The wild post-pandemic CHRO ride with Lorna Hagen, Chief People Officer at Guild Education

The name of the game is co-creation

– Lorna Hagen

“Make sure that your experience is as good for someone who is in the room as for someone who is outside of the room.” Debbie talks with Lorna Hagen about the best ways to manage your team in a post-pandemic hybrid work world.  This episode shares real-life, practical tips and tools for making sure your team is connected and valued no matter where they are.

Debbie & Lorna discuss:

✓ What it’s like to be a CHRO during the pandemic.
✓ Why the CEO is the least qualified person to make the decision on who gets to go back to the office.
✓ What it takes to decide to become a remote-first company.
✓ Biggest challenges and roadblocks for a distributed workforce.
✓ Understanding what data you need as a Chief People Officer and CHRO

About our guest, Lorna Hagen:

Lorna Hagen is a Human Capital executive with over 20 years of experience focused on building high-performance companies. Today, she is the Chief People Officer at Guild Education. Prior to Guild, she was Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at iHeartMedia where she successfully rebuilt their HR function and transitioned the company to fully remote during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lorna helped lead a successful IPO at OnDeck Capital and lead the organization to 16 “Best Companies to Work For” awards.

Helpful Links:

Follow Lorna on LinkedIn

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Open for Full Episode Transcript



Mon, Oct 17, 2022 8:37PM • 29:29


people, company, employees, pandemic, lorna, heads, team, guild, denver, person, cadence, thinking, future, remote, collaboration, talent, world, survey, designed, year


Lorna Hagen, Debbie Goodman


Debbie Goodman  00:05

Welcome to On Work and Revolution, where we talk about what’s shaking up in the world of work right now. And how we can make work life suck a little less. As you know, people who know me know that I’m actually trying for a slightly higher bar than that like maybe amazing work life. But I guess suck less is a high bar for some. So hey, whatever we can reach for these days. I’m your host, Debbie Goodman, and I am so excited today we have my wonderful colleague and friend, Lorna Hagen on the show with us welcome, Lorna.


Lorna Hagen  00:38

Thank you. Thank you.


Debbie Goodman  00:40

I want to do a nice intro for you, Lorna, cuz you’ve got such an incredible background. And I I just actually had to do a bit of an edit because it’s long. So you’ve done a lot a lot of things. Lorna is currently Chief People Officer at Guild Education, which is one of the most impressive high growth EdTech companies in the US. She has more than 20 years of experience building high performance companies. And prior to guild, she was Chief People Officer at iHeartMedia. She transitioned the company to fully remote during the pandemic. She’s also helped lead a successful IPO at OnDeck Capital. And she led the company to 16 Best Companies to Work For awards. That’s a lot 16 Wow. She’s been a Dow Jones where she executed a transformation of their HR tech team and work practices. My goodness girl, you have been around the block. As a Latina executive, Lorna is passionate about taking DEI from talk to action. Actually, I think that’s the thing that you’re best at doing, taking talk into action and not beating about the frickin’ bush! Welcome, Lorna.


Debbie Goodman  01:52

Today, we’re going to talk about what it’s been like to be in this CHRO function through, and now emerging post pandemic. Actually, great phrase today that I hadn’t seen before. Pre-panny and post-panny.


Lorna Hagen  02:09

There is no colleague, there is no CHRO, there is no Chief People Officer, General Counsel, CFO, there is nobody for you to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, what did you do? you know, post your last pandemic?” It just doesn’t exist, right. And so this idea, pre-panny, and post-panny is very real. And we are all trying to maneuver the post world to your point to make it suck less today. But to make it amazing in the future. And so like, you know, I think about this phrase “readiness pace and sequence” a lot. And I think in terms of readiness, we’re in the suck less right now. The next 12 months, it has to be about how do we make it amazing. What is it that we’re working on now to make it amazing?


Debbie Goodman  02:55

What was it like to take on this really big role, which you took on actually in the middle of the pandemic, where I mean, for many people, it was something similar take on a role in a leadership function, but particularly the CHRO function where you hadn’t met people, you were responsible for the people, people, people heart of things. In the middle of the pandemic, what was that like.



