Building a winning team
Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed.
8. Building A Winning Team
Today, we’re going to be talking about the team sheet. Who do you want around you, who can you rely on and what mix of talent do you want to bring to your team? We’re thinking about it in the wider sense as well - whether you’re an entrepreneur, a kitchen table business, just you and your partner or if you’re a junior digital manager making your first hire. But, how do you make those decisions on who is your next hire and make sure they are your best option?
So, Sam. Tell us about the last person you hired. Why did you hire them and what do you look for when you're making that appointment?
The Perfect Employee
When I think about hiring, I do follow a systematic process but also try to be a bit unconventional. For me it’s making sure that you have the modern marketing competencies in mind and then exploring how that person could or has transferred them into the role or making space for someone in the organisation that could leverage the skills that they bring. By that, I mean, if I’m in consumer packaged goods I’m not biased in favour of folks with experience in consumer packaged goods. I’m looking for people who are driven by competencies, capabilities, innovation, being customer and consumer centric in their strategy or their experience.
I’m looking for catalysts for change, change agents who can really lean into the change and grasp that and people who are people leaders. Especially people who can demonstrate cultural and cross-cultural competencies and you’ve heard it from me before, that tends to mean ‘how’ matters more than the ‘what’, or as much as the ‘what; at least.
So, none of the part requires you to have consumer goods knowledge and background, and none of it has to be answered with desk job answers, you can bring the full totality of your life and your world experiences to the role. And I’m not saying listen, don’t go for their education because that's important. However, bringing a blend of everything that you have is really critical and important, and if you’ve travelled, you’ve got other world experiences, those are really important for what I am looking for.
Importance of Life CV
Think beyond the resume or the CV, beyond what you see in front of you and really try to empathise and engage with the person. Think beyond their suit and tie or their formal outfit for an interview and tap into their world view and world experiences.
I can tell you a story about a candidate that I hired for a marketing role; when I was leading the Kenmore appliances business - a small appliance business, and that candidate had a finance history, zero marketing experience. In fact, a couple of people on the interview panel pulled me aside and said, “look, why are we even talking to this person?”, because they didn’t have any of the traditional or typical things that they were looking for. But, during the interview, one of the questions I asked when probing for the area of creativity, and as she began to bring that story to life.
She looked back into experience and shared a personal example of when, despite being junior and quite young, she led a group of women in a dance example and choreographing them, coming up with choreography, teaching them the moves, getting them to follow, getting them to buy in and that has nothing to do with small appliances, nothing to do with toasters or coffee makers but everything to do with idea generating, experimenting, bringing solutions and bringing people together - that was innovation personified. She got hired, rapidly progressed through the organisation and I’m not a huge fan of interviews.
It's probably the best/worst way of identifying new hires, is via that interview process. And I say it’s the best/worst way because you really want to see people in action, solving real issues, working in a team environment which is a better way. My experiences have been in Fortune 500 companies so it does come with constraints, institutional baggage, but that’s changing over time and so, definitely adopting modern practices is critical as much as the traditional structured process.
I think it’s a great example that you gave, in terms of looking behind that current experience. Also though, it doesn’t really matter what size of organisation. I know you were talking about the Fortune 500 companies but, this isn’t really a matter where size matters.
I think this is a team game and not an individual game. We talk about rock star developers or superstar growth hackers and I think we have a tendency to judge based on salary expectation as well. But, honestly some of the biggest growth I’ve seen is when the team compliments each other, rather than when you’re just going for one superstar player. And that said, I think when I look back, the big teams I have managed, let’s take The Guardian for example, that was about fifty people strong, but sometimes you do want a disrupter in there, it’s not always about having a cohesive team, sometimes it's important to bring someone in who’s going to mix it up a bit, someone to provide some different viewpoint. Therefore, the team can sort of spar off that as well.
Since then, I’ve had teams of three, fifteen, twenty-five people and now, I’m a team of one bringing in team members to the job as required, a very much flexible, virtual team but, the principles pretty much remain the same. I’m still looking for self-starters, finisher completers, chameleons as well, those people that can actually adapt and sort of drive change in a variety of different guises.
