Purpose isn't just for inspiration...
Douglas Atkin, fmr Head of Global Airbnb Community continues his Cult Brand Master Class in helping companies understand how to use your purpose to recruit, review, and reject everyone... Even customers.
Douglas shares how companies Core Values won’t be lived, and may even fade away, if organizations don’t select people who inherently share those values. As the world hopes to turn the corner on COVID heading into 2021, these lessons are invaluable.
Thanks to our friends at Symphony Talent for supporting the Cult Brands Series of podcasts.
This podcast is a companion to Douglas' series authored entitled Purpose Must Come First on Medium.
PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION sponsored by:
Hide your kids! Lock the doors! You're listening to HRS most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry, right where it hurts! Complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark, buckle up boys and girls, it's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.
All right! Douggie Fresh
What's up kids?
It's that time!
Guess who we have today? Joel?
Oh, I don't know. It's a return guest is the rumor that I've heard everybody who's out there.
We have Douglas Atkin who we're going to be talking about coal brand and recruitment. That's right. Kids. If you don't know Douglas as work well, he's a Cult Brand expert. Former global Head of Cmmunity at Airbnb held a position as Partner and Chief Community Officer at meetup.com and literally always the smartest, coolest dude in the room.
You guys, you guys...
Chad (1m 12s):
Did I mention that Douglas actually authored the book Culting of Brands?
Joel (1m 12s):
He wrote the book
Chad (1m 12s):
He wrote the book!
Joel (1m 12s):
When they say that he wrote a book. He really wrote the book everybody.
Chad (1m 12s):
But he didn't just write the book. He created an entire industry and their events. I mean, it's just, it's crazy. But today we're at, this is the sixth installment of Douglas's "How to Live your Purpose" series a, which are intended to be a compliment to his writing over on Medium, and most importantly, focused on how to become and stay a Colt brand.
Chad (1m 45s):
Welcome back, Douglas, how you feeling, man?
Joel (1m 45s):
What's up Douglas?
Douglas (1m 45s):
Pretty good. There's lots of production in my garden.
Chad (1m 45s):
Today's show is centered on use it to recruit, review, reject everybody...
Joel (1m 45s):
Chad (1m 45s):
even customers. So right out of the gate, as we talk about this Douglas, the hardest thing for any company to do is reject talent that they feel is perfect for them, but not might not be perfect for their company. Can you tell us a little bit about how Airbnb had this brand had this focus, had all these individuals who were doing culture slash interviewing and grading.
Chad (2m 17s):
How, how did that actually affect hiring managers?
Joel (2m 17s):
And affect a candidate that you wanted?
Douglas (2m 17s):
Yeah, right, right, exactly. So, so I mean, that happens to all of us, you know, here... There, I was being a huge champion of the core values and the purpose and all of that. And then I found out that someone I desperately needed a, you know, as global head of community, one of my roles was we, we hired some grassroots organizers from the Obama campaign that had written the written playbook, basically on grassroots organizing. Because we were having to deal with something that most companies is never have to deal with. Which is that, we helped launched a new economy for peer to peer or sharing economy, but it was bumping up against old laws that didn't recognize this new form of commerce. New laws that were different in each of the 34,000 cities in which we operated. And so that meant most of our hosts were illegal, according to these old laws. So we were trying to change laws, but we had no lobbyists at the time we had, no, we had one lobbyist actually, now remember for the whole world.
Douglas (3m 32s):
It was insane. 34,000 cities we had, I know we had one lawyer. We had, we had no money really. I mean, whereas the hotels, for example, in many of these cities who were getting to see us as a threat, had oodles of money for lobbying, they'd been doing it for decades and decades in all of the cities, all over the world. So to cut a long story short, I said, the only way we can deal with this is we don't have money, power, but we do have people power. We do have people who really like Airbnb, or this is in 2012, 2013, 2014. So I said, but we need to train them to go and talk to their elected representatives and make their case about how they should be legalized.
Douglas (4m 3s):
And so I did that by hiring these grassroots organizers. Anyway, I had found this brilliant woman and I really wanted to kind of parachute her into this particular city that was, was blowing up, you know, with, with threats of shutdown of Airbnb and everything else. So I'm really needed her, but the way Airbnb ensures that there is that the people who join Airbnb share the same values that everyone else shares within Airbnb is they do these, what we call core values or culture interviews.