The initial kind of high in the honeymoon phase of the job you really like with any job, even pre pandemic. What are your your first few wins? What are the low hanging fruit that you want to accomplish? How do you want to be known, but when you’re in high growth, and we definitely were I mean, in my first year we hired a little over 500 people was about 560 employees. It was we were nonstop it was Go Go Go and at same time really thinking about is our strategy, right? How do we think about the next three years kind of re engaging in a strategic conversation to position us we are very actively thinking about what does your five look like for us in year 10 from now. And so. So we’re thinking through a strategy, we’re thinking through who we are, we’re thinking through our category, we’re thinking through the people that we need. And so it was 12 months to go really fast. And now I’m in this position, which I’ve spoken to other friends that in similar roles, which is the same thing. It’s like okay, one year post, now you really feel really good at the job. And you’re and you wake up and you realize, oh my god, I did all that work in my home office or at a we work or in a coffee shop, and I miss people and I miss connectivity, and how can I get that back? And I think you know our employees talk about this a lot, especially those in remote locations. We have 27 states open where guilders can work. New York is one of them. I’m in New York, but I’m one of 60 out of a company of 1400. So very few people in the tri state area. So no offense is here. And I kind of suffer from that as well, the connectivity and the onboarding that you that in person collaboration engenders, we still haven’t found a way to make that, to replicate it in the digital world. And so that’s one of the things that I’m really focused on. Because I feel the pain of that as an executive. And I know that everybody down in the company feels that as well. And I think that’s one of the very, that’s going to be one of the biggest unlocks for all of us, as we decide to be remote first, or hybrid, or whatever you want to call your designation.


Debbie Goodman  05:36

A field education still making decisions about what that particular future is looking like. And the reason I ask is because there have been so many false starts that I’ve seen with many companies, I mean, Apple have a year ago already before a year ago, I think it was April or May, last year, had decided to bring their employees back and Tim Cook there was just like, absolute uproar. And then this week, again, there was like pretty clear policy around three days in two days out. And there has been a wave of revolution that truly I can imagine. I mean, I don’t think it was Apple Apple is the Apple card wasn’t just marching in the street with placards. They had sent in some kind of some kind of online protest. But people who were just objecting, and they just going no, we do not want the felt like almost a very imposed policy to many people. And so there are companies at various stages of making decisions about what are we actually going to do with this remote hybrid all in? So where are you guys with that?


Lorna Hagen  06:39

Kevin Oakes wrote a very interesting post, I believe it was on LinkedIn and probably on his company’s website as well about the CEO is the least qualified person to make the decision on who gets to go back to the office, right? The CEO has so many avenues for in person collaboration internally and externally. And they and then there’s this this idea that will because I’m getting so much juice, right and energy and creativity and collaboration and ideation from being in person, all of my other employees have to be in person too. I think that we proven that that’s not true. Your Apple example is the perfect one, where they’re saying our valuation has gone up, our profits have risen, we have more money in the bank that anyone should have. And we’ve done it all while working from home. And so I don’t think that’s going to change. I think in fact, that is a permanent state of being where employers are going to have to accept that certain candidates and talent that they want, get to demand where they work in, that’s not going to be necessarily in a company office. We made the choice it very early in the pandemic when we sent everyone home fairly quickly after that. But the construct of heads up and heads downtime was invented at Gilt. And so heads up time is for when you are zooming together, sometimes you’re in person, and heads downtime is please respect my space, I need to work like I just need to get some work done and not be in the meetings. We decided at the beginning of this count this year, that the footprint didn’t work for us either, that we actually have been able to have some very great successes in our dei strategy, because we’ve opened up more states outside of Denver, or Colorado and California, that we’ve seen a huge increase in the diversity of our talent, and therefore the diversity of our thought and how we’re better prepared to serve our students and our members. And so we are a remote first company. And we’ve decided that the office space in California is being eliminated and that we’re going down to two floors instead of four in our Denver office. And those two floors are going to completely be redesigned for heads together collaboration. And so we’re building a Heads Together program, which is essentially our on site program. So there are no no more off sites. No one’s going to Napa, everyone’s coming to Denver, which is a lovely vibrant city. And we’re designing our space with moveable walls, furniture, on rollers, whiteboards, all sorts of creative ways of making sure that heads together time engenders a lot of collaboration, ideation, fun, like I am on a mission to bring fun back into the workplace. And so really, how do we take the space that we have and not just keep it but design it for 2023 And beyond that, so so we have decided that we are completely remote and when we come together, we really help facilitate those, those heads together time so in my ideal world, I have a have a vision of an On site facilitator, like someone who works for the company full time that works with leadership teams and with managers to, to help them design how they want their together time in person to look like with their teams,


Debbie Goodman  10:13

What’s the cadence of heads together? Because I think that that’s what companies are struggling with in this distributed workforce. Absolutely. The distributed workforce and opportunity to hire remotely increases diversity all you know, the access to the talent pool, all those good things. But then the question is, okay, we do believe that there needs to be some in person time to do the things that we’re worst at doing remotely, we’ll on our own, that we’re actually missing out on, but they’re really struggling with this idea of so when and how do we come together? How frequently what’s the cadence? How do we do it?


