When software firm Appian went public last May, its cofounders put an end to 17 years of private ownership. CEO Matt Calkins discusses the company’s post-IPO life and explains how Appian plans to preserve the company’s unique workforce culture and continue to fuel the serial reinvention of its offerings.
How do you make a great hire?
Matt Calkins: In order to make a great hire, there are a couple of steps. One is finding and motivating the potential employee to work with you. I don’t want to focus on that, because I think it’s relatively obvious how you do that. You raise your profile, you meet people, you work the channels, you ask your employees for contacts—those things are pretty well known.
I think I’ll instead focus on how you select the individual whom you want to hire. How do you know whom you should bring on? Here’s what I look for. It’s my formula.
I look for people who have a great deal of talent. You can tell that by talking with them, exploring the things they care about, looking at their resume, looking at their job trajectory. All that will give you a sense of their talent. It’s relatively easy to tell that compared to the other things you have to detect.
Second, you want to be sure that they are a good fit with your culture. In Appian’s case, we look for people who are harmonious with each other, generous with their time, can rally around a goal, and have positive energy.
Third, you look for people who are habitually successful—the things that they do, and I don’t necessarily mean jobs, I mean their hobbies. I mean whatever they’ve chosen to put their time into, are they successful? Can you see not just the expenditure of time but the achievement with it? I love to ask people about their hobbies, about their interests, and see how well they’ve explored that interest and whether they’ve done anything with their time on that.
You could see it in their jobs if that’s what they’re focused on, you see it in a hobby. But I’m looking for people who have a habit of excellence, who have a tradition of it, who exude so much excellence that it just comes out in every direction. Wherever they touch something, they want to make it better, they want to create something great.
I’m looking for this habit of excellence. Those are my three things: talent, culture fit, and habit of excellence.