Bringing culture into the recruitment and hiring process is the best way to ingrain it throughout an organization. But, how do you accomplish this in a thoughtful way? As the former chief talent officer of Netflix Patty McCord wrote for Harvard Business Review, “Making great hires is about recognizing great matches.”
Across hundreds of interviews with chief people officers, one of the best examples I’ve seen of “making great hires” is at 10x Genomics. The key strategy? Showing candidates a realistic depiction of company culture to give them the opportunity to self-select. Candidates receive a five-page cultural document that describes the company’s cultural ecosystem, including nitty-gritty details such as “10x is a really intense place to work. We move really quickly, we work really hard, and we do that because for every moment we lose, there are lives lost as we pursue our ambitious mission.”
To share more about 10x Genomics’ unique approach to culture, 10x Genomics Chief People Officer Dr. Rebecca Port agreed to meet for an interview. 10x Genomics is a life sciences company that has produced over 25 groundbreaking products, helping researchers and pharmaceutical companies understand biology in new ways.
Culture Is What People Do When No One Is Watching
There is such a push to simplify cultural descriptors to make them catchy. However, so much can get lost in the process of simplifying. Companies end up with similar, overlapping competencies.
10x Genomics’ approach is different. Port said, “I think about culture as what people do when no one is watching. People want to describe culture in a few words, but culture isn't words on a wall. It's much more complex than that. A couple years ago, we wrote a five-page document about our culture. When we presented it to the organization, most people said, ‘Can't we have a strapline?’ It was purposeful that we didn't. When you reduce culture to straplines or words, it takes away the nuance and makes it harder to live and breathe it.”
Having said that, Port shared some key descriptors of the culture at 10x Genomics’: “We are incredibly mission-driven. We strive to have an exponential impact in everything we do. We put ‘we’ before ‘me,’ and we believe that exceptional talent delivers outsized results.”
Culture Hinges on Hiring: A “Warts and All” Approach to Recruitment
One common thread among great company cultures is the incorporation of unique and inventive rituals.
At 10x Genomics, culture begins with a highly original and selective recruitment process. Port described this process: “Our culture document is a sort of warts-and-all presentation that we use during recruitment. For example, we openly say that 10x is a really intense place to work. We move really quickly, we work really hard, and we do that because for every moment we lose, there are lives lost as we pursue our ambitious mission. That's not for everybody. So we have a self-selection bias.”
The same cultural document also includes the idea that exceptional talent delivers outsized results. To hire exceptional talent, 10x Genomics sets a high bar: “We select for collaboration, drive, and passion. All of our candidates deliver a presentation regardless of their level in the organization. The CEO reviews every single hire that we make, and all interviews are panel interviews.” The question every hiring manager considers is, “Is this person in the top 1% of people in the world who can do this job?”
Assessing the “Full Ecosystem of Culture” at 10x Genomics
When it comes to measuring engagement, Port emphasizes the importance of zooming out to view the full ecosystem.
She does this in several ways:
- A culture of feedback. Port ensures that everybody across the organization knows that it's their responsibility to not only listen to feedback but also to give feedback. “If you see something that's not working at 10x, we want to hear from you, even if it's well outside of your swim lane. We also instituted feedback training for all employees. A large part of this training is encouraging employees to ask for feedback.”
- Biannual conversations between managers and direct reports. Port said, “The feedback ecosystem on individual feedback is really strong. We don't have formal performance ratings. We bring managers together to conduct performance differentiation so that it’s not a single-point decision.”
- Port conducts two formal employee surveys each year.
- A Ted Lasso-style suggestion box. Port said, “We were also inspired by Ted Lasso to have a suggestion box. In the last six months, we’ve had around 200 suggestions, and we've committed to responding to every single one. It's an open, ongoing Google document, so you can go back and see what people have suggested and how we've responded. Sometimes, it's small things like asking for bike locks. Sometimes it's bigger, like processes that don't work and product ideas.”
10x Genomics Develops Culture by Developing Its First-Line Leaders
Since research correlates 70% of employee engagement to the manager, the way a company develops its leaders can be incredibly telling of its culture.
At 10x Genomics, managers undergo ongoing, thoughtful, and action-oriented touchpoints of development. Here are four key examples:
- Manager training – In the Manager Excellence program, managers learn to coach, develop, facilitate conversations, and give feedback to their teams.
- Manager community – Port and her team are also setting out to create a community across people managers. “It's often really useful to have a peer that you can speak to, talk through challenges with, and get support from. We're currently setting up manager forums, where managers can come together and talk through issues.” Managers will be able to use the forum to discuss daily issues, timely topics including compensation, and random topics of interest.
- Manager digest – Port sends out a manager digest with a cadence of “read, do, watch.” The digest includes timely topics such as preparing for biannual conversations and interesting articles. The ongoing digest helps managers hone their skills.
- Feedback – Port emphasized that “feedback is the best development tool.” Port and her team ensure that their managers are equipped to give great feedback, are willing to do so, and recognize its importance.
Port’s Most-valued Skill At 10x Genomics: Growth Mindset
The heart of any culture is a collection of behaviors. The behaviors that you set out to change dictate your culture. The behavior that Port most wants to see in her employees is a growth mindset. She said, “I think that part of driving happiness is resiliency. It's about learning from mistakes. And it's about how you approach things. If I could enhance the growth mindset across the company, I think we'd end up with a multiplier effect.”
Port’s Book Recommendation for HR Professionals: Big Potential
Of the hundreds of chief people officers I interview, all are voracious learners. Asked what book she would recommend that human resources (HR) professionals read, Port recommended Big Potential by Shawn Achor.
She said, “We recently have rebuilt our employee value proposition around the science of happiness. Happiness is shown to impact basically every measure of success, whether it's doctors making better diagnoses, salespeople outselling their unhappy counterparts, and employees taking fewer sick days, being promoted, and getting paid more. Yet, happiness is a largely misunderstood concept. People think, ‘I will be happy when I'm successful or when I get that pay rise or that promotion.’ But the reverse is true.”
Port added that although a lot of the research on happiness examines what one can do at an individual level to make one happier (meditate, spend time in nature, listen to music, etc.), this book looks elsewhere. “This book is really about how you have a multiplying effect on the happiness around you. How do you come together? Connectivity amplifies happiness, not only for yourself but for those around you.”
What Excites Port Most about the Future of 10x Genomics?
Moving forward, Port is excited about 10x Genomics’ impact on humanity’s ability to diagnose, treat, and cure disease. She said, “It goes back to our mission. We have revolutionized the way that we diagnose, treat, and ultimately cure disease. I believe that 10X is going to help make cancer a thing of the past.”