Chase McCants Wants You To Be Awesome
And Other Hypergrowth PEOPLE Lessons
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Chase McCants, current Chief People Officer of ScriptDrop, a startup based in Columbus helping solve prescription delivery needs of folks all over the country. I have known Chase for several years, from back when I lived in Columbus and my wife worked with him at Beam Dental. He is a textbook definition of hypergrowth People leader and getting to chat with him about all things culture, hiring, and hypergrowth systems was a delight.
I am hoping to do more of these hypergrowth interviews, so if anybody comes to mind, let me know!
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Several Big Takeaways:
Treat employees like adults. If you can’t do that, you probably need to rework your hiring, training, and even development processes.
Chase likes to look internally before posting any new jobs to see if someone who already knows the business well could take on the role. There’s a time and a place to enact this kind of policy, however.
Part of any good hiring process is allowing the candidate to interview the company just as much as the company interviews the candidate. This will help ensure proper fit and long-term success on both sides of the equation.
Every single question in an interview needs to matter.
When interviewing a candidate, ask for examples, not hypotheticals.
To look for great talent, make sure you are constantly in the community. Don’t start networking when you need something (or someone). Start networking precisely when you don’t need something. It’s a long process.
Q: All right, so first, I'd love to hear just a general sketch of Chase McCants and how you got started in the startup world. Tell me the kind of story of who you are and what you do.
Chase: I was working for two really large companies previous to Cover My Meds. Three of them. I worked for a Sprint right out of college, and then I went to at and T-Mobile, and I had a brief stint at Apple, and the experience at Sprint and at and T-Mobile were pretty similar. Really big companies. I was a salesperson, and it was the experience my mom prepared me for in terms of going into the work world, and that I knew that I was just a number. I knew that I was disposable.
I was a number in the system. The relationship between me and the organization was very transactional, and it wasn't always that positive either. And I think it was a goal of everyone in retail to either make as much money as you can in that space and find success, or find the quickest way out of there. But when I got to CoverMyMeds, this started with Apple. Apple was a big company, but they treated us a little bit differently. They allowed us to be who were. As long as we wore our Apple shirt and Lanyard, we could express ourselves in whatever way we saw fit with the company. But I would say that was accelerated when I went to CoverMyMeds. At the time, I did not know what a startup was. This was back in 2011. I just thought it was a small company, and it was. A friend of mine referred me to them. He worked for the organization as well. And it was like a conversation about me not having dental insurance. That's how it all got started. But I interviewed to be on their customer service team, and back then there were only about ten to 15 of us, and I was one of two people on customer service, and I got the job.
[Note: when CoverMyMeds was acquired in 2017 by McKesson for $1.1 billion, there were ~1,000 employees on the roster.]
So I noticed almost immediately that they treated things a little bit different. Right. So there's this infamous story, where I showed up pretty business casual, button up shirt, tie, khakis, all that stuff. Everyone else around me was dressed in street clothes. So day by day, I started relaxing my dress. I maybe didn't wear the tie one day, and then one day I wore jeans, and it got all the way to the point where I just started. I remember I came in with my full facial piercings in, and I had short sleeve shirts on, and I was walking to the kitchen to get I think it was lunch because they provided us lunch. And our VP of operations, who was my boss's boss, saw me as were walking by, and I remember seeing her look down at my arm, and then she walked in her office and, I freaked out because I thought I had crossed some line. And so I went and put on my hoodie, and I went into her office and I said, hey, if you need me to cover up my tattoos, I can take out the piercings, no problem. And she looked at me and was like, no, wear whatever you want to wear. Maybe don't come to work in sweatpants, but I don't care. Right? But that sounds so simple, but it themed my experience from that moment on because I was working with an organization that cared very little about how I spoke or how I looked. And that's really big when you're a black gay dude in corporate America, right, where we're constantly judged based on how we look or how we speak, and we have to do something of a performance in order to get further ahead in the company. But for the first time, I was being treated like a regular human. I think for me, I wanted everyone to feel like that if they could. And so when I got into account management later on, I had to do a training on an internal service, and I did a great job that they said, hey, we want you to do more training. I created the onboarding program, the orientation program for CoverMyMeds. And it wasn't fueled by me knowing exactly what people needed to be trained on. It was mostly fueled by my own enthusiasm of, I want you to understand as much as you can because I want you to have the best experience in the whole wide world, because I want you to feel like I feel when I come to work every day, right? As a person that was told that I would be a number for my entire life, this was a whole new thing for me, right? And then as I was thinking about what happens after CoverMyMeds, we go years later, I knew that the best way for me to continue to affect people in that positive way is to be a people person. So big p small p people person Right.