Lorna Hagen  10:45

So what we’ve decided at Guild is that we have built a an architecture, it’s a foundation. And so there are guardrails, we partnered very closely with our finance team to really look at budgets, and look at opportunity. And so so we have made recommendations to our teams. And I’ll tell you what my cadence is like, because my cadence is going to be very different than that of our coaching organization, which has 300 employees, right, I have 60. And so my leadership team comes together four or five times a year. And we do that around quarterly planning, and really to do retros, on our OKRs. And then planning for the future with one of those like that that planning session, really also being kind of that December timeline holiday had we come together last year, we did it in New York this year, we’ll do it in Denver. And so being very specific about why we come together. So there’s part of that time that’s around our planning. And our I’m looking at our reviewing our OKRs pivoting where we need to pivot, and a part of that time is on fun, right. So whether we’re going to a ballgame, or we’re doing a painting class, or we’re just having drinks, and to really, really important to make sure for me to make sure that I have people time built into the heads together time. But other teams do it differently, then my leadership teams, I believe, come together quarterly with their teams. And so there is that cadence of how we think about the business and what’s happening in the business. And then when we come together,


Debbie Goodman  12:24

How do you get it right, with cross functional heads together? Because I’ve been recommending to many of the companies that I advise to start organizing in a in a team by team in a team by team way. And that seems to be people seem to be okay with that. Okay, we can we can handle that. But now one of the things that we also know is that when it comes to cross functional collaboration, individuals are working on missing out on that they’re missing out on the social capital and the professional capital that they build by getting access to cross functional teams. And so that’s like, Okay, so we’re getting together with our team, every second week, or every quarter, or whatever, or whatever it is. But then what about the finance team and the coaching to the coaching business? And the How does how’s that working today?


Lorna Hagen  13:12

It happens very organically. In my in my kind of roadmap of future, what it could look like is, you know, we have what it would, to me, it looks like we have a calendar, shared open everybody to be very transparent here when the teams are coming together, where I’m able to say to Chris, our CFO, okay, I’m going to be in Denver with my team, what’s happening with yours? How do we coordinate, and almost looking like a planning board to say here is when there is time, that these teams can actually come together and make that work happen? I always I do think that that’s always going to be a little bit trickier. And that people will make time for their primary teams first, which is just only normal. I will say we’ve been really like tweaking how we come together and why and I think to two or three weeks ago, we did our OKRs at my team came in person, everybody can their leadership teams came together in person. But then the following, we did an OKR Palooza that was a cross functional one. And that one was digital, and it worked really, really, really well. And so I think understanding the limitations, but also the opportunities are going to be the really big thing and it goes back to this idea. Not one size fits all, and that we’re going to have to continue being really flexible. And then when you do that, making sure that your experience for someone who’s in the room is just as good for someone who’s outside of the room. So there is one time that we come together as a company where we want every buddy there. And it’s not designed to be hybrid, and it’s not designed to be a shared experience. And we call it IRL, which is in real life and we did the first one last year and out of our 1400 employees, I believe 1200 showed up. We had 1200 People in Denver, and we relaunched our values, we did a refresh of our values. And we spent a day and a half together as a company. And then we spent a morning together with our individual teams. And it was like it was gold, just amazing. But that is the one time a year where we try and bring everyone together that’s not designed as a hybrid experience. It’s, I want you to meet your people face to face,


Debbie Goodman  15:33

right? Did you do surveys by any chance? Like how do people feel about the experience? And also in terms of designing this hybrid cadence? When people come together? When it’s Paki remote partly in person? Are you? Are you getting input from the individuals in the teams? Or how are you going about this decision making?



