Meet Michelle Kemling

Like so many people here, Chief People Officer Michelle Kemling has a strong personal connection to the Syapse mission. We talked to her about the impact of the growing People team and how her team’s mission champions a culture of learning and leadership at Syapse.

2019/09 7 min read


How did you end up at Syapse?

I had never heard of Syapse before talking to a recruiter, but when they told me what Syapse was all about, I knew it was kismet. In the three months leading up to that time, my boyfriend’s father had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away in a matter of weeks. My mom is in remission from colon cancer, but had a complication due to radiation and had to have surgery just days after the funeral of my boyfriend’s father. On top of that, I found out that one of my closest friends had advanced ovarian cancer. When Syapse reached out to me and shared their mission, I was like, “Yes, I want to learn more!”

I’m also a total science nerd and love everything about medicine. At the time, I had just finished my certification as an integral coach, which focuses on the whole person and everything going on in an individual’s world to open up insights and possibilities for them to better face whatever’s happening in their lives. So when I found out that I could bring that passion to a scientific field in a space so near and dear to my heart, I knew that it was meant to be.

Besides Syapse’s mission, what makes you excited to come to work everyday?

I think what the People team does across the board is really cool. There’s so much variety and never a dull moment. One of the first things I did after I joined was sit down with my team to define our team’s mission and how it contributes to the overall mission of the company. We summed it up as: “We fuel the transformation of cancer care by partnering with the business to attract great talent; engage, develop, and enable exceptional performance; while championing an inclusive, mission-driven culture where people can thrive.’’ I’m one of those people who is driven by achieving tangible results and it’s exciting to me to be able to see the impact of the work our team is doing every day. It’s also incredibly rewarding to see how much employees appreciate the work the team is doing.

How do you explain your job to your friends and family?

It’s funny you ask — I swear my mom is like, “I just don’t understand what you do”. When it comes to describing the People team, I try my best to explain what we do in simple terms. Our job is to hire amazing people and foster a culture that brings out the best in people, keeps employees engaged and growing, and drives business results. And, we do a lot of stuff behind the scenes that is super important (comp, benefits, analytics, employee relations, org design, training, you name it). I can be an analyst one minute and a coach the next. Like many other jobs, we are problem-solving experts. Listening, really listening, to both what is said and what is not said.

I think the two biggest things that can differentiate a company are the employee experience and creating an environment where people can learn and grow. Those are the most important areas to focus on. Everything else — getting paid fairly, great benefits — those are things that people expect. It’s the responsibility of everyone in the company to drive the culture and differentiators that make Syapse a great place to work.

What do you think are some of the differentiators for Syapse?

I think it’s largely the sense of purpose. Most people who come here are driven by a shared connection to the mission and knowing that no matter what your job is, you’re contributing to improving the lives of people with cancer and doing something impactful. I’m so lucky to be able to get out of bed every day knowing that in some small way I’m contributing to such an incredible cause. There’s no better feeling than being proud of our work!

What has been your proudest moment growing the People team at Syapse?

Above all I just love being able to see the results and the impact that the team has on the company as a whole. I think my proudest moment has been seeing the team learn, grow, take on new roles and advance in their careers, all while improving and rolling out new people programs. I love how the team gels, partners with each other, has fun, and just gets stuff done with an amazingly positive attitude. It’s a dream team! I’m really seeing the needle move on a lot of things culturally as well. It’s great to be able to facilitate a strong culture while also seeing the new executive team come together so that we can all partner to focus on things that drive results for the company.

What has surprised you most since joining Syapse?

I’m thinking back to my first ten days — we had a consultant come in and do a “Lunch & Learn” about cancer. In my previous experience, attendance for things like that was spotty. At Syapse, it’s always a packed room, no matter the topic. People are hungry to learn, all the time. We launched interview training and there was so much interest that we had to add more sessions. It’s been really cool to see the hunger for knowledge. I guess it’s not surprising given what we do here — there’s so much to learn! When you look at science and medicine, things are evolving and changing all the time. The people who are attracted to that are naturally attracted to opportunities for growth and understanding everything that’s new and exciting out in the world.

What are you most excited for in the upcoming year?

We’ve put together a group that is focused on the culture of leadership here. We’re doing so much around that initiative and making a conscious effort to evolve as a company in a good way. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the best version of ourselves is and continuing to evolve what that looks like every day.

Is there anything we haven’t asked that you wish we had?

Even if you’re not in a leadership position, we’re all leaders. The ability to figure things out and take ownership is integral to our company and all employees. Do everything you need to do to drive results, even if you’re not asked, and learn along the way; at the same time, be okay with things sometimes going wrong and know that we learn from those things as well. People who thrive on solving tough problems, enjoy defining how to get things done, and enthusiastically strive to achieve results are the type of people that will succeed here.

Lightning Round!

If you could become an expert in anything instantly, what would it be?

You know, I’ve always wanted to go back to medical school. So I think I would want to be an expert in infectious disease.

What’s something new you’re learning right now?

So much! A lot around health tech and the cancer space. It’s so different from other industries I’ve worked in.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?

I feel like there’s so many places I haven’t been yet. I want to travel the whole world! But if I had to pick one… it would be an African Safari given my love for animals. Too bad I’m allergic to everything and afraid to get the shots!

If you could switch roles at Syapse for a day, what other job would you like to try?

I would either want to jump into Celine’s [Marquez, Director of Oncology Clinical Outcomes] or Travis’ [Stenerson, Sr. Biomedical Informaticist]. I would probably have a lot of fun in data analytics.

What is your favorite thing that you own?

It’s a picture! It’s actually a pretty great story. I had been skiing at Heavenly [Lake Tahoe, CA] and they had this huge picture of the Heavenly rescue dogs on a chairlift riding up after a snowstorm. I just had to have this picture. I went on a mission to get it. I went through Facebook, I made a bunch of calls, I was told it wasn’t possible. But then finally, one person wrote me back. He said, “I don’t know who took the picture but it was on Fortune’s magazine cover. That’s where it came from.” So I contacted Fortune magazine and they sent me over a list of people to try to contact. I contacted one person who said he didn’t have the original, but he had a high-resolution file. I had it printed and now it’s proudly hanging on the wall of my living room. I look at it every day and it makes me SO happy!

Where’s your favorite place to ski?

I just went to Whitefish Mountain in Montana for the first time for my birthday. It was an amazing trip and a quintessential mountain town. Added bonus, short lift lines… shhhh, don’t tell anyone!

What’s your favorite snack in the office kitchen?

Unfortunately, it’s something we don’t have in the kitchen. I have to leave the office to go get chocolate chip cookies. Like a soft, chewy chocolate chip cookie with chocolate chunks and a little bit of sea salt on top. Yummy!