What most get wrong about retaining top performers
Ed McQuiston: We've done lots of retention interviews with top performers saying," What do you like about working here? What don't you like about working here?" and really trying to take that feedback and put it to work, and most importantly, communicate it. I think the big thing that gets missed a lot of times is, you do the survey and maybe you even do the fixes because of this survey, but you have to communicate that back because one, you want people to know about the change, but two, you also want people to know they're being heard.
Devin Reed: This is Reveal: The Revenue Intelligence Podcast, here to help go to market leaders do one thing, stop guessing.
Sheena Badani: If you're ready to unlock reality and reach your potential, then this show is for you. I'm Sheena Badani.
Devin Reed: And I'm Devin Reed, coming to you from the Gong Studios. What comes next? It's the question our guest really makes us think about. In the realm of hiring and retaining good talent, in the realm of remote work, even in the realm of small talk. Ed McQuiston is the Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Hyland, where he helps customers make the most of Hyland's tech offerings. Ed knows what comes next. For him, it's always a people first view. He never lets an employee survey go without a follow- up. He really listens during small talk with his colleagues and ask follow- up questions, and he isn't afraid to implement new ideas to evolve his team's culture and make sure his employees feel heard. As we dive in with Ed and start our conversation around retention and remote work, keep an ear out for all the times he asks," What comes next?"
Sheena Badani: Actually, just before this conversation, I was just scrolling through my phone. I was on the New York Times app and I think there were three articles just there about The Great Resignation, and people leaving, and the headache this is causing for hiring managers, and I think you can go to any media site and you'll see the exact same thing, or even LinkedIn. Just to kick things off, I'd love to get your perspective on the talent market today. What's happening?
Ed McQuiston: It's funny that you bring that up because I'm an anti- cliche guy, but the first time I saw The Great Resignation, I was like," Oh, that's cute. That's an interesting name for it," but now of course, I'm sick of hearing it already, but for the reason that you're alluding to, which it's very real. I think there's multiple facets to it. I think in part in 2020, most people would've been hard pressed to be compelled to want to switch jobs. There was so much uncertainty about everything, that I think staying put felt safe. You already had a bubble that was growing just because nobody was moving jobs in 2020. You enter 2021, and people, I think, were, just human behavior looking for any sort of change. We're all living the sameness from day to day. We were joking before we started about the endless Zoomathons that we do day in and day out, so I think just some feeling of change, I think people were looking for. And then I think, the third leg of this stool for me is that, I don't think there's anybody that feels like they're not working more, which feels ironic. For example, I was a big traveler, a lot, a lot. Global travel where you feel physically run down and you don't realize til you stop and you do this every day where you're back- to- back- to- back Zooms all day and you never get... It's hard to think and describe travel as a break, but for example, it was change. And so, I think everybody's working more. I think they're feeling more stressed. I think they're feeling more strung out, so there's this hamster wheel that, I think a lot of people feel like they're on combined with coming out of 2020 and really not changing and wanting change. I think a lot of people were just saying," I want to make the pain stop. I just want to get off the train, just for a minute." I think most people would acknowledge that eventually, three months or six months from now, whatever greener grass I find, I'm going to be right back on that hamster wheel, but if it means that for six months, I feel refreshed, I think a lot of people are going," I'll take that." You had, I think, all those factors, and then you had this technology boom in 2020, where we know lots of businesses really got hurt because of COVID, but the technology industry by and large, wasn't one of them. At least in tech, which is what I'm familiar with, huge growth in all these technical companies meant that there was this burgeoning need for talent without the restriction of geography anymore. I didn't need to look in a 40 vial radius of my office. I could recruit people from anywhere and now you've created this brand new dynamic, and of course, all the tools in the world are out there that put the employee in the catbird seat, whether it's LinkedIn or Indeed, or what have you. It's never been easier for them to go find something. You have this classic example of supply and demand that's going on, where a lot of people are looking," Just get me off that hamster wheel, just for a minute." And in times past they might have even moved for less money just to make the pain stop, but the reality is with this bubble that's out there on the company side, for many people, there's more money, there's more opportunity, there's greener grass at least on the surface. I think it's this bunch of ingredients that have just created this crazy environment right now that it's hard to think is going to slow down very soon.
