In a recent interview with Grovo Founder and CEO Jeff Fernandez, he exposed me to the “critical step, that starts and doesn’t stop, of recruiting, motivating, and retaining your executive team.”
After having an in-depth conversation with Jeff, I was eager to learn how other organizations approach developing their senior team members.
My conversation with Brian Billingsley, the CEO of Klarna North America, was the perfect place to start.
Founded by Sebastian Siemiatkowski and Niklas Adalberth, in 2005, Klarna is a payments company with a simple, yet audacious goal: Power e-commerce merchants to save the 70 – 80% of shopping carts we abandon at checkout.
Our goal is making the checkout experience as easy as hitting buy.
While Klarna’s central mission is to obtain the full risk of a transaction for merchants, it makes consumers feel like insiders.
“It’s Amazon Prime and One Click for everyone,” Brian explained. All you have to do is enter your name and email address. Klarna takes care of the rest.
“We want to provide white glove treatment to consumers,” he shared.
You can learn more about their process here.
Since expanding to the U.S. in 2014 Klarna’s partnered with retailers like Overstock and Wish.
Here’s a glimpse of what your first checkout experience looks like.
As Brian heads Klarna’s North American charge, his highest priority is assembling a team of senior executives who operate with a hacker mindset.
It’s a lot of A players with very little ego. Everyone jumps in and does whatever it takes.
The search to covet leaders from companies like Apple and Bill Me Later was shaped by unearthing telling stories about individuals’ past leadership experiences.
“By the time, they’ve reached me they check all of the knowledge boxes. It’s really about the culture,” Brian said.
Each conversation and interview conducted with a potential hire should unveil how they’re performing in their current roles.
Ask for examples about how they’ve responded to positive and negative experiences in their careers. If they haven’t faced a situation they’re likely to face in your organization, how do they think they would respond? Always push for greater details.
As CEO, it’s critical that you step out of your bias and “don’t wait for someone to give an answer like the one you would give.”
There is immeasurable value in an individual saying, “I don’t know, but this is how I would likely approach it.”
“It takes more character and confidence in yourself to say ‘I don’t know.’” Respect it.
As you conduct your interview, work to unveil a deep indication of how people tell their stories.
Ask yourself these questions during the conversation: Does this person’s story involve others? Do they take the credit for successful projects? How do they discuss their weaknesses? Are they relevant?
You need to understand what a person’s going to be like when you have to work on the weekend or a merchant isn’t happy. Who’s going to go the extra mile to do the right thing?
Among your most critical observations is a candidate’s diction between We and I.
If there is a single non-negotiable insight, you should remember about hiring it’s that every new team member must be additive to your culture.
Klarna has a strong ‘No asshole’ policy to ensure they’re bringing on curious team members who demand innovation, not stifle it.
We don’t want people who are leaving bodies in their wake to hit their numbers.
“You want humble team members who admit that they don’t know everything and that there’s so much more for them to learn,” Brian explained.
The best people don’t think they are the best.
Once hired, the most essential component in the onboarding process is team members spending time with the company at Klarna’s headquarters in Stockholm. All team members spend several weeks in Sweden.
“It’s something that seems like an over investment, but it’s critical. It enables them to understand the product, move faster, and get things done,” Brian shared.
He personally spent six months working with the team to get a true sense of their culture. Sebastian’s goal was complete immersion.
“Looking back it was one of the most valuable investments I could have made. I truly got to understand, learn, and respect the similarities and differences of the product and culture.”
Nearly two years in, Brian’s developed personal relationships with the international team members who support Klarna’s U.S. branch. This is especially important as the team requires significant resources.
We’re working with global teams to create a scalable solution that is secure and responsive.
Despite being young in the U.S., the team processed 10% of Klarna’s overall payments on Cyber Monday.
Culture wise, Brian cites a more consensus-driven organization in Sweden with a stronger emphasis on work-life balance that he’s infusing into the U.S. branch.
“We have very high expectations, but we also realize that we’re all human and sometimes you need to unplug.”
You don’t want everyone to be perfect at everything. It isn’t possible.
Ownership and trust are the foundational elements grounding Brian’s leadership.
“Once brought on, senior team members have a long leash to run.”
“They’re capable of building their teams and bringing on team members, who as long as they fit the cultural matrices, they’re excited to work with.”
It’s about true ownership for the projects that go well and those that don’t.
The only way to lead an autonomous yet tight-knit organization is to establish unbreakable trust. You want to create an environment where vulnerability is celebrated not shunned.
Trust is what gets your team through the crazy hours and demands you put on one another.
From interns to senior executives, everyone on your team should feel confident sharing their strengths – don’t ever approach it as bragging – and being clear about their weaknesses.
“That’s how you really grow as a team,” Brian explained. “When you can be that open and honest with each other.”
At Klarna, direct feedback is an integral part of the team’s culture.
Every single person can improve at how they give and receive feedback and how they interact with people.
Brian’s job as CEO is to create a culture where anyone, from an intern to the CTO, can suggest more thoughtful ways to approach a problem or work on a particular skill
When it comes to his team, he has “really great performers who he’s trying to get to the next level.”
“Maybe they are great at ten things but not that great at two — You want to focus on how to make those two weaknesses better.”
This is especially vital with senior team members who have significant past leadership experiences.
“Where you can get in trouble is when you bring in an A player who’s the best at their game, and they end up missing a minor point because they didn’t want to ask or admit that they didn’t know something.”
“One of the biggest ways to stifle innovation and growing fast is when you assume that because something worked at your past company, it’s going to work here.”
It’s about informing decisions with past experiences not letting them dictate your strategy.
Continuing to build trust and cultivate interpersonal relationships with his team members is Brian’s chief goal for 2016.
As they grow from 80 people to 250 in the U.S., he aims to make it feel the same way it did when it was “the first ten team members sitting around a fold up table.”
To stay tuned with the team’s growth follow them on Twitter and keep your eye out for more press in 2016.