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Live from HR Transform: 13 Years Navigating Tough Markets

with Becky Cantieri, CPO, SurveyMonkey (Ep. 36)

Any type of transition for a business comes with its fair share of challenges. And during this transition, it’s key to prioritize leadership and learning initiatives.

In this episode of LEARN, Becky shares insights on transitioning from a private to a public company, navigating growth, learning initiatives at SurveyMonkey, integrating knowledge from internal leaders and external experts, and more.


"Transitioning from a private to a public company required a significant shift in our operational approach. It’s crucial to regularly seek guidance from legal counsel and experienced CHRO peers to navigate this complex process smoothly,” says Becky Cantieri, CPO of SurveyMonkey.

Key takeaways:

  • To foster a successful transition from private to public environments or vice versa, seek experienced guidance from CHRO peers
  • Implement internal leadership training and external expert sessions to enhance business acumen and practical skills among employees
  • Align your strategic agendas closely with the evolving needs of the business, ensuring adaptability and responsiveness to external challenges and internal goals

Tune in on your favorite podcast app as we explore navigating leadership and learning initiatives within a corporate environment.

Episode highlights

[08:16] Operating privately allows transparency and long-term thinking
[09:49] Transitioning to a public company requires legal expertise
[12:52] Focus on business acumen, leadership, and data
[17:21] Align your agenda with the business needs
[21:08] Embraced challenges, growth with great team loyalty
[27:00] Enjoy teamwork and self-care for balance

Becky Cantieri: You do have moments of difficulty every once in a while, but I think overall, it goes back to really enjoying the people that I work with, and that includes not only the leadership team but my direct team.

I've got to assemble a group of people that I love solving hard problems with and they're fun to be in the trenches with even when it gets hard. They're still great people to work with. So that's one thing.

Ted Blosser: Welcome to the LEARN Podcast, where we interview top leaders in tech and learn about how they're building the world's most innovative companies. I'm Ted Blosser, CEO and co founder of WorkRamp, the world's first learning cloud platform. Our mission is to help professionals reach their full potential through learning, and the LEARN podcast is where we can learn from the best leaders at the top of their game.

Please subscribe, leave us a rating, and we hope you enjoy the episode.

We have a crazy story to get us kicked off. So I'm Ted Blosser. I'm the CEO and co founder of WorkRamp. We have a nice fireside chat here with Becky Cantieri from, SurveyMonkey. she is the CPO there, but Becky, tell us about this crazy story. You got to tell them.

Becky Cantieri: So suffice it to say I've been in the building for maybe 12 minutes.

My 8:30 AM flight was delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed. At 11:30, we went back to the gate in San Jose, actually thinking we may or may not make it out. Then 30 minutes later, they reboarded us, said we were off and on our way. I jumped off the plane, jumped in a cab. And like I said, I've been in the building for about 12 minutes.

So, I'm sorry to stress the team out.

Ted Blosser: Well, I'm glad you made it. We had a backup plan. It was not going to be a monologue. e had a whole backup plan. We're going to interview our VP of people, Meredith. I'm glad. Okay. You can make it and we're going to have a great conversation. So, you know, what's really unique about Becky, she's been at Survey Monkey for almost 13 years now, and, she's had such a wealth of experience there.What we're going to do in today's conversation is talk through some of the trials, tribulations, things she's learned, and we'll go through a lot of unique experiences. Many of us may not have experienced in the people function. And so where I want to actually start is around the rebrand. so a lot of you may have seen this in the news, but SurveyMonkey great brand went to a brand called Momentive. For a couple of years, then went back to a brand called SurveyMonkey, and now it's SurveyMonkey. And the first question I want to lead with is, what's that like on an organization? What's that like as the head of people to actually navigate through that change?

Becky Cantieri: So it was a huge change management effort. The reason we went through the rebrand in the first place was to position ourselves differently to be able to sell into enterprises. While SurveyMonkey is a beloved brand, it is perceived to be fun and playful and not quite as serious. So Momentive was about selling into the enterprise. At the time, we were a publicly traded company, however, and we learned rebranding your company is material non-public information. So it is something that we had to do largely in secret until one day we made a major reveal, but we had to tell the street at the same time that we told the employee population. But it was everything from the sign on the building, the name on our invoices, the logo on our website, all the way down to paychecks and schwag. There were thousands and thousands of touch points to rebrand a company. So it was a, ginormous effort to say the least.

