Today on Talk Talent To Me, we are joined by the Chief People Officer over at BlockFi, Laura Cooper. From big corporations to small startups, Laura has seen it all and has insights into the world of talent acquisition from every angle.
[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me. A podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment.
[0:00:12.8] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions. Where are they willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.
[0:00:22.7] RS: No holds barred, completely off-the-cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs, and everyone in between.
[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings and got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.
[0:00:39.7] MALE: Talent acquisition, it’s a fantastic career, you are trusted by the organization, you get to work with the C-Suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between and everybody knows you.
[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me.
[0:01:00.2] RS: Joining us today on this, what I’m sure will be an instant classic installment of Talk Talent to Me is the chief people officer over at BlockFi, Laura Cooper. Laura, welcome to the podcast, how are you today?
[0:01:11.6] LC: I’m great and thank you for that intro. Certainly sets the stage, I feel like I’ve got to actually really get ready for a performance now.
[0:01:18.1] RS: Yeah, now you have to bring it because I promise a classic installment here. I’m certain you will or else I wouldn’t have teed you up like that, I wouldn’t have set you up to fail. I’m so happy you’re here, BlockFi is a company I’m truly excited by, I’ll let you kind of explain to folks what it does but I have the BlockFi credit card that rewards you in Bitcoin.
[0:01:37.9] LC: Yes, it’s fantastic.
[0:01:39.4] RS: It’s fantastic and it’s almost like, to a dangerous point where I’m buying things with it and I’m thinking, “Well, I’m getting Bitcoin for this and Bitcoin’s going to be worth millions of dollars of Bitcoin eventually.” This purchase is basically free. That’s how it’s justified in my mind.
[0:01:54.2] LC: That’s how we do it. To tell you a little bit about what BlockFi does, we do lending and trading in crypto and we don’t just do it for Bitcoin or large institutions, one of the things that’s most exciting about BlockFi is it’s also for the individual, like you, me, grandma, grandpa, and everyone has the opportunity to buy and sell and trade in crypto through BlockFi. The other thing that’s unique about what we were doing is that you earn interest on it, you earn interest on your crypto at a much higher rate than you do on the cash that you have in the bank. That’s the really summarized version.
[0:02:27.4] RS: Yes, I wish this episode could be all about cryptocurrency but sadly, it cannot but it is such a good deal for the consumer because guess what? If you didn’t get a 6% raise I the year of our lord 2021, you lost money just holding your money in American dollars, right? With inflation being as high as it is. The savvy consumer has to look for other ways to make their money work for them.
Crypto is an amazing opportunity for that and I think also, BlockFi’s mission in bringing people, like for example, grandma into the fold is super important because the people who really know cryptocurrency well are not particularly interested in convincing other people about it, they’re just like, that’s been my experience is that, there’s some gatekeeping that goes on. I think bringing more people into the fold and I’ll be like, “No, no, no, the more people that are involved in this, the better and more exciting it gets for everyone” is I think the warm, fuzzy, and exciting mission.
[0:03:20.1] LC: One of the things I think is really interesting about it too is that for now, it’s in the blockchain and in the hands of people. It’s not in the hands of government, there’s no federal reserve of crypto. For example, I don’t know if you read this article but when Afghanistan fell, many people who were trying to escape Afghanistan put their money in crypto and they put it in crypto because it was in the blockchain and outside of any governmental control.
If they could actually get out of Afghanistan, their assets would still be available to them elsewhere, no matter where they went in the world, whether they landed in the United States or in France or South America, they would have access to their crypto, through the blockchain.
[0:04:00.7] RS: It’s a fascinating use case and totally disruptive when you can imagine, somebody can walk across the border with nothing but a string of letters or a string of words memorized and crossing that border, they could take with them millions of dollars, right? There’s never been an example where you can be so free moving and with your finances before. That’s just one of myriad exciting disruptions I think that this technology is bringing.
