You’re a great CEO. You’ve been doing this for years. Your company is successful, maybe you’re on the Inc. 5000, maybe you’ve been voted one of the best companies to work for. You’ve got this down. Great instincts have likely been a large part of your success, and so has knowing when to trust them.
Hiring the right team is one of the most talked about subjects for the CEOs on our show. You might be a top notch visionary, but you can’t function without the team to bring that vision into the real world. This week, we welcome Andrew Ryan, CEO and Jim Catts, CTO of MemberSuite. We talked about implementing an unlimited paid time off policy, the importance of values in CEO decision-making, and how you shouldn’ttrust your instincts when building the right team.
Know What You Offer
Before you go to the hiring table, you need to know what kind of employee is going to fit your culture. That’s not only about what you get, but also what you are willing to give. Ryan says, “When your employees sign on to your company, there’s a social contract, and it goes two ways. They agree to give you their best efforts, and to do their best, and ensure great outcomes for their work. You agree to give them an environment where they can thrive and set them up for success. The trust goes both ways.”
Ryan points out that many CEOs implement diversity for diversity’s sake – not because they recognize the fundamental value that a diverse team brings to your business. “Having different people, from different backgrounds, different genders, looking at a tough problem ensures a better outcome. There’s just an intrinsic value in having different kinds of people, people from different backgrounds, and different ages looking at a problem.”
Don’t Trust Your Instincts
Which brings us around to why you shouldn’t necessarily trust your own instincts. Ryan says, “Every human being has their own biases, has their own history, their own upbringing, their own prisms through which we see reality and facts.”
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of times to trust your gut instincts, and there are places for it in the hiring process. But, where gut instincts aren’t a fit is when it comes to building a solidly diverse and inclusive team. Why? Because you have filters, too, and sometimes it’s hard to see past them. So, it’s important to include in your hiring process techniques that will stretch you past your own invisible barriers.
Gut instinct is believed to be a result of your implicit memory. Implicit memory is that memory that you don’t really have to work for – it’s what you’ve picked up along the way, or the sum total of your subconscious. It may include song lyrics, movie quotes, or knowing that touching a hot stove is bad. It in many ways makes up our worldview, and it has a lot to offer. What you need to keep in mind when building your team is that what goes into forming your gut instincts can be invisible to you – meaning you can’t see your filters. So if you are relying completely on that, you’re going to have some blind spots.
Ryan says, “We believe we’ve got this gut feeling where we can pick good people, and we don’t, right? What happens is that we over remember the times we got right, and we under remember the times we thought somebody was great, and they were a train wreck. The reality is, that’s a function of our own biases, and what we typically do, as human beings is, without understanding that we’re doing it, we mistake homogeneity for quality.” With that mindset, you are likely to hire a company full of people who are just like you, and you miss out on the value that diversity brings.
Plan the Hiring Process
For MemberSuite, the answer to building diversity is to be extremely rigorous in the hiring process. They put a strong emphasis on objective assessment, which leads them to hiring people they might not have otherwise given a second look. One of their best product managers was flipping burgers when they found him. Says Ryan, “We never would’ve hired him if we relied on gut alone, and so, you start to build a collection of these people who have something to prove, and are all really focused, and really driven. And then, they bring other people like that on…and you look up, and you have a company like what we have.”
Make Your Assessments Specific
A lot goes into the assessments created for the Member Suite hiring process. Catts says, “We spend a lot of time really fine-tuning those assessments.” They keep their questions open ended, and look for well thought out, researched answers. “You really can tell how passionate somebody is when they take an open-ended question, and very thoroughly research it down to the fine details, and write you a paragraph versus somebody who writes you a quick sentence on what they Googled. That comes across pretty easily.”
To develop the assessments, they look at each position to see who has been successful in that position, and why. When they find the characteristics they want to emulate, they break it down. If they are looking for exceptional people skills they might ask a question detailing an upset customer, and ask the potential employee to craft an email to the fictional customer. They may ask them to find the answer to different issues with the software. They continue to develop these assessments over time, and they have become increasingly effective.
Ryan says, “Culture is not something that just happens by accident, and it’s not just the product of just hiring people. You have to make culture happen, and it starts from the top.”
Culture has to do with bringing on the right people, knowing the company’s values, and finding ways to instill those values in real life. When it came time to crystalize and articulate MemberSuite values, the executive team involved the staff. They asked for input, and then took time to discuss it. They also looked at the greatest successes the company had, and worked to distinguish traits they were displaying during those successes. From the input and analysis, they came up with a list of company values.
For instance, transparency is one of the values that MemberSuite strives to instill in their company and culture. In service of that, they have a monthly all hands meeting and disclose the company’s financials. They have an anonymous suggestion box, and Ryan promises that the management will answer all questions, even the hard ones. Those kinds of actions instill the value of transparency, and with that, comes trust. Ryan explains, “Even if times are rough, even if we had a release that was really bad, and we had performance issues, and customers are mad at us, we have faith in the management team that they’re telling and giving it to us straight. We can get through this together.”
The MemberSuite management team devotes time to discussing their company values, and how to bring those into the business in real time, and there isn’t a perfect answer. Says Ryan, “There is no one-size-fits-all when you talk about how to manage people and how to create culture.” The important thing is to continue the conversation, and continue to look for ways to instill those values and culture into the business. And if you’ve done your diversity building right, you’ll have a lot of distinct viewpoints helping you along the way.