Mentoring and Subtle Bias

A while back, I was speaking to an executive about mentoring opportunities for less experienced managers. This executive felt passionate about creating more opportunities for people to learn and grow, particularly women who want to move up in their careers and tend to get less organic coaching. He spoke about a successful program he had seen at has past workplace.

Monthly, executives would pull employee names out of a jar and take that person out to chat. This paired strong performers with access to a diverse set of executives (and potential mentors). People across the organization really looked forwards to the program. Sounds great, right?! As I dug deeper into how it worked from there, this executive casually commented that he’d take male coworkers out for a beer after work and women out for a coffee to talk career and development.

I wasn’t sure why initially it felt a little bit off to me, but later I understood: the difference between the experience based on gender. I imagine this bias can play out in other ways, too. Let’s get real – I like going for beers after work just as much as my male coworkers. Plus there’s a level of candor, access, and bonding that can happen over a drink that rarely happens over a coffee (in my experience). It’s the same with hitting the golf course or catching a game.

Listen, I’m not judging. It comes from a good place of wanting to make sure nobody feels uncomfortable – a female employee, significant others, whatever. As a gay woman in a people-related function, I can totally relate. I am hyper aware of how my friendliness, teasing, and sarcasm are interpreted by both my male and female coworkers. My intent is to be accessible and open; I never want to make someone uncomfortable or wonder if it’s coming from the wrong place.

Having this conversation made me wonder if I’m exerting the same bias and not affording people the same opportunities based on my sensitivity to others’ perceptions. The truth is, I’m not sure but I want to make sure I’m not in the future. So how can we get better? I think it comes down to asking yourself two questions:

  • What are you comfortable doing for everyone?
  • What could other people (regardless of circumstance) be uncomfortable with?

Once you know that, consider offering the same “safe” option to everyone – for example, coffee across the board. Alternatively, offer an option for people to choose between – something you are comfortable with and something you think everyone would be comfortable doing. For example, I could offer to take a less experienced coworker out for a beer or lunch – their choice. Then give of yourself as best you can.

Just remember to be cognizant that you are offering the same opportunities across the board to new potential mentees. As time passes, you’ll likely develop closer relationships with certain people and give more of yourself to them. I’d only encourage you to be vigilant about starting from the same place for all.

 

Being good when you aren’t doing well.

“You cannot consistently hit your ‘A’ game if the whole you isn’t on point.” My executive coach preaches this, but to be honest, I probably didn’t buy it until recently. There were plenty of times where I leaned into work to cover for other things going on in my “real” life. And it worked. In fact, one of my biggest professional accomplishments ever occurred while I was in the process of ending a relationship. I gave every bit of my energy to that project as a way to keep my head above water, and I did a damned good job. That project saved me, in many ways. That version of me cannot believe what I’m saying now.

Here’s the difference … that example was a three-month sprint. You can put almost anything aside for a short period of time. Two years later, I realize performance (for me) isn’t sustainable if my “real” life isn’t in order and balanced. And hasn’t been for a while. The last eighteen months have been a rollercoaster, with the last six months tapping me out completely because of a number of things in my personal life. It sucks. Not sleeping, eating or being happy severely limits the energy and creativity I can bring to work, which normally energizes me and adds a lot of satisfaction to my life.

Part of what makes me really good at my job is that I generally am a happy optimist who cares and feels really hard. When I tap into that energy, I can be very perceptive, patient, diplomatic, empathetic, anticipatory and create an awesome experience. When I propose something, I’m able to sell it because of my passion. At my best, my workplace gets the whole ‘me’ that my friends get. When I lose that part of me and my energy is tapped, I am not able to bring my best. I can be productive, but not awesome.

So People Opsers out there, what advice do I have for you?

