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A startup approach to team-building

Neel J Shah
May 12, 2023

A startup approach to team-building

Building a great team isn’t just about hiring people and hoping for the best. And recently, we were honoured to catch up with a process-driven people leader who knows a thing or two about scaling a business with the right talent at the right time.

On our Scaling Stories podcast, we picked the brains of Anthony Rotoli, a senior people leader who’s successfully scaled the HR and talent teams at companies like Karat, Assurance IQ and Quora.

Among his many successes, Anthony scaled Assurance IQ’s headcount ten times over – the insurance/fintech startup was eventually acquired for $2.3bn. He also made the transition from Microsoft to Karat – at the time, the interview tech company was a small startup, but is now valued at more than $1bn. All things considered, there are few experts better placed than Anthony to advise on how HR leaders can assess candidates, build a successful team and retain the best people.

Anthony has come a long way, but says that when he first moved from Microsoft to Karat it was a “massive culture shock”.

At the time, the idea of building a tech giant might have seemed fanciful. He thought: “Nobody has heard of this place. People are going to have to hear about it. How do I build a brand around this thing?”

A key part of the journey was about finessing an interview methodology that identified the right talent. Here are three keys to success that Anthony identifies.

1). Structure

“Some sense of structure and then consistency around that structure goes a long way,” Anthony explains. For example: “Here are the eight things that we’re gonna cover in this interview. We’re gonna do that consistently until we all agree that it should be different, but we’re gonna follow a structure.”

It might sound like common sense, but as Anthony tells us, a structured approach is also integral to reducing bias. For instance, if you’re still committing errors like asking random colleagues to interview a candidate at short notice, “bias is just gonna rear its head even more”.

“When you start to create structure in the process and say, ‘hey, this is the way this interview goes, and we’re gonna run this interview consistently’... that’s a big step forward.”

2). Training

“Never underestimate the power of training people to interview correctly,” Anthony says.

Anthony acknowledged that an extensive training programme isn’t viable for every business, but added: “In an ideal world, you’re going to go through some training and ideally some rigorous training before you are in front of people and interviewing.”

“At Karat we had a whole network of people whose whole job was to interview. They got so good because they got the training and they were doing it consistently.”

3). Auditing

Quality control matters. “They audited all their interviews”, Anthony says of his time at Karat. In fact, every interview went through “a separate quality control process where an independent individual is listening and watching a whole interview and looking out for bias”.

While not every business has the resources to double-up on interviews, it’s fair to say that two heads are better than one.

The importance of ‘guiding candidates’

Anthony also has a strong critique of the usual way of conducting interviews. All too often, Anthony says, the candidate and interviewer are like “ships passing in the night”.

“I think interview environments have sometimes been made to feel like a quiz. Like you’re gonna catch people off guard. [But] thinking on your feet is only one part of the job.”

Instead, Anthony says, you could think about how a candidate “solves problems collaboratively” over a longer period of time. “You want to give the candidates the tools to succeed.”

Refreshingly, Anthony says it’s in a company’s interests to “guide candidates” and “treat it more like any business conversation where you and the other person are seeking to find the truth together”.

Tech tools to check out

They say a bad workman always blames his tools; conversely, a good workman praises all sorts of tech recruitment tools. Here are some useful tools and platforms that Anthony recommends:

  • Slack – “Basic, but I think Slack is truly amazing. I think it’s the most effective tool to support async collaboration.”
  • Anthony also gives the thumbs-up to work collaboration spaces like Confluence and Notion.
  • For performance management, Lattice, 15Five and Culture Amp.
  • “I want to use Ashby – it seems like the real up and comer. Same for HiBob.”
  • ChartHop and other analytics products, such as eqtble, Included and Performetry are “all attacking it in interesting ways”.
  • “The most interesting products that we’ll see come to market will do more things in real-time: performance management, feedback, engagement.”

We had a great chat with Anthony, covering everything from team building and culture to life on a micro-farm on the outskirts of Seattle. Check it out!

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