EB Interview Series: Moonfare – Tahg Malady, Senior People & Culture Manager: “Empathy is essential in being an HR”

Look at working with executives, the people you need onside, how can you win their trust and support, what makes them tick and how you can enable them. You just can’t do that without empathy.

EB:  What is it like to be an HR Manager in a Startup? How is it different from your previous roles?

Tahg: I think it’s important to break this question into two parts because it’s not necessarily a binary question.  Between a startup and a corporate, the difference is huge; startups have received funding to develop a product and scale.  As they are also a lot younger, they tend to have less defined processes, shifting goalposts, but this also has pros like faster decision making, more impact and more freedom. 

Conversely in a corporate, it tends to be older (or a matured product) which makes the years more predictable and with growth steady, the processes are also well-defined. This means stability, consistency but then also means less impact, slower decision making and less freedom.  This is definitely a generalisation but also based on my own experiences. 

The key part of this answer is the second part – the culture and how that is aligned with a set of values which bring the best out of someone.  I’ve seen startup environments which have been toxic owing to lacking elements like transparency (which help to reduce interteam competition and increase collaboration), respect (which speaks for itself) and ownership (which provides people the opportunity to make decisions, bring better ideas to the table and create a more innovative environment).

EB: What is your favourite part about your job?

Tahg: I wouldn’t describe myself as a conventional person so the freedom to experiment and bring new ideas to the table, whilst driving your development through implementing that ideas is at the top – Moonfare really does champion ownership and nothing saps motivation like red tape.   

I don’t think it’s possible to preserve a culture; culture is all about the behaviours exhibited by people and how the people feel empowered (or disempowered) to deal with those behaviours whilst engaging in behaviours of their own. 

EB: What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do in your role?

Tahg: It’s less about a thing and more about a way of working, and I didn’t appreciate it until working at Moonfare, but I am a firm believer in the difference that transparency makes to how you operate in a company.  When teams are not encouraged to proactively share information with the wider group, when management has no interest in sharing updates about major projects that were a top company priority 6 months ago, when people take initiative, step on feet then bruise egos because nobody knows what anyone else is doing; I’ve seen the damage this can do to a company, their culture and performance. I would struggle to imagine myself in an environment like that in the future.

EB: I know retention is very difficult in companies all around the world, but especially in Berlin. How do you and your company deal with the competition?

Tahg: This is where I need to come back to the values.  I’m a strong believer that with a solid set of lived values, as well as a fair salary package, and then screening for those values in your hiring process is the most important way to fend off competition.  I need to also emphasise “lived-values” here, if you aren’t living them then none of what I said is going to matter, but if you are then you’ll have hopefully hired people who thrive in that sort of environment and are fulfilled through what they are doing. 

Across our company we have comparatively low turnover for employees that we would call “regretful departures” and it’s because we are communicated with respectfully on all progress/updates/changes in the company, we are given the freedom and flexibility to do work the way we like plus are encouraged to bring new ideas to the table, growth is not only an L&D budget for us, but also part of what we can from our work at Moonfare and lastly we are surrounded by a group of similarly minded people (at least on these principles) who are driven and dedicated with what they do. 

EB: Company culture – 3 tips for preserving a healthy company culture?

Tahg: I don’t think it’s possible to preserve a culture; culture is all about the behaviours exhibited by people and how the people feel empowered (or disempowered) to deal with those behaviours whilst engaging in behaviours of their own.  We decided to move to screening for “Core Cultural Attributes” because it makes sense to hire people who were as closely aligned with those values but even so, as the company evolves, or work practices change, it’s going to be important to review your values to determine if they are still appropriate.  Startups don’t stay startups forever – some of them grow into mature dinosaurs with 1000s of people. 

1. Listen – regularly ask employees what they think about the culture and how this aligns to the values.  Don’t ask again until you do something substantive either otherwise you’re wasting everyones’ time

2. Adapt – make sure the values are still relevant, did the survey expose something we need to bring into the spotlight to correct for?

3. Advocate – regularly advocate for the values when you see they aren’t being led.  I like to ask “How does this fit in with X”, where X may be a value and the question designed to provoke a conversation.  It’s sometimes easy to forget when we’re in the rush of doing things and if everyone has our backs to advocate for the values, we can make sure they at least continue to mean something.

EB: How important is empathy in being an HR?

Tahg: Essential.  HR involves working with a lot of different management and team members, with differing agendas, team challenges and personal backgrounds. They will bring different experiences, beliefs and even cultures (in our company alone a third of our employees come from unique countries of origin). Listening and putting yourself in their position is essential to not only providing adequate solutions but to securing their trust. 

If you’re viewed as being hardline or obstructive because you haven’t taken their input into enough consideration or delivered feedback in an empathetic manner, you’re going to be sidelined in your work and will not make for a “regretful departure” when the day comes.  Look at working with executives, the people you need onside, how can you win their trust and support without being able to appreciate who they are, what makes them tick and how you can enable them. You just can’t do that without empathy.

EB: Your 2 top companies that succeed at employer branding & company culture.

Tahg: I can’t really comment on company culture because I haven’t worked for these companies, however two for branding that really stick out for me is:
1. Uberall – they have a great page called Life at Uberall which has showcases how they action their culture; they had a recent video interview with a their Content Marketing Manager about the meditation program (which for me and probably many others is more important than ever coming out of 2020)

2. Contenful – their careers page is proper class.  I took a lot of inspiration from it when designing our own. Their LinkedIn content is also A+ The main thing they all have going is an actual personable, authentic brand with employee stories that align with their values.  An area for us to bring some focus to in 2021.

EB: A book you enjoyed reading. 

Tahg: Bringing back the meditation theme – Waking Up by Sam Harris.  A great guide for understanding meditation without all the pseudoscience.  Highly recommend for meditation sceptics (though I wasn’t one when I read it). Can also recommend the accompanying app, he also gives 10% of his profits to charities so you can feel good about yourself and the world all in one. 

Moonfare is on a mission to revolutionise the process of investing in private markets. They are a technology-enabled platform allowing individuals to invest in top-tier private equity, venture, secondary and infrastructure funds at low minimums and fair fees. Their technology aggregates demand and creates a hassle-free investment experience with improved liquidity and the ability to cherry-pick investments. They are currently hiring.

Tahg is Senior People and Culture Manager at Moonfare.

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