Vivian Farris joined Symend in September 2020 as our first Chief People Officer. Vivian has over 20 years of experience growing teams and evolving culture at some of Calgary’s first and fastest growing tech companies such as Image Club Graphics, Eyewire, Veer and, most recently, Benevity. She has seen first-hand what it takes to build dispersed and remote teams to keep up with customer demand and has built out offices in Canada, the US and Europe.
Learn more about Vivian’s experience at high-growth companies, her thoughts on evolving culture when transitioning from start-up to scale-up and what she wants to accomplish at Symend.
Tell us about your past experiences and what aspects you are most excited to bring to Symend.
I have a history helping build companies from the ground up as part of some of Calgary’s first and fastest growing companies including Image Club Graphics, Eyewire, Veer and Benevity, where I learned what it takes to build teams rapidly. Each of these companies experienced significant spikes in growth, often doubling in size every six months in the early days. In addition to leading rapid recruitment, I’ve spent a lot of time helping evolve the culture, creating and implementing people programs and assisting with expansion into new markets. Symend is at the stage where it needs a blend of all these things and I can’t wait to dive in and be part of making it happen.
What accomplishments are you most proud of as it relates to building teams and culture?
I am passionate about building a culture where people feel valued and see opportunity for growth. It has been 13 years since Veer was sold to Corbis and the people that worked there still talk about the good old days and how amazing it was. At Benevity, everyone felt like they had a role to play in helping us evolve and sustain the culture. I am also proud of the HR teams I have had the opportunity to lead over the years. The passion, commitment and willingness to try new things has been critical to achieving growth goals.
What the key things you learned about evolving culture when transitioning from start-up to scale-up?
Growing pains are real. I have seen first-hand what it takes to rapidly build dispersed and remote teams to keep up with customer demand. Trying to find the talent you need at the right time can be a real challenge, and location shouldn’t be a factor. Companies need to hire the best talent, wherever they are located, rather than focusing on hiring where their offices are based. As the “work from home” world changes, remote work will become more the norm.
Communication is key – when you are moving fast, you need to find ways to keep everyone in the loop and heading in the right direction. Taking the time to explain the “why” will equip people to make better decisions in their day to day work and help them understand the give and take when communicating decisions about things like acquisitions, product innovations, clients, structure or leadership.
Ensure you are creating an environment where everyone feels safe to speak up and share their thoughts and ideas – diversity of opinion and thought process is key. Lastly, put the tools, processes and programs in place that align with where you want to be 3-5 years from now.
What excites you most about working at a high-growth technology company?
I have had the chance to work with some amazing teams and people. When you get a group of people who are passionate, have clear direction and know what they are accountable for, great things can happen. Getting to watch people grow their skills and come together as part of a broader community is pretty fun too!
Growing a team at rapid speed is a massive undertaking and a rare opportunity. Symend has a strong leadership team and a board filled with people who have succeeded in this before and I am incredibly excited to be part of charting the course.
Why is Symend positioned to attract top talent?
When I first talked to Hanif, I connected with the “why” right away. Working for a company that is truly making a difference and doing work that matters is a key motivator for many when considering making a move. Symend is a high-growth company poised for big things and we have the leadership and talent to make it happen. We also have an impressive board that is experienced building successful global companies. Their leadership, endorsement and desire to help Symend succeed speaks volumes. All these pieces are crucial when you are trying to attract top, high-performing talent. People love to build and be a part of developing something and that is where we are now. From day one, people are going to have the chance to have an impact and help us get to where we need to go.
What type of talent is best positioned to succeed at a high-growth company?
People who have strong work ethic, thrive at a fast pace and embrace change…and have fun! Working at a high-growth tech company is very hard – you need to be on all the time. Joining a company like Symend at the stage it is at is a very rare opportunity and it’s as rewarding as it is hard. If you are passionate about what you do and share that passion with those around you, you are very likely to succeed in this environment.
What do you want to accomplish first at Symend?
I have been very impressed with all that is already being done at Symend from a people and culture standpoint. I love the pace of hyper-growth and I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves, learn, build, iterate, make mistakes and, most of all, find ways to do things differently. That said, we do have a full plate of things that we are focused on:
- Finding the right people (lots of them) wherever we can find them
- Evolving our culture to align with our growth
- Infusing our values across all that we do
- Putting the right tools, programs and processes in place so people can be their best
As we move to a mixed environment of working from home and from the office, we’ll need to work hard to keep the best parts of both and set our people up for success. We want people to feel seen, heard and recognized for their efforts. If we take care of our people, they will take care of our clients, company and each other.
What is your vision for people and culture at Symend over the next year?
All employees at Symend understand what we are trying to do and why – and know their role in making it happen. While we add more people to the team, we continue to ensure that we are creating a culture where people feel connected to each other regardless of whether they work from home or from different cities. I imagine Symend as an employer of choice because our “why” resonates, we positively impact people across the globe and we have the best and brightest people delivering top quality work, while feeling supported and appreciated.
What are a few fun facts about you that we won’t find on your LinkedIn profile?
- I am a born and raised Calgarian
- I have a French bulldog puppy named Blu
- I’m all about the outdoors – biking, paddle boarding, golf, you name it!