Winning the War for Top Talent

How Culture, Business Agility & Recruitment Marketing Help You Win the Talent Wars: Dawn Mitchell of Appian

Sep 15, 2021 - Joe Matar

Episode Highlights

  • As HR departments across many industries face a talent shortage, it’s more important than ever to clarify your company’s brand, improve its culture and business agility and engage in strategic recruitment marketing.
  • “In this hyper-competitive market, we’re going to have a better shot at the candidate when they're familiar with who we are and feel like our approach is personal,” says Dawn Mitchell, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Appian. She says curiosity and openness to feedback are crucial to providing a work environment that can compete for the best talent.
  • Dawn says Appian “doesn’t interview for values” –– its hiring team focuses on candidates’ past experience. Whatever your organization prioritizes when looking for right-fit employees, make sure it’s clear, transparent and accessible to all.
  • Dawn shares insights on best practices for authentic, impactful recruiting in a pandemic –– or in any era.

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    Check out the full episode on your favorite podcast app:
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    Culture is Key to Winning the Talent Wars

    Who knew that in the midst of a global pandemic, we’d see a candidate’s job market? A significant shortage of talent in a number of industries means many companies are fighting to recruit the qualified, specialized employees they need to grow.

    Winning that game starts with building a strong company culture and brand, says Dawn Mitchell, the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Appian, a low code automation platform that helps organizations build enterprise apps and workflows. Dawn oversees Appian’s entire HR department, working to acquire and retain the best talent –– that’s also a great fit for the company.

    “A firm understanding of who we are allows the right people to come into Appian,” she says in an episode of Talent on the Rise, Brazen’s podcast about trends in talent acquisition.

    It’s also important to make sure that message gets to the people you’re trying to reach –– and that it’s tailored for every kind of potential new team member, from accountants to UX engineers and everyone in between. Here, Dawn shares her advice for making your open position a dream job for the right person, as well as ensuring current employees have their voices heard while solidifying and strengthening the brand and culture of your organization.

    Check out the full episode on your favorite podcast app:
    Spotify | iTunes | Soundcloud

    Company culture is a reflection of the people within it

    Appian’s strong workplace culture has been a long time in the making. Unlike many tech companies, Appian was not founded on a specific vision for a product or output, Dawn explains.

    The company, headquartered right outside of Washington, D.C, was founded in 1999 by a group of friends who “thought that by hiring smart, generous, authentic people and cultivating that talent,” the output would generate itself –– organically.

    As it has grown and changed over the years, Appian has maintained that ethos.

    Today, it’s a $304.6 million, publicly traded company with 1,400 employees worldwide. It’s ranked among the top workplaces in the D.C. metro area and in the U.S. –– a point of pride for a company that consciously works on “nurturing culture and ensuring that people feel empowered to drive impact,” says Dawn.

    At Appian, that means not only offering competitive compensation, benefits and workplace perks but intentional communities. Large teams are sectioned into “pods” that foster close-knit collaboration. The company hosts a number of “affinity groups'' for employees (such as women, LGBTQ+ and veterans) that work together both in and out of the organization. And perhaps most importantly, their accomplishments are shared with the rest of the world.

    Recruiting is sales, and sales needs marketing

    Up until three or four years ago, Appian Founder and CEO Matt Calkins interviewed every new employee that came to the company. After a time, that wasn’t scalable anymore, so he looked to tenured employees who could ensure every hire was a great fit.

    “Recruiting is a sales function, and a sales function needs a marketing arm,” says Dawn. “You can't expect someone to do all things. It's just not possible.”

    Its talent acquisition ethos and policies have since been formalized on paper and made accessible company-wide. And it’s not a cookie-cutter hiring philosophy, says Dawn: “A lot of companies interview for values. We don't do that here. We focus on what someone is bringing to Appian, really digging into their past experience through the lenses of talent, success and partnership.”

    How a candidate has embodied those three tenets throughout their career demonstrates whether they adapt to, and shine in, the Appian company culture.

