Jan Becker, former CHRO at Autodesk: “Believe in innovation.”


Jan Becker has had a full and fascinating career. From managing a successful CEO transition to helping scale Autodesk’s rapid growth, she’s kept herself busy during her long and productive career in HR. Jan spent over 25 years at Autodesk, helping land the company on Fortune’s Great Places to Work list and engaging 95% of employees across the globe using Autodesk’s Employee Survey.

We spoke with Jan in our office about Autodesk’s company culture, how she handled scaling Autodesk’s growth over 25 years, and so much more. Here are some highlights from the conversation.

Q: The average employee tenure at a tech company is 1.5 years. What made you stay at Autodesk for so long?

Jan: This is one of my favorite sayings: the fish rots from the head down. The company culture and what Autodesk values is very much a reflection of the CEO. I had a good relationship with our CEOs, and they really believed in the value of HR. Over such a long period of time, companies change so dramatically — not only in technology, but in culture. We were able to adapt our culture and our technology simultaneously, which was a big factor for me.

Q: What was the company culture like at Autodesk?

Jan: We really believed in innovation. I would say that the energy there — I’m kind of picking this up from the people here as well — was really more about the passion for what we were doing than making money. We were interested in changing the world, and I know a lot of companies use that verbiage, but we really believed it.

We made design software used to build the Freedom Tower, the Bay Bridge, and all sorts of amazing things, and people at Autodesk had passion for what we were doing. We believed in a culture of treating people with respect and dignity and really tried to walk that walk.

Q: Did Autodesk do any unique things to reinforce that culture?

Jan: Yes  — we got rid of performance reviews. A lot of companies are doing this now, but back when we did it, we were among the only businesses that eliminated performance reviews.

We used to do an employee engagement survey every year with 95% participation; it’s a loud voice for the employees. We found in that somehow during the March through April time frame during performance reviews, we managed to demotivate a third of the population of Autodesk by their experience with the review process. We got rid of standard annual reviews and pivoted to a more open approach focused on ongoing performance feedback, which included quarterly conversations.

The other thing we did was offer a leadership program. It’s a five-day residential course and we offered it to management and all employees. The management version was slightly different, but it was a lot about our business model, what’s important to us around the customer, what our values are, and how we operate.

Q: What kind of rewards and recognition was Autodesk using?

Jan: Peer-to-peer, service awards, spot bonuses — all of them. We used to do something called peer-to-peer bonuses where each group had a process where peers would choose others to be recognized, and it was a cumbersome process. Having a tool is really cool. We didn’t have the discount piece that you provide as Perks, so that’s very nice.

Q: Why did you decide to invest in a rewards and recognition platform?

Jan: Having a recognition platform that was so manual was not only hard to track, but also too old-fashioned for a company like us. We didn’t see where the money was going. From a regulatory perspective, companies scaling upward care a lot more about managing large amounts of money efficiently and effectively. So, having dollars floating around that don’t have somewhere to go from an accounting perspective is high-risk for the finance department. We needed to find something to track our rewards and make sure we know what we’re spending and what rewards are most successful.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about how Autodesk handled scaling HR operations over the years?

Jan: I’ve always said that greater consistency makes life in HR easier. We had to optimize for efficiency over effectiveness, which means we moved towards functional organizations rather than product groups. The frameworks we chose had to be consistent globally, and having the same models around compensation and other systems was helpful. We wanted to automate as many of our processes as possible to avoid doing them manually, all on the same platform.

One consistent thing I loved about Autodesk was their ability to believe in innovation. If you believe in your company’s ability to innovate and scale accordingly, you’re capable of anything.

Thank you so much to Jan for speaking with us! Fond is dedicating to hearing from HR industry leaders to learn about their thoughts on rewards and recognition and employee engagement. Interested in how Fond can help your HR team? Request a demo to see what our consolidated and automated rewards, recognition, and perks platform can do for you.

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