Applied Values: Own and drive change

Published by:
Hew Ingram
March 8, 2021
min read

When chatting to people at Applied everyone has a very good story about how they ended up working here and there's one common theme running through them: each and every one of us went through a hiring process (either as a candidate or as a hiring manager) and thought "this process sucks".

I was an engineer at a fast growing tech scale-up, I worked in a great team on a cool product and had been there for years. As with most scale-ups, we were hiring a lot and fast and so I was involved in dev hiring... into our (basically) all-male team of 20+ engineers.

I'd always cared about equality and was well aware of the issues in the tech industry and getting involved in hiring felt like the perfect opportunity to make a positive change in the team.

I started reading around the topic, encouraging people I work with to engage and discuss what we could change. I stumbled upon "What works" by Iris Bohnet and it talked about this cool company using the same research to build a better hiring process. One thing led to another and I've been working on building that better hiring process at Applied for the last 3 years.

All of us at Applied are motivated to drive meaningful change in the world of hiring - it's the reason we get up in the morning.

History and philosophy of change

Change is an interesting thing. It's something that, as humans, we've been seeking to understand for millennia.  Two and a half thousand years ago Heraclitus suggested that "the only thing that is constant is change" and because hot takes have always been a thing, another philosopher, Parmenides, claimed change just doesn't even exist. Given that I write this from my home, having not been able to meet my friends, family or colleagues in person in the last year - I'm going to side with Heraclitus - change is a constant in our lives.

The importance of change

When we think about our everyday lives, pretty much every aspect has changed drastically in the space of the last generation. 25 years ago less than 10% of the UK had access to the internet, we started using computers at work and home and mobile phones had just about got to the point where they could fit in a (large) pocket.

Nowadays all of those things feel utterly commonplace, and for the most part, that change was easy - we've taken this change in our strides - humans are wonderfully good at adapting and coping (after all that's pretty much how we survived as a species) and when the surge of change is swelling around us, it's easy to just go along with it and adapt.

The challenge of change

But starting change or making change happen... now that's tough. I'm sure you've all come up against resistance when trying to introduce change - be that at work or even among your friends and family. Trying to use a new process or a new tool at work or even trying to get your friends to try a different taco place can take an annoying amount of wrangling and convincing.

That resistance to change is something people have sought to understand. This preference for things staying as they are is called the Status quo bias, a term coined by Samuelson and Zeckhauser in 1998 who showed its existence vie some choice experiment.

Over the years, this bias has been studied and used in systems design. Back in the early 90s New Jersey and Pennsylvania managed to accidentally run a large real-life experiment into this bias. Both states were introducing new vehicle insurance structures - in New Jersey, the default option was the cheaper of the two (with more limited rights to sue) whereas in Pennsylvania the default was the more expensive option (with more rights to sue).

Even though the other option may have been better for them, only a minority of people decided to switch from the default.

But why does this bias exist? Most people have concluded that it's a combination of different factors: on one side loss aversion and the sunk costs, factors that make change feel scary or off-putting. And on the other side, the cognitive dissonance of a process or a situation that disagrees with your internalised world view and the mere-exposure effect.

This is a psychological phenomenon based on the mere fact that we've seen the status quo so much that exposure to a 'novel stimulus' (i.e. anything different) elicits a fear response in us.

So yeah - change is hard. But what can we learn from this that helps us drive meaningful change?

At Applied, we're trying to substantially and meaningfully change the way people hire

CVs have been around for hundreds of years. In fact, Leonardo da Vinci wrote a CV in 1482 - sure they've changed a little in the intervening 500 years but the core idea is the same: "Look at this list of cool things I've done, why not pay me to do cool things for you". When we talk to hiring managers (who have hired and been hired using CVs for their entire career) and tell them to ditch the CV because it doesn't work there's often a lot of resistance and resistance to change is a thing many people who are trying to drive change have to deal with.

