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Conversation with Chase Collins, VP of People and Finance at RA

Baron Leacock

Chase Collins has worked in companies big and small, new and old, East Coast and West Coast and everything in between, including founding his own recruiting agency and real estate investment firm. At the moment he’s leading both the People and the Finance function at RA, the luxury custom home builder whose mission is to transform life on earth (and beyond) by building the best living spaces using revolutionary technologies. Take a look at some of the breathtaking renderings of homes and communities RA is bringing into reality and you will understand why Chase is so deeply committed to the mission of his company. His commitment to RA’s mission heavily informed our chat on recruiting and retaining talent in turbulent markets. 

What follows is an abridged version of our informative chat.

Tell me a bit about your journey into HR and recruiting.

I come primarily from real estate and technology, originally from smaller, old-fashioned companies and then I moved out to the West Coast to get into big tech. I had a stint at Amazon, consulted for every FAANG company, including Netflix, then went into more mid-cap companies like Zillow.

That's really where I'm more focused, on real estate technology. I founded my own recruiting agency specific to technology and real estate, as well as a real estate investment firm. Now I’m at RA, VP of People & Finance, so leading HR, Recruiting, as well as the Finance org for a real estate technology startup.

That's an interesting combination of hats there.

I'm not one who studied one thing and then randomly fell into HR, which is actually the norm for most HR professionals, where they just kind of fall in and realize they like the People side. This is really what I studied, my bachelor’s is in HR, and my master’s is in management, finance and real estate. So this is a very intentional blend of what I enjoy.

...embracing the shift in the market versus trying to get candidates and employees to shift to you.

What kinds of trends are you seeing in the job market currently? 

I see people wanting a better work/life balance, wanting to cut down on their commute time and really being intentional about seeking it. It’s an employee market right now. There are more jobs available than there are employees that can fill them, especially when we think about larger technology companies with hyper-specialized roles. So it's up to companies to provide that value proposition to make sure that people want to join their company versus another.

There are a lot of ways to do it. Being paid well and having good benefits is obviously one of them. That's the one that I think is the least important to focus on versus providing people a better working environment, something that they're actually finding value in.

We’ve done very well recruiting and retaining talent and there are a couple things that we attribute to our success. We are a remote-first environment. We don't even have a physical office location. So we're not like other companies where they're providing hybrid options or to work remotely with a travel requirement into the office every now and then. We are just fully remote. We have team members on six of the seven continents, nobody in Antarctica yet, but we have people everywhere else and we provide that remote environment for the most flexibility.

So that's the first thing I would say: embracing the shift in the market versus trying to get candidates and employees to shift to you. Provide as much autonomy as possible, ownership, and responsibilities that people actually want to do. Being able to creatively shape positions around what motivates people is important too.

Aligning people to the company is very important. We provide stock options to our employees, making sure that everyone literally is an owner. But also so that they feel aligned and really feel connected to RA and that our mission is to improve human life by building the best living spaces on earth and beyond. And that is what our company is about. It's not just another one of a million SaaS companies that are just existing as SaaS to sell software and make money. We are here to change the way that people live and to find employees who are aligned to that. We're able to attract and motivate people a lot more this way.

Even though we're remote, we do things to provide as much connectivity and belonging as possible, such as bi-weekly all hands meetings. We also have lead syncs every other week for continuous alignment. A  lot of other companies wait for quarterly or more, we try to have those very streamlined so that we can connect with our team as much as possible even if it is through our computer screen.

What would be some examples of creatively shaping positions around what motivates a preferred candidate?

It's more difficult once you get to large companies because you do get more specialized roles there. A position is open and it’s simply a specific skill set to be and you move on and it's very transactional. But it’s different when you find talented people that you’ve identified as being exceptional, but not an exact fit for the role, there are aspects of the role that would demotivate them. For example, I just interviewed a Chief of Staff candidate where the role was designed around a mix of administration and operations, but he has a very strong mindset for sales, and that's really what he lives and breathes. He would be demotivated by more of the admin tasks.

In a situation like that, we see the pros overcome some of the cons of the role, so we want to shape that role to make it more motivational to him, but also such that it would be a role that he excels in.

So it's about a fit to the company of putting somebody in the right role because their strengths are aligned, and also better for the employee because they're set up for better success and they're going to be more motivated, better tenured at the company, things like that.

It's up to them on when they want to work and how they want to work, so long as they're attaining their results. That's really what matters.

Do you feel like your company is succeeding in creating that cohesion in a fully remote work environment?

I definitely think so. We have really good feedback. We receive good reviews on our company, both externally, if you look on Glassdoor, but also internally, where we do leadership surveys that are fully anonymous to see how the teams think about leadership and about their teams. Everything's been super positive. I attribute a lot of it to autonomy and alignment within the company. Again, making sure that everyone understands that their role plays a part in the bigger organizational mission, so that when they have success on their team, they're able to easily see the connection of how they're actually impacting the company as a whole instead of just feeling like a number. Again, easier at smaller companies, more difficult at larger companies, but it's still important at any level. 

