Removing obstacles that stand in the way of people achieving their goals. That’s what being a #PeopleFirst leader means to Tia Fomenoff, Director of People & Culture at Thinkific.

Every few weeks, I chat with a #PeopleFirst leader that I admire and respect and put them in the hot seat to learn more about the leadership lessons they’ve learnt that make them the #PeopleFirst leaders they are today.

Who in the world 🌎 is Tia Fomenoff?

Jane: What was your first job growing up? Do you have a memorable life lesson from it that you’d like to share?

Tia: My first job was as a ‘setter’ (busgirl) at my local Earls restaurant when I was 16. I only stayed for a few months because I quickly realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Looking back now I probably should have worked more closely with my manager to figure out how I could move up into the hostess role that I wanted sooner—but I was so young at the time and didn’t know how to broach those kinds of conversations. I still remember how scared I was to quit!

I learned two important lessons from that job about work: the first was that it’s okay to make mistakes—that’s how you learn (I embarrassingly dropped dozens of plates and glasses on the ground before I became an expert at clearing tables), and the second was that you need to enjoy what you’re doing to excel at it—if you’re not feeling excited to show up, then it will have a negative impact on you, your coworkers, and ultimately, the company.

Jane: Before jumping into your current role as Director of People & Culture, you wore a variety of hats in product marketing and customer success. How has these experiences helped you with what you do today?

Tia: One benefit of having worked in a number of different teams and departments is that now I know how to more effectively hire for certain roles. For instance, my previous experience as the Customer Success Manager at Unbounce allows me to identify what’s really important to a customer success role. Going into a hiring interview, I can ask key questions to assess the quality of a customer success candidate…and understand if they really know what they’re talking about. I can also take my digital marketing background and apply some of the strategies to better spread the word on why Thinkific is a great place to work – and that’s critical to growing our team quickly.

Leadership Lessons through Tia’s Glasses 😎

Jane: What’s one thing you wish you had learned earlier as a leader?

Tia: I wish I had taken part more actively in hiring during some of my earlier roles. Learning the process to hire and find the right people for our team has been one of the biggest game changers for me. We model Thinkific’s current hiring practices based on Topgrading with some modifications made to better fit our company culture. More importantly, it is deeply satisfying to see the positive impact the right people can have on our team and our company.

Jane: Do you have mentors you lean on to become a better leader?

Tia: I’m super lucky to work with people I look up to everyday. The support I’ve had from the founding exec team at Thinkific (Greg, Miranda and Matt) has been crucial to developing the leader I am today. Not many people would trust their product marketing director to take on hiring their team, especially at a time where we need to grow quickly. But they did. They took a chance and let me own a whole new side of things of the business, while providing the guidance I needed to grow as a person. Now, I try to pass down some of that to new team members that join us.

Jane: Growing and advancing the Women in Tech movement is a passion of yours. Tell me more about why this is so important to you.

Tia: An interesting (and frustrating) stat I found circulating online some time ago is that while only 25 Fortune 500 CEOs are women, 23 CEOs are named John. This is despite the fact that women make up 50.8% of the US population and 57% of college graduates, while men named John make up only 3.3% of those groups. As leaders in tech, it’s our responsibility to continue to help close the enormous gap that still exists in our industry.

I do a lot of work with local organizations like Ladies Learning Code, YES! and BC Tech to raise awareness and provide mentorship to other women in tech. I’m also the event co-organizer for Tech Ladies® Vancouver branch for the past two years. Speaking with women in the tech industry, one of the common challenges stem from the historical trend of men dominating in the industry and women not given the same opportunities. We’re trying to change that at Thinkific. Currently, 48% of our team identifies as women and females make up 54% of our leadership team.

Image Source NY Times

People and Culture at Thinkific

Jane: I heard that the Thinkific team has been growing a lot in the past year. Where do some of your greatest game-changing ideas come from?

Tia: Yes, we’re growing quickly! Our team was 30 people in January last year, and today we’re at 70. As we add to our team, we continue to be dedicated to one of our core values of Learn & Grow – and is always thinking 10X about everything. This means that for any project or idea we need to think about how can we make it 10X better or reduce the work by 10X. As a result, we’re always pushing ourselves and each other to think outside the box, to level-up, and to do better. To add to that method of idea generation, every team member has a weekly opportunity to interact directly with our customers, whether that is through training sessions, helping with our Facebook community, doing user testing, or actually jumping into our inbound support ticket queue. Identifying current customer pain points always helps to spark great ideas. So if you’re feeling like you’re up for the challenge of always thinking 10X – come join the Thinkific team. 😄

Jane: As you grow quickly, whose job is it to keep your people motivated, engaged, and inspired?

Tia: Greg, our CEO, often says his real job is to be the “Chief Repetition Officer”. At every company townhall (and really, every day whenever he gets a chance), Greg repeatedly tells the story of the company, reminding everyone why we’re here, who are customers are, and our customers’ stories to make sure we all stay on the same path. At the end of the day, everyone on the team plays a key role in keeping each other inspired. Take our support team – they do a really great job at reminding us every day who our customers are and their success stories. With everyone on our team constantly talking to customers, we keep a close connection to who we are and why we’re here.

What does being a #PeopleFirst Leader mean to you?

Jane: Final question. What does being a #PeopleFirst Leader mean to you?

Tia: I’m a huge believer in a quote by David Ogilvy (better known as the father of advertising and founder of Ogilvy & Mather): “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.” How I try to live by this is to be aware of who I am, my strengths and shortcomings (I’m an ENFJ based on Myers-Briggs), and then actively look out for talent who can bridge my gaps and who are smarter than me.

As a #PeopleFirst leader, it’s my responsibility to understand what motivates my team members to succeed, and make it my priority to be accessible to them and remove any obstacles that stand in their way of achieving their goals. Giving them the autonomy to make their own decisions is key, while supporting it with constructive and timely feedback.

If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.

– David Ogilvy

Thank you Tia for sharing with us your stories and experiences as a #PeopleFirst leader.