[0:04:27.5] LC: I think so too. I think, with the current regulatory environment, it’s important that there are regulations and control because without having any regulations and control, it opens the door to money laundering and stealing and all sorts of other shenanigans but that’s one of the things that BlockFi is so poised and ready to do is working collaboratively with the SCC and other regulatory bodies to be like, “Listen, it’s not us you have to worry about.”
We are totally prepared, we were self-regulating so strictly before but I think that’s the thing that I find most interesting and what appeal to me when I had the opportunity to join BlockFi, it’s probably because I’m a constitutionalist by my own orientation and by my legal background and I like the idea that money is in the hands of people versus under control of government. It did appeal to me on a pretty visceral level when it came to thinking about joining this organization.
[0:05:19.7] RS: Yes, the regulation I think is an exciting development too. Are you familiar with the WAGMI that the crypto people will post on Twitter? It means, we’re all going to make it and it’s basically like any time there’s a positive development in this field, people say, WAGMI, we’re all going to make it.
That’s what I think when I see regulation because it’s like, okay, this is being taken seriously and it’s not being outlawed, right? It seems to be, if you are really for decentralization, it seems like regulation would be at odds with that but I don’t think it is, I think that is like, let’s bring this into the fold, let’s treat this seriously and protect consumers instead of outlying it which is the other option.
I think we have to schedule a follow-up for you and I to have a happy hour to keep talking about this because I think this could be a 45 minute –
[0:06:04.0] LC: It will be all night long.
[0:06:05.0] RS: Episode. I do want to talk about recruitment in your role and your background so, let’s abruptly pivot here away from crypto, unfortunately, sorry. I just want to hear a little bit about you because you have such interesting background, you were a practicing lawyer, you are still a lawyer, now you’re running people for this awesome company. Can you just kind of walk us through your background and kind of where were you then and how’d you get here?
[0:06:29.2] LC: Yeah, sure. What I noticed is that I really have much more of an inclination for business than I do for legal but having a legal education was one of the best things that I could have done for myself to prepare me for business. I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to recruit for Salomon Brothers as it was transitioning into Salomon Smith Barney.
I was there for multiple of years but what I always did, I’m nothing if not strategic throughout my career, I always looked ahead to figure out like, who in this world and what I was doing could – how could I get closer to the business? How could I actually have an impact that actually meant anything other than just putting people in jobs and putting people in jobs because I originally, before I got into Salomon Brothers, I was an external headhunter for lawyers.
Once getting on the inside, I just kept looking at the other job, the next job, what was going to teach me more about the business, how could I be more strategic, how was I going to have an impact. From Salomon Brothers, I went to Marsh McLennan in recruiting and then moved to as an executive employment strategist for Franklin Templeton Investments.
I think that was sort of a turning point, that was when the HR business partner job was actually starting to form together and I was in a role where it was my job to figure out how could this investment bank that didn’t really have a lot of runway in New York compete with Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, at the time of Lehman Brothers, when it was still open, how can we compete with that?
My job was to figure out what was the employee value proposition that was going to differentiate Franklin Templeton Investments and Fiduciary Trust at the time from all of these others and one of the ways in which we did this was by branding ourselves as one of the last firms on Wall Street complies to ladies and gentlemen.
If you wanted to do amazing, top-quality work and you didn’t want to work with people that were going to stab you in the back of the neck the second you turned it, this was the place for you. We sort of considered ourselves, this is a little glib but like a refugee boat, for every fundamentally decent human being that wanted to be in business and in money but wanted to work collaboratively and did really well there.
Then around – somewhere around 2009, the market really started to tank. If you remember, there was like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and everything went down. I lost my job at Franklin Templeton through one of their, just round of layoffs, they really didn’t – they weren’t hiring anymore, they didn’t need anybody that really had my skillset but I was so fortunate because I got the job of my dreams less than six weeks later at Samsung.
