On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Jill from Panzura about how to bring your weird as a recruitment strategy.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Listening time: 23 minutes
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Created the player tracker solution for the NFL. Returned over $1 billion to investors across 3 different startups. CPA by training. Activist at heart.Follow
This is RecruitingDaily’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 over complicated 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 (00:34):
Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup and you’re listening to the Recruiting Daily Podcast. Today we have Jill on from Panzura, and our topic today is bringing your weird as a recruitment strategy. And I love this because years ago I had a lot of time working with Whole Foods and their hiring strategy where they hired people, the misfits, and I love that just from a candidate strategy perspective, but Jill’s going to take us into a different direction and I can’t wait. So Jill, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and your company, Panzura?
Jill Stelfox (01:10):
Absolutely. First of all, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here. I am Jill Stelfox, the proud CEO of Panzura. A little bit about my background, raised nearly 50 million in venture before coming to Panzura and returned a billion dollars to investors, and then came here. What we do at Panzura is we are the leader in the highly secure hybrid cloud data management solutions.
William Tincup (01:41):
Oh, very cool.
Jill Stelfox (01:42):
William Tincup (01:46):
Well, let’s start with bringing the topic, which is fantastic, bringing your weird as a recruitment strategy, so let’s just start with the basics. How did we get to this? How did you get to this strategy?
Jill Stelfox (02:01):
It was a long time coming. So we bought the company in 2020, in May 7th, 2020, so the height of COVID, and it was a very weird time in the world. And I’m a fundamental believer that if people can bring their whole authentic selfs to work, then magic can happen. And frankly, we’re all weird.
William Tincup (02:36):
We’ve all got our own brand of weird, it’s just what is that.
Jill Stelfox (02:42):
Exactly. And so what I thought is, look, if we could create a place that was safe to be authentically you, if you’re gay, be gay, if you’re strongly religious, do that, whatever you want to talk about, race, color, creed, anything, let’s talk about it. Because in COVID, you were at home, I felt like if I’m going to know your dogs in your living room, I might as well know your weird. Why not?
William Tincup (03:15):
Well, it’s a great filter for both sides. I used to say this on Twitter all the time in terms of following people. If you’re willing to put up with my benign, crazy weirdness, whatever, me ranting about Starbucks coffee or whatever the bit is that day, I’m willing to then sign up for your crazy and weird. So it’s a social contract on some levels. It’s like, “I’ll sign up for your weird, you can sign up for my weird. You can opt out of my weird, which is great, or vice versa.” And what you’ve done is you’ve pulled it over into the recruiting strategy of saying… It’s almost like I’d love to have this on t-shirts or buttons or something like that where it’s like, “Okay, here’s all the things that make me weird, ding, ding, ding, ding. And here’s what makes me me.” Even more so it’s like, “Here’s what makes me me, and you have the same things, now can we coexist? Can we accept each other on these terms?”
Jill Stelfox (04:22):
And it gets to these super fun, curious conversations about, wait a minute, why do you think that way? Or how crazy a sport is that you do. And it leads to these super curious, fun conversations. And it is a two-way street, I accept your word, you accept mine, and it doesn’t have to be that we convince one another that one way is right and one way is wrong. It’s exactly the opposite. It’s like, “Look, all comers, bring it, whatever it is.”
William Tincup (05:03):
How do candidates respond when we talk… Because this is what I love about it, it’s refreshing. And it’s it could probably be off putting to some folks. But what’s been your general response in terms of just talking…. You’re talking really honestly, openly, being vulnerable, and talking in real terms, not corporate speak, which I love. So what’s been the response?
Jill Stelfox (05:34):
It’s actually quite fascinating because in the beginning when we started the company, I think people thought I might be a little crazy like, “Is it true?”
William Tincup (05:50):
So you’re talking about crazy, because you’re crazy? No, I’m talking about bring your unique self to work and it’s okay. You have 19 cats in your house, great. Not my deal. But if you can respect that I have two 85 pound pit bulls, I can respect that you have 19 cats. Okay, we can coexist. World’s big enough for all of us.
Jill Stelfox (06:16):
Exactly. And I think they were so used to a working environment that is very judgemental. And I just think the world is much more fun when you’re understanding of differences, versus being judgemental. And so I think in the beginning people didn’t take me seriously, how could the CEO of a company this big really believe this? And isn’t there something too weird that I could be doing?
