In this episode, we go behind the scenes at Calm, the leading meditation app. We chat with Chief People Officer Scott Domann about how Calm takes mindfulness and mental health seriously to their core. Plus, Scott’s commitment to taking care of their People team and the impact that has on their culture.
Katelin: Welcome to All Hands, a podcast brought to you by Lattice, where people success is business success. I’m your host Katelin Holloway.
We enter this business because we care about people, and we know that happy and healthy employees are better able to be resilient in the face of challenges and find fulfillment in their careers.
But let’s be honest: staying mentally healthy can be a personal challenge for many individuals. And as People Leaders, our commitment to mental health extends to the entire workplace culture.
“We’ve been living at work. We spend half our waking hours at work. So, it’s really up to people leaders to build cultures that care for employees what we’ve seen is that it’s the number one thing that people are asking for right now employees are asking for more mental wellness resources.”
Katelin: So today, we go behind the scenes at the number one app for meditation… Calm… to discover how they’re walking the walk behind the talking of the talk. We chat with Chief People Officer Scott Domann about how Calm takes mindfulness and mental health seriously to their core. Plus, Scott’s commitment to taking care of their People team and the impact that has on their culture.
Scott, welcome to All Hands.
Scott: Thank you so much for having me at All Hands, and really looking forward to talking about all things people and mental wellness with you.
Katelin: And there is so much that you all are doing that is very, very different and you all have been doing it this way, the Calm way, for a really long time.
Let’s talk a little bit more about some of your partners on the leadership team. So, one thing that I’ve noticed is that you all seem to have some very interesting and intentional titles. So, can you share a little bit more about some of the folks on your leadership team that might be sitting in different seats than we’ve seen?
Scott: Oh, absolutely. So, I think probably two names that come to mind would be, for instance, our Head of Mindfulness in Tamara, she’s one of Calm’s earliest employees, as well as the voice of Calm. And she is actually the voice of the Daily Calm, so I would say that the daily Calm is probably one of our most popular pieces of content. And just spending time with Tamara as just a wonderful human being, she is so thoughtful about the content that she writes, how she speaks, how she puts it out there, that truly, as a Head of Mindfulness, you find that not only in terms of the content she creates, but how she operates and how she is as a human being. So, really, really thrilled with the work that Tamara does. And then also, probably our most recent would be Jay Shetty as our Chief Purpose Officer.
Scott: And again, a content creator, a monk by background, and what he does for us with a Daily Jay. So again, someone who contributes to the culture, Again, truly that notion of, wow, the purpose that’s inherent in what he does in his content is ever present. And we also look at that in terms of the purpose that’s built into every role at Calm, where every single person at Calm is truly here to drive and bring our mission to life of making the world a happier, healthier place. And as we’ll extend that to say, by solving the world’s mental health crisis.
Regardless of the job you’re in, regardless of your tenure, regardless of your title, everyone has purpose built into their job. And I find that’s why people come to Calm. Where I look at my title, Chief People Officer, I am about every single human being at Calm, not the HR aspect of it, not the process aspect of it, but truly the human beings and the people that are here. So we pride ourselves on being a very authentic culture, and that authenticity extends to the things that we’re talking about, the titles as well.
Katelin: I love that so much. And I get asked about values a lot, something that is very important for a company is to understand, and the ones who are getting it right, you can tell. Which is, your values don’t just live externally, nor do they just live internally.
When there is a breach in integrity or a perceived breach in integrity that gap between what you say and what you do the scrutiny is all the more high. So, you are putting incredible, beautiful content into the world and your mission is so clear and the vision for the company and where you all need to go is so incredibly articulate and intentional, how do you actually internalize that? What are some of the things that you do internally with your team to help support bring that to life so they feel it every day?
Scott: And your point’s exactly right. Culture, values, all those things have to be more than just a nice word on a page. People are really smart, and they’ll join a company and they’ll be like, this doesn’t match that. We are really conscious of that. So for instance, in our recruiting process, we talk about our values when we think about our employee life cycle, our life cycle can likely start from consumer through alumni. So as a consumer, people who will then be interested in joining Calm have a consumer experience that, in many ways, they expect to be mirrored internally. And so, through our recruiting process, we’ll talk through people about scenario based questions around, how do you live these values? How would you like these values to be lived? In addition to being able to be successful in your actual functional job.