Ted Blosser: And then you switch back to switching back. Becky Cantieri: Yes, and I know we will get to this, after being acquired by STG, a private equity firm. And we were really focusing the company on where we could win and where we had the right to win, and that really is focused on our free self-serve product and our premium product also selling into small and mid-sized companies, and SurveyMonkey had the strength to do that. So we went back to SurveyMonkey and, needless to say, when we made that announcement, we were pretty excited. Private company, but nonetheless, the team cheered because SurveyMonkey is such a beloved brand and it was so meaningful to them as the company that they were working for.

It just really resonated with the team, so they were really excited to see us go back and to be really focused because I'm sure as your marketing team can attest to having to carry two brands, SurveyMonkey and Momentum was just double the work for the team.Ted Blosser: And one of the big things with SurveyMonkey now is you've also had a pretty crazy ride in terms of acquisitions, rumored acquisitions as well. So for some background SurveyMonkey, or it was Momentive at the time, was about to be bought by Zendesk. This was in the news. People were probably counting their stock options. That didn't go through famously. And then, uh, actually recently went through an acquisition by STG [00:05:0] as well.

Ted Blosser: Tell us about the navigation of going through acquisition events or almost acquisition events as well to tell us about the challenges, what you've learned through that. Give us some background.

Becky Cantieri: Yeah, so that was a bit of a doozy. I would say, the Zendesk again, a public transaction, very complicated. Both parties being public was something that had to go to a shareholder vote and that all happens over a very extended period of time. The period between signing the transaction, announcing to our team, waiting for the period, the shareholder vote, and then for it to be voted down at the shareholder meeting was a real challenge for the team to try to keep a group of, you know, at that time we were 1700 employees engaged and motivated, and focused on running our business with this. Huge cloud of uncertainty over us, it was really difficult that many of them were participating in integration planning that never really got to see the light of day, of course, but it was just a real tough period of uncertainty. And the thing I think that helped us the most in that moment was being as transparent as we could.

We were still a public company and we still had to be thoughtful, especially with the looming transaction about what we said to the team, but as much as possible, we were trying to help them understand. Okay. What's next? Okay. What's next? What can you expect and what's going to change and when and what should you know?

And by when? It was definitely a challenge.

Ted Blosser: Was there attrition during that time? What was the retention like? I'm curious. Has anyone gone through acquisitions in this room? All right. All right. A lot of people. All right. What was that like?

Becky Cantieri: So, we did do retention efforts, which are very common in a transaction scenario like this, but Interestingly enough, our attrition was very, very low.

We were down to single-digit attrition during that moment, which I do not think was related to necessarily what we were doing, but it was the confluence of the macroeconomic environment and everything else that was going on, made it not a perfect time. And I do think people wanted to see it through and see what happened.

So they kind of waited out the final news about the acquisition not happening. So then we fast forward to STG, a far less complicated transaction. It was, uh, because it was private equity, it went kind of lickety split. And while we did have some uncertainty looming, we moved through it more quickly and we were moving into a private environment, and then the covers were a bit off in terms of being able to be really transparent and telling employees what to expect. So that was a far easier scenario to navigate through.

Ted Blosser: Question I should have for the crowd. How many people in public companies here, public companies? All right. In private?

Private. Private. All right. All right. So we're going to learn from you. More private here than public. You've had the experience of going private and public, operating the people team in both scenarios. Tell us what to expect in each environment. Anything that was unexpected for you. Sure. Going, going back and forth.

Becky Cantieri: Um, so operating in a private environment is, uh, you're just out of the public eye. You have your normal operating cadence and rhythm and you can manage that. One of the big differences, from my perspective, is the transparency that you can have with employees. You can, in fact, tell them what your revenue goals are and how you're pacing outside of a quarterly earnings announcement and that kind of thing. So you kind of get to operate in private, you can think more long term and you get to kind of pick your path in terms of how transparent that you're going to be with employees. On the flip side, when you're public, you have this very kind of rigorous operating cadence of quarterly earnings announcements, board calls, comp committee meetings, and this veil of confidentiality that you have to abide by.