  • Be aware of your non-work energy. If it’s dipping, know it’s eventually going to catch up with you at work. Our job can be more emotionally draining than many roles in the workforce, so we need to be even more diligent about minding to our own needs. When HR people burn out, they burn out hard and become caricatures (see: the angry HR person).
  • Figure out the main drain on your non-work energy and try to take it on. I didn’t. Many of us get into this field because we like giving of ourself to others, so it’s easier said than done. I refused to address or process some of what life threw at me and tried to cover it up with work. Unproductive behaviors popped out in work and life and I really wasn’t great at anything. Sometimes you really need to just put your oxygen mask on first before focusing on others.
  • Say “no” to things. You need to focus on restoring balance in your life, and you’ll need time to commit to that. That means making choices about the most important things, and cutting out items and people that aren’t adding to your life. For me, it’s hard to let people down. Learning that it was ok to choose myself sometimes was a hard but invaluable lesson. It took me a while to start to grasp it because it’s a really hard lesson for givers to learn, and super hard to teach others.
  • Think about what you enjoy most. It may seem counterintuitive, but make time for those things. I found myself working first thing in the morning, all day, then all night. It didn’t help get me back to normal. I quit doing the things I loved. My dog started shooting me dirty looks. In hindsight, I should have been actively spending my free time with friends, my dog and in nature, versus holding out for things to get better on their own. I should have allowed myself moments of silence and joy. I’ve tried doing more of that lately.
  • Exercise. The movement is good for you all around. Also, I tend to have some of my more productive and creative thinking moments when I’m tuned out from work. Whether it’s walking, boxing, biking, or boot camp, do something that turns your brain off entirely for an hour and gets your juices flowing. The endorphins aren’t half bad, either. When the fog clears, things get a little easier.

Two years ago, I didn’t appreciate the value of balance in my life. I didn’t realize that sometimes I needed to put life before work to be better in my job, in my relationships, and in my friendships. I think I’ve learned that lesson and know that to have any chance of delivering the value I want to bring to my job, it’s time to focus on getting the whole me back to a really great place again.

If I can save some others learning this the hard way, I’d love to. Trust me … putting your happiness first and focusing on yourself sometimes will help you bring your best self to the job, your relationships and your friendships! I mean, you are reading this on the internet; it must be true!

Picking a tool or vendor

Over the years, I’ve realized just how much my views on the ideal workplace impact how I select the vendors I work with. I remember selecting one of my first vendors at my last job and the CEO (a hugely-influential mentor of mine) suggesting I add a few questions to my vetting process. They stick with me today.

How big is the company? How quickly are they growing? There’s something to be said for selecting a vendor who is facing the same challenges you are as a business. For us, it was being a budget-conscious start-up trying to scale our team and culture quickly. I always felt just a bit better when working with a company our size or a little larger who had been through some of the challenges. It meant that any employee I spoke to – from sales-to-success-to-support had likely faced the same challenges our sales, success and support teams did. Their managers had the same demands. I just felt some level of comfort knowing my vendor knew my pain points really well.

How many customers do you have? What’s your target market? I tend to like start-ups with a solid base of customers, but not so many that I worry that once the sale is closed, they’ll vanish into the abyss and we’ll be up a creek for implementation and support. I also like to know that we’re in the market they are targeting or aiming towards – I don’t want to enter a relationship with a company if they are looking to move upstream from where I see my company in the near-future. If they are looking to really crush the market I’m in, I’m more likely to get service and see features related to my challenges.

Talk to me about your culture? What types of companies choose you? This is concert with me doing some research on my own about a company’s culture and values. I want to work with companies that care about creating a great experience for their employees, because I think it’ll mean better service for me and a product built to help me support an amazing culture. It cuts again to: “How can you serve me well if we’re trying to solve different problems or don’t align philosophically?”

I still look at tablestakes things like pricing and features, but with so many amazing HR Tech solutions on the market, I try to focus in on those supporting a similar purpose. I’m in the midst of selecting a performance management tool. There are dozens of solid options out there – each solving the problem a little bit differently and all potentially presenting a ton of value to my organization. The leading candidate, though, has about 150 clients and their content is really focused on culture more than performance management. Their tool does really neat things on its own, but it sure is reassuring to know that they are thinking about it as a solution not just to help with comp reviews or exiting people, but as a key component to building a high-performing culture.