Douglas (4m 42s):
So you may have your, just like any other company, six to eight to 10 interviews with people who are in your discipline. Say you're an engineer or a marketing person, you may have your be interviewed by, by engineers or at, in the company to see if you're good at your job. But then unlike most companies, you get two interviews, two separate people who are interviewing you to see if you will be a culture fit. And it's a very specific interview where certain things need to be ticked off where you need to display as the candidate, things you've done in your life, that show that you share the same values. And the values are very, everyone can see what the values are, their BNB, their champion, the mission, and be a host and be an entrepreneur, cereal entrepreneur. You have to prove those things. Now, the important thing is those culture or core values interviewers have veto power. As in this case, it could be the best candidate in the world, but if they fail the culture or core values interviews, they're not hired. So, so I'm ashamed to say that when I heard she failed the core values interviews, I was, you know, swearing and rampaging about I'm afraid.
Joel (4m 42s):
Douglas (4m 42s):
No, I know that it was exactly the right thing to do, you know, but I'm at as many other managers have been, you know, sort of like going, Oh, I need this person right now. I need them yesterday. What am I going to do? Of course, I very quickly became resigned and then happily compliant because I knew more than, you know, more than most. But if you hire someone who does not fit, who don't share the same values, short term, you may solve the problem that you need them to fix. The longer term they'll create in worst problems.
Chad (4m 42s):
Douglas (4m 42s):
They'll be, you know, they'll either not espouse the values, which is bad enough or they'll actively work against them and create cynicism and toxic culture.
Douglas (6m 31s):
And so they will be, you know, a really bad, long term. So I, in the end, you know, we figured it out. We figured out something else. I managed to find someone else to do the job in the short term. And of course I was happily, happily compliant, but, but that's the way Airbnb does it. So there's this gate, if you like that is there that makes sure that people who come into the company and this includes everyone, you know, this includes the leaders of, of whole businesses and everything else. They have to have these culture or core values interviews.
Douglas (7m 1s):
And there are, there are, there are people you have to apply to be a core values interviewer if you're already at Airbnb. And then you're given a really good training and about 10% of the employees are across all disciplines and 10 years and locations and things are qualified to be these culture interviewers.
Joel (7m 20s):
Is 10% planned or is it just, it just happens to be 10%.
Douglas (7m 23s):
It just happens to be 10%. There's about 500 at the moment. I'm sorry, my bigger was sneezing. This whole process, these core values, interviews and interview as happened in 2012, when the three founders realized that, they couldn't interview everyone themselves, anymore. This is when the company was about 180 people, I guess, 200 people, something like that. They no longer have the time or the capacity to interview everyone. And, and that's what the large part of what they did was interviewing for cultural fit, not just the skill.
Douglas (7m 56s):
There's no way Brian would be able to assess an engineer skill, but he certainly can assess whether they would be a cultural fit or not. So, so that's when they set it up in 2012, they, they created the core values and then they created the core values interviewers, to make sure that they recruited people who cert those, those values. But Airbnb uses the purpose and core values to recruit everyone into the company, but that also applies to, to reviewing. So once you're in the company and you're working, you know, reviews happen to most people who work, normally reviews are about what you achieved, what you did, you know, what impact you made.
Douglas (8m 35s):
And that's true at Airbnb, but there is an equal amount of emphasis given onto not just what you did, but "how" you did it. The "how": being did you do all these wonderful things that Airbnb, while living the core values and making sure the purpose is. Can you hear that?
Chad (8m 35s):
Joel (8m 59s):
Is that the dog?
Chad (8m 59s):
Lucky, the beagle is sneezing.
Douglas (8m 59s):
Lucky what's going on?
Chad (8m 59s):
Douglas (8m 59s):
Lucky, you're interrupting my podcast. Oh my God. Okay. I'm going to have to, do you want to pause and I'll figure it out?
Joel (9m 12s):
This is awesome! Welcome to 2020 everybody.
Chad (9m 20s):
Yeah, this is good. Let her sneeze. This is just real life.
