Every voice matters, and should have the opportunity to be heard and make an impact.
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 Michael Papay.
Michael Papay currently serves as CEO & Co-founder of Waggl, an Employee Voice platform that crowdsources real-time insight to drive faster action and alignment around critical business topics. Michael is a frequent author and contributor to advancing the thought leadership around organizational learning and employee engagement. He has presented at SIOP, HRWest, and other prominent industry conferences.
First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?
Twenty years ago, I graduated from Babson College with a major in Finance and Entrepreneurship. I found my first job in my hometown of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania as an eager financial analyst on new Business Development and Acquisitions, supporting the SVP of Corporate Development for an F1000 healthcare system.
One evening, it was around 11 pm and I was still at the office working away on the finances associated with acquisition but I couldn’t quite get the numbers on a complex transaction to balance. My boss, who will remain nameless, walked by my desk and I asked him for a bit of help. He leaned over my cube and said, “That sounds like a personal problem,” then continued to walk away down the hall.
A few weeks later, I received a call about another job opportunity with a startup company focusing on how companies and leaders can improve their performance following Learning and Change initiatives. I was faced with the choice about whether I should stick around in a position where I didn’t feel heard or supported, or whether I should try something new that could potentially help people develop and improve — and that decision was pretty easy to make.
With my boss and mentor, Cal Wick, a well-respected Management and Leadership consultant, we built Fort Hill Company, where we supported hundreds of large scale leadership and change initiatives at companies like Hewlett Packard, GE, Honeywell, Cisco, Sony, and more. I learned a ton about how companies and people learn and change, and how technology can be used to drive action. This experience ended up shaping my career 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?
During the economic downturn of 2008, I was leading a sales team. It was a very difficult time to make headway in sales, but that’s when I learned the lesson, “You never want to waste a perfectly good recession.” I used the time to do other things beyond direct sales, such as networking intensively on LinkedIn and expanding the number of people I’m connected to. One night, I spotted an update that one of my connections, Jeff Snipes, had changed the title of his profile to Investor/Advisor/Entrepreneur. So I reached out to him, and he ended up becoming Waggl’s first backer. I learned that sometimes, even when you are dealt a tough hand, you can turn it into an opportunity and it can result in great outcomes.
Wonderful. Now let’s jump into 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 of each idea.
a. Be clear about your organizational values. We try to be very explicit about the collective set of core values we believe in and protect as an organization:
1. Put family first and team second above individual gain.
2. Thrive with change.
3. Be humble and respect others.
4. Act with honesty.
5. Be excellent and never give up.
b. Find excitement and passion. Give job candidates the opportunity to talk about things that are important to them, and make sure that they have an abundance of positive energy and alignment with the organization’s values. Ultimately, we’re looking for people who are excited about the same things that excite us. If a candidate sees what we’re doing with regard to giving employees a voice, and it resonates with them on a personal level, that speaks volumes.
c. Make sure that you are aligned on purpose. We want people with energy and a genuine interest in what we are doing. We all spend lots of time in the workplace, but people who are able to tap into a greater sense of purpose are better able to persevere and deliver excellence. We ask candidates about what their underlying purpose is, and make sure that it aligns with our organization’s mission.
d. Look for the grit. We’re starting a movement that challenges the status quo, and that’s not always easy, so we look for people who will keep rising to the challenge at hand without getting discouraged. We want people who have the conviction to overcome difficulties and deliver awesome results for our customers in the marketplace. So we ask for examples of times when candidates were knocked down and had to get back up again.
e. Ask about experience. I look at each person who comes into Waggl as an opportunity to raise our talent bar by bringing diverse interests, opinions, and experience to the equation. Their experience doesn’t have to be a perfect match for the role they will fill at Waggl, or even to the field of HR Tech or SaaS technology, but we like people who have had unique life experiences.
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?
a. Create a great experience for our existing talent. We believe that if we do that well, it will translate into a great product, superior customer experience, and excellent shareholder return. The best thing we can do to attract talent is to create a culture based on trust, safety for people to be themselves and where the right amount of push and challenge is balanced with dignity and respect. That’s something that employees are looking for these days, and something we’re delivering well, as evidenced by a number of awards we’ve received recently. Waggl was recognized as a Top Workplace of 2019 by the Bay Area Newsgroup, and by San Francisco Business Times/Silicon Valley Business Journal as one of the Best Places to Work, earning the #2 ranking for wellness and the #10 spot for smallest companies.
b. Provide development opportunities. We’re not a huge enterprise organization where we can offer flights of training and mentorship programs and a very formal approach to Learning & Development, but we definitely have a shared mindset that we want to help people develop, and we want them to leave Waggl better than when they came in. I think for our growth and the challenge we are solving, we can create development experiences that are unique, delivered on the job through their relationships at work.
c. Build a strong, winning culture. Working in an organization that is growing, thriving, and achieving its goals gives people a sense of pride in the progress we are making, collectively and as individuals. When we are talking to candidates, this is something we put forward, and the right candidates seem excited to sign up for it.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Every voice matters, and should have the opportunity to be heard and make an impact. There are so many people out there trapped in jobs where their managers don’t respect their opinions and don’t seek their input or check-in to see how they are doing. If we can just unlock one voice at a time, think about the ripple effect that can have on a team, a division, and the entire company. There is so much stress and pressure on employees these days — if someone has an idea about how to improve the organization and make it better, why not let it be heard? Just think about the impact that will have on employees if they feel that they are being respected and heard. Think about how it will change the way they feel when they go home to their family and their community, in terms of their morale and well-being. If we can just lift each voice up for the betterment of the whole, that’s an incredible movement, and it’s the one we’ve started with Waggl, where we’ve already touched close to 1 million people with this process.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I think, therefore I am.”
Rene Descartes, 1637
For me, this quote speaks into the heart of having a confident mindset. Believing is half the battle. It takes a confident predisposition to accomplish huge huge things. I was fortunate enough to have this instilled in my upbringing and it’s helped me to accomplish many things in my life, from winning state championships as the head of my high school lacrosse team to becoming the CEO of my own company. If you have interest, belief and conviction in something, then jump right into it. The most significant action is always in the beginning.
Impressive! It has to be said that Lacrosse is a great sport as well. We are very blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC, 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?
That’s actually an easy one — my choice would be LeBron James. But I wouldn’t want to have a private lunch with him though, I’d want to bring my daughter. He’s someone that I’ve long admired from afar — he came up through high school with the greatest of expectations, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, pegged as the next great player — and how many times have we seen that happen, but the person couldn’t live up to it? LeBron has lived up to it for 17 years in the NBA, with an incredible performance every single year, even at this late stage in his career. But not only does he deliver personal excellence, he also makes every team he’s played on so much better. I’d like to understand his work ethic, and what drives him at that level, as well as his sense of giving back. He’s built a school in his home town and done a lot of very inspiring work in his community. I got a chance to see him in Game 7 of the championship against the Golden State Warriors and come from behind to win the championship. It was amazing to watch his determination and his will to win. I would love to have a chance to connect with that kind of passion and determination — that would be an incredible lifetime experience.
LeBron is an outstanding choice. Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!