The 5 characteristics of an ideal H-E-B Digital employee

Episode 3: Are you curious? Collaborative? A little gritty? You’re over halfway to the ideal H-E-B Digital employee. Our CPO, Mike Georgoff, and recruiting manager, Kat Bransom, chat about the five characteristics they look for in an ideal candidate.

Full transcript below:

Chandra K. Bricker: Hello and welcome this is Chandra K. Bricker. On the mic today we've got Mike Georgoff, our Chief Product Officer. Hi Mike. And we've got Kat Branson our Digital Recruiting Manager. Hi Kat, how are you today?

Kat Bransom: I'm doing good. Thanks for having me.

Chandra K. Bricker: Thanks for being here. Today's topic is all about the growth of Digital at H-E-B. We are growing in both San Antonio and Austin, in our Product and Design group, our Digital Technology group, and in our Digital Commerce group. But one of the questions our listeners have is: what characteristics are we looking for in an H-E-B Digital Partner, which is what we call our employees. Mike, I know you have a list of characteristics you look for in our Partners. What is that list?

Mike Georgoff: There are five things we look for and it's across any of those roles. We refer to these as "our raw materials." And those are, first and foremost, curiosity. Second is empathy. The third is highly collaborative. The fourth is really analytical, and the fifth one is being gritty.

Chandra K. Bricker: What do you mean when you say "curiosity"?

Mike Georgoff: There are individuals out there where it’s really like you just can't shut down that part of your brain—it's hardwired in. And that is a really great fundamental building block for success in a field like Digital, where it is so much about being curious about what is not working and then figuring out better ways to solve that.

Kat Bransom: So Mike once we have the candidate that has that kind of the baseline skillset that you're looking for and we get them on-site, how would a candidate go about conveying to us during the interview process that they have this curiosity that we're looking for?

Mike Georgoff: There are things we do to provide a little bit more rigor around that [concept]. One is about past experiences, so we really dig into what they worked on, but particularly we ask a lot of those "why" questions. And that's our entire mindset. "Hey why did you choose that problem?" "Why did you choose that solution?" "What other alternatives did you explore?" "What did you think was interesting about it?" How people talk about the problems they've solved before and the solutions they've brought to bear—I think you learn a lot on whether they were truly curious about that or whether it was something that was just given to them to execute. That can be a very major difference.

Another thing I always like to dig into if I'm chatting with a candidate is "Just tell me about your favorite product and why." It can be literally anything. It could be your Apple watch. It could be a consumer packaged goods product. It could be a restaurant. Nothing specific, but answers to that are very revealing because curious folks can rattle off an endless list of those and go really deep with no prompting on why it's an interesting and beloved product for them.

Chandra K. Bricker: Mike, you said the second characteristic is empathy or empathetic. What do you mean by that?

Mike Georgoff: Once again we're looking for the extremes here. This is something . . . well, all humans care about other humans and that's really what empathy is about. But this ties to the curiosity piece. I almost think about empathy as curiosity tied to actual human beings. That's really important for our field of work, digital, because we're building products and experiences for—even though we might call them users—they're human beings. They're our customers. They're part of the community. They're our Partners. And so to really understand what drives those human beings—their motivations, their fears, their hopes, their dreams. Whether it's a customer or a partner, that is really at the core of really great breakthrough products and experiences. But this is also valuable because as a company we're going through a digital transformation. We have a lot of partners, well over a hundred thousand of them, and we're incredibly successful at what we do. And we're going through a transformation where we need to continue to be incredibly successful at what we do, but also develop dramatically new skills and ways of doing things as a business, and that requires a lot of our partners in different ways to change and to change their approach. It impacts each one of our Partners at a human level and so just the more we have people who take the time to learn and understand that and you know appreciate that human perspective that is different from theirs—that to me is real empathy.

Kat Bransom: So Mike on these—and I think this question could probably apply to all of these characteristics as we're going through them here—but you talked a little bit about the interview questions that you might ask you know once somebody comes on site. Is there a way that candidates can convey these qualities or these characteristics say on a resume or something ahead of time to help them get closer to getting that interview with us?

Mike Georgoff: You usually don't need to ask much. It comes through in how the candidate describes their experiences. It either—this is one of the ones that tends to move in a sort of polar opposites. You have candidates who everything that are talking about, every project, every life experience, every career step, there are other humans involved. Someone they've learned from, someone they've taken inspiration from, some customer insight that motivated them to take a different direction on a product, some peers that they may have had challenges with but they worked through so you either hear about other humans and their impact on that candidate over and over again, or it is completely absent. And then it's a conversation around codebases or design best practices and product management fundamentals like prioritization and the business model behind it. All those things are really critical, but if that is all you're talking about to the absence of the humans—you're not demonstrating that level of really deep, exceptional empathy that we’re really talking about at H-E-B Digital.

Chandra K. Bricker: I think that also ties into your next characteristic of collaboration. It takes a lot of people to get things done and so if your stories don't involve the other people who helped you get things done ... so then I think that's true of collaboration as well. Is it not?

Mike Georgoff: The way I like to frame up collaboration in terms of, once again that level that we're looking for, is it's actually a deep-seated belief that you can't do anything valuable on your own. You can't do anything valuable alone. There's a lot of things you can do, but if we want people who want to have a real impact on our customers and on our Partners, who want to leave their mark on the world and not just you know to show up for the job because it's a job—I truly believe you can't do that, particularly for the scale we're talking about for a company like H-E-B, you can’t do that unless you collaborate with other people.