Douglas (9m 20s):
Okay. Good. Ok, Anyway, Right? Yeah. So it doesn't, so there's this gauge to make sure that people who come in and share the core values and buy into and live model live the, the purpose. But also while they're there, they, you, you know, you don't let up on that. There's this review system and the review system measures, not just the what, but also the "how." It measures what you did and how about you to that, but also how you did it, how you, whether you did these amazing things, whilst living the core values and, and, and champion the mission and they're given equal power.
Douglas (9m 55s):
So, you know, you, you, if you've achieved a huge amount, but you didn't do it by the core values, that's a fireable offense and you'll be given a warning and, you know, and help to, to try and do that better. But if it continues, then no matter how good an engineer you are or a marketer, you are you'll end up leaving.
Chad (10m 13s):
It seems fairly subjective though. I mean, how do you, how do you actually police that and enforce that without some people feeling like, you know, they are being done wrong?
Douglas (10m 24s):
Yeah. And does, does veto power ever go to anyone's head? Is anyone monitoring them or checks and balances in place? Yes, ther are, they're always are, all right. So if there's any dispute about it, then, you know, then it'll be discussed with their peers or with a hiring manager or, you know, all these kinds of things. But, and also in terms of reviews, I mean, the reviews are sort of three 60 reviews and they're very specific. You know, you have to give evidence for things, not just about evidence for what you do, but also evidence for whether you did or didn't do something according to the core values.
Douglas (10m 55s):
So it's all evidence-based. So that's recruiting and reviewing and rejecting. And this also applies to companies in Airbnb. Let's grow and, and has acquired some companies over the past few years. And the mergers and acquisitions team has also been trained to assess a perspective company's purpose values and whether they are a good fit with Airbnb's. Cause I'm sure you guys know, in HR, some of the worst things to happen to a culture is if there's a merger or an acquisition where there's no cultural fit.
Douglas (11m 25s):
It could destroy everything. The process of, of merging in the, or acquiring a company is very intense. There's a lot of contact generally, or should be a lot of contact, between the acquiree and the acquired. And so you could see in their practices and how they do things, whether they that is sort of aligns with your core values or not. But also the senior leadership of the company to be acquired as given core values interviews, obviously, cause they're disproportionately influential and at least I'm at least, one candidate in the past few years has been rejected, not on the basis of what, of the business, but on the basis that they, they were not a good fit with our purpose and values.
Joel (12m 4s):
Really surprised Douglas to read in your, in your posts that over a million hosts. So even the people who are renting Airbnbs have to have to take a pledge, essentially when they do, over a million is surprising. But there's also, I guess, a story to that it was put in place later because there was an incident with either racism or a host, a wouldn't accept someone on, on other reasons.
Douglas (12m 29s):
We apply the use your purpose and core values to recruit review and reject customers too. And this is particularly important for Airbnb, because especially with our hosts, there are about 5 million hosts. They're the ones who deliver the service basically not us. I mean, we do to some degree, but it's mainly the hosts who are delivering this. The mission of create a world where anyone can belong anywhere. And so we're very closely aligned, hosts and Airbnb, you know, our interests always be virtually the same.
Douglas (12m 59s):
And so we, Joe Gabby and I, had always talked about acquiring, creating some kinds of gates, similar gates to the one we have from potential employees, for hosts and guests, not just hosts but hosts and guest that made those show that they were: they were genuinely part of this community that bought into this idea of, you know, being a local, anywhere in the world and welcoming and hosting people and all that stuff. So we always wanted to do it. We just never got around to it. And then an event happened, which I'm sure people can remember when some guests were saying that some hosts they felt were, were rejecting them on the basis of race, which was a complete nightmare. I mean, and again, that's something we should have been dealt with before, but certainly one that, that basically accelerated this idea that we'd been playing with immediate action.
Douglas (13m 40s):
And now on the join page, I'm just looking at it here where you, you know, where you've done your listing or you've done your profile as a guest and you have to accept or decline the terms of service, but you also have to accept or decline this. It says "Before you join, our mission is to build a trusted community where anyone can belong anywhere. To ensure this. We're asking you to accept our terms of service and make a commitment to respect everyone on Airbnb."
Douglas (14m 11s):
And then there's this thing called the Airbnb community commitment. "I agree to treat everyone in there in the Airbnb community, regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, skin, color, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age with respect and without judgment or bias." And then you have to accept or decline.
