help make these different personnel changes actually work. How do you do that? Here's Phoebe.
Phoebe Farber: The first step is getting everyone to agree on what you're going to do. I start off with just a list of the things. I really like Lucidcharts. So I sometimes make a flow diagram, because say when someone, I mean, in any of those transitions, it can include say five different people and or three to four different groups. So it has people ops, there's IT, there's the hiring manager. There might be the executive depending on how small the company is. So making sure that person's looped in and approves whatever change is being made. There's sales ops. So there's a lot of people doing things. And then the timing is very important as well. So making sure in any of those things, you don't want to introduce new information to groups that weren't meant to know it quite yet.
Sean Lane: Yeah.
Phoebe Farber: So you need to understand when that's going to be communicated too. And then on our end, I try to make a lot of our updates not terribly visible externally, but even in that case, like our Asana board is shared with all sales leadership and marketing and people ops. So there are some transitions that are more sensitive that maybe you don't want the full group to be aware of. So we need to be cognizant of when we put things in places like that. We also might have comp information so we need to be careful where that goes. So understanding all those things like who does what, when, where, how does that communication path work more specifically? And after everyone's introduced to it, then documenting it and having it as a central reference as something you just execute on from there on.
Sean Lane: That access to sensitive information, that is just one of the realities of working in ops. And I kind of think of it as like, " Hey, with great power comes great responsibility type of thing," and you're going to have access and exposure to things that most of the people in the company don't. How do you talk about that with your teammates, as you're bringing new people into your own ops group? How do you convey kind of the importance of that sensitivity and to your point, looking around corners to say, " This might not be the thing that needs to make it onto the public Asana board."
Phoebe Farber: Yeah. I think that up front expectation setting is very important. I remember when I first started getting access to that information, my boss made it very clear. He, at the time told the story about someone who just in a moment of lapsed judgment made a comment or said something that they weren't supposed to and that they were immediately fired. And he's like, " So you're getting access to very key information, sensitive information. And if you share this incorrectly, you could easily get fired for this." And so just kind of impressing the importance of keeping it very, very tight and only sharing with people that are meant to have it is important. I, in my role, as part of that initial up front work, understand who already has that information? So for example, people ops knows everything that I know and so much more. And then you have to think about layers of management. So the VP will have everyone's comp and they will know all the things. Then if you think their layer down, I have to be very careful of managers who manage a team. They should know their comp, they should know their team's comp. They should not know the comp of any other, either OC manager or manager's team. And so I have to keep it very carefully segmented and we have to be very cognizant of what we show and what they have access to. And that includes, like in Google Drive, we made a special Google Drive folder, which is only shared with biz ops, people ops, and sales ops. And we make sure all those sharing settings are very locked down. And then when we talked about how to communicate entrances, exits, transitions, we have a special Slack group, which is private and it only includes myself and people ops. And then when we carry that over to Asana, we carry over the link to the Slack conversation for our reference.
Sean Lane: Wow.
Phoebe Farber: So like the other person in sales op and I, we can see it and easily access it when we go through the onboarding, offboarding, any of those transitions. But if someone were to be on our Asana board, we don't just type out the numbers that are going to be included in comp plans. It is just a reference to a place that no one else but us can see.
Sean Lane: We're 86 episodes into this show, so I feel like I can be honest with you all. Everything that Phoebe's describing, the access to sensitive information, the comp data, the permissions nuances, these are some of my least favorite parts of being in ops. However, I know how important they are. And Phoebe's exactly right. When you're dealing with sensitive information that will impact people's livelihoods, you have to be incredibly thoughtful and thorough about that work. What she has developed is not just a list of all the different types of transitions that can take place, but also the individual activities that go into each transition. And like any good operator, she made some checklists.