Kat Bransom: I think when I think of collaboration, you know in the way you're speaking to it, it's sort of within the walls here at Digital. But I think something that I think of is here at H-E-B we're collaborating with so many other parts of the business too. So I think that's something that comes across.

Is that something that you know going back to the interview question is that something that you can interview for? That you look for maybe that type of experience coming in the door? Maybe someone how has been collaborating outside of the maybe the technical team or collaborating with engineers or something along those lines?

Mike Georgoff: Yeah, absolutely. It's one of the questions I tend to ask is if it doesn't come up organically. And once again, with the best candidates it's already part of the story. They're already telling this because they value collaboration. It’s just how they work. It's just a natural part of the stories they tell in an interview process. But if not or if it's a little unclear, I always ask who was the team you worked with. And then: "Well why was that the team?" "Did you select that team?" "As you look back at it were individuals missing that could have made that more successful?" "Were there people you didn't bring into the process soon enough?" And my hope is that in all of those questions, most of the candidates we talk to will be able to talk about that core squad, maybe product design and engineering that they work with day-to-day, but really the next level is they will talk about collaborating more much more broadly. Whether it's collaboration like the one here with recruiting on how do we actually get the best talent and stay tightly aligned, that [ability] is a critical piece. We do a ton of work with our Finance team, our Legal team, our merchants, our transportation teams, warehouse, manufacturers—you name it. If we're talking about Digital, there's not a single piece of H-E-B that we wouldn't benefit from collaborating with. So absolutely it extends beyond just your Digital peers if you will.

Chandra K. Bricker: So your first three characteristics are very human-driven, very people-focused. Your fourth one, analytical, is usually seen in opposition to the people-focus skillset. You don’t see them as separate, do you?

Mike Georgoff: The analytical piece is a must-have. Because as much as our field is about understanding humans and collaborating with other humans to get things done, that human aspect is a lot of the why, but, if you look at the how, it gets very analytical and very complex very quickly. If we're talking about really challenging at-scale engineering problems, that is a highly analytical, structured field. If you're talking about product management, you're looking at some of the dependencies and the complexities of a certain problem space or certain solution. Even design—there are certain designers out there who are really exceptional at designing an individual product experience but then you ask them to start thinking at Design Systems-level and there are candidates that can really struggle. Systems thinking is a more analytical exercise. It's taking something big and complex and breaking it down into component parts or taking all the little component parts and then looking for patterns and adding them up into something that equates to a system. So it's tough to find together, but the best candidates demonstrate all these.

Although for every candidate, we don't expect anyone to be absolutely top-notch at all these areas. Everyone's gonna have some relative strengths and weaknesses.

Kat Bransom: So without giving away maybe all of our secrets or exactly what our interview process entails (we want there to be some surprises), talk a little bit about case studies and assessments, which we do with our candidates when they come on-site and I think that is one way that we sort of test these analytical skills. Talk a little bit about what that looks like and how a candidate could prepare for that portion of the interview process.

Mike Georgoff: Yeah, all right, well we won't keep a few things secret. But the case study is a really big part of it and the reason for that is it's very very much target of this analytical component. We typically tend to assign a reasonably complex, ambiguous problem. For the case study, by design, there is no right answer and we try to choose challenges where we don't have some predetermined solution at H-E-B. We're not looking for the right answer. What we are looking for is: how do you think? And so it is really around and, everyone has a different process and everyone's analytical process can and should be different, but we are looking at taking that big messy ambiguous thing and providing clear structure to it so that whoever's in that case study panel and listening to you can say: "Okay, I understand how you think, why you thought about it, why you made those decisions, and, it might not be a destination that I personally would have ended up in, but I'm following your line of thought and that's a very clear, logical, rational, coherent way to approach it."

Chandra K. Bricker: Even interesting?

Mike Georgoff: Yes.

Chandra K. Bricker: So we get to our last, and it's my favorite. Our last characteristic that you describe is "gritty." One of the reasons it's my favorite is I believe it's very much part of the H-E-B DNA—this relentless dissatisfaction, this refusal to fail, we'll just keep trying and trying and trying until we get it right. And so I love that gritty is a characteristic you've added. So how would you describe what you're looking for when you say "gritty"?

Mike Georgoff: This is, I think for good reason, has become a somewhat trendy topic in recruiting—generally in talent identification but also very specifically in digital fields. It's because there's a bunch of strong academic research behind it. I love all the stuff Angela Duckworth has done around grit, and there's solid quantitative backing and research behind the fact that this is probably the number one determinant of success for any individual over the long haul, whether you're early in your education in elementary school or all the way through to your professional and personal life. It’s really critical piece.

This actually tends to be the focus of the interviews I do. For every single product and design candidate, before they get an offer, I make it a point to meet with them. And the conversation is largely one around grit. This is really a conversation around either life or career experiences, particularly around setbacks or failures individuals have encountered and how they deal with them. What we're really looking for here is growth. I think that's the key behind this grit idea. It’s one thing to take punches and just keep standing in the same place. It is something entirely different to take punches and then either learn enough so you don't get punched again or keep taking the punches but sort of move forward. We're also looking for that kind of learning, that forward progress and growth.

Kat Bransom: Well Mike, I really appreciate you going over these characteristics with us. I think this is the perfect time if you feel like you've got the skill set of what we're looking for and you meet the characteristics—I think this is a great time to invite you to apply. You're already on our website, and you can find all the information that you need to apply for all of our jobs there.

Chandra K. Bricker: And we wish you the best of luck. Thank you, Kat, and thank you, Mike. Happy to have you on the mics today.

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