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Episode 77: Behind the Scenes of Aledade's People Team

by Aledade

Jessica Gladden, Aledade’s Vice President of People, Strategies and Operations, joins Josh and Joe to talk about how Aledade builds a culture where employees feel supported and appreciated.

She shares her thoughts on the importance of maintaining company connectivity and community, promoting mission-driven work, and meaningfully promoting diversity and inclusion.

Episode Transcript

Jessica Gladden  00:00

Our response — our COVID response — I think really represented who we are as a company. I mean, we said from the very beginning, how we treat our employees during this pandemic is how they will remember us.


Hannah Posner  00:21

Welcome to The ACO Show. We are very excited to have Jessica Gladden on the show today. Jessica is Aledade's Vice President of People, Strategies, and Operations, a position that at many companies is called the head of Human Resources. She sits down with Joe and Josh for a conversation about some of the behind-the-scenes thinking that goes into recruiting new employees and supporting current ones to build a mission-driven company with a cohesive culture. You'll also hear her thoughts on some of the ways that Aledade is trying to tune up the hiring process in order to meaningfully promote diversity and inclusion.


Josh Israel  01:05

Welcome to The ACO Show. I'm Josh Israel, a medical director at Aledade.


Joe Shonkwiler  01:09

And I'm Joe Shonkwiler. I lead adoption and training here at Aledade. And we're very pleased to have Jessica Gladden with us today. Jessica is the Vice President of People, Strategy, and Operations here at Aledade. Thanks for joining us, Jessica.


Jessica Gladden  01:22

Oh, thanks for having me.


Joe Shonkwiler  01:24

So I think a natural question with many of the titles and departments we have here, why are you called the people team? And how does strategy and operations come into that?


Jessica Gladden  01:34

Sure. So we changed our title to really reflect the role that we want to play to the business and to our employees. So we really see ourselves as thought partners to the company and want employees to see us as such. And, you know, while there are administrative components to our role, whether it's benefits or policies or agreements, all equally important. We also have a strategic role to play and our roadmap which outlines our teams' initiatives and our goals, is focused on making Aledade a great place to work and really all to support the Aledade team.


Josh Israel  02:09

Jessica, I've been at Aledade long enough now that I remember when there was nobody officially running human resources. And there was concern about what it would mean to bring in somebody for HR, that it was a it was a fun company, a lot of creativity. There was sort of a looseness to it. Everyone was working very hard, but without a lot of policies and procedures. So there was concern that if we brought in a head of HR, it would stifle that. It hasn't happened. I think it's made the company a much better place. But what do you think about that notion about how HR can have that effect on companies?


Jessica Gladden  02:42

I think there's still a misconception about the role HR and the people team plays in a company. And I think some people do not see the strategic role that we play and how our work can directly influence our culture and influence change. And many of the efforts our team has been focusing thing on has actually been in response to direct feedback that we've heard from our employees. So whether it's employee engagement surveys or exit interviews, or Glassdoor reviews or other platforms, part of our role is to respond to the feedback that we hear. New policies, they can also be really advantageous for employees, whether it's community service days or educational assistance programs. We've focused on career development and professional growth in the last year. So in fact, we just wrapped up a new annual performance review process, which we hope will address some of the feedback that we've heard from employees. And there weren't a lot of policies and practices in place. We have spent time developing best practices around compensation, for example, for new hires and annual adjustments as well, all to really, you know, benefit employees. Another thing we've done is we've had an increased focus on diversity inclusion. Our team has helped develop ARGs which are affinity resource groups. And we have six groups since launching last year that includes a group focused on Pride, WLN, which is the Women's Leadership Network, we have Latinx, the veterans group, and we've got the Black and African Diaspora, and then we also have a telecommuters group. And this is where employees have really been able to play a lead role and help drive some of the changes that they want to see in the company. So over the last year, I'd like to think that each employee has felt a positive impact in some way, even if a small one from one of our initiatives. And then they've also had a voice in some of these changes. So there are pieces of it, where it's been a partnership in collaboration with employees and the people too.


Joe Shonkwiler  04:47

One thing that we're heavily focused on and anyone who's listened to any of the Aledade team members on this podcast will know is scaling. We're now over 300 people company-wide, we're in over 40 states. And growing, it seems like every day. Culture is a big part of why many of us joined Aledade to begin with and why we stick around. How do you as a key stakeholder in that, think about keeping culture as we continue to grow so rapidly at such a great pace?


