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Advice / Employers / Employer Resources

Employer Spotlight: Claire Kennedy on Ensuring Employee Engagement and Safety at Axios

Claire Kennedy, VP of People Operations at Axios | Courtesy of Claire Kennedy
Claire Kennedy, VP of People Operations at Axios | Courtesy of Claire Kennedy

Here at The Muse, we know that there’s no better way to understand how to ace your own employer brand than by seeing some best practices in action.

Well, you’re in luck, because that’s exactly what our Employer Spotlight Series does. We feature all sorts of helpful advice and insights from companies that get employer branding right so that you can learn from their success.

This month, we chatted with Claire Kennedy, VP of People Operations at Axios, about measuring and protecting the well-being, productivity, and engagement of employees in the era of COVID-19.

Tell us a little bit about your career journey. How did you get to where you are today?

I started out in sales and business development on an incredible team at POLITICO that gave me great training. I took those skills and jumped into recruiting when I was offered the opportunity to build out POLITICO’s talent acquisition function from the ground up to help power the company’s continued expansion.

Fast forward to the day that I received a call from Axios founder Roy Schwartz to join a still-unnamed startup—and I jumped at the opportunity. From there, Axios was born! I had a blank slate before me and I’ve since been given the chance to build a robust People Operations function. Our team here oversees Talent Acquisition (telling our story to the world, recruiting top talent, and ensuring that DEI is at the heart of everything we do), Talent Management (creating a world-class employee journey from start to finish), and Talent Operations (what we consider to be the physical manifestation of our company and our space).

The ability to adapt along with having world-class partners and leaders have been key in getting to where I am today.

What is one tool you wish you’d known about when you first started working in talent acquisition and people operations?

Allie Bot. It’s an amazing DEI-focused tool that integrates with Slack—easily fitting into our team’s workflow—and sends people DEI content on a recurring basis. One important feature grants employees anonymity when reporting non-inclusive behavior. This provides people with a new and alternative way to report their concerns while helping to foster a culture of psychological safety.

The Allie Bot team partnered with us to incorporate elements of our bespoke Demographics and Inclusion survey into theirs. We also turned to Allie Bot to survey our people across the COVID-19 era and measure the well-being, productivity, and engagement of our workforce. That weekly data set helped us identify leaders as well as teams and people in need of extra support, enabling us to stay focused and agile when tracking the needs of our employees during such a challenging time.

You lead people operations at Axios with a focus on building dynamic teams and enabling employees to do their best work. What steps have you taken to make sure your employees are continuously engaged and motivated by their jobs, especially while everyone is working remotely?

We’ve taken many steps to measure and protect the well-being, engagement, and safety of our employees across the COVID-19 era. We built a family fund to support those disproportionately affected by COVID to offer financial assistance to those who applied; developed robust programming to promote employee well-being; instituted new benefits (like mental health days), and created varied programming to enhance engagement and help all Axions stay connected.

How do you measure the success of your engagement efforts and gather insights to assess what’s working (and what’s not)?

We run bi-annual Gallup engagement surveys that give our company comparative data sets from organizations worldwide. But what’s really impressive is what we do with that data: we arm managers with their results and ask teams to work together to develop action plans to improve those results. We don’t just measure here, we act. Engagement is a key metric for ensuring business success and holding leaders accountable for prioritizing it accordingly.

What goals are top of mind for your team right now to help prioritize company culture and facilitate belonging across the organization?

This moment calls for all of corporate America to stop and honestly critique where their DEI efforts stand. The most timely, consequential, and impactful work we’re doing now is the work we’re always focused on: ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion are not just stated values, but lived morals rooted in sustainable, scalable systems.

Axios is still actively hiring new employees. What aspects of the employee journey have had to change now that everything has to be done virtually?

Everything but, specifically, onboarding. We’re working with leaders internally to help them understand how to better tackle onboarding in a fully-virtual world, particularly those who have no prior experience with operating this way. It’s an effort that will take creativity and collaboration as we prepare to bring on more new Axions. We’ve also introduced a monthly “work from home” benefit to encourage employees to buy the equipment they need to make the most of working in a virtual world.

What are the most rewarding parts of your job?

I get to work with brilliant people who I love every day, for a mission and a vision that is worthy of my time, energy, and effort. Nothing is better than that. People Operations has always had meaningful influence and impact at Axios and I’m excited to watch other companies begin to value their HR teams accordingly.

What’s something you do outside of work that makes you a better employee?

Getting outside! I’ve jumped on the camping bandwagon, so please tell me your favorite places at