Do you hire for experience, or on potential?

June 24, 2021
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Joe was Chief at Arrival, joining when the company entered growth mode and helping the business win the accolade of the "UK's number 1 startup" from LinkedIn, based on LinkedIn's data. Why is that significant? As Joe explains, they took an usual approach to talent attraction and hired on potential, not experience.

Full transcript of our "In Conversation with Joe Griston" episode:

- Joining me for today's "In Conversation With" I'm lucky to have Joe Griston. How are you, Joe?

- I'm really well, thank you, how are you?

- Yes, good, getting towards the end of a sunny Tuesday, so I really do appreciate you giving up some time in the early evening. First of all, you work for Arrival. You're a company that is certainly growing in reputation. You've just had a very successful public listing, but if anyone is not familiar with Arrival, who are you?

- So, Arrival is a company making zero emission vehicles for mass adoption, concentrating on commercial vehicles initially. So we've announced that we're building a electric van, electric bus, and a car specifically designed for ride hailing services, as well. But doing things a little bit differently to others where we're creating all technology we can internally. So our own componentry, our own materials, we've also developed a new manufacturing process as well, to basically create a far more sustainable sort of solution to the world. And, yeah, look, we're doing okay.

We've grown to over 2,000 employees since 2015 when we started. Last year, we were named the top startup from LinkedIn in the UK. And yes, just listed the business, which set out to be the biggest listing in UK business history, which was a pretty decent result for us. Just to correct you on one thing, so I've been the Chief of Talent, since a few years now at Arrival, but I've actually just left the business officially to work for the fund behind it. So I'm actually now the Chief of Talent for a few other organizations, but still very much embracing Arrival and looking forward to its success.

- So look, you mentioned there about the fact that you're looking at the supply chain, as one of the big parts of what Arrival does, or that's what you have been doing, and I know that you are quite innovative in that you make a lot of the parts. I have been lucky enough to come down to your offices, and it's an old recording studio that you've turned into this workshop.

Why is it that you've decided as a business that that's where you want to concentrate your efforts and that the supply chain is so important?

- Well, I mean, everything is so important within the automotive industry, but what we were able to do is build a company completely from scratch with zero legacy. And that really became our biggest opportunity and a very powerful asset to us as well.

So if we looked at if we can build a company from scratch with zero legacy, what can we do that would actually improve and innovate on how the traditional industry around vehicles usually works and operates? And so what we realized was that there was so much ability for us to improve a lot of how vehicles are not just designed and manufactured, but how we can actually work with other organizations, those both within the industry and outside it to actually produce much better products that can have a far more sustainable impact on the world.

Something that we're very, very keen to do is to ensure that all the technology and products that we create are really putting us in a better place for the coming years in the future. It's something that I think every company's looking to achieve right now. But, because we're able to set up a business, as I said, without any legacy, it's so rare that we, that anyone can do that. So we really had to think about every single aspect of how we create our products and look to improve all of them.

- You mentioned there that you got an accolade from LinkedIn. What was it again?

- UK's Hottest Startup for 2020, based on LinkedIn's data, I really like this award, because it's not just a group of individuals that are thinking what is our opinion, and what should we choose? It's actually based on the data on LinkedIn's marketplace. So it's based on the quality of people that we hire, the duration that it takes to hire them, the quality of companies that they come from, the quality of engagement we have on the platform as well. So very much metric based to give us that award, which we're quite proud of.

- Which is fascinating because, and I hope you don't mind me, I don't think it's playing devil's advocate 'cause you were quite open with me when we had our first conversation a few years ago when you came on our podcast, but you decided, you made the definite decision to do things not how LinkedIn told you to do them?

- Well, we basically enabled ourselves to take full advantage of the product that they're offering, which is an incredibly powerful product. But there's, I mean, it's quite cliche to say it now, but there was what people attribute to Einstein, the saying "If you do the same thing as everyone else and expect a different result, that's the definition of insanity." So we looked at everyone's recruitment process, and I've personally been a big advocate of pure innovation through that.