You can't, uh, again, if it's material, non-public information, you're not able to share it with your team, which can be really, a really jarring experience for the team when you're coming from open, transparent, and private and, really tight-knit team to then you're public, and you can't say anything unless you've said it on an earnings call or in a press release.

So those are some of the primary differences from, at least from my experience in the, uh, between public and private.

Ted Blosser: I'm curious, I was in the session yesterday, and we were just talking about various skill sets, CHROs need to develop. was there a specific skill set you needed to pick up going private to public or that you would recommend, for people looking to make that transition?

Becky Cantieri: Prior to SurveyMonkey, I spent about 12 years at Yahoo, and started my role there. In the talent acquisition function. And I was in talent acquisition when we went public. So I was not proximate to the activity of like, they call it going through the shoot and coming out the other end public.

So then, having to go through it at SurveyMonkey, it really was my first time. Becoming a private company, and the advice that I would share is become the best friend of your general counsel because they actually know how to do it, and they can help you understand what every single milestone is for you and how you need to operate differently as you prepare to become a public company. And then your CHRO, peers in your network who can tell you what the highs were and what the lows were. It feels awesome. Quite cumbersome and after you've been working in this quick, nimble, private company environment. it's a huge adjustment really. It's like getting into a game of double dutch. You have to like watch the ropes go for a few minutes and then you're like, okay, I'm in. And you jump right in, but you need help and guidance on what your role will be. Be like, and how it will be different as you move to a public company. there's a lot to learn.

Ted Blosser: Yep. Yep. Well, for anybody aspiring, talk to Becky afterwards, she'll, she'll be able to give you some tips. I want to shift gears a little bit into, uh, learning. So Becky's actually a customer of WorkRamp. Thank you very much. And also for, for coming out here, we were talking a little bit about your learning initiatives. Love to learn more about how you're thinking about learning, any really cool programs you're running. Tell us about anything innovative happening at SurveyMonkey.

Becky Cantieri: Sure. So, a little context for this too, is SurveyMonkey, we're actually going to celebrate our 25th anniversary this year. So we have been around for a long time. And the majority of our growth was in those moments in time in the market where it was growth at all costs. So it was like, if you could spend all the money in the world. If you could grow your revenue. And that's what we were all chasing. That's what we were rewarded for as a public company. And those were those times. Fast forward to today. Because of the macroeconomic environment and all the things that have happened, most of us are in pursuit of profitable growth, which feels a bit like a, you know, both feet on the brakes. And now we've got to be profitable too. So we have to spend dollars really, really wisely. We're going to be more fiscally responsible and we have to grow top-line revenue and make sure some gets down to the bottom line, too. So very different universe for most of us, and at SurveyMonkey, it's no different.

We, too, are in that very same boat. And what we're learning, especially as being part of a private equity group is the operating rigor is quite different than what we used to operate under. Like, just the data-driven nature of the business, the pace, the ownership of your metrics is, just far greater than we used to operate and not that we were like just flying by the seat of our pants or anything, by any means, but like, it's just a new day. So some of the most important skills that we find, we need to work on with the team at large across all functions is just their business acumen. Understanding how we make money, what are the major levers on our business?

What is EBITDA even all of that is just so necessary for them to be really successful in their role under with all of this rigor. So that, and being really data driven and understanding your metrics, knowing what drives your metrics and all of that. So those have been two primary areas of focus, both at the individual contributor level and at the leadership level.

And some of the ways that we've brought that together, to life was some of our programming and WorkRamp to help people build their business acumen and understand our business metrics and data. We also have a program that we call lead, and that is when we bring all of our directors and above together. We're doing it together in person now, just like this again. nd we really [00:14:00] dive into all of these topics, leadership. business acumen, and understanding our business and being data-driven.