Samsung Electronics America was – it was kind of like the peace corp. It was the toughest job you’ll ever love. The discipline is amazing, the caliber of work is amazing, stress levels certainly off the roof, you work 24/7, 365. I was there for five years, learning everything there is to learn about how global business was run, multiple trips back to Korea for training, then bringing all of that back to United States but within that was the subject matter expertise of what I had a hand in started to grow.
Touching on learning and development, getting involved in compensation and benefits, more compensation than benefits, really, as well as starting to strategically rebuild groups. I was part of the team that helped build the enterprise business group from kind of the struggling microcosm into a behemoth. I was able to help bifurcate between consumer, as well as enterprise because it used to be completely enmeshed and we had to segregate out that from a product standpoint.
All this really interesting business focus were. After I did a stint there, I moved on to take that experience to NICE systems which was fully in the software SaaS space. After getting my promotion to VP, I really felt like at last I’d arrived, right? I’d put in just about five years, at the time, actually four years at NICE Systems and again, incredible. I worked directly for Barak Eilam who is now the CEO and for others that, again, the discipline was amazing.
What I noticed was, the higher you got up on the officer chain, the less you were impacting the business in a role as mine, the more you were just creating foundations and process and more process and more foundations and getting the people through the grind and through the machine rather than actually helping to figure out how to make business better.
I got a call one day from this scrappy little startup called Bluecore and the recruiting agency said, “Listen, it’s 110 people” and I sort of laughed it off and I was like, I’m going to destroy my career going to this tiny little company that thinks it’s Cannes. This pedigree for 110 people. My husband is a researcher and academic and so unlike me, who wasn’t thinking straight like really said, “You know, you should consider that because one of the things I’ve often heard you say” which is what he said to me was, “If you could do it your way, you would do it entirely different.”
At this point, I had run just about every aspect of HR. I’d owned recruiting, I’d owned compensation and benefits, I owned strategy, I owned infrastructure, so many pieces and I thought, “My god it’s Eureka! What am I doing here? I want to do this from scratch. Completely from scratch. I’m not precious about my job. I will file, that’s okay, I’ll type policy, that’s okay. I’ll have big, strategic conversations, that’s okay. I’ll build your recruiting team.”
When I joined Bluecore, there were two people and me. Everybody else had quit, whoever was involved in people. I had a coordinator, a recruiter, then there was myself and over the period of the following three years and the company was bringing in at that point, I believe around 20 million and was about 110.
By the time I left, it was about 250 people, I had 11 people reporting directly in to me. Some of which was the recruiting team and I have to say, at the time, one of the crowning achievements I feel that Bluecore had was a top-notch absolutely incredible recruiting team that had a dimensional role, not just in bringing people into the organization but managing our external employer brand as well as making sure that the candidate experience was absolutely spectacular.
Then, from Bluecore, I had a stint at a startup called OwnBackup and then that’s where I segued into BlockFi.
[0:12:47.4] RS: Got it. I’m curious, that move from VP level to the small scrappy startup, you mentioned that your role was mostly building out processes. Is that typical of a company that size? Is that kind of what you expect of any company with that kind of title or do you think that was particular to that company because it strikes me that you would want a kind of role where you were making high-level strategic decisions, right?
Your insight into the business and your judgment is what’s really valuable about having you in that role. Was that just not the case of that company or is that – do you think particular of what happens at that level?
[0:13:29.5] LC: No, I think that in large organizations, having an impact and driving change is extremely hard. I don’t mean to say that it was just only building processes, it was also getting the organization through its established cadence of company hygiene, annual review time, compensation, distributing equity, managing problems.
Where I felt I spent a majority amount of my time, six weeks out of every quarter was working and helping my business do QBRs. Our QBRs at NICE, were spectacular. You’ve never seen anything like it. You had to be prepared to answer to every single detail on that QBR. An average QBR doc probably ran over 200 slides.