I love Guild, because one of the things that I learned at Guild was to belief update, and I do it a lot. Now, all the time. I’m a very, very, very Spry, young, 46-year old, meaning I came up in the world of HR, where HR decided, designed, put out policy, and then essentially told you live with it. Right. I mean, that is a broad, broad generalization. That is not the world that I live in now. And the one mandate, and literally a mandate from my team, from, from my SVP down to the last person hired, who I think was a receptionist on my team is the name of the game is co-creation. And I don’t mean co creation within the people team, like the total rewards team with the talent management team. I mean, the talent management team is redesigning our performance program. I want to see what kind of SVPs VPS directors individual contributors, engineers, coaches marketing, what is the business outside of the people team, so that you are learning in real time if your theories are right. So it’s a constant test, and learn, test and learn, as opposed to oh, my god, build, build, build, build, publicize, and then crash, because we see that happen so often. And so for us, the mentality is, test and learn everything. And so you mentioned surveys, I want to survey everyone on everything all the time, from like our big, you know, biannual survey to the quarterly pulse surveys, to every month, they survey people on whether or not they liked the all hands, because the employee experience is the only thing that matters. And so the survey is the employee experience, our mandate is to co create to make a better employee experience. That’s the thing that really drives everything that we design. And, and I truly believe, you know, I, when I was very young, I had a mentor, say to me, you don’t work for the employees of this company, you work for the management of this company, and talk about a massive belief update, like my values changed.


Debbie Goodman  18:09

I’ve heard like, as we’ve been speaking, there’s been a through line around how to address many of the challenges by really digging into the why, like, why are we doing this? What’s the intention? How can what what is the purpose of getting together? Why is it important? What are we missing out on? What what types of experiences do you want to have when we’re together? And why? Is that just part of your culture? Is that something because I think that that’s can also be the missing link for many organizations? Where if one gets cocreation, on the why, why is this important and going to make a difference to everybody? A lot of the grievance or the upsetness, around change, because that’s essentially what we’ve been constantly having to deal with. You just constantly have to deal with, well, we were doing it like this, now we’re going to try it differently. And then you’re doing your surveys, and you’re going okay, we tried it like this, but actually seems like we’re going to need to pivot a little. So we’re going to do it like that. The why, but why are we changing? Why are we needing to spend time together? Because not everybody gets it all the time in the same way. My question was, Is it a cultural thing that you guys at Guild Education do, or is it automatic? Is it new?


Lorna Hagen  19:22

I think that elements of this already existed when when I got to guild, we have a chief executive who is masterful at employee communications, and masterful at communications period. And so she really leads from a place of the best intent and wanting people to come along for the journey, right. So she really has set up this company to bring people along with her rather than you see many of these companies were founders just need people to work for them. That’s not the ethos of Guild. It’s not the culture of Guild. We really all do feel like We’re building something with her as opposed to for her. And so I think that’s one of the beautiful things in terms of the why I think it already existed. I’ve doubled down on it. And I think it’s just human nature. You have kids, I have kids, right. So finally, when we’ve, when we got it together and answered there, why all the questions stopped? Got it? I’ll check. And here’s what I think. I think that those why questions almost always are an ask for recognition. Do you see me? Do you see me doing the work for you? Do you see me showing up every day to this company when I could be going to the company next door. And I think that that, for me was a big aha moment, which is, employees don’t generally, you know, the goal isn’t to be proven that right to kind of catch the management team in a mistake. The intent is to say, just explain it to me and help me understand because I choose to come here to you, every day, so validate my choice. That’s how I think about what employees are doing.


Debbie Goodman  21:16

I want to go back to one of your beautiful new additions to my glossary believe updating what is been a most recent belief update of yours, something that you never thought you would have to believe update or need to change something that maybe even a year ago, you would want, this is the way it is. And now you’re you’ve had to do a little update on that.


Lorna Hagen  21:40

I think for me, it’s more around. Well, this is the way we’ve always done it, let’s just keep doing it that way, which is also kind of not my way of thinking. But here’s a perfect example of that. We are a startup. And I come from companies that are very fiscally conservative. And that is my that is the way that my brain operate. Right? It’s this idea of, do we need to be spending that money? Does that make sense? How will you know how will shareholders really interact with that information? And how will they react to our decisions? And in thinking about our space, and reducing the footprint, the physical space, this space, nine months ago, I was in a position of like, there are no WeWorks there are no coworker, we’re not doing any of that, right? We hired everyone saying they were remote, and they’re remote. And we’ll figure out ways to I don’t believe that anymore. Right. Now, my belief is, why did I think that? Maybe that’s not the right way to think why can’t I call any one of these office sharing companies and say, I want to do a test with you. I have a bulk of employees in San Francisco, New York, Austin, Tallahassee, like let’s do a test for three months. And, and let me see if it works. And people are asking for space. And if I see that, while they really used it. Well, guess what? I knock on my CFOs door and say get we have to find money for x. And here’s why. If people don’t use it, I get to go back to them and say I did what you asked me, and you didn’t want it. And so we’re not going to do that thing anymore.


