44: How to Acquire Talent Via Text Messaging

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Pan Fires, Culture & Other Leadership Lessons from Startup Canvas

Working closely with leadership is crucial for any HR leader, especially when selecting and developing the talent pipeline to achieve successful business outcomes. Aman Brar, Co-founder, CEO and Board Member of Canvas, the world’s first text-based interviewing platform and Kelly Lavin, Canvas’ Chief Talent Officer, talk about launching their start-up. They discuss the Canvas culture, the talent acquisition platform itself and how it’s helping their clients and their own organization acquire talent. Finally, they share advice to HR professionals on making early HR career decisions and achieving success within an organization.
Listen (above) in or watch the video (below) to catch Kyle's latest interview with Aman and Kelly.

Key Learnings From This Episode

  • The Canvas Leadership Team. The leadership team had previously worked together at other companies, including Apparatus, a cloud computing management company that grew from 50 to 1500 employees post-acquisition. Canvas was the solution to talent acquisition challenges they had previously faced. Kelly’s ability to empathize in the talent space made her a natural fit to help get Canvas off the ground and engage with top professionals every day. Aman has spent his career in the technology field. Kelly’s background is in HR, working in several different industries including manufacturing and media before joining Apparatus. She has faced a significant challenge to scale and growing an IT company where skill sets are in very high demand. 
  • Creating the Canvas Culture. Aman: The team, including new team members, should be part of the culture creation process. They recognized that the Apparatus culture worked and was purpose filled for that mission. While some of that culture followed them to Canvas, they are keen to avoid oversubscribing the Canvas culture too early, allowing it instead to evolve on its own. 

    Kelly: As HR professionals, sometimes we make the mistake of saying ‘I am building a culture that is XYZ’, however, the key is to think about those non-negotiable guiding principles that you want everyone to live by such as honesty, no drama, making sure that you are working hard, and ensuring you are a good teammate to all of the other people in your organization. Beyond that, it is really about letting your employees drive the culture, giving them the opportunity to build and create what it is they want. The Canvas culture is a living, breathing thing that they will grow and scale when bringing new people onboard because they want to hear their voices as well. 

  • What Makes Canvas Unique as a Hiring Platform? Aman: Canvas, which launched June 15, 2017, as the world’s first text-based interviewing platform, fits in at the top of the talent acquisition funnel. Clients include global pharma and manufacturing firms including those screening all job types from welders and machinists, physicians and nurses, to software engineers and pilots. The platform is powerful because recruiters can meet 10 times the number of candidates in a day than traditional phone call outreach. It is a better experience that achieves a higher response rate, while giving candidates an opportunity to be thoughtful in interacting with the company. While it is only one lens on talent acquisition and you still need traditional interviewing, it helps make smarter decisions. You can do interesting things with machine learning when capturing data, such as hiding and gender neutralizing candidate screening information for a hiring manager, making the platform more powerful. 
  • How did they come up with the idea of creating Canvas? Aman: They had previously spent 80% of their time talking about talent which allowed them to explore the opportunity to improve the hiring screening process. From experience, they observed candidates under-perform in a phone screen, but turn out to be pretty amazing in onsite interviews and subsequent on-the-job performance. They felt there was a way to be more conscientious and scientific to open up windows of opportunity.
  • What is the vision for Canvas? They are proud of the fact that they are capturing really good data on behalf of their clients so that they can drive smarter hiring decision-making and greater efficiency. Early results reveal huge inroads in reducing unconscious bias in hiring practices. They are also able to push recommended answers to candidates’ texts on standard questions such as benefits, driving efficiencies and allowing recruiters to manage more conversations. 
  • How does Canvas go about acquiring new talent? Kelly: They find talent through Canvas. They are currently recruiting for an engineer, and Kelly liked the package sent by the hiring manager via Canvas (resume and transcript of conversation), giving her insights to the candidate before meeting him. They intend to evolve and deepen the platform, to get to know the candidate – how they communicate in writing and as well as after they have had some time to process, getting to know them in person. They believed in the concept as they see it in action with their client companies.
  • Aman Brar and Kelly Levin Quote on HR Studio PodcastHow do you (Aman and Kelly) interact/check in with each other? Kelly: One of the keys for aspiring HR professionals is to make sure they select an organization and leadership team that understands the value of talent. Aman and Jared Adams (COO and Board Member) are two such leaders that understand the critical nature of finding the right talent and giving them the ability to grow their organization. It can make or break the business. They have the ability to be honest with each other in spite of very different perspectives, to figure out a way to work through differences for the benefit of the company and its employees. This commitment results in many conversations through multi-channels – emails, late night phone calls, etc. 

    Aman: Likens Canvas to a high performing team at a Michelin-star restaurant where the kitchen gets hot and stressful with pan fires. At the end of the night, they want to serve amazing meals to their customers. Pan fires are to be expected, but they come and go quickly. The analogy explains their culture, which is very direct, friendly with a high degree of trust – they talk about real issues. And they have fun.

  • Recommended resources. Kelly listens to books and follows blogs such as HR Capitalist because of its unique perspective on talent. Outside of HR, she listens to the SaaStr Podcast to grow her knowledge of ‘startup’ life. She recommends that HR professionals diversify their listening and reading to stay on top of trends in their industry. Aman recommends the app Headspace, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, and Psychology of Influence. They also discuss what they can learn from clients, investors, and their broader network.
  • Advice to the next level of HR leaders. Aman: Take even more risk than you are thinking about taking. Think about the who, not the what. Don’t make a salary decision that’s within a few thousand dollars. Think instead about who you are going to work for, what you are going to learn. 

    Kelly: As you are assessing your early career positions, optimize less for what you are making and optimize more for how you are going to grow and what you are going to learn. Put yourself into positions where you are going to stretch yourself. Also, make sure you are building really strong relationships with leaders in your organization to understand all of the nuances of your business and what you need to do to help the organization. We spend a lot of time thinking about things from our own perspective to prescribe what we think is best without listening first. Early on, HR professionals should ask a lot of questions and do a lot of lifting and learning to make sure they are understanding what makes their business tick and what is keeping their leaders up at night so that they can understand what is needed from an HR and talent perspective.

Recommended Reading and References From this Episode

To Follow Canvas, Aman, and Kelly

Aman Brar & Kelly Lavin HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
Aman Brar & Kelly Lavin HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
Tuesday, December 19, 2017 - 8:00am
Talent Acquisition & Assessment
Kyle O'Connor
Aman Brar and Kelly Lavin
HR Studio Podcast