Donald Knight is Chief People Officer at Greenhouse Software. He leads with a people-first mentality hoping to unlock the potential of Greenhouse talent globally. With a laser focus on the connection between people and the processes that serve them, Donald and his team create proximity by building bridges focusing on enhanced experiences that nurture culture and develop people.
On today’s TAKEOVER episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Donald from Greenhouse about Greenhouse Open and a few other things.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Yeah, Greenhouse Open is going to be phenomenal, this is my first Greenhouse Open by the way, William. So this will be my first time being able to participate both as an attendee and as a moderator. What I’m most excited about is really the learnings. When you get that many companies together, that are at least being by sheer fact that they’re going to be present, and the leaders that they’re sending on their behalf to be present, lets me know that they prioritize people. And so when you get that many people together who prioritize people, I think great things are going to happen. So I’m most excited about the learnings that we’ll be able to take away and then build upon, I’m a firm believer that momentum builds momentum. And so I’m just excited about some of the momentum that I’m going to be able to gain just from being around so many thought leaders in this space.
And those learnings, I think will be able to fuel some of the priorities and key decisions I’ll have to make in the future, so that’s what I’m most excited. Second thing I’m most excited about this Greenhouse Open, staying specifically on brand is having so many greenflies in one space, particularly on the heels or the activeness part of the pandemic, I think is going to be exciting.
Listening time: 28 minutes
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Music: This is Recruiting Daily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup
William Tincup: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s William Tin cup, and you’re listening to Recruiting Daily Podcast. Today we have Donald Knight on, Chief People Officer for Greenhouse. We’ll be talking about Greenhouse Open, but really kind of scatter shorting around a bunch of different cool topics. So let’s jump into introductions, Donald? Would you tell us a little bit about yourself and Greenhouse?
Donald Knight: Yeah. William I really appreciate you having me, a little bit about myself. I’m, very privileged and fortunate to be The Chief People Officer for Greenhouse, which means that every day I get to wake up and figure out how can we do really three things. Number one, enhance the experience of so many greenflies up and across our organization, number two is try to make sure that we’re creating an environment, and nurturing a culture where they can continue to grow, and then number three, be very thoughtful in how we are developing them for the growth that we’re seeing today and tomorrow. So very excited to talk to you today and really dive a little deeper on whichever lane you want us to go down.
William Tincup: You know what’s interesting? All three of those can be tied back to things that happen in a traditional greenhouse, when people think of greenhouse, outside of Greenhouse Software, they think of plants, like what you would put in your backyard, and how you would grow things. And ironically enhancing, nurturing, developing those all are nicely tucked under that umbrella, I don’t know if that was purpose for or not, but it’s just really nice because, it is you’re doing all three of those things and so would somebody that’s growing orchids, they would be doing something similar.
Donald Knight: Now your spot. But part of my own process and joining Greenhouse, was a working session with our CEO, Daniel Chita, and they give you some guardrails on what that may particularly look like. But I went simple machine, built a greenhouse and talked about how we would be able to enhance, nurture and develop. So I’m glad you were able to pick up on that, and it’s almost an acronym for, I think it’s Stephen Covey “start with the end in mind.” And if you look at the first letters of each of those for me, it’s every day that I wake up, I have to start with the end in mind on the impact that we want to make from a people team perspective. And so you’re the first person outside of Daniel to pick up on that. So I appreciate you for that.
William Tincup: No worries. No worries. So a couple things your experience kind of coming into Greenhouse, walk us through that, what was that like? You’re obviously a skilled HR professional now working for a wonderful HR tech recruiting, technology play, which I believe is a higher bar than it should be if it isn’t, it should be a higher bar if you’re selling into HR.
Donald Knight: Absolutely.
William Tincup: You should possibly get HR better. Or if you’re selling into recruiting, you should probably do it better, that doesn’t always play out that way, but it should be a higher bar. So tell us a little bit about your hiring experience.
Donald Knight: Yeah, that’s a great one. So first and foremost, I fully agree with you, my story is rather funny in the sense that I actually thought it was a phishing attack. So I get this email, and it’s from our CEO and it’s signed by the CEO talking about, “Hey, there’s a confidential opportunity.” And like I’m sitting at dinner with my wife and I’m like, “Oh, they’re getting really good, like the Cybersecurity, opportunities for jobs moving forward, is going to be vast and wide because look how good they’re getting.” and she kind of like laughed it off and we kept going, and it was the next day that it hit me. I’m like, “huh, I probably should tell them that this level of impersonation and phishing is happening.” So I go to let him know, and of course I knew Greenhouse, I didn’t necessarily know the website.
