At Disney, magical experiences and pixie dust are expected, but not at a global B2B enterprise software company. Matt Poladian, VP of People at Liferay, found that spark in unexpected places when he joined Liferay after 8 years with the well-loved home of Mickey Mouse.
We caught up with Matt to see how his experience as a strategic HR leader has shaped and continues to guide his plans, even amidst a global pandemic.
The Beginnings of an HR Leader
Though Matt started his career in marketing, his heart for people moved him naturally into pursuing human resources. But he wanted to be more than a “typical” HR rep.
“I didn’t want to be like Toby from The Office,” Matt says with a smile. “I wanted to be a thoughtful business leader who focuses on HR.” Along the way, Matt was presented with an unique opportunity to be a HR Business Partner at Disney.
It's safe to say Matt is nothing like Toby.
During his time at Disney, he worked with different business areas including, Disney's Animation Studios, Television Networks, and Digital Media teams, where he was passionate about partnering with business leaders to provide people solutions during major transitions and improvements.
For example, he helped build an entirely new team to launch the TV industry’s first streaming app--WatchABC--worked on new processes to streamline animation, and hired the talent needed to support new technologies to animate complex and cinematic scenes efficiently in movies such as Frozen 2 and Wreck it Ralph 2 (Ralph Breaks the Internet).
"I love the challenge of figuring out what people we need in place in order to accomplish something completely new."
Matt, Liferay's VP of People
Entering a Whole New World
Far, far away in what seems now like a different realm, Liferay, a growing open-source, PaaS organization, was also on the cusp of a few major transitions and needed a strong leader to help guide the company through these changes. With Matt’s background and desire to strategically align business goals with people investments, he was the ideal candidate to come onboard as Liferay’s global VP of People.
The journey into the world of software on the outset might seem like a departure from the happiest place on earth, but Matt saw a magic at Liferay that was unlike any other. There was a culture of service and humility that permeated from the leaders down to each individual team member across the globe.
No matter which of the 24 international offices Matt visited, he saw each of Liferay’s core values displayed in every team member. Even as the company has grown over the years, Matt has worked to ensure people appreciate the rare importance and uniqueness of these values.
Matt laughed and told us stories about how on his first day, he was serenaded by the HR team coming into the office. “There’s also that element of fun that is at Liferay. We are serious about what we do, but we know how to have a good time.” He also shares how on the company Slack, team members have created 12 custom emojis of his face, including Sad Matt, No Thank You Matt, and our personal favorite: I Don’t Think So Matt. (Other employees have also faced the same fate.)
“It’s hard to package the incredible experience you get at Liferay into just one statement. But I’d say our employees truly are the Liferay experience. Our people are intelligent and highly skilled, but are still creative, fun-loving, patient, and humble.”
Matt and the global HR team.
The Perfect Combination
When we asked Matt what the secret spell for a great organization is, he confidently stated, “Strong leaders and good people enable business success.” He added, “It’s just what I’ve seen work time and time again. If you have those pieces, the business succeeds. Whether it’s a creative leader, a director, or a CTO, when you have strong leaders who know what they’re doing and have a clear charter, people will be motivated in coming alongside them. That’s why leadership development is that much more critical. By investing in a leader, I multiply my ability to impact the whole organization,” Matt says.
Empowering strong leaders is one of the key elements of Matt’s plan to strengthen the foundation of Liferay: its people. To further support the team, Matt is crafting initiatives to enhance employee experience and enable the business.
Each element of Matt’s strategy rests upon Liferay’s core belief that every person is inherently valuable. This principle is at the core of everything the team does, from recruitment to training.
However, Matt doesn’t only want to empower individual employees, but also departments as a whole. So, new roles, such as the HR Business Partner, have been created so that HR can strategically support business leaders and their teams to march towards their goal in unison.
This strategy has proved extremely effective even during the recent pandemic. Fueled by Liferay’s mission to help people and teams reach their full potential, Matt and his team quickly established the “Reach your full potential...from anywhere” approach to work.
“We wanted to make sure our people knew that the pandemic wasn’t a throw away year for people’s career journey. They could achieve their goals no matter where they’re working from.” By establishing biweekly manager trainings and implementing new technology resources to collaborate on goal-setting, performance management, and communication, the team was able to support Liferay’s successful pivot to a remote work environment.
We’re All in This Together
Sometimes when things get hard, the magic disappears. But two years later, the shine has not worn off for Matt. Of course, no workplace or team is perfect, but Liferay strives to stay true to the core values on which it was founded. This continues to be the pixie dust that fuels us and guides us for adventures to come.