William Tincup (06:49):
Well, there’s a limits. And again, it’s a filter for both sides. As a recruitment strategy, it’s a filter for both sides to then say, “Yes, I like this.” Because that’s a common theme that you see from a lot of folks in the market right now is we want you to bring your whole self to work. Well, my natural question, because I’m really into dark humor and I tend to be a bit dark myself, so of course I think about that and go, “Do you really want the full? Do you really want all of me? And are you sure? Because this could get dark quickly.” And I’m okay with it, I’m comfortable there, but some people aren’t, which I respect. Absolutely. Because when people talk about, “I want you to bring your authentic self, your whole self, your whole you,” I think there’s probably trepidation by a lot of people, not just me, of, okay, do you want me to bring 80% of myself?
Okay, well, 80% is better than 40%, or worse where people can’t be themselves at all, so that’s better, but I’m still not buying that they want the whole me, and that’s probably a me thing. Maybe it’s my vulnerability.
Jill Stelfox (08:21):
It’s actually really interesting, because I do think it takes people a little bit. In fact, I had an employee recently who was like, “I feel like I’m coming off of PTSD from my old employer where I had to be somebody other than me, and you’re okay with all of who I am.” And this is a guy who happens to be gay, he’s never said he was gay at work, he’s married to this wonderful man, and of course I meet his husband, and I initially just give them a hug because I’m all good, hey, everybody can do their thing, and literally they both cried. And it’s like, “Why does it have to be that hard? Why can’t employees just come to work the way they are with free minds to do great things?” I don’t know, it could be just that I’m too idealistic about this, but I just think it’s a game changer.
William Tincup (09:26):
I don’t think you’re idealistic at all. Again, I believe that it gets down to that intent, and we also suffer from past experiences, good and bad like, “Okay, so there’s some trauma there.” So this is why I believe therapy should be mandatory. From a recruiting and specifically a work perspective, it’s a way for people to then say, “Okay, hey, what are you not comfortable with? What are you comfortable with? Now let’s engage each other really on a more intellectual personal level. And again, let’s see where we meet.”
It’s like a friend of mine years ago, he studied comparative religion, and he said, “Here’s the deal. If you took all of the organized religions in the world and you stood them on the side, you’d find that they’re 90% the same. There’s 10% difference, and we focus on the differences between Muslim, or Jewish, or Catholic, or whatever the bit is, we focus on the differences.” But if you really, really read the text, as he has and studied, it’s really not that different. They use different words, there’s different stories around there’s different parables, et cetera, but basically it’s the same for about 80 to 90% of it. And so I think of that, okay, well, when we think about the weirdness, we’re the same, a lot of us are the same, but that 10, 20% that makes us truly unique, it’s closeted, and it’s like, “Okay, we don’t have to live in that era. Just because our grandparents did it or our parents did it or whatever, we don’t have to live in that era. We choose to live in that era.”
Jill Stelfox (11:22):
Yep. I think that’s exactly right. And by the way, in order to get to this curious, accepting space, we actually do provide coaching to all of our employees, and it’s through a company called BetterUp, and you can focus on everything around wellness, and sleep, and how to get along with your spouse or parenting, and you can focus on leadership and communication work, and all the BS and stuff to be a contributing member at Panzura, but what we found is during COVID, our team needed more help on parenting, and self care, and just mental strength, and why not let that all be okay? Because if we all can’t clear our heads and get to a good space, then how are we going to accomplish anything great for our customers or any great innovation? It’s just never going to happen.
William Tincup (12:38):
So how do we market weird? This is actually been perplexing for me, is okay, I get it on a lot of levels, but I get it, okay, now we can have frank conversations, we can talk about these things. You don’t need to fear any reprisal or any of that type stuff. So now if we think like that, which is great, now how do we open ourselves up and market the candidates that might be attracted to that?
Jill Stelfox (13:10):
We do it through a lot of storytelling, just a lot of stories about what it means and the types of conversations that we have. We had a really tough conversation during Black History Month around privilege tests, and we actually posted our scores online and we got so much feedback from folks looking to join Panzura because we were brave enough, I suppose, to actually post the scores. Because when you start talking about these kinds of topics, these needy topics, you’re not always great at it, and you have to learn, and understand, and accept, and do all these stages of improving yourself. And we just talk about this stuff all the time in the public and I think it’s really helpful. It’s so funny because people bring their friends, they recruit their friends because they’re like, “This is so fun.” And it is really fun. We do have a lot of crazy fun here.
William Tincup (14:31):
Because you’re obviously doing this and it’s working, has anything not worked with weird, maybe not turned out as best as you thought it would?
Jill Stelfox (14:42):
Yeah. One of the outcomes I would say of accepting weird is that people can get really passionate about a specific topic. And two things need to happen. One is they need to be heard, and two is people need to feel comfortable understanding that their force on that topic is important to them, but you could take it or leave it. It doesn’t mean you have to feel the same way or believe the same way, and so once or twice in the two and a half years that we’ve owned the company, we’ve ended up in a situation where it was pretty heated.