Hire to Help
If you’re an entrepreneur starting out your first hire, it’s a massive decision. You’re basically doubling the work force and you’ve got to look at what compliments you. Who is going to challenge you to do your best work and most importantly, who you can learn from? Someone once said to me a long time ago, that you should make sure that you are always able to learn from your first hire.
The people in my team that I’m proudest of are the ones where you sensed what impact they could make, but you never would have got that from their CV. So, I totally take your point about the recruitment process feeling like it’s imperfect in a way. Or indeed the interview, quite often you don’t actually get it from the interview process, so you’ve got to work at that, you’ve got to find how you do look behind that. I look for adaptability, I look for an external portfolio, that choreography example is a great one. Looking at things where it’s nothing to do with work but you’re looking for that passion, that cultural fear or a demonstration of attributes and skills around it.
A good friend of mine, Nick Bradley, does a lot of work with entrepreneurs, I think I mentioned him in a previous podcast . The first hire you make should be the one that makes you the most efficient. And I do get that, I do understand that, that need, especially if you’re an entrepreneur or you’re a relatively small team, actually, it’s time that is your most limiting factor and therefore, trying to be efficient is certainly key to that.
So, there’s similarity and there’s overlap in our approach and I think what was critical was, we talked about the competencies or the capabilities, which are not characteristics of the individual, the ability to demonstrate adaptability or change and flexibility. But, one watch out I would have, as I think about best practices in this space is the language that we use, there’s evidence that says that the people you attract or hire, the language requirements and descriptions can get in the way of being more inclusive and ensuring that you’re open to different people and more diverse candidates.
Especially as we think about the processes that we use and basically taking out the biases that filter people out be it age, class, ethnicity, income and some of the things that show up is the language we use which might actually have a gender bias, so, when I hear descriptions such as ‘rockstar’, superhero or guru I would say that the evidence shows that engineer, designer, developer, more neutral terms is better, because it won’t exclude people but also it will mean that when we think about or visualise the person we will actually see a developer, engineer or designer of any gender, any ethnicity versus perhaps using the word ‘rockstar’ which tends to bias to being male.
Yeah. I mean, definitely a watch out but my wariness I think, is that you see examples where you’re so busy complying with the process that you miss out on that diamond in the rough as well. And some of those phrases can then just sound a little bit generic, where you’re looking for the person that will stand out and they go well, actually I don’t want to go to an organisation where it’s called engineer or designer or developer so, it’s a real challenge I think. You’ve got to balance bias with that gut reaction and it’s tricky.
The least biased thing you can do, I believe, is to hire the best person for the job. But, where we need help is about identifying that in lateral and not a literal way. And what I mean by that is it’s a lot about where you look in the first place for those hires. Making sure you identify the diverse places for the recruits, or the recommendations that you’re given.
Referrals are an incredibly important route but challenge yourself as to who you are asking for referrals. If you keep going back to the same people or people like yourself then you’re very likely to get people who fall into the same mould all the time. So, I do try to challenge myself to look for referrals in diverse places. But Sam. Once you're there, once you’ve identified potential recruits, how do you judge those capabilities, how do you go about it?
That’s one of those gnarly issues, challenges that keeps me up at night and keeps a lot of people that I know awake at night. I’m a member of the Talent Forward Alliance which is a group of marketers and HR practitioners within the US environment, the association of national advertisers and education foundation. So, it’s an industry body and it’s a bunch of people from all walks of life; there’s P&G, there’s Verizon, there’s Pepsi, there’s Anheuser-Busch in the brewing industry, there’s ad agencies, PR agencies, academe, you got B2B, small organisations.
Basically, everyone then?
Three Steps to Success
Everyone. Basically, everyone is going through this same question, so the beauty is, this is where you can actually partner and learn and gather the best practices, but I’ll break it down into three steps.
Step one for me, I go back to having a clear business road map, an actual competence and capability framework and actually, having a set of principles in place. You’ve actually got to have a point of view that’s written down, that’s fit for today and the future and you’ve physically got to be able to see it, download it and print it out so it takes out some of the subjectivity or all of it, because you’ve actually committed to a point of view and you’ve torture tested it and you’ve looked at it for bias and the language stuff I mentioned before.