I need to work in HR recruiting because those roles have the biggest impact on employee experience. I went to be the head of talent for beam.dental. I was over employee engagement as well as learning and development at Olive and most recently I was VP of People at Gabon for a very small amount of time. And then, of course, my current role here ScriptDrop [note: which Chase had just accepted a week prior to us talking].
Q: Can you talk a little more about your “treat them like adults” approach. How do you implement that tactically?
Chase: I think it starts off with an assumption that people I always say most people are good people. Like no one is truly evil. It's this assumption that people want to go to work and do a really good job, right? Yeah. Everybody totally wants to get paid for their work, but people want to go to work and do a good job. So if I trust in my company's interview process, then I have to trust that we have found the very best people to go and do this job. So if we found those folks, we don't need to micromanage them. We need to give them strong goals, we need to support them and how to get there. But other than that, we can step back and allow those people to create.
One thing that I always think is important is that obviously we need to empower our people for the sake of the company. But what we also do in that is we grow our future leaders. Right. I've seen so many instances where a manager or a director is super wise and sees a lower level employee or an entry level employee who has a ton of talent and they just step back and let them create amazing work. And what they've done is they've created or at least planted the seed for someone who will be a future leader later. On that's happened with me. They didn't have at Cover My Meds, give me the opportunity to do that training. I was an account manager, right? It could have gone to my boss, but because they allowed me that one opportunity, I got to shine in a place that I've always wanted to participate in. And the company got something out of that. So that was the exchange, right? I got to go to work super happy and excited because I was given this really incredible project of create learning and development. I didn't know what I was doing, but I knew I had my company’s support and I knew that I wanted to be successful in it. So when I say treat people like an adult, trust in your interview process, right, you've created an interview process to vet people to see if not only they can do the job, but can they do the job at your organization?
If your interview process has said, yes, we want this person on, all right, let's treat them like adults, right? We don't have to micromanage adults if our interview process works. So give those people strong goals and allow them to find their path to it, whether you are a VP or a C suite employee or if you're an entry level employee, right? Give them the space and they will be successful, but also give them the support and guidance they need to get there.
Q: I want to kind of continue down this path of development of talent and support that you can provide. I know a common problem with startups is hypergrowth from a talent perspective. There are ten people, and then suddenly there are 120 people, and then suddenly there are 400 people working at what used to be a totally different company. It can feel easy for employees to feel lost in the shuffle - “hey, we have a controller, but we’re now hiring a VP of Finance who's now in charge.” How do you balance hiring for new roles as the company grows vs. developing and growing internal talent?
Chase: The majority of the companies that I've worked for have always tried to see talent internally before looking externally. And there is a good look at the folks that we have internal to see is there an opportunity. So it has to be a combination of do we have the time and do we have the resources to build up this person? But ultimately, is this something we can stretch this person into? We see this a lot in the early stages of startups because there isn't funding to get people who know what they're doing all the time, right? So you're like, hey, here's this project, we need you to just run with it. And often we see leaders develop from that.
But how do you handle that at companies that are scaling quickly? Well, first, and I will always say this, the first step is just basically looking internally.
