If nothing changes, nothing changes.
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 Brett Derricott.
Brett Derricott is a Serial Entrepreneur and an active Angel Investor. He’s been recognized by Utah Business Magazine’s Forty under 40 for his business acumen. Brett is the Founder and CEO of Built for Teams, an HR intelligence platform that helps business leaders understand, manage, and grow their human capital.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started college in the mid-90s when the internet was still primarily a tool at universities and government institutions. It sounds crazy now, but I remember trying to explain to people what e-mail was and hearing responses like, “I don’t see the point of that when we can send letters in the mail.”
Even on my college campus, the internet was used by very few people at that time; most weren’t even aware it existed. My first experiences connecting to the internet were using a command-line (text only) program called Lynx. When I discovered visual web browsers like Mosaic, Cello, and later Netscape, my mind was blown and I had to understand how it all worked. There were no web development classes (at least not at my university) so I had to figure it out on my own.
I often reflect on that time as an inflection point for my career, and on the importance of the self-motivation I felt. I wasn’t learning because I had an assignment due, I was learning because I truly wanted to understand how it all worked. I was willing to stay up late and make other sacrifices of time in order to learn. I think when a person can connect to something in that way, there’s very little that will stop them from succeeding in that chosen path.
Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?
A strange thing happened about 10 years ago. Over the course of a few weeks, we started noticing a pattern of phone calls for two or three people who didn’t work for us. At first, we thought they were simply misdialed calls but we thought it was strange that the callers always asked for the same people. Then, we had a few occasions where a stranger would show up at our office insisting they had a meeting with “Jane” and we’d insist that no one by that name worked in our office. Finally, we started realizing that some of what we’d been assuming was junk mail was actually real mail addressed to a company with a similar name.
I decided to do a bit of investigating and discovered that a local marketing company had decided to rebrand themselves to a name almost identical to ours. After consulting with an attorney, I tracked down the owner of the company and let him know that we were receiving his calls, client visits, and even his mail. I assumed he’d appreciate the call and realize that his rebranding effort was problematic for both of us. Instead, he responded by telling me to mind my own business. When I calmly let him know I wanted to avoid having to resort to legal channels to resolve this, he said, “I don’t think you want to do that…my lawyer drives a very expensive car.” Stupefied, I thanked him for his time and hung up.
After a few letters from my attorney — and maybe some solid advice from his own — he finally rebranded his company to resolve the naming conflict. In total, the branding fiasco was probably about 4 months long from the time they changed their name to the point when we forced them to change it again.
With their company now rebranded, I assumed the issue would be immediately resolved. Instead, I learned a hard lesson about the power of branding and reputation over the next 6 months as we continued to get phone calls, website visits, and mail for this company. Unfortunately, it became increasingly clear that this company’s poor work quality had left a trail of unhappy clients, and that their poor reputation was now falsely being attributed to us in some cases. Years of hard work and a clean track record with their own clients was now being undone by the shoddy work reputation of this other company.
So, what could we do? We made the tough decision to rebrand our own company. It wasn’t fair, and it was certainly frustrating, but the experience strongly reinforced just how important it is to earn, maintain, and defend a sterling reputation.
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?
1. Write Accurate and Compelling Job Posts: Finding the right talent starts with attracting them in the first place. Your job posting should accurately portray the role and responsibilities, while also highlighting the benefits of working for your organization. Be both transparent and creative!
2. Pay Attention to the Application Details: Does the applicant misspell words or use poor grammar? Did they follow your application instructions? Do they seem to know what your company does and what the job entails, or does it feel like they are spamming their resume to dozens of companies without any particular purpose?
3. Analyze Their Communication: As you interact with the candidate to set up an interview, are they responsive and engaging? Do they seem articulate and thoughtful? Imagine this person emailing a customer or client of yours. Are you comfortable with that idea?
