The Mix Tape: Ep. 8 — Competing For Talent in The Boston Biotech Market

When it comes to HR, keeping your company on top of your industry has its challenges. Mix Talent's Kristen Lewis takes this week's episode to chat with an expert HR professional in Boston's biotech market: Janielle Newland. Newland is the Senior Vice President Human Resources at Viridian Therapeutics, an innovative biotechnology company advancing treatments for patients with diseases that are underserved by today’s therapies.

Transcription

Unison:
Welcome to the Mix Tape.

Valerie McCandlish:

I’m Valerie.

Natalie Taylor:

And I’m Natalie. Today, we have a conversation between a recruiter and a candidate turned client. Kristen Lewis is a recruiting lead at Mix Talent and recruited Janielle Newland into the role she has today at Viridian Therapeutics as SVP of human resources. This dynamic duo has been pivotal to supporting hiring efforts for Viridian during this period of incredible growth.

Valerie McCandlish:

Kristen is one of our early mixers, she was one of the first few to join the team, and it’s so great to see her continue to grow this relationship with Viridian. And I know last season, we talked about the growth potential for biotech here in the Midwest, which is exploding on the scene. But in Boston, it’s just been such a long standing hub for life sciences and biotech, and is more competitive than ever. So together, Kristen and Janielle will share their experiences as an HR leader and a recruiter and give advice on building teams and how to create a positive experience while hiring. So with that, here’s competing for talent in the Boston biotech market.

Kristen Lewis:

Hi, I’m Kristen Lewis and welcome to the Mix Tape. I’m a recruiting lead at Mix Talent response for building teams predominantly in the Boston biotech market with companies ranging from stealth mode to medium sized organizations. The Boston biotech market for talent is fierce with over 1,000 biotechs currently in the area. You can always expect that candidates will receive multiple offers. That begs the question, will they choose your company or one of the others? How do you attract and retain candidates you want or need? Believe it or not talent strategy is an important part of your business strategy. If you want to achieve your goals in the Boston market, then you need the right people who can help you get there and helping achieve the ultimate goal, helping patients. I chose to discuss because of a question a CEO presented me with. He was looking for an HR leader with strong business sensibility who could evolve an existing culture while also rapidly growing the organization.

Kristen Lewis:

This is the person I immediately thought of, a person who can build the right culture and talent strategies to drive business outcomes. Janielle Newland. Janielle is currently the senior vice president, human resources, at Viridian Therapeutics. She has worked with a number of impressive companies in her career, ranging from advertising startups to leading large global organizations. She is a champion of people, knows key drivers of success and retention, how to attract talent, and most importantly, she lives by her values. Janielle, thank you for being here today. Please tell us more about yourself.

Janielle Newland:

Thank you, Kristen. It’s great to be here today and to talk about what we love doing. So, as you mentioned, a lot of time in the biotech market working, particularly in Boston, Cambridge 25 years plus total between financial services and the biotech space, really enjoy the challenge of how do you make it? How do you build it? How do you deal with the ups and downs? Started as a recruiter and really enjoyed that pace, but always thought about the aspects of, well, what happens after we hire them? There’s data lost as we evaluate people and bring them forward in the organization about what they need to develop themselves in, what do we want to develop them in? What are particular career paths we could bring them through?

Janielle Newland:

So as I went larger and larger organizations, rounds of acquisitions, I really made the conscious decisions several years ago to get back into smaller organizations and be able to build the right flow for talent through an organization which led me to, as you mentioned, supporting several stealth organizations and now at Viridian, which I’m having a blast. It’s been a year and we’ve tripled in size, moved forward to assets into our first in human and really excited about the road ahead.

Kristen Lewis:

Yeah. The company’s been growing amazingly since you’ve been there and you’ve been doing an incredible job. So I was just wondering, what is your strategy and model for success?

Janielle Newland:

Yeah, so I’ve made my own mistakes personally throughout my career and picking companies and you helping figure out what to do and what not to do. And so that’s the first thing in my own model is learning and sharpening my own evaluation skills. So, I got to the point where my strategy and model for success is, if you are in human resources regardless of the position, you really need to evaluate the company’s leaders. And if you have a chance to evaluate the board of directors, depending on the size and shape company, they’re going to play a key role and determining pretty big factors like compensation, philosophy and things like that. So I would say, I made the mistake early in my career of not properly evaluating the leadership team to make sure I was philosophically aligned, and we were philosophically aligned to drive the culture and the strategy the right way.