Sheena Badani: That's so true. I can completely understand that feeling and that perspective that folks are going through across the board. You are currently Chief Commercial Officer at Hyland. Tell us one, a little bit about your role there, and number two, what are you seeing at your organization? Are you seeing a lot of those same trends and that same sentiment?
Ed McQuiston: My role in Hyland speak, Chief Commercial Officer is responsible for our sales, our marketing, our customer success, and our global services organization. Hyland's about 4500 people. We're a 30 year old company. We specialize in the content services space and I've been part of Hyland for 20 years, and we've been very fortunate as a company. We were named Fortune 100 best companies to work for, six of the last eight years, but we were a bit of an office centric company. Of our, let's call it 4, 000 people at the beginning of 2021, prior to COVID, probably 2500 to 3, 000 of those would've been based in some office, and about 1800 of that number based in our headquarters, which is just west of Cleveland. Hyland has been a company that benefited in some ways of not being in Silicon Valley or Seattle where the competition for local tech talent specifically, was so fierce. Now, as really geography no longer plays a part in recruitment, whether you're in Cleveland or San Francisco or Florida, or overseas, by and large, there is this leveling that's happened in terms of where you can go to seek work. We definitely have seen the impact. Fortunately, our turnover numbers would still be considered best in class in tech, and I think I attribute that a lot to our company culture and to the fact that we think that we are a really, really good place to work, where people care about each other, but it doesn't mean that you're not vulnerable to the same things. All the factors I described on the human side of it, our people feel stressed, our people are sick of Zoom. There are things that are tough to not have be a part of the every day right now, because it's just the world we're working in. We've focused a lot as an executive team on employee engagement and really getting feedback. I think lots of companies do interviews on the way out, exit interviews. We've done lots of retention interviews with top performers saying," What do you like about working here? What don't you like about working here?" And really trying to take that feedback and put it to work, and most importantly, communicate it. I think the big thing that gets missed a lot of times is, you do the survey and maybe you even do the fixes because of this survey, but you have to communicate that back because one, you want people to know about the change, but two, you also want people to know they're being heard. A key element for us has been, we have an employee engagement office, it's been a big part of our culture for a very long time, but no one is immune to it right now, at all.
Devin Reed: Ed, you said your company culture had been office centric prior to the pandemic. I imagine as remote work started, and then we realized it doesn't to be going anywhere and now we're like," It's definitely not going away. inaudible hybrid." I'm curious what your mentality was, maybe you and your leadership team, during that transition for recruiting. Were you like," Hey, lets hold of on remote for a little while." Did you embrace it quickly? And maybe any details along that way would be interesting.
Ed McQuiston: What I would say is, our company, we've been very fortunate to be in a rapid growth mode the last 10 years or so, and a lot of that growth coming via acquisition, which immediately creates diversity in offices and geographies and everything like that. As we exploded outside of our traditional headquarters area in Cleveland, I think philosophy changed a lot from a hiring perspective. I think in sales specifically, we've probably always acknowledged that you just get the best people wherever they are. I think when you think about areas like R& D, I think we liked the idea of a collaborative R& D environment, where you could have more people in the same space. I think with COVID, even with the acquisitions, and now certainly with COVID, it's radically different. If anything, I think what it has done is, and I think this will be an interesting impact for not just tech, many categories of company, but definitely tech is, there used to be, I think this concept of onshore and offshore. You do some amount of your work domestically in the U. S. if you're a U. S. based company, and then you have your quote unquote, offshore. I think that what, at least in my mind, as everything has become more geographically disparate, I don't know if that exists in the same way that it did, that ultimately if you want R&D people, you hire the best people where they are. It doesn't necessarily have to be as centralized as it once was, which is great in terms of expanding the talent pool, but it's even having impact in markets that were previously... Take India, for example, as known for heavy R& D centers, but very office centric. You were either based in Hyderabad or you were based in Delhi or you were based in... Well now, you're starting to see there being home based work in India. That has a whole interesting dynamic. I think what it does is it puts, again, my lens is tech, but it puts tech on alert, to think differently about your talent pool and where it comes from and where it's going to grow into, and it's creating a lot of wage pressure of course, as well.
