Cloudflare TV

Leading with Talent: Playing the Long Game

Presented by Scott Tomtania, Janet Van Huysse
Originally aired on 

Leading with Talent: Playing the long game" is a weekly show on Cloudflare TV that highlights amazing talent & people leaders in tech. The purpose is to amplify the stories of incredible talent & people leaders showing up everyday building companies impacting millions of people around the world.


Transcript (Beta)

Welcome to this week's segment of Leading with Talent and Playing the Long Game. This week I have my boss, the Chief People Officer of Cloudflare, Janet Van Huysse, joining us here.

And Janet is also an iconic HR leader, people leader in Silicon Valley.

She's so pandering to the audience right now. Oh my gosh. Well, I have to do the proper intro to Janet here.

So anyway, I wouldn't steal your thunder and, you know, one of the things I admire about yourself is, you know, you come in always really, really well prepared and ready to go regardless of how busy your schedule is.

So let me give you a room to introduce yourself and talk to us a little bit about how you got into HR, why HR, and the business criticality of HR.

And feel free to share your entire journey.

And we can, you know, I'm sure every single person here is very interested in knowing how you got there.

So take the floor, Janet. Okay. I just want you to know I'm just going to wing this whole thing.

I'm not prepared. I just wanted to shoot a big hole in that.

No, I'm not. I'm kidding. And I'm excited to be here, Scott.

Thank you. I was wondering when you were finally going to ask me to be here.

So I'm excited to be here. Let's see. So I've been, yes, I've been in HR in tech for 20 plus years.

So I have learned, not my first rodeo, learned a few things along the way.

But like many HR leaders, my story begins with, I didn't set or like didn't, you know, embark on this thinking I was going to be in HR.

I was actually a middle school teacher coming out of college.

And I thought that I would get some street cred in the classroom and then just like go get a PhD and become a professor or something.

And then what happened was I followed my dream to move to California.

So I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and was teaching in Illinois, moved out California.

And so I was teaching at a middle school here in Silicon Valley.

And just like in Illinois, I had to work two jobs. So I left college with student loans and a car payment and kind of joke that I wasn't, when I started my career, I was not trying to climb a ladder.

I was trying to climb out of the hole.

You know, I had lots of debt. So I was working two jobs. And my evening and weekend job was at this Internet music company called

And it was started by, you know, a new college grad.

This was the Internet 1.0 days. And I thought it was the coolest thing ever to like have that some 23 year old would have the audacity to be a CEO.

And just like just watching this technology emerge and it become consumer facing.

And, you know, and so I did that. I was working with them on nights on the weekends.

And I had this kind of eventful dinner where I'd gone out to dinner with some friends in San Francisco and we had a very, you know, it was a nice restaurant, but nothing fancy and probably had, you know, some wine at dinner and the bill comes around and we all split it.

And it's $60 a piece. And everyone just kind of like, you know, drops their credit cards or whatever.

And I'm sure I do the same, but I'm thinking to myself, $60.

That is what my budget is for the entire month for food, drink, groceries, $60.

And I'm about to spend it all right here in one dinner that didn't feel fancy.

It didn't feel extravagant. It was a nice night out, but it felt like something you would want to do on a semi regular basis.

And I realized I can't, I can't afford this, you know, and I don't want to work two jobs for the rest of my life and still not be able to afford things.

So I had a realization that I needed to leave teaching because I definitely was not leaving California.

And so I asked everyone I knew, like, what should I do?

I, you know, what's the best intersection between corporate world and the academic world.

And a lot of people were like, you should do HR work. It's very people oriented and assessments and training.

And, and so I really didn't have too much of a paradigm of what HR was.

But I got plenty of people I respected and trusted kind of were pointing me in that direction.

And so I convinced the CEO, you know, the fellow 23 year old CEO of that Internet startup, that they should pay for my HR management certification.

So I found a program that let you take classes at nights on the weekend.

So it was for professionals. And then you would emerge, you know, a few years later with a, with a credential.

And I did it all in one semester because we had, we'd started getting funding, this Internet startup.

So when it was like the three founders, my boyfriend, now husband and me, you know, we started hiring people.

So I was like, I better get credentialed quickly, or they're going to hire someone for this job I want.

So I did it all in one semester. And that really started, you know, my HR career.

That's, that's how I got here. That is what a cool story.

It's just fascinating. You know, some of the life lessons that you've just shared through this, which is essentially, you know, think about what you really want to do.

Think about where you're stuck. And then ask for it, right?

I think you've, if you don't mind me sharing this, we can share this for the whole world to know.