Joel (14m 11s):
And over a million declined?
Douglas (14m 11s):
And over a million declined, which meant that, which is, which is great because you don't have those people on your platform that you don't want.
Chad (14m 11s):
But it's sad.
Douglas (14m 49s):
It's a bit sad, that there are a million people that, you know, basically. So it's real in other words, so basically what we are turning away customers because they do not buy into our purpose and our values. So that's like a, it's a real thing. That's a million potential customers, probably more now, cause that was an old data point of about year or two years old. It was made even more clear where we stood on this because our glorious President Trump, did as he does, you know, did this whole banning people from certain countries from visiting the United States and so on and so on.
Douglas (15m 27s):
So I hastily put together, there was an ad in the super super bowl called "We accept" that was basically about, we accept everyone and social America. And, and then the New York times wrote about this ad and about the whole, this whole initiative. And it says I'm quoting the New York times now "in a memo to employees, after the executive order from Trump, Airbnb's chief executive Brian Chesky was more explicit about his opposition. This is a policy I profoundly disagree with and it is a direct obstacle to our mission at Airbnb, our mission being anyone can belong anywhere. Mr. Chesky wrote on January 29th, that weekend, the company began to provide free and subsidized temporary housing for people who have been affected by the immigration restrictions."
Douglas (16m 1s):
So that's when we, and our hosts by this program called Open Homes, gave free lodging for people who, who was very struck by this restriction. So that, that was a very public and un-compromising commitment to our purpose, you know, going against government policy essentially. And Brian has received death threats.
Joel (16m 31s):
Douglas (16m 31s):
Symphony Talent (16m 35s):
We'll get back to the interview in a minute. Building a Cult Brand is not easy, which is why you need friends. Like Roopesh Nair CEO of Symphony Talent on your side. Okay Roopesh, hiring companies, can't hire diverse candidates. If diverse candidates aren't applying for their jobs. What should hiring companies do differently to attract a more diverse candidate? So for diversity, specifically, companies should think about why do they want diversity in their organization and ensure that they are bringing that into the conversations about hiring diverse candidates.
Symphony Talent (17m 13s):
Because that's how they can be genuine about diversity, because just checking a box saying, I want to be hiring diverse candidates is not going to help. So the first thing is thinking about why do you want diversity? What are the different groups you're are targeting as you think about diversity and then bringing those messages, which basically is going to resonate to that particular group of diverse candidates, into your engagement, whether it is kind of, as you reach out in the mass media and target specific diverse groups. As you basically nurture these groups, once they have connection with you is very important. Because to your point, you won't get a diverse candidate till you get in front of a candidate. And the only way you can do that is by figuring out what is the connection point between you and the diverse candidate. And it is very, very easy to kind of cast a net saying, I want diverse candidate, but the truth is there are many, many groups of that diverse candidate and you need to be really clear on who exactly are you targeting. Let Symphony Talent help activate your brand and keep relationships at the heart of your talent strategy for more information, visit symphonytalent.com.
Chad (16m 59s):
Back to the Cult Brand. I mean really understanding what a cult brand is. And w we talk about it on the podcast all the time, where companies say that they're committing to something and that they have a purpose, but that's just all lip service. This is specifically saying, here's our purpose, we're abiding by our purpose. And we're showing you a million people declined to actually working with us because they didn't believe in our purpose and guess what?
Chad (17m 29s):
Douglas (18m 48s):
Basically. Yes, it's true. So it's what I'm saying is that when you operationalize your purpose, it suddenly gets, you have to make it real. That means that the decisions will be made, that often in the short term will hurt growth or profits, revenue, whatever. In the longterm though, you're doing it for the longterm, because you think of the long term, you will definitely make that revenue and profit back in a multiple. Because your will be appealing to those people who do buy into your mission and there'll be enough of them to make it all worthwhile.
Chad (18m 48s):
The only way that you get true believers, right?
Douglas (18m 48s):
Or maybe you get true believers. So this is true by the way of any community. It doesn't matter whether you're talking about a church, a religion, a political party, a, you know, a club or whatever it is that every community basically is a group of people who share something in common. And the strongest communities and I learned and saw this when I worked at meetup.com. Meetup.com was about getting people online, to get them offline, to meet other people who shared their passions and interests.
