“How did they do that? How did they get there?” Companies succeed because of the people who build them - operating leaders who grow businesses to new heights and make decisions every day that can impact entire industries. Each month, our Operator Spotlight gives you the inside track from one of our incredible Operator LPs (Limited Partners) who are changing the game – building and scaling some of the world’s most successful companies. Read on for lessons learned and mistakes made, perspectives from the top, practical advice, and ideas on what’s next.
This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Erin Figueroa, who currently holds the position of VP, Strategic Operations and Chief of Staff to the CEO at 1Password. In her role, Erin is dedicated to developing operational systems and processes that significantly enhance the overall performance of the company. With a strong focus on growth and efficiency, Erin and her team are responsible for executing critical initiatives at 1Password.
Prior to joining 1Password, Erin Figueroa served as the Vice President of Global Operations at Slack, where she held various responsibilities including Program Management, Workplace Operations, Safety, and Security. Erin joined Slack in 2015, where she played a pivotal role in establishing and scaling the Operations function from its inception. She implemented robust processes that continue to serve as the foundation for Slack's organizational operations to this day. Erin and her teams were instrumental in planning and executing the company's most strategic initiatives, while also overseeing operations across 18 global locations.
Erin has garnered extensive expertise in building highly efficient teams and successfully scaling organizations during periods of rapid growth. Her accomplishments at Slack include successfully leading the company through its groundbreaking direct listing in June 2019, making Slack the first enterprise software to go public through this method and only the second company overall. Additionally, Erin played a crucial role in managing Slack's response to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and overseeing the company's re-entry into the workplace. Lastly, she led the integration of Slack into Salesforce, which stands as the second largest acquisition in Silicon Valley history.
Overall, Erin Figueroa's track record exemplifies her proficiency in driving operational excellence and successfully navigating complex challenges within the tech industry. Her ability to build high-functioning teams and optimize organizational efficiency has made her a respected leader in her field.
Tell us a bit about the Strategic Operations + Chief of Staff role and how it functions. How have you seen this kind of role evolve for companies over the last few years?
It's a vital position within an organization, responsible for supporting the senior leadership team in strategic planning, decision-making, and operational execution. This role acts as a bridge between the top-level executives and the rest of the organization, facilitating communication, coordination, and alignment across various departments and initiatives.
In terms of functions, the Strategic Operations + Chief of Staff role typically involves:
- Strategic Planning: Collaborating with executives to define the company's strategic objectives, goals, and initiatives. This includes conducting research, analyzing market trends, and providing insights to inform strategic decision-making.
- Operational Execution: Working closely with functional leaders to translate strategic plans into actionable initiatives. This may involve developing project management frameworks, monitoring progress, and ensuring timely execution of key projects.
- Communication and Coordination: Facilitating effective communication and collaboration among different teams and departments. This includes organizing leadership meetings, preparing agendas, and disseminating information across the organization.
- Performance Tracking and Reporting: Monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) and providing regular updates to senior leadership. This involves analyzing data, identifying trends, and reporting on the progress and impact of strategic initiatives.
- Special Projects and Initiatives: Supporting senior executives in the execution of specific projects or initiatives that are critical to the organization's success. This may involve conducting research, preparing presentations, and coordinating cross-functional teams.
Over the last few years, the Strategic Operations + Chief of Staff role has evolved in response to changing business dynamics and the need for more agile and efficient decision-making processes.
Here are some notable trends:
- Increasing Strategic Focus: The role has shifted from primarily administrative and operational support to a more strategic focus. Chief of Staff professionals are now actively involved in shaping the company's strategic direction and providing insights to drive growth.
- Cross-functional Collaboration: The Chief of Staff role has become a key facilitator of cross-functional collaboration. With the growing complexity of business operations, this role helps break down silos, improve communication, and foster collaboration between different departments.
- Data-Driven Decision Making: The use of data and analytics has become more prevalent in the Chief of Staff role. Professionals in this position now leverage data to provide informed recommendations, track performance, and measure the impact of strategic initiatives.
- Change Management: With rapid technological advancements and market disruptions, Chief of Staff professionals are increasingly involved in change management efforts. They help organizations adapt to new technologies, processes, and market conditions while ensuring smooth transitions.
- Executive Support and Influence: The Chief of Staff role has gained greater visibility and influence within organizations. Executives rely on Chief of Staff professionals to handle sensitive matters, represent their interests, and act as a trusted advisor on a wide range of issues.
There’s a lot of focus on the news and the numbers when it comes to an acquisition like Slack into Salesforce, but your team led the actual integration which is often less discussed. What were some of the biggest challenges and learnings you faced during that time?
Leading the integration of Slack into Salesforce was a major highlight of my tenure at Slack. Throughout the acquisition integration process, several noteworthy aspects stood out:
- Cultural compatibility assessment: We recognized the significance of understanding and evaluating the cultural differences between the Salesforce and Slack. Identifying potential gaps and devising strategies to bridge them proved to be invaluable. Cultural integration played a crucial role in aligning values, norms, and behaviors, resulting in the creation of a unified organization.
- Process harmonization: Adapting to the working methods of Salesforce presented a significant learning opportunity. Transitioning from a 3,500-person company to a 75,000-person organization was a substantial change that initially posed a cultural shock for us at Slack. Consequently, we focused on clearly determining which processes could continue running in parallel and which ones needed to be harmonized. This clarity proved essential in ensuring that Slack employees felt productive and influential.
What’s a key piece of advice you would offer to early stage founders as they consider org design and growth in today’s market?
Prioritize scalability and flexibility:
- Scalability: It's crucial to design your organization with scalability in mind. As your company grows, you'll need to onboard new employees, adapt to changing market dynamics, and handle increased customer demand. Build a structure that allows for efficient delegation of responsibilities, clear lines of communication, and the ability to rapidly scale your operations without sacrificing quality or efficiency.
- Flexibility: In today's rapidly evolving market, being adaptable is essential. Consider designing your organization in a way that allows for agility and quick decision-making. Embrace cross-functional teams and encourage collaboration to foster innovation and problem-solving. Additionally, ensure that your processes and systems can be easily adjusted to accommodate market shifts, new technologies, and changing customer preferences.
Remember that organizational design is not a one-time task but an ongoing process. Continuously evaluate and refine your structure as your company evolves, and stay attuned to market trends and customer needs. By prioritizing scalability and flexibility you can position your early-stage company for success in today's dynamic tech market.
Have you adapted any practices in response to the current macro environment, and any predictions for what’s to come?
In today's market, efficiency, accountability, and scale are paramount. In 2023, operators within organizations will transition from backstage to center stage. Centralized operators, such as PMOs, will actively drive company-wide efficiencies, while functional operators will ensure standardization and accountability in crucial business workflows. Organizations that amplify the voice of their operators will experience accelerated innovation, streamlined work processes, alignment with company-wide and functional objectives, and ultimately, enhanced productivity and profitability.
What’s the best advice you’ve received - or given - about how to manage people?
While leading teams I aim every day to remember the famous Maya Angelou quote “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” I see my job as anyone’s leader to help hold them capable of all that they are meant to achieve and to work every day to bring that out in them.
What’s a piece of advice you would give to yourself 10 years ago, if you had the opportunity?
I would tell myself that it’s not about the size of your team or the title you have. What is most important is how you make people feel and what type of impact you are making on the organization. The rest will follow. I learned through my career that the most helpful framework is to think: what is best for the company first, what is best for my team and lastly what is best for me.