Narrative Science's secret weapon? Promoting from within

by Andreas Rekdal
April 17, 2017

Nick Beil was an investor in Narrative Science before he came on board as its chief operating officer.

The former CEO of Performics, Beil led the company's sale to Publicis Groupe, where he worked on digital strategy as president of VivaKi before joining Narrative Science in 2011. To Beil, one of the keys to getting Narrative Science's culture right has been its efforts to promote from within.

What does a typical week look like for you?

Unlike a typical COO, I have responsibilities for all business functions across the organization so I try to split my time between internal operations and external growth drivers. The external commitments include our customers, marketing efforts, prospects, analysts, investors and so on. My internal responsibilities are focused on listening to the team to optimize our processes, strategy, talent development, recruiting and retention.

What do you spend most of your time on?

My biggest priority is accelerating our growth. I concentrate my time on top-line strategies, processes and infrastructure improvements that support our company’s growth and expand our market opportunity.

Our technology category, advanced natural language generation, is growing fast so I prioritize finding ways to grow our reach. That includes initiatives like our recently announced collaboration with Deloitte, our partnerships with established business intelligence companies like Tableau, Microsoft Power BI and Qlik, and the launch of our Narratives for Business Intelligence API.

What are the biggest challenges of running a tech organization?

Operations is going to be slightly different at all technology organizations, but from my own experience it is managing cross-functional dependencies. There has to be a healthy tension between the functions, including product development, sales, marketing, professional services and our engineering teams. One big challenge is keeping those dependencies in check, ensuring team alignment and keeping everyone accountable for moving initiatives forward.

What are the most impactful initiatives you’ve set in motion at Narrative Science?

First, we have embraced a behavioral interviewing process that aligns key traits with our core values. This has enabled our hiring teams to focus on finding people who can help drive and shape our growing culture and ensure that we are staying true to our values.

Second, our practice of empowering and promoting from within has been so valuable. There have been times that we had to go outside the company to fill a key role but overall, we’ve promoted a lot from within Narrative Science. We use talent planning to identify high-potential performers before pushing them to do more. This approach has been very good for the company and for our culture.

How do you build company structures that incentivize good work?

Everyone is motivated by different things, and managers are responsible for knowing those things at the individual employee level. I tend to focus on incentives at a team- and company level. We try to align incentives with desired behavior, as well as company mission and growth strategies.

We’ve been very cognizant of hiring people that embody our core values, two of them being: “It's a mission, not a job” and “We’re a team.” Most of our people are motivated by solving really hard problems and collaborating with their peers to do it. It is my job to measure our progress against our goals and communicate that progress to our employees in a way that truly reflects their phenomenal accomplishments and technological breakthroughs.

Image via Narrative Science. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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