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💬  Q&A Featuring Russ Laraway, Chief People Officer | Q&A

LaurenK Seattle, WA, USA Administrator
edited October 25 in Community Programs & Events

We’re excited to announce our next Q&A with one of Qualtrics’ top leaders! From June 22 to June 30th, you can ask Russ Laraway, our Chief People Officer, any questions you have about working remotely, adjusting to life in our “new normal,” and how Qualtrics can be used to make sure your employees and customers are doing OK. We also want to use this space to open a dialogue about the current conversation surrounding #BlackLivesMatter and what Qualtrics is doing to make sure the voices of our Black employees and customers are heard, validated, and acknowledged.

Meet Russ

Russ Laraway oversees our People Operations team (or PeopleOps for short), whose purpose is to “power legendary experiences” for all Qualtrics employees. This includes running our various employee engagement programs, investing in employees’ careers at Qualtrics and beyond, and working to create an environment where every employee can be successful. 

Russ has had a diverse and dynamic career before coming to Qualtrics. Before he joined the Q family, Russ worked at both Google and Twitter, helping to grow them into the tech juggernauts they are today. At Google, he was recognized as one of Google’s best managers for helping his employees succeed. Before joining Qualtrics, Russ co-founded Candor Inc. with Kim Scott to help people improve their relationships at work. Russ brought his experiences with him to Qualtrics, and he’s been a key contributor in shaping a collaborative and impactful work environment. 

How It Works

Add your question for Russ as a comment on this post. Russ will personally answer all of the questions that come in throughout the week.

During the Q&A, you have the opportunity to work with your fellow community members to unlock prizes to help navigate our ever-changing world. Prizes include tech for improving work from home, such as wireless keyboards and ergonomic furniture, donations to either Black Lives Matter or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a year subscription to Masterclass, gift cards to local restaurants of your choice, and more! For each task completed, a new prize will be unlocked. Some tasks may just require work from a single community member, while other tasks may require a team effort to complete. Tasks do not need to be completed in order. 

*Please ensure all questions are thoughtful and of high-quality. We will be checking, and it matters!

  1. Over 1500 views on this Q&A post. 
  2. TASK COMPLETED: $100 gift card to local restaurant of choice Convince Russ to reveal his personal self-care techniques, but don’t let him know this is a task. 
  3. TASK COMPLETED: 1 Year Headspace subscription Ask a question about how Qualtrics uses our own XM platform to improve employee experience. 
  4. TASK COMPLETED: $100 donation to BLM or NAACP Legal Fund Three questions posted to the Q&A within 24 hours of going live. 
  5. Get Russ to talk about Radical Candor / Kim Scott without mentioning either by name. 
  6. TASK COMPLETED: Wireless Logitech or Apple Mouse Three questions from people with “R” in their first or last name. 
  7. TASK COMPLETED: Wireless Microsoft or Apple Keyboard One question about Employee Experience (EX) best practices. 
  8. 100 likes on this LinkedIn post

Once a task is complete, we will cross it off and let you know which prize you have unlocked as a community. We will be entering each of the Q&A participants - meaning those who have posted a thoughtful question or discussion point for Russ - into a raffle for a chance to win one of the unlocked prizes. Each corresponding task must be completed by 11:59 pm MST on June 30th for the prize to be unlocked. A community admin will reach out to our winners (who may choose which prize they’d like), and they will be announced to the community shortly after.

*As usual for Q&As, support questions are not allowed! If you have a support question, please start a discussion elsewhere on the community, or reach out to the Qualtrics Support team.



  • Benbabooey
    Benbabooey Seattle Qubie ✭

    Who is the best middle manager you ever had on your team?

  • russlaraway
    russlaraway Utah, USA Moderator

    Benbabooey, aka The Wiz - That is Middle Lou. If this is the kind of question I'm going to get for the next week or so, it's gonna be a great time!

  • Benbabooey
    Benbabooey Seattle Qubie ✭

    ok - working out in shelter in place is key - AM? mid-day? PM? i have worked in 60 min blocks mid-day, workout, eat, shower, back to work.


