Diversity can drive long-term continuity across your team. As time continues to march forward and today’s workforce continues to age, we are seeing new faces among Generation Z beginning to join the workforce. Within the next two years, 50% of the workforce is expected to consist of millennials. As you plan your organization for long-term growth, it’s important to consider the changing demographics over time and build a culture that accepts and empowers team members of all backgrounds and age cohorts, so that you can continue to productively hire and retain team members, not just today, but 5–10 years from now.
As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Kieran.
Michael Kieran is Tray.io’s Head of Talent, leading the charge to grow the automation leader’s world-class team. Previously, he headed up recruiting for information security leader Duo, scaling the company’s team 10x while building a new C-suite and new generation of V-level hires. He believes strongly that people are a company’s greatest asset and greatest competitive advantage.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?
My name is Michael Kieran, and while I’m an Ottawa native, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the fastest-growing organizations across the globe to scale their teams. I’d probably describe myself as a serial hobbyist with a mastery complex. I always find myself looking for a new skill I can spend a lot of time and effort on to develop and add to my repertoire. I’m usually always partway through the process of getting better at something.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
I think one of the things that’s most interesting about recruiting, or about working with people in general, is how there are so many different ways things can go. The possibilities really are infinite, not just for unusual things to happen, but also for important lessons to come to the surface.
For example, early in my career, I was in a role selling corporate hospitality packages to Fortune 1000 companies for major sporting events. I had a client call booked with an executive at a battery-manufacturing company to discuss a six-figure package to the Masters Tournament.
I called my contact and asked, “So, how’s the morning finding you?” He calmly replied, “It’s OK, just busy. Give me a call later.” Shortly afterwards, I learned that “busy” meant that a manufacturing plant had literally exploded, and my executive contact had been spending his morning caring for the families of his team members, but was still able to be “in the zone” for work.
Afterwards, I was able to get to know this executive and become personal friends. He taught me a lot about how great leaders have the ability to not carry what’s around them into the next meeting — about how they can stay present in the moment and focus on the task at hand.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
One of the most important lessons for me has always been about approaching tough decisions from a position of doing what’s right for everyone, instead of just doing what would be easiest in the moment.
When I find myself facing a tough call, I think about three very important and inspiring people I’ve known: my grandad, Dug Song (my former CEO at Duo), and Black Venture Institute founder Leyla Seka. All people I’ve seen consistently take the high road even when making the toughest decisions. Obviously, they’re all very different people, but their common thread has always been finding the right thing to do. It’s about coming from a place that’s high on ethics and morals, rather than focusing on short-term gain.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I would say Dug Song, who is a co-founder of Duo and one of the first people who really “gave me the ball,” so to speak, in being a talent leader. The goal in working with him was always about finding leaders we’d all want to work with.
Dug taught me a lot when it comes to diversity. Duo was the first place I myself was able to be 100% authentic and true to myself, while still being challenged and stimulated intellectually. (Usually, you tend to have to compromise one at least one of those things.) It was at Duo that I realized the kind of workplace I wanted to help build. Even though I was routinely in high-stakes conversations, negotiating equity with public companies and some of the most in-demand executives in the business, I did it all as myself, without having to pretend to be someone else.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’d like to think Tray.io stands out because we’re a mission-driven company, with a mission that comes straight from the top and is reinforced every day across our team, culture, and products. Our company offers a sophisticated software product called the Tray Platform — a low-code automation platform that gives anyone the power to integrate their software tools and automate pretty much any important process.
There’s a core belief held by our founders — and everyone else at Tray.io — that brought about our product, our company, and our team, which is that people have amazing potential. As our founder and CEO, Rich Waldron, puts it, it’s important for all of us to be able to do “our best work” — and that is to realize our full potential. Part of the reason we built a general workflow automation platform was to give any modern worker the power to automate repetitive, time-consuming manual work and focus on the most valuable strategic projects available.
To put it another way: Why would a company invest a significant amount of time and resources into hiring an incredibly talented and capable team member, only to sit that person down in front of a pile of manual spreadsheet work? Frankly, companies that hire the smartest candidates in the world to do hours of menial labor because they don’t have a better way to manage their processes are doing it wrong. Your team will get the most value from new team members who are working at their full potential on the highest-priority projects they can join, without the distractions of repetitive tasks. And when you create a work environment and culture built on empowering team members to realize their potential, your new candidates will also be more engaged, learn more, and will be more likely to stick around. We understand that it’s a big world out there with many opportunities, but our talent team’s mission is to make Tray.io not just a great place to work, but also “a great place to be from.”
Our regard for our team members’ potential (and their valuable time) is also reflected in the way we hire, which is a holistic process that combines traditional talent scouting with candidate experience management and top-of-funnel talent marketing. We have only the deepest respect for our team members and for anyone we’re fortunate enough to speak to as a candidate. When our candidates — even the ones that end up not accepting our offers — take a moment to share what a positive experience they had during the hiring process, we know we’re doing something right.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
As hinted at above, we’ve launched a new talent marketing function. Speaking from a purely strategic standpoint, our goal is to engage candidates further up the funnel and get on their radar earlier, so that if and when they decide they’re ready to start looking for a new opportunity, Tray.io is more likely to be a top-of-mind choice.
