An Interview with Shaye Potts: “Setting the foundation to support our woomsters”
Shaye Potts has been with woom for almost two years as the Global Head of People Operations and has spent a dozen years living in Austin, TX. In the interview, Shaye dissects what equity looks like in the workplace, discusses lessons learned from the pandemic, and how to empower employees to find their own happiness.
1. Your title is the “Global Head of People Operations.” Since we are a children’s bike brand, explain your role in a manner a child would easily understand. (i.e. ELI5)
The role can expand and retract based on the overall needs of the business. It could be an umbrella, that captures a whole lot. We typically look at my role as the team that builds the house that the employee experience people work with all of our woomsters in. So think about putting up the frame, the drywall, maybe painting it, putting the roof on, and getting it ready. And then you come in with the employees and you meet with them, under this roof that's been built using the general structure, which is set by people operations in partnership with the entire EX team.
We're responsible for collaborating across both EU and the US to define processes and policies and identify systems and technology that support the EX team and effectively, all woomsters. They all have the key tenet – which is probably one of the things that speaks most to my heart and gives me a lot of pride and inspiration – they all support equity. Consistent and efficient operations. This is really incredible when you think about a global organization, because even the idea of equity can change quite a bit from one place to another.
2. Tell me about your SHRM-SCP credential. Assuming it has nothing to do with SHRiMp SCamPi, what does it stand for, and moreover what does it entail to be certified in this capacity?
Several people on our team have this credential. SHRM, the Society for Human Resources Management, is a US-based organization but it's internationally recognized. They validate individuals’ knowledge of human resource fundamentals. And then the Senior Certified Professional, which is that SCP (versus the CP) signifies the strategic knowledge of the function. The SCP simply means you have tested and shown you have both fundamental and strategic HR knowledge, and it's all related back to knowing the laws. The laws are related to the US, but the general ideology of how we treat human resources is internationally recognized.
3. What’s something unexpected about your role?
We don't make the decisions about individuals, we simply create the foundation that helps guide decisions consistently.
The operations piece is the other side of that. We’re basically creating the ecosystem that others work within, but this happens collaboratively. I do it with all the team members and I synthesize that for the best, most consistent equitable approach based on hearing what everyone brings to the table. So we're really responsible for ensuring that we're getting a unified opinion globally. That's the kind of macro view.
We need equitable practices, and the best way to do that is to create consistent processes that also allow our regional EX team and leaders to meet our woomsters where they are as individuals, which is the definition of equity.
4. How did your previous experiences at the Gap and YETI prepare you for your current role here at woom?
I feel so fortunate to have had those experiences. The Gap, in its prime, had over 350,000 employees when I started to work there. And it's also an extremely progressively-minded company – meaningfully thinking about how they can treat employees in a really premium way and so it was amazing to see at scale, what “really good” looks like.
And then YETI — being a much smaller organization, but having a really world-class Human Resource team — also helped me understand what good can look like. When you get to work for companies that are bigger, you get to witness and be part of that kind of machine and learn from it.
When you have those experiences like those I had a Gap and YETI, and then think about a growing scaling company like woom, you're like, this is what it could be. How do we put the puzzle pieces together to do what's right for now, while still supporting what could be next, at the right speed? How do we make the right decisions, so that when we get there, we won't have wasted work?
On the operation side of things, my experiences allowed me to see things holistically and identify interdependencies. Having that kind of role, working for these big companies, I’m now empowered to say, ‘Okay, well, who should we be thinking about including here? If I do this, what does that affect? How do I communicate in a way that's easily digestible?’
I think that these experiences helped set me up to zoom out and look at this role in many different avenues — whether it's how we treat people, what it's like to be a leader, or helping our leaders lead others.
My last five roles have all been new roles that didn't exist before I went into them. But I got to do them in companies that were largely already established. So in these roles, I was in a work environment where I was given a general goal and had a supportive team and a whole business around me helping with those goals. I was in a really incredible position in all of these places, seeing as usually you walk into pre-existing roles, so I had both the freedom and authority to do things my way, but also the support from a robust team.
So anyways, that was really impactful to learn from – thinking of woom being a scaling organization – to have been in a safe space at a big organization while still doing an entrepreneurial startup type role.
5. What makes working at woom “magical”?
For me, it’s the focus on doing good. In addition to the desire and the appetite to do good, then the good overall for kids and the good that does for our planet, it just pulls all the way through for me. It may not always be tangible, but it's always palpable at woom and you can always feel it.
That's the magical thing to me. We're all here to make everything we do better than it was before and understand and support each other.
6. How did you hear about woom? How are you personally invested in the company mission?
My origin story is still surprising to me, because I actually met Matthias Ihlenfeld at the old showroom, on Rundberg Lane in north Austin, probably five years ago. I went to pick up a bike for my elder son and I met Matthias and we started to chat, I joined as a Consultant and a period of time later, and the rest is history.
In general, kids’ bikes are so important because they are setting the stage for people to be physically active later in life. It can be so prohibitive in America specifically, where people don't think about cycling as a part of daily life.