Phoebe Farber: We have no less than 15 individual things that need to happen for each role transition. And within my little team, it might be I do all the things, it might be my sales op manager does all the things, we might divide and conquer. So checklists outside are a great way to keep track of all of the things, because it's impossible to keep them all in your head and actually make sure you did all of them. It's a great way to be able to collaborate, to keep track of things. And then also it's been a helpful representation when I explain, in certain situations people ops or sales management will be like, " Oh yeah, I totally understand why you need two weeks notice." And in other cases, when it's not quite as obvious, I've been able to say, " Hey, here are the 15 things I need to do. So if you hire three people or if you transition, you promote two and you hire one, the reason it's helpful so we can get things done in the timeframe you want is because I have to do so many things." And so they've also been a helpful way to represent why we need certain information and why we need a heads up for that.
Sean Lane: Yeah. Those three transitions are really 45 different activities, right?
Phoebe Farber: Yes.
Sean Lane: And I'm sure there are people listening right now saying, " 15 things? How could that even be possible?" You mentioned one small change might have broader ripple effects, can you talk about maybe some examples from that list of 15 to give folks a better sense of what those might be and also to help them build out lists of their own?
Phoebe Farber: Yeah. So there are a healthy number of components to any transition and it really depends on the person that's transitioning. So we just touched on a little bit of like IT transitions, like AEBDR or CSM, but you might also have managers, but you also might have execs. So we are impacted by anyone that touches the tools that we manage, anyone that has quota, anyone that could impact the sales work in general, essentially. So at a high level there's things like quotas, there's commission payments, there's territories. If it's managers, if you think about the number of tools where hierarchy plays a role, you might have to change team compositions, and who's labeled as the manager in a number of tools. Each of those is a different update someone needs to make. And it's not that each of those is terribly hard necessarily, but they are just places that need to be updated so that the team can keep chugging along. And whoever is going to manage that team has a visibility. So you might have to create or deprecate rules in Salesforce. You might have to update the manager in Salesforce if you have tools like Course or Gong, if you have something like Acclary, you just have to make sure everything flows and updates appropriately. If you're transitioning a VP, you might have things like if they championed a tool, there are plenty of executives that might come in and buy a tool, and then if they exit they're like, " Do we still want this tool? Are there people supportive of this tool still internally?" So then that impacts renewals and usage. So there are many, many broad impacts. And we touched briefly on things like territories, so like account ownership, you'll have to pretty immediately update Salesforce, if that's your CRM to align with the current state, you might have to update other places that associate AEs and BDRs, if they work in any type of like pod system, that balance. Maintaining that is very important. So there are a healthy number places that need to be updated to make sure everyone's appropriately aligned, everything's balanced, goals and comp aligned, commission's paid out to anyone who might have exited or you understand the commission of people that are joining or transitioning because sometimes those can be unique circumstances. There's a lot to manage.
Sean Lane: Look, no one is going to feel bad for an operations team that has to update hierarchies or roles in Gong. But, to Phoebe's point, how you articulate that work is really important. Every one of your internal customers will care about when accounts show up in their name. Every manager will care when they have visibility into the pipeline of that person that just got transitioned onto their team. The more you can frame these transitions in terms of what's in it for them, the better. Territory work in particular is absolutely critical. I work with an amazing colleague at Drift named Michelle Rose, and Michelle has developed these stellar internal processes for all personnel change requests, or PCR's as we call them. This visibility gives our internal customers, as well as our internal teammates, crystal clear knowledge into the timing as well as flexibility to mark things like holdouts or exceptions to our rules. Phoebe also is someone who's preaching balance when it comes to the rules of engagement versus common sense for some of these transitions.
Phoebe Farber: At the end of the day, balances is the name of the game, making sure that there's the appropriate opportunity. And then also taking into consideration what makes sense, because sometimes adjustments make sense on paper, but not in practice. Definitely learned that lesson a bit with BDR fluctuations because that can happen much more frequently, but understanding like, " Oh, we shouldn't cut everyone off mid sequence and just pop them over to another set of accounts because an AE joined the company. Let's do a thing where each sequence is say three weeks and let's let them wrap that up over the next couple weeks and then we will transition. " So now I have a monthly check in where I can see what's misaligned, and if there's been no activity in 30 days we reset and we keep an eye on what's misaligned. But we recognize that transitions are going to be somewhat frequent and we recognize that we'll have a stronger likelihood for success if we let cadences play out and let follow up happen organically as opposed to arbitrarily cutting it off because someone joined or left the business.
