Esther Lee has been owning HR at Lullabot for more than 7 years! That's long enough to create your own job title. Esther talks distributed HR and what it means to put the Human in Human Resources.

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This Episode's Guest

Esther Lee

Esther Lee
Esther Lee is a former Senior HR Generalist at Lullabot.
Transcript

Transcript

Chris:
On this episode, we're going behind the screens with Lullabot's Senior HR Generalist, Esther Lee.
Esther:
Hi, Chris. Thanks for having me.
Chris:
Thanks for being on the podcast. You've recently earned this new title, Senior HR Generalist. I want to hear about that and I also want to know a little bit more about you. Please introduce yourself to everybody.
Esther:
Sure, you bet. Let's see, I've worked for Lullabot for seven years officially on September 1st, just had my anniversary. Before that, I did a little bit of contract work with Lullabot just helping out with some conferences. I've been here a little bit longer than seven years and I'm just still loving it. I am originally from Ames, Iowa. Midwest is best, I like to say but I've been living outside of Las Vegas for the past 12 years and I have to say that the desert has grown on me.
About the job title, yeah, this is a very timely podcast. I just got a new job title last week before I got Senior HR Generalist, I was HR Coordinator which was interestingly the title that I've held since I joined Lullabot as an employee seven years ago. I am really excited about my title change. It took a lot of, well ... I was going to say pushing but that might be the wrong word. Thinking around which title would be best for me after being here for so long and with my responsibilities.
This was the title I really wanted. I think it reflects the time that I've been at Lullabot and all the experience that I've gained. I'm really excited about it.
Chris:
Well, I think it's very well deserved. As far as I'm concerned, the admin team are sort of the unsung heroes. I would expect you see this in a lot of companies where if nobody is complaining about expenses or HR or benefits or anything like that, then that means you're doing a great job.
Esther:
I like to think so too. Thank you.
Chris:
Yes. Well, thank you. It's really what we're able to do with this company is pretty amazing, and if it wasn't for this team behind the scenes that's keeping it all together and doing the logistics and the organizing and the bookkeeping and all of that, that allow us to do all those sorts of things.
Esther:
We've learned a lot, that's for sure, over the years.
Chris:
I bet, yeah. Being the Senior HR Generalist for a completely distributed company like Lullabot, working in this technology community, what are some of the things that you've learned over the years? And also talk a little bit about what exactly you do as a Senior HR Generalist.
Esther:
Sure. Well, that's a great question because one of the first tasks that I have in my new title is to figure out what my actual job description is after being here for so long. I'm going to pull up that document that I've started if that's okay and talk a little bit about that.
My job entails a wide variety of things. And like you mentioned, a lot of it is behind the scenes. I started a job duties' list in this new title, so some of the things that are on that are working on the handbook. That's a regular thing that the admin team does each week, updating the handbook and adding in any processes or policies there. I'm the one that gets to work with the hiring and the recruiting which entails the job postings and talking to candidates and the hiring and things like that. On the flip side, any terminations or people who want to leave Lullabot, I'm the one that gets to make that transition smooth for them and help them in any way.
Also, I've learned so much in my time here about visas because Lullabot is a wholly distributed company and we have people in, I think, five different countries right now. I've learned, I always say, more than I ever knew I didn't want to know about immigration policy and visas just to get our people from other countries, our employees over here to be able to work in the US. That stuff is really fascinating.
I also get to work with employees on their annual reviews. Actually, that is something that's tricky to do at Lullabot with so many different employees and timezones and calendars and preferences, and that way just scheduling those is a task. I'll be the one that schedules those and takes notes and things like that. Kris Konrady is also on the HR team. She's an HR coordinator and she helps a lot with those which I really appreciate.
I work in benefits. Our pension plans, 401k here in the United States or the RRSP in Canada. Also, I'm just generally a contact, both for employees and for Lullabot, the company. My favorite part about working in human resources is being a resource for humans, and I think that's such an important part of the job, is to remember that these are people that you're working with and any way that I can be supportive is really what I love most about this job.
Chris:
Yeah, you get to be on the frontline of the hiring process. I think when I was hired, you were the first person I talked to. And when we do put a rack out there for a job opening, we do get hundreds of applications. To be the person who sits there and receives all of those, and you're obviously working with few other people to sift through them and figure out which pile they go into, but you are very much the first voice that a lot of people will hear. They get that callback to talk to someone at Lullabot.