You've been a huge advocate of a number of really, really high performing talent.

You've been a huge advocate for them. And you've asked them to always go in and ask for what they want, and really pursue what they want and show up for what they want.

So it looks like your story started that way.

And that's why you are really, really great at, you know, encouraging people to do that.

You can just say Scott, I've twisted your arm a few times to take bigger jobs.

Yeah, so yeah, so yeah, yeah.

So so that's how my career, you know, that Internet, that Internet company got acquired by America Online.

And then the next one got acquired by it was an online video company got acquired by Sony Pictures.

And you and I met at Twitter, I started there really early days.

And now I'm lucky enough to work with you again here at Cloudflare.

And yeah, yeah, I never really thought that that's what I did either, though, Scott, you kind of put that together for me.

But I definitely feel like, yeah, you and I along the years have had lots of conversations around doing something bigger and what's next and leaning in.

And yeah, I guess I do do that.

You do do that. Now I'm really, really intrigued. Right?

Because it's you share this part about your life very, very frequently. Which means it means a lot to you.

You are a mother of three daughters. Did the dresses behind me give it away?

And, of course, you are taking this conversation from a from a room with lots of dresses and lots of toys.

So what does that mean to you?

And how do you tie all these things together and as well as also founding a company?

Right. And it's really incredible. What I'm trying to do is not to just highlight how hard it is, but why you do what you do and how you bring your, you know, sort of like your family dynamic into the whole mix.

Yeah. Yeah. No, my yes, my office, my quote unquote covid office is my children's playroom.

Yeah. And behind me are mostly like Disney princess dresses that my mother handmade.

She was an amazing seamstress.

Then there's like extravagant birthday, birthday dresses and Halloween costumes for my daughter.

So they've been really lucky.

So that's yeah, I kind of do. And I I like being in this room for work because I do think it kind of is, you know, the integration of my life.

Right. I work from here and and I get reminders of being working mom as well.

I mean, I'll OK, I'll dive into to the parenthood thing.

But just as a working mom, one thing that I've learned is that I feel like I'm a better parent when I work and I'm a better worker because I'm a parent.

And these things are not at odds with each other. And I think one of the things that was kind of revelatory to me and to talk about the company that I co-founded.

So in between Twitter and Cloudflare. So I was at Twitter.

I met this amazing woman, Amy Henderson, and we were doing diversity work at the time.

She was with Yes, We Code. And and she was pregnant with her third.

And I had just had my third. And I was tell and she was a little like I was when I was first pregnant with my third spooked to have a third child, you know, and I was telling her how much easier three was than two.

And just what a good experience it was been.

And so we bonded over this motherhood thing. And in Amy, in her, I guess in her endeavor to really kind of deal with how do I become a you know, how do I maintain my career and and have three children?

Hers were like three kids under four or something.

It was pretty intense timing. And so the way that she started coping is she started interviewing a ton of working moms that were professional and high achieving and highly admired.

And she was just asking them how they did it.

And those interviews and the those experiences they shared with her led her to start really researching like the neuroscience, evolutionary biology, the changes that happen to you when you become a parent, when you engage in the act of parenting, how your brain changes, just like when you're a toddler, your brain changes, teenagers or in puberty, your brain changes.

And that's kind of it, unless you become a parent, or less unless you have parental responsibilities, caregiver responsibilities, you don't have to be the birth parent, you don't have to be the birth mom, you don't, you know, you don't have to be a birth parent.

And these changes can happen to you. And so when she's telling me about this, she's explaining what those changes are.

So less activity in the fear center of the brain.

So you just show up a little more courageous, you're able to sort on and prioritize ruthlessly prioritize better.

So kind of separate the the noise from the signal, and empathy and collaboration.

And so she's telling me about these things and the neuroscience behind it.

And I was like, okay, as a head of people, we spend a lot of money on L&D in order to build those skills, like be more creative, more courageous, and ruthlessly prioritize high empathy.

And so I'm like, you're telling me that parents get those skills by parenting?

And she's like, yes, here's your research and proof. And I was and it really dawned on me that if that's the case, then why is there not a different narrative around parents in the workplace, because they obviously have really valued skill sets that every company needs.

Yeah. No matter what role, no matter what level, you know, I think those are just the leadership skills of the 21st century.

And so we're kind of inspired by that.

So yeah, found a company called 10 lab. And, you know, Amy is the CEO, and I'm basically like the worst co founder ever, because I really, but yeah, and so and so the, you know, the, the, the hope there with 10 lab is to just share the research and share the knowledge and really help create workplaces where parents can thrive.

