Win the Talent War – Dustin Lucien, COO of Betterment
As the Chief Operating Officer of Betterment, Dustin Lucien knows about company culture and why it is important in attracting and retaining the right talent. Betterment was featured recently in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, CNBC, and Forbes. And it is no wonder there is a buzz. Lucien explains, “Betterment is the largest independent robo-advisor, currently managing more than 6 billion in assets, and has more than 200,000 customers on the platform.”
Time-Stamped Show Notes
[00:00] Introduction of Dustin Lucien, Chief Operating Officer at Betterment.
[02:40] Tips for attracting and hiring top talent.
[04:35] Lucien describes an ideal candidate for employment.
[06:00] The interview technique that helps uncover a candidate’s willingness to be open.
[07:49] The interview process is important not only in finding someone who is a good fit for the company but also for the candidate to discover if it is a good fit for him or her.
[10:03] The most expensive hire is a hire that doesn’t work out.
[10:56] Company culture and how to encourage employee engagement.
[14:10] Employee feedback and ways to make it work best for management and employees alike.
[18:12] Advice for new grads.
[19:45] Your invitation to lunch at Betterment.
[20:43] Last words of wisdom.
Introduction and Background
When Lucien joined Betterment 4 years ago, it was a relatively small company with only 23 employees. Now, with assets of 6 billion and 200,000 customers, it is the largest independent robo-advisor. Lucien explains, “We leverage automation to invest your money in a globally diversified portfolio of exchange-traded index funds, and give you personalized financial advice.” Their rapid growth and success have caught the attention of media, prompting features in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, CNBC, and Forbes.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Lucien moved to New York 15 years ago, and for the last decade he has been “leading and building engineering and product development teams in the New York community.” Along with his wife, daughter, and their dog, he lives in Brooklyn but tries to get out of town as much as possible. They love the outdoors, especially family hiking.
What Kind of Employee Do You Look For?
“What we’re looking for is pretty consistent. We’re not interested initially on going deep on specific skills, but we look for high horsepower, passion, and openness,” says Lucien. Equally high on the list of attributes are general curiosity, a willingness to listen and engage in building their product as part of the team. These are more important than anything else. After that, they start to dig into skills, but they are secondary to these qualities.
The Interview Process
At Betterment, they use case study techniques as part of the interview process. “For instance,” explains Lucien, “if we were interviewing for an engineer, in the interview process we try to create a candidate experience, para-programming and collaborating with other team members, making sure we find the right collaborative nature.” This technique helps not only the company to see if it’s a good fit, but it does the same for the candidate. Instead of asking questions, they learn about each other through their work.
A Good Fit Equals a Long-Term Hire
Lucien believes they can learn a lot working collaboratively with a candidate, and get an authentic feel for them. They want to make sure the applicant gets a good feel for them as a company, and as co-workers. From experience, he knows it is important that both the prospective employee and the company are happy with the fit. “The most expensive hire is a hire that doesn’t work out. We want to make sure they are happy with their decision, coming into the role, and never look back.” If that means having a few extra conversations on the way in, he says they’re happy to do that. He also likes to have them come in for a day with their peers, have lunch, and get to know one another.
Cultural Perspective and Employee Engagement
“Our cultural perspective feels like a tech company feels, and that is the culture we want to develop. We work quickly in small teams and in a collaborative environment, with a flat, informal structure,” explains Lucien. “We empower the small teams with goals so they can run at their goals with nothing in their way.” They boast an open floor plan, and on Wednesdays and Fridays, the chef on staff makes tasty, healthy food. They spend time together enjoying the great meal. For new hires, the company policy is that everybody is in a band within the company. It has nothing to do with your team. It gives employees a good feel for the company, as they get exposure to different roles, and learn about other aspects of the business. This seems to increase employee engagement and a strong sense of belonging.
Effective Employee Feedback
They use a variety of mechanisms, including employee reviews, upward feedback, and 360 feedback. There is a high value placed on having employees’ voices heard. There are team meetings, and a great show and tell opportunities to share what they’re working on, and hear feedback from other employees. There are other meetings of all kinds, including a special one for engineers to share their projects. There is a quarterly cycle, with anonymous questions from employees, and the CEO or COO gets up and fields those questions. As well, there is an anonymous online quarterly engagement survey to gauge how the company is doing, and how it is meeting the needs of its workers.
Lucien’s Advice and a Special Invitation
When asked what advice he might have for someone just graduating, if they are interested in one day having a job like his, Lucien doesn’t hesitate. “The thing I probably learned in the last decade or so, is that the moment you actually stop thinking about your career and start thinking solely about the company success and mission, things start changing.” He found that when he focused his energy on the company, really believing in their mission, his career really took off.
Lucien offers a special invitation to prospective employees. “If you’ve written Finance off your list as a possible career, stop by for lunch. Come meet us, and see the environment, because you will be surprised. It is not like any legacy financial service company.”
Words of Wisdom
Since his first child was born this year, Lucien says that he’s become more of an early riser than ever before. He gets to the office early and spends at least a half-hour in the gym. Since making those two changes, he says he is more productive than he’s ever been before.
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