Also important is fostering ownership of each person’s specific sections of work. For example, we don't track hours for full time employees, so we're not looking at how long people are logged in. Instead it’s simply, here are the goals and responsibilities that they're assigned and responsible for and it's really up to them to figure out how they want the work to flow. It's up to them on when they want to work and how they want to work, so long as they're attaining their results. That's really what matters.

And then we as leaders want to support and remove as many roadblocks as possible. We're not there to micromanage. We're there to set the goals and it's up to them to accomplish them. That's very motivational because people understand that they own the work. They're not just getting paid for sitting at a desk, they're being paid because of the skills they bring and the things they're able to accomplish.

Your company has a very clearly defined mission. What kinds of explicit things do you do to keep folks aligned with that mission?

We do 14-day goal sprints, basically setting up time with all of our leads and clarifying the company goals that we're trying to achieve. And then we break it down and give ownership, where people state what their objectives as a team should be to reach those company goals. We do those every two weeks to make sure that these aren't quarterly OKRs or anything like that. They are very short-term goal sprints to make sure that we're still able to be nimble and really change and pivot to different ideas as our company shifts in the rapidly changing market. We track and make sure that people understand what they're doing directly aligns to the company mission and that it makes a difference, then we can verify very quickly on whether they're on track with those goals or not.

I've seen companies take the reactive approach and most fail.

With the aspirations that your company has, would you say that you have a proactive approach to maintaining that mission cohesion as you look to scale, or is it more, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it?

It's definitely a proactive approach. I've seen companies take the reactive approach and most fail. I've been a part of companies that have had upwards of a million employees and I have also been on my own as just one employee, and everywhere in between. We take the proactive approach, as if we're ten times larger, because we want to have that scale and automation and everything ready, so we’re not trying to build while going through growth pains. We’re trying to have all of our processes and all of our systems set up, while still being flexible and providing that autonomy.

Lots of layoffs in the headlines these days, does hearing that news affect your approach?  Do you still find it to be a candidate's market?

It affects things, especially with the layoffs having the optics that it's no longer a candidate’s market. I would argue that it is still a candidate’s market. I think companies are reducing scale because they haven't been as intentional as they should with hiring. A lot of companies hire for growth without having that growth at the ready, and then they realize they have too many employees, and then they have to reduce. That's when most layoffs are happening. It's not that most companies are going under. It's more that they're overstaffed for their current situations, and they didn't grow to the degree that they thought.

As far as our hiring, we're growing very quickly, pretty much 20% month over month on our employee basis, which is going to exponentially grow us very quickly. But we're being hyper-intentional about who we hire, making sure that each individual is quantitatively a cultural fit based on our core values, not just someone that we can picture grabbing a beer with, but are aligned to our mission as well as our core values. We also critically think about if the role is really needed now and in the future. Companies that do this drastically reduce the risk of having to go through those layoff rounds.

I don't go out of my way to deliberately try and sell a candidate to the company if there's not really a fit there.

What is no one talking about but should be?

I feel that a lot of the problems are very much highlighted, but a lot of leaders have very differing thoughts on if they're important or not. We see this in diversity, we see this in remote-first environments, there’s a large mix on whether people think it's important or not. We see compensation and benefits being different. We see the importance of whether a company mission actually matters. Everyone is different. So when we look at motivating factors, there's not just one list that works.

For example, we can look at motivational theory and hierarchy of needs. It's not always money first. It's not always culture first. Everybody has a different order of importance on what things motivate them and what their needs are. But the way that you set up your company, you should be deliberately screening and trying to attract the talent that matches your company.

We want diversity of thought and diversity of experiences, but we also want alignment when it comes to our core values. We want to hire people that are fully on board with our mission. And then we want people who are super motivational, high energy, able to accomplish a lot of things, super driven, and able to disagree and have radical honesty during conversations.

As far as motivations, it's then up to the individual once they’ve heard about what we’re working on, whether or not it's a fit for them. I don't go out of my way to deliberately try and sell a candidate to the company if there's not really a fit there. I don't want to sell people on a company being all bells and whistles and roses and nothing else. We're a startup. Start-up work is very difficult. If you want to be a part of something where we're genuinely trying to change the world and not just another workplace, come along for the ride, but understand that it won't be easy.

Those are the kinds of conversations that I want to have with people. And then it's up to them if they want to be a part of that style of work. It's not easy work. It's not a clocking-in from nine-to-five and then going home. Other companies, it certainly may be, but RA isn't.

Thank you to Chase for taking the time to share his insights with us!

About Rocket

Rocket pairs talented recruiters with advanced AI to help companies hit their hiring goals. Rocket is headquartered in the heart of Silicon Valley but has recruiters all over the US & Canada serving the needs of our growing client base across engineering, product management, data science and more.

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