Debbie Goodman  23:18

But that’s such a great example. I think that that we are constantly needing to review and our decisions and make better ones based on new information. And it’s just there’s so much new. It’s kind of like hard to not feel schizophrenic sometimes, like you say one thing, and this is you feel like it’s based on a principle and sound thinking and then a pretty short while after you’re going actually I reserve the right to change my mind based on new information. And I guess that’s what we’re all trying to trying to figure out. I want to ask one last question, which is, you have been in a had the opportunity to work in this very progressive organization, future thinking, a leader who leads in a very people centric way. What do you say to other heads of HR CHR, OHS Chief People officers who are in organizations where they really wanting to drive change, possibly having some resistance, what are the foundation blocks for somebody who would just love to have the opportunity to make an impact for the better of everybody, but is constantly being faced with with challenges be their budget challenges or mindset challenges? Or, you know, they they’re just at the point where they throwing their hands up in despair


Lorna Hagen  24:42

are the biggest cost to our companies. Remember, it’s pre pandemic. They ride up the escalator every day, and they ride down the escalator every evening and you have no idea if they’re coming back. No, I If they’re coming back, imagine being so dismissive of your money in that way of just kind of saying, Oh, I’ll pay the mortgage. When I get to it. I’m like, so unmet. So we treat sometimes our employees as these foregone conclusions. And we have so many just demands of them without actually thinking about their choice. And so I would start with the data, and especially companies that are very challenged in their ability to promote and to recruit, like you’ve got a problem, because we know that talent pool is kind of shrinking, people are just opting out of the workforce. And we also know that companies just don’t spend enough money to rescale the employees that they have. And so the proof is in figure out how to model what your talent needs are going to be. And you’ll be shocked with the Delta and the gap of where your company needs to go, and what you’re able to do and how you’re able to prepare them. I think that’s first and foremost, like really painting a picture of here’s what could happen in two or three years, if we continue to see this type of attrition. These types of engagement scores, I would say, smart companies have all the information. But they have terrible storytellers. And so who are the storytellers that can connect your data so that you can sell the right story to into an executive team, I think it starts there. And people that this this skill set of storytelling with information is lacking in our function. And that’s what I would say start there.


Debbie Goodman  26:41

Part of this chief people, Officer job is a knowing what data you need, being able to collect the data, and then developing the skill, cultivating the ability to actually tell the story yourself, because you become the storyteller for the change that you want to make. And when you’re speaking to your colleagues and executive leadership team, what they first are usually going to respond to is the commercial imperative. And when you can translate that story into numbers and data, and revenue and profits, then there’s the the ears will open up a little more, I don’t think that that’s necessarily been noted as like, what do you need to do in order to be like a really great leader of Chief people? How do you do to be a great Chief People leader, you know, if you go to college, and then start heading up the trajectory in the in the corporate ladder, that ultimately gets you there, those are actually the, you know, to the key skills that you that you need. So I think what I’m hearing you say is, get the data, tell the story, learn how to do it all yourself if you can, because then you can actually be impactful in this brave new world.


Lorna Hagen  28:03

I think that’s true. I think one of the an older belief, right, was that the best Chief People officers came out of, you know, insert name of big beverage company, and they usually came up from the total rewards, right? They were the cop person that eventually made it to Chief People Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer. And that’s not the case. And I think that’s not the case anymore, because this is all about talent. Compensation is an outcome of great talent management, not the other way around. And so how you’re able to tell the story of the great talent that you have, or the great talent that you’re missing, and that impact to the business is going to be huge.


Debbie Goodman  28:44

But thank you, Lorna for such an amazing 30 minutes or so. Plus, thank you for adding to my post-panny wiki. I’ve got a few pearls though. Thank you and have an amazing weekend up ahead. And an incredible post-panny future and Guild Education


Lorna Hagen  29:02

It was wonderful thank you!


Debbie Goodman  29:07

Next for hanging around all the way to the end. It would mean the world if you would rate and review on working revolution on your favorite listening app. It helps people know that the show is worth listening to. And so I really appreciate that. Thank you so much.


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