What is your impression or what have you learned from the people that you've talked to who are looking for jobs at Lullabot? What do you see in the community by the people that you talk to? And that could be through, I guess, the interview process or also you attend numerous DrupalCons as well, normally the North American ones and you talk to people there. What's your impression of the community based on that?
Esther:
This community is amazing. I wish I could hire everyone. There are so many wonderful people in the community, and that really comes across in the communication whether people are interested in a job at Lullabot. I've had people reach out or maybe throw in their own Drupal camp in their community and they just would love to pass out some Lullabot stickers. I would love to send you some. I love it when people reach out for that reason.
Then, it's so neat after making these connections through email or on the phone to go to a DrupalCon and actually meet these people and still have that connection. There's people that I've been talking to in the community for just years, and at this point, we're just friends now and I really accredit that to the community feeling. There's just so many people striving to do good and work well together and it's great to meet them in one way or another and keep those connections going.
There's been so many times where I've been in a DrupalCon party that Lullabot is throwing and people walk up where I recognize someone and it's just a thrill to be able to meet them in person. I don't know, the community is just great, super supportive. And a lot of those people didn't get the job at Lullabot and they're still good people. They still want to connect and be friends, and I really appreciate that personally. It's a hard job to have, to have to vet 130 applicants for a position that we only need one person for. And I think people understand that and the community, and I really appreciate that.
Chris:
I imagine that's not a very easy thing to do to have to tell 129 people, "Thanks, you're awesome. But ..."
Esther:
Yeah, it sucks.
Chris:
I really like the way that you phrase it that you are resource for humans. You're putting the human side of the technology company like it's a face to that human side of the technology company. And being here for seven years now and learning all these things about how to interact with people, you've put a few articles out on the lullabot.com talking about ... I guess, the lullabot.com articles are generally known as technical articles. A lot of people come to the website to find things about JavaScript or how to do something in Drupal now.
We've expanded that scope to project management and you've done some now about human resource management as well, and some of the things that you've learn. Given some of those things that you've talked about in your articles, if you could give a piece of advice to somebody who wants to apply to Lullabot, what's a common mistake that you see people make in that interview process?
Esther:
I think one mistake that I see ... In a distributed company, communication is extremely important, and that can come in a couple of different forms, email, on the phone, through a hangout, or even Skype sometimes. I still use Skype especially when I'm talking to somebody internationally. Especially in written communication, I feel like it's really important to proofread and maybe edit a few times before you send it especially if we've never talked on the phone or had any face-to-face interaction because we look for really good communicators in this company. It's imperative that you're a good communicator when you're working through such large distances.
I think that one thing that I would suggest is that you are clear in your communication. Communication is a really big deal for us, so take the time to be thorough and to make sure that your purpose is clear when you're sending communication in the hiring process.
Chris:
We work with a lot of other companies in our field. They're technically competitors, but we have really good relationships with a lot of them too. You sort of coined the phrase Friendpetitors and I know that you have some regular sync ups with members of these other companies just to pick each other's brains so we can help each other figure out a lot of these tricky tasks that come along with being distributed companies and such.
If you had a piece of advice for somebody whose maybe venturing into the realm of allowing some of their employees to become distributed or work remotely, what's a piece of advice you would give to somebody in that situation?
Esther:
Sure, actually, I think Friendpetitor ... I think Seth Brown, our COO, I might have coined that phrase but I really like it. I do have regular sync ups with some Friendpetitor companies which has been so helpful for Lullabot and I hope that we've helped them as well as they think about making some of their team distributed. The piece of advice that I would give them is kind of my favorite thing about working at Lullabot which is we're treated like adults. Treat your people like adults and hire people who are okay with that, who can work with that, who don't need to be micromanaged.
