Episode 90

SADA women leaders focus on talent development and training with culture and service in mind

  • Orkideh Shahidi

    VP of People Operations, SADA

  • Annette Davidsen

    Head of Talent and Development, SADA

  • Meredith Mitnick

    Training and Development Consultant, SADA

We continue to celebrate Women’s History Month with a special Cloud N Clear episode hosted by Orkideh Shahidi, VP of People Operations. Joining Orkideh are other SADA women leaders: Annette Davidsen, Head of Talent and Development, and Meredith Mitnick, Training and Development ConsultantTune in to hear how they’ve both helped SADA take great strides in the areas of training and development, diversity equity and inclusion (DEI); and how they intend to “kick it up a notch” moving forward.

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Orkideh Shahidi (00:00):

Hi, everyone. Welcome to Cloud N Clear. I’m Orkideh Shahidi, Vice president of People Operations at SADA, and I’m excited to be hosting this session of Cloud and Clear. Today, I’m going to be talking to our talent development team about initiatives for learning and development within the tech space. Please help me welcome Annette Davidsen, Head of Talent Development and Meredith Mitnick, our Learning and Development Consultant. Welcome ladies. It’s so nice to have you here.

Annette Davidsen (00:32):

Thank you Orkideh, it’s really nice to be here.

Meredith Mitnick (00:34):

Thanks for having us, Orkideh.

Orkideh Shahidi (00:37):

So we’ve got a lot of exciting things to get to today, but please first give me a little background about yourselves. How long have you been with SADA?

Annette Davidsen (00:47):

Yeah, so gosh, we’ve had so much happen since I started here. So many changes. I started about eight years ago, back in 2013. We’ve definitely come a long way.

Orkideh Shahidi (00:59):


Annette Davidsen (01:00):

When I first started, you were a one-woman show doing all the recruiting, the offers, the onboarding, the benefits. And then I came into this little world of beautiful chaos and slowly we started working together over the years to begin putting operational processes in place. We developed a robust onboarding program and now we’re creating development tracks. It’s been awesome. And I’m super excited to talk about all the stuff that we’ve been working on here today.

Orkideh Shahidi (01:30):

Yes, of course I remember, crazy! It’s been eight years and we’ve been through so much change. I started back in 2012 and Meredith that’s when you and I met, right?

Meredith Mitnick (01:43):

You’re right. It’s funny how things work out. Right? So I did just start in my role here with Talent and Development in January of this year. But I originally started at SADA almost nine years ago as the first full-time HR person. And at that time, I mean talk about a different world. We were under 50 employees. We were like a fraction of the size here and I left to go complete my MBA, and I told Tony that before I did, I would hire and train his next HR person and Orkideh, I still remember your phone interview. My friend you knocked it out of the park.

Meredith Mitnick (02:21):

I always loved SADA. And even back then, I joked that I’d find a way to come back and Learning and Development has really always been my HR sweet spot. So I’m so happy to be back here with the team in that capacity. And it’s just such an exciting time to be at SADA. I love what we’ve been doing with Talent and Development and I can’t wait to kick it up a notch.

Orkideh Shahidi (02:41):

Well, thank you very much Meredith. Annette, you and I have been working together for a long time. I know you’re very passionate about Talent Development. It’s always been big at SADA. Well, now we’re starting to formalize it and build career paths. Talk to us about some of our learning and development initiatives.

Annette Davidsen (03:04):

It’s definitely something that I’m very passionate about. First of all, I truly believe that we should never stop learning new things in general and building upon our skillset, and SADA’s culture is in line with that mentality. I feel lucky and proud to be part of this team in part because SADA has always invested in the growth of its people. But I remember when we added our professional development reimbursement policy back in the day. It was awesome. We really put our money where our mouth is so to speak. And it helps me actually, because we’re doing some of these super exciting stuff with regards to career growth and development here at SADA.

Orkideh Shahidi (03:40):

Well, yes, we try to do our best year after year to introduce new benefits that are going to improve upon our standards of living, whether it’s in the realm of overall health and wellness or in career pathing, or even just fun stuff, because we love to do that.

Annette Davidsen (03:58):

Yes, we do.

Orkideh Shahidi (03:58):

That’s something that SADA will never stop doing. So speaking of career paths, I want to talk a little bit about what are we doing in terms of that, but first I want to start with onboarding. So tell us a little bit about how that has changed over the years and what it looks like now.