And we believe in doing so it makes it better for everybody who works there.

And, and yeah, just kind of hopefully, really start to reveal the real benefit and value that you have when you have parents in your workplace.

Wow, what an incredible story. One of the things that jumped out to me there was, you mentioned leadership skills for the 21st century.

Wow. And that really fits in nicely with our theme for today playing the long game leadership skills for the 21st century.

So how do you build an iconic company for the 21st century?

I know you care a lot about talent, development, people, philosophy, diversity, recruitment, all of it.

So for us yours?

How do you build it? Yeah, I mean, I think that yeah, so you know, every business will have a different market need that it's serving, and product fit and all that.

But at the end of the day, all business decisions are people decisions, right?

Because people are doing your business. And so I think that there are just some fundamental truths about building great businesses.

And it's really about letting people do their best work, right?

That everyone that you hire is able to do their best work.

And the way that you create that is you cultivate a culture where that's possible for people.

So they feel safe, welcome, respected with a sense of belonging to do their best work.

And so I think you have to really, you know, be mindful and deliberate about the culture that you have at the company that you're building, and be accountable to it.

You know, there's a saying that culture is what happens when people aren't looking.

And I believe that that's true. There's a very democratic part of culture.

But I believe leaders especially have a responsibility or accountable even more, way more so than the people team, right?

Like managers and leaders, are you rewarding the behaviors that underpin your culture?

Yeah, right. So I've got this really boring definition around culture for something that's so dynamic, which is cultures defined by the behaviors that you reward.

And so I think the healthiest companies really are clear about what are those behaviors, and they hold their leaders accountable to rewarding them, and more so hold them accountable to not turning a blind eye when there's bad behavior, right?

And so we talked about this at Cloudflare with this very simple equation that performance equals results plus behaviors.

So the results, the outputs of your output of your job will change depending on the role that you're in.

But the behavior should be consistent. You know, so what good looks like on the people team is similar to what good looks like behaviorally on the finance team, and whether you're in the US or you're in Europe, you're in Asia, that should be culturally consistent.

And so I think where companies go wrong, especially high growth companies, which is where I've spent most of my career, is when they turn a blind eye to those bad behaviors, and they let the behaviors that might have been rewarded at this other company, come into your company, and then you don't course correct.

And then all of a sudden, you kind of wake up one day, and you're like, well, this isn't the company that I joined.

Yeah, yeah. X number of years ago. So I think there's a lot of responsibility for management and leadership to really preserve the culture at a company.

I think that simple equation will keep you honest. Wow.

Well, what an equation, right? One of the taglines that I've heard you use through the years is don't lose your soul.

What does that mean for you? How would you sort of articulate your people strategy around that tagline?

Yeah, thanks for bringing that up.

I mean, I feel that that is so important. I remember once I was working with an executive, and I was working with CEO, and we were letting go another executive.

He was like, wow, Janet, this is really hard. I'm losing sleep over it.

I was like, good, good. You should lose sleep over it. If you're not losing sleep over it, quit, because there are people at the other end of this.

And so the way I think about it is you can have difficult conversations and still approach that with a ton of empathy and respect and grace and dignity for both sides.

So by keeping your soul and having empathy and doing right by people doesn't mean everyone, you keep up with the company and you ignore your expectations or underperformance.

It's just that when you have to confront those realities, that you do it in a way that is high empathy, that is with trust and with the other person's dignity in mind.

And you just like clearly communicate along the way, like I'm having concerns, expectations are being met.

Your job is on the line. And so if and when you get to that point where you're having a conversation, there's no longer a role for you here or a place for this company, person's like, yeah, I'm not surprised.

I'm like, I'm not happy. We've been struggling. I've been struggling. We've been talking about it.

And so I think there's just, you know, if you just put in the work, you really can, you know, navigate tough times and, you know, and treat people respectfully.

I totally agree with you. I think it was more important, it was important even pre-COVID and post -COVID.

Many folks are, you know, even calling out empathy, you know, along with what you just shared about not losing your soul.

So what just a critical, really critical insight and a critical way of really thinking through people's strategy.

I want to shift gears, Janet. I can't have you on this show without talking about diversity, right, as part of the long game.

And there is a lot that you think about. You were in fact Twitter's first, you know, diversity leader.

So I want to pick your brain around, you know, what companies should be thinking about, what managers should be thinking about, how to really crack this.

Sometimes it feels like a tough nut to crack, but really it's sometimes it's just, it takes commitment, right?

So I want to hear your thoughts on it and how you articulate it.

