Companies Hiring, Executive Feature

How One Company Relies on “Humor and Humility” to Drive Innovation

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It’s not often that a company will reveal the true secrets of their success. After all, a strategy for groundbreaking innovation is worth millions or even billions. It is standard practice for any company — from Apple to Applebee’s — to require employees and those visiting the corporate headquarters to sign an agreement barring the transmission of proprietary information. Even Beyonce requires friends to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before parties!

Dataminr, however, is on a mission to ensure their clients are the first to know about high-impact events and critical breaking information. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, Dataminr is a pioneer in synthesizing and sharing information. So when we asked Dataminr’s SVP of People Ingrid Kessler about the secrets to their success as an organization, she shared openly. Key components of  Dataminr’s winning formula: humor and humility.

“I really lean on humor and humility as a guide for myself and when coaching others as we navigate hard work, remain agile to capitalize on new opportunities, and celebrate successes, which are all part of a rapidly growing company,” says Kessler. “These attributes start from the top. CEO Ted Bailey and the entire executive team exhibit humor and humility regularly.”

Glassdoor caught up with Kessler to talk about how Dataminr has become one of the world’s leading businesses in AI and Machine Learning innovation. Here’s what she said and why you should consider joining a team that is so passionate about what they do.

Glassdoor: Dataminr is known for transforming social media events into actionable information. How do you as SVP of People transform the feedback you get from your employees into actionable strategies to improve the culture? An example?

Ingrid Kessler: Last year, we doubled in headcount from 150 to 300 and we are continuing to grow at a very rapid pace. For any company scaling that dramatically, it is critical to keep an ear to the ground in formal and informal ways – and then to find ways to balance quick wins with longer-term strategic initiatives. To gather input we run lightweight surveys on a regular basis and have a Manager Network that meets monthly. We also have an open door policy within the People team and find that many employees set up time to talk with us about needs and concerns, as well as to share positive feedback. It’s an incredible part of our culture that our employees are so forthcoming and collaborative.

One of the programs we launched quickly was in response to asks from our teams for more accessible wellness initiatives. We introduced yoga and meditation classes onsite in various offices, as well as reimbursement for wellness-related apps. For larger initiatives, such as performance management and onboarding, we incorporate survey feedback into our planning cycle. Recently, we heard that employees wanted a more formalized way to organize diversity efforts and so we just launched employee resource groups focused on diversity initiatives in recruiting, internal education, mentorship, and volunteerism. When employees see real changes and new programs that are in direct response to their honest feedback, they are encouraged to give more feedback! We can’t institute everything requested, but as a People team, we do our best to explore each request and provide feedback and context, as well as realistic timeframes around any decisions made.

our product is constantly in motion

Glassdoor: HR is changing and employer branding is changing. How do you ensure that candidates and job seekers get a clear, consistent picture of what makes Dataminr a great place to work?

Ingrid Kessler: Dataminr’s culture is palpable and remarkably consistent – you can talk to anyone at the company and they’d strike you as proactive, collaborative, down to earth, and committed to achieving outstanding results. Our people are also passionate about our product and the positive impact Dataminr has on our clients and the world. I was fortunate enough to walk into this amazing culture when I joined a little over a year and a half ago, so instead of “creating a culture,” my priority became articulating what was already in the air so we could maintain its integrity as we scaled. We crystallized and defined four key behaviors that drive success at Dataminr – Own it, Find a Better Way, Bring Others Along and Drive Results. Now, we focus on ensuring that everything we do internally with employees and externally to engage job-seekers relates to these key behaviors – from our CSR Program, Alert to Action, to the way we position our job descriptions, to our social media accounts and the stories we show and tell. We also reinforce these behaviors by providing additional training to our internal recruiting team, and our interviewers and hiring managers, and then bring these behaviors to life for our new hires during orientation. Internally, we use them as hashtags when publicly recognizing each other for great work, and we promote and reward employees who exhibit those behaviors. We work very hard to ensure that the Dataminr experience is consistent from job research to interview to Day 1 and beyond in all of our offices.