Janielle Newland:

So that’s the first step. And then you have to make sure you are the right person to meet the leadership team and the organization where they are in their evolution. We can’t expect that all leaders know everything about talent and what human resources does. I’ve certainly had many leaders, be surprised to say, wow, I didn’t realize how involved this was or what a difference it would make. So, evaluating the leaders, understanding your capabilities of meeting them where they are to drive the change. You and I know that the tools aren’t that different in HR from when we started many years ago, it’s really how you’re working with the team and driving the needs of the organization. This second big piece is getting a sense of the people IQ or the people values within an organization. Is that going to drive the culture and the change and the business model the way that you need it to.

Janielle Newland:

So I do spend a lot of time evaluating and determining what the right competencies and values are for an organization. So for instance, Viridian was remote before it was required to be remote. I often say we were remote before it was cool or necessary. So, making sure people could be very willing to connect, very open to connect, see collaboration, and even the most stereotypically introverted types of roles in the scientific realm. Someone’s going to want to reach out and want input. And on the other end of that, we have people who will have the ability to give good collaboration efforts and input. Number one, do those things exist in the organization, and if they don’t, how do we train them into the organization to make it thrive. So I would say a lot of my strategy involves just evaluating and figuring out if we can meet the organization where it is to drive the results that we need.

Kristen Lewis:

One of the things that you mentioned is that leaders think that the culture comes from HR. I’ve heard that before, I actually was sitting in a room once and there was a CEO who kept saying, I need HR and I need talent acquisition to drive the culture. And I just, at the end eventually, raised my hand and was like, “I thought that came from you.”

Janielle Newland:

Yes.

Kristen Lewis:

Where do you really think, I know it comes from people, it comes from leaders, but where do you think it really at its core where it comes from?

Janielle Newland:

Yeah. Another mistake I made earlier on and in my career is thinking, I can be enough to fix this culture and be out there enough and drive change and spend time with all the employees, but it is just a snowball effect of not going to happen. So when I’m talking about understanding the leaders and evaluating the leaders, and understanding their people value and their people IQ, the culture is going to come from them. And you can shape it to a point, you could help them, broaden and evolve their thinking. But when the rubber hits the road, you can’t train them out of their thoughts of, okay, we’re running out of money, so cut this benefit or do this or do that. The things that we’re always poking at in an interview process of, how will you really show up as an individual in tough times.

Janielle Newland:

So really understanding that, that’s going to drive ultimately, what the culture will be and if it will be successful or not successful, based on how we implement it. And you and I have talked at length about authenticity and that’s the other angle of this. We can script leaders, we can script CEOs to go out and say the right things. But if it’s not authentic, people don’t believe it and know that it’s a part of their core values. It’s so transparent. So, there’s what we say and there’s what we do, and it’s definitely the most important thing as I layer in the tactics of our strategy. So selecting the benefits, selecting the policies, do these tactics to support our culture and our strategy. Are we saying one thing about, oh, we want you to have the freedom to be remote and to support your family and our benefits are crappy and they do the opposite. And that’s something that always fascinated me about the device industry and the pharmaceutical industries, we’re supposed to be helping make people healthy and a lot of companies benefits. Don’t support that even in the space.

Kristen Lewis:

Yeah. I have been checking in with new hires on something that you mentioned, the alignment and the authenticity, basically once they start, just to ask, how has everything been going, the interview process? Did everything align when you came in? Did you feel like everything was there? And did it seem like… I’m going to rephrase that.

Janielle Newland:

Sure.

Kristen Lewis:

So, something that you mentioned was the authenticity, and I check in with new hires to see if the interview process aligns with their experience at the company a few weeks, months in. And so far, the feedback I’ve received is that we’re able to keep that alignment between what we say in our interviews and what new hires experience. I feel like that is the ultimate goal, but how do you think we’ve achieved that?

