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David Mann Of CircleCI On How To Identify And Retain Talent with Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

CircleCI Human Resources Hiring Strategie

What does not work, is trying to be something you’re not. In my experience across industries — there has to be congruence between what you say and who you are in the office.

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with David Mann.

David Mann is an unconventional, solutions-oriented HR leader and strategic business partner with a focus on driving complex organizational change in hyper-growth environments.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My dad was a full-time pharmacist and accidental entrepreneur. After working as an employee for 15 years right of out pharmacy school, he was offered an opportunity to buy out his employer and, almost overnight, our family-owned an independent pharmacy in the SF East Bay.

As a kid, I worked there after school, on nights and weekends…all the time. I learned from the age of 12 that if we didn’t treat our employees well, they wouldn’t treat our customers well. Because of this, my motivation to work with and enable people grew. I’ve been focused on helping folks do their best work ever since. This is also where I learned how important it is to possess a strong work ethic, stay true to who you are and always think like an owner.

At the end of the day, work is a conglomerate of personalities and agendas. As an HR professional, it’s our job to remove any friction in the workplace and provide the tools and resources each individual needs in order to be successful to fulfill the needs of the business.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

So….I’m in HR — we’re not necessarily known for being super funny, but early in my career I participated in an expensive, big-company leadership development offsite held in Yosemite. A group of 20 or so executives spent three days participating in team building activities and learning leadership theory and other seemingly valuable life-lessons from authors and notable speakers.

After all that went into the event itself, the most valued part was the social time the participants had together. That alone shaped more of the organization’s intentional culture and brought folks together more than anything they learned from the facilitators. It was here where I was reminded of a basic human concept — people connect with other people, more so than agendas or business initiatives. The more people within the workplace can relate on a deeper, more meaningful and humanistic level, the happier and more successful they are.

Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?

From a human resource standpoint, at CircleCI we are focused on growth and expanding our presence to international regions, all while maintaining our culture and sticking to our core values. To do this we are working on a long list of initiatives — everything from distributed employee policy guidelines to training experiences for individual contributors — all to help us scale and drive our growth. These will help by laying the directional “train tracks” that lead right to the next “station” so to say.

I believe that our job as HR leaders is to create a compelling picture of where we’re going and to make it easy for everyone and anyone to help us get there together by contributing their best work. Our goals are audacious and require working in alignment.

Let’s now jump to the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill? Please share an example for each idea.

1. Clearly define the skills you are looking for. Based on the nature of what we do here at CircleCI, there are specific skills that we look for to ensure our product works and our customers are happy. One skill we look for in particular is the ability to collaborate. During the interview process, we craft our questions purposefully to get a sense of how well they collaborate with others, how well they take constructive feedback and so on. Additionally, we have candidates participate in technical challenges where they are assigned a code-based project. Rather than having the candidate do the work on their own and submit it for review, we have added an extra step in the process where the candidate will go over their project live with the hiring manager, which encourages collaboration and gives them the opportunity to explain the choices they made, and why.

2. Distill and promote a very clear cultural value proposition. I believe our culture isn’t for everyone — among other things, we’re obsessed with diversity and ensuring we are welcoming to all. That won’t work for everyone, and that’s fine. When we encounter like-minded candidates, it’s an instant “wow” effect (and I love that!) and we can then get into whether the candidate is an awesome technical fit. The alternative is also true — when we come across a candidate that would be happier in another culture, it’s evident and important to acknowledge. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.

3. Meet talent where talent is. We love our customers, and in most cases, our employees are our customers…so, we are active in the DevOps community and when we host or attend events, we make sure to bring a recruiter or someone that can speak to the career opportunities at CircleCI in their own way.

4. Open up recruitment to the entire organization. Hiring is a priority for us, and everyone at CircleCI knows this. While it’s not a particularly new concept, we do have a generous employee referral program that routinely brings great talent into the Company. This personal connection strengthens the bond among our team members and really helps us invest in each other’s success. I think the core of this isn’t about money, however. It’s about being overjoyed to work in a place that respects you, allows you to work alongside wicked smart and caring individuals, and has enough career headroom for you to grow in your craft. When we find that, we want to share it with people we like and value. That’s the crux of our “everyone is a recruiter” mindset.