Sean Lane: I think even just the very small point you made about timing and setting expectations within the organization that look, " Hey, we're going to do this stuff at the beginning of every month." One, can simplify your world when it comes to things like routing and comp and assignment, but also you can set that expectation so that when managers are making plans within their own teams, they can say, " Okay, we know that we have to make these tweaks at the beginning of each month or at the beginning of each quarter. So let's use that kind of rule or foundation as a starting point for any of these personnel conversations that we're having." And I've found that the more you start to set that boundary with people and set that expectation earlier on, the more it becomes the norm and you're not having arguments over, " Oh, this has to happen in the middle of a quarter or this has to happen in the middle of a month." Because it's just going to create more challenges. I'm also curious what you said about, " Hey, a sequence is running or this partnership is working really well." Ops folks, I think rightfully so, tend to lean on the rules. And so you probably spent a whole bunch of time inside your organization, writing rules of engagement, setting up exactly how things should work. But there is, to your point, sometimes some common sense or other factors that you have to balance with those rules. How do you think about actually maintaining that balance and figuring out what the right thing is for the business at that moment?
Phoebe Farber: Yeah. I think having great managers to lean on is really helpful because they understand the more nuanced pieces of the lives of the reps. So things like, I can understand where they are in ramp and what their performance has been historically. But I might not know that they have upcoming vacation planned and in the super short term that could be impactful for something. I might not know if someone's having a hard time at home or they're out a lot for doctor's appointments or if they are struggling and they're going to be on a PIP and so we might not plan to have them in the business after a certain point. I might not know that these two get along really well and they're really productive together and so even on paper, if it looks right to squish people around, that will not be productive overall. So the managers having a really strong sense of their team and all the parts of that is really helpful because at the end of the day, some of that will be more impactful than having a rule and holding to the rule. But yeah, I think having rules of engagement is obviously very important and helpful as guidelines, and trying to stick to them as much as possible is helpful because otherwise, if everything is an exception, then the rules don't really exist.
Sean Lane: Yeah.
Phoebe Farber: But yeah, working with sales management to find that balance and making sure at the end of the day the gut check makes sense. I think that finding that balance is important and it's really only possible if you have good sales management in place that you're in a partnership with.
Sean Lane: And that they, I think, support and defend the rules that do exist. Because if they're in the exact same boat where they're always looking for the exception to that rule, then you know that that's the conversation that they're having with their reps. And so having a true partner who's also there not only to help you have insight into those types of scenarios you described, but also defend the rules and know them, in let's call it 80% of the scenarios and then 20% that's where the two of you might work it out, that to me, I think is also a really important part of that partnership.
Phoebe Farber: Agreed. Yeah. They have to be bought into the rules and it depends on how big the org is and the dynamic of the org, whether or not the VP developed them and then trickled them down or if it was a different type of structure and the next layer of management could work with you directly, but either way getting their buy- in is important because if it was a disagree, but commit, then that's not great overall. They have to believe that the rules are going to be beneficial overall. And they also, I mean, they're managing say four to eight to 10 reps. They have to also appreciate that the rules are in place to help create some order out of the chaos that it would be in the absence of them.
Sean Lane: I appreciate your approach here because we've spent a lot of time talking about checklists and Asana boards and Slack threads. But you're also clearly bringing some type of just empathy and humanity to these types of transitions. They're all tough. Whether you're a brand new hire, you're excited to be starting at a new gig, or you're on a plan and maybe transitioning out of the business, or you're about to be promoted, these are all very big milestones for the people that it's impacting. But it might just be one of 15 transitions that your team is working that particular quarter, times 15 steps for each one of those, it's very easy for those to just become onto the next step. How do you kind of balance that humanity that you're bringing to those transitions versus just like, " Okay, this is the next step on the next transition of the next month for the next team."