Janielle Newland:

A lot of upfront work, a lot of upfront conversations, just taking it back to of the basic of filling a job, the more work you do on the upfront of aligning with the hiring manager and the hiring team of, what’s important, what do we want, what do we not want? Doing the research into the market, a lot of upfront work about determining what we need, when we need it, how does it fit into the organization? What do we want this person to accomplish? Do we have everything in place to accomplish that? And are we making sure our values and our different mechanisms are driving that. And then being consistent about communicating it. It’s hard in a smaller organization and growing so rapidly and being remote, we’re in 16 states.

Janielle Newland:

We look for the best talent regardless of where they live. So it takes a bit of extra work to communicate and align. I was very lucky when I joined this leadership team in particular, in the board, are all very well aligned in thinking that, doesn’t matter how efficacious science can be or outside of the science is how great a product is, if you don’t have good people and you don’t treat them well, you’re not going to get anywhere. So, we were philosophically well aligned from the get go, but focusing on putting the right foot forward every day in that.

Kristen Lewis:

And it worked really well.

Janielle Newland:

Thanks. No, it’s tough. To grow so quickly and be in very tight markets, it’s worked well. But what a novel concept to treat people like grownups, treat candidates like grownups, be respectful. Listen, we’re launching a survey this month just to learn a whole bunch of things about what employees want for their future and need. And, how are you dealing with working from home? We do it anonymously, which really helps us get very candid feedback and asking questions about, what do they need and what do we need to make sure we’re going to have in this organization in the next year to continue to support. And you have to ask those hard questions and be ready to deal with the answers.

Kristen Lewis:

Yeah, I agree. And it’s amazing because not only is it remote, but it’s also a very diverse organization. So one of the things that the candidates love, I personally love, is that Viridian has a high percentage of diversity, I know at least 58% women.

Janielle Newland:

55% female and 32% people of one or more diversity category.

Kristen Lewis:

That’s fantastic. And how do you think that candidates see that?

Janielle Newland:

It’s interesting, this is an area that I do ask questions about and have curiosities about. What we call diversity and inclusion today has just been innate to the way that I’ve always looked at businesses and you need to have a business that is representative of your patients or your customers, whatever the case may be. We’re working in disease areas in which the patients’ caregivers are a super important component to their treatment paradigm. So, we look at our customers as our patients and the caregivers. Well, when you break that down, a large majority of caregivers are female, and the particular diseases that we’re working on, they don’t care what your ethnicity is.

Janielle Newland:

And we do know that, particularly, people in inner cities, so when I worked on an allergy and asthma products years ago, it was inner city populations that were affected the most because of pollution. And within inner cities, there are obviously more people of diversity, and the particular company I was working with really had very little diversity on their sales team. And I pointed that out as a problem. So here, there was already a good base of diversity and gender that we just continued to attract, I think, in part, because when people would come to the website and look at our leadership team, you see half women and half men, and you see an age range that runs the gamut, and you see people of diversity, and then they would meet people in the interview process. Again, we do the interview process over video so they can see us and hear us and of point of views.

Janielle Newland:

And then, the benefits and the remote workability, further, attracted people who have some challenges in life, maybe, you’re needing to take care of a parent and be available or a child. And so we were set to really welcome in people dealing with all types of situations in their life, which is important. I think one thing that companies and CEOs aren’t thinking about when they’re saying, okay, now everyone come back to work, is childcare. Okay, I settled into a childcare routine where now I’m only doing afternoon daycare. And now you expect me to change that at the drop of a hat. I can’t do that. I’m going to have to get on a waiting list, I’m going to have to find a babysitter two days a week, and what value does that bring to the organization? I got to commute for two hours a day, none of us want to go back to that.

Janielle Newland:

So, I think that we outwardly made people curious about us because of the diversity that they were seeing and then felt supported by what they heard from potential coworkers and people that they interviewed with about the flexible working ability and the benefits to really support and meet you where you are as an employee.

Kristen Lewis:

Yes. And you have made my job very easy.

Janielle Newland:

I’m in that age group right now where I have elderly dogs and elderly parents and I am so thankful, so many days of the week, thinking back to being in Cambridge, being an hour away from home. And hearing that my dad had a slip and fall or the dog’s got to go to the vet and you got to switch everything around. It makes us better humans, not just better coworkers and workers and people, it really has enriched our ability to be fuller individuals.

