When Jeremy Johnson, the co-founder and CEO of Andela, sat down with our investing partner Rob Veres, their wide-ranging conversation covered everything from the formation of the startup and their critical first year pivot to recommendations for making better hires and managing remote workforces. Jeremy also discussed the balancing act of running a mission-driven organization with a focus on client satisfaction.
Listen to the full episode below or read on for three recommendations from Jeremy on transforming the way you hire to create groundbreaking teams.
Change the way you identify talent
As humans, we are fundamentally flawed in our approach to sizing up situations and people: we all have biases drawn from our preconceived notions and experiences. This is the perspective that Jeremy and the Andela team aimed to overcome when they began evaluating some of the best developers in Africa to place with tech giants across the globe.
“The problem with the human component, is that we are hopelessly biased, and we generally make assessments on ability before an interviewee even opens their mouth.”
Jeremy suggests starting by drilling down to the fundamentals of hiring and reorienting your interviewing around a skills-based approach in order to take the human component out of hiring. “The problem with the human component,” Jeremy explains, “is that we are hopelessly biased, and we generally make assessments on ability before an interviewee even opens their mouth. The limitations are obvious, but you can easily start to understand how that creates systemic challenges for finding the right person for a job while also ignoring many extraordinary people who may not reflect your conception of what an engineer looks like but would be a phenomenal team member.” Instead, Jeremy suggests outlining five things you need someone in the role to be able to achieve and rating applicants on how they would do those individual things, as opposed to whether or not you think they’re the right person for it.
Look for brilliance worldwide and employ distributed teams
Andela was built around the core tenet that brilliance is equally distributed but opportunity is not, so it’s no surprise that the company’s network leverages talent across the African continent to better serve companies everywhere. That global approach can work for your startup as well. Even if you just begin by expanding your talent search beyond your immediate local borders, the wider scope of talent you’ll pull from will enable you to build better teams. But in order to truly thrive with a distributed or remote workforce, your company must take the right approach to managing. Jeremy suggests starting with an in-person onboarding before launching an employee remotely, noting that “being in-person is a little bit like bowling with bumpers. It doesn’t make you better as a manager, but it helps you avoid stupid mistakes.” However, once your employee is set up, you should be able to manage the process and communication in a way that enables everyone to know what’s going on no matter where they are physically located.
Jeremy says that developers will continue to strive for freedom and flexibility in their work lives. “At this point, 12 percent of developers in the US are entirely distributed. About a third of developers work from home at least one day a month. This number is continuing to grow over time, and it’s pretty simple why — it’s because as you’re better able to quantify the output of a developer, you care more about getting the best person than you do about where they happen to be located. And as you care more about getting the best person, it starts to make sense to open your search radius from 20 miles around your office to the entire world.”
“As you’re better able to quantify the output of a developer, you care more about getting the best person than you do about where they happen to be located.”
Diversity makes better products and companies
Diversity is a hot topic in Silicon Valley, but the core benefits of a diverse workforce are better teams, better products, and more successful companies. A diverse team can better build products for a deep, wide-ranging customer base. Jeremy says, “What matters is bringing different people with different backgrounds together to try and solve problems.” Andela is a benefactor of this kind of diversity. Its founding team is from all over the world. Jeremy explains, “Look at our founding team: two Nigerians, a Cameroonian, a Canadian, and two Americans. Wildly different people from wildly different backgrounds, but none of us would have been able to individually build this company on our own. By coming together to think of this as a problem that has lots of different facets, we’ve been able in three years to grow to more than five hundred people. We’re one of the fastest growing companies anywhere related to what we’re doing in the world. That’s not an accident. It’s a combination of different people coming together and working toward the same goal.”
“If you’re trying to come up with creative solutions, being able to see the world from different vantage points is a really useful thing. Diverse teams always win.”
Andela is also focused on bringing together a diverse global workforce that is founded on gender equality. Jeremy explains that if “you look at men and women in Andela’s program, there’s no difference in outcomes or ability whatsoever. And yes, we focus on gender equality because we think it’s the right thing to do. But that’s not why gender diversity makes teams successful. The reason why diversity benefits a team is the exact same reason that the single most effective way that you can improve the performance of a Fortune 500 is by putting more women on the board.” As Jeremy points out, “If you’re trying to come up with creative solutions, being able to see the world from different vantage points is a really useful thing. Diverse teams always win.”
By shifting the lens by which your startup hires, manages distributed teams, and leans into a diverse workforce, you’ll begin to drive ahead of the competition, charting a new course that is unbound by decades-old methodology and process. It’s this approach that has made Andela so successful and its clients so happy. And it’s that mix of mission and customer satisfaction that is a balancing act they welcome. Jeremy says, “Companies don’t work with us because they care about building the next generation of tech leaders around the world. That’s not what they’re trying to do. They have their own mission to solve. And their mission is really important too. We get to fulfill ours by ensuring that they’re successful at theirs. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”
To learn more about Andela, visit www.Andela.com. Follow Jeremy on Twitter at @jeremyj, and subscribe to Founder’s Corner podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Overcast to hear the full episode and more insights from today’s startup leaders.
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