 

Saying goodbye … to a company

I’ve been talking to a number of people lately about the emotions that come along with a job transition, and I can’t help but compare it to a break up. No, they aren’t always bad and painful things. And they can be necessary to grow yourself and your career. But even on amicable terms, they can often hurt. Here are some of the ways they are similar:

Stay together for the kids. Ok, not literally. But it seems that most people I’ve spoken to were trying to hang in there for something. Maybe it’s vesting options. Or a co-worker or team they really adored. Or clinging to hopes that the good ole days would return, or that horrible boss would be fired. If you get to a point where the work isn’t getting you out of bed in the morning and exciting you – it’s probably time to consider moving on or figuring out if there’s a way to reinvigorate things before your partner (aka your employer) ends the relationship for you.

Sometimes it hurts so much to lose the one you love. Boom. I worked in a 90’s reference. Bonus points if anyone recognizes it. I’ve talked to very few people who didn’t feel some sense of loss when leaving a job. Maybe it’s for one of the reasons above, but it’s not uncommon for people to feel a loss of some part of their identity. This is magnified 10x if someone isn’t ready to leave a company. There’s some research that indicates death, divorce and job loss are the most stressful things people have to endure.

Moving on takes a while. I still say “we” when talking about my last company, and I need to be very cognizant of not saying the wrong name when I’m talking with others about where I work. It’s not that I’m not excited about my current role, it’s really as simple as breaking a 4.5 year habit and ritual. It’s easier when you know the landscape and your company. It’s harder when you are feeling something new out, and it can really magnify reminiscing about the last role.

You look back either too fondly or too negatively. There are break ups where you look back and you miss everything, conveniently forgetting there was a reason you left. There are break ups where you look back so angry about everything that you forget there was a lot good (at one point) about the relationship. The same can be true when you leave a company, particularly in the short-term.

What’s the worst break-up with a company you’ve had?

Core Values – My Influences

At work, we’re working on figuring out what our values are and who we aspire to be. It’s a critical project for any company (I think) because your values should drive everything from hiring/firing to recognition and promotions. They should be so engrained in everything that you do that people always know the right behavior or decision to make, based on what you believe in as a company. Once we have our values, we can start to build out performance management, recognition, events, etc.

Because I have the pleasure of being one of the executive team sponsors of the project, I’ve been immersing myself in all things culture and values. I get myself pumped up. I share with others. I geek out. There are a lot of companies identifying and leveraging their values in a very effective way to differentiate themselves (and their talent) from the pack. Here are a couple companies that have inspired me:

Netflix: This company took culture and values to the mainstream with the release of their culture deck. Not only did they share out their values and illustrate with examples, they talk about their culture so openly and honestly, knowing that it’s not the right fit for everyone. They flat out share that average players will get terminated with a generous severance package to hammer home just how important being exceptional is to them. My favorite example is “picking up the trash” … there’s really no better way to encapsulate a set of behaviors and attitudes you want than with that example. If I can help produce something anywhere close to as articulate as this deck, I’ll have a drop-the-mic moment and feel like I’ve done something special.

Amazon: Their Leadership Principles make their expectations crystal clear. I love calling out a bias for action and frugality. One may assume a company as large and successful as Amazon wouldn’t see either as a filter through which decisions should be made, but it is an integral part of their DNA. When you look at all of their principles, you can start to see how they’ve grown and innovated in the ways that they have. Their “think big” and “Customer obsession” also start to shed some light on how they’ve taken on so many different markets and innovated in ways that have transformed the expectations of customers around the world when dealing with online retailers. Zappos is really high on my list too, but I can’t call out two Amazon companies without feeling like I’ve stacked the deck!

Valve: When I first started at Buildium, one of the co-founders sent me Valve’s handbook. “Maybe we can do something like this?” Yeah, maybe Dimitris! They don’t call out their values as explicitly as others, but if you read through their handbook, you can tell what matters most to them and why they think it gives them an advantage in the market. My favorite part of the handbook is the end, when they are blunt about what they don’t do well. I think every company would be wise to take a look in the mirror and acknowledge what they don’t do well.

