Donald Knight, Chief People Officer at hiring software company Greenhouse tells DiversityQ why “the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.”
Inclusion and belonging in an environment where employees add to the company culture, not just fit in, is all part of Greenhouse’s people-first strategy that strives to help individuals achieve their full potential.
The hiring software company is aptly named. In the same way that its horticultural namesake grows and nurtures plants, Greenhouse helps its own employees, and its customers’ employees, develop and flourish.
To enable the organisation to scale up as a global company and continue and enhance its DEI credentials, it recently appointed its first Chief People Officer in the shape of Donald Knight. He brings more than 14 years of experience in leading people strategies, focusing on hiring, nurturing and optimising talent at a global level.
“Unlocking the potential of other people” is how Knight describes his day-to-day activities. “Whether that be finding talent looking for their next career or destination,” he explains. “Or it could be generating engagement across talent that’s already in the organisation. Last but not least is ensuring inclusion and belonging happen inside the organisation, and we believe that happens not just through diversity and equity, but also allyship.”
Knight’s work complements and enhances the work of the Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Jamie Adasi, in whose team the company continues to invest.
The great rehiring
Knight says he aims to focus on proximity which means building bridges, not barriers, and for Greenhouse to become a thought leader in the marketplace to help people fulfill their potential both within the company and outside organisations.
One of the challenges for many organisations was the so-called ‘Great Resignation’, where people have left their jobs because they felt demotivated and undervalued. “I viewed the Great Resignation as a great opportunity to potentially revamp a talent strategy and figure out ways to better connect with people in the organisation,” Knight reveals. “It has led to the thought process around the great rehiring and how businesses prioritise how they hire differently.
“One of the ways to retain folks, and Greenhouse does a great job at this, is providing support for talent and creating transparency around internal mobility. Over 70% of our organisation is distributed, and that’s intentional. We’ve also intentionally created career paths so people may be doing one role today but have transferrable skill sets applicable to a particular group tomorrow. That allows them to see that their development is being prioritised. At Greenhouse, we want folks to know they can grow here, so we look for ways to water them.
“I firmly believe that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement, and so our focus is to continuously improve and not rest on our laurels.”
Knight says that the company’s people-first strategy aligned with his values and principles. “The beautiful thing is I think we have a people-first culture here at Greenhouse already,” Knight argues. “In many ways, my role is to enhance that continuously as we grow so that, when people join Greenhouse three months or three years from now, they can be as proud of the organisation as people who have been here five years.
“Part of that means looking at our policies and making sure they have a human aspect to them and that we’re creating an environment that looks at our phenomenal team as people first. The other thing is around the decisions we’re going to make and even who we’re willing to do business with. That speaks to a value-based framework for how we see the world and people.”
A key element of a people-first mindset are a structured interview process that eliminates bias and allows candidates to fully reveal their strengths and transparency among the leadership. These and other practices would continue to help Greenhouse’s evolution and support other companies in becoming people first.
For workplaces to be fully inclusive of everybody, DEI needs to be embedded in organisations’ values and principles that become daily actions and behaviours – not just words on a website. Allyship is also important, not just for gender or race but for those with diverse abilities.
He highlights how Greenhouse’s DEI team’s virtual listening tours allowed the company to go beyond the employee survey to better determine what employee resource groups (ERGs) were needed. There are currently three women’s groups, Blackhouse for African American employees, Jadehouse for the Asian Pacific Islander group and a Caregiver group, recently rebranded as Fullhouse.
Knight explains: “The caregivers ERG group started as a support group for parents, but we’ve seen through the virtual listening tours that caregiving has broadened. People in the organisation are also caring for their parents, relatives, children that they aren’t or are related to. By rebranding it to Fullhouse, we’ll be inclusive of parents caring for their children and also children caring for their parents, and all the forms of caregiving in between.”
Another DEI initiative is Greenhouse’s own hiring software innovation which includes candidate name pronunciation and preferred pronouns. So far, 300,000 names have been recorded using candidate name pronunciation. This has resonated both within the company and with those it does business with. Says Knight: “It communicates that people are welcome here and that, by taking time to know how to say their name, it helps them feel like they belong more than any DEI statement or tagline ever could.
“We are currently looking at our workforce diversity goals and figuring out what we can do to revise and broaden them based on Greenhouse’s growth beyond 700 employees around the world.”
External events, such as the COVID pandemic, had, in some cases, stunted progress on DEI, and it was important to acknowledge and support those experiencing challenging times. Knight reveals that the pandemic had resulted in offering work-from-home stipends and recharge days.
He adds: “In a high-performance culture if you’re going to promote wellbeing, it starts with leadership unplugging. I’m excited to see many of our leaders leaning in on that and disconnecting from the organisation when they’re on vacation or spending time with family.
“I’ve taken the work-life balance mentality a step further and said it’s almost like a work-life blender. The blades represent what is important: for me it’s career, spending time with family, and learning and development. I say, ‘if any of those blades are not turning the way you need them, let us know so we can prioritise that blade and get the blender running again.’ That’s how we’re able to balance wellbeing with high performance.”
Knight credits Greenhouse’s success to date to its commitment to improvement, which has enabled it to attract diverse and exceptional talent. It’s achieved this by looking for people that enhance the culture rather than fitting the proverbial Greenhouse way. In other words, ‘culture add’, ‘not culture fit’, is an approach that has fostered innovation.
“Our values and principles compel us to create an environment where people belong,” he suggests. “We look at all our processes constantly to check that they foster the environment for belonging. If they don’t, what do we need to do to change them? If there are new communities we haven’t considered, we look for ways to tap into them to help us enhance our products and services. All these are the reasons why we have grown and why we will continue to grow.”
Looking ahead, Knight says that belief in the room for improvement means dreaming, learning and doing more than putting in the work needed to become more. He stresses: “I believe we have a ripe opportunity to help talent fulfill their potential. The next chapter is not only building proximity inside the organisation but taking some of the wins and learnings we’ve had, then going outside and building proximity with other people. Because people teams are uniquely positioned to impact every layer of an organisation.”