Where do I start? Okay. I mean, I'm going to drop a bomb in the middle of this for sure.

But here's what I'll say. I mean, to me, like I love hearing Matthew talk about diversity, our CEO here at Kloepfler, because he, you know, just really talks about the more innovation from teams, better decisions, right?

You want more creative problem solving. You don't want everyone that came from the same background, trained at the same schools or whatnot, because we're just we're going to lose in the end if that happens.

And so every time he talks, I just like take notes because I'm always really inspired by his long-term view of diversity, how important it is that we reap the benefits that diversity offers in order for us to be successful as a company.

And so I believe that that is a hundred percent true.

And to your point, Scott, there is no, there's no panacea, there's no silver bullet.

Like you have to do the work every day, day in, day out, show up and do the work.

Here's my bomb. So yes, I, so, you know, I joined Twitter as the head of HR.

So I led the whole people function for a number of years, and then we got really big and went public and I specialized for the first time ever and took the DNI role.

And I left that experience really not keen on having a head of diversity and inclusion.

And the reason being is, I felt is one of the, one of the things that I love about how we do it at Cloudflare is like, it's everyone's job, right?

Especially hiring managers. And, and then, you know, hiring for the recruiting part of it.

And then, you know, managers for like, what is your team culture?

And, you know, how, how safe, welcome, respected with a sense of belonging to all your team members have in order to do the best work.

So I, so I like that, that everyone feels the responsibility and the accountability of it.

And what I have found that when you have someone with that, you know, that diversity and inclusion or DEI title in their, or that, that title, that people just kind of say like, oh, well, that's Janet's job.

That's Scott's job. And they kind of, you know, don't accept responsibility.

And I remember kind of saying like, oh, are you going to let me make your hiring decisions?

Because I would, I would sign up.

I actually would sign up for that. So you're just kind of, I don't know.

It didn't, I actually, believe it or not, was left with, I think it's better if everyone takes D and I as their responsibility, no matter what.

I think everyone needs to own it.

And you know, Janet, you know, this, I love sports and I will always find a way to.

Oh, I was waiting for the warrior. Well, it's, it's the way you articulate this, which definitely you dropped the bomb in this, which is fantastic because you were able to back that up.

Right. And in sports, winning is every single person on the team's business.

And diversity leads to winning, winning in building, you know, winning businesses.

So if you really want to win what we all have to really think about diversity, it's our business.

It's all of our jobs within the organization.

It can be just centered around one person's job.

So I love the way you've just articulated this. Another thing I've thought about when you were talking about, you know, the fact that it's not just one person's job is there are a number of, you know, I know, I know you're, you're from Chicago and you're a White Sox fan.

That's right. Thank you. Yes.

Yes. So in first place, you know, many teams can have really great superstars as we know, Janet, but great teams usually have, you know, everyone else bought into it.

And then, you know, it becomes very, very difficult for the opposing team to really beat them.

So I love this sort of mindset around diversity and we don't just need one set of mindset around diversity, but we all need to think about it differently so that we can build diverse teams.

Now, one thing that's important for me, I want to get here is we have as part of our audience, a number of folks that are listening and want to hear some critical advice that you would give leaders, business leaders, managers, recruiters, HR members.

And I want to open the floor so that you can sort of dive into that as we get to the tail end of our segment.

I feel like I'm going to address me before I'll be like my advice for leaders, advice for managers, advice for people, teams, and then like advice about like your career.

Okay. Okay. So for leaders, you know, one of the things that I am excited about is that the approach to where we work has fundamentally shifted globally.

And so, and as for Cloudflare, right, prior to COVID, we were everyone in the office, Monday through Friday, we were very in office, like on-prem company.

And, you know, we've definitely learned a lot in the last 14 months and know that we are, you know, we're not going back to that way of, of working.

We'll be a lot more flexible.

We'll have people remote, we'll have people coming in a few days a week.

And so I'm excited for that flexibility. I think that flexibility is going to help us become more, build more diverse teams because prior, you know, all of our, all of our offices are in metropolitan areas, urban areas, and like most of our pretty expensive urban areas.

So that really limits your talent pool. Right.

So I'm excited that we have a much wider talent pool now. So I think there's a really huge opportunity ahead of business leaders to really kind of push on the status quo to challenge assumptions, challenge what didn't work in the past that may work now and why, and just admit that we don't know.

Yes, exactly. Kind of uncertainty.

We don't know. So, you know, I love that Cloudflare, the way we talk about it is like, it's an experiment.