That's kind of one of the only business processes yet to actually be thoroughly improved upon since it kind of came into place, or since, you know, job adverts really came into place. Which if you kind of research that, came into place really after the Second World War, where industries started really ramping up and newspapers were obviously everywhere and became a very powerful tool for doing that, and not too much has changed.

So you get a product like LinkedIn, which dramatically increases the ability for companies to reach candidates and vice versa as well. And what we saw was an opportunity using their very powerful platform. If we did things a little bit differently, we might actually stand out and get some different results. And I think I shocked you quite a bit when you came, and I kind of explained in the last podcast exactly kind of how we were doing things at the time. And yeah, that led us to that award, which makes it even more poignant, I think.

- So look, you have been able to build that team, and you described at the beginning some of the incredible scale and growth that the business has gone through, and you've been heavily involved in that. I mean, you joined when you're talking about tens of people, not thousands of people. So what are some of those different approaches that you've employed, and why do you think they've been successful?

- Well, we actually thought of a method that Arrival uses internally called Intelligent Elegance, where we start with price, we decrease complexity, and we maximize functionality. So every time we think of doing anything, creating any products, or putting a new business process together, can we make it affordable? And if we can reduce complexity in everything, usually that hugely increases the functionality of that process or that product as well. And so, what we did was actually look at putting that into our recruitment process as well. So if you look at kind of the standard recruitment process that pretty much most people follow, they'll, you know, a company will try and think of an ideal candidate for a very specific job that they have, and they'll detail a background that they think is a perfect fit for that position.

They'll then advertise that job in many different forms, in many different places. And then basically what happens is people sit back and kind of cross their fingers and just hope that the right applicant then sees the job, chooses to actually apply to it, chooses to create a CV, chooses to then send it to the company.

That company may get five job applicants, may get 5,000 job applicants. Is the job applicant actually gonna, is the CV actually gonna be seen by the organization?

Are they then going to understand that that's the right person? You know, defining someone on a CV is impossible, you know? A CV, there's no quantifiable metrics on there. How can you judge someone's worth on two pieces of paper? It's, you know, I've always kind of disagreed with that as well. And then you would interview someone in very kind of short bursts to actually see if they're the right fit for that role. And there's so many potential mistakes and mishaps that can be made there, but also is that the most innovative and detailed way that you can actually understand if someone's gonna be good for your business? So you mentioned LinkedIn, a product like LinkedIn allows people to head hunt. So do lots of other websites and organizations around the world now, that we can, rather than just hoping the right people apply, we can actually go out and reach candidates, both active and passive candidates as well.

We can then understand the right sorts of people for our job. And something that we've done very, very well is understand people's potential to the business, rather than their past experience. You know, you can learn skills pretty quickly and easily.

It's very hard to change your personality sometimes. So an able to establish a culture fit for the business is hugely important for us. Every company wants great culture, but most of them will ignore the cultural side of things in an interview process, and just say, have you done this? Have you done that? Have you done that? Can you do this? What would you do in this situation? Rather than understanding how people's minds work, what their personalities are, what their abilities and potential is for the future.

You can look at taking people on from a wide variety of activities in trying to define exactly if they're gonna be good, but nothing's ever been proven perfect in that either. So it was quite a simple way of kind of thinking about things when we interview people, and it's a bit more involved than this, but ultimately after everything, you know, what we think is, okay if we interview someone, and we go about our busy day, and we don't actually remember that interview throughout the rest of the day, is that someone to consider? If we interview someone, we go about our busy day, and we can't stop thinking of that person, we wish we could carry on that conversation, that's someone to certainly consider.