BambooHR: Anyone who works with me or talks shop with me knows how much I idolize this company. I have put two companies on their platform because it’s just so damned useful and intuitive, but I’ve always admired their culture and ability to push out useful product updates at a blistering pace. The Bamboo Way is clearly articulated and I’ve never had an interaction with their team that seemed at odds with what they say is important. This company is going somewhere and it seems like the people are happy to be driving the ride in part because of their values-oriented culture.

Atlassian: I’ll end with a simple one. They have a “mere” five values, but articulate them quite well and give their team context as to why they matter.

How does your company do with core values?

Forget what HR tells you to do … do what works for your team.

Let me back it up a little bit. I’m not saying to not follow whatever performance management process your company has in place – we’ve worked really hard to put something in place as a baseline to ensure people are getting feedback in some scaleable format. I’m also not saying to not listen to HR’s coaching – many of us geek out about this sort of thing and love to help you become more effective at delivering feedback. I am saying not to let yourself be limited by whatever system is in place – see at as a framework to build off of.

We need to do a reboot of performance management at my current company, so I’ve been reading up a bit, studying new tools and thinking about how to best combine simplicity, regularity and efficacy in a scaleable system, while leaving room for teams to do what works best for them. Here are some key components for any manager thinking about performance management.

Regular feedback. I meet with everyone on my team once per week. Each person fills me in on anything they need help with, talks about things they have accomplished and asks any questions they have for me. I save the end of our time to ask questions about how they’ve taken on a project, why they’ve made the the decisions they have, or how well something went. Then I provide my feedback on anything that jumps to mind based on the prior week. Rather than forced feedback covering a long period of time, it’s timely little bits of highly-specific feedback (at least, that’s the goal … I have off weeks).

Career planning. Several times a year, an informal check-in on career goals is helpful (and greatly appreciated). Talk about their big picture goals; don’t dance around the fact (or get angry with the realization) that they likely won’t be with you and your company for forever; figure out the skills they need to hit their goals; and figure out the projects and coaching you can realistically provide for them right now. If you are committed to their growth long-term and figure out how to help them, you will almost certainly get more loyalty and effort from your team.

Ask for feedback. If you are helping your team grow, there is no reason for you not to leverage them to help you grow. Ask what you are doing and not doing well. Ask how they like to be managed and what is driving them crazy. Some of my biggest growing moments as a manager came from open feedback from my team. You’ll need to earn trust first – nobody is going to give tough (but helpful) feedback to their manager if they are worried it’ll come back to haunt them. Which also means that you shouldn’t ask for feedback if you aren’t ready to hear it (I’ve seen this turn sour a number of times).

Do an intake. If you take on a new team or new person, do an intro meeting. I have one I do 1-2 times a year that covers seven questions and helps me immensely as a manager.

  • What do you love to do?
  • What do you hate to do?
  • What are you awesome at (overlap allowed)?
  • What are you bad at (overlap allowed)?
  • What are your goals – career and skills to acquire?
  • How do you like to be managed?
  • How do you not like to be managed?

This allows me to deploy people on things in their wheelhouse, challenge them with projects that will build skills they’ll need to hit their growth goals, and saves me some hard lessons in managing them the right way. It also lets me give more helpful context to the projects I assign them (ie. “I’m giving you this project because I think it’ll give some skills needed to hit this goal”).

The wrap: Talk to your team about how they want feedback. Ask them about a system that works for them. Be open and honest with them. Commit to growing them. It may seem counterintuitive to be committed to getting someone promoted (or hired to a bigger role elsewhere), but it will pay off in performance and engagement. It’ll likely help with retention, too (because people ride out the hard times for a good manager). Being a good manager is a lot of work – giving feedback and managing performance are both a huge part of it. Find a good mentor, read up, experiment and ask for feedback. It’ll pay off in your career growth.