Jessica Gladden  05:19

That's a common question and a concern that employees have in a high-growth company. And we've heard this asked at Aledade. Not losing sight of who we are or who we want to be as a company, and also not taking our focus off our employees. And I think for Aledade to continue to thrive, our employees need to feel included in and connected to our company's culture. And, you know, we know our employees are driven by our mission and our values of service, grit, inclusion. You know, we hear this through our employee engagement surveys, we hear this the regular conversation, and we also need to continue to recruit people who believe and are driven by the same values. And, you know, in other pieces, I think we need to continue to do the things that we're doing well. So all along the lines of culture, but we take time to celebrate our wins, whether it's through our weekly Farzi award, which is named after our founder Farzad Mostashari, and teammates nominate each other across Aledade based on their outstanding work, and living by our values of grit, service, inclusion. We also have a high five Slack channel where colleagues can call out the excellent work of their colleagues at any time. And then we have other you know, annual company awards and other ways throughout the year that we try to recognize and celebrate team wins and individual wins. I think another piece of it for the culture piece is the company connectivity. So I think we're still about two-thirds remotes. We're across 42 states and we've not lost sight of the importance of really connecting our staff. So outside of holidays, we have weekly all-hands meetings every Monday. And that's a time where the entire company comes together, where you get updates, team wins updates from leadership. We also find times to get teams together throughout the year. So whether — pre COVID — we had biannual tech retreats, we had field team retreats throughout the year, in addition to our annual all-staff retreats. And then I think another area we need to we've done very well and continue to focus on is just taking care of our team. So whether it's through the flexible work arrangements that we offer in support for our team members to our generous benefits package, and we're continually looking at benefits to support our employees to sounding even something that may feel small, like AAA coverage for employees who spend a lot of time on the road. More recently, we just introduced light meeting Fridays, once a month. I mean, that was something very small that we introduced. I got tons of emails saying how great it was just to have a day to focus on work and get a break from calls and Google Meets. And then our response, our COVID response, I think really represented who we are as a company. I mean, we said from the very beginning is how we treat our employees during this pandemic is how they will remember us, and I think we really focus on supporting off-hour work working schedules with the FFCRA that was the family's first Coronavirus response act. We provide additional pay for emergency sick leave and emergency family medical leave. So I think continuing to find ways to really take care of our team members says a lot about our culture and who we are. One last piece i'd focus on is our focus on creating an inclusive environment. So as I mentioned, we launched affinity resource groups to support building our inclusive culture and to lead and community building and mentorship and programs to build awareness. And that's another really, really important piece we're going to continue to focus on.


Joe Shonkwiler  09:05

So one thing that we think about also, in addition to growth is how we're doing something that's never really been done in healthcare before. But as you were talking, Jessica, I was struck by how many of the challenges that your team has approached with regards to culture have also never been done before. So where do you come up with some of these ideas, like some of the things that you talked about, like the Slack channel for inter-team communications, just to call out great things that have happened? It used to be called high fives, and now during COVID, we transitioned it to elbow bumps to be appropriately socially distanced. But that light meeting Fridays, all that kind of stuff. This isn't part of the HR playbook, I would imagine. So what are some of those ideas come from?


Jessica Gladden  09:48

Some of these ideas were here already, which was really great to see. I mean, I think there was prior to my joining, I think, slightly over a year ago, there was a real focus on culture and that was by the team members and leadership. Some of the other ideas, I think, I'll admit, I probably brought with me from other experiences that I've had the HR team, we built a team very quickly when I joined. So we're now a team of five. And the individuals on the team do come with other experiences. And they've brought their learnings and their ideas. And I think we've all come kind of seeing what's worked well at other companies, what might not have worked well, but also recognizing that it's not going to necessarily be, you know, apples to apples based off our previous experience, and you know, our experience at Aledade. But I think another thing that Aledade does really well is that we have this thought partnership. So I think if there's an idea that we want to roll out or introduce, we can grab a couple of people from different departments and different roles and kind of bounce it around before fully executing and there's a lot of support for these types of ideas. Because of that support, we're not shy to kind of introduce new ideas. Also, a lot of it comes from employee feedback. I think the employee engagement survey, we run it by annually. Some of those ideas have come from our employees themselves, and we've just taken it to action.


Josh Israel  11:12

So I love that, that it became company policy that we would have some Fridays where we shouldn't schedule meetings, and we can just work straight through. I thought that was really nice. I want to talk a little bit about recruiting, you mentioned inclusiveness. So I want to know both how you think about recruiting in general, the way tech companies have to do that a lot. There's a lot of turnover. And then just in light of what we're all going through. We are in the midst of an intense time, I think. I guess I'll just speak for myself that I always thought I've been an ally to all my colleagues. And this this whole period, the death of George Floyd is somehow making people reflect on their blind spots in new ways. I know it has for me and we're all feeling a little bit raw and able to see things through a slightly new lens. But I wonder if you representing HR have had a closer look at the way we recruit, the way we use that to try to be inclusive and any blind spots we may have missed here.


