Build a Team of Empathetic Innovators

Photo by: DG EMPL

Photo by: DG EMPL

A few weeks ago, the team at Peer Insight blew my mind when they surprised with a half-day long celebration of  ... me. They called it Fest O' Jess and for a whole afternoon I was honored with messages of gratitude and memories (both good and bad) of my time with the firm, all the while partaking in two of my favorite activities: beer and history. I walked away feeling humbled and awe struck. And I wondered, how did I become so fortunate to find a career and colleagues this amazing?

Granted, it's not all sunshine and rainbows every day at our offices on 641 Penn Ave. but more often than not I go home feeling like I made a contribution to my firm and that I matter. As mentioned in a recent post by our VP/COO, Natalie Foley, we are currently in the throes of re-imagining our human capital management process. It's taken a lot time and more than one iteration but I think much of our success in building an amazing company culture comes from the fact that we practice what we preach— we use design thinking and entrepreneurship to help us make decisions, big and small, around human capital management and professional development. 

So what's the magic formula? How do you hire the right  people — the ones geared for empathy, ambiguity and gratitude?  At Peer Insight, we believe it starts with the basics: curiosity, discernment and adaptiveness.

Curiosity: When discussing the candidacy of a recruit, one of the first topics of discussion is always around the questions the candidate posed. Naturally empathetic people want to know and, more importantly, understand everything they can about a particular person or situation. To some hiring managers, this could be a signal that they didn't do their "homework," but to us it signals that this person is engaged and is envisioning their possible future. 

Discernment: During the in-person interview, we ask the candidate to present a project that they think best represents them. In the interview invitation, we let them know they will have 45 minutes to share their work and that it can be any format and style and can cover multiple projects if they'd like. The decisions the candidate makes in choosing and curating their presentation tell us a lot about their ability to discern and make choices about themselves and their audience. We've seen a range of presentation designs, lengths and styles, but best ones always exhibit intentionality and thoughtfulness around the choice. One candidate (who we hired) even tailored his presentation to the reviewers by their names and interests, grabbing the info from both social media and the agenda we sent earlier in the week. 

Adaptiveness: It's probably pretty obvious, but innovation is unpredictable. To deal with this ever-present ambiguity, we look for team members who are nimble both in their skills sets and their attitudes. At each of the two in-person interviews, we ask the candidate to complete a case study exercise. While seeing their project presentation will give us a good idea of their skill set, a case study allows us to get a good idea of their thought process. The most enlightening part of activity is the mock "sales presentation," when we (Peer Insight) pose as perspective clients and throw curve ball questions their way. This interaction is not meant to be mean spirited (all the question we ask are able to be answered), but rather, help us understand how this person adapts to ambiguity and uncertainty. 

What are some other attributes you think innovators should possess? Leave me a comment below or message me @jess_dugan.