Step two is actually using objective data points that link back to the competencies. And I’ve recently delivered work just doing exactly that, but critically important for that work piece of work was re-educating the organisation that actually, you’re supposed to use the data for development and not assessment of performance. It’s probably a whole show on assessment and development- we can go into that as a separate stage or a future episode.
The third thing I would say is the new rules of modern marketing, you’ve got to have the right foundations in place, which means there’s a strong experiential component, consumer insight, creative development marketing channels, metrics and technology. All of those are foundational things competencies, capabilities to have as your criteria and then judging. Having those in place is critical as far as I’m concerned.
Yeah, makes a lot of sense. And having those foundations in place, I think, is understanding that it’s almost the bedrock of everything we do. You need that at a minimum level before you move on to anything else.
So, we talked about some of the capabilities. How do you see the raw talent? How do you spot that and what have you been looking for? And how do you do it in an unbiased way?
Yeah, I mean, look. It’s a real challenge but I look for the artists, the poets, the musicians and the campaigners. The bedroom developers or the self-educated and you try to find those side hustlers as well. The ones that are proactive communicators but, it’s not necessarily about being extrovert, I’ve got five thousand likes or followers on Instagram, it’s also about the big vision thinkers and a lot of the time that isn’t about the people who want to be social media influencers in the part time.
Hands on Approach
So, I’m also looking for the maths A-Level or a drama qualification, something that shows that they’ve got that foundation knowledge or an attitude around a certain bent I assume. But to be honest, it’s really difficult Sam. I don’t necessarily get that from if someone’s done a foundation level 1,2 & 3 or a marketing qualification or even sometimes you quite often can see a variety of people that have come through a degree process and you’re thinking, well, where’s the practical application in terms of what you learnt?
Interestingly, apprenticeships now are increasingly getting focus from the government, but also just seeing people opt out of a classic degree route and looking for hands on, on the job training on a number of different factors or trade. So, I think that’s good to see because it answers your point a little earlier on where that practical demonstration is what you’re looking for. But, that’s not to actually say that the academic qualifications are not valuable, of course, they are incredibly valuable and it’s an amazing experience and I would advise everyone to go through, if they can, but at the same time, you are really looking for people that can take their life experiences and bring it to the role, like the example that you’ve used before.
Mentoring is the other way that I find talent as well. I mentor the UEA students, that’s University of East Anglia as well as some voluntary organisations, in order to help coach and unlock potential. In the past I’ve mentored SeedCamp or BBC labs which are start-up incubators, and that’s a great source of pride for me. What struck me is that all the inspiring people all have an inspiring story, and that’s what I look for.
Yeah, I do love that aspect of mentoring, developing other people, giving back, giving forward, sharing your advice and really playing that role of being a sage or being someone that’s walked in those shoes before and then channelling that back. I’ve seen a lot of relationships grow and develop when people take the advice and things I wish I’d learnt earlier on in my career. So, mentoring and sponsoring again, perhaps another show we can go into separately, a huge area which is critical for success, especially in the marketing space and I’m seeing some of that slip away. So, it’s great to hear that you’re a part of it, I’m a part of it and hopefully a lot of the other listeners see that or take that onto themselves to do more of.
I would advise everyone to find an informal or formal coach or mentor, if they can. But, back to your unbiased question because, it’s a challenge for me. Because if I’m honest Sam, I don’t know how to quantify that one, and in a way I try not to, as then I think you end up with another type of bias. So, I try to look at it as if I look in diverse places, I expect to recruit diverse talent, but I’m still looking to recruit the best talent into the role that I’ve got. But what I have learnt, and even been educated on is how some terms and even marketing speak can appear overpowering or masculine or overly extrovert, so I'm much more conscience of that as I’m looking at job ads and writing them these days, back to the point, you’ve still got to find a way where you’re not being bland, as well. Creative things attract creative people. Which quite often, is what we’re looking for.
Yeah, some good points there and the challenges we face, as I spend more time in this space and research the area more, now, I’m mindful that folks listening could be smaller or larger organisations or work within different roles so, I’m going to speak about an example which might be more beneficial if you’ve got resources of a larger company, but ultimately, we’ve all got to be aware of some of the work that’s being done in the Canada experience by being driven by AI and neuroscience and some of the practitioners in that space. There’s a company called Pymetrics; and they use neuroscience and games and video to identify and match people to opportunities within the organisation. One huge shift in their approach is that it minimises or pushes resumes and overtly self-declared data towards the end of the process.
