The Tech Industry Has a Responsibility to Do More Than Just “Move Fast and Break Things”

The tech industry, more specifically the AI space, has been thrust into the spotlight once again.  Companies are being held accountable for making short-term decisions that make a long-standing impact… and it’s about time.

The companies that push their “ghost workers” or “crowd” to standardize their annotated data that drives down cost and increases speed of delivery finally being exposed on causing irreversible damage on influencing bias in algorithms in favor of profits. The same companies have recently been exposed for other unethical practices such as asking the same “ghost workers” to describe their skin tone in the job application process, thinking that by weeding out certain applicants because of their skin color will help in ensuring they’re not biased in their annotation.

Why have these practices even existed in the first place? I think it can be explained by the mantras that dominate the tech industry itself. We’re taught to “move fast and break things” and while that is great for innovation, translating this into business decisions doesn’t always equate to doing what’s right for society.

You don’t need to be the CEO to have your company’s values guide you to the right decision in difficult situations. The importance that values have as an organization is not simply to attract talent to work for you or inspire people to work harder but rather to guide employees and businesses themselves when facing difficult decisions. These decisions aren’t just what guide leaders of organizations but ones that individuals are facing every day in their work life.

Short Term Sacrifice, Long Term Impact

While AI is pioneering the future, businesses have long faced difficult decisions, as doing the right thing for society can often come at a sacrifice to profits. There are inspirational examples of businesses that were faced with making difficult business decisions that ended up being good for society. In hindsight these decisions seem like a no-brainer but in the moment, they were certainly anything but simple as they were bad for business.

One example of this came in 1982 when Johnson & Johnson’s worst nightmare became a reality. Seven people died in Chicago after taking Extra Strength Tylenol, their best selling product, that was laced with cyanide through tampering. Most predicted that Tylenol would never recover from the sabotage, yet it became a hero moment for the company. The decision as to what to do was placed on the company’s chairman, James Burke, who quickly decided to pull the product from not just the shelves of the Chicago stores where the tampering occurred but the entire product line of 31 million bottles. Those Tylenol capsules that were pulled were replaced with another product in the safer tablet form free of charge. At this time, recalling products was unheard of and this one cost J&J more than $100M and a few years later another $25M with the relaunch of safer Tylenol non-tampering bottles.

The move turned out to be the right one. The stock was teetering in the short term during the recall but quickly steadied and recovered two months later to record highs. The stock has paid out investors in dividends ever since. The interesting part of this entire story was when faced with this difficult decision, James Burke was calm and steady in his decision making. When asked how Burke seemed so in control of the decision at the time, he simply stated that the J&J Credo provided his guiding light.

The Credo, which is nearly 350 words, lays out the guiding light in the first sentence: “We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services”.

When faced with difficult moments, the values of the company provide the lighthouse to where to steer the ship.

Saving the Soul of AI

The long road isn’t often celebrated in tech, where you’re constantly pushed for instant ROI without a discussion of downstream consequences. But these are exactly the discussions we should be having, especially in AI. We’re finally beginning to hear the world’s best brands begin to detach themselves from the AI tools that source from the “crowd”, but frankly, it’s long past due and the voices aren’t loud enough to make a significant difference.

From my conversations with Data Scientists, they overwhelmingly believe that ethics, fairness and bias in AI are real problems that can be solved today before we go down an irreversible path. There are brilliant researchers who often root against the success of their own research until they’re confident that businesses will make the right decisions. This harkens back to 1941, where researchers retracted papers they submitted to Physical Review on plutonium, holding them until the end of World War II. Do we have to wait for AI’s Hiroshima moment or can we take pre-emptive steps?

There are many facets of doing the right thing in AI, but regardless of industry, it starts with the data supply chain: from data sourcing, to data annotation to data enrichment and management. AI is not yet fully regulated and doing this rigorous work can be hard and go unnoticed. Still, the regulation of artificial intelligence is coming. The short cuts businesses tmake when deciding how their AI supply chain is sourced will catch up to and cost more in the long run, and rightfully so. To pre-empt businesses from making the wrong decision in these moments we need to continually force the conversation, demand that innovation does not have to come at the detriment to humanity and have consequences for those that are not centered on this.