And so that’s what threw me off first, is that the website is right now we’re Greenhouse start IL, so I was like, “Oh, there’s no way this is real.” When I actually went to the website, it was a real website. And I’m like, “huh, all of the Greenhouse material I’ve read before, I’ve never noticed that it was that IL, because I just type in Greenhouse Software and it’s the first thing to pop up in the search engine.” So that was the first tell-tale sign, and then the second one was around, when I actually looked to see who the CEO was? Of course I knew Greenhouse, but I didn’t know who the CEO was, come to find out, his name is actually Daniel. So from inception I felt like, “huh, this is already starting off as a rather unique conversation.”
And just continuously as I continue to navigate and progress through what appears to be very mutual interests. I found that the leaders really spoke to two major opportunities that I just felt like I couldn’t find at other organizations. The first one is this thought process of evolving from an applicant tracking system, into a hiring company, and how we are uniquely positioned to not only get hiring right at our organization, but to provide thoughtfulness, and thought leadership to other organizations, which really spoke to me because I’m like, “huh?” Yeah. I can look back at my career and see where hiring experiences were good, and where they were bad. And so it’s interesting, no one’s really focused on that space.
And then I think the second thing was the people, and you’re right, if you’re going to be an organization that has recruiting software, and onboarding software, and structured interview software, and you’re talking about the importance of hiring and getting it done right on the front end, and eliminating bias, and making sure that you’re uncovering talent from all the full fabric of our community, you better be getting it right yourself.
Right? You got to be able to walk what you’re talking in. And what I found is everyone seemed to be rather intentional in sharing their own experiences in joining Greenhouse, and why they’ve continued to stay and grow. So it has been phenomenal, I’m getting close to my 90 day mark, we’ve done some rather thoughtful things and impactful things here at the organization in that amount of time. But what I will say is that the green tea, I’ve I have completely drank the green tea, and I’m all in on Greenhouse. You can clearly see that the culture that folks talked about, was not just the talking point, but one that holds true even for me after joining.
William Tincup: So one of the things on stage, when I tell people that generally when it’s about HR tech and buying advice, I’m like, “okay so two things, first of all, talk to people that use the software.” So leverage your network, and talk to people that use it on a daily basis, and get their feedback. What they like, what’s problematic, whatever. Just talk to your peer, leverage your peer network. Second is when you’re talking to the salesperson, have them go into great detail on how they use their own technology.
Because if they don’t use their own technology, that’s a signal, that’s a problem, okay you’re selling this software, and you’re not even leveraging it. That’s just horrible. I wrote down a question when you’re, talking because I wanted to get your take on this, the first 100 days, advice that you give yourself and also other people. And like when you first come into a company, what’s your approach? There’s no right or wrong, everyone kind does this a little bit differently, but what’s Donald’s approach to kind of the first 100 days?
Donald Knight: Yeah. That’s another great question. One of my favorite books, my favorite book is Talent Makers. But my second favorite book would be The First 90 Days, and the author talks about, the president of the United States has 100 days to win over the country, and set their agenda, you get 90 so my approach is rather intentional, I consider myself an incrementalist. I like to listen before I act, but when I do act, I do act decisively. And so part of the way that I’ve been able to do that is a proximity tour. So I’m holding these proximity sessions, which are very similar to a listening tour, but I’m meeting with folks one on one currently on our people team, as of this morning, we’re at 61. And by end of business, next Monday, I would’ve met with everyone for about half an hour with some folks being more than half an hour, just based on the way the conversation has gone.
And the reason I do that is what I have found is that leaders typically join organizations, and there’s so much in a rush to seize those first 90 days, and create change that they do so blindly. And it’s almost a false sense of arrogance that you would know what needs to be fixed or changed. And so in joining Greenhouse, there was no burning platform like nothing’s broken, but there… I subscribe to this idea that the biggest room in the world, is the room for improvement. And so the best way to improve as a leader from my perspective, is to listen to the three groups of people that are in organizations, which are experts, managers, and executives. And so that’s what I’m doing, and I told folks in my first meeting with the team that I’m going to prioritize talking to the experts first, and then managers in this, and then executives, and the reason why are, they’re the closest to the clients.
