Pegasystems CEO and CPO have daily conversations to drive company success

Founder CEO Alan Trefler relies on his chief people officer, Katherine Parente, to sustain culture in a hybrid world.
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Imagine for a moment that you’re the chief minion officer at Gru Labs, tasked with cultivating a culture of evil on behalf of your boss, Gru.

That’s kind of what chief people officer Katherine Parente does at software developer Pegasystems—minus the evil. Since joining the almost-40-year-old company nine months ago, she’s worked with founder and CEO Alan Trefler to maintain culture and engage the company’s 6,200 employees, especially since embracing a hybrid-work model.

Parente and Trefler explained to HR Brew how their working relationship took shape and what other HR leaders can learn from it.

Growing impact. Over the past two and a half years, Trefler has, like many CEOs, leaned on HR to navigate challenges such as hybrid work and turnover. In doing so, he realized that HR is about more than hiring, paperwork, and employees’ interpersonal issues and is, in fact, key to driving consistent communication across an organization. In 2021, for example, when he wanted to bring employees back to their Massachusetts offices as part of a hybrid arrangement after being fully remote since 2020, he looked to Parente to spearhead the effort. “The office should be a magnet, not a mandate,” he said.

The two have a “daily rhythm of communication,” according to Trefler. And he doesn’t just rely on Parente when making decisions that affect the workforce at large—he also looks to her to engage other senior leaders in the process. “We’re pretty good about keeping not only our leaders engaged in decision-making processes, but keeping our organized group of people updated regularly,” Parente said.

On culture. Executives are key to shaping a company’s culture, and a company’s culture is key to keeping employees. Trefler said he works closely with Parente to ensure Pegasystems’ culture and values are consistent throughout the organization and that employees are engaged in it. This, he believes, starts during the hiring process that Parente oversees.

Once employees are onboard, engagement surveys, instituted by Parente, seek to gauge the workforce’s wants and needs. To date, these surveys have led to the creation of new initiatives, including quarterly wellness days and “ask me anything” sessions, during which all employees can pose questions to the senior leadership team.

But both Trefler and Parente agreed that there’s no better way to set the tone for a company’s culture than by modeling the behavior that they want to see in employees. Amid times of change, he believes promoting and showcasing relationships between longtime employees and newer hires is key to the health of the company. Though their partnership in and of itself does just that, Parente explained there’s more work to be done,

“There’s an opportunity within our company to have more of that role modeling happening. I think our success ultimately depends on that.”—KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

News built to help HR pros grow their impact & improve the future of work.