Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih explains why unconventional backgrounds matter--a lot.
Everyone talks about the need to create a diverse workforce. But when you're a start-up, how do you actually pull that off?
Here's another in my series where I pick a topic and connect with someone a lot smarter than me. (There's a list of some previous installments at the end of this article.)
This time I talked to Clara Shih, the founder of and CEO of Hearsay Social, a company that helps global sales forces use social media to attract prospects and retain customers.
Many entrepreneurs can't afford to hire the best and the brightest. In my experience, the best and brightest are drawn to high-risk, high-reward opportunities, so I would argue that start-ups actually have it easier when it comes to attracting talent. Giving employees equity and allowing them to share in the upside creates a sense of ownership--and nothing is more motivating.
What else do you do to make sure you're hiring the best? We constantly make non-obvious hires and have invented positions for people who didn't fit a traditional career trajectory but who struck us as smart and creative. We've hired former insurance agents, a person who worked on an Egyptian cruise ship, a medical doctor, people from government, etc. The key for hiring managers is to constantly think creatively about transferrable skills and experience.
Give me a specific example of an employee with a diverse background you've hired. One of our data scientists, Emi, was a neuroscience post-doc conducting neural network research at UC Berkeley. We convinced her to join our data science team and she's applied her academic background in machine learning and graph theory to social media analysis. She's discovered amazing similarities between the neural networks in brains and social networks.
Can't unusual backgrounds sometimes create cultural fit issues? We have always sought to be highly intentional about the culture at Hearsay Social. Long before we hired any employees we developed a set of core values: 1) customers come first, 2) company before self, and 3) execution speed.
We believe in transparency and meritocracy, which means everyone at Hearsay Social is accountable for decisions and results. We hire and reward people based on these values, which makes them self-reinforcing.
How has social media changed the way you build teams ? Social networks have completely changed the way companies hire by expanding referral networks; referrals from existing employees have always been a great source for new hires, and social networks make it easier than ever for recruiters to source candidates and proactively ask existing employees for referrals. Visibility into mutual connections also makes it much easier to do reference checks and generally learn more about candidates upfront.
Any tips for how other small business owners can build a diverse team?
1. Be creative. Smart, hardworking people can always contribute to a team. Read between the lines of resumes and seek out nontraditional backgrounds to find hidden gems.
2. Make sure values are aligned. We focus on building strong company values and, as we expand our team, it's vital that all new hires embrace the same values.
3. Tap into your network. The people you once worked with and the people you meet at events around town could be your future star employees.
4. Look for curiosity and passion. People who drive themselves will prove their value many times over. Many of our top-performing employees have a strong passion outside of work.
5. Feed them. Our employees work incredibly hard and we want to take care of them. From catered meals to health benefits, we believe there's no better investment than investing in your employees.
JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden