Your ability to harness the talent of great designers is critical to the success of your business. It’s a fact.
Design doesn’t just matter. Design is critical. Not just good design, but great design.
Certainly, for the makers of consumer products and apps, it’s become obvious that intuitive and attractive designs must engage and inspire users, but design is critical for all things, in all businesses.
At the Waterloo Innovation Summit last week, a theme emerged in many conversations around creativity, imagination, simplicity and beauty. The experts all agree that the next wave of technological and business advancement would be propelled by design, and our ability to connect the power of technology to designs that deliver meaning and value.
When design is key to success, talented designers are your secret weapon.
Earlier this week, I was excited and honoured to kick off a week of events for Fluxible. Together with the incredible Amandah Wood of Ways We Work, I led a conversation with top designers and leaders of companies to answer the question of How to be the Employer of Choice for Great Designers.
Here are the highlights:
Demonstrate that you really, truly care about design.
Not surprisingly design professionals want to work for a company that has a strong design culture or that has an authentic desire to build one. What does this mean, you ask?
- Make design a priority at all stages of product development.
- Give your designers a voice early in the product development process, and get them involved in timelines and other key decisions
Offer important work and an inspiring vision
This is true for most roles, but great designers need to know that they are working on solutions that matter. You don’t need to be changing the world in a monumental way, but you must show how their work will make a difference to users and to the success of the company.
Ensure that customer interaction is part of the job
A great customer experience starts with knowing the customer. So of course, your organization needs to find lots of opportunity for the design team to interact with users. Shutting them in a room with some tools and the mandate to make a mostly finished product look pretty is not ok - but it is still a reality in many companies. You must be better than this.
The team matters
All of our designers wanted to work with peers and mentors who are at the top of their game. This again speaks to creating a design culture that values the work and the voice of the designers.
It is NOT all about your funky office space
Our designers shared that they were not really impressed with expensive or hip office decor. If the styling of your space is all about show and not really functional, it will fail to impress. What matters is a workspace that reflects the culture of the team and effectively fosters collaboration and focused effort.
Tools are Important
Letting every designer use their favourite tools is nice, but not a practical solution for growing teams that need to collaborate. What is important is that you are leveraging current tools that enable design iterations and efficient development of ideas.
We know it’s daunting to many technical and business leaders, to lead a team of creatives. But a culture that encourages communication and values design, is good for all employees, customers and mostly for the bottom line.
I can’t claim that I remember everything from my Economics 101 class - it was more than 20 years ago, Yikes!- but there was an analogy about lemonade stands that has stuck with me.
As I recall the lesson goes like this: There is busy beach that stretches for more than a mile and in the middle of the beach is a single lemonade stand. It is hot, the beach is crowded and the lemonade entrepreneur, Joe, is very successful. Lucky Joe.
Then along comes Julie, another entrepreneur. Julie also makes great lemonade. When she sees the number of customers on the beach, she thinks “I’m going to open a lemonade stand here too!”.
So here’s the question … “Where on the beach should Julie open her lemonade stand?”
As I recall, my Economics 101 classmates discussed the relative merits of either end of the beach, wondering about details like bathroom locations and sand quality. The logic was that customers would probably select the closest stand, so she should just pick the end that she liked best, and find the underserviced customers that didn't want to walk to the middle of the beach.
If you also took this course, you might recall that the right answer is this: Julie should open up her business directly beside Joe. She’d then have the same access to ALL of the customers on the beach. She has to compete head to head with Joe on quality, price, and service, but Joe seems to have become too comfortable with his monopoly and she is confident she can do better. The lemonade quality improves for everyone and the best business wins.
I'm sure there are some other important economic lessons in this story, but for me this is a story of accessing talent.
Joe and Julie are now tech entrepreneurs who are each building a company. Their customers are all over the world, and they are reached virtually, so office location isn’t a factor for sales. But both Joe and Julie know that they need the best people to fuel their success, and they plan to grow a lot.
So where should they build their office?
