How does Slack and other startups hire employees, or notes from the Pipeline Summit

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Last week, I attended the third edition of the Pipeline Summit. This is a “first of it’s kind sales event”. Ok, so if it’s a sales event, then what does someone who works with HR on a daily basis do there? I love Pipeline Summit for at least a number of things. First of all: the speakers who are practitioners working for innovative companies and start-ups, achieving global success. Secondly: the attendees who are people open to new knowledge, technologies and tools. And finally: for the practical approach of the organizers to the event – appearances are not based on inspiration which one doesn’t know how to use after the conference end, but rather on particular experiences and guidelines to be implemented after returning from the conference.

Briefly speaking, if you want to find out how employees are hired and motivated by the most innovative companies (apart from knowledge strictly concerning sales), then Pipeline Summit is a great place for this purpose.

I had huge expectations towards the presentation of Phil Watson from Slack, entitled “World Class Hiring for Sales”. I mean, who hasn’t heard of Slack, an application for communication which has become so popular, that the usefulness of new apps is assessed through the perspective of the possibility of integration with Slack. According to the latest data, Slack is used by 4 million people worldwide every day. The app is developed and promoted by a team of 650 people in 7 offices (including headquarter in San Francisco). Phil himself is responsible for sales of Slack to SMB in Europe, Middle East and Africa. Previously, he worked for LinkedIn for 5 years.

So what’s so extraordinary in the approach to employees and candidates when it comes to Slack?

1. Direct involvement of the hiring manager in the recruitment process.

Phil cooperates very closely with people responsible for recruitment. He took a longer while to explain his role in staffing his team members. At the initial stage of the process, involvement of the hiring manager should be, in the opinion of Slack, significantly bigger than that of a recruiter. The moment of selecting an employee among the candidates is the right time for the recruiter to take over the responsibility for the process.

2. Being aware of the organizational culture

The importance of Slack’s organizational culture can be perfectly reflected by one sentence which was said in between the starting slides of the presentation at Pipeline Summit: “You start recruitment of people at a moment where you have built a good organizational culture. If you don’t own one, start with building it” (quote is from my memory). Right, it’s easy to say when the fastest developing application in the world is involved. Nevertheless, I think we can safely assume that this wasn’t incidental and we also know that long years of building an organizational culture were not in mind but rather a shorter period (Slack was launched in February 2014).

3. Serious treatment of HR analytics and approach to data

One could quickly observe in Phil’s presentation the focus placed on proper meters for the recruitment process. I couldn’t be happier! What HR metrics are applied by Slack in its actions?
A. The time for hire
Slack needs 95 days for this! As compared to the data that I have often used as reference (50-60 days for companies analyzed by Greenhouse, a supplier of an innovative ATS) this is very long. Does anyone at Slack focus on reducing the value of this index? As a matter of fact, no. It is used as a typical meter for information purposes (more about  recruitment metrics can be found in my post here. They counted at Slack how much time is necessary to find employees and… drew the proper conclusions from it. If the average time necessary for finding an employee is 95 days, it means you have to start acting early and very effectively to be on time with hiring the proper employee. Additionally, the following have also been calculated at Slack
B. Cost of not filling a vacancy on time
The cost of the company’s functioning for one day without the necessary employees is approximately USD 2,700. I think being aware of this affects the imagination in a similar way as calculating the cost of one sprint (a period when a team of developers is obliged to supply a hands-on piece of a working code) in the Scrum methodology. What does it means in the case of recruitment? The necessity of selecting the most effective staffing process and conducting this process really well. Therefore:

4. Start with building a profile of the person you need

If you disregard this stage, you will face the following consequences: 1) you won’t know who you’re looking for, 2) you can search for the wrong people. How should this be done? According to Phil, it’s good to take a closer look at people described as “top performers”. Identify the skills which contribute to their success. These can include curiosity of the world, flexibility, ability to learn fast, etc.

5. Talent knows talent – the power or referral

There isn’t a better method of reaching valuable employees than asking your (valuable) employees to recommend someone. It’s obvious that people are in contact with other people at a “similar level” in terms of the knowledge, competences, intelligence, approach to life, etc. This is what Slack bases on in its activities, encouraging employees to refer their friends.

6. The best people are not looking for a job so start to reach them actively.

Of course you can only wait until job applications are submitted in response to your advertisements. However, you are only limited to 25% of people who are looking for a job actively, according to a study conducted by LinkedIn. But you can try to reach a larger pool of candidates.

7. Keep candidate experience in mind

Yes, the best candidates present their own conditions on the recruitment market so if you want to attract them to you, respect this fact and do everything to ensure they are aware of it. Sounds cliché? The questions is whether you have a developed candidate experience strategy? The standards of behaviors known to the entire team which will be the reason why candidates will not come across intuitive and unplanned behaviors that can be considered unprofessional?

And how is it done in Poland, for example at Positionly?

During Pipeline Summit a number of other speakers also talked about the proper approach to employees, assigning them to appropriate teams and defining goals impacting motivation and results achieved by the employees. It’s worth to note the approach to employees of the sales team at Positionly. This is one of the fastest-developing start-ups in Poland, headquartered in Warsaw. Positionly supplies software for SEO-related activities. Anne Therese Krieger, responsible for the Customer Success team, talked about how after multiple challenges related to employing proper people to the team, she discovered that there are more important aspects than just “experience in a given industry” or “familiarity with a given product”. All these things can be quickly learned by the new employee. Instead, the ability of expressing empathy, sharing knowledge or efficient communication are far more important and these characteristics are the most sought for ones at Positionly.
Competences of a Customer Success Manager according to Positionly

If you thought that Slack (or another big start-up) uses tricks to attract the best, then I hope this post convinced you that this is not the case. Everything is based on conscious, well-thought-out and analytical approach to staffing. We like that!

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