Jessica Gladden  12:08

So in terms of recruiting, I think we've in the last year, I think we've made strides forward. I think there's a couple of things in general that has changed recruiting at Aledade. So the first thing was we moved recruiting in house. So we moved from agencies and contract recruiters. And we hired two senior recruiters, Katie, who focuses on non tech roles, and Andy who focuses on tech and product. And we think of hiring for candidates potential to really complement and to add to our culture, we've got team members across 42 states. So really drawing from a range of experiences and interests and backgrounds. And, you know, the one thing that connects us is our shared passion that drives our mission. So we are continually looking to recruit for employees that are driven by our mission, and we also put in place a couple of things to make sure that we are being mindful of blind spots. By having recruiters in house, they're really managing the recruiting process. from start to end, we developed a very defined recruiting process, which has different steps that we're following. So if there are any biases, there are steps throughout this process where we would be able to identify if those biases did come up. And we've pulled together an interview process. So we're making sure that we had interview training as part of the interview process. And we focus on unconscious bias and how to address bias in the interview process and by having again this is where process comes into play is by having a defined process from start to end, and having the same exact recruiting process and interview process for every candidate. That is where if there was bias, we would be able to better identify it. So having the same number of interviews having the same interview questions. We have detailed debriefs where we're really understanding why certain candidates are not getting through to the next stage and who's getting the offer. And, again, making sure that these aren't gut decisions, but these are making sure that we're hiring the best and most qualified candidates. Over the last couple months, we've seen a change in our employee referrals. So we've had employees that are of diverse backgrounds refer other employees of diverse backgrounds, and that is one area of referrals that we've seen a change. We've been more intentional in terms of targeting schools and career fairs where there's a more diverse population of students. So I think all of this is being more intentional and not just posting the job to job sites, but we've made efforts to head hunts and use LinkedIn and within LinkedIn going to diverse groups. And ultimately what we're aiming for is a diverse slate of candidates into the pipeline. And again, it just takes intention.


Joe Shonkwiler  15:04

Jessica, you've referenced some of the efforts to find a more diverse recruiting pool and develop a more diverse workforce. I think it's it's worth taking a second on why you think that matters?


Jessica Gladden  15:18

Sure. I mean, inclusion is one of our core values. And I think we recognize that creating, you know, a diverse and inclusive workforce takes ongoing dialogue and effort. And I think we strive every day to keep diversity and inclusion at the heart of our culture. And I think that if you do not have a diverse workforce, you're not going to have diverse thoughts, you know, if we are all same backgrounds, similar beliefs, similar experiences, you're not going to have variances in some of the ideas and the steps forward that we want to see. Some of the most successful companies are the ones that have a diverse workforce because that is just diversity of thought and having varying opinions. So I think it's great to have a diverse environment, but you also at the same time, if you don't have an inclusive environment, then it's not going to lead to success. And I think the affinity resource groups is one way that we've tried to support building our inclusive culture. Another way is just through our benefits, I mean that does support flexible work arrangements, paid family leave, we offer 12 weeks of paid parental leave to new parents regardless of gender identity.


Josh Israel  16:30

You mentioned flexible work arrangements and hours, and a few months ago, I heard the term ROWE, which stands for results-only work environment or some people, I prefer to say results-oriented work environment Aledade has been amazing like that, where people don't have to work nine to five, eight to six, people can check out early people can have a light day for themselves, knowing that they're gonna work late that night or they may work through the weekend, you know, as long as the large volume of work gets done. It's up to you to get it done. And I have just found that amazing. It's made such a difference. And I'm much more able to put in long hours when I can do it on my own schedule. Why do you think more places don't have an environment like that?


Jessica Gladden  17:16

We have to treat employees, you know, as professionals and professionals that they are. And I think that's exactly what Aledade does is we treat our employees as professionals, you know, we support the remote work, we expect people to get their work done, because we're all owners in Aledade's success. This is where you see I think service and grit come through at Aledade, is that we all feel like we're owners of the company. So we have a subset of staff, who we call our road warriors who are on the road like three to four days a week. This is pre-COVID, but driving from practice to practice across their states, and they believe if you ask any of them that their success is tied to the practice success. At the same time, I think our senior leadership is extremely transparent with our company goals. They're highlighted throughout the year, we have status updates are provided in a regular cadence that are all-hands meetings. So in turn, we all feel like owners of these goals. And to me, it's a we-win I-wint out, look, you know, our company bonus is based on shared savings, and we all share in this win. So I think that that could be a piece of it is, that we are all feeling like owners of Aledade's success, and therefore we're going to do what we need to do to make Aledade a successful company. It's also tied with how we treat our employees. We don't have timesheets, where you're clocking in and out, we don't have processes for some approval that you might see in other companies. I mean, with PTO, I think it's just submitting a request.


Joe Shonkwiler  18:49

What about the actual salary, you know, the economics of joining a company at this stage and with all the attributes that we just laid out, I know you and your team have focused on pay equity as a as a key initiative. Why is that important? And why not just bring folks in at the lowest possible salary that they'll take, which is probably, you know, an antiquated view, but I'm sure many companies still view it that way.