Because if you get a group of people that are really good at working with each other, can inspire each other, that can learn from each other as well, is that an actual better way of ignoring the personal aspects of things and just ticking boxes as far as previous skills are concerned? And if you're then looking at candidates who have done a very specific job previously, and they've done that exact same job for five different companies previously, are they gonna do it better in your company and actually make your company more successful than the others as well?

So there's no right or wrong way of thinking of it. We basically opened our minds to what is, you know, a way that we can source candidates and build a business where we can reduce the complexity to maximize functionality. And certainly, in our early days, it worked brilliantly to get a team of people, to build products very differently, to open their minds and experiment on creating different bits of technology, which is a big reason why we've got to where we are today.

- You're talking about skills there, and this idea that they must have X many years worth of experience in X, Y, Z, and people often refer to the war on talent, and they think about software engineers. And they say, you've gotta have three years, five years worth of experience of this particular language. You have, as you've alluded to there, a slightly different approach, which many people would probably think is quite radical. And I know that you tell a story around kind of your battery aspects of the business and taking someone who didn't have any experience of building batteries to make batteries, or something along those lines.

You're gonna have to do a better job of explaining it than I have there. I've made a right hash of it, but I think anyone who works in the talent space would find this quite interesting, the idea that you don't look for people who necessarily have got experience in the thing that you are thinking that they might come into the business to do, right?

- Well, so what you're talking about there is, so the guy that runs our battery area, so batteries, when it comes to electric vehicles are obviously hugely important and vastly important technology to ensure that they're gonna work very well, so it's a hugely competitive market space. And we encourage everyone in that market space to do the best that they can, because if everyone does it better, then everyone else follows, and then we can really start to build more sustainable products. But from the point of view of then hiring the right person, especially when it's a company that maybe people don't know about as well, which is what Arrival was at the time we hired this guy. He was an excellent physicist.

There's no doubt about that, but he'd never actually built battery technology before, but he'd done some amazing things. When he came to interview, he brought in a case for his iPhone that he'd made himself and he'd embedded in that case a flash, 'cause he didn't like the quality of the low light capabilities of the iPhone camera and wanted to massively improve upon that, because he's a bit of an amateur photographer. And so he did, and he developed this thing himself, and he showed it to me at interview. And I was like, you know, "Wow, you must commercialize this, this is great." And he said, "Oh, I do it for fun, it's absolutely fine." And at the time we didn't have a specific role to put this individual in, but I knew that we had to have someone with this mind in the business, so he came on board and joined us.

And it was only after a little while, we were discussing, you know, batteries, we really need to do the best that we can. And this guy said, "Look, let me throw myself into it and see what I can produce", which is what he did, led our battery division, and just got named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for the UK, for being someone great in technology.

So, we're starting to see the results of this different way of thinking.

The fact that he's an amazing physicist before obviously helps when it comes to that technology, but would other companies have employed that individual to do that job to then get to where he is today? You know, maybe not, and that's kind of the advantage of thinking differently.

- Look, I think it sounds wonderful, and it's clearly worked for your business. I suppose the cynic, if I try to take my hat off and step back, regress five years to my days as a recruiter, someone would say yeah, we don't have that luxury of time, Joe.

You know CV's allow us to narrow that pool of candidates and give you people that kind of do tick the box, because the talent market tends to think in terms of, you know, time to hire. And everyone's incredibly busy and doesn't have the time and having this wonderful broad-minded approach of, oh, but this person has a wonderful set of skills, and they might be able, we might be able to find a place for them in the business just, it's not scalable, we haven't got the bandwidth to be able to do that. What's the counter argument? Why would you say no, people should think about this differently?

- Well, I mean, let's talk about reality here for a second as well. We're very fortunate within Arrival and the entities under Kinetic, that we do have a lot of bandwidth to take chances and to experiment as well. Talking about time to hire. We hired that guy within two days of him stepping into our offices because he was that good. And we had to, and that's certainly correct.