Phoebe Farber: Yeah. I think developing empathy for the sales work overall and nurturing that I suppose, I don't know that that came, it's awkward to say it didn't come as naturally, but I'm not a big emotive person necessarily. But over time I've definitely come to understand more of, for example, when you're a new hire there is a lot of unbridled enthusiasm and there's a lot of everything being new. So for example, the way that might come to me is a really random question or someone coming directly to me versus their manager or someone breaking something and me stepping back and being like, " They're new and they're excited. Let's go help them and then gently guide them in the right direction." Taking the time to congratulate someone that changed roles or got promoted. Taking the time, if someone left either voluntarily or involuntarily, to send them a note and wish them well. Pausing to do those things is very important. Same thing with managers. I mean, certain transitions can be very challenging for managers and taking the time to empathize with them is definitely important in maintaining a good relationship. So sometimes I do have to pull back because I do go straight into just the execution mode, but pausing. pausing to help manage that is definitely, I think, beneficial and makes sense. There is many things to do, it's easy to get wrapped up in that
Sean Lane: Before we go, at the end of each show, we're going to ask each guest the same lightning round of questions. Ready? Here we go. Best book you've read in the last six months.
Phoebe Farber: Ooh. I mean to say The Checklist Manifesto is probably lame, but it's not the only one, but that was really, that was a good one.
Sean Lane: The cover of that book has been flashing in my head the entire time we've been talking. So I think it's perfectly appropriate. Favorite part about working in ops.
Phoebe Farber: The problem solving. And then I think secondarily just the mix of having the ability to work with tech and with people is fun. It's a really good balance,
Sean Lane: Flip side. Least favorite part about working in ops.
Phoebe Farber: Ooh, it's either a tech problem that is so large it feels insurmountable and you're just banging your head against the table trying to figure it out. Or a really hairy interpersonal situation where you need to figure out how to make people align around something and just thinking through how to navigate that well. That'll break my brain too.
Sean Lane: Somebody who impacted you getting to the job you have today.
Phoebe Farber: Ooh, Jim McDonough. I was a BDR and I kept playing with reports and playing with their tools and he was a VP Sales and he floated the idea of sales ops and here I am.
Sean Lane: That's awesome. Shout out Jim. Last one, one piece of advice for people who want to have your job someday.
Phoebe Farber: Oh goodness. I would say just absorb all the information, go network, read white papers and content, watch podcasts like this, just absorb all the things and then talk to people in the role and see if their day- to- day in their lives and challenges seem interesting.
Sean Lane: Thanks so much to Phoebe for joining us on this week's episode of Operations. If you learned something today, make sure you leave us a six star review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcast and make sure you're subscribed so you get a new episode in your feed every other Friday. All right, that's going to do it for me. Thanks so much for listening. We'll see you next time.
When someone new is hired at your hypergrowth company, territories are not magically assigned, commission plans are not automatically shipped. There are operators behind the scenes making this magic happen. New hires, promotions, exits – they all require a unique series of steps to execute seamlessly all while considering the ripple effects of those transitions.
Our guest on this episode is someone who has mastered the art of these personnel transitions, Phoebe Farber, the Director of Sales Operations at Reprise.
In our conversation, Phoebe and I break down an Operations team’s role in personnel transitions, the importance of empathy and discretion in sensitive situations, and why her legendary checklists have no less than 15 items per transition.
- (1:29) The lines of communication Phoebe sets up when she first joins a new company
- (4:29) Phoebe’s blueprint for personnel changes
- (6:24) Conveying information sensitivity as an ops leader
- (8:56) The checklists for personnel changes
- (13:33) Balancing rules vs. common sense
- (19:28) Remembering the human aspect of transitions
- (20:59) Operations lightning round
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends! You can connect with Sean on Twitter @Seany_Biz and @DriftPodcasts.