Senior Vice President of Employee Services Mike Guerchon discusses his role at Riverbed, including his latest project: a cutting-edge corporate headquarters.
By Stephanie Harris
Few things can impact a company’s culture as much as the environment. Which is why, as the Senior Vice President (SVP) of Employee Services for Riverbed Technology, Mike Guerchon has set out to create a positive work environment that facilitates innovation and collaboration by focusing on the details.
“In this company, it’s easy to get things done,” Guerchon said. “The environment promotes collaboration, innovation and openness.”
As the leader of Employee Services, Guerchon’s responsibilities go beyond the standard human resources (HR) functions, such as compensation, benefits and employee relations. His department also encompasses the environment in which employees work, employee training and career development, and recruiting services. The overall employee work experience benefits greatly from this internal structure, according to Guerchon.
“It keeps the whole continuum of the employee’s life experience with us well organized and consistent because they are not being shuffled from group to group. The buck stops with us, to make sure our teams are happy and productive”
Building a Better Home for Employees
With a new corporate headquarters building set to open next spring in San Francisco, Guerchon and his team have been heavily involved in the design of the facility. The new facilities are meant not only to serve as a beautiful, open workspace where employees are happy to spend each day, but also as a functional space with an executive briefing center, multifunctional meeting rooms, large training rooms and an employee lounge.
“We are using colors and designs that help promote innovation and positivity,” Guerchon said.
In addition, the open floor plan facilitates communication and collaboration. In fact, only two of the company’s 2,600 employees worldwide have private offices: the General Legal Counsel and the head of HR. And those arrangements, Guerchon said, are rooted in privacy reasons.
“We have designed all of our offices with open floor plans so there’s communication and collaboration, and the open environment enables people to share innovation and good ideas in real time.”
As a high-tech company, the ability to share information is imperative to success. “It’s an intelligent company full of people who want to do the right thing and help serve our customers,” Guerchon explained. “We try to eliminate any roadblocks that might keep folks from being productive and happy here.”
In fact, the culture is so transparent and open, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of the company sits in an open cubicle where employees are encouraged to talk with him about anything, any time.
With an environment that is conducive to work, Riverbed also offers employees the opportunity to take a break from the grind in the employee lounges and game rooms.
“We devote a good portion of one of our floors to an employee lounge,” Guerchon said. “It has pool tables and video games, sofas, Ping-Pong tables, an espresso machine and lots of snacks.”
Guerchon explained that this is where employees can take a break during the day, play a game with colleagues, watch the news or sports, and relax.
“We provide a place like this for people to build relationships, be collegial with each other and get to know other employees outside of their own department,” he said. “It’s also a place to go blow off steam instead of sitting at your desk writing code or making sales calls all day. And you don’t even have to leave the building.”
Growing Up HR
Guerchon began his HR career in the restaurant industry, which he has chalked up to be a tough environment and thus excellent training ground.
“The restaurant industry has crazy long hours, a lot of young people; employee alcohol and drug use was more prevalent back then, and you had to deal with things like robberies,” he recalled. “It’s a challenging environment for a young person to operate in, but everything since then has been easier. It’s like going to boot camp—if you can survive HR in the restaurant industry, you can be successful in HR anywhere.”
Guerchon’s first introduction to the high-tech industry came with the company IKON Office Solutions, which was acquired by Ricoh in 2008. This where he “grew up” in HR, taking on more responsibilities, expanding to employee services-type functions and moving into his first Vice President role.
This also is where he gained exposure to intellectual capital, which has been a crucial concept for retaining employees at Riverbed. “[At IKON], I realized that the innovation requirements of engineers and a more technical workforce are an important part of the environment,” Guerchon said.
Standing Out in the Crowd
One of the challenges he faces at Riverbed is the competition among the employers that exist for engineers and technical talent today. “Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Twitter—they all want to hire the same engineers we do,” he said. “And those are bigger companies than we are, so we have to stay ahead of the game and provide something different than they do.”
When recruiting new employees, Guerchon emphasizes the organizational culture and intellectual capital at Riverbed. “One thing that helps us win is our culture,” he said. “I can say, ‘Do you want to be one of 10,000 engineers at a big company, or do you want to be one of 500 or 600 engineers at Riverbed, where what you do really makes a difference to a specific product and customer?’ We want to keep the culture as such that everyone feels they can really see the contributions they make every day.”
Acorns & Oak Trees
Inspired by an early mentor who thought of his employees as acorns and himself as the oak tree responsible for making more trees, Guerchon keeps an acorn in his pocket today as a reminder of his own duty as a leader to help others grow.
“My responsibility as a leader is to make sure I’m developing the people on my team to take my place,” he said. “Making sure you are someone who’s approachable, interested in good healthy debate, and open to having the people who work for you being smarter than you are will help you build a great team that will well outlast your own tenure at the company.”
Being a good leader is also about getting out of the way and letting your employees do what they are good at doing, according to Guerchon. “People take great pride in their work when it’s of their own creation—when they get to be the one who identifies the problem, comes up with the solution and solves it themselves. That’s so much more fulfilling than someone telling them what to do.”
Guerchon’s leadership beliefs and practices extend well beyond his role at Riverbed. It was his wife who gave him the acorn that he carries because of the leadership role he takes on in his personal life.
“It helps remind me that part of my responsibilities as a father, friend, son, brother and a coworker is to make sure I’m helping people achieve their goals and become strong and capable of doing those things for other people,” he said. “It’s the whole theory of giving back.”
Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.
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