Like selling lemonade on a hot beach, our tech start-ups are wise to set-up in the heart of a community that is densely populated with the talent they need. In most cases this means engineers, but it could also mean top executives, sales and marketing pros. And if you want talent with experience in your specific technology or domain, opening up right next to your competitor is both gutsy and wise. When someone is already in the middle of the beach ready to buy lemonade, there you are, with a more appealing front counter, a more delicious offering and a big smile. The best team, mission, culture and environment will win.
We see this happening in Waterloo. Not the biggest city, but you can’t swing a stick without whacking a few software developers and fearless tech leaders. And as competition for this talent has increased, we see our entrepreneurs getting more creative in how they vie to become the top employers. We also see international tech companies taking notice and popping up new offices in our midst. We welcome this growth and this increasing competition for talent. With it comes better work environments, more focus on culture, balance and engagement, and much better lemonade.
When you’re looking for someone to hunt down new customers, land a million dollar partnership, find new investors or land the best executive talent, you need someone special. You need someone who will take up your cause and fight for it - sometimes against fierce competition and in the face of incredible odds. This person must be resourceful, diligent, and fearless.
Many would describe this ideal person as aggressive.
I argue that, if you equate aggression with success in sales, business development or recruitment situations you will be sorely disappointed with what you find.
I’ve met dozens of highly successful closers—people who sign million dollar contracts for undiscovered start-ups, land lucrative partnerships, or bring in world-class investors. They are all curious, competitive and confident. They can quickly sniff out a winning deal and like a dog on a bone, they find a way to make it happen. But is it aggression that gets them to the close?
When I think about someone who is aggressive, I picture someone who is pushy and doesn’t listen to objections. Someone who uses bullying tactics to get the transaction done. But a great hunter is an incredible listener, someone who gathers up objections and finds creative solutions.
No one wants to spend time with an aggressive person. When you send someone out to find customers, investors or teammates, they need to build positive relationships and be your ambassador. The great closer genuinely seeks to add value.
An aggressive person makes you feel defensive and uncomfortable. If you do buy from them, you’re more likely to feel like you’ve been taken advantage of, or to regret the decision. The great closer, on the other hand, will build trusting relationships and leave customers and partners feeling overjoyed with their decision.
Think about it. When you say you need someone aggressive, do you really mean someone confident, diligent, assertive and competitive? Do you also want someone likeable, who treats their teammates and customers with warmth and respect? Choose your words well, and don’t lose sight of the other positive traits that define a great closer and a great ambassador of your brand.
In tech hubs across North America, the success of innovation ecosystems hinge on start-up culture, where ideas and creativity that are free to blossom without the constraints of politics, red tape or inertia that exist within most big companies. And as these small and nimble companies emerge we see that they can disrupt existing markets, offering compelling solutions to customers, and exciting career opportunities for top talent, making it tough for large companies to compete.
So, if you are leading an established big company, how can you stay on top of the technology impacting your industry? How do you develop innovative product ideas, or compete for talent that wants a creative work environment? It's likely that the very things that make your enterprise successful (the structure, process and policies that you need to be stable) will also stifle creativity and impede innovation.
This is the quandry that gave rise to the Innovation Outpost. Clever execs from forward thinking big business are buildings teams of employees who don't fit the corporate mold. Working outside the corporate environment, in eclectic offices located in the midst of the start-up ecosystem, these teams are building prototypes, challenging old assumptions and developing a unique culture.
Here is how Communitech has described the Corporate Innovation program that is growing in Kitchener-Waterloo:
The Communitech corporate innovation program is designed to help you harness your innovation potential by taking advantage of external models to supplement internal strategies. It allows you to shift your big brand culture and think like a startup, tap into fresh talent and ideas, create unlikely connections, speed up prototyping and significantly reduce the cost and risk associated with trying new things—all while staying true to your brand.
Companies like GM, Fairfax, Canadian Tire, Canon, TD, and Deloitte have invested in this innovation strategy, and the results are starting to come together in real measurable ways - for customers, employees, shareholders and for the start-up ecosystem as a whole.