It's all about the candidate experience. It's about reacting very quickly. I always kind of advise people because no one really knows what a company's like to work for until you actually start working for it. But judge a company on its interview process. If it takes ages to actually get anyone to make a decision or you have to meet many, many people, you know that might be reflected in how the business actually is internally.

So I always, always kind of recommend that but when it comes to, you know should other organizations adopt this approach? Yes, very much so. If you can get a group of people that constantly learn from what they do, their day job teaches them new skills. They become a very rewarded type of engaged type of group of people working for a business. So yes, it's very key to get the right people on board.

But if you hire what you think is the right person, turns out to be the wrong person or an average person, genuinely it's much better to wait a week or two to make sure you can then get the right person than give them a week or two to up skill let's say because the end result of that, the longer term vision of that is gonna be so much better than thinking in the short term.

Let me give you an example of this. 'Cause this is something that a lot of people just don't really understand. So I've run a talent team many times over and look, I insist everyone in the talent team learns SQL query database as it's such a unique and useful skill to have. I've never heard anyone else that does that. I'm a software engineer by trade myself. And it's, when you give people this understanding and ability to actually start to implement and look and analyze data in certain ways. And they can do that themselves rather than asking someone else to do it and then waiting ages. It's so, so powerful.

Now I'm going to be quite controversial here, maybe 'cause I don't think SQL is that hard to pick up and it's proven that people can actually do it relatively easily. So this is something that we've shown actually works very well because most recruiters, let's say don't necessarily have that in their background but open your mind, do different things, learn from it. And then when you see you're analyzing data making useful insights from that you kind of go, oh wow, I'm pretty good now.

When you didn't have that skill before and you become far more happier in your job and far more involved in that type of activity and influence massively goes around the rest of the employees as well, encouraging everyone else to be like that which then goes into products and goes into the entire business becoming much better culturally too.

- Yeah, we've touched on culture a couple of times. And you've also talked about the importance of creativity and having an open mind. How do you think you can create an environment that fosters that? Because you know, at the minute we've all been working from home, but there will be people who return to offices in a hybrid manner and people will be sat back at desks. Invariably, as a company gets bigger and perhaps it gets a little more stuck in its ways in some regards, and there are traditions within that business. How do you, as I say, how do you foster and maintain that creative entrepreneurial style spirits?

- By hiring the right people in the right way, giving them freedom, communicating thoroughly with them, being open at all times as well. Something that we do in all our businesses is open data sets everywhere. We hide nothing. Let people look at what else is happening in the business.

Let people contribute to ideas elsewhere as well. You establish a much more creative mind frame as well. And there's lots of little things that you can do. So something that we did initially is that in our offices, all monitors faced outwards, no monitor faced a wall, which I'd never seen before, but there's some pretty exciting stuff on people's monitors. And so if you're walking past a monitor and you go, "Wow, what's that thing?" Sit down and have a chat with that person. Those kinds of serendipitous connections are where really good ideas start springing from. We did little things as well that, you know we give everyone food for example but what we did is say, okay, don't eat at your desk. It's one of the only rules we have. Eat in the allotted areas in our offices,

Give people very healthy food but then eat amongst certain times. And then what we were doing, we're changing the desk layout constantly. So no one really knew what the shape of the table was when they were eating with their teams or their, the people that they knew, and that encouraged strangers to eat together 'cause they were kind of forced to. And when strangers share healthy food together, they talk about ideas a lot more, studies have shown. When we drink together, we gossip and fight with each other.

But when we share healthy food with strangers you really get creative. I mean, so little subtle techniques like that have really gone a long way into fostering an open, collaborative, innovative and rewarding environment.

No company is perfect. We certainly haven't built a perfect company. I'm not going to say that at all, but if you can establish an environment that's just nice to come into. And this has really been quite interesting when it comes to the pandemic and remote work, and we've done incredibly well there in how we've been able to support everyone and continuously hire and onboard people remotely as well. But you know, you come into our offices before and they were crackling, they were alive with atmosphere and it was just such an enjoyable place to be. So it's just continue that then being remote.