Why I Work at Sama

One of the many reasons why I chose to work at Sama, one of the only B-Corp certified companies in AI, is the strong foundation built on integrity, humanity and the importance of diversity at all levels. These values have guided us through many difficult times, helping us ensure we do the right thing whether that’s taking care of our data labelers during COVID-19 times, or how we approach building the world’s most trusted human in the loop annotation tool that leverages the diversity of our labelers. We’re constantly tested as a business and while it’s tempting to take the short cut it’s typically true that the right thing to do is to stand by our core values regardless of the cost.

At Sama, we believe the right decision for your data supply chain should start with partnering with companies that have a technology-enabled impact story that increases economic opportunity in underserved communities rather than crunches it through margin. To keep us honest, there was a randomized controlled trial through MIT researchers over 3 years, to measure exactly that: Whether a flourishing business can also deliver significant, measurable impact and stand for ethics in AI.

I work at Sama to continually be a part of something bigger that creates growth the right way, because doing the right thing should always be celebrated over short-term, ruthless business decisions. You can be a part of saving AI’s soul and still run an amazing tech business.

Why do you choose to work where you work?

June 30th, 2020, a Milestone

Today marks a milestone for a lot of business leaders and professionals out there. This is the end of the month, your quarter and the first half of 2020 in the bag.

At the end of today, look back and reflect on everything you’ve done this year. Whether you hit your targets, took on new projects, landed a job or laid off from a job, it’s healthy to reflect on the fight you went through. You’ve been tested. You’ve questioned your strengths. Your outlook on race in world has been influenced. You’ve been scared for your family and friends. The uncertainly as to what’s ahead has proven to be quite cloudy and that can be rattling. Despite all of this, you’ve pushed through and survived. You’ve turned challenges into opportunities and become more aware of the issues surrounding you.

Now the question really becomes whether you’ve made a difference, become stronger, led others through the uncertainty and picked them up, helped them through the same mess to see a world in a new light. Success during the next 6 months will look differently than the last 6. The next 6 months will be about how you are even stronger than the last 6 months. It’s no longer just about surviving but turning the world around to be better than it was entering 2020. You may think that your voice is small, but the world needs leadership right now in every corner of life. This adds up to make a compound difference. 

To get this all started, take a few minutes and recognize those who helped you, fought by your side and thank them. Thank your family / friends for being there when it mattered most and kept their confidence in you through everything. 

Thanking them publicly is even more impactful so I’d love to start. I’m not going to include why I’m thanking them, I just want them to know that they made a difference. Carolyn Betts, Sam Jacobs, Sonny McCall, Brooke Motta, Nate Gentner,  Kris Taylor, Chris Monberg, Katrina Wong, David Yandel, Jeff Gore, Mehul Patel, Ed Schafer, Jeff Torbeck, Ronny Criss, Andy Madden. 

One exception on not including reasons is my wife, Julie Yandel. Who’s been my lighthouse and will continue to be my partner in navigating the world in front of us, whether it’s through a storm or sunny weather, we got this. 

After reflecting yourself, please comment below on people that have made a difference in your life this past six months. 

The Perfect Prospecting List

In sales, there’s this promise of the secret list. The one made of gold. The destination is so alluring for the sales person. The list that is filled with buyers who are ready to answer an email with “hell yes!” and pick up the phone ready to see your product with pockets full of money. Best of all? They’re the decision maker and don’t need any buy in from other parties. I have the map that can lead you to this destination. 