Sheena Badani: I loved, loved, loved what you said about doing those retention interviews to understand why are folks staying at your company? What's working well? I think that's an amazing idea and more companies should do that. I'd be curious, what else have you learned through that process or are there other things that you've put into play to help retain your best folks? Whether it's from a cultural perspective, an experiential perspective, would love to hear about that.
Ed McQuiston: I would be very clear in saying, I think we're still figuring it out, like everyone else. It is very different. What I think we've tried to do is think about all of the different areas that impact the employee from not just how they do their daily work. One of the things that we got feedback on really is just mental wellness. We've changed, improved our employee assistance programs and the access that they have to wellness professionals to be able to help them because it is tough right now. We've looked at doing things around our training programs that aren't necessarily professional training programs, so people can take an online cooking class at lunch, or they can take an online class about nutrition, or they can take these different things. Trying to create programs that you can participate in that, as I said before, being a little more office centric in the past would go," Well, let's do this thing after work," or" We'll do this Friday night kids' party. We'll do a barbecue in the parking lot and show movies," and you just don't have that. You've got to find new ways because, I think, where all of this virtual interaction takes away from is connection. I know for myself, one of the things, I actually went into the office for most of the day and have come back home. I was in the office today and I had a couple of meetings that were in person and you sit down and you say," Oh, what are you doing this weekend?"" Oh, we're doing this with the kids." It doesn't exist. It really doesn't exist in the Zoom world. It's like," All right, we're on from nine to 9: 30. It's nine o'clock, let's meet. It's 9: 30. I got to go to the next one." And it's just a super different thing, and I think it's hard for all of us because I think as a leader, you go," Well, gosh, how do I address that?" Well, maybe what we'll do is we'll do the first 10 minutes of our team meeting we'll have is social time. I think it just feels stilted. All right. For 10 minutes, let's not talk about work. It's like, well, that doesn't feel real. It just feels so forced and manufactured. It's both hard because there isn't built in time to connect, and yet, when you try to create it, it feels like the forced fun factor.
Devin Reed: How much does small talk actually affect an employee's overall satisfaction with their job? For some, small talk fosters connection and comradery. Others view it as a waste of time. The Harvard Business Review conducted a survey last year to put some data behind the big, small talk question. They conducted a study of over 150 full- time employees who worked in an office setting, keep in mind, this was pre- pandemic, where they asked them to keep tabs on how much small talk they made and exactly how they felt at the end of each workday. The results were conclusive. More small talk correlated to less burnout. Employees who made time for small talk during the day, said they felt more energized and more likely to go out of their way to help a colleague. Yet, a secondary effect cited was a bit of distraction from their tasks, but HBR concluded the positives of small talk on mental wellbeing and colleague comradery far outweigh the negative of distractions. With those results in mind, let's see how Ed found a way to bring some much needed small talk back into his company's remote culture and how it's affected the team.
Ed McQuiston: What we've tried to do is... One of the things that I've been doing has been just these, I call them, brown bag lunches. Basically, I get together, we try to select a group of employees. We'll invite 20 or 30, knowing that maybe 15 show up. It's completely virtual. You bring your lunch, or I'll do it with the Europeans, and say," I'll do it at lunch my time, but it's their happy hour. Bring a drink." And however long it takes, I go around and," So what's your name? How long have you been here? What's your role? Who do you report to? Where are you based?" And have each of them, I have them, and then when they finish, I have a list of 50 icebreaker questions and ask them. Ultimately, it humanizes the meeting because the icebreaker questions are like, did you ever win a trophy as a kid, and if so, what was it for? Just something that takes... In that process, I learned about a guy who is like, he's still frustrated that eight years ago he came in second in the work chili cook off, and he's still worked up about it, and it created this connection amongst the whole group. They're like," Well, we should have a virtual chili cook off, but basically let him win. And then, when we wrap all that up, I'll say," Everything's on the table. What kind of Q&A do you want to do?" It can be professional. It can be personal, but you've in some ways, you've sort of disarmed the conversation because they haven't just connected with me, and I do the same thing. I give my background, I answer an icebreaker question, and now, I think it's a more connected environment. I think companies and I think leaders, it's really leaders, have to find ways to create that connection without it feeling like this stilted forced thing. They don't have to show up to the lunch. It's optional. It's up to them, but if they do, we try to make it fun, and I think we've tried to do, that's the piece that's missing more than anything I think, is just this human connection.
