This HR pro’s company mantra: ‘Be the person your dog thinks you are.’

Scott Sterling is the VP of people operations at BarkBox
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Scott Sterling

· 4 min read

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It’s always a ruff day at the office for Scott Sterling, VP of people operations at BarkBox. The subscription dog toy and treat company’s offices in Columbus, Ohio, and NYC feature bring-your-dog-to-work days every day, and when Sterling logs on remotely, he’s got four pooches making cameos on Zoom. His furry friends don’t stop Sterling and his “scrappy” team from bringing “some structure and a little bit of discipline” to the startup’s HR paw-licies and procedures.

Sterling worked in HR for companies like Rubbermaid, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Best Buy before transitioning to HR consulting and executive coaching in Ohio. That’s when he got acquainted with the team at BarkBox as clients. Sterling moved into a role with the company in June 2020 to help take the HR department “to the next level,” and he’s been at it ever since.

What’s the best change you’ve made at a place you’ve worked?

Rolling out a structured promotion process to recognize and retain great talent. We’ve established a quarterly process and…part of that is formal recognition for people, so that they have a career path. Part of it also is from a DE&I standpoint to say, “There is discipline to this…It’s not just a popularity contest for who gets promoted.” We have definite criteria…We’re promoting the people that have shown that they’re doing what they need to do to get to the next level, and we go through a submission process that’s reviewed by the whole leadership team…That was done to promote fairness in the process.

What’s the biggest misconception people might have about your job?

That we don’t have a direct impact on the performance of the company.

What’s the most fulfilling aspect of your job?

Coaching and guiding great talent. There are so many talented people at BarkBox, and many of them have grown up with the organization as a startup and they put their heart and their soul into this…You do it because you love the mission, and that’s what you want to do. I think as we grow up as a company…all those people, even many of them who have high positions, are still looking for growth. They’re still looking to see what their next step in this organization is as we get bigger, and I enjoy the succession planning process and the evaluation process, so we can give people really good feedback about what they’re doing.

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What trend in HR are you most optimistic about? Why?

A hybrid work model that balances work[ing] from home with in-office interactions. I think the pandemic forced an issue that would have surfaced anyway at some point. People want more balance in their lives to pursue things that really matter and enrich their lives. To the extent that we can help them achieve that balance, then it benefits everyone.

What trend in HR are you least optimistic about? Why?

The same issue, really. I believe companies who push an agenda of returning to a full, or even mostly in-office workforce are going to suffer for talent. The idea that “if we can’t see you then we don’t trust that you're working hard enough” has quickly become untenable, and companies that don’t embrace that are going to find themselves behind the curve.

Tell us one new or old HR tech product or platform that’s made your life easier, and why.

I think that there are a lot of great products out there that are helping organizations measure performance and talent. That’s something that has to evolve in HR. The days of long, tiresome processes to do performance reviews are fading fast.

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

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