  • russlaraway
    russlaraway Utah, USA Moderator

    I think working out is key (I'm more of a PM workout guy), but I think there are a couple other things that really help:

    • Stay in your routine - for you, Ben, this means continuing to wake up early enough to wake up the roosters
    • Get dressed for work - wears your jeans and your oxford with rolled up sleeves. Resist the temptation to show up to Zooms in your skivvies.
    • Have a place to go, even if it's small or imperfect - I've seen some suboptimal work from home setups. It's a real challenge. If you can go somewhere, do that. Our CMO works out of his sprinter van.
    • Prioritize - remember that prioritization is an exercise in subtraction, not an exercise in addition. Determine the very small number of things to do that actually MATTER.
    • GET OFF ZOOM sometimes - switch some of your 1:1s to phone and go outside and walk when local regulations permit.
    • End your day - for real. Create a hard stop - and this is one reason why I like the end-of-day workout; STOP working and create separation from work. Lots of ways to do that, but the workout is powerful... changing clothes, warming up, focusing on the workout, etc.
  • BC_rani
    BC_rani Chestnut Hill, MA Qubie ✭

    What are you doing at Qualtrics to create a culture of inclusion and diversity? What are you doing at Qualtrics to create more professional opportunities for minorities who are under-represented in STEM related companies like Qualtrics? Does Qualtrics partner with HBCU's when recruiting new hires?

  • russlaraway
    russlaraway Utah, USA Moderator

    Hi there - what a great question!

    We do quite a bit, and we have plans to do quite a bit more. Some things:

    • Specific Diversity Goals - we have company level goals for increasing representation for underrepresented groups. We have these goals for broad company-wide representation, mid-level representation, and senior level representations. My opinion is that the act of setting goals and measuring progress is the key idea that separate companies taking this seriously and those that aren't.
    • Specific Inclusion Goals - We measure fairness, inclusion, respect, and equity 4x per year and have company level goals to close the experience gap between the majority group and underrepresented groups within Qualtrics.
    • Q-Groups - we have a number of employee resource groups (ERGs), or Q-Groups, built around attracting, developing, and retaining the underrepresented - They are: MosaiQ, Women's Leadership Development (WLD), Q-Pride, Q&Able, and Q Salute. ERGs have formal budget and executive sponsorship.
    • Rubric-based hiring - one of the best "bias busters" available is rubric-based hiring. 100% of our manager interviews and now all of our "culture fit" interviews are rubric based. Some groups inside the company are 100% rubric based!
    • Semi-Annual Pay/Promo/Performance Equity Checks - Twice a year, we check our performance ratings process, our compensation system, and our promotion process for quantitative and anecdotal evidence of bias and unfairness.
    • Leadership training - a core leadership idea that we teach to both our managers as well as our most junior employees is this simple concept: "ensure every voice is heard," for the managers and "ensure every voice is heard, including my own," for our more junior employees. This charters everyone with not only creating a more inclusive culture, but also ensuring we hear diverse perspectives in the execution of our business.
    • Partnership with HBCUs - In the US we have committed to establishing partnerships with HBCUs.
    • Anti-racism training - we are currently evaluating authors and vendors (and close to a decision) to become the backbone of our movement to forever be an anti-racist company.
    • Donations and matching - our MosaiQ Q-Group has identified a number of high quality anti-racism causes that we've encouraged our employees to evaluate if they are so moved, to donate. The encouragement? Our CEO Ryan Smith has generously agreed to match employee donations to these causes for the next 3 months! In just a few weeks, we've already seen 100s of thousands of dollars in employee donations.

    I am proud of our rather aggressive D&I agenda, and I am aware we do more than most companies, by quite a bit, but I also feel like we're never done.

    In each of the areas I outlined above - for all of our progress and success - the reality is that in my mind, we have so much more to do.

