People, Person, Blonde, Female, Woman

#AppianLIFE is Hard

By Dawn Mitchell

But the best things in life aren’t free (or easy), right? And I know it’s true — it’s been my focus at Appian for the past two years.

Let me backup and give a bit of context

My career has been in recruiting since my very first internship at Red Hat. From the beginning, before employer branding or recruitment marketing was even a widely-used word (let alone a common career path), I was living it.

Me (far left) with some of my Red Hat teammates.

As a recruiter, I focused each candidate interview and questions on their skills and future career interests. The candidate would then pivot and ask me, “What is the culture like?” Using my pattern recognition skills (*eye roll* at the jargon), I suddenly thought: Let’s lead with culture first.

At the time, I was chasing passive candidates in the most competitive tech space (which happened to be middleware technology), and I had to differentiate myself. To further hone my sourcing prowess, I went native: I befriended the sales engineers who supported our middleware product. What is your day to day like, how do you celebrate each other’s wins? Learn from failures? I curiously asked. From there, I crafted a persona-based approach (get ready for the marketing speak!) to garner responses to my emails.

And voila, it worked!

Why is that?

No matter how perfect you may be for a role, if you aren’t feeling aligned to your company’s culture, the misalignment will start to wear on you.

And no one wants that!

I’ve been known to make the joke,“Job Security!” (for us recruiters), but in all actuality, the attrition is tremendously detrimental to our “brand” (another marketing buzzword). And who the hell wants that?

Fast forward to my first outreach from Appian. At the time, I was at a fantastic start up called Opower; I had just begun to feel like myself again after having my first kid (that topic deserves an entirely separate blog), and was surrounded by an amazing talent acquisition team. I took the call because, well, you always take the call, but mostly in part because I thought — who is Appian? I lead recruiting at a tech company in DC — how have I never heard of them?

Insert adorable picture of Jack :-)

True to form, I let my curiosity get the best of me; I accepted the call with Monika Thum who, similar to my own career path, joined Appian as a recruiting intern, and who since has spent the entirety of her career at Appian.

I was really impressed with Monika on the phone. She was curious, genuine, and thoughtful — but ultimately, I decided it wasn’t the right time for me to leave Opower. I had a five year plan I had to see through, and at that point, I was only three years in!

But, you know that saying about “making plans?” :)

The morning before the newswire broke — at 7:00 a.m., to be exact — I received what I would soon learn to be a devastating call from my boss: Opower was being acquired.

That being said: I’m definitely someone you want in a crisis: if it’s fight or flight, I’m all fight. Almost instantaneously, I did two things: the first: I called my team and told them the news before they found out via a Google alert; the second: I sent a quick email to Monika to see if they filled the Director of Talent position at Appian.

As the shock of the acquisition subsided, my Opower teammates and I began to think about our next steps. Fortunately, Monika had gotten back to me fairly quickly, so I was in the process with Appian during the earlier stages of their recruitment process.

While Opower is no longer, we will always have Ex’s & O’s #opoweralumni.

I ended up coming onsite three times, and each time I left feeling more excited, thinking, Appian is like a hidden secret! How are people not more familiar with Appian?!

What sealed the deal (as you’ve read in previous blogs) was my final interview with Matt, our CEO. He was inquisitive, thoughtful, beyond intelligent, and as you may or may not know, loves to debate! I could also tell Matt cared deeply about Appian’s culture, and was looking for someone in the Director of Talent Acquisition role who understands the importance of hiring quality employees to maintain and enhance said culture.

Music to my ears!

Why, you may ask? I could tell this role at Appian would be my opportunity to marry my passion for recruiting with my passion for branding, recruitment marketing, and employee experience. While I was, of course, sad to leave the team at Opower, I thought: taking this role would be a fantastic opportunity to create a world class, brand led talent acquisition function.

And best part? The culture was already there — I just had to shine a light on it.

And that I did, albeit slowly. The impact, of course, was gradual; I would be entering Appian not only as its very first Director of Talent Acquisition, but also as its first formal (self-proclaimed) “culture champion.” In the meantime, I had plenty to execute on and manage within the actual Talent Acquisition team before I could become an actual culture champion (after all, I was the new person!)…

But, this blog is a story about the founding of #AppianLIFE — I’m happy to talk more about the nitty gritty of Talent Acquisition in a later blog. :)

Immediately upon joining Appian, I could sense there was no shortage of passion on my new team. I would overhear the team gregariously telling candidates about how much they loved working here, about our unparalleled culture — but quickly realized (after some reconnaissance) that they did not have any shareable content (by way of videos, blogs, photos) to exemplify said culture.

Here’s where I came in

First, we needed to implement a “channel” for employees to talk about Appian externally. With the content gained through this channel, not only could the recruiting team share the materials externally, but also — and arguably more importantly — potential applicants would find the content on their own.

#AppianLIFE was born and our Instagram account was live. And obviously we ordered a ton of laptop stickers.

Our approach began with the creation of content. What good is a channel without content? If we start small, we thought, and engage our employees with content they find interesting, the employees will be more apt to share the content which will, in turn, hopefully attract the right talent for Appian.

After enabling the team to recognize how much easier their jobs could be — simply by having actual content to share externally — I rallied the team behind the cause. Our efforts began with some “Day in the Life” shots, happy hour boomerangs, and the classic “Team Takeover.” Each initiative aimed at building awareness for a tough to fill job opening.

Despite the (very) small group of us talent acquisition folks devoted to generating and creating our content, the #AppianLIFE brand was building a name for itself. Sure, we were churning out an impressive amount of material (especially given how few people were devoted to this cause), but the spark that lit the match was the release of our “Four Founders” series.

And thus began our first of many collaborations with the Appian Creative team. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know how it would go (!), but I spent my time in the first three months on a listening tour. If I was going to curate our culture for external consumption, I had to know what it was!

And more importantly, how it felt.

Moments we thought about while capturing content included, but were not limited to: What made someone smile on their first day? What interaction with a colleague turned a bad day into a good one? What highlights did an employee boast about to their family and friends outside of work?

As with many other companies, culture starts with its leaders.

Here at Appian, our four founders have, over the course of almost 20 years, held steadfast to their philosophies around our company culture. Speaking of, you can even find Matt talking about it here.

If your company’s leaders are relentless culture champions, odds are you’ll have a much easier time encouraging your new (and existing) employees to espouse the same beliefs.

With a gut feeling we’d get some great content, we corralled the four founders together, and let the cameras roll. I smiled from ear to ear for the entire hour shoot. I was told repeatedly by the four of them how much they loved the idea, but that “I shouldn’t get my hopes up.” I just smiled and nodded; I knew what we captured was good — really damn good. The material we captured was authentic, and not to mention exciting. Our employees would see them together, reflecting on the amazing journey Appian had taken, and talking about their company.

It’s one thing to tell your friends and family how awesome Appian is, but its way better to show them.

Two years later, and we’ve matured our social media channels, expanded the type of content we’re creating, added a recruitment marketing strategist to the team (yay, Tricia!) and found ways to enable our employees to create and share their own content. Yes, it’s been hard — but the best kind of hard. Work like this gives me the opportunity to get to know our employees on a very personal level. I am humbled daily by the passion, personality, humor, and talent at this organization — and the fact that they trust me to convey it.

#AppianLIFE is hard, but the best things often are.

P.S. I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that Appian just won #1 Top Place to Work in the Washington, D.C. , and our CEO, Matt Calkins, was honored with the Executive Leadership award in the Large Company category.


#AppianLIFE is Hard was originally published in AppianLIFE on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on Jun 25, 2018

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