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Delivering Exponential Returns for Employees

Joel Barnard

NetApp is making its most important investment ever. And it goes by the name of Jason. And Jessica. Also, Vinod…Monisha…José…Priyanka…Yee…Andre…Johannes…and every one of its other 10,000+ employees.

You see, when NetApp recently embarked on a multiyear effort to reshape the employee experience, it committed to investing in its own people like never before. The company wanted to double down on developing, attracting, and retaining the right talent. Moving into year 2 of this transformation, the effort continues to be driven by delivering on its employee promise trifecta: expect to be happy, expect to have no barriers, and expect to be inspired.

Proof of NetApp’s commitment to this enterprise-wide initiative was on full display last November at its first annual Thrive Talent Career Week.

NetApp Trive Talent Career Week Day 2

In my 25 years as a professional, I’ve never seen a company so committed to its employees—proud to be a NetApper!

The purpose of this internal, week-long conference for employees was twofold. For starters, the jam-packed week of live sessions was meant to inspire employees to take charge of their NetApp career journey by exploring personal growth, professional career development, and thriving in the new normal. Second, the conference served as a vehicle for NetApp to preview an exciting new AI-driven platform that will allow employees to grow their skillsets and change roles within the company.

Internal and external speakers included NetApp CEO George Kurian and CHRO Debra McCowan; top industry analyst Josh Bersin; GRIT author Angela Duckworth; and many other leaders, influencers, authors, educators, and go-getters. Key themes throughout the week included developing a growth mindset, increasing your resilience, and stepping out of your comfort zone. Over the course of the week, employees participated in and attended more than 20 live sessions, with approximately 90% of attendees saying that they would apply what they learned to their career.


The transformation in how NetApp thinks about talent began more than a year ago with the launch of Thrive, an ecosystem of programs and technologies meant to create a culture of high performance and to enhance the employee experience. Year 1 of Thrive focused on moving away from old-school performance ratings, rankings, and trainings and moving toward improving the connection and collaboration between managers and employees. Filling out forms was replaced by Quarterly Conversations that give employees an opportunity to activate themselves and to talk about their future, performance, and growth.

To complement these Quarterly Conversations, the company introduced its Thrive Pulse survey. This twice-yearly survey is based on about 26 AI-driven questions designed to measure engagement, accountability, and impact. Through these surveys, NetApp uncovered a major issue that was hindering it from delivering on its employee promises. Only 66% of respondents believed that NetApp provided them with career opportunities.

This understanding helped NetApp move into year 2 of Thrive with a renewed focus and a shift to technology, career growth, and developing enterprise-wide talent. Thrive Talent Career Week was the launch pad for this exciting new chapter in NetApp’s investment in its people.

Thrive Talent Career Week – Day 1

The week kicked off big with a session featuring George Kurian and Debra McCowan discussing why investing boldly in employees’ professional and personal development is crucial for NetApp’s continued success. The session also touched on shifting the company’s  mindset around internal mobility, creating a great experience for employees in the new normal, and how having a growth mindset will help NetApp thrive as a company, as teams, and as individuals.

NetApp Thrive Talent Career Week Day 1 One thing that stood out during this session—and many others throughout the week—was the speakers’ openness to share their own personal stories of taking risks at key points in their careers.

It was an awesome week. It was very inspiring to hear the speakers’ stories and advice.

Day 1 also . In their lively and interactive keynote session, the world’s leading HR futurist, Josh Bersin, along with Anne Fulton, author of The Career Engagement Game, gave employees a rare opportunity to gaze into the future world of work and gain insights into future-proofing their own careers.

Another day 1 highlight focused on developing a growth mindset. Dr. Amy Centers shared key research, common misconceptions, and ways that anyone can cultivate a growth mindset in themselves and others to drive higher levels of development, performance, and organizational success.

Thrive Talent Career Week – Day 2

Day 2 started by asking employees to step outside of their comfort zone—and not just because of the 6:30 a.m. start time! In the session “Experiment Beyond Your Comfort Zone to Break Boundaries for Your Career,” Ed O’Malley, founding president and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center, made a persuasive argument that finding true fulfillment in your career requires saying “yes” to a little discomfort. Even if you’ve already achieved a lot professionally, he says the only way to make progress toward your next big challenge is to push yourself beyond what’s comfortable.

