5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team, Ray Bixler CEO of SkillSurvey
Being vulnerable is also important. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s important to share the mistakes you’ve made with others so that they know you understand, “mistakes happen.” It’s also important to share how you overcame those mistakes, made corrections, and what lessons you learned throughout to demonstrate that you have the ability to course correct when necessary.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ray Bixler, the president and CEO of SkillSurvey, an online reference checking technology firm that harnesses the power of references to help organizations more effectively recruit, hire, retain and identify talent. He’s a recognized thought leader in the world of hiring, talent assessments and job seeking with over 25 years of human resources and career development executive experience. Ray is a careers columnist for U.S. News & World Report and writes and speaks frequently on the topic of hiring and how to find employees who are “great fits” for organizations of all types.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’ve had a broad range of experiences throughout my career that have all contributed to bringing me into my role today at SkillSurvey. After attending Drexel University, I spent a few years as a manager leading three different restaurant companies with teams as large as 100 people. I learned how to motivate and lead people and teams during this experience.
These few years also taught me that I wanted something more than what the restaurant industry gave me. So I went back to school at night for several years while helping an entrepreneur open up a new computer reseller software and hardware business. After almost four years helping scale this business into a multimillion dollar company, I departed to take another entrepreneurial position with one of our clients.
This early-stage company asked me to build and lead their first-ever sales force, selling software to doctor’s offices throughout the country. During this four year stint, we grew the client base from just a few dozen to close to 1,000 practices.
After then spending about a decade in leadership roles in the telecom space, I realized I was increasingly fascinated by career, hiring and leadership issues, so I pivoted into the human resources sector, taking a leadership position at Caliper, an employee assessment provider. While there, I learned the value of helping companies find, retain and improve their employees. This experience led me to my current role as SkillSurvey CEO, where I have been for close to 12 years.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
By actively listening to our clients, we were able to create both a new product and a new line of business.
Almost all of our clients like to communicate with their job candidates’ references after they’ve completed reference checks. This led us to build a new product called Source, which allows our clients to have a very private conversation with references in ways that can lead to a reference also becoming an employee.
As for our new line of business, several years ago we were approached by two healthcare clients who asked us to build a product that would enable them to check healthcare providers’ credentials more efficiently. This process is required by law and is traditionally very time-consuming and difficult, but must happen before providers are allowed to treat and care for patients. After investigating the market and need, we decided to launch a new line of business that helps our healthcare clients verify and validate applicant credentials.
Neither of these offerings were in our company’s original mission, but both have been very successful in broadening and strengthening the business.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
Meetings. I am aware that too many meetings can negatively impact a team’s performance, yet I have learned that getting an entire team together at least once a week for 90–120 minutes to update each other on the top issues of the day, as well as holding quarterly two-day off sites together to discuss strategy, is very important. These meetings keep everyone informed, give everyone the chance to offer an opinion, keep everyone focused and aligned, and reduce the number of surprises and challenges. None of this is easy and differing points-of-view can lead to challenging situations, but in the end, these meetings do work because everyone at least feels they directionally know where the business is headed.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
We are not a global company, but we do have leaders and people dispersed throughout the country. The top challenge is keeping the flow of conversation and communication intact and current. When people are not in the same location, urgent issues may sometimes take longer to correct. Yes, technologies like email, texting, Skype and others can help, but in the end, I still find that the best way to communicate is in person. This is why I require the leaders who live in other locations to travel to our office at least twice each month so that they can meet with me as well as their peers in person.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Employees want their opinions to be taken seriously even if not implemented and they want transparency from their leaders. Employees also want a clear vision that they can believe in. They want to understand how their job is going to improve something. Empathy, candor, clarity — these are necessary attributes required to lead people today.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
People want to be taken seriously, trusted, and have an opportunity to make a difference. I believe most people want to be given substantive tasks that not only have the chance to improve their company’s success, but also that improve their abilities. Offering projects to people that allow them to “pad their resumes and profiles” doesn’t mean you want them to seek employment elsewhere. It means you’re giving them opportunities to experience new things and grow their skill set.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
I believe the best leaders and managers must succeed in these five areas:
1) Share the successes. Make sure to thank and congratulate those who helped you reach a goal.
2) Be authentically humble. Leading with humility inspires people to do the same.
3) Being vulnerable is also important. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s important to share the mistakes you’ve made with others so that they know you understand, “mistakes happen.” It’s also important to share how you overcame those mistakes, made corrections, and what lessons you learned throughout to demonstrate that you have the ability to course correct when necessary.
4) The ability to listen and empathize. People don’t just want to be heard, they want to know that you understand their position. This does not mean that you have to always agree, but as long as someone feels heard and respects your feedback, they will continue to work hard for you.
5) Have fun. It’s important to make the workplace an enjoyable place to work, where people can have fun and enjoy each other’s company.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
SkillSurvey is on this mission now, which is to help companies find employees who are most likely to succeed at work and helping people find their next job where they can be most successful. We want SkillSurvey’s technology to put more people to work not just at any job, but one where they can thrive and grow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The Golden Rule. Treat others as you would want them to treat you. This is not always easy to follow, especially when I am challenged in ways that can bring out my worst attributes, but I do always try to strive for this goal. When I am successful following this rule, I find that I am more at peace with myself and my decisions, and it removes stress from my life.