Stephanie Alexander | Crain's Charlotte

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Stephanie Alexander

Background:  

Charlotte-based PeraHealth offers predictive, real-time clinical surveillance solutions to identify at-risk patients for earlier intervention. Alexander, a native of Charlotte and 32-year healthcare industry veteran, holds an industrial engineering degree from N.C. State University and an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Mistake:

Recruiting and hiring people based on who’s best "on paper."

Recruiting and hiring are the toughest jobs for leaders, in my opinion. My mistake, particularly in this company – a fast-growing startup with a product that can save lives – was not focusing in the hiring process on the very specific mission that people come to work here for. 

I have hired people based on their work experience in our industry, their education, and very specifically, an alignment to a particular role – without prioritizing their ability to exemplify our values. As leaders and founders of companies, we work very hard to build and cultivate a culture within the company. But in reality, culture is not what we want; it’s truly made up of what work team members do every day and the values of each and every one of them. It’s not a top-down approach.

In the first business I led, the culture was already set. In this company, we had to start from the ground up, and the culture is not mature yet. Here, we knew how important that should be and we are actually very proud of what we’ve accomplished. Last year, we got every team member involved in building our values and documenting them, as well as our mission. We’re very proud of that.

They might work really well in a different organization, but not here.

The Lesson:

We’re now using a behavior-based interview process to bring in new team members. I think that you have to balance getting all the right team members on our bus here. We have an organization where we have lots of different skill sets that we have to bring together.

The scientists have to work well with the data programmers and the business leaders. We have business, clinical, scientific and software programming professionals – that’s a lot of different types of people within the organization. And we have to bring that all together.

It’s very hard to accomplish. I learned at this organization that we need to take it very seriously because, in a company that has fewer than 100 employees, it’s very important to have the right fit in the organization. They can be the best scientist, but they might not exemplify our team’s values, for example.

We brought on some team leaders who were very, very good at their specific skill set – and when they came into the organization, they did not fit our culture. You have to know who those people are. Teamwork, respect and integrity are how we relate to one another. Dedication, adaptability and accountability are how we work, and we contribute to our success through innovation and quality.

This is a set of values that were built by the team members, not the leadership. We had to incorporate those behaviors and prioritize them in the interview process. We hired our first HR executive in the company this year, and she has been working on this as a top priority. We are communicating this to candidates and making it a priority to talk to them about our core values. We’re asking behavior-based interview questions.

Sometimes, it’s just your gut feeling. You have to ask if they fit the values of the company. They might work really well in a different organization, but not here. When you have a seasoned leader in this particular healthcare space, it's very hard not to bring those people on board. We also work swiftly to encourage folks to leave our organization if they don’t fit our values.

People want to work in a culture. They came to work here for a reason, and they need to see that you are practicing that.

Pictured: Stephanie Alexander |  Photo courtesy of PeraHealth.

Follow Stephanie on Twitter at: @StephPeraHealth

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