Kristen Lewis:

Yeah. And the candidates definitely would agree with that, that I’ve spoken to.

Janielle Newland:

That’s great. And one of the things that was super interesting to us too, is that we had several consultants who had been tenured consultants, because they did need work flexibility. And I went through that myself years ago, part of starting my consulting business was because there was something going on from a personal standpoint where I couldn’t commit to a 9:00 to 5:00, not that I’ve ever worked 9:00 to 5:00 in a day. But I couldn’t commit to that and being on site. And what was so wonderful is after checking in with some consultants, them saying, actually I’m really interested in coming on board full time if you need me, because I could do this full time and finally get the benefits and the equity that they rightfully deserve in those situations. So there’s an opportunity to have the right setup of your organization that can allow in people who will be extremely valuable, who are potentially underemployed or employed only partially as consultants, who could contribute at a higher level.

Kristen Lewis:

Absolutely. And we’ve definitely brought on consultants. We’ve gotten the interest of a lot of people that are con consultants who are saying, but you know what? For a position like this, for a company like this, I would definitely consider going on full time.

Janielle Newland:

Yeah. It’s certainly been a help, and I always take it at as the highest compliment…. Ooh, we got to redo that. Sorry, I thought I turned out, look off. Let turn this off. Okay. [inaudible 00:22:56] I always take it as the highest compliment that people who have been in the company as a consultant or a temp want to come on board full time, they’ve seen behind the curtain, as they say, or someone who’s worked with one of us in the past wanting to come back. It’s always such a nice compliment.

Kristen Lewis:

Yeah. And I think that even though Viridian, before the pandemic, before it was cool, was a remote awesome culture that was already beginning like this. But throughout the pandemic, things have shifted very quickly and I’ve seen candidates change their values. And it feels like Viridian was ahead of that curve, we’re now post pandemic, the company’s already growing, has had this culture for years, there’s no shift, whereas other companies have to make that shift. So I feel like since we’re already there, we’ve been doing a great job and that’s why we’re getting a lot of really great people who want to join the organization. And I feel like it’s been so easy partially because of that.

Janielle Newland:

Yeah. It’s interesting. You’re absolutely right, Kristen. There were companies that really had painful shifts who had their pipelines slow down, we all dealt with supply chain issues. But more than anything else the employees and companies that were less ready to pivot to remote felt such a painful culture shift, a technology not ready, slow down, and then just not having the technology in place to support what they needed, not having the tech culture. We have a very easy way of communicating and managing because we’re remote first. If you’re an employee and you need the chief medical officer, you can send him a text, just keep in mind, he might call you on FaceTime, so if you don’t have makeup on, be ready.

Janielle Newland:

But our culture is such that, we are collaborating, we’re reaching out, we’re communicating, we’re using all of the tools to make sure that, the company is moving forward. And if you’re coming from a culture that is not adopted technology and communication, and you got to go through a secretary or you got to schedule a meeting, or you can’t easily reach out to someone or know how they want to be, connected with, then it’s just going to lead itself to being a less than productive organization. And that’s very frustrating to individuals and a shift that doesn’t happen easily.

Kristen Lewis:

All right. Well, thank you so much, Janielle. I think I just want to just go over a few things before we sign out, and the few elements that we spoke about. So it seems like in order to compete for talent in this type of biotech, fierce startup environment, that the most important things to remember is you can’t reach business goals without talent strategy.

Janielle Newland:

Agreed.

Kristen Lewis:

Yeah. And in the HR and talent acquisition, despite what we want and what we think cannot control the culture.

Janielle Newland:

Absolutely not. No, we can be the bullhorn, we can really help channel and craft and make sure the elements are felt and seen through our policies and our benefits. But, as you always say, it’s the authenticity and how we see the leaders demonstrate that is going to be the most telling.

Kristen Lewis:

And that was going to be my third takeaway, to be authentic.

Janielle Newland:

Yes. Yeah. And I say that, beyond being just authentic, we should be authentically candid to each other and be open and honest in a kind way, that is so important, and it moves into every part of the organization. How we give feedback to candidates, how we give feedback to individuals, our relationships with our coworkers, being authentic and being candid will make us really all get better. And so it’s something that I’m so happy as part of our, our culture, and it’s something that we continue to work on even as a leadership team, to make sure that we’re continuing to be the best that we can be as leaders for the organization. And you can, as a small company, invest in development of your people at all levels. And I encourage others to look at, there’s a lot of free tools, there’s a lot of different things. Once you evaluate your organization, figure out what’s missing, and what’s going to drive the organization and just focus on one thing, don’t focus on a bunch of things, focus on one thing that’s going to help everybody.

