In this episode of The New Rules of Work podcast, Kathryn Minshew, Founder and CEO of The Muse, talked with Stacey Payne, formerly Chief People Officer at DIG. Payne talks about how the first 90 days at a job are crucial for employee engagement and retention and how she helped to create an onboarding process—and inclusive culture—at DIG that makes people want to stay for the long haul.
Additionally, Minshew and Payne discuss how important it is to give employees a chance to learn, grow, and ultimately thrive within a company, so that they don’t need to leave their jobs to explore other options.
They also talked about:
- The importance of vulnerability in leaders
- True diversity and real culture from an employee’s perspective
- Building a company around values, not singularity of thought
Stacey Payne (voiceover): It takes a certain type of a leader to actually work hip to hip.
Kathryn Minshew: Hello everyone, and welcome to The New Rules of Work, a podcast from The Muse where we explore the changing landscape of work. Today, I am really excited to have Stacey Payne on the podcast. Hi, Stacey.
Stacey Payne: Hello.
Kathryn Minshew: So I want to embarrass you for a little bit by reading your bio. And so, for those of you who don’t know Stacey, she’s the Chief People Officer at DIG, which is best known for their fast, casual, Dig Inn restaurants that are all across New York City and Boston, expanding rapidly. And they focus on preparing locally sourced ingredients. I was joking before we started recording this, but half of The Muse office eats at Dig Inn. It is one of our favorite spots. I think my cofounder probably is a multiple-times-a-week customer of your restaurants. So I’m sure people who are in other cities besides New York and Boston are going to be seeing some Dig Inn restaurants soon. And then prior to joining DIG, Stacey, you were at a really wide variety of companies from Taco Bell, Plated, Compass, and Chipotle. So welcome to The New Rules of Work.
Stacey Payne: It is so wonderful to be here. Thank you for having me.
Kathryn Minshew: Well I’m excited to dig in because I think there were a number of things in your background and experience that I wanted to ask you about. So, what I start with, or what I’d like to start with is when you and I have talked previously, you’ve mentioned a few times how you can trace many of your most career-advancing opportunities back to things that you made happen by leaning into your network and your relationships. So can you tell us a little bit more about your career journey and about how that relationship-based approach worked?
Stacey Payne: Absolutely. So just in the role I play as someone that leads the people function, I think it’s really important to be vulnerable and transparent. So I hope that the things I share today, you understand they come from that place. And so, for me, my background is a little unique. I am a mom of three amazing kids. I had my first child when I turned 16 years old, like literally two weeks after I turned 16. And so, for me, my career journey really started as being like a teen mom, and really having to be scrappy and look for opportunities so that I could both work and go to school.
Stacey Payne: So my first, like, real relationship that helped me to sort of pivot into a career was meeting a friend of mine’s dad at the restaurant that I was working at. He came in, I guess he had heard stories of us spending time together. He offered me an opportunity to work in his office. He owned a division of Northwestern Mutual, which is a financial services company. And he asked me to just come in and just be a sponge. And I was...that just sounds amazing. I’d love to learn. I’ve never done that before.
Stacey Payne: And so I did and really had the chance to learn about business from hiring and recruiting to how you bring people in and help them build out their business with marketing plans and learning and development. It was really a special experience for me, especially since I had no real career history in the past. And so from that, having someone take a chance on me was really, really special. That also encouraged me to go back to school, not just like community college, but actually go back, apply to university and get a degree.
Stacey Payne: And so I did that, and I think what was really impactful for me, as you know, it’s hard to get classes when you’re in your senior year because you’re trying to finish up. And he said to me, don’t worry about it. We’ll just pay you to answer the phone. And so I didn’t go to work for a year, but I actually got paid just to be basically on call and part of the company.
Stacey Payne: And so for me, that really meant a lot. First of all, someone taking a chance on me not knowing what my life experience really was or my work history, but just knowing I had an attitude and an aptitude to learn. And I think the other is giving people the space to do the things that they really are passionate about—whether it’s school or family—in order to really have a full life. And so that was just that for me was one of the most meaningful stories in my career.
Kathryn Minshew: I mean, I love that. It really is such a testament to the power of both showing up and seizing the opportunity and, like you said, being a sponge and learning on your part. But also the impact that one person can have when they see that potential in someone else. And when they recognize it, and I think you make a really crucial point, they give that person the space to both develop who they are professionally but also to really to have the ability to lean into other priorities in their life as well. And you know, I think that to me, this makes so much sense because you are such an advocate for the importance of building inclusive relationships and inclusive workplaces. And what, as you’ve transitioned into leadership positions and had the opportunity to influence teams and cultures and companies, how do you think about building an authentically inclusive workplace and what do you think great looks like and where do you think companies are missing the mark?