Glassdoor: Any unique tools or strategies you’re employing to recruit people who are aligned with Dataminr’s culture?

Ingrid Kessler: We encourage all interviewers to remember that candidates are interviewing us as much as we are interviewing them so we need to ensure that we share our passion, enthusiasm, and drive, leave time for questions from candidates in each interview, and push ourselves to actively seek out candidates who are strong in ways that are different from and additive to the current team. To give insight into life at Dataminr, we bring the behaviors that drive success to life across the candidate experience by sharing examples, stories and case studies. In addition, we believe that bringing in great talent is everyone’s responsibility, not just the People team’s. Individuals at every level of the organization are involved in the interview process, and we provide training for those who are new to the process. We bring our teammates to career fairs to give candidates the opportunity to talk to individuals from across departments about what it’s like to work at Dataminr. And, we run an employee referral program because we know that the best ambassadors for Dataminr are the people who work here.

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Glassdoor: The part of Dataminr’s mission to do things with a sense of “humor and humility” really stood out to me. What does that look like in action? What’s an example of you and your team operating with both humor and humility?

Ingrid Kessler: I’m so glad that resonated with you! I really lean on humor and humility as a guide for myself and when coaching others as we navigate hard work, remain agile to capitalize on new opportunities, and celebrate successes which are all part of a rapidly growing company. These attributes start from the top. Ted and the entire Executive Team exhibit humor and humility regularly. In new hire orientation, we show a video that talks about the importance of our work and closes with a blooper reel of Ted stating his name and role in humorous ways. That tells employees from the beginning that we take what we do seriously, and that we can also laugh and enjoy ourselves!  Similarly, it is common to be in a meeting and hear a senior leader go out of their way to ask a question that might seem extremely basic or obvious to ensure that everyone is truly on the same page. Questions are always encouraged and retrospection is valued as a way to continuously improve and problem solve together as a team. In an interview recently, one of our senior engineering team mentioned (and I’m paraphrasing) that we talk about being a company of no ego, where good ideas can come from anywhere and teams work cross-functionally to solve problems – and that Dataminr is the first place he’s worked where that is really true.

We all work hard, but we also keep our work in perspective and maintain balance in our lives. When you are as close as we are to breaking news events around the world, you can’t help but be humble and grateful. We genuinely respect and enjoy each other as colleagues.

Glassdoor: Women’s history month is upon us, so as a senior female leader at Dataminr what are a few ways that you and your team are nurturing the careers of talented women, specifically?

Ingrid Kessler: We have a culture that encourages new ideas, rewards high potential talent, and makes room for diverse voices at the table. We run internal programs that support and inspire Dataminr women. For example, our mentorship program aims to pair women up with other women whenever possible – this not only gives women mentees a chance to learn from other women, but it also gives women mentors who may not have had other formal leadership opportunities a chance to step up.  Additionally, we’re celebrating International Women’s Day globally by hosting a speaker who will focus on inspiring Dataminr women to be pioneers and innovators.   These are cultural elements within our organization that enable and encourage women to speak up.

In addition to cultivating an organization where women can thrive, we have a recruiting strategy in place that connects us with talented women. We post on career sites that target women, including women in tech and women returning to the workplace.  We’ve also increased our presence at women-focused recruiting conferences, including the booth we sponsor at the Anita Borg Grace Hopper Celebration. As a result of our purposeful sourcing, recruiting and engagement efforts, I’m proud to share that over the past two years we doubled the number of women we hired into our organization.

did you know we have the happiest engineering team in the world if you

Glassdoor: Oftentimes, users come to Glassdoor as they are navigating their career and trying to tackle things like management and salary negotiations. What advice would you give to a first-time manager when she’s starting out?

