Leadership Forum 2019: Lessons for Emerging Leaders

On Thursday, October 31, High Alpha hosted its second annual Leadership Forum. This annual event focuses on developing emerging leaders within the High Alpha portfolio. This year, we took a deep dive into high-level leadership strategies as well as tactical topics like unconscious bias, change management, and employee feedback.

Leadership Forum differs from other High Alpha Flight Schools because it’s cross-functional, with all departments represented. Each attendee, recognized as a leader within their respective organizations, was nominated by their CEO or leadership team.

Some of the biggest takeaways from the day include:

“When you hire remarkable people, that’s your best development tool.”

Scott Dorsey

Scott Dorsey, Managing Partner at High Alpha, kicked off the day by sharing his personal leadership philosophy and approach. Scott broke this down into four key tenets:

  1. Hire the best people : Our competitive advantage is our people in software. Always hire the best people you can find, especially if their strengths complement yours.
  2. Find their motivation :  Understand what your employees’ goals are and how to drive them to achieve their goals.
  3. Construct a great team dynamic : Differences in thought will drive your organization further. Make sure you’re considering every aspect of diversity when constructing your team.
  4. Have the right cadence, tempo, flow :  It may take you a while to find what works best for your team. Is that a weekly meeting? 1:1s with every direct report? Your management style should vary greatly based on you and your team members.

“You will lose your favorite candidate to another job offer.”

Jon Rosser

Jon Rosser, Senior Associate Partner at Platinum Recruiting, joined to share a market perspective of talent and the pitfalls of recruiting from your team. Jon explained three key recruiting tactics and two ways our attendees should develop their networks for the long-term.

Recruiting Tactics

Be Engaged and Involved: Make sure you are working with your HR and recruiting partners. While the HR pros are actively searching for and interviewing candidates, you should be doing the same. Make sure to share job posts with your network — that might be via social media or word of mouth.

You also can’t afford to wait for the perfect candidate, so be proactive. That also means making sure you’re providing timely input and feedback. The labor market is tight — while you deliberate, your ideal candidate may receive (and accept) another offer from your competition.

Nail the Intake: The first meeting (often referred to as an intake meeting) with whoever supports recruiting for the role you’re hiring for is crucial. Jon provided a few suggestions to make your intake meeting a success. His first tip was to bring your top three must-haves for the role. He also suggested outlining your nice to have (but not required) skills, and to identify what the skills that can be developed further on the job. Finally, confirm what the interview process looks like ahead of time. This ensures that when you reach the “final interview” stage, all necessary stakeholders and decision-makers have been involved and you’ll be ready to make an offer.

Be Decisive: If you have the “final interview” conversation ahead of time, you’ll be ready to make quick decisions at the end of the process. You may have to make the decision to hire someone you’re not 100 percent sure about, but having the top must-have skills identified will help guide your decision. Be fast! Candidates will be moving quickly as well.

Long-Term Career Building

Always Be Recruiting: You may not have the headcount available today, but it’s important to continue to share what you’re currently doing and building — and why you’re passionate about it. Top talent won’t be on the market for very long, so make sure you’re building the pipeline for roles you envision hiring in the coming months.

Be an Open Network: Sometimes the best thing you can offer someone is to connect then to someone else, especially when that someone else is a better fit for their current needs. Always make intros to connect great people. You’d be surprised how this can come back to help you later down the road when you’re looking for great talent.

“Well the last person made $85,000 a year, so we’ll pay the new person that.”

Compensation Practices

Julia Kauffman, VP of HR at High Alpha, covered Creative Rewards and Total Compensation at Leadership Forum. Julia approached the topic from both the employer’s perspective as well as the employee’s. Before she dove in, she provided a baseline on total compensation for the group. Julia explained that total compensation consists of salary in addition to:

  • Meaningful Work: What value proposition are your employees working on each day? Are you disrupting an industry? Solving a complex problem? What is the greater vision you are striving for?
  • Workplace Culture: What’s it like to work at your company on a daily basis? This isn’t just office snacks and nap pods — are there growth opportunities, flexible schedule opportunities, and personal development opportunities? Are employees exposed to leadership?
  • Benefits and Perks: Our companies offer many things besides just salary such as benefits, technology stipends, equity, wellness stipends, and other perks.