    If your question was inspired a bit more by current events, check out this public statement we made a couple weeks ago:

  • ana_velez_voce
    ana_velez_voce Medellín Superuser ✭✭✭✭

    Hi @russlaraway 

    employee experience is a topic that is only just emerging. Many companies may not be ready for a large-scale deployment, but they want to start embedding it in their processes and culture. For example, there are cases in which leaders have never been in a position that requires reviewing the results of their feedback and implementing action plans on them. Many companies can feel frustrated when seeing the capabilities of the platform and the objectives they want to reach and do not know where to start, and that starting is the first big step. What recommendations or roadmap would you give to companies facing cases like this?

  • ana_velez_voce
    ana_velez_voce Medellín Superuser ✭✭✭✭

    Hi @russlaraway

    Nowadays, as a result of the pandemic, people's priorities have changed and we have gained awareness of well-being habits such as washing hands very well, which we previously overlooked and which now translate into life-saving measures, in the physical and emotional environment. From your experience which of these measures have resulted that we can suggest to others

  • russlaraway
    russlaraway Utah, USA Moderator

    Hi Ana!

    Thank you for the question!

    I think because there is such a strong relationship between employee engagement and business results that the place I would start is with employee engagement. - you can start here simply by requesting or watching a demo, and we can help get you moving.

    Once you start to understand employee engagement and the various drivers of engagement, you will likely notice that one of the more explanatory drivers is manager quality.

    That’s my 1-2 punch! Engagement first, and then manager quality as the (likely) key driver.

  • russlaraway
    russlaraway Utah, USA Moderator

    Hi Ana! Any chance you can rewrite / restate the question? It’s not clear to me what you are asking. :(.


  • ana_velez_voce
    ana_velez_voce Medellín Superuser ✭✭✭✭


    no problem. sorry if this was a little bit confusing. I mean many of us have started doing thing different after coronavirus, in terms of physical and emotional safety. like washing more your hands, checking your temperature regularly, meditation, yoga. Do you have any of this habits that has help you during this times, and that can help others that are looking for alternatives?

  • AdamK12
    AdamK12 Bethesda, MD Superuser ✭✭✭✭

    Hi, @russlaraway ! When starting an EX or employee feedback program, how can an organization successfully balance concerns about privacy and anonymity with the value of segmenting feedback by work group, division, geography, etc.?

  • russlaraway
    russlaraway Utah, USA Moderator
    edited June 2020

    Hey Ana - all good.

    One thing we’ve discovered is that even though many of us find ourselves in a very similar context, the variables that affect our ability to be productive or our mental well being vary greatly. One person might have a home office, but might have 3 toddlers at home. Another person might have a studio apartment and no partner. A third might have a partner, and he’s also working from home, and they are tag-teaming taking care of an infant. You end up with a near-infinite number of permutations and combinations.

    On the COVID front, I’ve tended to try to simplify the problem - if risk is defined as the probability of infection * the magnitude of what happens if you’re infected, you can see pretty quickly that your best defense is to reduce your probability. The ways to do this are well documented, but it seems like current guidelines are to 1) avoid crowds or aggregations of people 2) wash your hands for 20 seconds 3) wear a mask when you are around other folks.

    Other coping mechanisms... I think they are very personal. For example, I personally get no value from meditation or yoga. I do, however, get value from CrossFit and walking with my dog. :). I feel like these things are deeply personal, and I am hesitant to offer too much because what works for me, is unlikely to work for many.

    Related to your question, to stay productive AND sane, here are some tips I offer folks that have seemed to help:

