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Kelli Dragovich Of Looker Shares Her Top HR Strategies with Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

Looker Human Resources Hiring Strategies

Don’t just look at the last job, look at the overall journey. People are complex creatures. It’s the overall work progression that matters most rather than the last job and position they held.

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 Kelli Dragovich.

Kelli Dragovich brings over 20 years of experience to her role as the Chief People Officer at Looker where she leads the recruiting, operations, places and HR business partner teams. She joined Looker to help scale the organization rapidly and smartly while also working across the company to build an inclusive environment for Lookers while protecting an already amazing place to work. Prior to Looker, she was the senior vice president at Hired where she led the team responsible for enabling the company to rapidly grow and scale effectively to hire over 400 employees globally. Her high tech HR experience also includes roles at GitHub, Intuit and Yahoo!. She attended Santa Clara University where she played Division I softball and graduated with a degree in Psychology, before going on to receive a Masters in Organizational Psychology from Alliant International University in San Diego.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me! Many people in HR don’t find their career path intentionally. I am more or less the same. I was pre-med the first two years of college, but I discovered I was not a fan of the academic/clinical component of psychology. I love the business aspect, but I was not into the balance sheets. I changed my trajectory for year three and then went to grad school for organizational psychology — I started my career in HR shortly after. I love this role because it’s a unique mix of responsibilities that blend people and business, and I really thrive in environments that are fast-paced, which early stage high-growth companies usually have.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career?

I have found that when people first start in their careers, they’re so eager to get all the experience possible to become the next “expert” in their field. I’ve always found it interesting that people think working a certain number of years makes you an expert. There is some truth to that I suppose, but I always laugh when people talk about it in the HR sense because when dealing with humans, it’s impossible for anyone to ever be an expert. I’ve often learned more from people in this role with two years experience than those with 20 years.

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

Lookers are always doing exciting things. We are constantly pushing to better ourselves and the community. I am still very new at Looker and we just entered into an agreement for Google to acquire us so I can’t personally speak on projects quite yet. However, I am so impressed and inspired by our initiatives in the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) space led by Jen Rettig and Cornell Woodson around hiring diverse teams across the globe. We’ve also increased our employee resource groups (ERGs) internally, which are now up to nine including Mom’s of Looker, LGBTQ and mental health to name a few. These groups prove Looker’s committed to authenticity and really leaning into hard and meaningful topics. Outside of work, but often during work hours, Lookers coordinate many activities in the community ranging from beach clean ups to volunteer days at the Santa Cruz County Food bank to helping the younger generation learn to code.

Wonderful to hear about Lookers giving back! Let’s jump over 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.

Yes, I absolutely agree that hiring can be time-consuming and difficult. That’s why it’s important to stay ahead of it as much as possible. Here are five of my go-to techniques:

1. Don’t open a role at the moment that you need it filled. Start early and allow yourself time to look for talent in a variety of areas and from a variety of sources! I start the planning process early mapping open roles for an entire year. It’s important that you are always hiring so you can take your time and look under lots of rocks.

2. Be proactive about your brand so you are attracting the talent you want versus having to find it. It is just as important for company spokespeople to be armed with messaging about the company and the product as it is for them to discuss culture and open roles. Looker is hiring!

3. Talk internally to calibrate and test the spec. If one person defines the talent needed for a role and doesn’t share it in a really specific way, it can really slow things down. To avoid this, we do pre-briefs with cross-functional teams about each role before the job is even posted. It’s extremely important for everyone on the interview team to know exactly what the role entails prior to resumes being submitted.

4. Networks and more networks! Don’t close yourself off. Personally, I never shut down a LinkedIn request. It’s also important to identify and attend a wide variety of meetups, panels and thought leadership events that are in your space and/or of any interest to you. This includes attending in person, but also having a presence online in Facebook groups, Google groups, online blogs, etc. I also recommend blocking time off every week to reconnect with people. I have a pretty large Google sheet of people I know, which I sort by the date of the last time I talk to them, and then follow up regularly. A little process can create a ton of innovation.

5. Don’t just look at the last job, look at the overall journey. People are complex creatures. It’s the overall work progression that matters most rather than the last job and position they held.

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

You’re right. There is a lot of noise! Here are my three recommendations for attracting and engaging talent:

1. If you build it, they will come. Start internal and don’t sell fake news. Build an awesome culture, a place where people feel like they have opportunity, and love what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Our employees talk to their friends and family about why they love Looker. Those people talk to their friends and family about Looker and so on and so forth. If you focus first internally, it’s a long term magnet.

2. Brand and thought leadership! Get out there! As mentioned previously, it’s massively important to get out in the community at networking events, community events, etc. Looker must do it as a company, but our employees as individuals also need to be out there talking about why they love working here. It helps the company as a whole and the individual with their goals.

3. Leverage the amazing talent already there. It’s not just about the recruiting team… At Looker, our goal is to get everyone involved in the hiring process. We strive to think outside of traditional HR tactics by doing things such as hosting panels for mid-level sales people. It truly takes a village.

It really does take a village! What would be your top 3 most effective strategies used to retain employees?

We need to change our mindset on “retention.” It’s changing as fast as the high tech industry. Here are the three strategies I’ll share:

1. Create a culture of transparency — it’s the new retention tool.

2. Develop a mission-oriented company that is dedicated to doing meaningful things, and makes decisions based on when the rubber hits the road.

3. Help your talent evolve. It’s hard, but as much as a company can hire talent for a journey versus a job, the longer they will stay with you.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends and share an example of what this looks like?

It’s important to keep abreast of the latest trends out there yes, but not for the purpose of blindly copying it. In HR there are so many practices and opinions on what is right/best and you can usually search for an article to back up any viewpoint. My method is to understand ALL the viewpoints, trends etc. and overlay that onto the company, culture, challenges, business plan and core needs of the company. Playbooks repeated just don’t work.

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

Increasing the value provided to employees is simple — be real and connect with everyone. At the end of the day, we as people want to feel valued, connected and included in any community to which we are a part of. There are many surface-level things out there that cost money, which is, of course, nice to have but to truly connect with talent and make their career, experience or even their day better, and help them succeed (whatever that means in their minds), adds a ton of value. I’ve seen more value added in an intimate roundtable where a leader unpacks their career, failures and fears than at a $200,000 extravagant event.

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?

If I could, I would literally give a million dollars to early stage companies to do nothing else with it than incubate and teach tech skills to students and entry-level candidates from underrepresented groups. So much time is spent on stealing qualified tech talent from other companies to boost “diversity.” This doesn’t solve the problem, which we can all agree that we have, it just pushes things around, but the sum remains the same. Let’s create more tech talent from underrepresented groups verses declaring victory by hiring those already out there. It will take more time, money and effort, but it’s a “go slow to go fast” movement that would get us further than what I’ve seen in my 20 years in tech.

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

People won’t remember the jobs you held as much as they will remember how you made them feel when you worked with them. Also, everything CAN be funny even at work!

Early in my career, I worked with someone who was known as a huge, powerful, entitled leader. It’s funny to think about now because while their career never stalled out, their brand just wasn’t great. Even today, people still talk about the odd and somewhat toxic environment that they created. I have since seen this similar pattern play out across a number of leaders across all functional areas.

The lessons I learned is that you must make people feel great in any position they hold. This is what people remember, and it’s a small valley. I believe this attitude is starting to become table stakes, but it wasn’t always this way. Today, people are inspired by leaders who create a sense of belonging for people at work. Creating an environment where people feel comfortable being themselves is infectious.

I’m on board with that! Thank you so much for these valuable insights with us all.

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