Joi Smith joined Protenus in June 2021 as Vice President of People Operations. She brought with her a clear vision as to how she can help Protenus' working environment evolve as the company continues to grow and scale: by always doing the right thing, and doing things differently.
The communications team asked Joi to share the details behind what brought her to Protenus, what has shaped her people operations philosophy, and why you'll never hear her use the word "resources" in this role. Enjoy her thoughts on six questions:
What made you excited about applying to and ultimately joining Protenus?
Specific things about Protenus stood out that made me apply. At the top of my list is Protenus’ sincere dedication to its people. I have to see evidence of doing the right thing for both the business and the team. Also, it was nice to see Nick’s commitment to the community. The articles about how he not only wanted to grow Protenus, but the tech community within Baltimore and the surrounding area inspired me to apply. I liked that there was a different take on the connection to community, which you don't see a lot of in tech.
I also really liked the product. It satisfies a huge need within the industry, so I saw it as a growth opportunity. I was excited to learn more about this particular place in healthcare IT and analytics. I’ve never asked to see a product demo in an interview, but I did here. Then, when I started talking to the team, I thought, 'I dig these people. I like the work they’re doing, and it would be a fun journey to get to work with them.'
What is the vision for taking People Operations to the next level, and how are discussions about it playing out?
It's all about growth: How do we grow this company? Nick has been driving that message home since the very beginning. With that, it's important to me to have the opportunity to be my most authentic self; I'm not a traditional HR person. I kept saying to Nick that my bottom line is I want to do things differently — no rules (aside from legal and compliance).
We've talked about how we can upgrade the relationship that the company has with its people. I was saying 'do things differently' just as much as he said 'growth.' When he was talking about growth in the team and planning on getting to the next level, I was thinking how do we do that in a different way that is still organic and authentic to the organization, that gets us the growth we need and uplevels the organization? How can we leverage this connection he has to the community and upgrade that so it's not just Nick's connection, it's the organization's connection?
What are some pivotal moments that led you to where you are in your career today?
I remember having a conversation years ago with my former CEO and head of sales. We had two candidates, one man and one woman. They wanted to pay the woman less. I said, 'I'm going to push you to justify this to me, to tell me why. The only real differences are one year of work experience and gender.' My CEO looked at me and said, 'Because I can.' So, my days were numbered at that point. It was a real defining moment for me, where I decided I'm always going to use my voice to do what's right, not what’s convenient.
The other experience that comes to mind is I was talking to my CEO — not the same one — discussing our differences in leadership style. I said, 'I lead with empathy and heart.' He said, 'You'll never be successful'. I was shocked. That conversation was honestly what led me to say, 'I need to be at a place where I can be authentic in myself, and that's not just accepted but celebrated as part of who that organization is.' It was important to me that Nick and I shared a vision, but I saw that in other places in the organization, too. I see it throughout the Protenus leadership team.
What is unique about starting at Protenus at this point in time?
We're in a transitional period in our growth. It’s a really exciting time for us and you can feel the energy in the air. It’s energizing for sure, but it also means there’s a lot of work to get done. Add to that we’re just breaking out of a pandemic that sidelined all of us in our homes for 16 months. That changed every workplace in America. For us, we have to figure out how to harness this energy to reach our goals and keep everyone connected. As a new team member in this role, that creates a challenge for me because I don’t have the luxury of meeting our team members every day and connecting. I realize that building relationships starts with trust and connection, so I have to get creative. I want people to reach out, though, and I’ll do it as much as I can, too. I just want that opportunity to connect.
What should employees know about how your presence will affect their experience at Protenus?
I want our team to know they always have an advocate in me. I've got your back. When we're in an executive meeting and Brit is thinking about the customer, Brian is thinking about finances, James is thinking about the next product, I'm thinking about our team: How are people going to react to this? What do we need to do to keep people in the boat with us? What's the risk to their longevity here as well as the company's? Our team is my world of protection. Luckily, I've got a leadership team that appreciates that and doesn't take offense to it. My job is to take the company where it needs to go, through our people. If I don't consider your feelings, obligations, environment, comfort, etc. — if I'm not considering all that, I'm not doing my job.
How would you sum up your philosophy when it comes to people management?
Everyone here brings something special to the table. Our shared and different experiences in life make us a better company. I celebrate that. You all are incredibly important, not just as people building a product, getting stuff on the website, whatever it is, but as people. That epitomizes me. You'll never hear me use the word 'resources.' You're not a resource, you're a person. A resource has this connotation of finite utility. In my view, it demeans your value as a human and our team member. You are more than that. You've got great skills you are choosing to use here. I thank you for that, Nick thanks you for that, the customers thank you for that. That is my people management philosophy. We need and want you; you bring great value to us as a team. Let’s take this journey together.
Looking for a career where you can be autonomous, creative, empowered, and authentic, day in and day out? Check out our current openings.