Houston Voices

Houston expert: Finding your tech talent through analytics

Talent optimization goes beyond human resources practices, management consulting, and productivity tooling to describe a model that empirically aligns strategy and people practices. Photo via Getty Images

You know the work that needs to get done, and you know the environment that you want to build. How do you find the people who will build it with you? Historically, we relied on relationships, intuition, and track record when we evaluate potential team members. This is the same approach we use to find our mates, and well, the divorce rate speaks for itself.

Perhaps you know your potential partner from a previous job when you both worked for a public company, and they were a high performer. Even when we have worked with someone before and they had a great track record, things can go awry. Humans are messy beings. When factors that affect motivation (such as equity percentages, the potential for exit, working 80-plus hours a week) change, performance can be affected. The people who do really well as a cog in the wheel do not necessarily have the same drive to BUILD the wheel. So how do we pick the team members who will best suit the work and environment?

Did you know that 95 percent of people think they're self-aware, yet only 10 to 15 percent actually are (Tasha Eurich)? If people don't know themselves, how can you possibly know your potential partner's fit?

Behavioral assessments aren't new. If you've ever worked for a large company, you've likely taken one. What is different now is that The Predictive Index is harnessing the power of behavioral analytics to predict success and help us visualize teams in a whole new way. We can now look at people's work style in under 6 minutes and quickly give you data on how people will perform in their role and with your team to drive alignment in your organization.

As a founding board member and active investor in Valhalla Investment Group, we recently implemented the practice of using behavioral analytics in our due diligence. We then look at individual and team results to identify any gaps between strategy and the team's ability to execute the strategy. We specifically look at a team's appetite for risk, approach to change, and response to pressure.

The results for one startup we were evaluating came back with a potential red flag. Five of the six in the executive team were exploring leaders in the "Innovation and Agility" quadrant. These leaders are independent and comfortable with risk. We had one who was a very strong stabilizing leader in the "Process and Precision" quadrant. This person is very precise and cautious with risk. We immediately reached out to the CEO to schedule a Zoom to ask how the team works with what could be seen as an "outlier" and how they deal with the friction. The CEO understood the strengths and cautions of his team and explained that while this person is different, they are very much needed. They provide balance and contribute to areas that are blind spots for the rest of the team. The way the CEO handled the question showed us that he was self-aware enough to manage such differences and gave us the confidence to invest in this startup.

HOW IS THIS RELEVANT FOR YOUR STARTUP?

Founders

Wouldn't it be great to know potential partners' appetite for risk, how they deal with deadlines, their proactivity or reactivity to issues before you meet them? Or how they respond to pressure? Founding partners can be evaluated to ensure their behavioral drives align with the startup strategy.

For example, if the strategy is to fail fast to obtain product-market fit and grow market share quickly, founders would need to be innovative, risk-tolerant, comfortable with ambiguity, and they'd need to thrive under pressure. Conversely, if your startup serves a highly regulated environment, your founding team needs to be well-organized, careful with rules, and cautious with risk.

Team dynamics and inclusivity 

Without insight into team dynamics, results are left to chance. Behavioral analytics can provide insights that allow each person to easily understand how their new team members are wired. This can drastically reduce the time it takes to build cohesion among the group and make for more efficient and effective collaboration as project teams are regularly assembled and reassembled. Put simply, instead of using our energy to try to figure each other out, we cut through that noise so we can run faster.

Lastly, by creating a job profile and looking for candidates who fit the profile, we can cut out the biases that relationship-based recruiting can introduce to an organization.

"The alignment of business strategies and talent strategies is known as talent optimization."

Talent optimization goes beyond human resources practices, management consulting, and productivity tooling to describe a model that empirically aligns strategy and people practices. It weaves talent improvement practices into the everyday workings of a company to nurture and employ a workforce that is specifically calibrated to the company's strategic objectives. The sooner we utilize people data to look at our organization, the sooner we can spot potential blind spots. Leaders can then address the issues and focus on what's most important for their startup.

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This article was written by Wendy Fong, founder and principal of Chief Gigs, and originally appeared on Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's blog.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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