Devin Reed: Ed, you made a great point, a realization, because I also lead a small team and I'm looking at my team meeting this year, and I'm like," Something's got to change," because it's a little flat. It's not where I'd want it to be. People in it probably want it to be a little more and finding ways to make it more personal. I thought the same thing, why does that first five to 10 minutes socializing feel so awkward? or like you said, forced? Even though, that's natural in a way. And then as you were talking, I realized, Sheena, when we're in the big team meetings in marketing, the fun socializing doesn't just happen in the first minutes. It's seven minutes in when your leader makes a mistake and someone calls out, it's a little joke. People laugh. There's a sidebar for 60 seconds and you get back. It's these little moments between it, and to your point, it takes a lot of self- awareness to say," Hey, the meeting is from nine to 9: 30, but it doesn't mean we have to be pedal to the metal the entire 9: 30. You know maybe trading 100% productivity for some of that more social inaudible.
Ed McQuiston: Well, as you know, it's interesting. The people dynamics are always interesting. There are people that I think often feel, well, if I scheduled it nine to 9: 30, and at 9: 23, we're like, okay, we got through everything, they feel compelled to get through to 9: 30, and I think to your point, we could, for example, use the time, but it doesn't have to be the subject at hand. It could be just completely off topic or personal, and I'm stealing this idea to be totally forthright. Last week, we had a, for our sales kickoff for our leaders, or actually all of the leaders across my organization. We had Tom Bilyeu, the podcaster, founder of Quest Nutrition and Impact Theory, and one of the things that he said he does, and I absolutely immediately stole the idea. I did tell him I was stealing it. He does weekly two connection sessions. One is basically, it's a business lunch and for all practical purposes, it's office hours. So he says," I'm going to be at this Zoom from 12 to one," or whatever it is," and if you want to join and there's anything you want to ask," and it's professional. Show up and we'll try to answer all your questions, so it creates an open access, the proverbial open door in the office, which I thought was really good. And then on Fridays, he does a lunch, but there's no work talk, so it's just come, hang out, share stories, talk, whatever it is, and I think there's value in that because I think what it does is, it has people come with a set of expectations. Actually, I was talking to someone internally that was trying to help put something like this together, and they even suggested, and we did this at my brown bag lunches in the beginning of COVID, I had a survey that I would send out to everybody beforehand to create conversation points. The survey would be like, what are you binging on Netflix right now? What book are you reading right now? What's your favorite movie? We'd have five or six questions that we'd asked of the 10 or 12 people that were showing up and we'd have, what were the most popular ones? And would give me an opportunity to share those, and all it was, was discussion starters. Back to the forced fun aspect, if you just go," Okay, everybody, let's talk about fun. Go." It doesn't work, but if you've got something like, what are you binging on Netflix? Holy cow, people come out of their shoes. And you've got everything from person who is like, this is beginning of COVID. You had everything from Tiger King to somebody that had just watched this brand new word documentary series that came out and I'm like, all right, somewhere here there's something we can talk about. I think that connection for people is just dearly needed.
Sheena Badani: I love the survey idea because it's also really inclusive. It brings in other voices of folks who might not be as willing to speak up in a larger group setting, so you can distill some of those insights or pull out some things from some of the quieter folks in the room, too, so I really, really like that.
Ed McQuiston: Well, and I think to your point, Sheena, I think that one of the things was, I'd call them out. I'd call on them. If there was one that was fun, like one was, what's the coolest thing you've cooked lately? And somebody just made something that was just amazing. To your point, because people can feel, even those who would say," I don't want to speak up," excluded just by not being pulled into the conversation. And I think that's an important piece of it, when people are so desperate for feeling like somehow we're connecting with one another.