Mine alone, and people, for the America’s region, were usually around 50 to 52 slides of which I would have to be prepared to sit with the CEO and the rest of the executive team and go over all of it. I just felt with all the experience that I had, the discipline of that is amazing but it’s not where I wanted to have the impact. I wanted to have the impact on creating a culture where people felt invigorated about what they do.
Creating an environment of best-in-class leaders that take that charter of leading other human beings is something that’s really important because it is, of doing better. QBRs are important. Were we really having the impact on the business that we wanted to when you spent six weeks out of every quarter, preparing for QBR when you actually should be out selling, you should be creating new product, you should be doing – I felt that I just – I wanted to take what I was doing in a different direction and the organization at NICE felt really good about how they were running things there.
I have to say, Barak is one of the smartest people that I ever had the privilege to work for. He and my previous president there, Tom Durst, just amazing. I really, after a while, notice that I chaffed because I felt it was very routine and I’m a creator and I wasn’t creating anything, I was enforcing rather than building.
[0:15:33.5] RS: When it came to creating, you mentioned at Bluecore you wound up with a team of 11 people. What I’ve heard reported from folks who make this kind of move is that, get me a small team of A-players and we will run rings around a team of a hundred people that have millions of dollars of budget.
Was that your experience, did you find that team to be really much more effective and agile?
[0:15:58.0] LC: Yea, I have to tell you. There’s no greater quote, you’re absolutely right. I’m very deliberate in the way in which I build teams. The approach that I have is that I take leadership and being a servant leader extremely important and I think there’s a true symbiosis between who you work for and who works for you.
I’m very specific about what I look for in the characteristics as well as the skillset. It took me a while, I remember to find my very first HR business partner. I must have went through 32 interviews to find this one person. That one person, I think still stands as one of the most incredible business partners I’ve ever had the privilege to leave, right?
Just amazing. Then, when we – you talk about and care deeply and wanted to also have the same inclination of – I want to build it from scratch because I know there’s a better way. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, she came from Amex, same situation, getting through the routine, pushing the organization through the already established hygiene and discipline of their process, of their annual cycles, versus, “We can do better, should we do it this way?” asking intelligent questions, “Is this really the best way it can be done?”
I think the most difficult transition for me, leaving big corporate into small corporate or small organizations was the concept around the social contracts, you’re in a really big organization, you really don’t have social contracts with your employee population. When you move to a smaller organization, you do have social contracts, what do you expect from us, what do we expect from you and we know each other personally.
In an organization of 110 people, you know everybody, inside and out and it’s great. There’s a whole different level of rapport, collaboration, communication, a lot of fun, it’s entirely different, the energy that you felt when you walked into Bluecore, I remember on my first interview I went down there.
I’d given up coffee for six weeks and I got there really early and I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll just have one coffee” by the time I got there, I was completely out of my mind on caffeine, can’t stop, won’t stop, I was really excited and I thought, “Oh my god, if I don’t get a grip on myself, these people are going to think I’m a lunatic.”
I got in there and everybody was like that, everybody was like me, it was like finally finding your tribe and your people was my first experience at Bluecore and I knew, I spent three hours there on my first round of interviews, three hours on my second round of interviews. I was so impressed with Fayez Mohamood who is the CEO, that I knew that I would torpedo any HR person that tried to get this job from me.
I walked out the door, out the front door of this place, I called the recruiter and I said, “I want this job more than anything in the world. Anything, what do they want? Do they want a case study, do they want this, I’ll do whatever.” I was really privileged to start working with them within I think, four weeks from that conversation, I walked in the door at Bluecore.
They are, the cofounders, very smart, very approachable, the difference with them was, also, from big corporate, they actually cared about their social contract with the organization and actually cared about building a culture that mattered, where people felt really good about working there, which was so refreshing for me because when you’re in an organization of 5,000 people, people generally tend to be a number.
When you’re in an organization of 110 where everybody has access to the founders every day where we’re all involved with one another, where we know each other, we know our – we know about our parents, we know about our spouses, we know about the kids, we know about everything, it makes a-whole-nother level. I won’t say it’s a family, I will say it is like a deeply entrenched, high-performing team.