Ingrid Kessler: Don’t be afraid of delegating all of your work away. There is always more work to do. By bringing others into your most interesting projects, you lift them up with you and allow them to grow and be engaged.  In return, they will bring new perspectives to your work and create more space for your own growth by creating time for you to take on new projects, strategize and plan.

Regarding compensation and promotions, ask for what you believe you deserve. Don’t wait for someone to recognize your hard work and don’t sit back insulted that your manager didn’t think to give you a raise on their own. Ask. And when you ask, provide a business case for yourself. Market yourself, your accomplishments and your team’s accomplishments internally. Your company won’t agree to pay you what you ask for unless they also believe you are worth it – no matter who started the conversation – so start it.

Finally, pick your battles. I try to save my most impassioned arguments for times when I am advocating for my direct reports. I fight hard to give my team every opportunity to grow and to succeed. If an initiative needs to be adjusted or I can’t find a compelling enough business reason to support a request, I accept that because it is critical to keep the bigger company picture in mind and stay positive. If however, my team or direct report is deserving of a role, a resource, or recognition, I do everything I can to make it happen for them.

Glassdoor: What are your thoughts on managing with goals and objectives?

Ingrid Kessler: We are driving a results- and performance-oriented culture, and fully believe in managing with goals and objectives. I believe it is impossible to ensure that employees and managers are aligned on expectations unless you articulate them, agree upon them together in advance, and write them down where they are visible to both of you. As a best practice, goals should be measurable and the way to measure success should be defined at the outset. While it is usually straightforward to define success using metrics for quantitative goals, like revenue targets, I believe we should also find ways to create and review metrics when defining success for qualitative goals, like better communication. I also believe goals should be developed as a partnership. Some goals only work if they are employee driven, some only work if they are driven from the top, and some need to be conceived of together. I also believe that goals should be flexible – things change, priorities shift.  It does not make sense to hold an employee accountable for something that is no longer relevant to the company or possible to achieve given constraints outside of an employee’s control. Most importantly, every employee should be working towards goals that align with short-term priorities in their role, medium-term company-wide objectives and long-term personal professional development goals.

dataminr takes care of its people with a daily catered meal and a fully

Glassdoor: What are some of the ways you keep employees engaged?

Ingrid Kessler: Luckily, at Dataminr, there is no shortage of interesting and impactful projects to work on – the company is growing quickly and there are always new initiatives that are driving us forward and ways for individuals to contribute. Our culture is also flexible where we encourage employees to communicate openly with their managers should they feel their work is not keeping them engaged or contributing to their future career goals. Then when we have people working on the right things, we set clear and high expectations, hold people accountable, give feedback,  and reward and recognize success. Our quarterly OKR process provides more formal ways for employees to check in – to both provide and listen to feedback, as well as to set clear and measurable goals that drive performance and engagement.

We also focus on engaging people with the wider organization through company-wide town halls, departmental all-hands meetings, and our Slack internal communications channels.

We support learning through a robust Professional Development Reimbursement program, Mentorship Program, a management network that meets monthly, and knowledge sharing opportunities such as our Lunch and Learn series.  We also recognize the importance of recharging to stay “switched-on” when at work, so we keep the entire human being in mind – from offering mental health and wellness resources to providing flexibility to ensure people can be home on time to catch their kids’ soccer game or go to dinner with friends.

Glassdoor: Lastly, a fun one, what was your first job and what did you learn from it?

Ingrid Kessler: My first real job with a paycheck was working in a toy store when I was in High School. I had shifts where I was in the back and up to my ears in boxes unpacking toys and stocking them on the shelves.  Then I had shifts where I was out on the floor helping customers find the perfect gift. Through that job, I learned that the people you work with can make even the most tedious tasks, like doing inventory, fun and rewarding. Working hard together, taking pride in our work, and keeping a sense of humor was critical. I also learned that I enjoyed balancing my time between being out in front with customers and getting work done in the back by myself. Even today, I love helping people, interviewing candidates, and coaching but I also love hiding behind my computer to work on a complex spreadsheet once in a while!

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