Kathie Danemiller came up with a formula for organizational change in the 80s:

c = D x V x F > r

For change to happen that resistance (r) must be overcome and the factors attempting to overcome that are a Dissatisfaction with how things are, a vision for what is possible, and first concrete steps to change.

  • Dissatisfaction with how things are - this falls under the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". If I don't see anything wrong with the current state why would I bother changing anything? In our example of CVs and hiring, this value varies hugely based on industry, personal experience and the weight of that mere-exposure effect.
  • Vision of what's possible - even if I'm somewhat dissatisfied with the status quo I need some compelling goal of a better way, the outcomes I get from the change
  • First concrete steps - this is how to get started in enacting the change. Even if you are dissatisfied with the current way and know the endpoint you want to get to if there's no path to get there then change feels daunting.

So next time you're trying to enact big change either at work or amongst your friends, this formula is a useful reference - outline a compelling reason to change: what's wrong with the current setup, what a better version would look like, and some simple first steps to get there. It doesn't magically mean you'll be able to easily make change happen but it's definitely a sensible way to approach driving change.

As we're all bought into the idea of driving change at Applied, we go straight into the process for making change happen. Like many other businesses, we follow iterative processes using the stepping stone Kaizen approach, in business speak, Agile.

The idea of Kaizen when it comes to iterative process improvement is a relatively simple one...

Get everyone in the team involved in sharing the challenges or problems they have, then as a group generate ideas of things you, as a team, could try to do to address them and make people's life at work better. Then build consensus towards the ones to try first and put them into action.

Then after you've been testing them for a while measure and analyze the impact they've had. Then you have a choice - stop the test and test another idea (if this one wasn't successful) or adopt this new way of working and then test something. Either way you're slowly but surely working your way towards a better working process.

The concept of Kaizen was born out of 50s Japan where small, iterative changes were made to improve the use of the existing workforce and technology. Kaizen has become the accepted term for just that approach - continuous changes for the better.

The core of Kaizen is an iterative loop, PDCA - plan, do, check, act. Anyone familiar with agile will recognise this approach but it's a super useful approach to take when wanting to change and improve the ways in which you work.

At Applied, the process is coupled with all our other values of trust, being curious and true to evidence, championing our users, and making a fairer world. When we make changes at Applied we have to trust our colleagues that we're all it together, that we think about the people using our products, to make sure that we test our assumptions, and remind ourselves that the end goal is so much bigger than just building a product.

Agile diagram

Having a process enables change to happen, and helps people stay on track, and check that we're on our way to achieving those big overarching goals. It also doesn't hurt to make sure that you're hiring inclusively and finding people who are bought into the mission and motivated to drive change in the first place.

So coming back to me - leaving a job I loved 3 years ago to join Applied in order to drive change - has that happened? Absolutely. Up till today a quarter of a million people have made 320,000 de-biased applications though Applied.

The anonymised sift answers they've written have more than 2 million unique judgements. Over 6000 people have been hired into roles they wouldn't have otherwise gotten.

All these are very cool numbers but the stories along the way have been awesome too: hearing from hiring managers that they're hiring awesome people who they wouldn't have brought through to interview if they'd looked at their CV or hiring mangers who end up hiring 2 people from a hiring round because "they were both too good to pass on".

Being at events at vaguely mention that I work on hiring software and someone excitedly telling me about this cool application they did where it was totally different to other applications and they didn't get the job but they did get feedback, which they loved and so they went out of their way to find and apply to other companies hiring with that tool because it was so cool (and me stifling a massive grin as I tell them that... yeah that's the one we build).

All the way through to Engineers telling me they learned more in a few months working at Applied than in years at a previous role or that they didn't think they'd find a job that was a good engineering team to work in but was also a product that actually cared about.

So... yeah. Driving change here at Applied is core to what we do be it change in the way people hire, change in the way candidates get treated in a hiring process and change in the way teams and individuals work. Change might be hard and sometimes painful but so so worth it.

Want to join us on our mission to change the way the world hires? We're hiring a software developer 👩💻