The map is nowhere. Neither is the destination. Every sales person will always complain about lead quality, it’s natural. However, those that come around to the fact that the “gold in them thar leads” is the journey itself, are the ones who separate from the pack to become great. When getting a fresh batch of leads, whether you’re an Enterprise AE being handed a lead from your SDR, or whether you are an SDR getting a batch of leads from your RevOps person, here are some good reminders to get you going: 

  • Look at your leads with the intent to screen in, not screen out. Spend the extra time to “connect the dots”. 
  • Look at the company, not just the user and ask whether or not the company could use your solution and what the user may stand to benefit from passing you on internally. 
  • Turn a loss (”no” on an email or call) into a potential win by asking the extra question on how you can help the prospect in other ways than selling them something. Maybe it’s an introduction to someone in your network that could help, or a recommendation on where they can take their kids hiking this weekend. Always look to add value. 
  • Research the user, not just the company. Find common connectors within your organization as well as your network to “connect the dots” on making the introduction warm. 
  • Research the company, not just the user. Find connective value to other companies within a similar industry. Is there a trend happening in this industry that you can spot early to “connect the dots” and create a compound effect in sourcing. 

Finally, always…. Always stay positive during the hunt and discovery process. It’s tough to push through but if you go the extra mile every day, you’ll turn 10 leads into 100 just by peeling back the extra layer that most don’t bother with. 

How this ‘Moment’ will forever brand you

I was interviewed a few weeks before Covid-19 became a pandemic. The topic was “Keep you Hiring Funnel Overflowing in 2020 & Beyond” and I broke up a few of the major themes from the podcast into separate posts to elaborate even more. What I’m trying to center on is whether, in the matter of only a month, the content aged poorly in a matter of 45 days. More importantly, do the themes apply to today’s current landscape. Let’s take a look at some of the themes and see how many (if at all) apply to the current Covid-19 world.

Why a Network First Mindset Always Wins

This theme focused on how you should always seek to be of value to your network. With time and consistency, your network will start to do the same in return. In the podcast, the concept focused on ensuring you find appropriate connections of value within your network at all times so that you make new connections in return that will help you get introduced to the right candidates.

How this applies to the current Covid-19 World:

If there’s one thing to focus on right now it is just this concept. Ensuring everyone within your inner network is met with an opportunity for you to present value is more crucial than ever before. I’ve seen countless people extend themselves and their business offerings in this time of need without any reciprocity. I’ve also seen the opposite, where some people are seeking to take advantage of the current state and promote their needs without offering much in return.

If there’s any silver lining to this pandemic it’s shown how much closer we can become while we become further, physically, apart. Going through the same chaos has, in turn, brought us closer together and truly shown the human spirit is resilient. It’s also shown the need to be connected to one another and how a network-first mindset is really the only appropriate one in light of everything that’s going on.

‘CALL TO ACTIONS’ SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS

This theme focused on how a company’s brand is truly important in attracting the right people. When you pop on a website and you’re inundated with demo requests, pop-ups, forms to fill out and screen takeovers before you can actually consume the content or what the company is about, you’re hit over the head with a “used car lot” experience. It says that before presenting you with anything, you’re asked to jump into their sales funnel to make a purchasing decision.

How this applies to the current Covid-19 World:

Who you are as a business and what you value is on full blast right now. Companies pivoting their business models to respond to the current pandemic shows everyone what your values truly are. There are other businesses that are forced to make tough decisions like lay-offs and furloughs, which puts even more people in difficult situations. The important point here is not what you have to do but how you do it. It matters if you make your employees feel like humans and not numbers as you lay them off, take the time to understand that this time will pass and when it does, your actions as a company will come to light. I’m not saying that companies are inherently evil if they have to lay people off, I understand that this is the reality of the world today, but if you treat your people like they’re expendable and without heart, this will certainly bite back when you need them again.

WHY DEPENDING ON THE REFERRAL WAGON WHEEL IS DANGEROUS

This theme focused on two things:

  1. How depending on referrals does not equal to a diverse and multifaceted team.
  2. Look for potential in your candidates rather than if they’ve done the same thing in the past.

Diversity is incredibly valuable in understanding different ways to tackle problems. Any team that has their identity firmly rooted in many perspectives will outperform those with only a few. Don’t just focus on race and gender but also personality types as well. The other added benefit is that a diverse culture will offer multiple perspectives and end up improving every team member’s growth both personally and professionally. This creates a loyal team that bands together through good times and tough ones.