So, they actually don’t use that as the lead in. and I was fascinated by a case study by a huge company called Unilever have shared in the last year or so. And they’ve used Pymetrics across nearly three-hundred-thousand applicants, seventy countries, fifteen or so languages, and they’ve replaced the resume as the first pass filter, and the results that they showed are amazing.
One hundred percent increase in the yield of the hire, so one hundred percent more people actually coming through the process, seventy five percent reduction in time to hire, twenty five percent decrease in recruiting costs, and record diversity across gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status that was coming through their organisation. This approach doesn’t lead with the traditional way of actually recruiting. It was a huge deliverable for them and it breaks some of these conventions and biases that we may not want to talk about, or struggle to fight.
It's not driven by whether you went to Oxford or Cambridge or Princeton, the diversity stat showed that people were making it through the process who would have been filtered out by the traditional process method. So, the technology and the new approaches are there and we should really be mindful of checking them out and leveraging them where we can.
It’d be fascinating to think when does that become mass scale and you could use that equally whether you’re a small SME or whether you’re a large enterprise as well. Those results are staggering, what I tend to do is look to use experience-based questioning. Trying to get behind, just what’s on the lines of the CV, make sure that there’s a lot of case studies, presentations built in there. They don’t have to include a large amount of pre-work, but I find that a live environment can bring it to life a lot. Looking at their portfolio of work and making sure that you’re meeting the candidates in an informal setting, as well as a formal setting and that they get to meet other members of the team for that cultural setting as well. but ultimately, I think you have to get to that scorecard approach so that you’re looking at competencies and attributes in an objective fashion as to trying to judge just one against another. I’ve sort of talked before about attributes and Freeformers, who I’ve done a lot of work with where their whole premise is around identifying the attributes that are going to give you the greatest potential on the future of work, and I come back to that time and time again, because I look at those attributes like empathy, resilience or collaboration and you want to makes sure that the workforce that you’re recruiting, that team member that you are recruiting has that in masses.
Because, the culture is the operating system of the business and I want listeners, both internally and externally, so, I want that empathy, I want them to listen to where their teammates are coming from as well as where customers are, as well. so. I think there’s tools and techniques that you can use whether you’re small, but I am really drawn to that approach and you do wonder how much longer the traditional resume has got as a recruitment device.
You spoke a lot about some of the skills and again, some of the competencies, it sounds like a future show where we could go in a lot deeper about those things like listening and empathy- easier said than done; some tips and tricks and techniques on getting better at that could be a future show as this all helps in building a winning team
Three key takeouts
Be mindful about breaking the restraints and the constraints of the traditional interview approach and the traditional structured interview and that process. I’m not saying get rid of it, I’m just saying be careful of how it limits you and be more open to a two-way process to tap into the full person and the full perspective and really be more open in your mind in doing that.
The second thing is to have a codified point of view on the competencies and capabilities that you seek, so that the individuals and the processes aren’t making up as you go along, there’s actually a consolidated point of view that you could look back to and refer to.
The third thing is definitely to check your bias. Mitigate for it, and be open to feedback and learning and, everyone has blind spots, everyone has spaces that they’re not familiar with or they may make assumptions and take shortcuts. So, be mindful of them and have systems in place to address them. So, break the constraints, having a competency or framework documented and checking for biased.
If I was going to add one more on I would also just think about planning out your team as well. Looking at what compliments you and trying to do that succession planning wherever you are. Whether you’re a junior, manager or entrepreneur or looking at your thirty ninth hire out of a team of forty-five. So, that’s pretty much it for this episode; in terms of next week’s show, we’re going to be talking about growth. Let’s face it. Making sure the graphs go up not down is a core part of what we need to do, and every transformation plan has that in.
Even if a measure is efficient, we’re still looking for that uptick, so we’re going to look at how you create an optimiser sales plan, and what we can learn from some of those huge rising stars of the tech world.