Katelin Holloway on How Reddit Approaches People Ops

HR leaders are now tasked with thinking holistically about the employee experience from the moment they engage with a recruiter till the day they leave a company. By optimizing this end-to-end experience, companies lower employee turnover, increase productivity, and build a positive employer-brand that attracts talent to the company.

Nobody embodies this role more than Katelin Holloway, the VP of People & Culture at Reddit, who has helped the popular website grow up into a company. In this month's episode of Resources for Humans, Katelin illustrates what a modern people operations team looks like, details how to build an end-to-end employee experience, discusses the role of culture, and explains why Reddit doesn't negotiate salaries.


Favorite questions and quotes from the conversation.

Would you say that your desire to help people is why you chose People Ops?

HR does not mean compliance, paperwork and benefit administration — that's a part of the gig and that's a wonderful part because you get to help people. What I love most about my job and what I love most about how this industry has evolved is really the fact that we care about what we do and how we engage with one another. At the end of the day, it really is about the human experience, because jobs are jobs and companies come and go. You look at resumes and there are a series of brands and timelines, but the reality is that's somebody's life. It's all of the twists and turns in between that say, "I had a good experience, I had a good journey."

How do you operate and manage a People Ops team?

We align with the product and engineering sprint roadmaps. We run two-week sprints with deliverables that we're held accountable for. We make them transparent to the company so that the team knows exactly how it is that we are prioritizing their needs and our initiatives. We also run quarterly engagement surveys so that we can use that as the leading indicator for the initiatives and programs that we'd like to implement. It's a very well-oiled machine, but yes we do our best to align so that at the end of the day we are giving the greatest experience we possibly can.

How do you strike the balance between employee happiness and performance expectations?

One of the common denominators for a great experience or having a great journey with a company is really being a part of something that is successful. We do this by tracking and measuring OKRs and having alignment around what it is that you want to achieve and what success looks and feels like. Culture is not just puppy dogs and lollipops, that's the good stuff on a good day. The real culture is when maybe you're not doing so well and you have to make hard decisions. When you need to make hard decisions the first thing you do is push them through your values filter, which is not just a poster on the wall. They really are a tool and a vehicle for the company and the staff to understand how decisions are made and also to be empowered to make decisions on their own.

How do you create a culture where feedback is given directly and consistently?

No one has quite gotten this right and the reality is it's because we're humans and humans are very messy. I suggest using tools and creating opportunities for your team to have continuous feedback. Here at Reddit we use Lattice as a vehicle to help us get to that place. I am a really big fan of the weekly check-ins. Now I know for a fact that there's gonna be at minimum, once-a-week, a space for me to give and receive feedback. You should have frameworks and tools in place so that you have a guaranteed opportunity for dialogue.

How do you separate or balance conversations around performance evaluations vs. personal development plans?

We take them in two different formats for the conversation. We, of course, have a standardized performance review cycle. That is a retrospective of what was done in that performance cycle, and we actually map it to a career ladder and a career map.

Then it's a conversation about career development and it's much more independent of the company and more focused on the individual. We want them to be successful wherever they go. What's good for them is good for us. We have weekly one-on-ones with our team members that are a little bit more casual. Feedback needs to be timely, that's one of the most critical components and waiting for whenever your performance review cycle is, typically is ineffective.

How do you think about compensation?

Our philosophy is really to make compensation not a conversation and the only way you make it not a conversation is to make it transparent, fair and generous. We created salary and equity bands that are static. We have done our market research. We pull from a number of different sources that are shared throughout our industry. We make all of our offers at that band, there is no plus or minus. Then when people actually do come in and they are progressing, they know that every performance review cycle we have opportunities for people to get a comp adjustment.

What is your philosophy around cash vs equity compensation?

I want people to come to Reddit because they believe in what it is that we're doing and they believe in our mission. I want to make sure that they are invested in the right way and truly feel like an owner, because they are.

It is hard to put a number on those things. What I'm seeing in the market trend right now, and this is not a Katelin philosophy or a Reddit philosophy but just simply the market trend is that you're seeing base salaries and incentive pay go up and equity going down.

How do you address salary negotiation?

We actually have a no-negotiation policy and knowing that we are paying very, very fair to market, feels really good. We actually do a survey after folks come in, on their recruiting experience and it is nine times out of ten noted by underrepresented classes.

How do you keep employees happy?

I have this theory, it's called the Convergence of Desire. There are two axes. One is what the company needs - there is a role we need to achieve a goal. The other is the employee, the person who is going to do that task for you or have the skillset that you need to achieve the goal. That person also has needs and wants and desires. And so when those two things align, that point of intersection, that's the Convergence of Desire. That is where the company is the happiest and the person is the happiest. Those two things are constantly in flux and changing. That sounds a little bit more algorithmic than I want it to, but the reality is it's having a dialogue with your team and understanding what it is that they need.

What advice do you have for someone new to People Ops?

Listen. Culture happens whether you are intentional about it or not. You cannot come into something and immediately enforce change or try to enact change. Understand what the needs of the organism is. Talk and really hear what it is telling you, both vocally and passively in the feeling and the dialogue of the group of people. The more you listen, the more you will learn.