    • Stay in your routine - wake up when you normally wake up, maybe take that commute time back and sleep instead, but stick with what you were doing pre-COVID.
    • Get dressed for work - Sounds silly, but I put on shoes every single day. I avoid dressing down too far from what I would normally wear.
    • Have a place to go, even if it's small or imperfect - I've seen some suboptimal work-from-home setups. It's a real challenge for many. If you can go somewhere, do that. Our CMO, Kylan, works out of his sprinter van (down by the river), for example. As a direct result of that choice, he’s grown an impressive beard.
    • Prioritize - remember that prioritization is an exercise in subtraction, not an exercise in addition. Determine the very small number of things to do that actually MATTER. 
    • GET OFF ZOOM... sometimes - switch some of your 1:1s to phone and go outside and walk when local regulations and your 4G connection permit.
    • End your day - for real. Create a hard stop; this is one reason why I like the end-of-day workout. STOP working and create separation from work. Lots of ways to do that, but the workout is powerful... changing clothes, warming up, focusing on the workout, etc. all help to more naturally create separation.
    • Go to bed on time - it’s very hard to keep your morning routine if you are going to be way too late. Going to bed on time makes everything else possible the next day.

    It may not be possible to do all of these every day, but this is how I’ve achieved some level of normalcy.

    My biggest challenge is keeping my three teenagers off of the internet while I’m trying to have Zoom meetings. :) :) Please let me know if you have solutions for that!!!

  • russlaraway
    russlaraway Utah, USA Moderator

    Hey Adam - my favorite topic.

    A criticism I have of this 30+ year old industry is that in some contexts it absolutely does prioritize confidentiality over our ability to listen and take action. This gnaws at me approximately daily.

    Our products allow you to set certain confidentiality thresholds. Here at the Q, if one of our managers has fewer than 5 responses she will not get a dashboard, and for open ended comments, we allow those to be seen when someone has 20 people in their hierarchy.

    Anyway, for us, this has meant that, until very recently, about 30% of our managers could not get a dashboard because they didn’t get enough responses. (Our response rate is 87-92% generally, so this is more of a span of control reality for us). This is incredibly frustrating for them, and since we put the manager at the center of our EX strategy, it’s a massive gap for us. Those managers, put another way, are flying blind.

    Will Adams from our People Analytics team (no poaching) devised - and just last week launched - a way to get managers with fewer than 5 responses, their developmental insights. We’ve taken away the scores, which means the (very bad) instinct to figure out “who said what” is gone because ya just can’t do it, and we’ve used our product’s ability to prioritize action based on what drivers are most positively and most negatively affecting engagement. We’re just giving our managers those areas to improve. Then they can use our guided action planning just like anyone else.

    In other words, we’ve figured out a way to get insights in the spirit of development and giving managers tools to be better, without creating any incremental confidentiality risk.

  • Benbabooey
    Benbabooey Seattle Qubie ✭

    i have 2 new leaders who started remote and will be, for some time. any tips to help them?

  • russlaraway
    russlaraway Utah, USA Moderator


    I think there are probably two major areas that are affected when starting a new manager or anyone new on the team.

    First, they will need to feel connected to the team and second, they will need utmost clarity on their direction as well as provide clarity on their teams' direction.

    Feeling connected

    Feeling connected while remote AND new can be really hard.

    • I think you and the other managers have to lean in very hard with the commonly cited options. Zoom happy hours, 1:1 calls, virtual office hours, Peloton rides, Slack.
    • I probably would even be more prescriptive about their 1:1 cadence with their new team members - an hour with each report every week, non negotiable.
    • If they are second line, I would probably suggest they do an "inventory skip level" meeting mostly to inform their context on the state of the org.

    Direction and Expectations

    I think you know, Ben, I like a 4 part Direction framework - Purpose, vision, OKRs, priorities, which go from longest duration/most persistent (Purpose), to least persistent (daily/weekly priorities).

    • I cover this in detail in my book "Happy Results" (not yet published), but you know as well as anyone how important it is to write OKRs (quarterly goals) well, so that you, their manager, their team, adjacent org all know unambiguously what they are up to and what they are focused on.
    • I love Monday morning snippets - write down and publish no more than three big things you gotta get done this week, and these should be a function of your OKRs. I just finished my Snippets - our internal system somewhat forces you to make your snippets a child of an OKR, which is nice, and Ryan Smith's staff's snippets get published to the whole company for transparency.
    • I love daily standups - my team, for example, does a virtual standup each day at 8:30 AM MDT; the Slackbot prompts us to identify our priorities for the day.