Douglas (20m 1s):
That could be pugs.
Joel (20m 1s):
Douglas (20m 1s):
It could be vampires. It could be, it could be better.
Joel (20m 1s):
Still having nightmares
Douglas (20m 1s):
But anyway, but the point is, what we saw was that one of the criteria for a successful strong meetup group that had loyal members, who did lots of stuff, was that they had a very clear purpose and they lived it. And they were very clear about who should join that meetup group and who shouldn't. And so the ones that were explicit about if you want to do this, this, and this, and believe this, this and this, then please join.
Douglas (20m 36s):
If you don't, then I'm sure there's another meetup for you. And companies are basically just larger communities. They're large meetups, really? And they equally must be super clear about what they're, what world they're trying to create, what they stand for, what their values are and say if you buy into these ideals, as we do, then please come and join. If you don't, then I'm sure there's another company for you that where you will fit in.
Chad (20m 59s):
That's it right. Turning back toward, you know, internal employees we're talking about belong anywhere. That is awesome. The belonging piece, but what about the belong here campaign or promotion or whatever. I'm not sure what you actually called it that you put together. Why did you do that? Why was it so important?
Douglas (21m 21s):
Well, yes. Okay. So there was, it was important because quite simply, if our mission is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere, obviously you had to make sure that the employees felt they belonged here, at Airbnb, right? If they didn't, then how could they ever truly, credibly, authentically execute against that, that purpose? So at a bare minimum, I wanted to see whether the employees at Airbnb felt that they belonged at Airbnb, that was because that was our mission was, was all about belonging somewhere. But there was another reason for doing it, which will in the end, what I did was a, it was a piece of I rent out or did another Odyssey around the world, talking to people in our offices, all over the place.
Douglas (22m 6s):
Hundreds of people, I went around asking a series of questions to find out whether they felt they belonged or didn't belong in their team at Airbnb. Because there's a very good, there's another reason that applies to everybody, whether belonging is your purpose or not. You need employees to feel like they belong at your company. And the reason why, is because when people feel like they belong, and this is something I learned from doing all the interviews of cult members, all the interviews and people I spoke to at meetup groups, the movement, making everything.
Douglas (22m 38s):
I know that when people feel like they belong, there's a great feeling of safety and trust, in the team. They think I'm with people who get me, they understand who I am, I understand who they are. I feel like I belong. I feel at home, finally. What that means is you can relax and be the full person that you are, you know, like the full Joel, the full on the a hundred percent, Joel.
Joel (22m 38s):
Douglas (22m 38s):
Yeah, that's a bit scary. Nobody wants that. Nobody wants that. So yeah, go to a place where you don't feel you belong. So that's when people really shine and become themselves as when they're in a team where they feel like they belong and they're safe and they have trust.
Douglas (23m 9s):
And as I was doing this, as it happened, Googl published a study that was talked about in the New York times and other places where they had researched what made their most successful teams successful. And it came down to one thing basically, which was that there was enough trust within the team for people to take risks and innovate, right?
Douglas (23m 40s):
So, no, one's going to go out on a limb and do something that's never been done before if in a context of fear, because you're going to get fired or you're going to get laughed at or belittled or something. So you can only, you can only take a risk, you can only go on out on the rim, say, I don't know if this is going to work, I think it's going to work. I've got evidence it's going to work, but I don't know for sure if you're in an environment of trust and safety, where you feel like people have got your back and are giving you space to innovate and all those kinds of things.
Douglas (24m 11s):
So that's another key reason why you need people to feel like you belong in your organization because they are not going to truly become themselves and feel that it's safe enough to innovate and take the entrepreneurial risks that need to be taken unless they feel like they belong. So I did this huge study. And what was great, was those able to uncover what it was specifically that made someone feel, the go from feeling like a stranger, sometimes even people said they had like the sort of imposter syndrome when they arrived at Airbnb to feeling like they belonged and being the best version of themselves they'd ever been and give their best ever work.
Douglas (24m 50s):
And so I could, I was able to identify the triggers. I did. It was quite a, it was quite an emotional journey actually, because the questions I were asking were not your normal employment questions. I would be interviewing people one on one, and I would give them a pieces of card. And I would say, think of the moment in your life where you felt like you most belong to somewhere anyway, I'm talking about work, but at any point in your life and write down three words that described how you felt at that moment and draw a little picture, a little stick man or something, and then they would do that.
