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How Shopify cultivates internal talent

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. Here’s hoping you’ve had a restful weekend. Today: Shopify’s take on talent development, how tech companies are helping their Ukrainian workers and what Gen Z sees as valuable in future careers.

—Amber Burton, reporter (email | twitter)

Look inside first

Look, we get it. If you’re a leader in tech right now, you’re probably having trouble hiring. But sometimes the best candidate is right in front of us (or right next to us on the Zoom screen.)

Retention is hard in this job market where it seems like it’s quittin’ time for everyone. But is there a way to keep your employees by offering them an opportunity to not only be promoted in their current roles but pivot to an entirely different role?

I spoke to Shopify’s Director of Talent Development Kimberley Mullins on why and how the company identifies and cultivates talent internally, how company leaders communicate with employees about transition opportunities and how a culinary team member at the ecommerce company was able to transition to a communications role.

How do you think about talent development within Shopify?

At Shopify, it has always been our approach that throughout people's career journey, they may want to try new things and do different things. And giving them the opportunity to do that within our organization is a priority for us as both an opportunity for retention and the chance to give our top talent room to flourish.

We have had culinary team people who moved into the talent operations or into communications and honed their craft there. We've even seen people move into a technical role, because their interests expanded based on their exposure to work at Shopify. So as people conceptualize what's important to them, as their family changes or their needs personally change, we like to give them the opportunity to experience that change in a way that works for them.

We use the metaphor of a jungle gym for career growth. Rather than climbing the steps of your career, one rung at a time, in a singular path, we recognize that at some point in a career, you might want to change disciplines.

How do you message and communicate internal opportunities to your employees?

We have multiple streams for internal movement. There are instances where, for development purposes, we will ask individuals to take on a new opportunity or to trial a new space, so that they can learn more about the business and bring that back to their technical craft. And we post internally on a regular basis and have some roles that we post exclusively internally. And we have a dedicated internal movement team to support that internal recruitment process.

Does that mean that you try to hire internally first before you consider external candidates?

For many roles we do. Of course, if it's a very niche technical craft, or if we're expanding a large group, we may choose to go external, and internal people will still have the opportunity to apply. But we always prioritize our internal development, because we know we've got great people, and we want to give them an opportunity to do their life's work here.

Can you tell me a little bit about this internal team that’s focused solely on internal moves? When was it started, and what are its responsibilities?

We've had a team dedicated to internal movement for several years, predating the pandemic. Their role is to design the systems by which we try to make it as easy as possible for internal candidates to apply for or demonstrate interest in roles that are available across the company. And then to help conduct the screening and decision-making for those roles. Their other component is to help people understand what those roles entail, to make sure that we have a good employee experience in the internal movement process.

I think the benefits to an employee to be able to move within the company is pretty clear. But what's the benefit of going internal first from a company standpoint?

We really believe that we have really good talent at Shopify. We spend a considerable amount of time and energy on our recruitment process. We get to know people, we ask them to get to know us before either party makes a choice to build that relationship. We believe that retaining people, and giving them the opportunity to add context in different parts of our business, is a priority for us. And we see a lot of value from that.

Is there a cost-saving side of this as well, when it comes to hiring internally versus recruiting externally?

Well, often you'll find that when there's a role that requires internal movement or we source a candidate internally, we do create a space in another part of the organization. I haven't done the calculations on the total cost piece. Our motivation is largely about our opportunity to retain top talent and to make sure our employees have the space to do their life's work.

So when you're talking about the example you gave us of someone who was on the culinary team who transitioned into talent, for example, how do you train and prepare an internal candidate like that for a role in an entirely new field?

We offer internal training for all employees, regardless of whether they're technical or not, on technical components like coding or data science. We have internal courses that help train and expose individuals in different aspects of the work. We also have programming that enables them to be supported in augmenting that. And in some cases, we have individuals who have other types of training that perhaps they're not utilizing in the current role, but would like to, and we respect and value that.

How do you evaluate an employee’s potential for a future role before they actually take it on?

If they raised their hand for a role, they would go through a screening process. And if there were other candidates interested, then certainly they would have an interview process with the hiring manager. We would encourage them to talk openly with their leads. Because it's not a hidden thing, or seen as a negative thing to want to move roles at Shopify. So we encourage open dialogue, and they get feedback on whether there's a fit at this time for that role, or if additional learning or experience is required. And then that helps them to plan in conjunction with their lead their career progression for the next round.

You led me to my next question, which is how can interested employees begin those conversations while taking into consideration their existing managers and teams?

We encourage very open dialogue about that. It's seen as a positive to be interested in learning other parts of the business. In some cases, we will tap people on the shoulder and say, “We'd really like you to consider taking on this project or alternate role for a period of time, because we see that it would add value to the team.” So the first step is always for an individual to talk to their lead and to share their interest, whatever that may be. And then quite often, the lead will help that person identify the next opportunity and even recommend them for certain roles internally.