Having those few key people, I think it took me like I said, it took me multiple months to find the first HR business partner and it took me a good four months to build the recruiting team and took another seven or eight months after that to find the right person to run infrastructure and HRAS.
[0:20:04.4] RS: I’m really interested as of the last year in change really on honing in on the deal and the nature of work particularly in an increasingly decentralizing world, basically what is this exchange that’s happening on a fundamental level and is it still relevant? Does it still work for people, is kind of my overarching question? To that effect, I also think you could elaborate a little bit on what you mean by the social contracts because I have to admit, I’m a little spotty on my Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
[0:20:38.9] LC: How do I describe it? It of course depends on your company and your culture and what that’s like. There is and there should be an expectation between the organization and the people who work for it about how we treat one another, right? About how we come through for one another and how we set expectations for one another. It’s not, you know, in very large corporate environments, it is the employees work for the machine, right?
It’s top-down whereas the social contracts that exist within a smaller more intimate team-oriented environment is like I keep going back to this word, there is a symbiosis there and there is an expectation in that symbiosis. You come and you work for us and we do the best we can for you. You come and you work for us, you do the best you can and we try to make sure that you’ve got good leadership that treats you well.
That you have the freedom that you need to be creative, that you have the environment that drives a growth mindset, that you are not penalized for a mistake, that you can self-actualize personally and professionally within an environment where you’re spending 95% of your waking hours. That’s what I mean by a social contract or in the time let’s say, a social contract comes down to you’re no longer effective in the role.
How you are treated as you were exiting the organization being just as driven by care and compassion and empathy as when we are bringing you into an organization, that when we bring you into an organization, we don’t just throw you to the fire. There is an onboarding, we tell you how to do this job, you are paired with other people and you work in an environment where people want to help you, don’t feel threatened or stressed by you, right?
Managing those behaviors when they exist within an organization, so that’s what I mean. I hope that gives you more context around social contract.
[0:22:38.3] RS: Yes, definitely. I am curious how you’re going about making sure BlockFi’s end of that bargain is held up. When you look around the organization, is it about arming leaders? Is it about being upfront with people about the offer and kind of what the culture is? How do you ensure that BlockFi holds up their side of the bargain?
[0:22:59.7] LC: Well, one of the things that makes it particularly easy about doing this at BlockFi is I have a spectacular executive team that is aligned to this ethos, right? The first thing is, I consider the people team and the recruiters as the first. Unfortunately, recruiters get a bad rap in a lot of ways but they really are the guardians of the culture. First gate, they weed out for people who have narcissism or hyper-political or who are empty barrels, they talk a good game but can’t get the job done, so there is this gate number one, right?
Once you get through that gate, they also, I’m sorry, the recruiters also focus on characteristics and overall moral compass of the people in which we hire and this is fully endorsed by the executive team truly. You know, we have four key values and one of them that at least means the most important to me is transparency builds trust. Everybody says it, very few companies actually live it and BlockFi is one of those companies that actually lives it.
When we’re doing great, we tell everybody, “We’re doing great, and here’s why.” When we’re not doing so great, we tell everybody, “We’re not doing so great, and here’s why.” We have an all-hands every single Monday morning where we go over not just transparently like Zac, our CEO’s update, and Flori, our founder’s update but also the financial update of the organization. I get very direct updates about things that happened and people that we’re working on.
We developed spoilers and trailers of what’s to come and what you can expect and try to make it fun and lively and I think the other thing too is they truly want to build a great company. Having an executive team that is aligned to the cultural ethos and values that we all want because it’s not easy to land a position at BlockFi. There’s an intensive screening process not just for character and attributes but also your functional competence but every single person pretty much who looks and is taken seriously about BlockFi, we all have to do a case study.
