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Finding the best people for the job

Four leaders on making the right hires

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November 6, 2011

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If great employees make companies great, then the best employers must know how to attract and retain top talent. Michelle Stacy, president of Keurig Inc., a subsidiary of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc.; Sandra Fenwick, president of Children’s Hospital Boston; Martha Samuelson, chief executive of Analysis Group; and Steve Vinter, site director for Google Inc.’s Cambridge office, spoke to Top Places to Work editor Michael Warshaw about their techniques for hiring the best people - and making sure they stay.

GLOBE Michelle, your employees told us they love that Keurig’s growing, and they feel like they’re part of the growth.

STACY It’s a culture of constant change, and they hear all the time how fast we’re growing and how to keep up with it. Because we’re growing so fast, no matter what part of the business they’re in, they have a chance to make an impact.

GLOBE Martha, your employees told us they feel at home and feel like they’re able to push themselves in a collaborative culture.

SAMUELSON Well, collaboration is everything. In professional services, it’s very easy for everybody to think the thing that they bring is the scarcest resource, and it’s actually pretty hard to keep people focused on routine, as opposed to focusing on individual achievement.

How we do that is spending an enormous amount of time on mentoring. People are brought in to immediately think that feedback is your friend. It’s meant to make you successful, not label you. I think that people feel like their colleagues are looking out for them. They’re trying to make them get better at skills that have a value in the marketplace.

GLOBE Sandy, your employees told us that they feel that the best work in the field is being done there.

FENWICK I was trying to think: What are the attractors to Children’s? I think it’s mission, first and foremost - the value of the work.

In our case, it’s doing something for the kids. Everybody talks about the kids. And that’s true from the scientists who are in basic science all the way up through the clinicians, through everybody who supports us. So the people in the kitchen, the people in the valet service, security guards, all truly believe that they’re there to support the kids and the families.

GLOBE But when you’re recruiting, people still ask what they’ll be paid, what are the benefits?

FENWICK You bet. So we have to be competitive.

We spend a lot of time on communication. People want to understand what’s going on. They’re looking for transparency. They’re looking for what is going to help us do what we need to do. What are the threats to what we’re doing? And how are you as the leadership going to get us through some of these threats?

Today, people are really worried about what’s happening with the economy. How is it going to threaten my research? How is it going to threaten my staffing? What are all the threats facing me? On a very personal level, am I going to keep my job? Am I going to get a pay raise within the next five years?

GLOBE Google has the reputation of hiring the smartest people. Steve, what’s the process?

VINTER Many companies organize hiring around the hiring manager. The hiring manager needs to hire somebody for the team. At Google, it’s completely the opposite. We actually interview for engineers at Google in general, and once they decide to join Google, we say, “Well, what’s the best fit for where you want to work? It seems like you are good for Google, so let’s find a place for you to work where you’ll be happy with what you’re going to be doing.’’ That creates a sense of opportunity right from the beginning.

GLOBE Is your growth an advantage in recruiting, Michelle?

STACY Constant growth allows people to come in and have an impact very quickly. So they’re coming in, and because there’s change around them, they hope to impact the change and feel like they’re making an impact very quickly on the business. And that’s really exciting for new employees when they are coming in.

VINTER At Google, everybody’s involved in the hiring process. What that does, when you do it on a massive scale, is that it introduces everyone in the organization to the process. They’re representing the values of the organization.

I think those companies that are effective at making their culture really consistent and really thorough are then able to express their culture well through the interview process, and not from the most senior person. Sometimes, it’s more credible when it comes from multiple people who are individual contributors.

GLOBE Martha, your business requires a particular expertise, and people who work well as a team. How do you hire for it?

SAMUELSON I’m a consulting economist. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen to the stock market. I can’t tell you what’s going on in Washington. But I support expert witnesses in very big lawsuits on economics and finance issues.

We hire a lot of young people right out of college. Hiring’s really hard. We need absolute rigor in terms of the intellectual piece of it. But then they also have to be people who are going to be able to collaborate, and that’s not necessarily skill sets that operate together easily. We interview a lot of people. We talk to people for years sometimes, if they are very senior people.

GLOBE Sandy, you have such an advantage because doctors are so naturally collaborative. Or are they?

FENWICK I was just laughing when she said that about the team, because I think that is a challenge. When you’re looking for the best athlete, you look for someone who has all the credentials and skill sets, and then you want them to be team players!

How do you take really independent-minded thinkers, who are creators on their own - and that’s not just doctors. It could be nurses. It could be anybody - and then try and get them to collaborate across a very complex organization? I think that’s our biggest challenge.

SAMUELSON When you’re leading a complicated, talented workforce, and you want to sort of minimize the ego issues if you can, and help nurture the collaborative issue aspect of people, you have to lead by example. They’re looking at you, and they want to see, are you able to be generous? Are you able to give credit to other people? Are you able to subordinate your own ego in a moment and say this other person is right, that I made a mistake? I’m sure everyone sitting here at this table does that.

VINTER Yes. In front of the whole team, I’ve gotten up and said, “You know, I made a mistake here,’’ or “the company made a mistake there.’’

We have a public viewing of all of the goals for the quarter. And you see not only what the goals are, but also how you did against them.

That candor creates such a sense of trust and honesty. And it also helps us in setting those goals, too. If you set goals where you meet 100 percent of them, the goals weren’t very ambitious. But if you only meet 50 percent of them, you either can’t plan or you had a really bad quarter.

GLOBE So you build in some failure?

VINTER We’re honest about what we’re not able to accomplish, and having that done by leadership makes it safe for individuals to do the same.

GLOBE Does it get easier or harder to get good people when you’re growing?

STACY I think the sheer numbers that we’re trying to hire makes it a little bit harder. I think the easier part of it is that we’re part of a business that is pretty well known now in the marketplace. We have a sizeable enough employee base, and there is a lot of word of mouth.

SAMUELSON When you’re smaller, I think people come because they see the same thing you see, the mission. It’s very compelling in a smaller place. When you have more brand, you have people show up for all sorts of reasons. I think that’s the only downside, otherwise it’s clearly easier as you get bigger.

VINTER I feel like we have the best of both worlds, where we’re a large company, but we’re also relatively small [in Cambridge]. We try to look at it as a strength rather than a weakness.

It’s interesting. Every Google office feels like Google, but every Google office is completely different.

GLOBE What’s different about Cambridge?

VINTER The way it looks is just different. If you walk in, there are no offices for engineers or engineering managers. I don’t have an office. It is a completely open plan, and at the end, that’s part of reinforcing a sense of collaboration.

The other is, you walk into Cambridge, and it looks like fun. Fun hasn’t really come up here, and I think that purpose, mission, and growth opportunity are important, but work should be fun. They should love to do it because it’s fun, and you like the people you work with.