 

 

Picking Mentors – HR Novice to HR Guru

I’m not a guru (I only play one on the interwebs), but I think I’ve graduated from novice with a lot of help from a lot of people. Some I stumbled on through luck or some prodding, some I sought out. If I was talking to a younger version of me (with fewer gray hairs), here’s what I’d say:

Work for someone you can learn from. Provided you have the flexibility to be patient on job offers, only accept one working for someone you know you can learn something valuable from. Pick someone super smart. Pick someone who is an expert in their field. Pick a great leader. Provided the job ticks off your other needs, always choose the role reporting to someone who awes you with some characteristic or skill.

I have a list of people I’ve interviewed with over the years that I would have loved to work for, solely because of how much I thought I could learn from them. Only two of these people are in HR. And mind the other side of you tenure at a job. It may be time to consider another role if you don’t feel you are still learning from your manager, or at least invest in some other avenue of learning

Find HR thought partners. My CEO at Buildium, Michael, acknowledged I was relatively inexperienced and encouraged me to find experts to use as thought partners, even if it cost the company money. I used an HR consulting company called Insight Performance and worked closely with the amazing Amy Scannell. Early on, I’d call with a question and follow her recommendations. Later, I’d call with a solution and ask if I was missing anything. Over four years, I developed in large part because of her mentorship.

Our investors hosted summits where I was able to network with other HR professionals. Annually, we were able to hear what others were trying, things that had gone well, and lessons learned the hard way.  It’s here I met one of my HR crushes, the incredibly amazing Christine Song. I still find myself learning from her amazing LinkedIn article shares and occasionally bouncing an idea off of her for feedback.

Lastly, blogs and conferences were a great sources of inspiration and expertise. I religiously read upstartHR, then met the super talented author, Ben Eubanks at a conference. Keeping up to date with what was on his mind helped me keep a thumb on what was going on in the profession and challenge my own thinking and beliefs about the right way to do things. It made me grow and evolve. Getting to interact with him and ask for feedback was amazing.

 

Network. I hate the thought of schmoozing people in a large room, so I try not to. That doesn’t mean I don’t see incredible value to expanding my circle through smaller events, speaking on panels, and offering to feedback to people who ask. I’ve found myself with a groups of individuals that have taught me a lot about different functional areas and other business problems. I have found that as I’ve learned more about all aspects of a business, I’ve become better at my role.

The wrap. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to stumble into some amazing mentors who have shaped the professional I am today. I didn’t really start to see the value until in my thirties, but I wish I had started earlier. Don’t limit yourself to people in your profession – there is something to be learned from anyone who is really good at something. Ask them about the biggest lessons they’ve learned, the biggest mistake they made, things they wish they knew earlier in their career and anything else that comes to mind. You’d be surprised at how much it helps you navigate things you face.

 

That 6:30AM Factor – Scaling Drive and Commitment

“We used to have people here at 6:30AM everyday. How do we get our team back to that?”

“Mike, we’re bigger now. You can’t expect people to do that.”

I recently was having a discussion with an engineer at a growing medical device company about the issues her company has had scaling. Her boss was lamenting how they used to have a culture where he wasn’t the only person in the office at 6:30AM, with the underlying feeling being that it meant people just didn’t care as much or weren’t as driven.

Maybe the 6:30AM factor is defined differently at your company, but it’s such a common concern when scaling that I wanted to talk about it a bit. How do you make sure to keep the special something as you grow and aren’t afraid of shuttering your doors tomorrow? While I think it’s really hard to do, I think scaling that sort of drive (in this case) is possible if you are really deliberate throughout the process of growing your headcount. Here are some of the components you need to have.

Great hiring (and firing) practices. Your founders should define the characteristics they love in employees and the culture they want to have early on, then work with the HR or People Ops team to engrain them into the hiring process. The earlier, the better. You want to have it down to a science and learn from your mistakes before hitting a stretch of rapid growth.

Many companies wait too long to hire a strong person to build out the people infrastructure, so it’s not a surprise that it becomes an uphill battle. You should be interviewing for fit, work style, skills and experience early on, and exiting people who aren’t a fit for the culture you want to sustain. Your culture will naturally change as you grow, but you need to be vigilant about reinforcing the characteristics you want and avoid letting it slip into a bad place early on.

