Profiles in HR: Sarah Doll of Enova International Inc.

The senior director of talent management knows how to woo—and retain—a notoriously restless generation.

By Tamara Lytle Apr 1, 2015
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Sarah Doll understands what makes Millennials tick.

Perhaps that’s partly because about 60 percent of the 1,100 employees at her company—Chicago-based online lender Enova International Inc.—are from the generation born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.

The company has been youth-driven from the start. It was formed in 2004 by brothers Albert and Alexander Goldstein, who were in their early 20s at the time. What passed for a recruiting strategy consisted of the brothers hiring their college buddies. Like many startups, the company had great potential but needed help developing a people strategy. That’s where Doll came in. When she started as Enova’s first recruiter in 2007, she took the lead in building an HR team and developing a talent management system from scratch.

Sarah Doll, Senior Director of Talent Management

Enova International Inc.

Age: 35

Free-time addiction: Barre classes.

Proud moment: “Any time someone on my team gets promoted. It means I’m hiring the right people and developing them, and the rest of the organization recognizes that.”

HR advice: “Don’t hire to delegate, hire to elevate. I don’t think I’d hire anyone I can’t learn from.”

Favorite part of the job: “Getting to know colleagues and learning what gets them up in the morning. I particularly love talking to managers, the ones who were born to lead but maybe haven’t found their stride just yet. The turning points and the ‘aha’ moments ... those are priceless.”

Philosophy: “You can be the smartest person and [the] hardest-working but if you don’t speak up and own your career, I don’t think you’ll get as far as you can. And when you speak up, make sure you have something to say.”

Favorite free snack from the break room: Apples with peanut butter.

Connections: sdoll@enova.com, LinkedIn

When Doll joined Enova, the company had 400 employees. She ramped up staffing by hiring as many as 150 employees a year during her first three years. The pace reflected the opportunity for rapid growth that had drawn Doll to a startup. She’s now senior director of talent management.

Focus on Engagement

Doll soon learned that Millennials at Enova want to quickly move up in the company. She also knew that the analytics and tech staff already on board were hot commodities in a competitive job market. So she set to work creating a sustainable culture for retaining talent.

She conducted internal research on employee engagement, developed training for managers and brought in experts on how to manage Millennials.

“We want to make sure all our top talent wants to be here,” Doll says, noting that the company competes in an arena where employees routinely get weekly recruiting calls trying to lure them away.

Today, Doll uses a three-part formula to keep Enova’s workforce happy and productive:

Development. Millennials are the generation raised on scheduled play dates, so they like seeing their career path laid out ahead of them. Enova offers employees workshops on technology and soft skills, such as how to develop a professional presence and how to increase their emotional intelligence. For recruiting purposes, the company website shows photos of young workers alongside charts depicting their upward career paths.

Recognition. Enova offers a game-like recognition system in which employees can award points to their colleagues, whether peers or subordinates, for a job well done. The points can be cashed in for prizes ranging from iPods to designer purses.

Perks. Knowing that Millennials value collaboration and time with friends, Doll designed a “chill hub”—a room that features a soothing waterfall wall, board games, massage chairs and exercise balls. And once a month, employees can volunteer at a nonprofit of their choice during the workday, which gives employees from different departments a chance to work together and get to know each other.

Additional perks introduced by Doll include free breakfasts, snacks and beverages, along with onsite dry cleaning services, yoga classes, massages, manicures and Weight Watchers classes (for those who eat too many of those free candy bars). “No one ever goes hungry around here,” Doll says.

Although Doll’s strategy is aimed at retaining Millennials, it is popular with employees of all ages. Employee opinion surveys show engagement levels of almost 80 percent, far higher than the level for U.S. workers overall. “The Millennials are the ones teaching us how to better engage our entire population,” she says.

Enova’s casual dress code also strikes a positive chord with Millennials. “We don’t care what you wear. We just care that you are driving results,” Doll explains.

That approach has attracted attention from the media and business advisors. Computerworld in June 2014 listed Enova as one of the 100 best places to work in IT for the second year in a row. Brill Street + Co. ranked Enova the top employer for emerging Generation Y talent in 2012.

A Demanding Leader

Sarah Person, Enova’s manager of talent development, says Doll can relate to Millennials as well as executives and that she comes across as a strategic thinker who doesn’t take herself too seriously.

When Person started at Enova, she found Doll intimidating—especially after Person made her first presentation and her boss’s characteristically direct response was “Nope. That’s not going to work.”

Person says Doll is not a fan of doing something a certain way just because that’s the way it’s always been done. “She’ll put your ideas through the fire so when you finish a project, you know it’s good,” Person says.

Doll is just as demanding of herself. Person recalls working with her late on a Friday afternoon near the end of Doll’s pregnancy. They finished planning the rollout of a new corporate recognition program before Doll headed off to the hospital.

“She was like, ‘I’m here doing my job and when I’m done I’ll have my baby,’ ” Person says.

Doll has taught Person to have a clear purpose, to focus on adding value to the company and to initiate change.

One of the ways Doll is driving results is through a program called Enovation Tank, where teams consider ideas proposed by employees and choose which ones to pursue. In one case, Doll points out, the employee who proposed the idea is now running the project—a new customer acquisition channel.

Talent Scout

Doll originally wanted to go into advertising when she graduated from the University of Michigan in 2002. After growing up in a small town in southwest Michigan, where her mother was a teacher and her father owned a pharmacy, she was ready for the big city. But the advertising world was shrinking, and jobs were nowhere to be found. So she and her dad put all her worldly goods in a moving truck and headed to Chicago. On the way, Kelly Services called her about a job as a recruiting supervisor and she ended up there for a year.

“I never thought about advertising again,” Doll says.

She learned more about technical recruiting, including accounting and financial services, at staffing firm Hudson Global Resources and then honed her skills in analytics as a recruiter at Research International before taking the Enova job.

Doll’s emphasis on engaging employees extends to her own team. “Being a manager coach, she understands how managers should be relating to people,” Person notes.

That often means staying in the background. “She hates being in the spotlight. She’s the first one to give her team credit,” Person says.

Doll’s colleagues are often surprised to hear she was the company’s first recruiter. (She was promoted to director of talent management in January of 2009.)

Now she oversees a team of 23 HR professionals, and each year she starts off with a workshop on how to be successful in talent management.

“The people here are so incredibly talented and driven that it is very refreshing to come to work every day,” Doll says. “We move so incredibly quickly. It keeps me on my toes.”

Tamara Lytle is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer.

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