We experiment all the time. So we're going to measure, we're going to be honest with ourselves with, you know, what we get, what assessments we get out of this, like how, how things are going.

So that, I guess, is my advice to leaders.

Like what an opportunity we have ahead of us. Remain nimble and flexible and open and don't pretend like you have all the answers because we all know that you don't.

What a great advice. And then for managers, one of the things I think is, you know, a reality now is in the past, a lot of the research around hybrid environments, which many companies are going to now, it has been a very inequitable experience, right?

There's a lot of studies that show the person that was in the office was promoted more and more visibility, whatever, you know, there was more benefits, advantages to being in the office.

And the person who was offsite was disadvantaged.

So my call to managers now is like, learn what those biases are, mitigate them and learn whether it's from your own company, from others around us, from research that's been done in the past of like, how can we create a more equitable workplace as we move to a more hybrid and more flexibility?

I think, I don't think this is going away. And so let's make the most of this opportunity.

So that's my advice to managers, the people team. I think we have a great opportunity to be a sounding board, to be, to be, help us stay accountable and honest in our assessments during this experiment.

And then my advice to, to just kind of folks thinking about like navigating, find your happy place and do work there, you know, like find what lights you up and you're going to do your best when you're happy.

And, and so my advice would be, find the passion. Great, great, great career with that.

Everything else will fall into place. I think those are just really, really great nuggets in there.

One of the things I wanted to do here is I think you and I talked about this a little bit and I want to figure out what exactly how you break down your, your entire week and what you are going to do during this long extended weekend in the US.

And if you don't mind me getting personal there, if you could just share a little bit of that aside with the audience that's listening currently.

So I just generally speaking, my entire life is dictated by what is on my calendar.

So I'm in meetings most of the day, but when I have work to do, I literally block the time and label what it is exactly I'm going to be working on.

So, I mean, even in my personal life, I'm like, if it's not in the calendar, it doesn't exist.

So just calendar it. And the probably what people don't know what you can't see because it's in front of me and not behind me where the camera can see is I love post-its and notes and reminders and lists.

And so one of the best parts about working from home is like, I've got post-its like up and down the walls around me and all over my table here.

And I love that because it'll be like, whatever's random things or things I was inspired by or things I want to research later, whatever the case may be.

And that is, I don't know, my not best kept secret now about working from home.

So this weekend I'm excited about it because I am fully vaxxed, you know, more than two weeks past my second dose.

And so we're seeing a bunch of different friends and kids' birthday parties and whatever this weekend.

And it just for the first time, I'm looking at a calendar where it looks like, I don't know, like normal life is returning.

And I'm super excited about that.

What about you, Scott? This weekend, I think very similar to you, I'm fully vaccinated.

My oldest has graduated from middle school. So we will do a little bit of celebration over the weekend, but I'm looking forward to resting.

And I think that's part of some of the advice that you've given me over the course of my career and to anyone else listening on the call as well.

Take time for yourself and rest.

Janet's a huge advocate for that. You do better work when you're not completely exhausted all the time.

And it's a hard thing to say. I remember when we both had like really young ones and then you'd read that thing about like how sleep deprivation is like bad for your cognitive functioning and whatever.

And I'm like, oh yeah, I know I want more sleep, but I have three toddlers.

I always hate those articles.

I'm like, yes, I know I'm sleep deprived and I'm not, you know, high performing because of it.

Yeah. Yes. Yes, definitely. Yeah. So what's also great about this weekend is I believe that, you know, London is also off.

So I have a number of team members that are there.

So my entire Monday will probably be completely free.

And I'm sure you're also looking forward to that as well. So why don't we do like a little birthday shout out to Julia while we're here?

We should.

Okay, great. Well, special somebody's birthday. Tell us a little bit, Scott.

So I'm super excited. So my wife and spouse, Julia is celebrating her birthday on Monday.

So I want to take this moment to give her a huge, huge shout out from Cloudflare TV and to the entire audience listening as well.

Happy birthday, Julia.

I love you dearly. And if you're watching this segment from Janet made me do this.

And as you can see, anyone else listening to the call, this is how you sort of think about culture, where you can have real conversations, where we can we can share a lot of insights.

So I'm very, very fortunate that we're able to have Janet and anything that you want to say within the last sort of few seconds of the segment that we can close off with?

Well, thank you for having me, Scott. I'm honored.

And, and thank you for just for doing this for Cloudflare too. I think you've had such great guests here and such insightful conversations.

And I know you've got some really good ones coming up too that I'm excited about.

Thanks for having me.

Hope everyone has a great weekend. Great. And thank you all so much. Thank you.