And are there certain roles that you think translate well to others?

Certainly, there are some roles that would be a more straightforward transition, particularly if it's in or aligned to a technical craft. And I would say by far most of the internal moves are within similar or adjacent disciplines. We do have more extreme cases, and there's certainly a possibility for that. But most of the changes that we see are people who move from, for example, talent or HR to external communications, so relatable skills.

What's your one piece of advice for other HR leaders and tech companies who want to better recruit internally?

Believe in your process. To do internal movement, you have to create trust and an understanding that this has value to the organization and to the individual. And make it an open process. No hiding, no secrets. That really facilitates success.

But isn't there a risk for the individual to be so open with their current managers? What if they don't get the position that they want to try for and then they're still on their team?

Our expectation is that if somebody identifies an interest in something else, in no way is that detrimental to their current role. It helps the leader understand where that person's aspirations and interests lie so they can help them get there. So if you see it as zero-sum thinking, then that would be perceived that way. But at Shopify, we see this as a great way to get to know the people we work with, and to help identify where we can best leverage their interests, skills and talents.

— Michelle Ma, reporter (twitter | email)

Recruiting and retaining talent in the new world of work

The “Great Resignation” has shaken up the tech industry in ways unseen. How do you compete for top tech talent today? And what are the best ways to hold on to your employees in the new labor market? Join Protocol and a panel of talent and workplace specialists as they discuss the most innovative ways to recruit and retain great employees at 10 a.m. PT on March 3.

RSVP here.


95% of employees quitting their jobs say the number-one reason is a lack of growth opportunities.* Learn how you can increase top talent retention, strengthen your onboarding process and reduce burnout on your teams with our report. *Source:

Learn more

How tech companies are helping their Ukrainian employees

Andy Kurtzig, the CEO of JustAnswer, has found himself in the position of teaching other leaders how to protect their workers and businesses in Ukraine. His company currently has 252 employees based in the country and he’s been preparing for this possibility for years, he told my colleague Lizzy Lawrence. Ukraine has a sizable tech presence; its IT industry grew by 20.4% in 2020, according to the BBC. Right now, Kurtzig said companies’ number one focus should be on employee safety. JustAnswer is covering relocation costs for its Ukrainian workforce. Wix, Lyft and Uber have also made similar decisions. Others have taken to sharing detailed contingency plans. “Lots of companies are pulling out of Ukraine and fleeing Ukraine because of all this, and that’s exactly what Putin wants,” Kurtzig said. “We’re not going to flee and run away. Their job is safe and secure. We are committed to Ukraine.”

Read the full story.

Pay, perks & benefits

Last week we covered the perks that aren’t coming back as employees return to the office. This week we’re looking at what perks are making a return. Google is going full throttle and betting on massage chairs and full gym access to help lure employees back. The company’s Bay Area offices are bringing back other plush amenities as well, including its full shuttle service, according to CNBC. Employees can even expect access to the campus’ music and game rooms and lounges. Though still optional, around 30% of Google’s Bay Area workforce went to the office last week, reported my colleague Allison Levitsky. The company has not set a date at which its workers will be required to come in three days a week.

Read the full story.

What Gen Z wants from future careers

It's safe to say that with each generation priorities change, and Gen Z is no different. Edtech company Brainly recently released its findings on how Gen Z thinks about careers right now. For one, while salary was considered to be the most important factor for the younger generation, they care less about salary than millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. Brainly conducted two surveys for a total of 9,000 respondents. Here’s what you need to know about the youngest cohort of workers.

  • 66.8% of Gen Z respondents marked salary as an important factor for their career. In comparison, 76.1% of millennials and 82.5% of Gen X considered salary to be important. (Reporter’s note: These numbers possibly reflect proximity to retirement and shifting financial priorities).
  • Almost 15% of Gen Z respondents said job title was an important factor for future careers. This selection was second to salary.
  • In comparison, the second-most-important career factor for millennials and Gen X was company values (12.6% and 14.3%, respectively).
  • In terms of how members of Gen Z would like to work, they’re currently split as to whether they’d be happy working from home in future jobs. While 50.5% said they would be happy, 27.1% said they weren’t sure and 22.4% said no, they wouldn’t be happy working from home in future jobs.

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95% of employees quitting their jobs say the number-one reason is a lack of growth opportunities.* Learn how you can increase top talent retention, strengthen your onboarding process and reduce burnout on your teams with our report.*Source:

Learn more

Around the internet

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One fun Tweet: How we were all feeling during Slack’s brief outage last week.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to Have a great day, see you Tuesday.

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