Artemis Canada is proud to partner with Communitech and their Corporate Innovation Partners, to identify leaders within the community who can spearhead and manage the various Innovation Outposts. If you'd like to learn more about these unique and exciting opportunities, take a look at the general leadership profile and reach out to Kristina for more information.
I still remember the call. An HR Manager rang me a few years ago to say that her company had a no-headhunting policy. Not only did they refuse to pitch their opportunities to individuals who were already employed, but it was 'against the rules for other companies to speak to their people.' I found this shockingly naive and quite silly! It also came as no surprise that this company was struggling to stay alive in fierce talent market.
When I started in recruitment, companies would train receptionists to block recruiters’ calls, and ensure that Monster and Workopolis were banned from company internet. But these days recruiting messages are everywhere. It is impossible and impractical to block LinkedIn, Twitter, or to halt conference attendance and rendezvous’ with former colleagues and miscellaneous strangers in coffee shops.
If you are losing top talent to the competition, it is logical to want to keep headhunters at bay. But the truth is your people have lives that extend beyond your four walls. In reality, trying to keep your people from connecting with headhunters is like building a fence around your yard to keep the birds in.
Your best employees are probably not out there actively looking for a new job. They are too busy working, and solving problems, and networking on behalf your company. As your people evangelize your business, and get into the community to learn and grow professionally, you benefit – even though it makes them more visible.
The top headhunters have the tools and the networks to find your most talented people – and your brightest stars have free will and are clever enough to entertain a conversation. Your best people are not only talking to headhunters, they are likely helping them! They are learning about your competitors and evaluating the teams, the technologies and the opportunities in the greater market. If you've done a good job providing them with the environment and challenge they desire, all of this could actually benefit your company.
The trick is not to hide your people from the headhunters
You have to make sure that your employees will always choose you even when they know what other options exist – because they just can’t imagine being more fulfilled somewhere else.
If the headhunters are circling, it means that your people are the envy of your competition. Congratulations!
But …if your people are never recruited it is not because you have a great ‘no-headhunting’ policy. It is because you have mediocre talent and maybe you need to deploy some good headhunters of your own.
I found this old post today, that I wrote back in 2009. The predictions are scary accurate, and the advice holds true!
There is talk lately about social media revolutionizing how companies recruit, with some concluding that we’re witnessing the end of the recruiting profession as we know it.
While I agree that social media will transform recruiting, I don’t think it will make things any easier
The arguments go like this:
Social media tools (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc.) will change the way companies find prospective employees. Search will be faster and more targeted.
Companies will use these tools to build relationships with pools of highly qualified individuals (who might work for them tomorrow or sometime in the future).
Here’s my take on how things will look and work after this big online wave washes over us.
What happens when everyone can find anyone
Imagine a utopia where everyone has a detailed online profile. Every recruiter will be able to ‘see’ all of the talent and companies will have equal opportunity to market to candidates.
A world like that will soon be overflowing with competing messages.
Generating a targeted message that will be heard above the noise will become increasingly difficult – and more critical. More than ever before, companies will compete for the top people in every industry.
The war for talent will rage, but it will do so in an online world.
How to win an online war for talent
The companies that attract talent will be those who:
A) Deliver a compelling story
Recruiting great people will be like marketing and selling a product. A company’s message will not be the only one that candidates hear. HR will need to borrow strategies from PR.
Companies will need to understand what motivates talented people and offer a ‘product’ (aka job description and career page) that gets them excited. For instance:
Will they work with leaders and innovators? Will they build revolutionary products or solve meaningful problems?Will they be challenged professionally and be given opportunity to grow?
Remember, these people will probably be happily employed elsewhere. In order to entice them, the company must offer a compelling opportunity. And the product message must be delivered professionally by real people who can answer tough questions.
Finding the best candidates will be easier, but attracting them will be more difficult.
Companies will also need to . . .
B) Build long-term relationships with future candidates
Smart companies will stop looking at recruitment as a reactive process characterized by bursts of frantic activity.
Social media tools will enable companies to build an engaged audience of individuals interested in their message and their vision.
Teams will be built based on the value great people can bring, rather than qualifying against a grocery list of skills and keywords.