Working distributed looks different for every employee and one thing I love about Lullabot is they really enable us to find the schedule that works for us. Of course, we're expected to be on phone calls and whatnot, but you can work in the morning. Take a break in the afternoon if you need to, maybe when your kids get home from school and then pick it back up later as long as you are making any phone calls that you need to be on or any deadlines that you're expected to make. The rest is up to you.
I encourage companies who are thinking about maybe having a few distributed workers to be flexible with them. And it takes some time to figure out how working distributed works for you and how having distributed workers works for the company. So, as long as you communicate about it and treat people like adults, then it should work out well.
Chris:
I completely agree. It's very nice to have that flexibility to run errands in the middle of the day so you don't have to go through rush hour. Esther, I really liked that you are the human part of Lullabot, I could say, the human resources, the resource for humans. Let's get to know a little bit more about you.
Esther:
Okay.
Chris:
This is one of my favorite questions and I've been asking it on just about every episode, I think, if you woke up tomorrow and the internet was gone, what would you do?
Esther:
I would take a nap. I would read a book. I would go on a long horseback ride. I would play with my kids all day. I would do all the relaxing things without that looming presence hanging over me.
Chris:
Then, when it came time to pay the bills-
Esther:
I don't know. I'd have to move to Colorado and be a farmer with Matt Kleve, I think.
Chris:
Nice. All right, I'll make sure Matt saves a spot on his farm for you. What do you want to be when you grow up?
Esther:
I often say that I want to be just like Karen Stevenson, our director of technology. And I say that because she has had so many different career paths and learned so much along the way that I want to be like that. I want to have to experience different things and now, here she is, sharing her knowledge for whoever is interested and I really admire that in her.
When I was little, I wanted to be a vet and I actually applied and was accepted to a vet tech school about 14 years ago and then, I found out I was expecting and so that was great. Then, after my daughter was born, I applied and was accepted to vet school and then, I don't know, I was expecting my son. I decided that that probably wasn't meant to be. I still think it would be really cool to be a vet but instead of treating animals, I just have a small farm here and love on them instead.
Chris:
You have a small farm there in Las Vegas, Nevada?
Esther:
We live about an hour north of Las Vegas in kind of a rural ... No, not kind of, it's rural. We don't have a stop light, but we do have a grocery store and things like that. Yes, my husband and I and my three kids, we have about a half-acre of land. We've had horses, chickens, dogs, cats, ducks, et cetera and we love being close enough to Vegas that we can go see a show if we want to or take friends around, but far enough away that we can have all these animals and room for our kids to ride our four-wheeler and play as well.
Chris:
Finally, is there somebody that helped you along the way in your career that you would like to say thank you to or share some gratitude with?
Esther:
Well, gosh, I just feel like there are so many. My sister, Liza Kindred, who was business director here at Lullabot for a number of years but she no longer is. She has been just a great resource to go to in the past here at Lullabot. Actually, that's a funny story, so when Lullabot was growing, they got to the point where they were like, "Hey, maybe we should hire someone for human resources." My sister Liza worked here at that time and she did not think of me, even though I was working in human resources. And Nate Lampton turned to her and he said, "Wait, doesn't your sister work in human resources?" And she said, "Oh, yes."
They brought me on as a contractor and so, I often laughed and say Nate is the reason why I have this job. Thank you to Nate. My direct supervisor, Tim McDorman who's been here for 10 years has always just been such a huge support to the admin team and the HR team. He is one of the kindest people I know and super supportive, our biggest champion. I do thank him. I hope he knows how great he's been, really supporting us in all of our HR endeavors even when it's something like, "Hey, let's completely revamp healthcare." He's like, "Let's do it." I would definitely say thank you to Tim.
Then, also my dad is the assistant city manager of the town I grew up in, in Ames, Iowa. And he has been working for the city in public administration for over 30 years and I often call him and just ask him, "Hey, how do you do this?" For my own benefit here at Lullabot. He would definitely be a good mentor, someone I would definitely say thank you to.
Chris:
If somebody had a question for you and wanted to reach out, what's the best way for them to get a hold of you?
Esther:
I would love that. Email me directly at esther@lullabot.com or if you'd like to reach the human resources team which is Kris Konrady and I, you can just email hr@lullabot.com and we would love to hear from you.
Chris:
Well, thank you very much, Esther and see you at the next retreat.
Esther:
I can't wait.

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About host Chris Albrecht

Chris Albrecht
His backend brings all the nerds to the code. Skilled in Drupal development and architecture, you can often find him running through the Colorado wilderness and hosting the Behind the Screens podcast.