I’m taking a little bit on the journey of the life cycle, so that once people start, we actually put them through a really detailed onboarding process that, in a remote environment, is really important so that they actually connect with people. We have something on the calendar every Monday where every employee can join the Welcome to Calm for all of the new hires. We probably have 40 to 60 people that join every time, but those employees who are joining that see a bunch of people join and be like, welcome to Calm, even if you don’t meet them, actually is a really nice connection point. We make sure that people have connection to their managers, we make sure that we invest in our managers by virtue of what we call the mindful manager, so that it’s about resetting what manager effectiveness actually means in terms of, not just the job itself, but then the how you do it and the environment that you create.
All the way through to any organizational change, or learnings that we have as a company through our products and things like that, or our experiences we openly talk about. And we tend to have a very defined cadence of that of, if we’re going to make an announcement, we tell our managers, we have an FAQ that they can contribute to, we then post for our employees, we’ll then sometimes hold Q&A so that people can ask live questions so that it’s an exchange of ideas and information. So that people really do feel, particularly in the remote environment where they can’t look at you, they can’t find you in the hallway, sure they can Slack or hop on Zoom, but that we lean into the honesty, transparency, and communication, so that everyone’s got the context that they. And then also from that values, culture, psychological standpoint, they feel more connected. And then they feel the fact of, hey, Calm is actually doing everything they can to make sure that I’ve got all these things. And if I do have questions, I can call back and ask.
Katelin: For our audience listening in, hearing and understanding how you all take folks through that, just even those first few experiences, those touch points that they have with you all on the team, from the interview process, and really weaving your values in. The more practical advice you can give to our listeners, the better, I think that’s wonderful. Thank you.
Scott: This is where, in order for things to feel authentic and effortless for instance, the interviews or with onboarding, there’s a lot of planning and diligence that has to go on behind the scenes. So, the question banks we will develop so that the questions are objective, the scenarios that we’ll develop so that it’s really clear that it’s tied to not only the functional job, but the culture itself it’s a privilege to interview. You have to be able to create an environment with a candidate, that engagement, that connection, you have to be able to provide objective feedback, not just, I like, I don’t like, or something that may be nominal.
And if there are people who don’t respect that, and don’t see the interview as part of a privilege, they’ll be taken out of interview panels. In the same way that managers really have to be diligent around, they own their team, in building of their team, they own the JD, they own the process. It’s not the recruiting team’s responsibility to source every candidate, to write the JD, to make people show up on time, to build the interview bank of questions and attendees, that is a manager’s responsibility. And that’s why from both, I’d say, an onboarding and an L&D standpoint, we really focus on a manager as a single point of success and failure. People will leave managers.
And we want to make sure that from the outset, you have that connection with your manager. Because, let’s say someone doesn’t connect with the person that would be managing them during that interview process, that’s okay. We want you to be able to make that decision. The great resignation is one thing, and I think as a categorization, but I actually put it in different terms in terms of, people have chosen themselves during this time, and they’ve chosen how they want to work, who they want to work with and how they want to do it. And so, we have to be really conscious of those things during the interview process and the onboarding to make sure that the experience is comprehensive.
Katelin: And I’m so curious to learn a little bit more about this mindful manager that you mentioned earlier. Can you tell us a little bit more about what it means to be a mindful manager at Calm?
Scott: Oh, absolutely. I’d love to. So, it’s built around the central question of, how are you doing? No, really, how are you doing? And that actual, real human connection that a manager has to have with the individual members of their team. We’ll oftentimes as people leaders hear, oh, someone wants to be a special snowflake that’ll oftentimes have a negative connotation to it. And I actually do believe, well, we are all individual snowflakes
Katelin: And in very real terms. Because it’s like, I have to know you Katelin, how you like to communicate and connect, and what your hot buttons are, and what’s important to you. ven if you want a more transactional relationship right now, at least you should know that you could come to me at any time because as a manager, I’ve created an environment where you can show up and go, you know what, I’m struggling with this today, or I want to celebrate this today.
Scott: And the mindful manager is someone who has basically re-articulated what manager, the classic manager effectiveness is. So that yes, as a truly classic effective manager, you have to be able to align on strategy, the work itself, have clear metrics of performance, KPIs, et cetera, and know truly how to get the best out of your team.
