Accolade’s Britt Provost on HR as anthropology and the role of culture in a company’s success

Britt Provost, executive vice president of People and Culture at Accolade, traveling in Utah. (Photo courtesy of Britt Provost)

Britt Provost was interested in studying anthropology when she went to university, but wound up pursuing an undergraduate degree in art history from the University of Washington and an MBA from the University of Colorado at Denver.

In the end, after holding leadership roles at various People and Culture departments — the updated name for Human Resources — Provost feels like she landed where she wanted.

“I love anthropology for all the reasons I love HR: it’s the study of culture, customs and traditions,” Provost said. “I get to be [cultural anthropologist] Margaret Mead, but in a brand new land!”

Last month Provost took the title of executive vice president of People and Culture at Accolade, a Seattle-based healthcare technology company. She was previously in comparable roles at ed-tech company Promethean and at Apptio, an enterprise software business.

Provost is excited about the conversations and initiatives taking place in recent years in the HR space. That includes efforts to improve pay equity by increasing wage transparency within companies and across sectors, and programs to increase the number of women, women of color and other underrepresented populations in leadership roles by boosting their management training opportunities.

The work isn’t important solely on the individual level for people eager for new opportunities or better benefits, or strictly on the macro level for improving equality socially.

“The culture of a company really sets up whether a company is going to be successful or not,” Provost said. And in her job, “I have a responsibility as a steward and a shepherd of the culture in the organization.”

She applies a similar lens to the dramatic changes taking place in Seattle, with the tremendous growth as the city’s tech sector keeps booming matched against income inequality and efforts to retain the region’s unique vibe and quality of life.

“Just like a company has to keep its culture,” Provost said, “I hope that the Northwest can do the same.”

We caught up with Provost for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Seattle

Computer types: MacBook Pro and an iMac at home

Mobile devices: iPhone 11 Pro Max

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: I love Bloomberg and Flipboard to keep me current. Pocket has been an amazing add to keep all of my articles of interest in one organized place. Google Keep for checklists and notes. And SoundHound is amazing when I’m out and about — I always seem to find a song I want to keep.

Britt Provost on the job at the Seattle offices of Accolade. (Accolade Photo)

Describe your workspace. On the go. My office is really a Timbuk2 Wrap Top backpack. We have an open office plan across our business, and I love the ability to be mobile and spend time with our employees and my team, wherever I need to be.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? I think you really need to be intentional about how you want to live — I think of my work and life as pretty blended. That said, I work very hard to recharge and remain resilient. I have started practicing a “digital detox” from Friday night until Sunday morning where I really limit my phone, email and social media use. I try to spend more time face to face with people, with the screen away.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn and Twitter. LinkedIn is a must-do in my business, and it’s been a great equalizer. You can connect and engage with your career icons in an amazing way. Twitter has been a surprise; I’ve met more people on the platform that have become friends in real life than any other social media tool.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? I’m sort of obsessive about filing things away that require more action and responding to what I can right away. Balancing email and Slack is still an art I’m trying to master — I love the toolsets, but it feels like twice the work and organization.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? Lots. I’m onboarding into a new job right now, so it’s pretty full on. What I’ve loved about my time in this role so far is meeting all of our team members, all over the country. Their passion for what we do is so infectious, so it’s less like work meetings and more like meeting old friends who are welcoming you to your new neighborhood.

Provost loves hitting reset by getting outside. (Photo courtesy of Britt Provost)

How do you run meetings? One of my values is being brief, bright and gone. I like to lead meetings that are to the point and end with a clear sense of what the best next actions are for us. I’m also a big fan of the drop in — especially for team members. Let’s not wait until the next scheduled meeting, and you can always get my undivided attention if there is coffee involved.

Everyday work uniform? Jeans, black shell and black jacket. I like to joke that I dress like a bruise: black and blue. The colors always go together and it travels well. The less I have to think about it, the better!

How do you make time for friends/family? This is super important to me and I’m lucky for the group I have in my life. My brothers are always awesome about checking in and we have a usual time and space when we connect. I talk to my parents on the phone a few times a week. I need to get back into it, but I was hosting Sunday dinner with friends. It was a great regular connection point, especially when I’ve been traveling. When in doubt, I schedule breakfast with friends. There is nothing better than breakfast.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug. I climb things and take pictures along the adventure. I’m not a hardcore climber, but a good hike is always on my list. I try to get to Alaska and Southern Utah on a regular basis, and we are so lucky with everything we have in our backyard, like the Olympic National Park. There is nothing better than being outside.

A shot by Provost of Hayes Glacier in Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Britt Provost)

What are you listening to? I adore the radio station KNKX: “jazz, blues and NPR news.” We are so lucky to have this local resource and I tune in as often as I can.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? As I mentioned above, I love Bloomberg and Flipboard. Harvard Business Review has been a must-have investment for me — I learn so much from their resources.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? I’ve been reading a lot of American Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron lately, with some mystery/thrillers in between. I’ve actually been revisiting a lot of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, which are classics.

Night owl or early riser? More of an owl, when I don’t have constraints.

Where do you get your best ideas? In the forest! And, barring that, it’s walking around. I live downtown and just sold my car, so all the time on foot around town is super productive for me.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I really admire Pat Wadors, chief human resources officer for ServiceNow, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based cloud computing company. She is practical, inspirational and one of the first leaders I’ve heard talk about the importance of grace in what we do at work.

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