Ted Blosser: By the way, if you have questions, feel free to submit them. I'm going to go through the last five to seven minutes, but I actually want to follow up on this program.

Can you walk us through how you tactically implemented this program? Like, were you bringing in outside consultants? Were they SMEs internally? Tell us a little bit more about how you can actually instill this business acumen within the org.

Becky Cantieri: Ours is a bit of both. We use some of our talent in house are, we always use our CEO, of course, and our CFO, they have done a lot of the value creation seminars that we do or

creating value at SurveyMonkey seminars. We also bring in some outside teams to help us do everything from improv to help us kind of warm up and loosen up a radical candor to help us with feedback. It's a really good mix of talking about our own business and investing in ourselves as leaders to grow our skill and capability such that we can be impactful on the business going forward.

Ted Blosser: So you recruit your CE to talk about ebitda. Yeah. To the whole team. They did a rap. They did a rap about, about ebitda. Oh my gosh. Have you done that yet? Can you, can you impersonate it? Yeah, no, I Do you wanna try it? I cannot. I'm not a rapper by nature, but

Hey, everyone. I want to take a quick commercial break and tell you about the company that produces this podcast. I co founded WorkRamp back in 2015, and our mission has always been the same, to help professionals reach their full potential through learning. As part of that mission, we built the world's first Learning Cloud, an all-in-one platform for your employee, partner, and customer learning needs. If your company is looking for a learning management system, also known in the industry as an LMS, We'd love to talk to you. You can reach us at our website,, or you can even email me directly at and I'll get you in touch with our team. Hope you're enjoying the episode and back to the show.

I want to ask, so, we have a lot of aspiring CPOs, CPOs in this room. What advice are you giving the CPOs you're mentoring, meeting with, I know you network with a lot of them, what advice are you giving them literally today as of, Hey, look at the back half of 2024 heading into 2025. What type of advice are you handing out right now?

Becky Cantieri: Okay. Good question. So I think it's two things. One, be adaptable. This morning's story is a good example of that. But just generally speaking, yeah, be adaptable. Like your business is going to change, market will change on you. Your customer profile may change. You may like everything will change. Um, you know, there's going to be a pandemic may hit.

There may be social unrest. There may be elections and those kinds of stressful events, but really being adaptable and not being too fixated on what you believe is your plan because you have to be on the plan of the business. And that's my second primary piece to keep in mind.

And, you know, I often talk to growing CHROs or VPs of people and they're focused on, well, my agenda, even as they're interviewing, they're thinking about what's my plan and what's my agenda. They're going to ask, you know, what are you going to do in your first 30, 60 or 90 days? And my question back is always, Well, what are the needs of the business?

You should not have an agenda that is separate from the needs of the business. We all serve to help the business be successful. And our role is to build an agenda around the needs of the business. So for example, it may be, okay, we're going to start selling into enterprises. We need to build a sales team. And guess what? That year, your agenda is hire, recruit, onboard, and train a sales team because that's the needs of the business You may have some parallel needs of you've got to do your HRIS system You've got to get payroll up and running and those are important HR Tactics and things that have to get done but in the absence of knowing the needs of your business, you really don't have an agenda yet to speak of. So kind of be loose and free and agile and go with the flow and then make sure you always know what the needs of your business are.

Ted Blosser: I love that flexibility.

Becky Cantieri: Yeah.

Ted Blosser: Okay. Let me ask you one final question. Then we'll go to the Q and A. There's actually a new surprise question. It's a hot topic at the conference, which is partnering with your CEO. I think had several CEOs, I think over the years. What are your biggest tips on partnering with your CEO or your leadership team, any big tips that made you super successful?

Becky Cantieri: So first, I would say it's just being a really good listener and being a great partner, like a great confidential partner. I've worked with CEOs who have been CEOs. And I've worked with CEOs who have not been CEOs and were first time in role and just remembering they're human beings and they come to the table with all of the same concerns, worries, fears, and capabilities that everyone else does.And being a great listener, understanding what's on their mind and what's worrying them. And then being their favorite problem solver. you want to be the person that is their first call when they've got a problem to solve because They know you're not going to judge them, whatever that may be, and they know you're here to help and support them and help keep them on the right track again, based on the needs of the business.

