“As an office manager, you’re the ambassador of culture,” says Chartbeat’s Kristine Suh. While some who work in an office management role might be tempted to keep their head down, make sure the food and supplies are stocked, take care of necessary repairs, and essentially, wait for their colleagues to raise issues, that is not how Kristine operates. “You can be so much more,” she explains.
Kristine’s pro-active stance to her work has contributed to her rapid ascent at Chartbeat, a content intelligence platform that helps publishers all around the world tell the stories that matter. She’s been working at Chartbeat for a little under two years, but in that time she’s grown from Office Manager to People Operations Manager, and to her current role as Manager of People and Culture.
Working with people and ensuring others’ happiness has been one of Kristine's strengths from the beginning of her career. She grew up outside Los Angeles, and went to college at Boston University, double majoring in Business and Hospitality Administration. During her time there, she completed several internships, one of which was at a hotel in Hawaii. She lived on-site, working with the food and beverage department and kitchen to plan major events like weddings and a 4th of July weekend celebration. Even though these events were high-stress situations, she always satisfied when participants were engaged and delighted by the event experience, whether it was her guests, a newlywed couple, or her coworkers.
After college, she joined a big-name Manhattan hotel chain as the operations manager. It was there she realized that, while she liked working with guests, she enjoyed working with internal teams even more. “I decided to change my route and go into start-ups, because the ability to work with people on an individual level and build longer term relationships with them was more appealing to me and I’d have more opportunities to do that at a start-up,” she explained. During her career transition, Chartbeat stood out because of the work it was doing to improve the publishing industry. Plus, in true startup spirit, the office had a “puppytorium,” a room where employees’ dogs can run freely.
At Chartbeat, Kristine wears many hats and rarely has a typical day. Since moving to an HR-focused role, she’s taken on tasks like payroll, benefits, recruiting, internal learning and development, and new employee onboarding. In addition, she continues to work on keeping the Chartbeat office a great environment in which to work. Recently, she and a few colleagues came into the office over a weekend for a spring deep clean and got rid of detritus that had been unused for years. Even with all her increased responsibilities, Kristine still loves fostering employee engagement and building internal culture. She takes time to plan really cool activities that get people to talk and connect with each other outside of their daily work. Like any startup, the work at Chartbeat is innovative and exciting, but the pace can be stressful, so Kristine likes to choose activities that bring her coworkers “back to their childhood.”
Each month she checks Days of the Year, a website that lists all strange and obscure holidays to see which could inspire a cool office activity. For National Cereal Day, she got over 20 different types of cereals for everyone in the office to try. On National Oreo Day the office was filled with Oreos for the staff to indulge in. During the winter she organized a gingerbread house decorating competition. For the competition, Kristine supplied each team in the company with a basic gingerbread house kit, but left any embellishments up to their discretion. Some made classic gingerbread houses, but some utilized their professional skills to create their houses, including Chartbeat’s designers who created a slanted modern home covered in black and white M&M’s.
Kristine also invites each team to express their personalities and contribute to the office culture by signing up to host the month’s company-wide happy hour. Each then receives a set amount of money to spend on drinks, food, and decorations. Past themes have included Back to the Future to Heavy Metal Cats.
While some of the activities she plans are purely for fun, Kristine structures others so her colleagues get to know each other, especially those they might not interact with on a daily basis. For example, she organized a Play-Doh project, where every participant only got one color of doh. If someone wanted to create a multi-colored object they had to barter and trade colors with their colleagues.
Chartbeat employee bingo was another favorite cross-functional activity. Employees submitted fun facts about themselves to Kristine and she arranged them on 5 x 5 bingo squares. Everyone received a card and had to find the person who submitted the fact. The result was everyone running around the office asking each other things like, “Are you a twin? Are you allergic to water?” (Yes there was an employee who was actually allergic to water) What started as people submitting quirks about themselves ended in coworkers learning about each other, which in some cases acted as a conduit to meaningful conversations between people in the company who may not have known each other before.
In addition to activities that generate an atmosphere of fun and excitement at Chartbeat, Kristine encourages deeper levels of employee engagement and focuses on topics like career building and conflict resolution as well. She thinks empathy is one of the most important skills to learn in both office manager and HR roles.
“Empathizing, problem solving, putting the whole picture together, and then being able to relay that to the employees, I think is probably one of the biggest things that I have learned and am still learning. I think skills in empathy can take you anywhere, not only in HR, but as a manager, as a person, as a leader,” said Kristine.
She also values mentoring. Kristine credits her swift rise at Chartbeat to having a VP of People & Culture who served as a mentor when she started as Office Manager. “When I was an office manager, the VP of People & Culture was very focused on fostering my career and said to me, ‘This is something that you’re good at, this is something that you like to do — I want to teach you,’” said Kristine, “Honestly, with the growth that I’ve had, having a mentor who said, “Hey, I recognize that you have this passion, come here and I’ll teach you,” was crucial for my development."
Now Kristine plans to pay it forward. In an impressive move, she will be holding one-on-one meetings with every single member of the company over the next few months. That means she’ll be checking in with over 65 people to see what they’re interested in achieving in their careers and how they could do that at Chartbeat. It will allow her to assess what resources she, the CEO, and the executive team need to have in place for those people to grow and develop.
In working to position Chartbeat as a company that helps employees grow, Kristine is defying the stereotype that startups don’t invest in employee growth or retention. However, by organizing cool activities that make Chartbeat a fun workplace, as well as making sure employees feel professionally satisfied and engaged, Kristine has created a genuine connection between the company and its employees. That’s a winning formula to build an office culture that is both successful and long-lasting.