Want to know who succeeds in life? No one knows better than Angela Duckworth. Presenting her influential work, GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela talked about the predictive power of grit for performance in a variety of fascinating contexts. Her work is based on studying groups like West Point cadets, National Spelling Bee competitors, rookie teachers, students from the Chicago Public Schools—all people performing in high-stress environments—to look at the correlation between resilience and achievement. Employees were inspired by her belief that grit can be instilled and cultivated by anyone, anywhere, and at any time in life.

NetApp Thrive Talent Career Week Day 3 Another highlight from day 2 featured Alexi Robichaux, CEO and cofounder of BetterUp, who discussed the importance of developing the whole person in order to achieve peak performance for yourself and for your organization. Alexi provided real-life examples in explaining how a whole-person approach can improve your ability to develop your career and increase your effectiveness in both work and life.

This day also featured a session on the power of empathy and using it to build inclusion. In addition to breaking down the different types of empathy, speaker Corey Ponder explained that although we may find ourselves naturally inclined to exhibit certain types of empathy, leadership requires compassionate empathy.

From developing a growth mindset to increasing your grit and kindling the social multiplier effect, I walked away with a refreshed vision on how to go after my goals in the work environment!

Thrive Talent Career Week – Day 3

On day 3 of Thrive Talent Career Week, things really started to heat up.

In one of the week’s most engaging sessions, employees learned why the work-hard-be-more-successful-then-be-happy formula is scientifically backward. More than a decade of research shows that training your brain to be positive first actually leads to greater job success. Based on his groundbreaking book, The Happiness Advantage, as well as his research studying top performers at Harvard, the world’s largest banks, and Fortune 500 companies, Shawn Achor discussed what positive psychology is, how much we can change, and practical applications and strategies for reaping the happiness advantage in the midst of change and challenge.

Leading up to day 3, several speakers teased the new technology that employees will soon have at their fingertips for exploring new career opportunities inside of NetApp and creating a journey to get there. It was finally time to pull back the curtain.

In this session, Chris Huntley, manager of Talent Enablement Programs at NetApp, gave employees a thrilling peek at the new Mosaic platform. Before jumping into the demo, Chris discussed the shift in mindset across NetApp management to no longer think in terms of “my talent,” but instead, “NetApp talent.” She also discussed the idea of no longer thinking about growth at NetApp in terms of moving up a ladder, but instead, scaling a rock-climbing wall in whatever direction is necessary to get you where you want to go.

Putting people in charge of their own trajectory at NetApp had already begun in phase one of Thrive by strengthening the connection and collaboration between employees and managers. With Mosaic, NetApp is providing an AI-driven tool to further enable that internal exploration.

In the demo, Chris showed how Mosaic allows NetApp employees to build their ideal career journey, learn what skills are most in demand at NetApp, and enhance their skills at their own pace. Mosaic works as an internal marketplace that broadens employees’ exposure and understanding of new opportunities at NetApp.

Thrive Talent Career Week – Day 4

The final day of Thrive Talent Career Week featured a session on how the pandemic pivot is now part of everyone’s career reality. Anne Fulton shared key factors for staying agile, resilient, and work-fit in the pandemic era. She used the analogy of a jungle gym with its ladders removed to describe today’s work environment and how, more than ever, we need personal agility to cope with all the pandemic pivots required of us. And finally, she shared her five key strategies for future-proofing one’s career, gaining more work satisfaction, and remaining agile in the new normal.

One other highlight from the final day was a powerful session on volunteering for career growth. Employees were given an inside look at a partnership between Team4Tech and NetApp to help build employees’ leadership capabilities while making a social impact. NetApp employees also got to hear about the experiences of coworkers who enhanced their personal and professional skills working with teachers and students in Ghana.

I felt the energy, authenticity, and the sincerity of the leaders. This is for all of us—every NetApp person—to own, create, and nurture. Together, we Thrive!

Building your dream career at NetApp

Thrive Talent Career Week was a shining example of the investment that NetApp is making in its people. By taking Thrive to the next level, the company is making sure that Jamal, Jean-Marc, Vinay, Zhang, Yolanda, Daisuke, Andy, Gabriela, and every other current and future NetApp employee has an opportunity to do their best work and feel good about it.

Want to join the fun? Learn more about working at NetApp.

Joel Barnard

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