You will not believe how many companies just don't do that because they think that they always have to find that next big leader, whether it's a director or a manager or some higher level. They have to look externally because they have to bring people who already have that knowledge. But what they don't realize is that they're sitting on people who may not have that knowledge, but they know the company and they know the business. And paired with strong mentors or maybe an L&D team that can help with professional development or networking. A lot of the knowledge of how to do the thing can be brought into the company while also lifting people up. Part of it is also communicating what's needed. Right?
So if I'm a regular employee and I see let's use your example, I'm a controller and I find out that they're bringing in a VP of Finance, right. I want to understand why. Why am I not being looked at for that role? Usually if there's some kind of disconnect, that means that person is not getting feedback that they need. So here is what you're not doing well at in your job. Sometimes it's because the employee may not have communicated their career goals. So hey, you're controlling. You never told me that you wanted to advance to be VP of Finance. Why haven't we had that conversation? And the reverse can be true. The manager should be seeking that info. How do my people want to grow?
I should be proactively asking that question because in some organizations it may not be important or it may not happen very often. So I think communication is important because if there isn't time and space for the controller to be promoted and coached into the VP of Finance role, a manager needs to be clear why that is, and what additional paths are possible. “I know you want to be a VP of Finance, and I think it's something that you can absolutely aspire to. But we're looking to do X in four months, and that's just not a lot of time for you for us to level you up. And we would be doing you a disservice. So let's talk about how we can give you that growth over a longer period of time.”
Sometimes the business can't support the growth of the employee, but that's okay. My goal is if you are going to interview somewhere else, I want you to be a better candidate when you're interviewing than you would have been when you started. Right. I don't mind being a great place to “graduate from”. I think CoverMyMeds has a great example of that. A lot of the leaders at CMM left CoverMyMeds, but they went on to do bigger things, which means Cover My Meds is a great place to grow your career. Beam was also a really great example of that, of people who came together and they had gone somewhere else in greater positions.
And I hope that's the case here at ScriptDrop. I want to be a great place to be from if we don't have the growth opportunity internally.
Q: You have touched on being able to trust your interviewing and hiring process and onboarding process. I'm sure you've seen a lot of bad ones. I want to hear about those. But also, I'm sure you also just have a general thesis on what makes a good one and curious what that is.
Chase: Yeah. So these are not unique to me, but I really love this methodology. So a lot of times when we talk about interviewing, we're trying to find out, are these folks the best people for the job? I need to understand who the candidate is, what motivates them, what area or what space they can be most successful. Because it's only then do I know whether that fits in with what exists at our organization. Right. So I think it's a small change, but changing how you think about interviews, less about can they do the job, more about, let me find out who they are, what their skills are, what motivates them. And once I think I have a solid understanding of that, I take that info and then push it through the filter of can it happen here at this company? Right. I think that's number one.
A second thing that I think is really important is transparency on both sides. I always tell folks when we do interview training, it's not just us vetting the candidate. We're letting the candidate vet us. So any great interview process should have a space where the candidate can ask candid questions of the people they are being interviewed by. Tell me what questions you have, ask me a bit more, and I'll tell them as explicitly but as kindly as I can. I have a rule that I won't BS anybody. I say that in my trainings, and I say that when it comes to interviews, because, number one, no company is perfect. Right. And that's okay.
But number two, I need you to know what it's like to work here, because I would much rather you say, Chase, I think the interview process was great. The company seems great, but I just don't know that it's the right fit for me. Right. That is fine. I'd rather have that than them start at the company because they weren't able to vet us very well, realize it then, and then they quit, and then we got to spin up that whole process all over again. So transparency across the board.
But I think it's also important, especially in those early days, to communicate the reason why we are doing the work that we're doing. Anytime that I build an orientation, it leans heavily on the why, because there are times I remember this at every company that were part of, there are so many days and nights that were so hard, that were so stressful or labor intensive. And if I was at a company where I didn't know the why or I didn't care about the why, I would turn it. I probably wouldn't want to do the work, I'd probably just go try to find an easier job. But because I understood it fundamentally CMM, were trying to get patients the medications that they needed to lead healthy lives. On my worst days, I always leaned on that as the reason behind my work. And I think it's important for employees to understand that too. Because no matter what job you do, it's going to be tough, but if it's worth it, you're going to do your job and you're going to do extremely well. So getting that set up in those early days is important.