Jessica Gladden  19:18

I'm a firm believer in paying people for the role, and not what you can get them for, or whatever you need for them to accept. And I think that goes both ways. I think we are willing to let a candidate go if their salary needs are higher than what we can pay. And I think that's, again, another reason why having in-house recruiters that can have those conversations upfront, makes everybody kind of on the same page. So I think bottom line, pay equity impacts culture and also inclusion. So we have had an increased focus on pay equity across roles and levels and we've made adjustments you know, if we've identified any unintended gaps, and I think since bringing on the people team recruiters, it feels less like the Wild West. And now we have a defined process around as I mentioned salary offers to candidates, we have these discussions upfront before recruiting even begins. So everyone's on the same page. We look at equity when we make internal salary adjustments or somebody is transferring roles we're paying attention to the market and making adjustments where necessary. So I think we've made a lot of improvements in this area, but we can't lose sight of it. And I think getting somebody in for the lowest salary creates problems later on. And it also makes the employee feel not valued. I say this to managers all the time, I think we have to pretend that everybody knows what everybody else makes. And if they did, we should be okay with the salaries that we're paying.


Joe Shonkwiler  20:49

As you were discussing this process, both recruiting like ensuring pay equity all these things well, another, you know, another thought that came to mind is how do you build that culture on your own team? Some of these things are new, even by current standards for HR as a discipline. And do you ever find in recruiting folks for your team as you reference, you've built that team really quickly — is that a challenge at all? Getting folks to think a different way?


Jessica Gladden  21:18

The HR team, as I mentioned as a team of five, and again, we have our two recruiters that are in house, Katie and Andy, and they both have come with a lot of experience. And I think we're all on the same page in terms of the mindset of pay equity, I think their focus is really on the candidate experience. Sometimes there are candidates that are actively applying; for many of our roles, these are passive candidates, they are not job searching. Andy and Katie are reaching out directly to them, trying to sway them to apply to Aledade for a role and part of the pay piece is they don't want any candidate to walk away with a sour taste in their mouth. So even if the candidate goes to the interview process, we don't make a hire, they pull out of the process, we want to keep that relationship and that networking because many times we have seen candidates come back a year later and reapply or they themselves may not accept the role, but they will refer friends because their experience was such a positive one throughout the recruiting process. So the two of them are very focused on being transparent with pay. If we know what the budget is, they're not going to continue a process with somebody that we know we cannot meet their salary requirements for. At the same time, if the candidate has a lower salary requirement, we, again are paying for the role. So there have been times when the candidate has been pleasantly surprised, because what they've asked for was less than what we offered. And again, it's making a salary offer based off the role. So I think because our two recruiters have come in with that mindset, we've all been on the same page and we've been working with managers and we are at a place now with managers where we think speak about salary from the start. And therefore, at the end, it's very smooth and we're making the appropriate offer.


Josh Israel  23:07

One of my favorite things about doing these podcasts has been getting to learn about Aledade, the company where I work. I have known it's a nice place to work despite being intense. I don't think I realized how much thought had gone into it, how conscious it is that it is not a coincidence. So really appreciate that. What can we expect next from your team? What are you working on?


Jessica Gladden  23:28

So I think the one thing you know, we're kind of focused on is how everything scales as we grow. We're growing quickly. We had I think, 111 hires last year, we're slightly over 350 right now. So we're focusing a lot on systems which help our day-to-day but also how the system speak to each other. So we're working on getting a new applicant tracking system, a new HR system, so it's really working with corporate systems on how to make the onboarding and off-boarding procedures smoother. I think some of the things that we were doing, you know, keeping Excel sheets and different pluck tail and JIRA tickets, I think we really tried to make sure that like, our systems are talking to each other as we get larger. So we're continuing focusing on our value of inclusion by both continuing to support the work of our employee-led ARGs, as well as continuing to strive for a diverse workforce, I think as a piece now more than ever, in light of recent events, we're really pushing forward on a more expansive diversity and inclusion training series, as well as partnering with our ARGs leads on a social injustice series. Another thing we're continuing to focus on is career development. So across all rules, what is career development look like for a new hire who's fresher out of college as an analyst to what does career development look like for someone that's in the VP role? So we're spending some time not only outlining career tracks, but just what does development mean to each of our employees based off your level?


Joe Shonkwiler  25:04

Jessica Gladden, Vice President of People, Strategy, and Operations at Aledade. Thanks for joining us today on The ACO Show.


Jessica Gladden  25:10

No, thank you my pleasure.


Britainy Barnes  25:21

The ACO Show is produced by Britainy Barnes, Hannah Posner, and our intern, Maddie Bender. You can listen to previous episodes on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or anywhere else you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!