That's kind of been a massive, massive challenge I think for everyone at the moment. And now there's a lot of talk about are we gonna go back? Are we gonna stay working remotely? Is it gonna be a mix of everything? And I keep seeing companies making announcements and then the same company three months later makes a different announcement. And I think we've just got to see kind of how it goes at the moment. But again, just being open with everything and fully communicative with everything seems to be the right way to go about things, but being open for people's ideas and suggestions as well is massively key. If everyone thinks that they can be a central influence in the business still, is really, really cool to see.

There's actually a really good presentation, actually it's been made into a book now called "How Google Works" which was written by Eric Schmidt and a few of his colleagues in the early days of Google. And it's stuff that still works today. But one of the pages in that book is centered around, you center the company on people that make the biggest impact. So, you know, individuals that are senior in certain tech companies, a senior at any stage of their career, be they a recent graduate be they're about to retire.

They're central because they're brilliant at what they do. Not just because they've worked for a long time and that means they should be in a place of authority. It's the impact that they have. And if you do that, others can kind of see the reward of that and try and get to that same place as well. Nowhere is perfect, but this seems to actually really work really, really well to then create an open, good collaborative environment so it then actually creates some good and innovative products as well.

- Just to check, it has to be healthy food? It can't be pizza or?

- Yeah, you know what? It's the first time I've worked in the tech business where we don't do that. But you know, myself, I guess I'm, let's say aging right now, and the impact I feel on my body when I'm eating healthy food, compared to unhealthy food, is huge.

There's a, I can't remember who said this, there's a saying, I know Sting said it once but I don't know if this is him originally that said, "Aging is simply becoming the person you were always meant to be." And I've kind of taken that to heart a little bit. And if I was looking at how I live my life, and what I put inside my body now, and how healthy I am, had I done that, you know, many years in the past, you know, would I maybe live a healthier life moving forward? You're never gonna convince a younger person of any advice that an older person's gonna give to them.

I remember that, being a young person myself. But what we're establishing here is something that, once you feel the impact of it, you then understand how dramatically important it is and how well it works. We experiment constantly. If the healthy food didn't work, okay, stop it and start serving pizzas again, and see kinda what that happens. Experiment constantly, measure the results and the success of everything, and just make decisions from there, is a really good way to run a business as well.

- On culture, and you mentioned there that we're obviously, we've been keep apart. And a lot of businesses will see that there are downsides and some upsides to the situation. If you look at, I suppose lessons and learnings that you can take from the last 18 months and carry those into the future, what might some of those be?

- Honestly, spend more time with your family. I know that's not what we should be talking about at all but it's something I think everyone's been made to realize just what is important in life. And that's something, if you look at any, any hardship that anyone goes through, it tends to put things into perspective. Weirdly now, I've just stopped doing it, but I used to induct and onboard everyone who joined the businesses. And one of our first slides, we'd say that. You know, there's more to life than work.

Understand that and accept that this company understands that as well. Because again, if you can have a job that supports your life in every way, it impacts you much better, both professionally but also mentally, and in physical health as well. So it's not business related, but for me, you know, my family life, my personal experience has been one that's really come home to hit me over these last kinda couple years, certainly. And just understand what's important. And also, something really good that I've learned recently, always assume positive intent, no matter what anyone's about to come to you about, if they've got a mean look on their face, or if they're saying something you might not agree with.

Just assume positive intent, react to it in a positive way. It's such a better way of being and it makes you feel really good in yourself as well. And then something else someone told me the other day is that you're never gonna be able to improve the past. So accept it and move on. And you know, the past that we've all had in this past year, has been hard globally for everyone.

But then look at things from a global perspective. There's almost 8 billion people on the planet. You know, a lot of them live in poverty and come from war zones, and don't have the opportunities that other people do, even if they've been through kinda hard times as well. Put everything into perspective, always assume good intent, and put family first, is what I personally learned through all of this.

