HR Tech Interview with Janet Phillips, Vice President of People, Kong Inc.

One of the biggest realization’s business leaders came away with in 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, is that hiring for and restricting key leadership positions to certain locations (like your headquarters!) is not important in a remote world, because it reduces the ability to capitalize on a more diverse global talent. Janet Phillips, Vice President of People, Kong Inc. joined us for a quick chat to dive deeper into today’s shifting HR trends while sharing a few inputs on Kong’s workplace norms and culture.




Tell us a little about yourself Janet…and your journey in tech…how did you venture into an HR / People Management role and what makes being in HR the most exciting part of the job?

My journey in technology has been a long and storied one! I’ve had the great fortune to have held a variety of front-line and management roles in Sales, Customer Service, Technical Support, Network Operations, Learning and Development, Executive Coaching, M&A Integration, and of course, Human Resources. This experience gives me a unique perspective and allows me to be a better business partner.

By far, my role as People Leader at Kong is the most rewarding and fun of my career! Start-ups are by nature dynamic, and require a high degree of adaptability and agility. It can be pure alchemy when the right people come together at the right time, with the right technology solutions that are timed to address real market needs. When these factors align, it’s a matter of putting the operational guardrails in place to guide and accelerate the journey. Of course, unplanned challenges arise and mistakes are made, but this is all part of the learning journey for our employees and the organization.

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We’d love to hear a little about the people and employee practices at Kong, also, what were some of the initiatives undertaken during the months of the pandemic lockdowns to ensure team productivity and spirit?

At Kong, we take our people practices, employee engagement and company culture quite seriously. I credit our CEO, Augusto Marietti, for recognizing and supporting these initiatives when we were at a very early stage. He knew inherently that by building a strong cultural foundation, with traditions and core values that meant something, we would attract great people who would in turn be able to do their best work.

We’re quite culturally diverse by the sheer fact that we have Kongers in 24 countries. This has us laser-focused on building sound operating capabilities that support our global workforce. We highly value employee engagement, transparency, feedback and continuous improvement, and we don’t shy away from tackling the hard things.

Case in point, we ran two experiments in March and November 2019, where we asked all employees to work away from the office for two weeks to learn first-hand what it was like to be “remote.” Sure enough, things got tough, but we learned so much. As a result, we’ve built strong programs focused on employee engagement, bi-directional communication, improving collaboration and information sharing.

This turned out to be quite a fortuitous experiment, as we were able to transition seamlessly to remote working during COVID.

In today’s working world where the new normal has redefined a lot of fundamental work practices; how do you feel global HR teams need to respond and cope with the rapid changes?

The way we work is now forever changed. The fundamental shifts in how we work, where we work and when we work have forced HR teams to rethink every aspect of their operations – hiring, on-boarding, team collaboration, employee engagement, performance management and off-boarding. Literally every aspect of HR has had to evolve and adapt, and the terrain continues to evolve. All of this has put tremendous pressure on back-office operations.

For us, coping and even thriving in this environment is predicated on a few fundamental practices:

Increased Communications

It’s been critical to establish a robust and frequent bi-directional communications cadence. We’re over-communicating current and accurate information about our COVID policies, the state of the business, as well as team and individual wins and struggles. It’s all about increasing engagement at a time when people feel more isolated than ever.

Creating a flexible execution framework

The way we work as individuals and teams should be monitored and frequently adjusted. Key here is understanding the evolving needs of the workforce, which often varies by person. We encourage managers to stay close to each team member and to establish shared expectations and agreements. Many teams at Kong have modified their interaction cadence, like holding more frequent check-ins or stand-ups, innovating around new ways to engage, collaborate and share information. Adaptability and flexibility is paramount.

Remembering that people are at the center of all we do

We’re operating in uncertain and unprecedented times. Anxiety is high, and we can’t begin to understand all of the unique challenges that our workforce faces on a daily basis. We must provide resources, tools, clarity, flexibility, and above all, the understanding that work is just a piece of their bigger picture. We’re humans first.