    I feel like this is stuff you already know, but appreciate your asking as others might benefit. Thanks, Ben-Jammin!

  • Benbabooey
    Benbabooey Seattle Qubie ✭

    Thanks - some great suggestions! cant wait for the book!!

    i also shared my "ben user guide" and am suggesting they do that - as "getting to know" a new remote leader isnt as easy without F2F time.

    (we use V2MOM, not OKRs, but they work well and are similar)

  • Ricmarug
    Ricmarug Colombia Qubie ✭

    Hi @russlaraway!

    With all the changes going on lately in the world and, therefore, in every company, do you think is there like a secret key or one really important action to keep every employees engaged with their positions, comfortable with the changes and last but not least, commited with the culture of each organization?

  • IsabelPosada_Voce
    IsabelPosada_Voce Medellin, Colombia Guru ✭✭
    edited July 2020

    👋Hello @russlaraway It is really nice to have you here in Community!😎

    In these times, feedback from leaders or colleagues becomes really important, especially when new people join our teams and we only interact with them remotely.

    Sometimes we are afraid to be honest with people and tell them that they must improve, because we don´t find a balance between truth and empathy or because we simply don´t know which words we should use with a new partner, with whom we have only spoken online. This is much more complicated in this remote work, because a virtual meeting sometimes doesn´t facilitate establishing that empathy or showing a true interest in their improvement.

    It would be very valuable if you can share with us your experience or some tips with this matter and know how you deal with these issues in your team, even if you can´t have a face-to-face conversation with them.

    Thanks!! Greetings from Colombia 🇨🇴

  • russlaraway
    russlaraway Utah, USA Moderator

    ¡Bienvenidos, Isabel! Gracias por la pregunta.

    One of the most important things a manager or teammate does is to give folks feedback to help them succeed. There are two kinds of feedback:

    • Praise - to help people know what to do more of
    • Criticism - to help people know what to do better

    Both kinds of feedback can be given around both behaviors and work products.

    I think that you're right - not being able to be face to face can take away some advantages - when we're in person, it's easier to convey empathy, personal care, sincerity, and humility when you have body language available to help you communicate those things.

    But I want to be super clear - the most important thing here is that the message gets delivered, even if sub-optimally.

    We've done some research here to learn which leadership behaviors most affect employee engagement and lead to better team results. One of the Core 5 - or top 5 leadership behaviors we uncovered - is measured by asking employees this question:

    How helpful is the feedback provided by your manager for improving your performance?

    It's just gotta be done, pandemic o no. :)

    If we can agree that

    1. face to face is best because this allows us the best chance to communicate sincerity, empathy, and humility through body language and voice intonation, then
    2. we can probably agree that video chat - Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Bluejeans, etc. - are a close second.
    3. Third best is phone, and
    4. pandemic or not, we should *not* use chat, Slack, text, or email to give people hard feedback.

    The key for me is to realize that without face to face we have to try that much harder to make it clear that the intention is to help this person be more successful - not to kick them in the shins, not to say "I told you so," not to win, but solely to signal our intention is about their success.

    Another major adjustment you might make is to clarify that you are conveying something you think you see - not something you know you see; convey that you believe is getting in the other person's way. For example,

    "Hey Isabel - I think I see something that I believe is tripping you up with the team. Are you in a place where you can hear that right now?"

    Importantly, this should be a sincere statement. If you are showing up to dictate, to ram your perspective down their throat, to be "right" or to win, then you are likely to be less effective in delivering your message - face to face or Zoom makes no difference.

    The bottom line: If you truly want to demonstrate that you care about someone at work... It boils down to three words:

    Time, help, success.

    Take TIME to HELP people find more SUCCESS.

    If this is what's in your heart, then whatever delivery channel you use is likely to be effective.

    A pandemic and all the associated (and well documented) challenges does not give us an excuse not to deliver feedback to our teammates in the spirit of helping them to be more successful.

    Thanks for writing in!

This discussion has been closed.