Gianna Driver Of BlueVine Reveals Her Most Effective HR Strategies

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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There’s not a “right” or “wrong” perspective; just different perspectives. In fact, it’s the richness of diverse perspectives that makes for truly great companies.

Learning how to take your career to another level can start right here, right now. The main goal of this series goes beyond the valuable support it provides business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Millions of prospects can learn exactly what hiring managers are looking for and thinking during the hiring process.

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking with top experts in the field so their valuable knowledge and experience can help as many people as possible. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Gianna Driver.

Gianna Driver is BlueVine’s first Chief People Officer, bringing nearly two decades of experience to this role. At BlueVine, Driver is responsible for spearheading talent acquisition, culture development, and employee experience strategies and execution globally. Before joining BlueVine, she served as Vice President of HR and People Operations at Aristocrat, one of the world’s largest producers and distributors of free-to-play mobile and casual games. Driver also previously led HR at data management software company Actian and cloud data integration business Talend. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Management and Entrepreneurship at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Thank you for doing this! With so many years of experience and success in HR, what was it that brought you to this specific career path?

Great question. I didn’t grow up dreaming about becoming an HR professional. I actually wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon — a far cry from the world of People Operations!

I chose to be an HR executive because HR is such a unique part of an organization. It’s a place where we combine emotion, feelings, motivation, interpersonal dynamics — all the touchy-feely stuff that makes us human — with the more rational, right-brain parts of running a business: ROI metrics, the bottom line, margins, productivity, and so on. I love this interplay and get to work with all parts of the company.

The People function is the part of an organization that bears the torch of accountability to ensure companies nurture people, who in turn help the company reach new heights. This is fun and exciting!

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since starting this career and what you learned from that experience?

I remember a few years ago after returning to work from being on maternity leave, I asked my new boss who’d joined recently where I could go to pump.

After looking me up and down quizzically, he said, “Well, I didn’t realize you were that into pumping iron. If you need a break, feel free to grab a conference room. I guess you bring your own weights, right?”

I was talking about the type of pumping a new mother does in a lactation room. Not pumping iron.

I think this story is interesting and illustrative of the fact that we each show up to the workplace with our own experiences, perspectives, and ideas. There’s not a “right” or “wrong” perspective; just different perspectives. In fact, it’s the richness of diverse perspectives that makes for truly great companies.

I have learned that organizations that acknowledge these differences and are intentional about creating space and safety to talk about different perspectives have higher-performing teams and more engaged employees.

That is a wonderful lesson. Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?

Within the first few months of joining BlueVine, I noticed we had a great company culture throughout our different offices, but there was a real opportunity to build upon that foundation and create more cohesion around our values and what they look like in action.

One of the many exciting projects the team and I are working on right now is evolving the ways in which we exemplify our values and finding ways for us to have a unified global vision around culture that’s customized locally for teams in each of our offices. This is a really fun project that helps our employees unite and know they’re part of something greater than themselves.

Fantastic. Now let’s go ahead and jump into the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you currently use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?

  1. Hire for culture and values alignment. I encourage organizations to be clear about the culture they have today, the culture they want to cultivate and move toward (if different from today’s culture), and then use cultural fit as a filtering mechanism when evaluating candidates. Skills and job competencies are important, but these are fungible commodities that are easily found and replicable in the job market. Ensuring candidates possess the right values and cultural alignment takes more intention in the hiring process (often including non-traditional interview settings, like taking a walk or hike), but ultimately results in more productive hires who are longer-tenured and more engaged.
  2. Look not only at work experience but also at backgrounds that indicate a propensity to grow and evolve with your organization. It’s impossible to foresee how a company’s products, strategies, and goals may shift, so hiring people who are resilient, have overcome significant obstacles, and maintain a continuous learning attitude will thrive as your organization evolves.
  3. Take a risk on potential when making a hiring decision. Experience is important, but I have found that taking a chance on an unproven “high potential” hire more often than not results in an innate desire to succeed, a willingness to learn, a humility that the person doesn’t “have all the answers,” and ultimately also keeps the person engaged because they have implicit career growth and development.
  4. Look for indicators of “psychological safety.” Google has spent significant time and resources studying the key attributes of high-performing teams. Do you know what’s been identified as the single biggest predictor of a team’s ability to be high-performing? Psychological safety. According to Google, this is the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. When I’m hiring candidates, I look for behaviors that indicate to me that this person will be able to contribute to a “psychologically safe team.” In other words, does this person approach conflict from the standpoint of a collaborator vs an adversary? When asked questions about mistakes, how does the candidate refer to errors: with blame, or with a curious, learning mindset?
  5. Over-index for vulnerability. One of the thought leaders I deeply respect in this space is Brene Brown, a TED Talk speaker and author of several award-winning books, including The Power of Vulnerability and Dare to Lead. Brown discusses the integral role of vulnerability in creating brave, courageous leaders. No matter the role, when I’m interviewing candidates, I typically ask case-study questions that get to the heart of one’s ability to take risks, attitudes around “being right vs. being a learner and getting it right,” and generally ask for examples of when the person has felt vulnerable, yet brave, at work. As you can envision, there’s a broad swath of responses, and how candidates answer these open-ended questions tells a lot about their ability to be vulnerable.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

