Fighting (And Winning) The Talent War With Curiosity

Unemployment rates are floating near 2% in Silicon Valley. That means companies are duking it out for top-tier employees, and CMOs are realizing that potential hires are another target to contend with. This is the case with Leela Srinivasan, CMO of Survey Monkey—a company with 900+ employees that’s grown over 32% in the past 2 years. Sounds like she may know a thing or two about finding, recruiting, and keeping talent.

One especially important aspect of Srinivasan’s success is that the talent war wasn’t just a key challenge for her—it was an opportunity to utilize her company’s purpose-driven statement and tools, putting them on full display. This meant that SurveyMonkeys guiding statement, “we power the curious,” and the powerful survey creation tools they offer, could help make a potent culture that employees would want to be a part of. Good things come from curiosity, it seems. Read some highlights from her recent podcast episode below, and listen to the full interview here.

So, where did “power the curious” come from?

We had actually come up with ‘power the curious’ a year or so ago. Our organization, before I arrived, went through a brand refresh. As part of that, the company defined this mission of powering the curious which was one of the things that actually drew me to SurveyMonkey. I consider myself intellectually curious. I’ve always hired for intellectual curiosity and there’s something really delicious about this notion that with our products and solutions enable individuals and organizations everywhere to measure, benchmark, and act on the feedback and opinions of the stakeholders that they care about most.

CMOs often like to shake things up at the start of their tenure, but you didn’t take that approach. Why?

A couple of things. Number one: this notion of curiosity is something that we’ve seen a lot of our audience lean into. That curiosity is truly intriguing and inspiring, and I think the smartest people always display curiosity. Since the idea itself partially drew me to the organization, I certainly wanted to explore it further. Second: As we think more broadly and about tying this back into our talents, at the organization, we had this notion of powering the curious and thought about ‘well, what is the employee value proposition? Why would someone come to work at SurveyMonkey?’ And we now think of the organization as ‘the place where the curious come to grow.’ And I think for me that really taps into what people are looking for in their careers and their work experience these days, which is the opportunity to develop, to grow, to continue learning— and it’s SurveyMonkey. Of course, we put a particular spin on it which is the fact that so much of that learning can be derived from feedback. If you can just isolate that feedback tap into the why and then act on it then that’s what can spur this tremendous growth in innovation.

And you probably do your fair share of surveying, yourself, right?

This is where the ‘eating in your own restaurant’ definitely comes into play. In so many ways here at Survey Monkey, we’re probably guilty—if it’s possible—of gathering almost too much feedback. There are certainly plenty of instances on a monthly basis where we leverage our own technology and our own survey platform to get needle-moving feedback.

What do you look at with employee surveys?

We use our own technology to measure employee engagement and better understand where the areas of opportunity are for us, to continue making Survey Monkey a fantastic place to work and the kind of culture where every employee can feel like they belong, like they can bring their best selves to work and really be part of something. We do that in a couple of ways. We have an ongoing pulse survey that we run through our tool Survey Monkey Engage, which takes the pulse quite regularly with short surveys and then has a longer survey twice a year. We also run a regular inclusion and belonging survey that delves specifically into how much our employees feel like they do belong to something.

How do you use all that data and information?

Every leader here including myself, and my leaders on my team, is given the scores for their department to better understand how they stack up against the broader organization, where the opportunities are, where they’re ahead, where they’ve got more work to do. That’s the fundamental way that we actually think about the health of our overall organization and our talent base because our people are obviously so important in us delivering on our promises out to the market.

And any creative or especially effective ways you use your own offering??   

Really, we use surveys for everything you can think of from, designing our new headquarters building— a lot of which was fueled by thinking on what employees would like to see in their place of work—to the shaping some of our HR strategies. We recently rolled out vendor benefits in response to feedback from the organization that people who walk the hallways every day and feel like part of the team but happened to work for third-party contractors, whether it’s janitorial services or kitchen staff and so forth. People on the Survey Monkey team wanted to see them get the same level of benefits. And so, we actually made the decision to invest in delivering more benefits that were more in line with our own full-time employee benefits. And that idea came directly from the employee base. We’re constantly listening for ways to improve our offerings our organization through our survey technology.

Are there any lessons that you’ve learned as you’ve rolled out “Power the Curious?

One thing I will say is, we do have the benefit of having quite a well-known brand. Our aided brand awareness is really quite high in the scheme of things. But, for me, the learning has been that there’s a difference between brand awareness and true brand understanding. As we look at the next 12 to 18 months, the course that I’m plotting for my organization is for us to really extend people’s understanding of the power of Survey Monkey. It’s one thing to be seen as a sort of easy to use self-serve solution, but we’ve built consumer grade technology that is used at over 600,000 organizations globally. I’m very excited to really further that understanding.

What about customer feedback?

Of course. It’s critical that we really understanding how customers are feeling about the products and the services that we provide and where our opportunities for improvement are. And you know the most fun thing of all for me, Drew, is that the people who are in the best position to tell our story are the customers and the companies that are experiencing the benefit. And we are so early in our journey of really surfacing and celebrating and elevating those customers. I definitely plan to tap into and be inspired by a lot of what we’re seeing, hearing, learning from customers as they share back with us about their successes.

How important is curiosity to marketing?

Think about the last campaign that fell flat on its face or that showed an element of tone deafness to it. Chances are, the person running that campaign or devising that campaign didn’t take the time to go test that that idea to go get feedback from the masses or their target audience to confirm that it would resonate. And frankly, in this day and age, I don’t think there’s an excuse for that. You can run any sort of AB test or concept test through a platform like Survey Monkey. And for marketers in particular I would encourage them to be curious and make sure that no matter how brilliant you think your idea is, you take the time to go out and pressure test it, get feedback, get data that will help to confirm that you’re on the right track.

How did you measure the successes of that effort?

We looked at the volume of responses we had—a tremendous engagement with the surveys themselves with well over 130,000 responses to the surveys, and then we could turn around and actually share that content back out with the world to better understand how people had reacted to these questions around being a working parents or whether they had identified their dream job whether they felt like they were even in it today. It generated a lot of conversation just based on the content and the ideas that surfaced from the surveys and the good news I think for any marketer is you can do that every day of the week if you want. Using a platform like Survey Monkey and this is where I think there’s tremendous power in research as a source of original content, where really it’s about coming up with the idea that you want to test or tap into, and running that survey whether it’s to your customers or audiences that you know or whether you need to come to a service like us and find that third party panel. But it really is about bringing the ideas to market and exploring things that tie in with the value that you provide in the world and having something interesting to say based on that.

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