I had the pleasure of interviewing Vicki Choi, Director of HR at Course Hero. She has spent her HR career building programs, practices and systems to support company culture, employee engagement, and performance management.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I have a background in architecture. After a few years designing physical spaces that create an experience for people, I decided to change careers and go into People Operations for Course Hero. I’ve learned that my previous experience in architecture is not so different from my HR experience. In both cases, I have to understand why people behave or make decisions a certain way and design spaces and systems to guide and motivate them to have the best experience.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think having empathy is super important in my role when you’re designing programs and policies. You have to balance what makes sense for the business and what’s fair and right for employees. I remember early in my career, having to come up with a maternity policy for an employee who was our first expectant mother. Not fully understanding how much it takes to be a new parent, the policy was subpar. After becoming a mother myself, I now realize how important it is to support new parents. We have made improvements to our maternity policy since then.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There’s something about the people who work at Course Hero that creates a really authentic bond between employees and fosters a supportive and collaborative culture. We had a 10-year anniversary celebration where we invited former Course Hero employees to attend and an overwhelming number of alumni showed up. It was uplifting to see the close relationships that have been maintained and to hear from alumni that their current company is missing that piece of the culture.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Right now, we’re thinking through how we can better support our managers. Often times in startups, new managers are thrown into the ring without the proper resources and support they need to succeed and make an impact. A few ideas include hosting manager session with role playing activities, bringing in thought leader speakers and starting a manager book club.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Develop a candid relationship with your employees and don’t be afraid to have honest conversations. The more trust you have with your employees, the easier it is to push each other to grow and solve problems together.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I reported into our CFO for a period of time and he not only gave me ownership and listened to my ideas, he supported me in a way that built my confidence in my role and helped me realize the potential I had to make an impact at Course Hero.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think the relationships that you build at work and how you treat people are the things that have a lasting impact. For me, if I can help someone realize their potential or make a tough situation into a positive one, that’s the impact I want to have.
Can you share the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line?
· Diverse perspectives — When you have a group of people with different levels of experience, each person can bring different questions, thoughts and recommendations to get to best result to move the bottom line.
· Always Learning — We encourage employees to have a growth mindset — always learning from other people and improving yourself. If you are lacking a skill that someone with a different background has, learn from them so you can move the needle for the business too.
· Better ideas — We have a term we use, “debate and commit”. Everyone brings their ideas and information to the table and debate for the best plan to move forward with. Then everyone is expected to commit to it.
· Collaboration — Bringing functional groups together early to plan strategy and projects creates alignment and efficiency in execution.
· Empathy — When you learn about each others background or history, you build a human relationship that creates empathy for each other and hopefully maintains a productive and respectful working relationship. We held a Voices of Course Hero session where individuals shared their story with a small group of employees. Employees felt closer and had more respect for each other.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“When given a choice, take the harder road.”
I would love to meet Priscilla Chan, CEO of The Primary School and co-founder of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. She’s making a big impact on bridging education and health.