They’re the closest to the talent, they’re the closest to what happens every day. And so I’ve been able to do that, in these things called proximity sessions, and it really allows me to do two things, I believe the greatest ideas are already in an organization. So leaders need to do two things, ask, and then in the words of Tillman Nefertiti, the CEO for Landry’s “shut up and listen.” And so that’s what I’ve been doing is asking very intentional questions, and then taking the time to just shut up and listen. And what I have found is the decisive actions that we will take in the weeks ahead, we’ll be reflective of the insight, that I’ve been able to garner from the team. So that’s typically how I try to engage and lead.
William Tincup: It’s funny, I started my career doing primary research for an ad agency, and it was, it was kind of employee satisfaction survey ironically enough, and I did one on ones, I did group facilitated discussions, and then I did survey’s. So I went around, and did this whole bit. And when I broke it back out to or when I reported back out to the executive team, it was little things, like it was like potted plants, like they were in a building that they couldn’t have live plants.
Donald Knight: Oh Wow.
William Tincup: For whatever reason, and so like, it just kept coming up, it just kept coming up little stuff, like there was like five or six of them, those little things. And I remember the CEO going, “are you sure?” I’m like, “yeah, I’m sure” he’s like “I’m calling a meeting, I’m calling the landlord now, and then I’m calling a meeting” and literally there was potted plants the next day.
Donald Knight: See.
William Tincup: Like it’s little stuff like these, I had no idea. He’s like, “yeah people want a fight history.” It’s crazy, but that’s what they want.
Donald Knight: Exactly. Yeah. No, I’m glad you were able to listen to them, that’s that’s powerful.
William Tincup: Oh yeah. Well and again, as you’ve done these proximity meetings, you’re learning all kinds of little things. And somebody’s got a little bit of answer over here, little answer over here, little answer over here, you can actually then put those together and go, “okay, I see” it’s here already. The puzzle pieces are here, just one of then’s behind the couch, one of them is underneath the fridge, et cetera. So what’s your best advice for folks to kind of fight the status quo? like we’ve always done it this way, or this is the way that we do it, this that, you’ve heard this language over and over. How do you get them to kind of rethink and get outside of that box, and just kind of fight the status quo?
Donald Knight: Yeah, that’s a great question. So part of the reason I label the conversations’ proximity sessions is because, most people understand that the concept of proximity, which is, I want to be able to build closeness, or nearness with other folks. And my parents were military, I’ve lived in five states, three countries before the age of 14, and what I found is by moving to so many different places, like there were times like I moved to a place, I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know German when I first moved to Darmstadt. But the second time I moved to Germany to launch school, it was easier for me to make friends, because I understood the language. That is a direct reflection of having proximity with people that were different from me. And so proximity for me is building bridges, not barriers.
The biggest piece of advice I would ask people, or I would give to people is, are you in your actions building a bridge for someone else, or is it creating a barrier? And what I have found is that people are willing to listen, people are even willing to change when they know that you’re building a bridge, or you’re trying to preserve a bridge that’s already built. And so for me, that’s been my biggest piece of advice around not being in the status quo.
You can acknowledge and say, “Hey, look, we’re not growing as an organization the way we want to, or as a people team,” The culture is not… When we measure the culture, the culture is not where we want it to be, or the sentiment across talent is not what we want it to be. That’s great. Cool. So what are you going to do about it? You got to go build bridges with people. You got to figure out what are the barriers between you and your desired goal, or desired outcome. And what I have found is it is easier for people to have that conversation, when you have nearness and closeness to them. So that’s probably be the biggest piece of advice I’d leave for people as a lead behind.
William Tincup: It’s funny because I’ve come to the same conclusion, it’s been parenting it’s not so much about criticism, is it is enabling. So when I talk to my sons, it’s like, I’ll talk to him about doing something better, I’ll talk to him about how, you enable your success the next time, when you’re put in that situation of leadership or whatever the bit is, it’s just a different form of when I grew up, it was more [inaudible 00:15:15] into two forms constructive, and positive reinforcement, that’s it there’s nothing else. And when you got constructive criticism, it was right more, less about constructive and more just criticism. And so it’s like, “okay, we all want to be a better father.” So I need to actually think about this in the model that works with these two kids. So I think I love, what you’re doing. Before we get to open, the last question I have is on your annual, not that you’re going to do an annual review or anything like that, but on your annual what does success look like for you?