That manager really thinks about the care that they put into their teams, and they think about the wellbeing, they hold space for the conversation, and mostly, they know actually how to practice those conversations and when to reach out for assistance and guidance. Which is why myself, the HRBP team, our Head of L&D, she develops the mindful manager, I just happen to be a nice participant on that.
Really being able to reach out and say, I’m not quite sure how to have this conversation, and for the people team to have created the environment that’s like, don’t worry about it, we’re going to coach you through this. Here’s your tips and tricks. And as I’m sure many of the people who are listening are saying, wow, what are the outer lines of that? But so, also being able to teach managers how they avoid being the armchair psychologist who feels like they have to take on all of the mental health needs, et cetera, et cetera of their teams.
Katelin: Yes, yes, yes. So that it’s like, listen, you can’t be the be-all, solve-all for your employee. You really have to know when it’s like, hey, this sounds like something where I need to phone a friend in the people team to help get you some additional support that I, as your manager, am not equipped or practiced enough to provide.
I love that what you’re saying is that you not only provide them with the toolkits to really support, holistically support, the members of their team. But in addition, you’re giving them the space and the support for themselves to say, you do not have to be all things to all people. And I think that’s one of the biggest challenges of being a manager.
You’ve created something that is very unique to Calm and very unique to the needs of your team. So, I love that that’s one tactical example What are some of the other tactical things, whether it’s a framework, policy? I know you all just were off yesterday for Mental Health Day, what are some of those other practical things that you can share with our listeners?
Scott: What I would recommend that your listeners actually do is, one, ask your employees what’s important to them, thinking about how they work, where they’re working, in which context that they’re working, the employee types, the generations in the workforce, things like that. So, really understand your employees, because what I would recommend for Calm may not actually work for every environment. But what will work for every environment is to ask the questions and make sure you’re listening, and then keep asking and keep listening. So, at Calm, what we’ve done, and we practiced this over the past year is, tactically, collective Zoom free Fridays, last year we decided, hey, we’re going to do one Friday a month.
We just upped that to two Fridays a month because we’re like, hey, listen, we’re a CEC organization, and there’s a lot of work that has to be done. We really want to make sure we’re balancing the needs of the business with the mental health and wellness of our employees. And we find that collective time is really valuable. We also have mental health days that are built in where, again, collectively the entire company takes off. And just even the people that I talked to over the past couple of hours of being back online today, has been… Those days are really, really valuable.
Speaking of listening to our employees, we do an engagement survey twice a year. We track things with our new hires, in terms of their first 30, 60, 90 days and six months in a remote environment, how are you doing? Really, how are you doing? We track all of our exit interview data to see, even though we’re listening, there could be things that we’ve missed. Then we have what we call our, take time off as you need it, which is unlimited time off in many other environments. But truly, I think framing it as take time off as you need, it really allows people to much more actively engage with what they individually need to say, hey, I need to take this Friday off, or I need to take two weeks off in the summer with my family. Those kinds of things they find empower employees, and really drives engagement and retention of the employee base as a whole.
Katelin: Oh, there were so many good takeaways in that. And the idea of having a Zoom free day, it doesn’t mean no meetings, it just means that you physically don’t have to put on the face and make your bed behind you or whatever those things are.
Katelin: It makes a difference. It makes a big difference.
Scott: It really does. It really does.
The Zoom free for many people means they won’t have meetings and they’ll use those days to catch up on docs or sheets. We leave the flexibility to you because it’s collective, everyone respects that time as well.
Katelin: Right. In a remote, flexible, distributed work environment, when we can collectively say, hey, your inbox is going to be relatively crickets today, or your calendar will be free, those actually become much, much, much more meaningful in terms of being restorative getting back that… Filling your cup back up with energy. Now, I want to shift gears just a little bit. So, we’ve been talking a lot about internal, internal at Calm, but a lot of our listeners understand that building a mentally resilient workplace isn’t just good for employees, it’s good for business. So at Calm, how does a mindful work environment translate to a better overall product or the output?
Scott: We’ve been living at work, we spend half our waking hours at work. So, it’s really up to people leaders to build cultures that care for employees what we’ve seen is that it’s the number one thing that people are asking for right now in terms of both the Calm For Business research, but then also other research that our science team has done, and other organizations have done is that, employees are asking for more mental wellness resources.