Purpose. Part of the reason you see such a vibrant culture in a lot of start-ups is that every person feels able to impact the company’s ability to sink or swim. Even the intern gets face time with the CEO to hear about the vision and strategy. How can you not be excited to come into work with that level of clarity and ability to impact great things?! As you grow, that doesn’t happen organically. Before you know it, you have a content writer writing about tax returns, who doesn’t see how what they does matters to the company and watches the clock until they can leave.

As you grow, you need to be much more deliberate about purpose and making people feel impactful. People further down the ranks are going to feel further and further from what the company is trying to do and top-level metrics. The content writer doesn’t see how this article impacts MRR or growth rate, but maybe they can see it impacting organic search results or customer satisfaction.

Your leaders should take the time to position tasks and initiatives very specifically, tie them up to department goals, and explain how that impacts company goals. Also, define the mission and goals of their teams. When you give people a task, show them the metrics it’ll move. Let them own it. People want to feel like they make a difference – it’s what gets them pumped to get out of bed in the morning and, maybe, show up at 6:30AM to try this new thing they think will move the needle.

Autonomy and growth. When you are a small company, it’s really easy for people to feel like they control their own destiny and get to take on stretch projects. It’s invigorating. When people are pumped about what they do, the time flies. As you get bigger, there’s less green field, more process, more specialization and things may move a little slower.

It takes a very deliberate effort by managers to distribute the boring tasks that nobody wants to do (and give them context so they are slightly less awful), and also distribute the stretch projects to members of the team so everyone still has something they are really excited about. No, your customer service rep probably won’t have a chance to run social media as you grow, but maybe they can be a team lead or run an onboarding program.

What happens more typically is that a couple of people get all the stretch projects, while others get the grunt work. So you have a smaller number of people feeling autonomy and the opportunity for growth. I think this adds to critical mass becoming less and less engaged. I think the only real way around this obstacle is good management. Unfortunately, many quickly-growing start-ups end up with a lot of first time managers (usually the people who got stretch projects and crushed it) who aren’t able to be as deliberate about divvying up work. Which brings me to …

Good management. Great managers are a differentiator. People join for them, excel under them, and stick around through the hard times because of them. They make work exciting. You need really good managers to hire and fire correctly. To give purpose as you scale. And to ensure autonomy and growth opportunities throughout their teams. If you have great managers, you can scale that start-up feel where people are invigorated by what they do. Every business struggles with this, but particularly growing ones where every day there are a million other things to take on.

The wrap. Even if you solve for all of the above, reality kicks in. When you are a small company, your demographics may be very different than they need to be as you grow. For example, with more experienced leaders, you likely will have more people who have families and other commitments outside of work than a fifteen person start-up with a lot of twenty-somethings. Having people in the office at all hours becomes less likely (and I’m not sure it’s the best measure of scaling success).

If your company grows, your dynamics will need to change, regardless. As a leader, you need to really get to the heart of what’s important, define it for your HR team, listen to their feedback (i.e. are you focusing on the right measures of success?), and let them get to work weaving it into the fabric of your company. That is, in my opinion, the best way to scale a really positive culture that reflects the wants of the founders while meeting the needs of the business.

Oh. And hire/develop good managers as you scale. That, too.

 

Thoughts for a new HR professional

Hey there. Sorry I’ve gone dark on you. My new job started and I’ve been immersing myself in meeting people, collecting feedback, and working on a plan going forward. It’s meant that few humans outside of work have gotten even a wink of my time (my dog has, though), and that I didn’t follow through on my goal of 1-2 posts a week.

However, with starting a new job, I’ve found my mind wandering at night with thoughts about what I’d tell a younger version of me to prepare myself for this role and opportunity. I figured I’d share those thoughts.