Ted Blosser: And that cadence, is that like weekly, monthly? What's the, what's the engagement like?

Becky Cantieri: I mean, it depends on, it depends on the leader. To tell you the truth, some leaders, it's like we have our weekly one-on-one and we're on Slack frequently. And I've had leaders where it's like they call three times a day or they just buzz one event to you.

Yeah. It just depends on what's going on and what the needs of the business are at that particular moment in time. But again, it's one of those, you serve at the discretion of the board and the leadership team and being responsive to the needs of the team, not like 2 a.m. calls constantly or anything like that.

But it's like, I want to be part of the team that solves the problems of the business. So, I'm going to be ready and available to jump in whenever I'm needed.

Ted Blosser: Okay. I'm gonna go to the Q and A, this is a great one. I'm going to go to this top one. How did SurveyMonkey retain you? What kept you going in the same role for three years?

It's, it's a long tenure.

Becky Cantieri: It is a really long time. I'm kind of a long-tenure person. Like I said, I spent 12 years at Yahoo prior to that. And eight years at Nordstrom prior to that. And what it's really been about for me is, I I've always loved this business and this company and this product. I'm an absolutely different HR person, leader because of the nature of this product. It enables me to ask, listen, and act, and make really important decisions based on the needs of my team. So I've always loved this business. I've always had a great working partnership with the CEO. When I started, it was Dave Goldberg, then Zander Lurie, and now Eric Johnson. And I've always loved the executive team, even though it's a different group of people, and it has never failed to give me or present challenges and opportunities for me to learn and grow. I never felt I had to go somewhere else to get those opportunities. We got to be private and high growth. We got to be public and all the demands of that.

We got to work through really crappy stuff like global pandemic, social unrest, terrible elections, and then these acquisitions. And it's like, I could go and do this somewhere else, but I get to do it here with a great group of people with a product I love and solving hard problems with people that I've got credibility and lots of trust with

Ted Blosser: That's great. That's great. I'm gonna go to this next question here. It's a skills-related right in our category. What are the skills or proficiencies, outside of people like finance, that you learned that made you successful in your role? It's almost similar to that previous question. Did you do anything? Maybe to take a step further. Did you do anything specifically where you felt like, Hey, I'm not as strong on the finance side and refreshing on accounting course?

Becky Cantieri: Yeah, no, that was the developing business acumen and understanding. The ins and outs of how the business makes money. That required a lot of curiosity and spending time with our CFO, our sales team, just understanding how all the different parts of the business work are really, really important if you want to be able to speak the same language as the rest of the executive team and know what they're watching and know what they're monitoring on your dashboards and all that you got to get in there and if you don't know, you got to ask.

So that was always kind of my ask lots of questions. Just be really curious.

Ted Blosser: I will admit I was on chat GPT and doing dishes the other night and I, and I did a accounting one-on-one coursejust cause I felt, I felt a little bit, you know, my VP of finance was running circles around me. I'm like, I need to, cause I never took, I did engineering in college and I had to get brushed up. So you're always learning new skills no matter what you're doing. All right.

Becky Cantieri: And there's no shame in not knowing it. Most of us grew up in a singular function or were educated through a particular like you said, you have an engineering background, you were an engineer first, like all the rest of the things about being a CEO, you have to learn. Even as a CEO, even as a CHR, you're still learning all the time.

Ted Blosser: Yeah. I was just saying yesterday how much I learned from our VP of people, Meredith, and she's always educating me, which is great. She's a great listener. Just like your tip. Um, all right. I love this question. How do you choose your battles for what new initiatives to introduce? Maybe, maybe with this one, do you have a really good example of a big initiative that was kind of hard to get pushed through that you remember?

Becky Cantieri: I have a good one of thwarting something I didn't want.

ed Blosser: Okay. That's even better.

