Me and Mr. Jones
Hello, Cleveland! And hello Mark Jones, Senior Vice President at Alexander Mann Solutions, who came by the Evergreen podcast studios in Cleveland to talk shop, covering everything from RPO in the UK vs. USA, best marketing tools to attract candidates and whether Counting Crows or Billy Paul does a better "Jones" rendition. It's another can't miss Nexxt exclusive.
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Announcer: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry, right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls, it's time for the Chad & Cheese Podcast.
Joel: We can just go right into it.
Chad: You just talk about your erectile dysfunction mic.
Joel: Yeah, my mic has some ED issues. It fell. He took a blue pill and he's back up, so we're all good. We can get on with the show.
Chad: For all of our listeners, I mean, they have to understand why you had an ED mic in the first place. We are actually in Cleveland, Ohio.
Joel: Hello, Cleveland.
Chad: Hello, Cleveland. Cleveland, Ohio, at-
Joel: Winter in Cleveland, what better destination is there?
Chad: ... the Evergreen Podcast Studios doing our ... We've never actually-
Joel: We're at the mothership.
Chad: We're in isolated rooms and I mean, this had better sound fucking awesome.
Joel: The only thing missing is the straight jackets, I think. The walls are padded. That's the only thing missing. But we are enjoying some quality, Cleveland brewed, Great Lakes beer. Eliot Ness, if you've ever had it you know what I'm talking about, if you haven't, you should give it a shot.
Chad: How have you not had it? That's the question.
Joel: Sold all over the Midwest now.
Chad: And that is compliments-
Joel: Sorry, Canada.
Chad: ... of Alexander Mann Solutions, by the way. When you come to
Cleveland, you have to go to Great Lakes Brewing, because it is-
Chad: ... yeah, it's delicious, but it's like, the brewery. I mean, it was before microbreweries were big. Lovely. And we have Mark Jones, senior vice president. Is there anything after that? You're just a senior vice president, I mean, that's big, because you don't have anything after it. If you were senior vice president of finance or something like that, you would have an area responsibility, but in this case you're responsible for everything, just being as VP.
Joel: He can't be that important if he's here with us.
Mark: Kind of. One of the things that's different is job titles are different, where, in the UK to the U.S. Not many people realize that, but SVP kind of is the right level. I've been with the organization for 23 years and-
Chad: You're the number two employee, right?
Chad: I mean, you've been with these guys for over 22 years?
Mark: Yeah, and I signed a 40, can you believe it?
Joel: What's the appeal? What keeps getting you up in the morning?
Mark: AMS has been brilliant to me. I mean, I think here I am sat in the studio with you guys.
Joel: This is the perk of a lifetime, isn't it? To be online with us.
Mark: Absolutely. Who would have thought that I would have been sat in a studio in Ohio, in Cleveland, being minus temperatures outside, when I started my career? But I think, Alexander Mann Solutions, we kind of invented RPA many, many years ago, back in the UK. What keeps me up really is, is that I have fun. I have fun every single day. We are an organization that have been helping tons of organizations around the world. We hire tens of thousands of people, permanent and contingent workers, around the world. And I've been really lucky with AMS because I've had a different job every couple of years, but staying within the organization.
Joel: The real question is, are you a tortured Cleveland sports fan at this point or are you still Premier League?
Mark: Wow, so the great thing about being here is that I can watch every goddamn game on the Premier League. Saturday morning for me is like, get up, coffee, and I can just watch, literally from 7:00 AM through to 1:00 PM, it's all Premier League.
Joel: Who's your team?
Mark: I actually support Wycombe Wanderers, and they are in English League One. Currently, top of League One. My dad, my uncle, my granddad were all massive fans of Wycombe Wanderers, which is a small team where I grew up. But if I had to have a Premier League team, it would be Everton. I've always supported Everton. But I am a Cleveland sports fan.
Mark: Do you know what? I'm a sports mad. I can't play sport. I was literally rubbish at school playing sports, but watching it, I love it.
Joel: That means garbage for our American listeners.
Mark: Yes it does. One of many things that means different things in different sides of the pond. I wasn't very good at playing the sport, but I absolutely love watching sport. And I've been lucky enough in my time here in Cleveland to go to World Series. Never thought I'd see that.