Douglas (25m 23s):
And we talk about that. And then I said, now, now think about the moment in your life where you felt most rejected, most like a stranger, most alienated, write down three words that describe what you were like and draw a little picture. And then I did the same thing in an employment context in Airbnb. I said, think of the moment where you most feel that you belonged at Airbnb, three words picture. And now the moments when you only felt to most, you know, you felt most rejected or alienated at Airbnb if, if ever and so, I mean, God, people were crying.
Douglas (25m 56s):
Sometimes with joy where you're very emotional because you're, you're talking about a fundamental need of the human condition, which is about, do I belong or do I not come out, be who I am or, or do I have to like have a persona and hide myself and live in fear. But anyway, what else with that whole exercise is accumulating and aggregating all of those, all of that data. It was very useful to identify what it makes, what it takes to make someone feel like they belong and give their best selves and what it takes to screw that up and make them feel rejected and feel like they don't belong. In the process I also uncovered cause it was a concern of ours at the time, you know, as Airbnb was growing bigger, are we maintaining our entrepreneurial quality? And you know, the people we're hiring, we used to hire people who were sort misfits and entrepreneurs themselves or whatever. Now we're hiring people who are really good at marketing and really good engineers, but have never been entrepreneurial or whatever. Are we losing our entrepreneurial-ism? So I was able to identify the conditions under which people could become entrepreneurs even if they'd never been that before, which was super interesting.
Joel (27m 4s):
Douglas, I'm curious, you you've written all these pieces before COVID in the pandemic has, has changed the world. And I'm curious, would you have, would you have still written it as you, as you have today, knowing that how the world has changed? Has COVID flipped all of this sort of on its head or do we just evolve and still have these sort of mission statements? Do you hope that we just go back to the way things were, which all evidence seems like things will change a little bit when we go forward. And lastly, I'm curious the woman that you wanted to get hired that got rejected, would she still be rejected in today's environment you think?
Douglas (27m 39s):
I don't think COVID changes the purpose at all was nothing nothing's going to change. I mean, even if you're just going to drive 200 miles from your home and stay at an Airbnb, you're still gonna want to feel welcomed. You still want to get tips from the host about where to eat and where to avoid, all those kinds of things. That's going to stay the same. And likewise, the core values. I mean, I haven't, I mean, in a way, working at Airbnb, a travel company, and most of us were traveling a lot. And so we were always doing stuff on zoom with people already because you know, someone would be in Singapore, someone would be in Ireland, in Dublin, someone else would be in San Francisco.
Douglas (28m 19s):
It played havoc with your sleep patterns. But, but anyway, we still did it. So I dunno, it'd be interesting to see. I don't think the culture will have changed much because the same people are still there. They still have the same values. They they're going to interact with each other in the same way. I really, really hope that. I mean, Zoom is great. I'm sure it's made lots of efficiencies. And, but at the end of the day, nothing beats a face to face contact. That's the highest form of engagement, which leads to a feeling of belonging. So, no, I hope I hope it doesn't go away. I hope there's still going to be offices or at least other reasons to meet somewhere face to face because we have Airbnb have, have it all referencing this thing called one Airbnb where every year Airbnb would fly in at the cost of millions, all of the staff from all over the world, you know, by the time he left, that was about 4,000 people. So that's a huge amount of money to spend a week, not doing their jobs, but simply hanging out with each other. I mean, there was a, you know, a very strict program of events, but the main goal was for people to rub together and get sticky literally was their goal.
Joel (28m 19s):
Well, I know that the gathering is rescheduled for April of next year. And I know both Chad and I are hoping that we can all all share face to face time next year. Douglas as always. It's a, we appreciate your time.
Chad (28m 19s):
Joel (28m 19s):
Chad. Unless you have anything else to add we out.
Chad (28m 19s):
Douglas (28m 19s):
5 (29m 49s):
This has been the Chad and Cheese podcast. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. So you don't miss a single show and be sure to check out our sponsors because they make it all possible for more visit chadcheese.com. Oh yeah. You're welcome.