It's kind of like public transportation in Austin; most people forget it’s even an option. And now in Austin, we have so many bike lanes and paths being created, and so it’s getting much more accessible here to bike. But first, you have to create the option for people, then they have to be made aware of it before they can change their routines. And so, I think as far as woom’s mission is concerned, I think it’s teaching kids to be outside, being physically active, and then giving them the option to make decisions that do good.
7. Do you have kids or relatives who ride woom bikes?
My older son just made it to a woom NOW 4. And we’ll get the other younger one on a woom bike soon! But yes, I have seen the benefits of woom bikes first hand.
During Covid, most children went deep into the technology. With my older son, pre-pandemic, we were like a “no-technology” family. And then Covid was like, here, all you want, anytime you want!
And his mental health really deteriorated. So I encouraged him over the last year and a half or so, to get back out on his bike and ride, and be out in the world and be in nature. Anyways, now that he’s back into nature and using his body, it's changed his entire outlook. It makes this significant difference and we're setting the foundation for a lot of that. Bikes are a way to be physical, right? But really, even though we’d love for kids to want to continue riding bikes, you know, to perpetuity and use it as a mode of transportation, etc. All that's great. But it also just teaches them how to use their body and be physical. Maybe that means they’re hikers later. It just means that they get the benefit of being outside and what that does for your mental health, and that's amazing.
8. Give an example of designing an equitable practice for employees. What was the initial status quo and how did you enact positive change that ensured more equity?
I think that the biggest source of inequity comes from everybody looking at things differently. And so that is a risk for any company. We all start from a different place. With woom being a scaling company, we have all these people from different backgrounds and leadership roles. We get a lot of people in their first leadership role, and everybody's their own human being and everybody's looking at their team differently. Everyone has good intentions, but we don’t all have the same starting point or playbook to go with.
One of the big things my team supported was the creation and implementation of a global total rewards program. This project came right after woom created employee “levels” using a consistent methodology. Having this organizational framework in place allowed us to create compensation bands. And the compensation bands are matched back to the levels, based on department.
Setting up these levels allowed everyone to have kind of the same opportunity using the same criteria but still allows us to be able to look at them as individuals. This creates transparency across leadership and within the EX (employee experience) team. This is our prescription for how we'll look at people versus each team leader coming at it from their own lens.
9. Since you are in a global role, what is it like working with an international team?
Seeing yourself and your country through another lens and being able to learn from that is really incredible, really broadens my horizons. I think the big silver lining is the different perspectives, just getting different kinds of starting points. It's priceless and really challenges me to think about the world creatively versus being rooted in what I think I know.
10. People and human interactions are at the core of your job. How has that changed in the last few years as we have transitioned out of the pandemic?
I started officially in August of 2021. At that time, when we hired many of our people, we didn't even have an office, and [remote workers] were established where they were. As an organization. I think that we've kept the thread of “people first”, while still mindfully chartering what the pandemic taught us.
We've done a really good job of allowing flexibility for people to show up in the way that makes sense for them.
Some woomsters may have childcare needs that they have to attend to, it could be things that are mental health-related, or it’s just easier for them to work from home, or they save time on a commute. All of those are things, I think, we've allowed to be gifts from the pandemic. We're able to continue to honor those while also understanding there’s great value to the office experience, and knowing that the only constant is change.
11. Do you have a story of another woom employee who inspired you?
I have so many people at woom I could pick for that, so I'll focus on what collectively inspires me by the actions of those people! I'm so proud that we always focus on the human and individual first. I'm energized that we lead with good intentions and are driving toward the best employee experience that puts people first.
12. What is the funniest or weirdest thing that has happened to you at any job? Can you share a behind-the-scenes story about a customer experience?
So I was working at a pet store and, you know, you never want a dead animal to be in a cage especially if a kid’s there. A little kid wanted to get a hamster and she's like, “That one’s so sweet!” Because normally hamsters are kind of nutty, right? They’ll bite you and pee on you and they're kind of crazy…
And as she said, “That one’s so sweet,” I realized he was dead in the cage. Of course, that’s the hamster she wants!
At first, I'm like, Oh my God —but also, she’s only five, so I can distract her. So I'm like, “Oh that's great. Did you see… “ And as I pointed at the cages, I reached in and grabbed the dead hamster. I put it in my pocket, and because I had created some ruckus, she didn’t notice. She then looked at the cage and didn't know which hamster was which anymore, and she was fine.
But now there’s a dead hamster in my pocket. He's like starting to go into rigor mortis. And I helped her with the entire rest of her process with his dead hamster in my pocket. After I checked her out, life was good and I put him in the normal frozen bag. The things you do to keep customers happy!
13. Tell me about your personal experiences riding bikes. What kind of bike do you ride now? What kind of riding do you do?
I really enjoy riding but I don't do it as much as I like. I was in Berlin recently and I rode everywhere there. …When I was at the woom headquarters in Austria, I was sure that it was going to be the death of me to ride into the office, and Matthias B. was like, no, it won't be… he convinced me, and he rode with me from the office and back again - it was a blast. So I do it mostly when I travel or if I have appointments in the area. It’s all very practical; It's not like leisure riding. I have a Fairdale hybrid; they’re steel bikes. I like that they're kind of old school.