Many Recruiting Companies and Recruiters will Drown
I am actually hopeful that a big wave of change is coming in the world of recruitment. I won’t miss the high-churn personnel agencies selling mediocre talent to desperate companies, or the recruitment departments that act more like purchasing teams than sales teams.
In many ways this apocalyptic change will be good. The new world of recruiting will be smarter, faster and tougher. The role of the recruiter will change.
As in every apocalypse, only the resourceful will survive.
We’ve heard it a million times. With an abundance of job openings for the exceptional 90th percentile, every ad for tech talent looks and sounds the same: a list of demands sandwiched between flowery sentences describing creative work environments, snazzy perks, and products that will disrupt billion dollar markets.
Since I started recruiting in tech more than 15 years ago, little has changed. To the talented individuals you’re looking to attract, your job ad is nothing but noise. I firmly believe that expecting success from a posting alone is insane, but I'll save that for another day. Invariably, a job profile of some sort fits into your overall strategy to hire for any role. And a bad one will sabotage all other efforts.
Why are job ads so wrong?
Most companies forget that a job description and a job ad are two different things.
Often written by a hiring manager, job descriptions are intended to communicate to the team the specific responsibilities and duties that a new employee will perform. They typically include a list of skills, experience and knowledge required to do the job well.
The job description tells us "what's in it for the company":
What will the new employee do for us?
What does the new employee need to know and be really good at in order perform the tasks listed in above.
It’s likely full of technical jargon and obvious catch-alls like “must be a team-player.” In most cases, it’s generic enough that it can be cut and pasted for every similar job opening for the next 3 years.
Often, the writing of a job description is a painful and rushed exercise. The result is something resembling a purchase order.
This approach to a job description is actually not wrong. Of course every search for a new teammate starts by identifying what needs to be done and by whom. What is wrong is that companies usually stop here and use this document as an ad.
So, what the heck is a job ad?
A good job ad is a marketing tool. It is designed to attract and engage your ideal candidate. It is honest and inspiring. Most importantly, it focuses on "what's in it for the candidate".
Use these questions to get you started:
- What exciting project/product/strategy will I be working on?
- What will I be working on in the first 60-90 days, and what can I expect to learn?
- Is this somewhere I’ll make a big impact on a market/company/technology?
- Describe the leaders and teammates I’ll work with, are they smart, fun and inspiring?
- What other interesting challenges will I get to tackle?
- Describe the market opportunity. How does this role impact business objectives?
What will make them excited enough to stop what they’re doing and pay attention to you? This is a marketing exercise. It needs to be full of excitement, authenticity and truth— no cheese, no fluff. You need to know your intended audience, and then give them a genuine summary of what you can do for them and how they’ll truly make an impact as a member of your team.
As I saw the conversations pop up across social media related to International Women's Day, I'm compelled to add some of my experience to the dialogue.
This article in particular, 14 Rules for Being a Woman in Business, does a great job of highlighting the fact that the problem of gender inequality in senior roles is still big on a global scale, but that there many great ways to get yourself into the critical minority. This piece spoke to leadership roles across all industries, but in the tech sector specifically, we know that the numbers of women in leadership roles looks at least this bad - or maybe worse.
It would be easy to conclude, that most CEO's have a bias against hiring women into senior roles - that they systematically ignore qualified female job applicants in favour of their masculine peers. I think this is totally false.
From my seat, as an advisor to tech companies looking to hire leaders and other scarce and talented teammates, I see something that probably comes as a surprise. In almost EVERY SINGLE SEARCH we take on, there is an unprompted and quite serious request that we focus on finding a woman for the role. Each company wants first to find the most qualified person for the role, but assuming that we'll turn up at least a handful of exceptional options, they want us to put extra effort into ensuring that they have a few great women to choose from.
These jobs are not only in areas where you'd expect to find more women, in marketing or HR, but across the board, in engineering, finance, operations and sales. Our leaders know that they'll benefit from diversity in their board room, and that the great women moving up the ranks need and want role models.