Mine was like two hours. I was presenting to the entire executive team. We have had people turn away and say, “I don’t do case studies.” Well then, I guess BlockFi is not the right fit. It’s not the right fit. We are very honest about – I always say to my recruiting team like, “Listen, all you can do is tell people the absolute truth and ask them to examine their conscience of whether or not they can really thrive in an environment that is up and down and left and right.”
It goes, you know, “Monday the plan might be red, Tuesday the plan might be purple, Wednesday the plan is green, and then Thursday, wait, did we forget about red or are we still doing red? We got to go back and do that red plan. Who is finishing that?” so it is very, very dynamic. There is a tranche of people that love that and there is plenty of people that loath it, so all we can do is tell people up front, if you are looking for a day-to-day routine, it’s just not the right place.
Please trust us, it’s not the right place and as I’ve been involved myself in recruiting processes at the most senior levels, I can tell when people are not going to thrive in our environment and we have honest conversations about it like, “Listen, you’re a process driver. I’ve seen that process drivers are not necessarily successful within the BlockFi environment because we’re impact drivers”, right?
Process likes to get things done in a very lockstep sort of way, where impact drivers, we probably would say, we are accepting of a 10 to 15% margin for error in the overall outcome if the outcome comes and it’s like hits the mark within two rings of that bullseye and gets it done and gets it done quickly because when you’re in the startup venture capital-backed space, you have to move fast.
You have to be really fast and very decisive and that’s the other thing, people often talk about how they want autonomy and they want authority and they want responsibility but when they actually get it, it’s a little scary if you’re not used to it, right? We also say to people, “You’ll be expected to make decisions. You’ll be expected not to get lost in the noise” so that’s where that recruiting team comes in is where they really talk about it but the executive team is all aligned to having a terrific employee experience.
We rolled out an extensive reward and recognition platform over the tail end of this year called Bonusly and this is a peer-to-peer as well as top-down and bottom-up recognition platform where people get tokens for amazing work that they do and then they can take those tokens and they can either like I was mentioning earlier, they can buy swag, they can donate it to their favorite charity, they can turn it into cash, they can do whatever just because it makes people everybody feel great and it also inspires the right behaviors of people wanting to help other people.
Sometimes it happens where people will just, “Are you having a bad day on your birthday?” people would just toss tokens and be like, “Oh, it’s your birthday? Happy birthday, here you go” but it’s that kind of culture we want where we are a dispersed global organization of 850 people. This is one of the many ways that we try to stay connected but again, having that executive alignment of the type of behaviors that we want makes it a lot easier for me to do my job and make sure there is the appropriate type of behaviors top-down as well as peer-to-peer for an ideal environment.
[0:28:18.7] RS: In the example where you mentioned everyone wants autonomy or responsibility, et cetera, but if you’ve never had it before and then you get it that can be a shock to the system. Surely, you would still hire those individuals and under certain circumstances even if they hadn’t had that before, right?
[0:28:36.9] LC: Oh yeah.
[0:28:37.6] RS: You believe that they can get there.
[0:28:38.5] LC: We do. We do have a measure of potential that we hire to, yes.
[0:28:42.8] RS: Is that then a matter of – I mean, I guess it has to be a matter of the leadership to whom they report, right? It is now up to that person to make sure that this new person who is going to be punching above their weight a little bit or at least above their previous experience can get there, how do you go about making sure that these individuals are set up for that support?
[0:29:02.6] LC: Yeah, well, it takes a village, right? It’s not just – it is one of the things we were just talking about as we are changing the way in which we promote internally within the organization. That is a story for another day but one of the things we talked about is that it’s not just any one person that is responsible for the success at the leadership level or when somebody grows or is promoted into a new role.
It requires I think multiple hands, not just a piece from your people team or a piece from the manager but a piece from the peer group in which this person is now been elevated into. That’s what we really try to create. We have a senior leadership team meeting again, promoting through transparency, what’s happening, it’s how we educate everyone, how we make sure everybody is aligned.