What are some of the additional initiatives you feel HR leaders need to be taking during this time and into 2021 as businesses /employees find their way through the pandemic?

In the coming year and beyond, HR professionals will need to fine-tune relocation and remote work policies. The global workforce is shifting, creating implications in virtually all operational areas including compensation, benefits, payroll, insurances, etc. Additionally, Return to Office (RTO) policies will become real, requiring a new level of workplace safety and compliance requirements. This continues to be a moving target.

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What are some of the top HR Technologies that you’ve relied on to help improve core processes?

 Given the business uncertainty that came with COVID, we took the opportunity to review and streamline our technology tool-kit by eliminating redundancies, and ineffective and underutilized tools. This resulted in both cost savings and more efficient operations. We scaled up our HRIS system and moved to Namely, which helped us to better support our increasing global workforce; invested in Peakon, a robust employee feedback and engagement tool; rolled out Lattice to better facilitate 1:1 communications, goal setting and performance management; and adopted other tools such as Donut to increase engagement. Of course, we are also avid Slack users, and our “We’re in this Together,” “Parents,” “Pets” and “Food” channels have become quite active. During the height of COVID, we jumped at the opportunity to create “Kongfluence,” our information-rich employee resource wiki built on top of Confluence.

Can you talk about some of the most innovative hiring trends in tech you’ve seen in the recent years?

 Hiring great people is always a top priority at Kong, and we’re still hiring like crazy. We’ve always looked for the best mutual match, and this hasn’t changed. What has changed, however, is our confidence in hiring the best talent, globally. Our prior orientation was to hire key positions, including leadership, in our SF HQ. This is no longer the case. We continue to hire amazing talent, but the location will vary, and this is more than OK. The focus on remote employee engagement, collaboration and better information sharing has made us stronger as a company and empowered workers no matter where they are.

Before we wrap up, we’d love to hear a little about your virtual on-boarding / training processes at Kong Inc for new hires?

My favorite topic! It’s one thing to find and hire great people, and it’s another to ensure we equip new Kongers with the knowledge they need to be successful. Despite being remote, we want new Kongers to feel welcomed and empowered. The welcome experience begins the moment they sign the offer letter. We send warm greetings, company swag and “pre-boarding” information designed to orient new Kongers before Day 1. This includes education materials, virtual tours and tips for managers to keep engagement high.

Once they join, we welcome new hires with a virtual corporate orientation, including “how we work,” online technical and operational courses, and department overviews, including “who’s who” at Kong and where to find just about everything. We also focus on getting our new hires plugged in and engaged with other Kongers by introducing them in our “General” Slack channel and in our bi-weekly all-hands meetings. Each department has a high-engagement new hire plan too.

 A few parting tips / thoughts (work life balance / tips on working remote, etc)?

As HR professionals, we are more important and relevant than ever. We are called upon daily to not only do our jobs but to also adjust and support increasingly complex issues and workloads. It’s really important that we “put our own oxygen masks on first” – in other words, we must practice self-care and support one another. It’s a great time to connect with your network or make new connections. We can learn and gather strength from one another.

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Kong enables digital innovation by allowing developer teams to manage the full lifecycle of their organizations’ APIs and services. The industry’s only cloud native service connectivity platform designed for the modern era of software development including microservices, service mesh, serverless and other emerging architectures, Kong’s next-generation platform acts as the nervous system of the cloud – intelligently connecting all of a company’s APIs and microservices natively within and across clouds, Kubernetes, data centers and more.

Janet Phillips is the People leader at Kong, driving talent, people ops and culture programs to support Kong’s explosive growth. She is an experienced technology business leader, having held leadership positions in multiple disciplines, including HR, Technology Education Services, Customer Success and Support, M&A Integration, Field Sales and other roles in Fortune 500, mid-size and start-ups, including Ciber, Sonicwall, Vontu and Symantec.