Devin Reed: You'd said something, Ed, earlier, a few minutes back about the grass isn't typically greener, whether it's six months off the hamster wheel, more money, better titles. If talent is more expensive, how does that translate to higher cost of doing business, specifically for your sales reps? Because we know sales reps are not coin operated, at least not all of them, but financial gain is definitely part of it.
Ed McQuiston: I want to start with the last thing you said, because I appreciate that you said it because there is this perception out there. Forget what my title is. I'm a dyed- in- the- wool sales guy, over promoted sales guy, whatever title you want to give me, and I always bristle when somebody talks about salespeople being coin operated because yes, some are for sure, but sales people tend to be very emotionally connected to their work. Many of them are more motivated by the win. It's almost like sport. They're motivated by the competition, the money, obviously, everybody likes but I think most of them if you asked, would not put it number one, if you put these categories of, do you like the competition? So, I appreciate that you sort of ended there. There's no doubt that there is this pressure cooker thing that is happening though, because you're right that, so wage pressures are impacting everyone. Everyone. The so- called Great Resignation now has people out there competing for talent to bring new talent in. It's costing more than it did before. If you want to retain the talent you have, you're having to address wages internally, especially as you look at what's happening in the market, and the first thing that any CFO is going to say is," Well, if our costs are going up, then our prices are going to have to go up." So, you're seeing it in all the inflationary articles that you're reading about in the press, and then the flip side is, now back to the employee, the employees are going," My costs are going up." So, there is this sort of stew that's being made out there from all of this, and I think it's hard because I think that a lot of reps at companies haven't necessarily gone through this. It's a new talk track, if you will, to have to sit down with a customer and explain why price changes are happening, and it's an uncomfortable one because obviously, while the CFO that maybe they're speaking to in their own company is passing along prices and increases, that doesn't mean they're accepting of it from the people that are their vendors or partners. It's a complicated topic at the moment and I don't know where the light is at the end of that tunnel because I think, for as long as this labor situation persists, it's going to continue to drive wage pressure up. I think it's going to be very interesting. I try not to get too much into social dynamics or political commentary, but I think it's going to be very interesting, the impact over the next few years, because of what I was saying about geography, because corporations, and I'm going to put that in air quotes, and this is not a comment on my company or any specific company, but corporations are in business to make money, and there is going to be a tipping point where, for example, domestic wage pressure has them asking questions about where can they go to find people that can do that work as well or better at the wage that they're willing to pay. Again, that's me looking out a few years, but the trajectory seems tough to sustain, and especially when you start to look at... What I would use as a Hyland example, we've got really great people with experience selling tech, so where we'll get hit hard, for example, is a VC backed startup who doesn't have the same fiscal responsibility concerns that maybe another company does and is willing to say," I'm going to pay you 50% more, and I'm going to give you at equity in the company that could turn into a zillion dollars." And if I'm a young rep, that might sound really enticing to me. Of course, the flip side is, the stats on startups is, some will work out and that person's going to be really glad that they made that change, but a lot won't. What happens as that recycling effect happens with that talent, I think is a question that's out there. It's an interesting time to be a leader because you've got, obviously, COVID created its own set of pressures. Your people are working really hard and stressed out. Most companies I think are, in tech, are understaffed for the work that needs to be done, and they're feeling attrition pressure simultaneously, and so threading that needle of keeping people happy and addressing demand and addressing a heightened expectation from customers because they can get these great experiences in the tech world, it's a heavy burden.
Sheena Badani: There's so much going on in the world right now. It's been a really interesting start to the new year. As we head further into this year, what would be your recommendations to revenue leaders out there on what should they be focused on, given these shifts and changes in the talent market?