From the employer perspective, Julia encouraged attendees to drive conversation around the organization’s compensation philosophy and practices. Questions they should consider include:

  1. Is there an existing compensation structure in place? Have we ever thought holistically about what we believe about compensation as an organization?
  2. What guidelines should we follow when considering compensation for our team?
  3. Who makes the decision? Is it the hiring manager? Finance? HR? The leadership team?
  4. What about internal equity? What factors should we consider before making an offer?
  5. How do you know if you’re being competitive in the market? What is the difference between self-reported data and market data?
  6. How often is our compensation structure reviewed?

From an employee perspective, Julia encouraged attendees to think through the following questions, ranking what matters most to them. She also noted that these priorities are likely to change based on time and role.

  1. How do you like to be rewarded?
  2. What should you be paid?
  3. What should your title be?
  4. What career path are you setting yourself up on?

She also reviewed how employers can motivate high performers, including a few that people often don’t think of, like: engaging work, mission alignment, growth opportunities, inclusive environment, employee appreciation, flexible schedule and environment, inspiring leaders, and mentorship opportunities.

Breakout Sessions

The day was highly interactive with presentations from HR leaders from across the High Alpha portfolio including Julie Barker, VP of Talent at Zylo, who covered communication and change management best practices. Julie explained how leaders can position and communicate change through via seven key principles:

  1. Create awareness and share reasons for the change. Make sure you are showcasing the larger vision.
  2. Who is accountable and sponsoring the change? Having a clear executive sponsor allows a champion in leadership to push the initiative forward.
  3. Integrate into your current working culture. What variables can you control?
  4. Understand and resource project needs and timeline impacts. What skills will be required to implement the change?
  5. Consider the broader “who.” It can be easy to address the direct impacts of the change, but make sure you also address secondary impacts
  6. Build out champions and influencers: Who will continue to socialize the idea? Have you sought out feedback on the ideas?
  7. Determine what success looks like for this change in meaningful milestones. How will you know the initiative is successful?

Julie also had attendees identify their own change readiness with a Change Readiness Assessment.

Attendees also had the opportunity to hear from Megan Jarvis, VP of Talent at Lessonly, who walked through how to navigate tricky employee conversations where you may need to say “no.”

Megan shared a model to use before answering tricky employee questions like “Can I take the next two weeks off?”

Without a model the conversation may look this:

Employee: May I have 2 weeks off?

Manager: (Thinking to self … what the heck?!?) No. We have a major feature release due in 2 weeks and I’ve told others they can’t take any time off. The same will apply to your request.

Instead, Megan provided a model for managers to think through before responding to employee requests.

  1. Pause: Take a second to think before immediately reacting.
  2. Seek Clarity: Ask probing questions to better understand the request.
  3. Assess: Request more information so that you can provide better guidelines.
  4. Give Clarity: Explain your reasoning when you give an answer.

Using Megan’s framework, your conversations can look more like this:

Employee: May I have two weeks off?

Manager: (Thinking to self … what the heck?!?) Can you share why you would like to take the next two weeks off of work?

Employee: (Hesitating) I’m struggling and concerned about my ability to continue in this role. I’d really like to find some time to reflect, recharge and figure out what I need to do for myself to stay with the team.

Manager: Thank you for sharing with me. I’m thankful you shared before it became something we can’t help. Let’s talk about what we can do.

The day ended with Andrea Butcher, President of HRD Advisors, who walked through how to develop your own personal leadership style by using the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership in the Leadership Challenge Model, which you can learn more about here.

We’re so thankful to everyone who took the day to learn and grow and hope to see these and other learnings brought back to their respective companies.