It turns out that the demand for women in the top ranks of tech companies isn't the problem. In fact demand for our top female leaders far outstrips supply. The challenge, it seems to me, is not about limited opportunities, but rather a limited number of strong women who are ready, willing and able to move into senior jobs.
I know that pointing out this truth does not solve the problem. But perhaps it shifts the conversation just slightly.
If you are an exceptional woman who wants to pursue leadership, you have reason to be optimistic. The data and the anecdotal evidence show that your journey will not be easy, but if you can find your path, a few good mentors and some serious conviction, there are many great tech companies that will welcome you with open arms.
A lot can happen in two years, especially in the move-fast-and-break-stuff world of tech. In Kitchener-Waterloo, the tech scene is growing more robust by the second.
The past two years have seen the evolution of innovation outposts at Communitech, attracting big brands like GM, Fairfax, and Canadian Tire into the region to actively participate in the startup ecosystem. Add that to B and C series announcements ringing out every time you turn around, the 350-person Google engineering office, and more than 45 startups with a combined workforce of 800 people setting up in the downtown core.
And what’s a growing tech scene always hungry for? Talent.
It’s no coincidence that Artemis Canada was founded two years ago to support and help build the innovation ecosystem. With more than 15 years of recruitment experience, Kristina McDougall saw an opportunity to work with a laser-focus on executive search roles for tech startups in KW. “The needs of innovative companies are unique,” says McDougall. "They're moving fast and often require very specific skills and experienced leaders who will get them to the next big milestone ahead of their competitors. Being part of the Waterloo Tech ecosystem has been fascinating, as we've been able to partner with companies at all stages of their evolution - from development and commercialization of breakthrough technologies, to the building of serious enterprise technology businesses."
A clear reflection of the growing startup scene and it’s increasing need for A-player talent, Artemis has been growing right alongside it. With reach that expands across Canada and the US, the team recently moved to a new office in uptown Waterloo, a beautiful home renovated into a boutique office space.
Today, Artemis Canada is hosting an Open House for friends and partners in the community to celebrate 2 years of success and their move to a new office at 22 Regina Street N.
“This new space really reflects our personality. The team feels at home, and it's great for collaboration." says McDougall "We're also situated right in the heart of Waterloo - in the middle of a fascinating, fun and fast moving community. We can't predict what incredible innovations and businesses we'll be helping to build over the next decade, but we know for certain that we're in the right place for success."
I recently spoke about career growth to a group of women, all working for a successful and growing tech company. In the Q & A someone asked "What can I do if my manager doesn't give me the promotion or growth opportunities that I want?" This was a great question, but there was one word in there that lit me up.
No one is going to give you opportunity and growth. You have to go and take it. Ask for it. Prove yourself worthy of a challenging new task or project. Show that you have guts and ambition and that you can take initiative. If someone tells you that you can't, prove them wrong, or ask them flatly what you need to learn in order to be more qualified for the task.
This one little word is the difference between people who quickly accelerate their careers and those who sit back, waiting for success and opportunity to cclimb into their laps.
The companies that are really moving quickly value initiative and confidence. They don't have managers who focus solely on allocating work and delegating projects. Everyone is carrying a lot of responsibility, and often cool tasks get snapped up by the first person to offer help and get started.
But what if you do all of this, and your organization holds you back or tells you that they don't want or need your best, most creative energies. Well, it's obvious, this is not the place for you to thrive and grow. Your employer isn't moving fast enough or can't see that value that you bring. Now that you know this, go find another outlet. If you are in tech, and you're talented and keen, you are in demand.
We are a boutique executive search firm exclusively serving Canada’s Innovation Economy.
Our partners are the inventors, builders and leaders who are changing our world, enriching the lives of their teams, strengthening their communities and delivering valuable innovations to global marketplaces.
"I have worked closely with Kristina for approximately 15 years, reaching out to her whenever we are searching for the hardest to find skills. She understands the industry, she’s smart, she listens to exactly what we need, and she never wastes our time. Kristina, and the Artemis team, deliver time and time again. When we need an external recruiter, I find it hard to work with anyone else!"
Pete Devenyi, VP Global Software