Becky Cantieri: So I'll tell a long story very quickly. It was a new CEO at the moment and in multiple forums, he kept talking about how we were going to get rid of our annual bonus program, our incentive pay, and put it all in fixed pay. Dropped it once. And I was like, Hmm. Okay. I'm not sure what he's talking about. Then he dropped it a couple more times. And finally, I was like, okay, let's talk about this. Cause you keep talking about this in multiple forums. Like, do you understand what it means to get rid of variable pay and to put it all in fixed pay?

Like what that will do to our cost. It will mean that we have no tie to business outcomes in our compensation overall, like what is it that you want and why do we keep talking about the annual bonus plan? This was our CEO shortly after Dave Goldberg had passed away. So, like we had been through the ringer. It was a really tough and he just wanted something to delight the employees. He's like, people feel bad. Morale is low. People are sad. We got to get our mojo back. So I'm like, Okay, that is a problem that I can solve. Give me a couple of days, and I will be back. But can you do me a favor? Can we kibosh this whole thing about talking about this bonus plan anymore? We are keeping variable pay. We're not going to run social experiments with people's compensation, okay? And he was like, fine. Got it. So we came back and kind of offered him a salad bar of things to choose from that we would in effect give him the ability to go on stage and do what I refer to as like a confetti cannon.

He was going to have an Oprah moment where he got to get everybody really excited. And. He said, let's do all of them. He didn't pick from the salad bar. He wanted to do all of them. And we rolled out some really meaningful programs. We rolled out a sabbatical program. We extended our parental leave for both genders. And there was one other thing in the mix too, that I can't remember off the top of my head. This was like 2016, but that's a good story [00:26:00] about the nature of the relationship and understanding what they really want, so Solving the problem that he wanted and he got to go up on stage and announce it. And it was his confetti cannon and we didn't have to mess with variable pay.

Ted Blosser: You know, it goes back to your active listening trait that you're talking about earlier and from a CEO perspective, my biggest weakness is I jumped to the solutions first. And our team's always like, well, what are you trying to do? We're smart people. We'll figure out the solutions. It's usually always way better. Right. so I loved how you approached that. All right. Speaking of deflation, this is actually probably going to be the last question. Okay. What I've realized is, the people function usually has to be the positive force in the company.

You're not allowed to have a bad day. A lot of people think that. Right. Yeah. And you have to be positive stewards in the company. So this question is similar to that. How do you stay motivated? You've been working in a turbulent business. it's doing really well now, but you've gone through all these tough times.

How do you find the energy to stay positive, motivated to recommit again and again, after these 13 years, where's the energy source?

Becky Cantieri: Like everyone, it does wax and wane. And I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that. You do have moments of difficulty every once in a while, but I think overall, it goes back to really enjoying the people that I work with, and that includes not only the leadership team but my direct team. I've got to assemble a group of people that I love solving hard problems with and they're fun to be in the trenches with even when it gets hard. They're still great people to work with. So that's one thing. And then the other thing is just like knowing myself and knowing when I've got to take a breather, like when I need to put my oxygen mask on, whatever that may be for me, it's usually walking with the dog and just like getting out of, of. I've got to do a hard enough walk where I can't think about anything else, but like getting up the hill and surviving it or something like that. And the dog never talks back. He never tells me we're going the wrong way or any of that kind of stuff. So, he just goes with the flow.

So I think it's just like. Knowing when you need to put your oxygen mask on and being honest about that too with your team or even your boss. Just being like, I need a break. It's been really hard. Whatever. After you've finished a big project or something and just saying like, I'm out Friday, that's it.

Ted Blosser: Have you done anything unique like sabbaticals and with a 10 year, like yours, a lot of people actually just jumped to a new role when they need the break to get a few weeks vacation. Have you done anything?

Becky Cantieri: I have not taken a full sabbatical yet. The longest I've taken is three weeks.

Cause we tend to have like an acquisition or something that pops up. So I have taken as long as three weeks outside of having children, children. I took a little bit of a longer period of time, but I have taken like a three-week break, which is remarkably recuperative.

Ted Blosser: Okay. Make sure you take those breaks and take those walks.So Becky, thanks so much. This is an amazing session. I'm glad you can make it and so great, great that you could be up here.

Becky Cantieri: Thanks so much, Ted.