Annette Davidsen (04:21):

Back when I first started, this was the onboarding process, right? The new hire would come in the office around 9:00, 9:30, and then they would sit next to you behind your desk, remember Orkideh? And you would flip through the orientation deck, show them some things about benefits and then show them how to log their time in. And then that was it. They would go to their desks and start working. Right? I look back at how onboarding was back then now, and I think, wow, it’s so different than what it looks like today, right?

Orkideh Shahidi (04:49):

Oh my God, yes. Do you remember how we started formalizing our onboarding here? I think Tony sent me a ping saying, “Do you guys know how to use classroom?”

Annette Davidsen (05:01):

Yes, I remember, and so I learned how to use classroom, right? And now we have a classroom dedicated for just people operations onboarding for new hire, right? So forget the role specific stuff, the career path stuff for just a minute, we have a robust classroom with resources, trainings, assignments for our new hires, for just the people operations side of things. Right? And the feedback from both sides that we’ve gotten has been really good. The new hires, as well as our managers, right? It’s been great. It sets expectations for both sides and we’ve gotten some really good feedback.

Meredith Mitnick (05:41):

And I can speak to that as a new hire. So I mean the entire process from recruitment to starting even in a remote capacity was clearly super intentional. It really sets the tone for what it’s like to join SADA. So you get a really great feel for the company culture early on from that first touch and coming into this particular role, I’m really excited because I get to be a part of this welcoming experience and help to create some new and exciting things along the way.

Orkideh Shahidi (06:06):

Yes, we have definitely come a long way in our onboarding. So now, let’s shift gears for a minute into career development. What have we done in this realm and what are some of our goals for 2021?

Annette Davidsen (06:22):

Yes. Career pathing. Let’s talk about it. So this is the first time that we’ve actually sat down and we started formalizing and standardizing this across the board at SADA, which admittedly was a little bit scary for me in the beginning, but after some time and learning more about it, I just became more and more excited about the project. And in the beginning, we looked to Google’s GCP pillars to help us get started as a foundation, which really helped us a lot. We wanted to make sure that we were in sync there.

Annette Davidsen (06:52):

So what have we been doing? We’ve been working with managers to create job ladders and matrices for their departments. What does that mean? Basically, each department identifies how many career levels there are for a specific role and then what the trajectory for growth is for that role. This process entails a lot of brainstorming sessions, of course, and quite a bit of work on the part of the managers to identify and finalize what these levels and matrices should look like. So they’re working very hard.

Orkideh Shahidi (07:24):

I remember being part of those initial meetings. So, you guys have made some great progress with this project and I believe we’ve started creating paths for about 85% of our roles here at SADA already. And half of those have reached completion, right?

Annette Davidsen (07:42):

Yeah. Yeah. So we technically started this process back in the end of 2019. So we’ve been working hard for some time now, but yes you are right. And the important thing to note that I wanted to note here was that what makes us unique is that we’re getting input from our employees too, on what these paths should look like, what these trajectories should look like. Having the employees be part of that creation process, enforces inclusion, of course, which is strong in our culture, but it ultimately yields this really nicely baked outcome that you won’t find anywhere else or at least not in most places. And by doing this, we’re looking out for things like unconscious biases that might be present. For example, just off topic for a second here, I know we use this tool, Recruit Her for some of our job descriptions to make sure that we take out verbiage that deters women from applying. And it’s the same concept here, we’re getting the feedback from our employees, not just because of their expertise, but also because of their unique individuality. It’s very exciting to see this process come to fruition.

Orkideh Shahidi (08:50):

We live our core values, especially around doing the right thing. So we cultivate inclusion by being champions of one another, so this is all wonderful. So, okay, so now we’ve built our levels and matrices what’s next? What’s the next step? Now what?

Annette Davidsen (09:07):

So that next step here is really to create that path between the levels and the matrix. So as Talent Development, we’re really working on taking these levels and constructing a curriculum for each of the different roles. So to give an example, let’s say sales. So we sit down and we develop a learning path for each of those roles within sales. So, that will show both what it takes to be at a level. So for example, a level four salesperson, and then what it’s going to take to help them move up to a level five sales person at SADA. So as part of this process, we are actually identifying content to link our career development curriculum to these created paths and we’re really mapping it all out so it’s all connected. And one of the things that’s kind of important to note here is that growth is an incredibly important part of your professional journey. So you don’t become stagnant.