Q: What about common pitfalls in hiring processes that you've seen?
Chase: I haven't gone through every orientation process, so I don't know all the pitfalls. But I think some of the sucky things that I've seen is I've seen interview processes that don't truly vet the candidate. And when I say that, one thing I always say at the beginning of our interview training is every single question that we ask should have a purpose for being there and it should draw us closer to knowing more about the candidate. If a question does not do that, get rid of it because we don't have the time. Interview processes can feel like it takes a long time, but really, I remember my longest interview process that I set up was about four and a half hours long. Could you imagine getting married to someone having only spent four and a half hours of time with them?
That would be insane. But we do that with jobs, right? We bring people into our organization with such a finite amount of knowledge with them. So why not make that knowledge as specific and as detailed as possible? So run an interview process where every single question matters. You can set up separate events where it's just a conversation where we're just getting to know each other, right? Or we talk about something light hearted. But in the interview setting, I think all of those questions should be directed to that candidate in some way. Uncovering what motivates them or the job that they're going to do, right? That way there are no surprises.
I think quite often, and I know I talked about orientation, but quite often I think this is where people skip out on they think, oh, we'll just run people through who the folks are here, core Values. We'll go through benefits, technology, and then we send them to the team. Yeah, you can do that, right? But there is such an opportunity to do more than that, because if you have a great orientation process, a great onboarding process, you're going to increase the likelihood that people stay at your organization and that is crucial in those 1st 90 days of employment, 90 to 120 days.
So not skimping on that, investing as much as you can into that orientation process because it's the most scariest point for a new employee and it's the most volatile time for them is that those initial days, weeks, months that they start at your company.
Q: Do you subscribe to any particular interviewing methodology like Topgrading or anything like that?
Chase: So I will admit I am not a classically trained recruiter. I do it as part of my job. But my interviewing style is asking for a lot of examples instead of hypotheticals. If I said, Peter, tell me your leadership style or tell me about how would you deal with a conflict between you and your manager? You would probably be like, oh, well, if we had an issue, we go into my manager's office and we would just hash it out. Right, but that's different than tell me about a time when you had an issue with your manager. Right now I'm asking for specific evidence.
People are perfect at hypotheticals, but they show who they really are when you're asking them, for example. So, again, I know that's probably a specific kind of methodology that I just don't know the name of, but that is typically how I go about doing things. Give me examples, paint the picture for me, tell me the story of it so that I understand and I'm going to ask follow up questions after that in my interviews. Sometimes we get to uncomfortable things like I don't care if you've been fired for something within reason. What I really want to understand is what you've learned from that experience. How are you going to avoid it in the future? Right. We all make mistakes and sometimes it results in you getting fired. But we are going to talk about tough subjects.
If we need to focus on tough subjects, we are not going to shy away from that because again, we're going to be vetting you, but we also want you to vet us.
Q: Hypergrowth startups are looking for quality and quantity of talent. You inherently have to hire a lot of people in a short window of time. How do you think about the process of “filling up the funnel” when it comes to filling roles at startups? Are you just always selling? Do you have other best practices?
Chase: I think it depends on your positioning in the company. But I think there is a certain level of always be selling, but not in an inauthentic way. Right. So I'm a big fan of diving in the community itself. We tend to like to use recruiting when we really mean interviewing. Interviewing is when you open up a role and you say, we will see who comes to me. And then companies ask, why am I not getting the best talent? Or why am I only getting one kind of employee? Why is my organization homogeneous? We're trying to do diversity, it just isn't happening.
And it's because you're not doing the active work of recruiting. That is an action verb. And so that means going out to different organizations within your city. It could be a women's coding group. It could be there is women in analytics here in Ohio, which is exciting. It could mean going to black hack, right. And simply showing up more than once. It might be you host something at your organization if you've got the space for it so people see who you are.