Mark: Sadly, it didn't end very well.
Joel: Game seven, did you see?
Mark: Yeah, that home run was just amazing.
Joel: Fucking Cubs.
Chad: That hurt, yeah.
Mark: Rain. I mean, who knows. So yes, I am a tortured Cleveland fan because that rain shower cost us the World Series. I was lucky enough to be at game three of the NBA when they were two nil down, or two zero down as you would say, to Golden State, and they came back and won that series.
Joel: Classic series.
Chad: That was pretty sweet.
Mark: It was great. Apart from the Browns. Even this year, everyone was saying the Browns are going to be great, so this year I went to my very first Brown's game against Seahawks. Guess what? They were winning 14 zero up, and they threw it away.
Joel: Oh, yeah. Lost that one.
Chad: Yeah, that's a Brown's thing to do.
Joel: So you've been here 12 years and you just went to a Brown's game?
Chad: Not 12 years.
Mark: I've been here seven years.
Chad: He's been here since 2012.
Joel: It only feels like 12 in Cleveland.
Mark: But the ball is the wrong shape for me, you see, on a football.
Chad: So you came in 2012. Now, from my understanding, correct me if I'm wrong, this was supposed to be a short term jaunt for you. You were supposed to be here for a small amount of time, but you're still here. What keeps you here?
Mark: Yeah, it was meant to be two years. In fact, I said to my wife, 18 months. Actually, it's a funny story-
Chad: Got her.
Mark: ... but I took my wife to this spa-
Joel: I'm sure you're still paying for that.
Mark: ... and we had this great time and I thought, right, she's just relaxed enough that I'll say, "Let's go to the U.S. for 18 months." Do you know what? I've been really excited about what this market has to offer. AMS has historically been more of a UK focused organization. We've brought a massive push into North America. I think the market is right for change. And I think what we're doing is slowly tropping the market. So I'm really excited.
Mark: We've grown the organization here in North America to literally nothing seven years ago, to, we've got about 200 people in Cleveland and about 650 in the U.S. now.
Joel: I'm going to get the hardball question out of the way.
Chad: Oh, good god.
Joel: Then we can talk about real stuff. Mark Jones, do you prefer the Counting Crows, Mr. Jones or the Billy Paul, Mrs. Jones?
Chad: This is a hard question, but make sure you answer this one right.
Mark: Mrs. Jones.
Chad: There we go. Billy Paul. Mrs. Jones.
Joel: Good answer, Mark.
Mark: And yes, I had that in my wedding.
Chad: Nice. I know I love this guy. Things going on.
Joel: The British sense of humor never fails us.
Chad: Here's the question. You break it to your wife, she's at the spa, going to the U.S. can be, in some cases, incredibly beautiful and wonderful. Not that Cleveland's not, I'm going to put that out there. But, when you're pitching the U.S., is she automatically thinking California, Florida, I mean, something more tropical, or what was she thinking?
Mark: Well, naivety. I had no idea where Cleveland was. I just knew it was somewhere between Chicago and New York. We had no idea. Do you know what? When I arrived with the family, two kids and a dog-
Chad: Oh wow. How old were the kids?
Mark: At the time they were five and seven.
Mark: And a dog who is blind. Not good. We pulled up into two feet of unplowed drive. This was January. Two feet. And I fell, literally, ass over tit, which is UK's expression for falling over, and that was it. Welcome to Cleveland. So the weather sucks. The weather does suck. There is definitely-
Chad: It could only get better from there though.
Mark: Exactly. But great people. And great people actually have enabled me and AMS to build a business, because they want to succeed, they want Cleveland to be great, and they want to see success.
Chad: Here's a big question when it comes to markets. I mean, not just here, we're talking about moving from the UK to the U.S. What are the biggest differences you see, especially when it comes to RPO and the industry, what are the biggest differences between across the pond and over here? Other than, obviously there's a shit ton of money.
Mark: Well, that money actually drives behavior. I think the U.S. is a little bit more, "I want it now and I want it quick, and if you can't deliver it, somebody else can." And I think that's different to what we were used to in the UK, which is a bit more relationship led and a bit more around quality. I think one of our strengths is quality, but that's really hard to get across when you're sat in front of a human person that just wants it done quickly.