Stacey Payne: We’ve seen a shift in successful companies and what they do differently. For example, I love going to Trader Joe’s because one of the things they talk about is they want to hire people who are representative of the communities that they serve. And they would lean into that in everything that they do. And I think when you’re in a bigger type of formal business, whether it’s real estate development, financial services, and the like, it feels different because you’re not actually seeing, potentially, your customer on the day-to-day. And so the reason I say that is because—what we are seeing in big business now is that the uniqueness of who people are really [does] not just represent the communities that we serve, but [represents] the culture and values of the organizations that they represent.
Stacey Payne: And I think there’s been a shift and it’s been very hard for some traditional leaders to actually make that shift in thinking through what that means. And I know we talked about like diversity and inclusion and belonging, but for me, I personally believe it stems from the values that the leadership has, the organization has, so that we can create a culture that people are living in and attracted to on a day-to-day.
As someone who leads the people function, it’s really important to be vulnerable and transparent.
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah. And to your point, it has to reflect the community around you, your customers, your product base. It’s one of the reasons why I think it’s so staggering that there are so many technology companies that are trying to serve quote, unquote, “everyone” or at least a fairly gender, and racially, and age-based, diverse segment of the U.S. population. And yet their employee base is such a far cry from the people that they’re trying to build for.
Stacey Payne: Yeah, I think it takes work to do that. I know I mentioned this when we were talking earlier and I hope I don’t sound super provocative, but like culture at times can feel like the new like c-word. Does that make sense? I know that sounds like terrible because we spend so much time focused on culture and I believe in having strong and vibrant cultures, but I think a lot of times we go about it the wrong way. And I think that often you see that culture simply becomes a representative of how people are alike, whether it’s physically or how they’re thinking.
Stacey Payne: And that’s not how our country is, nor how our businesses should operate. We have a shared value system that I think we need to talk about a whole lot more as companies so that the culture then can stem from those shared values. Just like families have the same type of values. And then the culture and the family comes from that. And I think a lot of times we get it backwards and we try and do things like have recognition programs or people eating together or paying for these amazing benefits when what we really need to do is focus on what it means to be a unique individual and to really make sure that the breadth of an organization is represented by the people who both share the values, but also then think and act and speak and look different so that we have a representative culture, so to speak, that really is a reflection of your customers and your employees and the product and all of that that you’re looking to get into the marketplace. So for me, that’s really what diversity means when you do it the right way.
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah, and I do think that it’s provocative in a really necessary way, right? Because I think that there’s a lot of people in leadership who think that building a great culture means aligning a team of people to all seem the same. And it’s been really interesting for me. When I started The Muse, I was able to use the word culture as a kind of shorthand for what is a company like to work for? What is the employee experience, what are the values, how does work get done, what sort of behaviors are rewarded and prioritized versus not? And I wanted my platform and my business to help employers and job seekers find that right fit. Because I think we all agree that there is a fit, but it’s been so interesting to see the different ways that, that idea of culture... Again, in some ways, there’s been a lot of positive outgrowth from this focus on it, but there’s also been, I think, some threads of it that have harmed a movement towards more inclusive workplaces. And so I really think that I’m very aligned with this idea of focusing on values and thinking as well about which of your values do support a more inclusive workplace and a workplace and force that looks like your customers versus there could be values that are unintentionally exclusionary. And how as a leadership team can you really be thoughtful about that?
Stacey Payne: Absolutely, and I think it takes a lot of conversations, a lot of soul searching as an organization to really get clear on what you value so that you can create storytelling so that you have an experience when you’re bringing employees in that’s consistent with the things that you’re actually saying about your brand.
Stacey Payne: We often have in the food industry, especially with chefs, people that are just wanting to like, and no disrespect, but just like bark orders and have people do things, and it takes a certain type of a leader to actually work hip to hip, give in-the-moment coaching, and do the things that are important so that we have a culture that is supportive. But that value of nurturing the next crop—if we don’t lean into that and really be specific and make some tough decisions around the types of people that we think are really talented, but may not do that for our business... It really does help as you’re making those decisions so that you are protecting the culture that you want to amplify.
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah, and I like that metaphor of the next crop and sort of speaking of that idea of bringing in new people and nurturing and growing them. I was reading recently that there’s a lot of research that new hires are most likely to leave a company in the first 90 days of working there, which is obviously a huge loss for everyone. And so it’s interesting to me looking at the research that for many people, if you can invest in onboarding and get them to day 91 in a good place, then they’re more likely to stay for a full year or longer. So I think at DIG, you all are doing some really interesting things with the new hire onboarding program. Can you tell us a little bit about that and some of the results you’re seeing from it?
