Michelle Frechette is the Director of Community Engagement at StellarWP, a division of Liquid Web. In addition to her work at StellarWP, Michelle is the Podcast Barista at WPCoffeeTalk, cofounder of Underrepresented In Tech, creator of Wpcareers Pages, Board President at BigOrangeHeart, contributor at Post Status, author, business coach, and a frequent speaker at WordPress events. Michelle lives outside of Rochester, NY where she’s an avid nature photographer.
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We’re happy that you could join us today! Please introduce yourself to our readers. What’s your story?
Michelle Frechette: I’m Michelle Frechette, Director of Community Engagement for StellarWP, the division of Liquid Web that contains our software brands. I am a huge supporter of WordPress and remote working technology communities. As part of that, I’m the President of the Board of Big Orange Heart, a charity devoted to reducing the effects of loneliness and mental health issues that arise as part of working remotely in a global community.
CEOs and leaders usually have different motives and aspirations when getting started. Let’s go straight to the beginning. What was your primary goal for starting your business? Was it wealth, respect, or to offer a service that would help improve lives?
Michelle Frechette: I was the first Director of Customer Success at a WordPress plugin company, clearing the way for others to follow. By focusing on customer success, not just support tech needs, we have been able to bridge the gap from “need help” to “support your success” for those with fundraising needs, primarily in the nonprofit world. I’m not the founder of Big Orange Heart, but I have been a volunteer for two years, and am now the president of the board. Our goal is to provide resources for remote workers in the technology field to reduce the ill effects of isolation and loneliness that come with working remotely – whether for a corporation or as a freelancer/entrepreneur. Part of what we do is create events that guide both technologically and for overall and mental wellness – for individuals and employers.
Tell us about 2 things that you like and two things that you dislike about your industry. Share what you’d like to see change and why.
Michelle Frechette: Technology – specifically the internet industry – has a high probability of working remotely (even prior to the pandemic). Remote work carries many privileges and many challenges. Privileges include autonomy and flexibility of location and schedule, which are great for many people. It also brings the challenges of isolation and loneliness. A supportive culture here is very important – both within a corporation and within a global community that grows up around any cause – including something like the WordPress open source project.
I would love to see more freelancers and remote workers taking advantage of online communities for friendships, support, and resources for strength and success. Physically working alone doesn’t mean you have to feel and be alone. There is a whole network of people in similar working situations. Building that global community of support is imperative in today’s tech fields.
Companies around the world are rapidly changing their work environment and organizational culture to facilitate diversity. How do you see your organizational culture changing in the next 3 years and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Michelle Frechette: One of the tools I’ve founded (with co-founder Allie Nimmons) is underrepresentedintech.com. It’s a completely free tool for those in underrepresented communities to be listed and those who would embrace inclusion and diversity to search – bringing people together to have more voices and experiences represented within businesses and projects. The company that employes me, along with many podcasters that I know in WordPress have begun using this tool to find those interested in work and projects.
Inclusion and diversity have to be intentional in order to be effective and non-tokenizing. Diversity for the sake of photo opportunities and quotas is shallow. Diversity and inclusion for richer company culture, better and more global inputs to services and products, and better company resources for all employees don’t happen by accident. It starts with intentional work in recruiting and company development.
According to the Michigan State University “An organization’s culture is responsible for creating the kind of environment in which the business is managed, and has a major impact on its ultimate success or failure.” What kind of culture has your organization adopted and how has it impacted your business?
Michelle Frechette: Where I am at Liquid Web feels like one of the most supportive environments I’ve ever been part of. Diversity and inclusion are intentional. Working alongside great minds from BIPOC, LGBTQ+, neurodiverse, and disabled communities is amazing. Here is a place where diversity is valued, and all voices matter. In order to present the most useful products and services, we value all inputs and as a result, present richer and better resources for our customers.
Richard Branson once famously stated “There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” and Stephen R. Covey admonishes to “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. What’s your take on creating a great organizational culture?
Michelle Frechette: Treating people the right way is paramount, of course. Part of that is valuing time and diversity. Part of that is providing salaries that value employees’ talents and time. That includes opportunities for growth, providing the best education for the job, and then letting employees do their jobs without micromanagement or too much interference. Hire good people. Let them work. Allow for autonomy, provide feedback and support, and correct when and where necessary. Happy employees thrive in a supportive culture and part of that is giving them the room to grow into success.