Annette Davidsen (09:57):

And the kind of employees we have here at SADA, these are not folks who want to be stagnant. We’re not stagnant people. Everyone really wants to be continuing to grow and better themselves and really work on whatever it is that’s coming next. So we are working really diligently with the department leads to create paths for all of our roles here at SADA. And it’s really helpful to know as an employee, whether your goals are to manage people, whether you want to level up as a manager, or if you want to be the best individual contributor you can and level up in that capacity, you want to know what those goals are so that your development can really support your goals there.

Orkideh Shahidi (10:36):

Well, I can tell you the executive management team and our board is excited about this project. And I have lots of feedback from employees and managers and everybody. And everyone is very excited. This tells people we care about their growth and it helps with recruiting top talent as well as retention, which is super important. Meredith, I know you’ve been diligently searching for the perfect content provider for us to continue. Give us some insight into what it is we’re looking for.

Meredith Mitnick (11:06):

So without giving it all away, we have really created a robust rubric to help us determine which content provider is going to work best for us. It is essential that this compliments our career pathing efforts and really needs to enhance our ability to support at all levels and at all areas within our organization. So, we have a list of requirements and we’ve kind of sifted through it. It really is like four main areas. So the first of which it needs to compliment our career path. So including soft skills, tech skills, all of those areas, in order to create a really robust program for each particular role. It also needs to have a leadership training component. So we’re looking to create management programs at all levels of our organization, and we need a really well-rounded content option in order to do that. So as SADA grows, we want to ensure that all of our leaders throughout the organizations have the skills for them to thrive and for their teams to thrive.

Meredith Mitnick (12:04):

Another area is overall professional development. So folks at SADA work extremely hard. We’ve already talked about this. Nobody’s stagnant, everybody here is driven, talented professionals and constantly looking to educate and level up. So we need to be able to make sure that there’s a good content library so that our workforce can look into the other areas of interest and learn more in all of those facets.

Meredith Mitnick (12:26):

This also includes wellness. We want to make sure that folks have the tools to take care of themselves and really be incredibly productive here and in general. And lastly, but of course, certainly not least is our DEI education and experiences. So that’s another key component to this rubric and we have some existing offerings there, but we’re really looking to level up our offerings in that space.

Orkideh Shahidi (12:48):

That is awesome. But speaking on DEI initiatives, so tell us a little bit about some of our DEI initiatives with respect to learning program, just in our overall culture.

Annette Davidsen (13:01):

Yeah. We’ve always had DEI as part of our culture, and in the more recent years we’ve taken this up a notch by creating a DEI program with some training requirements. Last year, we provided several workshops on diversity, as well as inclusion methods. We’ve launched internal training requirements for our recruitment team, our management team, and also all SADAians across the board. We had our very own CMO, Narine Galstian, host a I Am Remarkable session, which as you know, is a Google initiative that focuses on empowering women in underrepresented groups. We’ve started several internal support/celebration groups here at SADA, including the women of SADA, pride group, DEI chats, and moving into 2021, we know we need to set higher expectations and continue that education and growth. I mean, learning is never ending.

Meredith Mitnick (13:54):

I can speak before I joined, I really did my research and I really saw how the top level management here at SADA is extremely passionate about DEI efforts. And we’re building on this. So, Annette kind of mentioned this a bit. Our internet site includes some training programs that provide education, but that’s not quite enough. So this is where we’re really tapping into our content management system and we’re creating additional programs and leveraging additional programs to build on all of this on a really deeper level.

Annette Davidsen (14:25):

Yeah. The bottom line is it’s so important to educate on diversity, equity, and inclusion within an organization, starting with recruitment all the way to having it evident in your career path.

Orkideh Shahidi (14:37):

Absolutely. I’m so excited that we’re formalizing all these things and taking SADA and the SADAians to the next level. I’d like to thank you both for being my guests today and giving us some insight into all the hard work you ladies are doing. Nice style, nice work. On that note, I’d like to also take this opportunity to acknowledge it today. You know, the day of this recording is International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month as well. I’m so super excited about that. We’re in the tech space here, and if you’re not focusing on things like development of women in tech space or the importance of inclusion within a team, then you don’t get very far. I’m so very proud that DEI is part of our culture and shines through in everything we have done and will be doing in the future. Again, I wanted to thank you both for being my guests today and keep at it. Great work, ladies.

Annette Davidsen (15:40):

Thank you, Orkideh. Thank you. It was really nice to be here.

Meredith Mitnick (15:42):

Thank you Orkideh

Orkideh Shahidi (15:42):

Thank you, everybody.

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