  1. This career is the right fit, but it’s hard. I never would have thought that as an introvert, the path that would drive me the most would involve interacting with so many different people. I care about people I’m close to so intensely, I suppose it makes sense that creating an environment for people to feel engaged and invigorated really excites me. However, it also makes the job challenging because it’s hard not to take every bit of failure or tough news very, very personally. You will need to sit on difficult information that you can’t vent to anyone else. You will hear things nobody else in the organization hears that you can’t un-hear or share. And you will need to deliver really bad news. There will be nights it’s hard to sleep, but in the end, you are (hopefully) impacting things in a really positive way.
  2. It’s lonely. People who have worked for me can attest to my philosophy on this. I think to be really good at this job, you need to be neutral. Nobody should fear coming to you because you are close friends with so-and-so. That means being lonely at work. Very rarely do you have a peer you can be totally open with and vent to. I am human and I develop soft spots for people. It’s always been hard for me to remain detached enough to maintain objectivity, while balancing the need to build trust with people throughout the organization.
  3. We need more creativity and passion in the field. There are a lot of amazing people in the profession and we need even more. I think we’re in the era where HR and People Ops go from risk mitigation to strategic partner to the organization. Anytime you see a function make that transition, creative thinkers are needed. Don’t give into the pressure to think inside the box. Dream big and push the envelope. Focus on creating an exceptional experience that you’d want to see.
  4. Network. You can speed your learning curve up by going to events and learning from others’ successes and, more importantly, failures. Ask the “stupid” questions you are afraid to ask. Introduce yourself to founders and execs and ask them what they like to see from the function (and hate to see). This is all info you’ll need to learn at some point – best get started on it early!
  5. Learn numbers and presenting. You will be working with a lot of data-driven functions. Learn to speak their language to sell your ideas and get buy in. You need more than “everyone is doing this” and “it’ll be great” at executive meetings – you need to paint the picture of value to the organization. You may thrive in the softer and more ambiguous side of business, but learn how your peers work best and you’ll be far more effective at impacting change in the organization.
  6. You’ll usually have an uphill battle to earn trust. While there are a lot of good people in the field, there are some bad eggs. Add to that the fact that the job requires us to deliver the worst sort of news to employees and you can understand why it can require a lot of upfront investment and consistency to earn trust. Don’t take skepticism or guardedness personally, just keep working and you’ll get there. Be as open as possible. Be genuine.

Accidentally landing in this career has been the best thing for me. I hope that’s helpful perspective!

Poached from Marketing – The Four P’s

I’ve been given the opportunity to really learn from different departments at my last two jobs. At Buildium, I was seated with customer support, marketing and finance at different times. It’s been incredibly valuable in shaping how I think about my field – I like to steal whatever concepts or systems I can from my peers and apply them to people strategy. I’d like to talk more about what we can learn from other functions in this and future blogs because I think it helps raise the bar.

Today, a bit from my friend Geoff Roberts, co-founder of Outseta. I asked him to talk to me about a core concept of marketing:

“The 4 P’s of the “marketing mix” is a foundational concept in marketing that’s been popularized since the 1950’s. The first “P” stands for Product, which is the good or service that is being offered. Product should fulfill existing consumer demand, or be compelling enough to create demand on it’s own. The second “P” is for Price, which is the amount of money the consumer is willing to pay for the real or perceived benefits of the product. Price has the most direct implication on revenue. Place is the third P. Place describes where a product is sold and how it is delivered. This could mean specific stores or geographies where the product is offered, or even the specific displays used within a physical store or the positioning of a product within an online store. The final “P” is for Promotion, which is the mix of activities related to advertising, public relations, or direct marketing or sales promotions that are used to promote the product. There is significant interplay between the 4 P’s with each needing to be carefully considered to effectively marketing a product.”

 

I’ve spent some time before talking about applying marketing principles to recruiting, but not how it can be applied to your people strategy. Let’s “redefine” some of the 4 P’s first:

Product: Your culture as a whole. What and how you are building a product for a customer factor into what your culture is. Ask yourself, what are we going to try to deliver and how are we going to do it from a people and behavior perspective?

Price: How much you want to pay to the talent that will build and deliver services to your customers. The stage of company will really impact this (think bootstrapped versus well-funded).

Place: Easy peasy. Where are you trying to draw talent from and why.

