Letting Go of Structure in Interviews with Carla Vernón

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This is a podcast episode titled, Letting Go of Structure in Interviews with Carla Vernón. The summary for this episode is: <p>On today’s episode of The Daily Bolster, Matt asks Carla Vernón, CEO of The Honest Company, about why her approach to interviewing potential executives and board directors has changed. </p><p>This is a thoughtful episode you don’t want to miss!</p>
👂 Interviews are all about listening
03:36 MIN
👀 How to identify soulfulness
01:43 MIN

Intro: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. Each day, we welcome transformational executives to share their real world experiences and practical advice about scaling yourself, your team and your business.

Matt Blumberg: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. I'm Matt Blumberg, co- founder and CEO of Bolster, and I'm here today with my friend Carla Vernon. Carla is the CEO and a member of the board of directors of The Honest Company. Prior to that, she had senior leadership roles at Amazon and at General Mills. Carla, it is great to see you.

Carla Vernón: Hey, Matt. Good to see you, brother.

Matt Blumberg: All right, so here's my question for you today. Today is about interviewing. You interview people for senior leadership roles in your organization and, as a CEO, you also have the privilege of interviewing people to join your board. My question is, when you're interviewing for those things at those levels, what are a couple of the things you're looking for and how do you interview for them?

Carla Vernón: Interestingly, I think I take an approach that is not necessarily the approach I was trained into. I got trained with the best practices of interviewing, the STAR method. I could do a STAR method, get my actions and results locked in and dialed in.

Matt Blumberg: Were you a bar raiser?

Carla Vernón: I was not. Oh, my gosh, the steps to being a bar raiser at Amazon are serious and rigorous. Matt, I'm still raising my bar and my ability to be a bar raiser. CPG, consumer packaged goods, has such excellent HR processes. In my 20- some years at General Mills, I really learned the ways to interview and understand if people have the skills, the qualities and the characters for the opportunities that you're thinking about for them, and that has served me well until I got to a company like Honest, which really is a company like no other. I think I have to take an interview approach like no other. You know The Honest Company. We're very young. We only IPOed two years ago. We were founded by four founders, two of whom were diverse. Our founder, Jessica Alba, is Latina. I'm Afro Latina, and part of our mission here at The Honest Company, we've got a diverse employee base, more than 50% of our employees are people of color, diverse board, we really are looking to set the tone of where corporate America is going. That means I try to interview a little differently. You can Google interview questions to ask executives, and I could find the list of the best 10 interview questions. I actually think what I'm listening for is about a feeling of soulfulness, a feeling of commitment and shared ambition for this big journey that we're trying to be on at Honest, so, often, I begin my interviews by listening. I realized that by the time somebody has come to me on the interview cycle, often, they have either interviewed with multiple people before they've gotten to me, and we've got our paperwork all ticked and tied about the STAR method, the typical questions, " Tell me about a time when," or they've done an enormous amount of research on Honest, and so I like to pick the conversation up there by saying, " Tell me about any gaps in understanding, any blanks I can fill in or any questions that are wrestling around in your mind and unresolved about what you know about Honest." When I open a question with a really broad landscape like that, it's up to that individual to begin where the journey and the conversation will go and in just how we begin and what they bring to the table about what they think is important to communicate and to learn, I learn a lot about the soulfulness, the shared commitment and the belief and shared ambition.

Matt Blumberg: I can get my head around the second one and the third one of things to listen for. Talk about soulfulness. How do you listen for that?

Carla Vernón: I had this time in between working at General Mills and Amazon where I was going to have a professional board career. I didn't think I was going to come back as an operator, and George Floyd died. As you know, I'm raising two Black children in Minneapolis. It was a very emotional time where I asked myself, " What can an Afro Latina like me bring to the corporate table?" One of my criteria for thinking about CEOs where I would be willing to be a member of their board was I was listening for those CEOs, for the ones that really meant it with their ambition of campground rules. I love to talk about the campground rules, leaving things better than we found them, welcoming people, creating new rules in corporate America that are equitable and inclusive. I would really almost interrogate leaders that I would talk to to listen for the depth of consideration they have given these new challenging issues of our times, and I can hear in the answers when I talk to people about how deep their thoughtfulness is on tough issues that we all have to wrestle with. Those don't have to be diversity, equity and inclusion. Those could be building a culture of engagement. Those could be driving a turnaround. If you really listen, you can hear whether people understand that, often, there's no right answers. There are many tensions, and the ability to articulate the tensions and the desire to resolve tensions are what I'm listening for.

Matt Blumberg: I love that. It is one of those things a little bit like you know it when you hear it. You know it when you see it.

Carla Vernón: What's wrong with that, Matt? When I met you a thousand years ago, I knew you were a good guy, and I haven't been wrong.

Matt Blumberg: Wow. I think we have to stop right on that. Carla, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. That is just a really poignant way of thinking about how to interview senior people and board members. Actually, the thing that's the easiest for someone to replicate out of that is starting with such a broad question that you're not only listening for what comes at you, but where the person chooses to answer, so thank you very much.

Carla Vernón: Thank you, Matt. Good seeing you.


On today’s episode of The Daily Bolster, Matt asks Carla Vernón, CEO of The Honest Company, about why her approach to interviewing potential executives and board directors has changed.

This is a thoughtful episode you don’t want to miss!