Jeanne O’Connor was double majoring in psychology and business at Montclair State University when it occurred to her that human resources sits at the intersection of her two degrees (she graduated with both a BA and a BS).
“I realized I could apply what I enjoyed from psychology into a business setting,” she says. “The biggest draw for me was knowing I could come into an organization and positively affect how employees perceive their job, manager, culture, company, and career.”
Today she’s heading up some notable HR transformations as senior vice president of human resources at Billtrust, a business-to-business payment provider where she’s been overseeing workforce planning, employee development, total rewards, and employee relations since she joined the company in 2011. Her tenure has coincided with a time of tremendous growth for the company, which isn’t coincidental: that success is partly due to the culture O’Connor has created and nurtured.
Billtrust is routinely included on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in North America; today, it boasts 565 employees in 22 states, with a 98 percent customer retention rate.
“My role is to drive and nurture Billtrust’s organizational culture, attract and retain great talent, uphold our values, and ultimately make sure all of our employees become Billtrust ambassadors—people who authentically advocate on our brand’s behalf,” O’Connor says.
Last year was a particularly prolific one for O’Connor and her team as they headed up two major HR projects. One was the development and soft launch of Career Central, a self-service HR system for employees that catalogs organizational job families and job descriptions. Created entirely in-house, the system aids employee career development and increases internal mobility, transparency, and alignment, O’Connor says.
“It allows employees to understand the types of roles available within Billtrust and what it will take to get there—it gives employees not only visibility, but a powerful way to take control of their career,” she explains.
“It’s important for us, as HR leaders, to ensure that we are a collaborative, trusted business partner to the organization.”
The second major HR project in 2019 was designing and running Billtrust’s first-ever management summit to celebrate the company’s eighteenth anniversary. The two-day event focused on key leadership skills, company growth, and strategy and goals moving forward. It provided management with content and tools to encourage deeper collaboration, as well as break-out sessions covering topics such as accountability and rewarding results.
“In order to promote the cohesiveness of the leadership team, we recognized the need for a forum that would allow managers to continue to evolve and develop their skill set while engaging in person,” O’Connor says. “We came out of it a more unified leadership team with better cross-functional communication.”
The biggest challenge of O’Connor’s role has proved to be attracting and retaining top talent—a constant need for a rapidly-growing company like Billtrust. To improve the employee experience, last year O’Connor rolled out an agile quarterly check-in process, replacing the annual review with more frequent touchpoints. Her team also debuted the eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score), which surveys employees on whether they’d recommend Billtrust to a friend. Both changes help HR to gauge employee satisfaction.
“We’re in a hot labor market, and that can make it challenging to hire the kind of rock stars we want,” O’Connor says. “To attract top-level talent, we provide an incredible culture with great perks and benefits, such as unlimited paid time off, free medical healthcare for all employees, and a wealth of personal career development opportunities. All of that, plus the technology we create here, helps candidates see advantages in working for Billtrust.”
O’Connor’s leadership made it possible for her team to orchestrate a huge amount of change within a single year. She leads by example and encourages autonomy, always reminding her team that their number-one goal is making Billtrust a wonderful place to work.
“I guide my team to make sure every decision we make results in a positive answer to the question, ‘Does this make us a great company and a great place to work?”
“All of our decisions and policies ladder up to that idea, and I strongly believe that happy employees make for a successful company,” she says. “I guide my team to make sure every decision we make results in a positive answer to the question, ‘Does this make us a great company and a great place to work?’”
Positioning HR as an ally to employees has been key to the maintenance of Billtrust’s culture through growth, as well as O’Connor’s success at the company. It’s also what O’Connor identifies as the top challenge facing HR professionals generally.
“The HR function has traditionally been perceived as a ‘rule maker’ or ‘policy enforcer,’” she says. “It’s important for us, as HR leaders, to ensure that we are collaborative, trusted business partners to the organization and have a seat at the table to help drive the results of the business.”
To others in the HR field, O’Connor offers this piece of advice: “First, always remember to bet on people’s best. Assume they are coming from a good place and working hard. It’s amazing, when you offer your belief in someone, what they can deliver. Second, recognize that what got you here won’t get you there. We should look at everything we do consistently with a fresh set of eyes, always continually reinventing ourselves, our teams, and our organizations.”