There has been a big focus on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) of late, and for good reasons. D&I offers numerous benefits, but many leaders are unsure of how to implement it within their teams without waiting for their company to take action. As an experienced inclusive leader, I successfully implemented D&I and have been asked by my leaders and colleagues to share some of my insights on how I was able to build my high-performing and award winning teams. During this 3-part blog series, I will share some of my strategies, guiding principles and the results I was able to achieve as an inclusive leader.
Look for potential
For me, part of building a “powerhouse team” included how I selected candidates; it was always based on their potential, not just their experience or appearance. I always began by ensuring the job postings that I used, encouraged a diverse pool of applicants. During each interview I looked for both a personality fit for the company’s current culture as well as a fit for the culture I wanted to create on my team. After all, we spend more time with the people we work with than we do our own families!
When I interviewed, I wanted applicants to relax and be themselves so I could see who they truly were. I always wanted to see who we would be working with; not the “persona” that showed up to the hour interview.
The amount of focus that I placed on their resume depended on the technicality of the position. I knew what the answers should sound like when people knew the job but answers that were too rehearsed also made me dig deeper. I wanted personalities who were also team players. My focus was to build a team, not have a roster of individual top performers who would waste time attempting to outperform each other rather than concentrating on the task of driving our business.
I wanted team players who had potential to grow and would share their learnings. People that were:
- Coachable and wanted critical feedback for their growth and development
- Responsible and detail-oriented
- Personable, approachable, open, and had good communication skills (verbal and non-verbal)
- Able to understand the value of and demonstrated EQ
When conducting interviews, I was very clear on what I was looking for. To be successful in a cross-functional organization, we have to work well with people. We were not just data crunchers (although we did build budgets, forecasts and provide data analytics) but were also business partners who had to speak to and interact with people. I didn’t focus on people’s age, nor did I care about gender, ethnicity, family status, sexual orientation, geographical neighbourhoods, educational programs or religion. This resulted in applicants and ultimately teams that were very diverse, (especially when compared to my colleagues). Take a moment to reflect and acknowledge your own personal biases; we all have them but as leaders we should be constantly trying to identify, challenge and correct them.
Consider questions carefully
During the interview I asked a wide variety of questions. To ease interviewees, I started with standard questions that they should have prepared, then moved onto more thought-provoking and personal questions to search for specific personality traits that I was looking for. For me, an interview is just a conversation, not a grilling session to make someone sweat. I was also very honest about the challenges the candidate would face in the role and the personality traits that would make them successful for the role they were applying for; no surprises or games, straightforward honest conversations.
I have heard from a few of my hires that they thought they “bombed” their interview with me, but it wasn’t because I was intense, it was because my approach of just having a conversation was so different. But this “conversation” approach allows the interviewer to see more of the applicant’s true personality and behaviours.
Build a team with diverse experience
My team was a mix of junior people with potential alongside more experienced colleagues with varying experiences who were ready for more (either a promotion or an opportunity to focus on project work). Some people had a lot of leadership experience, others had none. Some had a lot of industry experience, others had very little or none at all. Some people were new to the company, others had spent several years at the company and sometimes came from other departments. Why? Because if everyone was ready and expected a promotion, my team would be in constant turnover and turmoil with people leaving for other opportunities that the company nor I could provide. Those with minimal job experience had great opportunities to grow and stretch themselves, while others with years of experience had a chance to train and coach others at different levels and prepare for their promotion, and so on. We all learned from each other. My expectation was that everyone learns, grows, shares and repeats. I believe that everyone has talent so if you are not contributing to the team and company, then your time is being wasted.
Let me know your thoughts and questions. How did you build your teams? Now that you have your team built, how do you maintain, motivate, develop and ensure they thrive? Let’s talk some more in Part II.