    Content marketing is the best recruitment marketing

    Dawn explains that releasing unique content is the very best recruitment marketing tool. It’s how Appian has been able to capitalize on its resilient, supportive company culture to attract talent, especially during the era of widespread remote work.

    To show off how its employees have managed to thrive in this “new normal,” the HR team developed a blog series called “Creatively Working Through COVID,” highlighting first-person pandemic stories from team members across the globe, who share their takes on everything from lockdown parenting to staying fit and rediscovering the joy of home-cooked meals.

    Others are “doing big things in our community,” says Dawn, who says one employee spearheaded a partnership with D.C. Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that’s powered on Appian.

    “A core part of our recruitment marketing strategy is really letting our employees’ stories shine,” Dawn says.

    Supply chain-inspired recruitment as a process

    Tailored messaging across business sectors is another facet of Appian’s recruitment marketing efforts. So in addition to promoting the best aspects of culture that are consistent across the company, Dawn and her team look at “evergreen requisitions” — positions the company is frequently hiring for. They examine the specific experiences employees have in those roles and consider how they tie into their employee experience.

    They aggregate feedback from periodic employee engagement surveys, exit interviews, reviews on Glassdoor –– everything they can –– to “firm up both the general experience and what you can experience specifically as an engineer or an account executive,” she explains, adding that Appian’s talent acquisition efforts are a finely tuned process, modeled on a supply chain with the employer brand at the top. Further down, teams of recruitment marketers focus on building awareness with specific personas: engineers, for example.

    “They're warm by the time Appian reaches out,” Dawn says.

    The goal is really to make sure potential candidates already “understand who we are and know what they're going to experience at Appian,” she adds.

    Agility 101: Communicate (and collaborate) your way through the unknowns

    It’s more important now than ever to demonstrate a company culture that can hold up whether everyone is working from their respective homes or gathered around an actual conference table.

    As we know, public health guidelines are subject to change. As workplaces transition back and forth from in-person to remote throughout the different stages of the pandemic, morale can take a hit. But a strong, supportive and communicative environment can exist both in the physical office and in the digital sphere.

    Dawn says this is why she makes communication a central part of Appian’s company culture.

    “You don’t have to have all the answers, but you need to set up opportunities to listen to your employees,” Dawn says. “If we can be a safe space to listen to and recognize their concerns — even if we disagree — we show that we recognize their concerns are valid.”

    Appian has seen its focus on feedback translate into success on the global stage as it has opened offices in countries across the world, including Australia, Canada, and Saudi Arabia. As the company evolves to meet the challenges it finds in various parts of the world, its culture is a backbone that ensures it stays true to its central mission.

    Communication is always vital. But the particular uncertainties of our era –– like whether the workforce is headed back to the office or staying remote –– is a good example of an issue that can’t be solved quickly or easily. However, it can offer an opportunity for dialogue and connection that brings a little more clarity to everyone’s lives.

    Dawn says that Appian’s CEO Matt hosts a regular live stream addressed to all of the employees, and they’ve enhanced the company intranet to promote smooth communication across departments. The goal is for its employees to always feel informed and connected.

    And when navigating the unknowns, Dawn says supervisors should be honest about their inability to predict the future and let employees know that they’ll keep them informed once they have more details. Knowing others are actively thinking about a problem helps alleviate some of the isolation and confusion our teams can feel during difficult times.

    To Dawn, taking every opportunity to collaborate and seek the advice of your colleagues and employees is the best way to remain agile in business.

    “We’re collaborative creatures. The best ideas come from working with others,” she says.

    And Dawn is always looking to work with people who share her passion for collaboration and curiosity.

    “To me, curiosity is a core competency. When I interview anybody for our team, I love people who are naturally curious,” says Dawn.

    “I want people who are just constantly asking why.”

    This article is based on an episode of Talent on the Rise, Brazen’s podcast about transformative leaders and how they got a seat at the table. Subscribe in your preferred podcast app. 

    Check out the full episode on your favorite podcast app:

    Spotify | iTunes | Soundcloud

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