Donald Knight: Yeah, it’s a great question. I subscribe to this idea that prioritizing the development of people, allows us to fuel our ability to retain them. And I think here at Greenhouse, I mean, we’re growing at such an amazing clip, but that also means that we have to be very mindful and intentional that if we’re going to retain people, we have to create ways for them to grow here, which means like that development has to be the priority.
So what I would say is that, a year from now that the things that we’ve put in place, whether it be changing processes, or putting in new ones are, or whether it’s building development programs for different groups inside of our organization, that folks would say that the reason I’m choosing to stay or grow inside of Greenhouse is because there is growth here for me, there’s ways for me to continue to evolve, and develop down whatever career trajectory that they desire, at the same time I would hope that folks would be able to say that we had a lot of fun in the meantime, and that Donald did so over a scoop of ice cream. So William you don’t know this, but like everyone at Greenhouse knows that I’m very, very big on ice cream, ice cream has been one of the easiest way…
William Tincup: You’re you’re over indexed, you’re over indexed on ice cream. Got it.
Donald Knight: Over indexed. Yeah. And the reason why I tell you this small story that we can get to Open is, when I was in grad school, I was working 55 hours a week. And I gone to school at night, and I really couldn’t afford a lot of things. But the one thing that I could afford is ice cream. And what I found is that regardless of how my day went, if I had ice cream, my day would instantly get better regardless of what transpired. And so I use ice cream as a way to build proximity with people, because at the very least they might not like the conversation, or maybe they may say, Donald’s not my cup of green tea, but they’re going to at least enjoy a nice scoop of ice cream in the END room. So hopefully folks are talking about that a year from now, when looking at what we’ve done over the last 12 months.
William Tincup: Right. So I got to ask you your favorite ice cream? You can’t just leave it there, What…
Donald Knight: Oh yeah. So
William Tincup: What are you going with now?
Donald Knight: Yeah. So right now there’s two there’s two favorite ice cream places that I have, the first one would be Jenny’s ice cream, Jenny’s is a phenomenal ice cream, they have one called Cinnamon Skillet, that would be yeah, it’s amazing. It has like cinnamon, chunks of cinnamon, and almost like these nice cookie chunks, dude. It’s amazing. And then my second one would be actually from a place called Ruby Scoops, it’s in my hometown Richmond, Virginia and I’m not necessarily a vegan by any stretch of the imagination, but I tasted one of their vegan ice creams called Cookie Butter, it is absolutely phenomenal. And the young lady who started Ruby Scoops, her name is Rabia Kanara, she went to school with me in undergrad, she actually won the ice cream challenge on food network and like Jerry Greenfield from Ben and Jerry’s like presented her with this nice cheque, and right now she’s the hottest ice cream joint inside of the Commonwealth of Virginia. So if it’s not Jenny’s I’m meeting Ruby’s.
William Tincup: Wow. Now for those keeping track at home, when Donald was talking about the year, in a year, he’s he hit development, you noticed he went with enhancing, nurturing, and development that spells out END and keeping the end in mind. And he went to the D. So, just for those that keep track of this type stuff, it’s fantastic. You probably did it subconsciously, but it’s just interesting that you went to development because it impacts everything, it impacts how you recruit people.
Donald Knight: Absolutely.
William Tincup: It impacts internal mobility, it impacts you have a chance in keeping talent if you develop, you have no chance if you don’t. So I love that. Let’s talk a little bit about Open. What are you looking forward to with Greenhouse Open?
Donald Knight: Yeah, Greenhouse Open is going to be phenomenal, this is my first Open by the way, William. So this will be my first time being able to participate both as an attendee and as a moderator. What I’m most excited about is really the learnings. When you get that many companies together, that are at least being by sheer fact that they’re going to be present, and the leaders that they’re sending on their behalf to be present, lets me know that they prioritize people. And so when you get that many people together who prioritize people, I think great things are going to happen. So I’m most excited about the learnings that we’ll be able to take away and then build upon, I’m a firm believer that momentum builds momentum. And so I’m just excited about some of the momentum that I’m going to be able to gain just from being around so many thought leaders in this space.