Promotion: Once you understand the culture you want and how much you can pay people, it’s time to figure out how to drive interest in the company and roles to get well-qualified butts in the seat.

Now let’s put those four together into a couple of examples to show why I think we can use them to drive a sound people strategy.

Scenario #1

Ginger is starting a consulting company to advise tech companies on how to scale their businesses with as few headaches as possible. Instead of just focusing on one function, she’s going to have a boutique shop with industry experts to provide clients access to many areas of expertise under one roof. She’s got functional experts lined up in different cities around the US, but still needs to add several functions and find a way to build her clientele list. She’d also like to develop prospective clients in Boston, Austin and the Bay Area. She has a little money in the bank thanks to three clients, but want to be cognizant of costs. Let’s look at the Four P’s.

  • Product: Her team is distributed, so openness and collaboration are key traits emphasized in the culture. Being spread across multiple timezones means they can’t share work hours easily; instead they establish a three hour “core-hour” window where everyone is expected to be online and responsive to the team. Otherwise, employees are able to set their own hours, so long as they are responsive to clients and hit their results. Ginger establishes generous vacation and leave policies to fight burnout.
  • Price: While there is some money in the bank, she’d like to keep salaries lower to hedge against business being slow for a bit. Ginger establishes bonuses based on company performance so that if the business meets or exceeds expectations, everyone shares in the success. Realistically, though, they cannot pay market rate in the most competitive markets.
  • Place: The business aims to penetrate tech markets in several areas, but will have a challenge paying market rate in those cities. Instead of looking for experts in those cities, she focuses on advertising on remote-focused boards. Not having critical mass in any one city also saves on real estate. One area where she sees a local presence as important is with the Business Development roles. For those roles, she posts only in the markets she’s trying to penetrate.
  • Promotion: The job opens up doors to working with some really exciting companies. Everyone who joins will have autonomy and the flexibility to build their work life around their personal life (outside of core hours). Ginger decides to focus on the flexibility, ability to work from anywhere, balance and autonomy as selling points for the job in ads and company postings, then taps into her network for referrals (and offers a referral bonus).

Scenario #2

Josh’s passion project – an app with thousands of subscribers and a large potential market – is off the ground. he wants to add customer-requested features quickly. He just closed on a massive round to hire more developers to push product updates, and sales and support teams to help grow and support their base. The people that helped Josh launch are all in Boston and like working together, so they’d like to hire devs solely in Boston. Josh has been at failed start-ups before. While he believes they need to hire devs in Boston to be successful, he’s looking for other ways to save money.

  • Product: The team puts in a lot of hours and wants their new office to have common space for collaboration and to let loose, but also quiet places to code. It’s clearly a “work hard/play hard” culture and they are investing in space, perks and benefits that make being in the office more enjoyable. Because they want to innovate, the team carves out time and development budget for all engineers to experiment with new technologies and take on pet projects. They want a performance culture and decide to have a quick hook with people not working out.
  • Price: They have money and want experienced devs able to contribute immediately in a pricey market, so they are willing to aim for the 75th percentile for roles in the short term. They can’t afford to spend this level of money for all roles, so the team decides to get creative elsewhere.
  • Place: While hiring the dev team in Boston is a no brainer, their investors suggest a different approach for sales and support – building out a team in Nevada or Utah where costs for real estate, salaries and business taxes are lower. This would allow the team to pay market rate for talent with favorable economics.
  • Promotion: For dev roles, the team focuses on popular dev job boards, sites focused on tech in Boston, and show up at tech recruiting events. They have a PR firm working to get word out about their new HQ, the fundraise, culture and the market for the app. People like to work on the latest and greatest tech, so they just need a little brand recognition.

Making Sense of it All

It’s easy to miss an opportunity to look at all the components and levers available in people strategy. The Four P’s may not fit like a glove, but it is a good reminder to take a step back and look at the whole picture. What are you trying to do? What do you have in place now? How do you want to get there? What can you do to get there effectively? Like marketing, the right mix is critical. Change one thing in “product”, and you need to take a look at if and how the other P’s should be adjusted.