- So last question before I let you go Joe. And if we turn our attention back to the core business of Arrival, what do you think, without you know, obviously everyone is aware that electric vehicles, now zero emission vehicles are incredibly important if we're going to have a sustainable future. But what do you think we need to do in the next two or three years to realize the potential?

You've talked a little bit about batteries and improving the technology there, I've just moved into a house in Kent, they've all got charging ports built into the sides of the houses here, which is fantastic to see, knowing that there are challenges obviously around kinda getting people to adopt to that technology. But what do you think the next key steps are in the mass adoption of the technology that is available and that Arrival is putting out there?

- I mean, as individuals, open up and embrace any new technology is what, there's always something quite strange that happens if you try and introduce anything new. A lot of people tend to fight against that and react against it, and I've never really understood why.

So when it comes to electric vehicles, they're obviously much better than the solution that we're used to, so we must embrace. That's it, you know? Don't try and fight against it when it's replacing something that certainly is a lot worse to the environment and to us as humanity. Infrastructure is something that certainly needs to improve, as far as charging points, as you mentioned. Especially in cities, people that don't have driveways as well. But that's really coming along massively now. If you look at the amount of charge points on London, let's say, five years ago, to the amount now, it's still not enough but it's a huge, huge increase. And that's only gonna get better and better.

But also, I find it very strange as well when I read things in the press. Like recently, you know, there was supposedly a Tesla crashed in autopilot mode. And you know, it's headline news. But no one writes about the amount of lives that autopilot saves on a daily basis, I don't know why 'cause it does save many lives constantly. It's something that people want to prove that something doesn't work. If you look at autonomous vehicle technology as well, we're doing a lot of that within Arrival.

You know, 1.3 million people die in traffic deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization. It's now the biggest single killer of people under 30, on the planet. More so than any single disease. And the fact that we just accept that, is insanity, it's crazy. So we must embrace and adopt that technology but there's a lot of people that are fearful about it. But it's still a much better solution than we have now. I hear constantly, I'm sure you've heard this as well when people try to, want to reject autonomous vehicles is they say, "Oh okay, so what do you do if an autonomous vehicle is going to you know, have a choice, it's gonna crash and it's gonna crash into a group of school children or a nanny or something like that.

What choice do you program it to have?" And it's a silly question because the way to answer that is well, what would you do? Because right now, you can drive home today and get into that same situation so what choice do you make? And no one can answer that question. And it's not a question of making a choice, it's a question of machines learning and constantly understanding what the best thing is for us to do, and that's so powerful moving forward.

So we must embrace this technology because it's not only sustainable for our future but it will stop killing us as well. And even if it's twice as good as what we have now, it's so important.

It's gonna take a little while, unfortunately to get onto the roads. Because of governments allowing for safety legislation, as is very much it should, but no one should reject any form of new technology, especially when it comes to more sustainable vehicles and a safer way of traveling around cities and then around the world as well. This is the future for a reason, everyone's understanding this now. And it's not just, I mean, I have an electric car as well and the experience of driving it is so much better than I've experienced before. I used to be called a Petrol Head.

You know, I used to love big V8's, and so I mean, that quickly changed when I think understood actually how damaging they are. But then also, how much better an electric vehicle is to drive, how much more fun it is, but how safer it is as well. And I think a lot, what's really good is that a lot of people used to think about you know, being impressive with a car, and talking about its naught to 60 time. Now people talk about its miles per gallon and things like that as well. So we're seeing it start to change. And this is something that we must continue because it is a much, much better solution than what we have at the moment.

- Joe, it's been an absolute pleasure to speak to you. Good luck in the, I don't want to say new role, I kinda wanna say, evolved role given that you're still heavily involved in Arrival. But good luck in that, and yeah, thanks for your time.

- Thank you very much Dave, really appreciate it.

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