Ten years ago, before I was a husband and father, I learned that giving flexible work hours to your best people is a great way to keep them. I was running Yahoo Music, and my senior business development leader, Karin, was doing a terrific job but needed some time at home after the birth of her first child. She asked me if she could work four days a week and get paid 80 percent of her full-time salary. Because she was a star performer, I agreed, though we hadn’t allowed people to work part-time before. Karin did a great job, and we never really noticed that she was out on Fridays. When her second child was born, she wanted to travel less. We switched her into a product development job, still at 80 percent time. She not only flourished but was eventually able to take on a general manager role at Yahoo in another group because she had experience in both business and product development. Karin has continued to progress in her career as a successful leader, and managed to keep her 80 percent schedule until her kids were in school full time.
When I became CEO of SurveyMonkey four years ago, I used this lesson in flexibility to help attract outstanding senior executives. Today, 40 percent of our senior executives are women with children, an unusually high number in the technology industry. I was able to hire Selina, our senior vice president of product and engineering, because I understood the value of flexibility. At the time, Selina was four months pregnant with her first child. She had many opportunities to start or run her own company (she had founded Evite when she was at Stanford), but I was able to persuade her that she could have both a huge impact and more flexibility by joining us. Minna, whom I hired early on to run SurveyMonkey’s international business, had taken a year off after her second child was born and was hesitant to commit to full-time work. I convinced her that she could work four days a week, like Karin, and I was confident that 80 percent of Minna was more than 100 percent of most people we could have hired. Brad, our head of user experience, was very interested in joining us, but he and his wife were expecting their first child and were concerned about his hours, wondering if it made sense for him to jump to a smaller company. Selina and I took Brad and his wife out to dinner and convinced both of them that it could work better—that if he joined our team, Brad would be able to be around more for his family by working a day a week from home.
Too often, we focus on titles or compensation to attract great people. I have learned that giving talented men and women flexibility and trusting them to excel has been key to hiring and retaining exceptional people.