Friday, August 17, 2018

What would you say... that you do?

I leave it off my LinkedIn profile because of how long ago it was, but I started my professional life as a corporate recruiter in New York City. It was a tough, high volume recruiting role sourcing and screening telephone operators, office assistants, and office managers for a commercial real estate company that managed temporary offices, a sort of WeWork before WeWork. These were the pre-historic days of recruiting involving local newspaper ads, fax machines and phone interviews. In an average week, I would interview 30 – 50 candidates. I was a recruiter for about a year before being promoted to an HR Generalist, and later continued my progression through HR Manager and Director, Corporate HR, but interviewing remained a key part of my work.

Flash forward to the last, well let’s just say decade, in software-as-a-service and Customer Success. Recruiting and interviewing continues to be a cornerstone of my role building, growing, and leading post-sale Client Experience teams. This year alone we have added more than 20 extremely talented individuals to our CX organization and I am proud to say I interviewed every single one of them as well as many of the other talented individuals who applied.

Over the course of my career, and the many thousands of interviews, my interviewing style has definitely evolved. I learned early and continue to believe strongly in the behavioral based interview style. My favorite questions in my HR roles were always, “Tell me about a time when …” Over the last couple of years, I have started to rotate through some new favorite interview questions that focus more on my role as an executive conducting near final interviews with candidates. Here are my current favorites and what I am looking for. 

What is your marquee moment?

The question is, “If you think back over your professional life, what is the one moment or accomplishment that you are most proud of, your marquee moment, and what were the challenges that you had to overcome?”

I like this interview question because it gives the candidate an opportunity to highlight the story they are most proud of that may not have come up in the prior discussions. This is a question candidates are often well prepared to answer. What I am most looking for is candidates that highlight a customer story, showing a focus on the client while discussing how they coordinated, partnered and/or rallied internal resources to help overcome the business challenges. In software as a service it is rarely the work of one person that delivers a customer’s success, so I look for those candidates who talk about how the team delivered results and highlight the specific role they played on that team. Classic “we” versus “I” answers go a long way. 

What would you use a do-over on?

The next question is, “If you think back over your professional life and you could get one do-over, maybe a project, initiative or decision that didn’t go well, what would you use your do-over on and what have you learned, either because of the failure or since, that you would do differently?”

This might be my favorite question of all. Candidates are well prepared to talk about their success but often take a long pause to think about where they would use their do-over. The lack of prep and pre-polished interview answers often results in candor that I might not otherwise see in an interview. I look for candidates that demonstrate honesty and humility in their responses but put a heavy emphasis on the learning coming out of failure. I admire the candidates that offer up a very genuine failure and talk not only about what they learned but how they applied that learning to better handle a similar situation later in their career. Again, I look for candidates that talk about customer stories, customer impact and talk in terms of customer satisfaction and success.

Have you started using Degreed?

This is not intended to be a gotcha question but, unfortunately, it is about half the time. Degreed is both an enterprise and consumer application, meaning consumers (in this case, applicants) can create a Degreed profile for free to experience the product and start tracking their lifelong learning. About half the time candidates have created a profile and offer some immediate feedback on the experience. I love the opportunity to hear this feedback and candidates who have taken the time to explore the product are often excited to share their insights. The follow up question I ask is, “Did you use Degreed today to track your learning?” This question serves to identify the candidates that are truly passionate about learning and Degreed versus those going through the motions. Candidates will tell me they are passionate about lifelong learning, love Degreed’s mission and the product but… did little more than look around after creating a profile. This explanation often includes a long awkward pause. While not a deal breaker, taking the opportunity to use Degreed to start tracking their lifelong learning is an easy differentiator in a very talented pool of applicants. 

Degreed is a lifelong learning platform, so my interviews today focus on that: what people learn from success, what people learn from failure, and how people adopt Degreed. Over the last few years I have continued to rotate the specific questions I ask to keep the interviews interesting and challenging (and fuel my own learning). So the next time you’re across the table from the Bobs, more than just answering, “What would you say… that you do here?”, be prepared to tell them what you’ve learned.

Friday, August 3, 2018

View from the Other Side

I spend a lot of time on webcam working from my home office in Park City, UT, my sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA or wherever else I am calling home. It is not always fun appearing on video but it is a small price to pay for the flexibility of working remotely. Over the years, I have actively encouraged my teams to turn on video for every meeting. It is not a popular request and it isn’t quite the same as meeting in person but video helps to bridge the distance and establish and maintain remote relationships.

One of the benefits of meeting via video is that you can put reminders just out of view of the camera. I have found this to be a great trick to remind myself of where to focus and what to pay specific attention to. When presenting remotely to large groups this has proven to be a very effective way to remind myself to smile (not one of my habits), or to project energy and excitement and to have fun. I may feel those things organically but projecting them over video requires a little bit of extra effort and a short reminder goes a long way.

The picture above shows my default reminders - smile, be calm, be the leader you would follow, be the inspiration you want to feel and perhaps most importantly, have fun and look at the camera. It may seem intuitive but looking at the reminder during a long video meeting has helped me correct bad posture, reduce nose picking and demonstrate to my teams, the company and our customers, the passion, energy and excitement I truly feel about our work. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Stop Talking

I keep this little card on my desk as a reminder. It was a gift from a former employee of mine who, I hope, intended it as a bit of a joke. The rumor is that I can be a bit of a curmudgeon and it was intended to inform people approaching my desk of that fact and alert them to my preference for silence. The card represents a fond memory of a great team, but is also a good reminder of an important leadership characteristic that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. As leaders, we need to stop talking.

Early in my career as a professional services consultant, I learned the hard way about the benefit of practicing active listening. Like many young professional service consultants, I made the mistake of making up for my own insecurity by talking more. In my earnestness to impress clients, and to make up for my lack of experience and feelings of being an imposter, I jumped in to answer questions before they were fully asked. I over explained simple concepts and generally just talked too much. After a long meeting, I would sometimes ask myself, what was I even talking about? It was an awkward phase of my career because I am normally reserved, and talking too much didn’t suit me. I needed to stop talking.

After many years as a professional services consultant and customer success manger, and after much “constructive” feedback from clients and leaders, I learned the hard lesson that many successful consultants come to learn, and made the shift to listening more than I talked. Not just listening but active listening, building on other people’s ideas and engaging them in a way that gets them talking and owning the conversation. It has taken years of practice, and a little card on my desk as a reminder, to stop talking.

There are a lot of things that we need to learn, or re-learn, when we make the shift from individual contributor to manager and eventually to leaders. I think one of the ways to start making the shift from manager to leader is to simply stop talking. Like a consultant to your team, it is important to practice active listening, to engage in the art of leading a constructive conversation without dominating it. It is important to inspire and challenge your team without personally controlling the conversations that translate your vision to action. The difference between a manager and a leader might just be that leaders know when to stop talking.

Experienced consultants and leaders know that great things happen when they stop talking. The awkward silences, the gaps in the conversation, the vacuum that is created when a meeting room goes silent is not something to be feared; it is an opportunity. It is not a problem to be solved with your own ideas, opinions or noise, but an opportunity for others to emerge. Individuals will be challenged to step up, speak up and contribute their ideas. Individuals who are typically more reserved, the introverts, the marginalized, will feel the pressure to engage. They will feel the space to engage and, if the leader is doing their job right, the support and genuine encouragement to contribute. Out of the silence new leaders can emerge, out of the silence innovative ideas can emerge, out of the silence we can all learn something. But first, leaders need to stop talking.