And those learnings, I think will be able to fuel some of the priorities and key decisions I’ll have to make in the future, so that’s what I’m most excited. Second thing I’m most excited about, staying specifically on brand is having so many greenflies in one space, particularly on the heels or the activeness part of the pandemic, I think is going to be exciting. So many exciting… So many people that I haven’t met in person, but I’ve met on the screen. And so I have already been asked out on a few ice cream dates, I’m looking forward to that and we’re going to have like so many people together, getting together to have some ice cream. So that’s going to be fun.
William Tincup: Oh, that’s hilarious. So one of the things I love about Open this year, is it’s a hybrid model. There’s going to be sessions that are going to be folks that are virtual. And then obviously, the Davits Center, it’s the best Conference Center in New York, and the last time they had it there, they also had it at The Davits Center, is just amazing. And you’ve got kind of for the folks that are attending in person, you’ve got all the content, you have access to for those that are attention virtually, there’s still content. And so you can still learn. So I love conferences from the sense or in the same way that you framed it up. It’s like this is just a great way it’s a Petri dish, put everything together and then just kind of see where it goes. You’re going to learn stuff if your heart and mind’s open to it, you’ll learn things that someone else is doing. You might learn what not to do, which is great.
Donald Knight: Exactly, exactly.
William Tincup: That saved you a step. We were thinking about doing that, not anymore. But I think that… I remember I was in Kansas Sherman. I think it was, no one knew who I was. I [inaudible 00:23:12] my badge on, I was just talking to all these practitioners at the table. I’m like, “what makes a great keynote?” Like, “what do y’all love about keynotes?” And we literally just brainstorming. And I like, we like to be inspired, we like to be educated, and we like to be entertained. And that informed my speaking career since it’s like, you know what? You can’t over index on any one of those. You got to kind of be all three. There is an entertainment part of it, and it’s not just education, yes you need to do that and you need to inspire, like they’re all important. So I’m interested in that as well, I like going to sessions to see what I can pull out, that I can then, use for myself, or use for people that I know. You said you’re moderating a panel, what about panel are you’re moderating?
Donald Knight: Yeah. It’s actually going to be a one on one conversation talking about how do we somewhat unlock innovation and creativity on teams? So the idea is that you start with diversity. So I’m looking forward to that conversation, our conversation will actually be virtual, which I love because you know, Greenhouse is a distributed organization. So over 70% of our talent is geographically dispersed and distributed, which I think is a beautiful thing. I also think it’s the way additional businesses and organizations will navigate forward. And so sticking on the brand, I’ll be able to have that conversation. I’ll be live in the Davits Center, but the young lady that I’ll be speaking with will be in another location, which I think is great because it just allows us the opportunity to, again, practice what we preach from a proverbial perspective, and be able to show folks that even with in person in events, we need to be mindful of how we’re including and engaging talent that may not be physically present. So this is going to be fun.
William Tincup: I love it. Last question is success after Open, a month after Open when you reflect back on it, what will you think? What do you imagine success to be for your experience at Open?
Donald Knight: Yeah. Success, I would say not just the key learnings, but I think right now I’m in a mode of building bridges with others. So learning more about them, and how we could co potentially partner and collaborate together. I think success afterwards would be how many folks want to build bridges with me, right. And looking at ways that we can enhance hiring processes, not just at Greenhouse, but for other organizations and how we’re able to then share some of that thought leadership with folks that are aspiring to improve, but may not necessarily know how, so right now I’m building bridges with people, but I’m hoping that afterwards that people will want to build bridges with me.
William Tincup: I love that. And I love the sentiment of trying things, innovating, doing things yourself, and in sharing what you’re doing with your customers, and your prospects and saying, okay, “Hey, we’re not perfect, but we’ve tried this.” This is what’s worked with us and you’re putting yourself, there’s a vulnerability to that, but it’s also, you’re laying out some, I say best practices, you’re laying out some things that other people can try.
Donald Knight: Absolutely.
William Tincup: And I love that, I love that, Donald this is been amazing. Thank you so much for carving out time for us today.
Donald Knight: No, William, thank you for having me. And I look forward to our next conversation. I’ll be able to tell you more about how the experience went.
William Tincup: Absolutely. And now I’ll see you in New York, and thanks for everyone listening to Recruiting Daily Podcast until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.