5. Embrace remote working. We are a remote-first company which right off the bat opens up our candidate pool beyond geographical restrictions. This is purposeful in that it ensures coverage of our solution and any customers who need support around the clock. This mentality also supports a healthy work-life balance, alleviates any anxieties that may come if an employee experiences lifestyle changes — becoming a parent, getting married, having to leave home to take care of a sick parent, and instills a more collaborative work culture.

Definitely noticing more and more companies becoming more open to remote work. With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top ways to attract and engage the best talent in the industry?

There really isn’t a secret sauce. Keep your workplace awesome and that’ll help. What does not work, is trying to be something you’re not. In my experience across industries — there has to be congruence between what you say and who you are in the office.

What are the 3 most effective strategies used to retain employees?

Listen to people. Hear what motivates them, what worries them and take those things into consideration as your operating model matures and evolves.

Deliberately, thoughtfully, and carefully develop talent and help them realize their ambitions.

Then listen some more so you stay attuned to and ahead of the changing needs of your team.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends? Can you give some examples of what this looks like?

This HR and technology space, in particular, has just exploded over the last five years. As global leaders, we need to be mindful of big, macroeconomic trends and anticipate and prepare for directional shifts more than anything. And this includes social trends, consumer trends, and the shifting winds of geopolitical thinking in the countries we work in.

More important than keeping up with the latest HR tech trends is being able to translate those trends into actionable insights and properly integrate and inform existing employee experience initiatives and approaches in use.

For example, we use a tool called Sparrow that helps with leave management. What takes 20–30 hours sometimes to solve a paid leave case, Sparrow makes possible within a fraction of that time, creates confidence that the process is being done correctly, and ensures employee happiness.

Can you give an example of a creative way to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?

Encourage your folks to have “watercooler moments” no matter where they are. We have a few casual weekly hangout times that our teams have self-organized — European coffee hour, for example. Those informal opportunities for connection are incredibly important for our teams to build trust and camaraderie across time zones.

I am also an advocate for leaders pausing and being available to others for casual conversations outside of loaded meeting agendas. Our management team does this really well, and it makes a huge difference. For these initiatives, we use Marlow coaching for example, and have seen a great ROI at a very modest cost. When leaders are accessible, there is less ego, distance and formality, and this increases trust and transparency in the workplace.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the most amount of people, what would that be?

I believe we should work on things that matter, utilize the proper tools and resources to perform optimally, and grow our capabilities as the business needs allow. That’s the only movement I want to see. Let’s stop doing stupid shit.

People just want to do their best work and that means feeling a sense of ownership and belonging. With that in mind, at CircleCI we’re committed to providing a diverse and inclusive workplace and that is a movement I would encourage all companies to get on board with.

To do this, we use tools like Entelo and LinkedIn Recruiter to make sure we are interviewing and recruiting candidates from all backgrounds. We ensure that our hiring committee for each open role is fully represented from all backgrounds as well, to eliminate room for bias of any kind.

We have also started two employee-led groups to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace — CircleSHEi and Queersphere, where we hold monthly meetings to spread awareness and education and work with the community to give back.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“I try to be available for life to happen to me.” ― Bill Murray

This Bill Murray quote has always stuck with me, I think, because of the simplicity and the depth of the words. If you believe half of what’s been written about him, it’s evident he embodies this mindset (at least some of the time).

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

I recently saw Lance Armstrong being interviewed about his new mission to help cancer patients and was taken by how different and humble he was after all he’s endured. I’d really like to hear him describe how he intends to reinvent his brand into something different, and I’m curious to know how he would counsel others facing questions about ethical leadership. As an investor, a parent, an icon — he exists in a unique space of intersectionality, and it’s unusual to have someone implode as spectacularly as he did. I’d like to learn from his thinking and process.

Thank you for sharing so many valuable insights with us today!

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