Stacey Payne: Absolutely. So that is really interesting research, especially in the restaurant industry. That if you can get someone to day 91 that they’re likely to stay for a whole year. We have realized that we talk about hospitality a lot in the restaurant industry, but one of the best ways to show hospitality to someone new is to really provide them clarity and make them feel welcome and have a process for them to learn.
Stacey Payne: And so what we’ve been doing over the past few months is being very specific on how we bring our new, we call them chefs in training, into our restaurants. And so what we’ve done is we’ve created two specific career paths for them for their first five days. They get a letter when they join us, what role they’re going to play. We’ve spent time... We call them training buddies, so our people in our restaurants who are really high-performing and really want to advance their careers, they have the opportunity to be someone who welcomes these new hires in and takes them on a very specific journey over the course of five days from learning safety to how you really use a knife and have culinary skills to how you serve and cook our food.
Stacey Payne: And so it’s been really fascinating to see how engagement has really gone up because you have people who are getting to teach something that they’ve already learned. So you feel really proud about your job if you’re a training buddy. And for those who have been welcomed into our organization, what we found is that instead of a 91-day what we call like a gap, ours is 45. And so we’ve seen that people who are getting to feel welcome and have clarity actually decide sooner, which allows us to save a lot of money as it relates to the training and hiring process, but also see people advance faster, which I think is really spectacular.
It takes a certain type of leader to actually work hip to hip.
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah, I mean that’s impressive on a couple of different fronts. And so then as you’re thinking about the career paths that these people take through the organization as they stay, as they grow, as they thrive, and how do you think about helping employees build fulfilling careers? And I love getting to ask you specifically this question because we’ve worked together when you were at Taco Bell with The Muse, at Dig Inn. And so I feel like I get a little bit of a sneak peek through some of the employee stories that you’ve told on The Muse. How do you think about helping employees invest in their careers as they get past that onboarding phase and continue to grow within the organization?
Stacey Payne: First and foremost, we have to be really clear with all of our employees that a traditional career path isn’t how life is anymore. There is no, I do this, and then I get promoted, and then I get promoted, and then I get promoted. With technology and the ways things move in our culture as a country, we just have to be a lot more nimble and flexible. And so we start by really sharing that we’re going to get opportunities in your career. Sometimes it’s a lateral pivot and sometimes it’s a promotion and sometimes you may work in a totally different part of the business in order to get that experience.
Stacey Payne: And so having that conversation first and foremost is really important. I think that allowing people to experience other parts of an organization is really important. So one of the things that we do is “Day in the Life” series so that people can hear from other departments whether it’s real estate development, whether it’s restaurant training and new restaurant openings, whether it’s tech. What someone does on the day-to-day, so that they can understand really what the world was like. And if they’re interested in actually exploring that so that they can then do an internal job shadow and really get mentored. So that’s one piece.
Stacey Payne: I also realize that learning within your four walls can be very intimidating. And so we have really focused on getting people outside of DIG so that they can learn. And so we have two ways that we do that for our restaurant leaders. We’re in the fast casual business, so that’s similar to like a Chipotle, like a Chopped, like a Sweetgreen, which is, you’re learning how to serve guests and cook. All of our restaurant employees, they actually cook everything from scratch and...which is really special.
Stacey Payne: And so what we’ve found is that similar, if you’re in the fine dining industry, if you want to learn, what you would typically do is you actually reach out to another chef, whether it’s in another country or another city, you spend a week with them and you do something called a stage for months where it’s like a basically an unpaid internship, which is really a great way to learn—but we know not practical in our business. And so what we’ve done is we’ve partnered with restaurants all over New York City and Boston, so that our chefs can then go and just, we pay them to go. It’s just like a regular day for them to go and learn from other chefs and either different culinary fields or with different backgrounds, so that they can then be inspired and come back into the restaurant and just share what they’ve learned and cook some amazing specials and feel energized.
Kathryn Minshew: That’s amazing. The creativity that that must unlock in people who get to, like you said, go out into the world and take all of these different learnings and inspirations and bring them back into the org. That’s incredible.
Stacey Payne: It is. I think it’s really special for people because you go into a different type of restaurant, you’re actually, again sharing what you do on the day-to-day and people are like, wow, that’s really impressive. Especially in a casual environment. You’re actually cooking things that you would serve in a fine dining establishment except you walk down a line and it’s served to you in a bowl. Right. It’s just really special.
