Culture and People

Shawna Stewart joins Railz as VP of People Operations

February 8, 2022
shawna stewart vp people

Railz is excited to officially announce that Shawna Stewart has been brought on as VP of People Operations to scale our growing team!

Highly innovative and results-driven, Shawna Stewart is an accredited people-focused leader who possesses the fundamental skills and expertise necessary to help organizations achieve new levels of scalability and cultural advancement. As the VP of People Operations at Railz, Shawna brings to the table an extensive background involving performance management, compensation analysis, full scope operational effectiveness, succession planning, employee engagement and talent development. Building on her background in psychology and organizational behaviour, Shawna mixes her passion, grit and creativity to foster an employee experience that is inclusive, supportive and purposeful. Her people-first approach has helped her deliver pragmatic, collaborative support, allowing her to effectively translate business priorities into executable strategies that lead to profitable, team bolstering outcomes. 

Railz: Tell us about your early career, Shawna. How did you get to where you are today?

Hi everyone - it's great to meet you all! For me, the study of human behaviour in different environments was always fascinating. I majored in Psychology and minored in Sociology in my undergrad and I always found a compelling reason to come back to my learnings. I stumbled into organizational behaviour as an intersection between psychology and business and that is what set me on a path toward Human Resources and Organizational Design. The way I see it - The world of work has changed dramatically in the last decade, especially in the last two years. This is the perfect time for People-first drivers to emerge, to set a standard and to ensure organizations lead with a humanity-first focus on business.

My main goal is to ensure people are treated fairly and that they are truly set up for success. With those principles in mind, we can build on the foundation from there.

The startup I was previously at for over five years, PostBeyond, was acquired and I really wanted the opportunity to build out a People and Operations function all over again. When news of the acquisition hit, there was a lot of interest (I am fortunate to have that), but Railz definitely stood out to me. Railz had the need to scale their team and it was imperative to them that they have a dedicated person come in to help build the team up from here. I was so excited about this opportunity to join a fast-growing company. Railz has already been recognized as a Great Place to Work® in 2021 and a Best Workplace™ in Canada for Start-Ups in 2022! It's a great time to join this team and I look forward to supporting Railz in their growth.

How has the financial technology (fintech) industry impacted your career?

The financial technology sector is booming and hard to ignore, which makes it truly exciting to take part in. After spending the past 5 years in the Marketing Technology (martech) space, I could see the groundswell of fintech emerging before my eyes. I knew the fintech space was going to be special and open a lot of doors for small- and medium-sized businesses, individual banking customers, and entrepreneurs, too. I’m proud to be a part of an org that is helping to further that effort.

What is a day in the life of an executive in the people function or human resources really like?

There is never a dull moment, as you can imagine! The perception many have is that the People function is centred around compliance, business admin, and recruitment, when it has become more profoundly important to the success of businesses than ever before.

My mandate is not to just ensure we stay afloat within those areas, but to also ensure we are progressive around learning and development, performance management, benefits, engagement, social responsibility and the list goes on and on.

All of these aspects of the business need to tie back to the company's overarching goals and values and need to work together in concert. They will be ever-changing and developing as the team grows and team buy-in is crucial. For companies facing the ripple effect of the great resignation, it could be that an element of this is missing and that reliance on comp alone keeping a team engaged is the issue. Every talent ecosystem is complex and having a team in place who can strategically navigate this can be a powerful employee retention magnet.

Speaking of leadership, what is your leadership style like?

I operate under the philosophy of servant leadership, which you'll notice is a theme amongst other leaders at Railz. I devote myself to empowering others - building bridges and breaking down barriers so we can all thrive and support success in one another. People want to do their best work: meaningful, purpose-driven work. I work diligently to ensure the team always has a path forward and that nothing gets in their way of achieving this.

What would you want your first big initiative to be here?

I have already started on team and individual performance-drivers. We had team-wide Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) in place already, but I want to dig deeper into what success can mean for the individual contributor and how that ties back into what Railz is building as a legacy. The team has been a joy to work with on this! We have a very talented group of people who are here to see their impact in a big way. I want to ensure it’s crystal clear what that looks like.

How do you plan to tackle the challenge of building and maintaining a great remote-first, distributed team?

Being a remote-first and distributed team is something Railz is very proud of. Coming in the door, the first thing I wanted to do was speak to everyone on the team to understand what people are excited about and where they need support. I conducted Stay Interviews with everyone to understand why they enjoy working at Railz and what we could do to ensure longevity in their time with us. The feedback on how we can improve or what we can implement going forward will further set the foundation for those to come. 

What advice do you have for people leaders in other startups?

There are three main pillars that I focus on as a leader in this space. In my opinion, feedback is king (collecting soft data), proper change management goes a long way, and you can't be afraid to get creative. Each company and startup has its own needs and you need to tailor your approach for each.

  • Feedback: Always look for ways to hear from your people and use that to fuel your strategy in how you move forward as a group. Their insights will always spark something in you when you are looking for validation on what to prioritize and how you go about it. 
  • Communication: A sound communication plan in place for rolling out new initiatives or policies is very important. There is no such thing as over-communication in a remote-work world. 
  • Get Creative: We’re living in a different working world. You have an opportunity to leverage tech or try a new form of gamification to engage your team in unique ways. Combine a learning program with a charitable initiative or make a game out of the backlog to incentivize participation - the sky's the limit and it helps with setting your organization apart from the competition.

Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in joining fintech or Railz?

Get in touch! Check out our remote opportunities on our Careers Page or meet us virtually at the Fintech Cadence Career Fair on February 10 2022. Also, I am very active on LinkedIn so if you see a role that interests you, don’t be afraid to check in to learn more about what we’re doing. There is a great opportunity in front of us here at Railz and we do not shy away from telling great talent all about it!

Director of Marketing

Samantha Lloyd is the Director of Marketing at Railz. We're building the largest financial data network to support the future of finance. She has a decade of experience building organic growth, brand, and digital marketing for startups and technology companies. In her free time, you can find Sam SCUBA diving, snorkelling, paddle boarding, and jet skiing.