By Charndré Emma Kippie
Matt Poladian, VP of People at Liferay, was previously HR Business Partner at Disney, where he built an entirely new team to launch the TV streamline animation, and hired talent to animate scenes in movies such as Frozen 2 and Wreck it Ralph 2 (Ralph Breaks the Internet). Now, at Liferay, 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 the employee experience and enable the business.
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 importance and uniqueness of these values.
Please briefly tell us about your journey at Liferay.
I joined Liferay in 2019 following over a decade of HR work at several global companies, and most recently The Walt Disney Company. In exploring Liferay, I found that it had an ideal combination of talented, humble people and a very promising business proposition. That made my decision to become Liferay’s global HR leader an easy one – I knew this would be an exciting and rewarding opportunity. In the time since I joined, we have seen tremendous growth not only in the number of people we employ, but in their ability to drive business value. Our own employee feedback has shown that investment in our people has helped us to fulfill our company mission in helping others reach their full potential to serve others. It’s a great joy to be a part of that.
How did you make your transition from Disney to a PaaS company?
Although I started my career in marketing, my love for people naturally saw my career gravitate towards human resources. What I didn’t want was to be a “typical” HR rep. I wanted to be a thoughtful business leader who focuses on HR. The HR model at Disney presented a great opportunity for me to learn how to blend business strategy with HR work in several different business models, including Disney’s Animation Studios, Television Networks, and Digital Media teams.
I then heard that Liferay was on the cusp of a few major transitions and was looking for a strong leader to help guide the company through these changes. My background to strategically align business goals with people investment meant that I was the ideal candidate to come on board as Liferay’s Global VP of People. Whilst it may be considered to be worlds apart from Disney, there was certainly a magic at Liferay – a culture of service and humility that permeates from the top leaders down to each individual team member.
What is your ‘why’ i.e. Bottom line? And how do you stay motivated?
I believe strong leaders and good people enable business success, which motivates me to do what I do every day. Whether it’s leading our talent acquisition efforts, launching management training programs, or participating in one of our community service projects through EVP (Employee Volunteer Program), I can see my work helping to build strong leaders and teams that will ultimately drive Liferay’s success.
What 3 tips do you have for inspiring empowering staff and strong leaders?
Sometimes it’s the simple things that are the most inspiring. My three tips are:
- Communicate clearly. There’s little more motivating than being told what you need to know in a timely and effective manner. Information is empowering, so make sure you’re making the effort to give your people that power.
- Give clear feedback. Nobody likes to be lost. Without good feedback, people feel lost in their role and ultimately feel burdened and confused. Solid, consistent feedback is a valuable and empowering gift to both the giver and receiver.
- Recognise good work. We drive toward goals, we set financial targets, we launch new products, and then all too often we move on without acknowledging the effort it took to achieve all of that. It doesn’t need to be big, splashy, or expensive – just an opportunity to recognise a job well done.
In your opinion, how can business owners enhance their employee experience?
Treat your employees like adults. You hired them because they are smart and capable, so your interactions with them should reflect that. Too often business owners undermine their own core values by presuming they’re the only adult in the room, or the only person who cares about the company, which is terribly demotivating. Give them a chance to show you that they can match your passion and dedication to drive business success.
Do you have any book recommendations? Has there been any book that has truly inspired you?
“Managing the Professional Service Firm” is a classic. It not only explores the value that can be created through strong business partnerships, but it teaches the basic principles of professionalism that transcends cultures, functions, and industries.
Outside of work, are you involved in any extracurricular activities and/or community outreach projects?
I spend the majority of my time outside of work volunteering with my local church, particularly with the youth group (teenage students) as a mentor. Beyond that, I enjoy time with my wife and three children exploring different parts of California (we love the beaches and mountains equally).
What life mantra or inspirational quote do you live by?
I can usually find any wisdom I ever need in the Bible, and quite a bit that applies to the work I do in my role as a business leader. There’s a verse that says “scripture never returns void,” and I wholeheartedly agree.
What advice do you have for young people who are struggling to find a career path at present?
I’d tell anyone who’s struggling to stop trying to find a path and take a job where you know you can just work hard and learn something. If you’re willing to put time and effort into something, you will find that the greatest career-building skill of all is a strong work ethic.
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