4. Optimize the Interview: It’s ok to have standard questions you ask in an interview but be flexible enough to deviate from your usual questions as you try to get to know the applicant. Often, you’re most likely to discover the strong positives or negatives that will inform your decision as you allow the conversation to unfold and follow different paths. You’re also more likely to keep the applicant from giving you rehearsed answers when you do this.
5. Involve Others: Whenever possible, give other key employees a chance to interact with the applicant. This could be their future manager, team members, or other leaders in the organization. More minds are better, so involve anyone you think might help in the process.
With so much noise and competition out there, what are the top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?
Attracting talent is harder than ever, especially within tech. There are so many companies competing for the same people, and venture capital makes it easier for some to rely on cash as a primary incentive. But compensation is only part of the equation for hiring the best talent. Truly passionate people — the kind you want to hire — always care about more than just money. So, here are three things you can do to compete and even win out over companies who make the mistake of relying on compensation alone.
1. Start with Your Existing Employees.
It might seem counterintuitive, but the best thing you can do for your recruiting efforts is to make sure your existing employees feel cared for. The right kind of recruits will care deeply about what it’s like to work at your company. Whether it’s through Glassdoor reviews, word-of-mouth from connections, or other avenues — word eventually gets out about companies that are great to work for.
There are no shortcuts on this point. No amount of money from investors will help you overcome a toxic workplace where employees are miserable. This is a strategy that requires you to do the important work of taking care of your employees from the start.
2. Focus on Culture.
Taking care of your employees is a great first step, but culture goes beyond how companies treat their employees. The culture represents the overall attitudes, principles, interactions, and feelings of being part of a company. Culture also encompasses how employees interact with managers, peers, and subordinates.
If culture isn’t intentionally created, it will happen on its own. Every company has a culture, the only question is whether it’s positive or negative. Identify the elements of culture that you believe will have the biggest impact and set specific goals for how to establish and improve the type of positive culture your employee’s desire.
3. Create an Environment of Growth.
Being cared for and appreciated by an employer, and having a great work culture are both critical elements of making your company one that people seek out when they’re ready for a job change. The third key is to create an environment where employees can learn and grow.
Smart, motivated people are always anxious to make progress and grow in their chosen career. Growth can be had in the classic sense of pay raises and promotions, but it can also come via new experiences and responsibilities. In smaller companies there typically isn’t as much of a “ladder” to climb, but real growth can still be experienced as employees take on additional responsibilities and learn new skills. One of the most important questions we ask our employees during reviews is about what they want to learn. We then do our best to identify and plan ways for the employee to learn or experience those things.
As with the first two points, doing this for your current employees puts you in an excellent position to be able to offer this to potential new hires. As your employees interact with friends and others within the industry, your company’s reputation as a place where growth can happen will help attract new candidates.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
2020 has been a uniquely challenging year. One of the worst aspects of this year, in my opinion, is the apparent lack of interest many people have in trying to understand the feelings, views, and concerns of other people. The same communication and interpersonal skills that allow companies and employees to create great work environments are necessary to create a great community or country. If I could inspire a movement that resulted in people from different backgrounds, views, and opinions being willing to really listen to one another, I believe that would lead to a lot of much-needed healing in our country and world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve always loved the axiom “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” It’s easy to fall into the trap of wishing or hoping for different results, and even being upset or discouraged if those results aren’t forthcoming. This simple axiom reminds me to step back and look at cause and effect. If I want a different outcome, something probably needs to change. What needs to change? Well, that’s always the puzzle to solve. It might be a different strategy or approach, or it might just be more patience to let time do its thing. For me, this axiom helps shift me into a productive problem-solving mode and helps me avoid getting stuck in the emotional responses of an outcome.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private lunch, and why?
I’m going to cheat a bit on my answer and say Abigail Adams, wife of the second U.S. president, John Adams. Lunch is certainly not an option, but I wish it was! Many of the letters written between John and Abigail have survived, and although he was such a prominent figure in U.S. history, it’s Abigail who I’d most like to meet. Her conviction, patriotism, and intelligence make her a fascinating and underappreciated figure in the early formative years of our country.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us today!