Chad: Everybody says it though, right?
Mark: Exactly. What does it mean? I think the procurement life cycle and just the aggressive sales nature is different. I think that's one thing.
Joel: I want to get a little retrospective here, real quick. We're heading into 2020, we're there already. 2019, what trends, maybe news items, what stuck in your mind when you look back at 2019, in terms of the industry?
Mark: I think probably how well the industry is doing and just the continuation of the bull market and the very low unemployment. And then, what does that lead to in terms of being able to find talent for organizations? I mean, good people are always hard to find, but it's not just good people, it's anybody. A lot of what we do for our organizations, whether it's call center or whether it's help desk staff or whether it's a project manager, good people are still hard to find. So I think I wasn't sure whether that was going to continue all of 2019, and I'm not sure it's going to continue in 2020. I think there's a lot of stuff on the horizon.
Joel: Have you seen budgets rise significantly going into 2020? Your clients?
Mark: No, the opposite actually.
Joel: Reductions in budget.
Mark: I've seen organizations start to tighten the belt.
Chad: Which means you have to get much more efficient to be able to pull in that business. And that, going to the next question around chatbots. You have the queen of chatbots-
Joel: The queen. Quincy.
Chad: ... actually on staff, who we've talked to on a couple of occasions.
Joel: We've got drunk with her on a couple of occasions too.
Mark: It's mandatory.
Chad: I can't count-
Joel: She can drink both of us under the table, by the way.
Chad: ... the amount of times I've been drunk with Quincy. But talk about, I know it's different, not that it's better or worse, but what's the difference between talent in the UK versus ... because you've worked on both sides, right? So there's got to be a huge difference between working here in the U.S. I know it seems like, you have to have it now. Are the people that you work with here in Cleveland, was that a huge culture shift for you?
Mark: I think there's always a culture shift, just by the nature of some of the cultural things that are different. Actually, funnily enough, one of the things was, to start with, people didn't understand my voice. I was constantly saying things and people were looking at me and saying, "What did he just say?"
Chad: Is he speaking English?
Joel: You need to speak American over here, Mark.
Mark: Exactly. And actually, you dismiss it but it's kind of there. Another thing that happened is that we need to embrace America and American ways of working. Our organization has changed over the last seven years, where we have more infrastructure now in the U.S. than we've ever had before. So that's different as well. And that didn't happen overnight, because there was, "Well, we can do this in the UK." Well you can, but we're better to do it here in the U.S. I think that was different. There's definitely some cultural changes, but the quality of people, the same. The same either side of the pond.
Chad: What about on systems? And I know, I was in RPO on the Randstad side, RSR side, for a while.
Chad: And I know that across the pond, you want to make sure that you're really focused on what the client's needs are, so you're not going to provide them with a templated stack, let's say. That's something that we do here in the U.S. We try to template a stack and try to really focus on heavy efficiencies. You see it off, I'm sure you see it from a bunch of your competitors. Has that been a huge change, to be able to change over to a templated stack? Or are you really just saying, "AMS does it well because we customize better for you?"
Mark: It's a great question and I think you are absolutely right. I would completely agree that the stack is more standard and we see that across the board. We see organizations that, "Well, the stack says no, so you can't have it." I think that's probably not the way that we tend to do business. We tend to customize things. We have a Hive, which is basically our internal pool of tech talent, that are certified and we can leverage them, we can use them. Some of our clients have different firewall requirements or different needs, so we stick with the talent in the Hive, so to speak. But generally speaking, we tend to customize. That brings different challenges, in terms of efficiencies and sometimes cost as well.
Joel: I'd like to dig into that. You guys have some great case studies with some customers and things that you've done for them. MassMutual here in Cleveland, I think they have a footprint here in the Midwest. Talk about what you guys did for them, both strategically and maybe tactically, to give our listeners a sense of what you guys do and what maybe they should be looking to do in their own recruitment.