Let me go back to when we talked about hiring in an environment where just potential versus experience because it’s two different things. I think ideal organizations and the way that I’ve positioned this within my team at BlockFi is that it takes a combination for a team. You can’t have everybody be a commander and you can’t have everybody be a scout. You need a combination of the two.
You can’t have everybody be highly experienced or everybody be zero experience but tons of ambition and overall potential. What happens is like if you have that, everybody is reinventing the wheel. If you have too many highly experienced people, they are just doing it the way that they’ve done it before. If you want environments where you’re going to get best-in-class output, you got to have those three things, highly experienced, extremely junior talented full of potential in an environment of psychological safety where people can have open dialogue about the best and fastest way to get things done.
I think ideally that’s what we have at BlockFi, is we have open dialogue whether it’s uncomfortable and it’s rarely uncomfortable because people don’t want to take it personally. It’s just like, “Hey listen, this is the way I see it. What do you think? How do you think about it?” and then people come to a decision. I find that the best decisions are made when you have all the ideas on the table but you have to have really good environments where people don’t feel stupid about bringing their ideas to the table.
If they do, the last thing any good leader needs is to be surrounded by yes men. You need to be surrounded by people who are willing to challenge you. I always tell my team all the time like you’ve got to challenge my way of thinking. If you can argue me off my point, you are obviously right and I was obviously wrong. If you can’t, then there’s something else there that we need to explore. I was right, your idea was great or maybe it just has to be the way it is.
I have taken everybody’s information and make a decision and we’re just going to have to go for it but in those examples, based on the leadership principles we have in place at least on the people team, you’ll have to disagree and commit but I want to hear the disagreement. I want to hear it. If people just sit there and they’re quiet, I’ll say to them, “So and so, you seem really quiet. What’s happening and what are you thinking about this right there?”
I invite positive and productive conflict to the table. Conflict sounds like a bad word, it’s not a bad word. Disagreement, troubleshooting, whatever it is, I know I’m better when my team is because I am being – I am so results-driven that I need people on the team that are thinking through some of those steps that I may miss but they have to feel safe with me in order to disagree with me and I think that’s one of the things that BlockFi does really well.
It doesn’t matter what your level is, you can have a conversation with the CEO, you could have a conversation with the founder, you could have a conversation with me and disagree and feel safe doing it and have an explanation in the dialogue about whatever it is. Yeah, so I just wrote an article on it. It is on LinkedIn, psychological safety is I think comprised of like two primary things.
I mean, there is a book on it, Four Stages of Psychological Safety, everybody can read it but the things that resonate the most with me are an environment of high-intellectual friction. When I joined BlockFi, it took a good two to three months for my team to get very comfortable with high-intellectual friction. It’s very scary and I would be asking all of these questions and it would just be crickets, which is also really awkward for a new leader to step into an organization.
High-intellectual friction and then you set the stage for high-intellectual friction one by asking a lot of questions, what do you think, what do you think about it, who says, who sees what could go wrong here but it’s also and I think most important, how you manage the conflict when you’re in the moment. You got to be calm, you got to be open, accepting and thoughtful. You may disagree resoundly with somebody else, that’s fine.
You are never and this is the other component of psychological safety, which is low social friction. High-intellectual friction, having all the dialogue, low social friction meaning no sarcasm, no condescension, no arrogance, no rudeness, no misrepresentation of the facts at the table, no gaslighting. People often gaslight when they’re at moments of stress, right? I am very wary of that and when I see that happening, I will diplomatically on the back end have a call with that person.
Understand what their perspective was, explain to them the lay of the land but I don’t allow individuals who create social friction, not intellectual friction, intellectual friction is good but who would create social friction to thrive at least in particular on my team because I think it’s so destructive. You know, it just takes one person who is really sarcastic, who is very cruel or condescending and all that intellectual dialogue stops because nobody wants to be the person who says something who’s then shamed by something.