Hiring for potential over experience is a personal mantra of mine. It’s harder on the interviewer to look for signs of potential outcomes than actual outcomes but I’m telling you, this pays off in the long haul. I’m not saying hire an entry-level salesperson to take on an Enterprise AE role, but I am saying that don’t limit yourself as a hiring authority that focuses on industry, role, and experience exclusively for your hire. As an example, if you’re looking for an Enterprise AE in MarTech, try opening up the search to candidates that come from a different, but similar industry with experience as an Enterprise AE. The reason is simple, if you give someone a chance, they will outperform your safe decisions and if you only stick with safe decisions your competition will lap you.

How this applies to the current Covid-19 World:

Look, there are more candidates on the market today than there were when I did this podcast and surely, many of them have some incredible experience to do the job. In this time they will perform, but I question how long they will be interested in doing the same thing they’ve been doing for years when the economy bounces back and more options start to resurface.

Final thoughts:

I was unsure of the outcome of the exercise when I started this post, but in writing this, it becomes obvious that staying true to your principles can guide you through the toughest of times. Your values are your compass when it seems you’re lost in a dark forest without a glimmer of light showing you the way out. How do we get through this together? Stay connected, focused on improving yourself as well as others and solidify your brand in the process. We’re in a moment of time but how you act during this time will define you when we get through it.

Why a “Network-First” Mindset always Wins

From the podcast on Sales Engagement

Seeking out the best salespeople means you never stop hunting. It also means you need to turn to your network and ask people who you should be speaking to.

Everyone reading this probably already knows the power of leveraging their network. Maybe it’s how you got your job, met your spouse or just scored a reservation at that cool, exclusive restaurant you always wanted to try.

But if you want to call upon your network to maintain a steady stream of talent, you need to make sure you are also maintaining your network for the long-term.

Instead of asking what your network can do for you, ask what you can do for your network. Kennedy said that… sort of.

So, while you should definitely be asking people who you should sit down with, you should find people to sit with them, too.

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Maybe you find a great candidate who isn’t a fit for your organization but would excel elsewhere. Maybe you aren’t hiring right now. You will still need help someday and reciprocity is a powerful thing.

Even if it doesn’t get you that perfect new hire the next time you need one, you’ll still be doing a good thing.

And it doesn’t hurt to show the world your values.

‘Call to Actions’ Speak Louder than Words

Checking out what a company does from their website can be a major chore. First of all, sorting through all of the buzz words, demo request pop-ups and screen takeovers is incredibly off-putting. It’s the digital barrage that overwhelms the person looking at the site to find out if what you do is attractive to them to learn more. Whether that’s someone buying your product or looking to potentially work for your company, the “buy, buy, buy” call to actions show what your company values more than the “values” section on your website. 

Websites stuffed with buzzwords about machine learning and riddled with annoying pop-ups offering demos aren’t just failing to convey values, they’re failing to present value to the buyer.

If the buyer doesn’t see value in the company, why would a potential employee?

The other problem with too many buzzwords or convoluted value propositions is they might just confuse the customer — and potential employees — as to what you even do.

A good rule of thumb: If you can’t explain what your company does to your grandparents and have them understand, then chances are, you’ve already lost most of your web visitors.

The value you offer should be so clear anyone hearing it gets it — whether they’re in the industry or not.

Why Values Matter

If you aren’t attracting the right kind of talent, maybe you’re sending the wrong message about who you are or what your business stands for. Worse yet, you may not be communicating any values at all.

A mission-driven organization will attract more, higher-quality candidates.

But all too often, a company’s website is more focused on how cool their product is instead of their brand.

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If you focus on who you are as a company and include the product or service along the way, you kill two birds with one stone. The world sees both your values and the value you offer.

This post was influenced by the Sales Engagement Podcast with Scott Barker, where I was a guest speaker. I spoke about the above topic as well as others, check it out!

In the end, if your company lives and breathes a great set of values, it doesn’t just attract the best talent, it keeps the awesome talent it already has.

So, make that 3 birds…