Yesterday we hosted Keith Cowing, Director of Product Management at Flatiron Health, for a webinar on How to Become a Magnet for Product and Engineering Talent.
Keith has a diverse background, having served as a business analyst at Goldman Sachs, CEO and Founder of Seamless Receipts, and a Product Manager at LinkedIn and Twitter before his current role at Flatiron Health. With that experience, he’s been able to see first hand what works, and what does not in terms of hiring practices.
First off, why is attracting and retaining talent such an important topic of discussion? Keith’s answer: the top available talent have a multitude of options, and if you don’t make yourself and your company attractive, potential employees will take their talents elsewhere.
Building a world-class team is integral to company success, and that starts with getting world-class talent in the door. Keith explains Drew Houston’s dating analogy: Often times people get frustrated because they don’t think there are enough single attractive people in the dating pool, similar to recruiting top talent. He argues that its not a supply problem — it’s just that the single attractive people have a ton of options. You need to match their attraction or they will date someone else. The same logic can be applied to hiring practices.
In order to attract those people, you need to stand for something. What that means is you cannot differentiate yourself with high salaries and cool snacks, there needs to be something that excites prospective employees to make them buy in. For example, in its early days Nike was all about runners. The word “nike” is the Greek word for victory and the ‘swoosh’ symbol is representative of the sound you make when you pass a runner. And so they stand for victory and performance, which is attractive.
We’ve all heard that actions speak louder than words, but this reigns true in the attraction phase. You can tell a potential employee about a specific project you’re working on, but actually demonstrating it to them will do wonders for excitement.
Another tactic that Keith recommends when attracting candidates is to push them a little bit. Let them know that this job isn’t going to be easy and the mission isn’t simple, but if they so choose, they can embark upon this journey with you together. Challenging them a little bit is enticing, and the type of people that accept the challenge are those who you want to hire.
During the attraction process, you will have attracted both people who will thrive in your company, and people who will not thrive; the interview process is where you weed those people out. The airport test is a common tactic of evaluating a potential employee, which asks the question, if you were stuck in an airport with this person, would that be an enjoyable experience? But that often leads to hiring people who are similar to you, which Keith doesn’t think is the best approach. Instead, you want to seek diverse skillsets. You have to avoid looking for people you are comfortable being around, and look for someone that has the necessary skills to be successful.
Next, you must have a very specific plan, where you map out the interview process from beginning to end. You want to identify the skills sets you’re looking for, what you want to accomplish in a phone screening, how your interactions will be judged, and the more specific the better. Lastly, you need to take calculated risks and accept particular weaknesses. An example of this is the movie Ocean’s Eleven, which compiled a group of wildly imperfect characters, but they all have a unique skill set that allows them to be successful as a team. This also helps with building diversity on your team.
The final piece to the puzzle is now figuring out how to retain the awesome employees you hire. First, by being honest and outwardly transparent when decisions are being made, you’ll allow employees to put opinions aside and focus on the facts that allow a team to reach a solution. Being kind seems like a given, but it’s often overlooked because it seems like such an obvious tactic to retaining talent. Lastly, it’s imperative to empower career growth, Keith explains, to incentivize them to grow with your company even as they become more attractive in the market.
To watch the whole webinar and learn more of Keith’s tactics for attracting and retaining top talent, check out the video below and the link here!