However, talent marketing for us is also about expanding our storytelling with folks outside of the company. As part of our approach, we’re building out an editorial calendar with new information, videos, and other materials we post to our social media channels to share what it feels like to work at Tray.io. As Dr. Maya Angelou said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Additionally, we’re also expanding our efforts into working with a variety of community-based groups to provide no-strings-attached mentorship to young professionals in a variety of fields. Obviously, it’s a good way for us to get our name out there, but also it’s extremely rewarding to be able to give back to the community and help prepare the next generation for the challenges ahead.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One story that comes to mind is about the basketball team at my high school. I attended Woodroffe High School in Ottawa and, when I was a young athlete, my goal was to win a city championship and be the best player in the city. Unfortunately, we had some injuries and issues that kept us from championship gold.
However, 20 years later, I reconnected with my coach, who had since become the principal. I decided to coach basketball for grades 9–12. At the time, the team consisted entirely of at-risk youth who were unlikely to finish high school. As coach, I made it my goal to help develop these young people and impart what I thought were important values around work ethic, collaboration, and doing the right thing.
For three years in a row, we made it to the semifinals for the city championships. For three years in a row, we got knocked out of the running. In the fourth year, and maybe this isn’t unlike the plot of a Disney movie, we won the city championship in an extremely high-pressure situation. It was a great experience watching the young people I’d worked with grow up and achieve their goals. Both I and my former coach felt great about passing along that important lesson to someone else — no matter who you are or where you’re from, if you can outwork everyone else, you can accomplish things that seem impossible.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Diverse hires add diverse perspectives overall. Let’s get the most obvious point out of the way. A company founded by a group of people who all belong to the same cultural group, all went to the same school, and all came from the same town — and exclusively hires people with the exact same background — may not have a particularly broad or comprehensive perspective on the market they serve, or the challenges they may face in the future.
2. Diverse hires are more likely to understand unmet needs in underserved areas. Traditional talent practices focus on hiring with a myopic focus exclusively on merit, followed by a compensation arms race to secure the best candidates. In hiring, and in just about any other discipline, having teammates with more-diverse perspectives means having team members who can spot opportunities in less-represented places. From a sales perspective, a more-diverse team can spot hidden opportunities in under-leveraged markets. From a talent perspective, a more-diverse team can track down a wider range of suitable candidates for any given position, giving you more opportunities and more likelihood of hiring a strong fit.
3. Diverse leadership can drive more-robust execution. Which team is more likely to successfully engineer, launch, and grow new projects? Which team is more likely to possess the varied experience to successfully identify potential pitfalls prior to launch, and come up with strategies to ensure the project remains successful post-launch? A team with diverse backgrounds and experiences that has worked in a greater variety of settings and experienced a greater variety of mishaps? Or a team with largely homogenous backgrounds and experiences that has rarely left its own comfort zone?
4. Diverse mentors offer more-comprehensive training. Mentorship is valuable in any context, but is limited by the experience of your mentors. A leadership team with diverse backgrounds is significantly more likely to have had a greater variety of valuable experiences that the rest of your organization can learn from, apply, and use to outmaneuver less-diverse competitors.
5. Diversity can drive long-term continuity across your team. As time continues to march forward and today’s workforce continues to age, we are seeing new faces among Generation Z beginning to join the workforce. Within the next two years, 50% of the workforce is expected to consist of millennials. As you plan your organization for long-term growth, it’s important to consider the changing demographics over time and build a culture that accepts and empowers team members of all backgrounds and age cohorts, so that you can continue to productively hire and retain team members, not just today, but 5–10 years from now.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?
Understand that today’s workforce is changing and we are a long way from settling into a new norm. For example, the pandemic has significantly affected the general public’s perception about what’s “normal” regarding returning to work vs. staying remote. Major tech firms such as Twitter, Dropbox, and Facebook have all mandated that employees can work from home indefinitely. For leaders, it’s important to be mindful of these developing expectations among their team members. For talent leaders, it’s important to be empathetic and understanding about candidates’ at-home experience.
What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?
Technical proficiency is very important, but managing a large team — and growing it into an even larger team — requires leaders to be forward-looking. I strongly advise not getting hung up on past performance, which is an important indicator, but not always a perfect indicator of whether a team member will thrive in your organization. When hiring, it’s important to be farsighted in your decision making, make decisions as though it were 24 months (or more) from now. Focus not just on past accomplishments, but also on future potential.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
I’d have to say Serena Williams. She’s demonstrated time and time again that she can shift into a gear where she’s mentally stronger than everybody else in the room. I have an enormous amount of respect for her resilience and work ethic, and how she’s not only changed the game of tennis, but changed the way young girls that look like her can believe they can do anything.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/karwani/. I’m always looking for new ideas to up our game.
Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.
Thanks very much for the opportunity.