William Tincup (15:29):
But a healthy heated?
Jill Stelfox (15:31):
William Tincup (15:32):
So I can see things like a lot of political stuff, so politics in general, A, but even stuff like Roe v. Wade gets overturned. And again, depending on which side you lean there, you can see people being passionate on both sides.
Jill Stelfox (15:52):
William Tincup (15:52):
And so even if I don’t agree with your stance or your take on that, I still got to respect that you need to express that.
Jill Stelfox (16:04):
That’s exactly, and so constantly working on teaching people that it’s okay to respect that they express it, which is different than agreeing.
William Tincup (16:19):
Jill Stelfox (16:19):
And it’s fine. It’s literally fine. And by the way, Roe v. Wade was one of those days, was absolutely one of those days.
William Tincup (16:27):
Oh, yeah. And again, because things are so politicized now, because that’s just how politics work. And again, they don’t focus on the things that we need or they focus on these cultural issues that are really divisive, but I think as it leads back to both the recruiting and the work part is I can still love you and we can disagree.
Jill Stelfox (16:56):
William Tincup (16:59):
That’s the hardest thing to have an environment where it’s like, “Okay, listen, it’s okay. You’re for, against whatever that is, cool. That’s not me, but it’s cool that you’re passionate about that.”
Jill Stelfox (17:15):
And what’s interesting is it creates this super fun learning environment where we’re all curious about how you think, and that totally translates into creating great innovation or whatever. If you can have a conversation that’s complicated over something political, how much easier is it to have the complication… Or a complicated conversation over some feature we’re adding to a product, it’s way better. Not stressful.
William Tincup (17:52):
That becomes easy at that point. It’s like that’s it. Is there anything off limits? And the reason I ask this, again, being dark, of course I would think about vices, and anything sexual. Again, nothing illegal, but again, people have opinions about certain things that are related to sex. And so, okay, again, Voltaire 101, can they express it? Do they feel comfortable expressing it? Do we want them to express it, et cetera? Is there a safe environment to express those things? And really what I’m looking for is the edges, which I think most employees, in their comfort, they will look for how far can I push this? Like kids. Kids are really great at this. Once they figure out what the boundary is, they want to see what they can push the boundary to. Okay, that’s cool. That’s a part of parenting. No big deal. But I wanted to see from your perspective, okay, we recruit weird, we allow the whole self, the authentic self, we allow the weirdness, but is there a bridge too far?
Jill Stelfox (19:10):
It’s interesting, because we kind of… Well, not kind of, we actually do joke a lot about what’s too weird, and so far we haven’t found it. I’m not idealistic enough to believe that we couldn’t cross the line, but I think one of the reasons that we haven’t found it is a bit unfortunate, by the way, because I think so many companies are so restrictive on behavior that people are way over on one side, and so now they come here and they can bring their weird, but then they also have this regulator in their mind of, oh, do I want to bring my whole weirdness? So it takes a while. And maybe the older we get in terms of a company, the more we’ll see weird, or weirder, or the edges of weird, but so far we haven’t, which is really funny. We had some employees do, I would say, maybe a dodgy TikTok and we all thought it was super funny.
William Tincup (20:32):
And some of this is about humor. Some of it’s weird for weird sake, and some of it’s humor. And humor, it’s fascinating to me on Netflix, the different types of comedians and how you can really, really resonate with one comedian. You plug in another one and you’re like, “Eh.” You’re 15 minutes into a bit and you’re like, “Yeah, this isn’t my bailiwick.” And so again, bringing that back to weirdness at work, humor is a really interesting way to think of this is, okay, some things aren’t funny. Okay, well, let’s consume that. Some comics would argue, “No, they can make anything funny.” Which is, again, slowly getting to the dark side. But this has been fascinating.
First of all, I love the openness. I have to admit, when we first booked this that I look forwarded to it because I wanted to talk to you about, okay, I get the bit if it’s just a marketing strategy, okay, this is a shtick, if you will, but this a shtick for you, this is actually-
Jill Stelfox (21:57):
No, it’s real.
William Tincup (21:59):
This is passion, and so I just love that. It’s vulnerability and it’s a high art of vulnerability, so I love it.
Jill Stelfox (22:09):
William Tincup (22:11):
Thank you so much for your time. This has been absolutely wonderful. I’d love to have you on the podcast again.
Jill Stelfox (22:17):
I would love to do it. This has been so much fun.
William Tincup (22:19):
Absolutely. And thank you, and thanks for everyone that listens to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.
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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.