Illustration of Drift chat box

Now is the time when good leadership, or lack thereof, will make a difference. Companies today will be remembered tomorrow for how they reacted as an organization to support their employees, and society at large.

Luckily, we have seen a lot of organizations take charge in ensuring that they treat their people well, and that they find ways to support COVID-19 relief efforts where they can. 

We’re highlighting these leaders in our #LeadersForGood campaign.

We recently spoke with Dena Upton, the Chief People Officer at Drift, a B2B tech company that provides a Conversational Marketing platform combining chat, email, video, and automation to remove the friction from business buying.

Drift’s immediate response to COVID-19 was to send all employees to work from home starting March 10, to cancel all work travel, and to postpone the HYPERGROWTH London conference until September.

Beyond that, Drift has partnered with Perficient to deliver a chatbot-based assessment for COVID-19. The assessment allows hospitals and health plans to give specific recommendations for populations at risk — and comes at a time when helplines are being inundated with coronavirus-related questions.

Read on for some insights from Dena into how Drift is handling the current challenges and supporting employees during this time.

About Dena

Dena joined Drift in 2018, and as Chief People Officer, she oversees the company’s talent development, operations, recruitment and retention. 

Prior to Drift, she served as VP, People and Talent for six years at LogMeIn, and brings over 20 years of experience in managing people. Under Upton’s leadership, her prior companies have been recognized for outstanding culture and talent management, including nine consecutive Best Places to Work accolades for LogMeIn from the Boston Business Journal.

Can you tell me about how Drift’s values are informing the actions the company is taking right now?

Dena: A lot of our values stem from David and Elias. When they started Drift, they took the time to structure and articulate the Drift leadership principles.

Basically, there’s eight leadership principles, which all work around our vision of becoming the new way businesses buy from businesses. In order to achieve this vision, both David and Elias believed that you had to have a focus on customer experience above everything else. The Drift leadership principles exist to make our day to day decisions a little bit easier.

So it’s essentially a toolbox that our employees use to make the best choices for your customer. How do we put our customers at the center of everything we do? Well, you start by putting your employees at the center of everything you do so that they have the space and mindset to be able to take care of our customers.

Especially during the coronavirus, we’ve consciously made the decision to always choose our employees first. Unfortuantely there are so many tech companies out there that are going through massive layoffs. We have fortunately had a healthy enough financial status so that we don’t have to do that.

But in order to protect our employees we made the decision to cut back on open headcount, and then redeploy some of our teammates who were dedicated to filling those open roles. For example, we’ve redeployed a big chunk of our recruiting team to be BDRs, finding that recruiters are actually very good BDRs.

We made a conscious decision to make sure that we didn’t have to go through layoffs because we believe that what we’re selling right now is really needed, and it’s accelerating a lot of companies’ conversations around digital transformation. 

I think the foundation of how our executive team has made decisions around what’s happening started with our mentors and advisors. And now that they aren’t traveling, we’ve had the opprotunity to run a mentors series with those people. They’ve shared what they’re seeing out in the market and answered questions like “How do you educate our team to work through chaos?” “How do you focus on and simplify things that are within your control when there’s a whole world that is in chaos?” 

So we’ve focused our energy on doing that — using our Leadership Principles to dictate our decisions, protected our employees and had important, topical conversations with mentors and advisors. 

Leah: What are some examples of things you are doing to help employees right now?

Dena: We have a wellness ERG (we actually have a handful of ERGs across the organization) that specifically focuses around mindfulness and wellness. So one of our Drifters in that ERG teaches a virtual yoga class a couple of times a week, and another hosts 15 minutes of once a week. What’s great is that it’s grassroots, so it’s our Drifters that are setting those up.

It’s hard because everyone’s remote. And so they’re saying, “I’m not going to use my time off because I’m not going anywhere.” But what we’re really trying to tell people — a lot of it is our executive team leading by example —  is that you can take time off, even if you’re not going anywhere.

It’s important to take a disconnect. If you’ve got the time, take it. You don’t need to leave the state, but you can kind of leave your normal cadence of being at your remote office, et cetera. 

Leah: What have your biggest challenges been during this time and like what have you done to address those challenges?

Dena:  I give credit to David Cancel, our CEO, as he was one of the first tech CEOs to, at the beginning of March, send the team home.

I think that helped in a lot of ways. It just helped to show our employees that we’re leading the effort in the cities where we have offices. It also helped tactically because we could ensure that our employees weren’t getting sick in our work setting. 

We bookend our weeks with what we call Monday Metrics and Friday Show and Tell. Monday metrics is an opportunity for everyone across the organization, every single department to understand what sales we have in front of us, what customers we have renewing, what products we’ve shipped.

And it’s really important for everyone across the organization to understand they’re all owners and to understand our business and our business metrics. We then end the week with what we call Show and Tell, where we have someone from each department talk about what they did that week, what they shipped that week and how it helped our customers.

During Show and Tell we end with a candid, open Q&A for our executive leadership team to talk answer questions like, “What’s on your mind? What are you worried about?” We had those rituals in place when we were in the office, but they’ve served as a sense of normalcy when we moved to a remote setting.

Since being remote we also added a “Culture Corner” component to Show and Tell that updates everyone on what’s happening (remotely) across the Drift offices. Our hope is that it can help replicate that feeling of being able to run into people in the office in a remote way.

Leah: How do you help support your employees to have good perspectives and mindsets during this time?

Dena: It’s hard because 92% of our drifters are millennials or younger, and so they haven’t seen this before. Well, none of us have actually seen this exact thing before,  but several of the leaders in the organization have been through 9/11, 2008, and other financial downturns. So we’re trying to make sure that the team of individuals that have not seen this before understand the perspective of those that have. While it’s a little bit different, it’s important that they understand that perspective.

We’ve also always been transparent about the business, but right now we’re trying to over-communicate what’s happening with our financial situation. Because again, they’re all owners and we want to make sure they understand it. And the reason why a lot of people came to Drift is to learn a ton. This is an opportunity to learn a lot going through this, and you’re going to learn a bit about having to reshift, pivot, and reprioritize and be resilient and be adaptable. And as much as we can bring some of the perspectives from people that might have seen that playbook before, the better equipped our Drifters will be to adjust to it now.

We’ve tried to use this opportunity to execute on the things that we have in front of us, but then also use it as a way to educate and treat it as a learning opportunity. Because it is. 

There’s so much pressure on everyone right now, but I think we can all use it as an opportunity to really find out things like  what is it that you’re really good at? What is it that you love to do? What is it that you hate to do and what are you terrible at? And then answering those four questions during a period of time like this sort of reiterates, “Am I in the right role? Am I in the right company? Do I like this?”

It just allows you to be very introspective. And I think people at Drift are making a decision about us as a company by the way in which we treat them during this period. And that’s really powerful. We want to make sure we’re treating our employees well because we have always had that philosophy.