A suite of new product features. Global Expansion. A total rebrand. These are just a few of the things we’ve been working on over here at Ada. 

We’re embracing a massive year of growth—2.6 million brand interactions powered by our platform, supporting over 300 brands across the globe—and ramping up our digital-first team along with it. To support our 400+ employees (Ada Owners, as we call them) working in eight different countries around the world, we’ve brought in a seasoned human resources leader to head up our People team. 

Kerris Hougardy, the first VP of People at Ada, is a coach, mentor, and people management specialist with a range of experience; she’s worked for both startups and large multinational organizations, across industries and supporting teams across multiple geographies. 

Now, she’s looking forward to applying her learnings—from her professional experience and Executive MBA education—to a rapidly growing Canadian Unicorn whose values match her own.

“The Ada story is compelling—from it’s beginning, to the fire with which it has grown to date, and the aspirations it has for the future,” Kerris says. “What intrigued me about this role at Ada is the opportunity to join a fast-paced company and build and influence best practices on behalf of Ada Owners.”

We sat down with Kerris to find out how she plans to make an impact at Ada and apply her experience to enhance our vision for our people and our culture.

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Q: What interested you most about Ada's culture?

A: There is an unrivaled level of authenticity and transparency through the hiring process, further validated by Ada’s award-winning culture (LinkedIn’s Top Startups, Best Workplaces for Mental Wellness and Inclusion) of openness, empathy, and commitment to doing the right thing. This fully aligns with my style. 

As someone who is passionate about DEI, I saw that there are truly diverse voices and perspectives at the table. I was impressed by Ada’s early commitment to a “people first” culture: hiring a dedicated DEI specialist in the early stages of the company’s development, a social worker to double down on health and wellness, and over half the leadership team made up of hugely talented and experienced female leaders, along with providing unlimited vacation, and giving all employees ownership through stock options.

Q: What would you say sets Ada apart when it comes to our employee culture and people offerings?

A: As an Ada Owner, we’re here to build. Build our culture, customer experience, relationships, and technology. In addition to that, as an Owner you receive stock options, so you are truly building your own future, too!

The thing that sets Ada apart is that we are truly a values driven organization—we encourage everyone to come ready to be courageous, empathetic, authentic, and strive for simplicity. We have been bold and defined what a true “digital-first” environment should look like, beyond the day-to-day tasks employees are working on. Ada’s work environment focuses on supporting the whole self. We provide unlimited vacation and actually encourage Owners to use it. And when life throws you a curveball, we have built-in, confidential support through our social worker and additional time off. 

I can honestly say I’ve never felt so welcome, accepted, and included starting a new job, especially in a remote environment.

Q: Why is this distinction important from a hiring and employee retention perspective?

A: This is now, finally, a universal truth: people who feel a sense of belonging and inclusion at work are far more likely to perform well and stay with the company. And companies that can showcase their authentic culture during the hiring process, by way of being honest, transparent, and genuine, will attract people who can relate and engage with that culture.

The ability to attract and retain top talent in an ever increasingly competitive market is critical for many fast-growing companies, including Ada, when it comes to fulfilling its aspirations and long term success. 

Q: How will your past experience lend a hand to this role?

A: I’ve worked for both startups and large multinational, publicly traded organizations, across multiple industries and countries. This has allowed me to lead teams small and large—of up to 80 people—in all aspects of human resources, with a special focus on talent management.

I’m coming into Ada at a period of rapid growth. My experience partnering with CEOs and executive teams to drive this kind of growth, while creating and upholding award-winning cultures will allow me to be a strong partner in managing our people and our strategy as we shoot for the stars. 

Q: What does the first three months look like for you as Ada's VP of People?

A: First and foremost, taking the time to learn about the company, people, culture, and our goals. I will work closely with our leadership teams to build strong relationships and get a deep understanding of the strengths and opportunities in Ada’s people-focused programs, practices, systems, and policies.

Then, I’ll be diving right in to add value as soon as possible! I’ll start building some medium-term strategic plans and a two year vision for People and Culture at Ada, as well as hiring to grow our People team, starting with the role of Director, Employee Experience

Q: What advice do you have for organizations to build a strong people culture while working remotely?

A: Organizations need to shift their focus on their employees to a “whole human” perspective. That means embracing their individual work styles, their home responsibilities, and their interests and passions. Enabling employees to show up as their authentic selves, whether in an office or in virtual meetings, requires empathy for what they’re going through professionally and personally. 

Organizations should build a digital “hub” for communications and engagement. At Ada, we use Slack to work and socialize with our colleagues. One minute I’m collaborating with co-workers on a marketing and finance project, and the next minute I’m smiling at a picture of newborn puppies that someone on my team has posted. 

Last, but definitely not least, prioritize bringing diverse backgrounds and perspectives to the table and elevate voices that are underrepresented. Ada’s foundation is built on this philosophy, and it shows.