Stacey Payne: And then for our employees at our support office, one of the things we’ve done is we’ve partnered with a company called Hoppin and they’re based in New York. And what they’ve been able to do is allow us to provide our employees a way to go and job shadow other organizations. And so I know we talked a lot about, or in the past people have had to wait five years to actually go on a sabbatical, which I think is a really long time to wait and people move around companies so much more frequently that you don’t get the benefit from that.
Stacey Payne: So what we’ve decided to do with sort of like the anti-sabbatical and let anybody participate in this job shadow. And so we have people who have gone to organizations, big ones, like Citi FinTech, they have, I think WeWork Labs as part of their process, Uber, and then lots of smaller companies. We had someone on my team who did a job shadow with a jewelry making brand. And she was so inspired coming back, it was so fun just to see an HR business partner learn so much from an industry that’s just not even the same as ours and have these different thoughts and ways that we can think about “Are our employees like customers?” and really do things that are just super important as recurring to create these like moments of inclusion. And so we’ve seen some amazing things come from that.
Stacey Payne: And the other thing that we make sure we do is we actually host people. And so part of Hoppin’s program is that as companies you can host people to come and learn from your organization. And so that’s been really special too. And we actually have someone who did a job shadow with us. She was thinking about going to culinary school, she was in the media industry. And so after her experience with us, she decided to quit her job, go to culinary school, and now she’s doing an internship with us as part of our culinary operations team. So it’s really like a very different way to think about inspiring people and getting them to do something enlightening so that they can build their career and knowing they can stay with us but also learn from other industries. Like we always think the grass is greener and what we find is we leave jobs and realize they actually weren’t. And so I’m just trying to create a space where people can actually see what grass is out there, get inspired, and then bring wonderful ideas back to a job they really love.
Kathryn Minshew: I love that. I love that. And it is true. I mean it’s so easy to look at other companies and other industries and think that I wouldn’t have any of these frustrations or these problems if I went there and you find that almost every industry has its own challenges. And I also like how core it seems to be to everything that you’re doing to help people discover and live their values at work, which is so powerful. And so maybe as we, as we wrap up then, although I hate to wrap up cause I feel like we could, we could dig into this for so much longer, but as we wrap up, I’d love to just ask you to share one piece of advice for someone listening today who is interested in leading with their values at work.
Stacey Payne: Yeah. I think that we live in a world right now where obviously we need to earn a living. So that’s a big part of how decisions are made. But we also have values that mean a lot to us. And I think back to a moment in my career where I was working in a smaller office environment and actually a gentleman came up to me like very upset. I was not in HR at the time and he said something to the effect of like, “I saw someone take a picture of a girl’s chest like down her shirt. I don’t know what to do with this. Like this is so wrong. I can’t believe that someone is doing that.” And I was like, “Wow we have to talk to our leader and report this. This is not okay.” And so we did and what we found is that pattern of behavior happened over the course of many months. We were the first people to actually really bring it to light. And the response that we got back was, “Why are you sharing this with us? This person has a family, we can’t do this to him.” And I was like floored that I was recording something that was in violation of another female in the workplace and that this man was being—
Kathryn Minshew: Protected.
Stacey Payne: Totally protected. And so yeah, I mean I was a single mom at the time, and I just had to take a stand. So I left. Fortunately, I was also in grad school at the time and had some really great connections and because I left, it actually opened up my real passions because I got my first job at learning and development because of that actual decision that I made. But had I not really put my values above my pocketbook so to speak, it would not have opened up actually my dream job and fast forward 20 years or so and I have a career that I love. I’m able to work with people and help them live out their values too. And had that not happened, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Kathryn Minshew: I mean that’s an incredible story, and I think just gets to the core of so many of the things I think you’ve stood for throughout your career and you’ve championed which is giving people the community and the safety to understand their values and then the courage to stand up for them. So I love that. I wish we could talk for hours, but Stacey, thank you so much for spending the time with us today. I really appreciate it. If people are interested in learning more about you or about DIG and Dig Inn, what’s the best place for them to go?
Stacey Payne: Connect via LinkedIn. I’m a huge advocate of making connections and helping people. And then if you want to learn more about the company, obviously you can Google us or go to our web page, which is www.diginn.com. And Kathryn, thank you so much for hosting. This has been such a wonderful experience for me. I learned a ton and I’m just really grateful to have you as a friend and a peer in the New York City community.
Kathryn Minshew: Likewise, and it makes me even more excited about what I do when we can celebrate the work of people like you who are making work better for everyone. So thank you and I’m...listening. I thank you so much. I hope you enjoyed this even a tiny fraction as much as I did, and I will see you on the next episode of The New Rules of Work.
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