There are so many groups out there that have spaces in the very beginning saying like, hey, if anybody's here hiring, come up and tell us about your job. Take advantage of that. But I think there's a part of it there. I think people, the people team has to have a strong connection with the marketing team as well. I've again been lucky in that the companies that I worked for enjoy highlighting the employee experience and that is a huge part of getting people interested in joining your company. They're wondering how do you stand out against Nationwide and Cardinal Health and stuff like that? Well, I think one way that we do is how we treat and honor our people internally. So let's talk about that because if someone aligns with it, then they may actively join us.
It almost feels like you've got this really cool spot that everybody needs to hang out at, but the only way that they're going to know about it is if you go tell them. So get out into the world. Talk about your company with the same enthusiasm that you have for working there. If you see a certain demographic that's missing, go find where they are.
Use the active verb of recruiting. Don't just be an interviewer.
Q: Do you have any tactical advice for folks who are in the Midwest and actively looking for engineering talent? What's your general thesis there?
Chase: Software engineers are hot commodities, right? And they know it. They know that they can interview with a bunch of places. I always say networking doesn't work when you need something, or at least you shouldn't start networking when you need something. You should start networking when you don't need something. So getting into those communities before you need a large amount of software engineers is important. Having your name out there before you need anything is important because as soon as you do, folks will come running to you, not because they need to beg you for a job, but because you're a known entity. Right. We all get anxiety when we are interviewing for new roles.
Because no matter what's said in the interview process, you don't actually know what things are like until you show up. But if people feel like they know you and your organization even just a little bit more than some of the others out there, depending on their priorities, you may be the only person that they talk to. And I don't want to say this to take advantage of them. Different companies have different resources in terms of how much they can pay folks. But there may be an instance where people might turn down a higher salary because you offer them something different. Might be a better work life balance or integration, depending on how you want to phrase it. It might be the company culture and how the organization works. It might be the impact that you have in the world.
But the only way that you're going to get those folks knowing what is true about any of those areas is if they have an opportunity to interact with you.
I would also say know your competition. And this is more strategic. But if I've got a bunch of startups around me that are offering something that I don't, then chances are I can't out compete them. Right? And so it's okay to look at your benefits. It's okay to look at your employee perks and say, first off, is this what our employees need? Are they utilizing it? But then look at the surroundings. Let's look at our competitors. The folks who are also hiring for roles that we're hiring for. What are they offering that we're not? Is that something that folks want or need? Or is it just kind of a nice to have?
So I always say that's like when you're promoting a benefit of having beer on tap, like some people would love that, but others might prefer healthcare over beer. So let's take a look at those benefits make sure we are competing. Let's give some incentive for folks to work here. But I think at the very least, again, companies have different resources. So if you can't afford the nicest things in the whole world, you might have to hedge to something else. But sometimes a good mission can be super helpful in telling people how they can have an impact.
Q: Do you have any tools, programs, software, etc. that you think are critical for doing your job?
Chase: I'm not an investor or anything like that, but I love there is a program called Lattice. I've gotten an opportunity to use it at Beam and Olive. It's an employee management system. So I'm sorry for all my HR folks, it is disconnected usually from your traditional HRIS or a payroll system and ATS and all that stuff. They probably have some integrations. But what I love about Lattice is that it's a one centralized location for the employee experience itself. And so you've got a space where you can do your one-on-ones. It's a space for performance reviews. It's critically, a space for feedback and engagement surveys. And the reason I love it is because you have these programs that try to cast a very wide net. They try to do a whole lot.
I've seen the ATS HRIS employee management system all slammed into one thing, and they sometimes go like, an inch deep, and you'll ask for certain things, and they're like, yeah, we don't do that. What I love about Lattice is that it focuses almost primarily on employee management and employee experience, and it has been one of my favorite tools. I would recommend it to anybody who enjoys it or at least wanting to look towards a greater level of employee management. It's a really cool tool.
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