It also is demonstrated creating environments of psychological safety is how do you as the leader show up when you are managing somebody’s epic failure? It happens, it happens to me, it happens to members of my team. We, as a matter of fact, had one just on Wednesday. It was really bumbled. I mean, everything that could go wrong went wrong with this thing that we were working on.
My number one who was involved in this process felt so terrible, calls me up, “Listen boss, I’m so sorry this happened.” I said, “I know, I get it” and “I just want you to know it’s never going to happen again” he’s sorry and I was like, “Listen, it’s okay. I’ve had my fair share, you’ve had your fair share of mistakes. What are we going to do differently next time? What are we going to do differently?”
“Well, I am going to do this, this and that” “Great, close the door, move on, it’s done, over. Over, move the door, close it, it’s done.” How we handle, that means that when you’re a person and your team knows that if they come to you with a mistake, you’re not going to yell at them, lose your mind on them, abuse them, demean them, make them feel less than the human beings that they are, they are more than – and that’s the other thing too.
If somebody is in trouble, I want them to come to me for help, let me get in the way of that. Let me run that interference. I tell my team all the time, if something really goes wrong, you and I might have to have a conversation on the backend but I’ll jump in front of that. Don’t worry about it. You can always throw me under the bus, it’s absolutely fine. That is what I’m here for, so that I think having a leader in which you can confide in, you know, I think the greatest win for me is when something went wrong on my team and I didn’t know.
I had another member of the team call me up and say, “I know you don’t know this but you need to know this and this person needs your help and they’re just too nervous to come forward but I’m not. Go in and fix it” so it’s building trust overtime with the levity of your response, the courageousness of your leadership, the honesty in which you approach people and when you hold people accountable.
If somebody is disrespectful on any one of my calls, believe me, I manage it in the moment and then I manage it afterwards and so I think just having one or two of those dialogues means its sets the boundaries by which we are set to behave, which creates a much more positive culture.
[0:36:53.3] RS: Laura, this has been fascinating. I feel like I could definitely stand to hear more. We could probably easily go for another hour or so but we are creeping up on optimal podcast length here. Before I let you go, I want to ask you to share some last bits of wisdom here with the folks out there in podcast land. For anyone listening in who sees you and your chief people officer role at a super cool future building company, what advice would you have to folks who want to uplevel their career, take on more responsibility, and just grow and become more effective?
[0:37:26.5] LC: The greatest thing is constantly learning. Don’t be afraid to learn, don’t be afraid to throw yourself out there if you don’t know how to do something. Figure it out and learn how to do it, research, tap into your network. I think the other thing too that’s really important if you are thinking about moving into startup space is don’t be afraid to unlearn what you think you know. That was the hardest thing when I went to Bluecore.
This is the big corporate best practice but it doesn’t work within these smaller organizations. Don’t be afraid to unlearn, take the best of what you know how to do and tailor it for the climate in which you’re in. Be agile to the environment in which you’re in and keep your eye on the landscape because as I look at people who are in leadership positions or who are trying to grow into the role, the thing that usually gets in their way is this fixation that because they’ve done it this way before, this is the way they should do it now and it’s almost – you almost never step in the same river twice. That’s what I would tell people.
[0:38:20.0] RS: That’s fantastic advice. This whole episode has been fantastic. Laura, thank you so much for being here and sharing with us. I’ve loved chatting with you today.
[0:38:26.9] LC: Thank you so much for this privilege. I really appreciate it and hopefully, we’ll talk again. Take care.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:38:34.6] RS: Talk Talent to Me is brought to you by Hired. Hired empowers connections by matching the world’s most innovative companies with ambitious tech and sales candidates. With Hired, candidates and the companies have visibility into salary offers, competing opportunities, and job details. Hired’s unique offering includes customized assessments and salary bias alerts to help remove unconscious bias when hiring. By combining technology and human touch, our goal is to provide transparency in the recruiting process and empower each of our partners to employ their potential and keep their talent pipeline full.
To learn more about how we can help you find your next great hire, head to hired.com/tt2m.