Kristen Lewis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). For sure. Well, one thing I think we all would want to know is what’s your favorite interview question that you’ve ever asked or been asked?

Janielle Newland:

I tend to like interview questions that demonstrate people being able to be agile. We always know that the only thing that’s constant is change. And so I tend to like the questions about, tell me about a time you had to pivot, what you were doing, how did you do that, did they communicate it, how did they communicate it, what was the impact? I think it tells a lot about an individual, if they’re able to pivot how they pivoted what factors they involved in the discussion or the decision. So, those are the questions I like answering but also I like asking.

Kristen Lewis:

And being in a startup, that totally makes sense. Because, you have to be agile.

Janielle Newland:

Yeah. And even being in the largest organizations I’ve ever been in, 50,000 employees, I found it just as necessary there in smaller orgs, which is surprising, but true, I guess.

Kristen Lewis:

Yeah. And since you’re on the Mix Tape, I do have to ask you, what is your favorite song?

Janielle Newland:

Oh, I hate this question. I love it. You know me personally, so you know that I do like music a lot. I will put my little bow speaker on when I’m in the office and just working on something or at home. I will say my current favorite song, not all time favorite song, because that would be like picking a favorite child. I love a band called Interpol and there’s a song called The Heinrich Maneuver. That just is a fun poppy song that just always gets me in a good mood.

Kristen Lewis:

I haven’t heard of it yet.

Janielle Newland:

It’s old rock and rolly, punky, band, not too old. But I do enjoy a bit of rock and punk.

Kristen Lewis:

Yeah. Well I’m going to go check it out.

Janielle Newland:

Great.

Kristen Lewis:

Well thank you Janielle, for taking the time to connect with us today, to discuss competing for talent in the Boston biotech market, it was a pleasure talking with you.

Janielle Newland:

Thank you, Kristen.

Natalie Taylor:

Thank you to Kristen and Janielle for sharing your insights and experience with us today. My favorite thing that they talked about was the topic of being authentic from hiring through onboarding. And I’ve seen this in some of my career journeys, but I love that they received feedback from the team saying that the values and the culture aligned to what they were expecting once they’ve been onboarded and on the team.

Valerie McCandlish:

Yeah, I agree, Natalie. And even before that point of once you are hired and getting onto that team, I love that Kristen probes following an interview to see, did that experience align to what you thought it was going to be for the interview? Did the culture match when your expectations were going into it? I love hearing the ways that different recruiters ask questions. It’s so important to ask that kind of information because these candidates are just as much interviewing the company as the company is interviewing them. And it’s so pivotal that these experiences match up and they align together because you want it to be the best fit for everybody, not just that the company is getting the best person, you want the candidate to feel like they’re making the best choice for them and their career as well.

Natalie Taylor:

Yep, absolutely. That’s a great point.

Valerie McCandlish:

Yeah. I mean, I think I could talk about this until I’m blue in the face, because I’m just really passionate about it. And that’s something that we consider to be really important too here at Mix is how you develop that culture. I thought it was really thought provoking how Janielle said she’s worked with some leaders who expect that culture to be built by the HR leader or come from them, but it comes from everybody who’s involved. And there’s only so much that one person can do to try and develop the culture for an entire organization. And additionally, I think, she can describe it as much as she wants, but it’s really going to come down to how everybody is operating with that company and does it match up to what they say they want it to be? Once people start getting hired and brought in to continue to develop that.

Natalie Taylor:

Yeah, that’s a great point. And culture comes from within, you got to walk the walk and talk the talk.

Valerie McCandlish:

Yeah, exactly.

Natalie Taylor:

And this time we’ve got new music to add to the playlist, a totally different vibe than what we’ve had so far, and I love that so much. I can’t wait to add some Interpol to the playlist, so be sure to keep an eye out for that addition and with that, thank you for being in the Mix, we’ll see you next week.

 

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