  1. An effective hiring strategy values attraction over simply outreach and recruiting. I’ve found that when companies are clear about their mission, values, and culture, and clearly articulate this throughout their employer-branding efforts, the right candidates get excited, and the wrong candidates (aka, those who are not a good fit) walk away. The best talent always has options and often rockstars aren’t looking solely for the highest bidder. They want to go somewhere different, a place with an exciting mission and a clear message around how they’ll be able to impact that mission by joining. Top talent values impact.
  2. Provide value to candidates before the actual recruitment process begins. Engaging the best talent is a courtship, not a date. Companies can get top candidates excited by having events that are truly value-adding and interesting, like having speaker series about topics the target candidate pool is curious about, hosting meet-ups with peers in the industry, holding hackathons with defined and unique outputs, and so on. The key is getting top talent engaged in the company’s ecosystem before specific recruiting needs ever come up so that when those needs arise, there’s already an excited, engaged pipeline!
  3. Hire the best, take care of them, and then have a great employee referral program! Rockstars know other rockstars, and perhaps more importantly, rockstars want to work with other rockstars. When companies do a great job hiring and taking care of employees, I’ve found that these folks end up being the most effective way to attract and engage other top talent.

Valuable! Now, what would you say are the 3 most effective strategies used to retain employees?

One point of clarification — by “employees,” I’m assuming you mean “great, rockstar employees!”

I think the most effective ways to retain great employees is to ensure:

  1. They are vision and mission aligned. Make sure people throughout the organization feel like they’re part of something truly special and know their significance in the manifestation of that mission. For us at BlueVine, that means ensuring everyone knows our mission to be the number one choice small businesses turn to for working capital financing, and our vision of helping to make everyday financing faster, simpler, and more flexible. With these as our North Star, we work hard to empower people across all teams to drive impact and directly influence how we operationalize these goals.
  2. They have great managers who care and invest in growth and learning. There’s the saying “People don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.” Throughout my nearly two decades of working in HR, I couldn’t agree more. If companies want to retain great talent, invest in the learning, growth, and competency of managers, especially middle managers. These are the frontline folks who will inspire and motivate teams to be innovative and stretch beyond what they thought possible when inevitable setbacks occur. I love this quote between a CFO and CEO when thinking about a learning and development program:

CFO: What happens if we invest in training and developing our people, and they leave us?

CEO: What happens if we don’t, and they stay?

Bottom line is that you want to hire and promote managers who care and make sure they’re developing the attributes needed to effectively manage, lead, and inspire their teams.

  1. Have clear goals and give (lots of!) recognition when those are exceeded. High achievers want to know what success looks like, and when they exceed those parameters, celebrating success before reaching the next milestone is critical to continued success. Whether it’s through OKRs, MBOs, or some other objective, qualitative, and quantitative measure, I strongly encourage organizations to clearly articulate a framework for achievement. This allows rockstars to achieve, and ultimately, exceed the objectives for success. When companies recognize these contributions, high achievers feel appreciated and generally go on to achieve even greater levels of success for the company. Make goals clear, celebrate wins, and have fun as a team as you track toward the next milestone.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends?

Some trends are great and work well across many company sizes and industries, while other trends bode better for specific company profiles. For example, the trend some organizations went through a few years ago to do away with hierarchy and have no managers didn’t work well for most of the companies who tried it… My philosophy on trends is that executives need to know their company, their industry, and ultimately their employees’ needs, then choose the trends that are a good fit.

A couple of the latest HR trends that I’m excited about are:

  1. A focus on People Analytics. Historically, HR has had a somewhat reactionary, administrative-focused role in organizations. It’s the function that would hire and onboard people, administer raises and promotions, handle performance management issues, and then offboard at the end of the employee lifecycle. We’re at a place in our evolution where HR leaders can be proactive, strategic thought partners who use data to make better talent and business decisions. People Analytics is the practice of using advanced and predictive analytical models to identify drivers of high performance. This trend has attracted more mathematicians and data scientists to join HR teams, which has allowed us to link talent decisions directly to business value. Simply put, we’re able to make more data-informed choices to ensure we have the right people in the right roles.
  2. Investing in Diversity and Inclusion (“D&I”) initiatives. As our world has become more of a knowledge-based economy (versus the Industrial Revolution days where success was defined by how many widgets a worker could produce on an assembly line), we’re seeing organizations focus more resources on innovation. D&I allows companies to get more innovative, game-changing ideas to the forefront, which is becoming a key driver and differentiator of successful companies. Leading organizations innovate quickly, pivot when needed, and come up with creative, new solutions efficiently. Having diverse teams that think differently and allow employees to feel safe pushing the boundaries is becoming essential to winning in our knowledge-based world.

Those really are exciting trends! You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

In my leadership journey, I have learned the value and importance of vulnerability. Being a vulnerable leader, according to author, lecturer, and thought leader Brene Brown, means leading with an open heart, being present, and authentically and courageously showing weakness. Vulnerable leaders are emotionally available and focus on “getting it right” versus “being right.”

When I think about inspiring a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, I get goosebumps of excitement imagining a world where we each show up as our authentic selves and embrace being vulnerable with one another.

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

There are so many incredibly talented, thoughtful leaders whose quotes I recount frequently. Thinking of just one favorite is challenging, but the one that comes to mind goes something like:

“May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

We’re constantly tackling mountains of issues, trying to make sense of things that seem nonsensical, parsing together solutions with partial information. I’ve found it incredibly helpful in the decision-making matrix to go back to basics — understanding what I have the power to change and what I need to accept.

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

Hands down, I would choose Brene Brown. She’s my idol, a guru, and someone I admire greatly. She’s done so much work using data and science to advance leadership and learning. I think I’d be star-struck if we ever had lunch together…but it’s an experience I’d love to have!

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

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