When you think about productivity, regardless of type of job, the productivity will decrease when you’re not engaging in people’s overall mental wellness and their mental health at work. Mental health is health. it’s truly the check-ins that you have with yourself psychologically every single day, multiple times a day, to ask, am I happy? How am I doing? Am I engaging with this? Do I like this? Do I like who I’m working with and what I’m doing? And so, for companies to be super conscious of that, it takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of energy. And going down to the notion of people choosing themselves, they will leave and find an environment that supports those things.
Katelin: I bet you can point to things like the reduction of burnout, you can point to attrition, attraction of talent. There are so many things that I’m sure you can point to and say, there is a direct correlation between how we choose to do things, and/or when we’ve made adjustments, and our output. Right?
Scott: Absolutely. Absolutely, absolutely. You can look at all of those factors, and the more fulfilled people are at work, the more productive they’ll be, the more engaged they are, the less likely they are to leave.
Katelin: Something that really stood out to me through the last few years was your leadership in actually leading the conversation around supporting your own team. But I think that you are someone who really has been an incredible, incredible people team advocate. Really a beacon of light out in the people community for people culture leaders all over to say, my goodness, look at how he is supporting his team, he’s calling it, he’s naming it. And so, Scott, first of all I want to say thank you, on behalf of all of the People folks out there in the world who could then point and say, hey, it’s not just me, someone is saying this stuff, or these are things that I can take back to our organization. Thank you.
Scott: I very much appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you.
Katelin: I mean it very sincerely, and I would love to dive a little bit deeper.
Katelin: Would you mind sharing with our audience a little bit more about how you’re supporting your own people team through all of this?
Scott: It’s like the cobbler’s children have no shoes.it’s truly like people teams give so much of themselves that then you realize that your tank is empty. If I can be a voice, as a people leader, say, gosh, at least it’s not just me thinking that my tank is empty. And I say this to everyone who both is on a people team and if you’re not on a people team, recognize the burnout, truly, and all of the giving of themselves that your people teams have given over the past couple of years, always have, but particularly over the past couple of years.
It’s an enormous amount of psychological and emotional energy, that at the end of the day, some people teams go, gosh, what do I have left for me? My loved ones, family, pets, friends, et cetera. I encourage everyone, take a beat, form your community within the people leader or HR leader community, to make sure that you have someone that you can just take a deep breath with and say, gosh, today I’m actually not okay, I know I have to present this face to people, but today I’m not okay. Or I’m okay, but I feel like I’m solving this problem on my own. You just need someone to say, here’s two or three things that I’ve tried, and that’s all someone needs.
And I want to bring that to the people leaders out there and just say, listen, you aren’t alone, I see you, I feel you, we love you, and you are in an environment and community that supports you. And whenever you need support, there are people out there that will support you so that you don’t feel as though you’re just giving and your tank is empty.
And for my own team, this is what I talk about all the time, where I’m like, I’m glad you called it out. Sarah Tobin, who is our Head of L&D is actually absolutely brilliant. I’m like, no, all the credit goes to her with these things. Our HR business partner, the amount of work that he takes on is absolutely incredible. And then I think about our Head of Total Rewards and our people ops leads and things like that, they’re doing such mountainous amounts of work that when they’re like, oh, can you send this to the management team? I’m like, no, you send it to the management team, I want you to get the credit for this. I didn’t do this work, you did. Because I’ve been part of those teams where someone else, even in small ways of taking credit for that can be very demotivating.
And I like pushing the spotlight away from me, I’m like, no, look at the brilliance here, look at the brilliance there, and then being able to say to my team as well, where do you need to take time off so that I can cover for you as well? And we all have that mentality. It’s like, no, go on your vacation, your time is precious. No, go offline, give me this thing when you’re overworked or you’re overburdened, and you’re like, I can’t take on one more thing. And I encourage everyone that it’s in, again, listening to your employees, understanding what’s important to them.
That’s why I encourage everyone who’s listening to support each other, to reach out for help. And if you ever want to ping me, ping me, I am always here to advocate and be a cheerleader for all of us.