The overwhelming majority of more than 9,000 workers included in a recent Accenture survey on the future of work said they felt a hybrid work model would be optimal going forward, a major reason for that being the improved work-life balance that it offers. How do you promote work-life balance at your company?
Michelle Frechette: Employees are given PTO and not grilled about why they need time off. I don’t have to say I’m sick if I truly just need a day of break. I can do that. I can take a mental health day to give myself the room to come back refreshed and ready to be productive. We also encourage employees to participate in company-wide fun events as they are comfortable and give opportunities for different kinds of events for people that enjoy different things. We also incorporate opportunities to introduce your family and your pets. We have dedicated Slack channels to talk about everything from photography to crafts to health and wellness, in addition to work channels. No one is made to participate. Employees participate in things that interest them.
How would you describe your company’s overall culture? Give us examples.
Michelle Frechette: Liquid Web has a Culture Committee where ideas are presented and nothing is an immediate no. We have had photography competitions, Zoom coffee breaks, Lunch and Learn opportunities, monthly voting on silly/fun things (which is the best board game, for example), build Spotify playlists together, and a channel where we celebrate each others’ wins. We’ve built a culture of encouragement and kindness. Supervisors touch base with employees to make sure they are feeling supported and on track for success. We get a lot of work done but in a relaxed remote community.
It is believed that a company’s culture is rooted in a company’s values. What are your values and how do they affect daily life at the workplace?
Michelle Frechette: We value individuals, inclusion, and excellence. Every input is considered and every idea is valued. We celebrate one another, and in spite of the fact that most of us have never been in the same room together, we’ve built camaraderie that helps us excel. We’re not afraid to reach out to each other for assistance or to assist. It’s an environment of encouragement and growth.
An organization’s management has a deep impact on its culture. What is your management style and how well has it worked so far?
Michelle Frechette: My personal management style for my team is to empower them to make as many decisions about how they do their jobs as possible, be available for questions and support, and celebrate their growth and their wins. I always take any blame for missteps of my team, and pass the congratulations to the team members when something is particularly good. I also make sure that my team knows how to do my job. I find that gatekeeping my role is a disservice to both the company, me, and my team.
If my team aspires to my position, learning how it’s done is important whether they will succeed me in my role here, or find a similar position in another company. Empowering others for growth builds a healthy culture. Suppressing team members into their roles without opportunities to grow will kill a culture quickly.
Every organization suffers from internal conflicts, whether functional or dysfunctional. Our readers would love to know, how do you solve an internal conflict?
Michelle Frechette: Solving internal conflicts usually comes down to sitting down together to learn why each person feels as strongly as they do around the issue, evaluating the best course of action as a team, then getting buy-in to whichever solution is chosen to move forward together. Sometimes the answer is that it has to be done a particular way and not the way the team member desires. In that case, an explanation for buy-in is important. People need to understand the “why” so that they feel good about what they’re doing. Providing that “why” in a way that brings understanding is important to success.
According to Culture AMP, Only 40% of women feel satisfied with the decision-making process at their organization (versus 70% of men), which leads to job dissatisfaction and poor employee retention. What is your organization doing to facilitate an inclusive and supportive environment for women?
Michelle Frechette: All voices are equal here. Where there is less diversity (for example fewer women in development than marketing), hiring managers seek ways to recruit women to get better inclusion and diversity on their teams.
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What role do your company’s culture and values play in the recruitment process and how do you ensure that it is free from bias?
Michelle Frechette: I don’t think it’s ever 100% possible to be free from bias – we are humans. However, having a series of checks and balances in recruiting and hiring helps. Every job should have more than one person as part of the interview team, and that team should be diverse so that unconscious bias is less likely to happen. Embrace diversity and inclusion in all parts of an organization and you will be better at making it a part of the culture.
We’re grateful for all that you have shared so far! We would also love to know if there was one thing that you could improve about your company’s culture, what would it be?
Michelle Frechette: Our company is very big and has three distinct divisions. Divisions can divide, and dividing people never feels good. If I could find a way for people to know each other better, I would. I don’t know what that looks like in a large company that’s as remote and global as ours is, but if I could find a way to meet more people and facilitate that between divisions and teams, I would.
This has been truly insightful and we thank you for your time. Our final question, however, might be a bit of a curveball. If you had a choice to either fly or be invisible, which would you choose and why?
Michelle Frechette: Easy. I’d fly. I want to see more and experience more of the world. Flying would let that happen. I don’t need to disappear from people – I want to be present more.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Michelle Frechette for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Michelle Frechette or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.