Ed McQuiston: I always tell people that I'm going to write a book one day and I probably won't if I'm just being honest, but one of the things that I find funny is when people will ask," What have you learned in leadership? What have you learned along the way?" And I say," Boy, lower your expectations now for what my answer's going to be," because my answer is always the same, which is, it's all about the people. I think people want some grandiose big idea statement, but in my world, and in the tech world, though I doubt it's specific to tech, I really believe that those with the most talent are going to win. They're going to win almost all the time because you guys, you work for a tech company and you have competitors just like we do, and when the buyer looks at your product versus another product, and same as they do mine versus a competitive product, it's very hard for them to discern differences, and we can go on and on as revenue leaders about selling value and all those things. Clearly, that's the case, but when you look at the procurement cycle that an average company that's looking at something goes through, they don't spend near the time necessary to discern why is Gong better than your competitor, or why is Hyland better than our competitor? We are reliant on the people and I don't just mean sales people to convey that which the customer won't necessarily see on their own, and if you do not attract, hire, retain the very best, you're going to lose, and I just believe that, and I believe the philosophy of, well, I'm not willing to pay more than this to go get this person. Well then, what I just heard you say is, I'm okay with second best, and I just don't believe in that philosophy. I never have and I think that as more and more of selling, and the statistics are almost frightening as a salesperson at heart, is Gartner released a statistic recently that 17% of the buying cycle is spent with vendors. Not the chosen vendor, all the vendors. 83% of the cycle, they're doing it on their own. They're on your website, they're meeting internally. So you've got some slice of 17%, which means that, man, your digital content, your digital engagement, your self- serve capabilities, all of that, they better be good. Really good. And that, I think is where on the people side, it's not just, you mentioned the revenue leaders, I run, like I said, I have sales and marketing and customer success services. I view those as centers of excellence, not departments. The customer journey is a continuum. They don't distinguish the departments in your company nor mine. They just want one experience, and when you think about the very first time they see your social media ad, or they download some white paper, or what have you, from that moment on, you've got this opportunity to convey, why are we better and different, or not? And that comes down to people because those that can articulate that the best are going to win.
Devin Reed: I agree completely. We say it all the time and here at Gong, it's like, we're trying to hire the best talent always, and my view is, everyone you hire either makes the team better or makes the team worse. There's not really much neutral ground in my opinion. To your point, Ed, if you're not willing to go stack and get those A players, A players, A players, then you're probably, unfortunately, building in the other direction without even really realizing it. Well, we're coming to a conclusion here and really enjoyed the conversation, Ed, but I have one more question for you. This question we ask all of our guests, which is how would you describe sales in one word?
Ed McQuiston: The word I keep coming back to is exhilarating.
Devin Reed: I like that.
Ed McQuiston: It might be corny, but I can't imagine getting into sales, if you aren't motivated by the hunt, so to speak. I think the idea of really trying to work with a prospective customer or an existing customer, on ideas that you can bring to fruition and create transformation, that process and knowing that it's happening in competition with someone else, for me, was always so motivating. I'll share this a lot because it's a little glimpse into my sickness, but I used to literally, if I was not working, if it was a Thursday night and I'm just watching a football game, I would have this moment of, what is me, at that competitor, doing right now? Are they working on that deal right now? Are they passing me up on that deal right now? As I say, it's a bit of a sickness, but I think it's that, I relate. I'm a very big sports fan, which is an understatement, and I relate sales and sports a lot, and I use a lot of sports analogies. One of the things we talk about, this whole idea of championships not being won, while the lights are on. Championships are won. Practice field, they're won when nobody's watching, and I relate that to sales. I think it's, what am I doing when nobody's watching? One of my phrases is, what are you doing when there's, quote, nothing to do? They're not calling you, they're not emailing you, they're not asking you a question, what are you doing when the lights aren't on? And I think that's where you see separation and that, whatever you want to call it, hunt is probably not a particularly attractive word, but that process to me was always exhilarating. It gets you up in the morning.
Devin Reed: If you are like Ed and believe people are at the core of any business success, head over to Gong. io for more resources on top sales talent, and if you like what you heard today, give us a five star review on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you're listening.
Ed McQuiston, EVP, Chief Commercial Officer at Hyland, will challenge you to think differently about your talent pool. He pushes back against the way we have traditionally thought about retaining top talent, gives tips for gathering feedback, and suggests creative ways to connect with your team.
Many job-hunters have a “the grass is always greener” mentality, and given the active job market, it’s more necessary than ever to make sure your company is ready to live up to expectations.