Katelin: What you’re saying resonates so deeply, and I think that as we have taken a few more laps around the track, as we get more experienced in our careers, hopefully we come to the same conclusions, where we say, shifting from that space of scarcity and being in cultures that maybe were very conflicted in terms of ownership and needing to have sharp elbows to earn your place or to feel seen. Again, with time and experience and with great leadership, that you are watching and having modeled the behavior for you, is really around this abundance.
There is enough for everyone, and the more we share and the more we congratulate one another and lift one another up and cover for one another and support one another, really, the better workplaces we can build. And so-
Katelin: We are now going to shift into the rapid fire section of the podcast.
Scott, are you ready?
Scott: We’ll see.
Katelin: We’re going to start with one of my favorites, which is, what item on your desk in front of you right now sparks joy, and why?
Scott: Oh, that’s a great question. Probably… Actually, my desk itself actually sparks joy, because when I really realized like, okay, the whole pandemic is very real and I need a real desk, I spent a little more on a very designey desk that makes me feel very happy,it’s very sleek. And I’m really glad I spent more than I should have on this desk. So, the desk itself-
From a design standpoint, makes me happy.
Katelin: That has never happened. And I love this answer so much. One item on your desk? It is my whole damn desk.
Scott: Is my actual desk.
Katelin: Okay. Next question. What is your favorite way to hit your reset button?
Scott: So, I love getting up in the morning and working out, so whether I go to an exercise class or my at-home bike, I’m all about that. And then honestly, we have a vacation house in Palm Springs that my husband and I go to pretty much every weekend just to hang out by the pool and have friends over and just cook and be silly.
Katelin: That does sound like a great way to reset. Okay. What is one skill that all great people leaders have?
Scott: The ability to listen.
Katelin: I had a feeling you were going to say that, based on the earlier conversation. It is harder than it sounds.
Scott: Allowing the space to be filled with someone else’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas is the most powerful thing you can do.
Katelin: Next question. Did people operations find you or did you find people ops?
Scott: So, people ops found me and I found people ops in that way of,I’d luckily taken these courses on psychology and business. I was like, gosh, there has to be a job where it’s about people’s interaction with work, because there’s something there. I found my graduate program at NYU that really laid it all out in front of me. I feel very lucky I found a career that just speaks to me, immediately.
Katelin: That is awesome. There are so few, what I call, classically trained HR folks out there, or people culture leaders, and how beautiful to have found it early enough in your career.
Scott: I feel very grateful for that, that I’ve just been able to be part of that adventure.
Katelin: Okay. Two last questions. One, what is your favorite productivity hack these days?
Scott: Being really clear about what I’m not going to do, and being really clear about what isn’t a priority, so that you don’t leave people with the assumption that everything is a priority. And I like a rule of three, so I’ll talk about my top three priorities, my top three goals, things like that, and then I will be just as clear as everything else is below the cut line.
Last question for you. When was the last time you were deeply proud of something you’ve accomplished?
Scott: Gosh, this is a really good question. I’m deeply proud when people that I have mentored over the years, or continue to mentor now, achieve what they want to achieve, when I can see that the time and energy and the things that we’ve talked about, or just that real sense of, you did it, and you’re doing it. That’s where I feel really, really proud. And in that way of truly leading with gratitude and paying it forward.
People helped me along the path of my career, because no one does it alone, and then seeing the responsibility to do the same and watching people actually accomplish that, to me, is a really, really big deal. It’s truly about seeing people become and grow into their best selves by virtue of taking the time to make sure that you nurture them along the way.
Katelin: I love that. And so Scott, I will end by just saying thank you so very much for all of the work that you are doing and the goodness that you’re putting into the world and please, please keep leading authentically.
Scott: Fabulous. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you and your team for everything you’re doing. And hopefully, someone is able to benefit from our conversation.
Thanks so much for joining me on this week’s episode of All Hands, brought to you by Lattice. I’m your host, Katelin Holloway.
Next on All Hands: Return to the office or work remotely? Annette Reavis, Chief People Officer at Envoy, talks about how to get the best of both worlds with the hybrid workplace.Scott:
“If you’re just bodies coming in on those days that you’re in the office, and you and I don’t need to work together and you have too many of those sce- scenarios, you’re not building community. So, really being deliberate about how you’re defining hybrid is really important.”