Mark: Sure. We've been working with MassMutual since, I think 2016. It's a full outsource where we are supporting them, supporting all permanent hiring coast to coast, but they do have a big presence in the Midwest, and then up through Massachusetts and up into the main area. We are supporting them with a number of strategic initiatives, where they are moving some of their locations, where they are also trying to move into more of a tech heavy organization. They are looking for a lot of tech talent, particularly in and around the Boston area. So we've been supporting them with really, how do we identify and attract and find that kind of talent for them?
Chad: Man, that is ultra-competitive. I mean, obviously there are tech schools, some pretty big tech schools, in and around that area, MIT. Are you guys focusing on just trying to identify and target the right talent that's out there, or are you also working with universities and whatnot to be able to pipeline?
Mark: Both. Because then it has to be a complete holistic process. It's a question of very short term, very tactical, here, now, this is what we need, but also longer term. Particularly if organizations are moving locations or they're moving into different areas. We have examples as well where some of our organizations, a large manufacturing and defense organization. They've got a ton of retirees. Their challenge is that their workforce is retiring. How do we support those organizations with finding or retaining that talent? Hence, the reason we're moving a little bit into looking at talent pools and keeping those people in those populations.
Chad: Well, it has to do around the creation of talent as well, right? Because if you don't have enough coming out of the universities, because not enough are going in, I mean, that's with all of the boomers going away, this is going to be a problem. How's AMS going to deal with that, other than beg, borrow and steal?
Mark: It's not just the boomers going away. You've also got restraints on immigration. You're cutting it off at both angles. You've got an aging population and you've got restraints on the workers coming in. I think that will have to change. I do think that will have to change at some point because there'll be a need. I think, this is really where it comes down to building relationships with organizations. And I think that's what we do really well. Our average contract length is nine years in duration, and that's important.
Chad: Nine years?
Mark: Yeah. And that's really important because-
Chad: It's usually three year contracts, right?
Chad: So therefore you've got a three ... I mean, that's a hell of a retention.
Mark: But that's important if you are thinking about, not just today, but about tomorrow. In terms of where our talent's going to come. Is it a permanent hire or is it a gig worker? Is it a contract worker? Is it temp to perm? All of these different angles, these are what our people on the ground are talking to clients with all the time. The other thing that's really important, is that for AMS to succeed, our brand shouldn't be out there, because we represent our client's brands. Actually for me, success is, no one's heard of AMS. Actually, they've heard of the clients that we work with. We're seeing more and more on the contingent side, and on the permanent side, people want to work for good brands. They want to work for brands that stand for something that means something. Therefore, we can tap into that when it comes to, how do we attract talent, how do we retain them, and how do we work with these organization's to make their brands better or look at bringing them in based on their brand?
Joel: Let's dig into that. You mentioned talent communities or talent pools as well as the comments on brand. Tell me some best practices to engage with the talent, how brand can be emboldened or highlighted to that community? Does that create a referral network? Let's dig in a little bit to the communities and how you can build brand with that vehicle?
Chad: You have a bunch of data, how do you actually engage these people in a meaningful way?
Joel: That might be another way to ask that question, yeah.
Chad: I'm just asking.
Mark: Some of it comes down to how much the organizations want this to work. For example-
Chad: Some don't want it to work?
Joel: What do you mean by that?
Mark: Some organizations-
Joel: We want failure.
Mark: Well, no one wants to failure, but they're more protective of their brand and they won't let their brand be used in certain ways. Whether that be in social, whether that be in really neat initiative ways in terms of some of the tech, some of the apps that you can use. Even something as simple as text messaging sometimes, actually is a real challenge to get through some organizations' security processes and methodologies. To really leverage brand, you also have to make sure the organization want you to use that brand. Otherwise, just a staffing agency, that just for a number of CV's or resumes at the wall, and hoping one sticks.
Mark: I think the brand's important, making sure you've got the right people and the right stakeholders within the organization that really want this to be a success, and then really understanding what the story is. What's happening within that organization? Where are they going, what are they doing? That enables us to do push messages or regular updates that keep organizations and keep the people informed about what's happening and what they're doing.
Chad: We'll get back to the interview in a minute, but first we have a question for Andy Katz, COO of Nexxt.
Joel: For clients that are married to email, what would you tell them in terms of the metrics versus text messaging?
Andy Katz: It really depends on the audience you're trying to reach. I'm not going to even tell you text messaging is the right tool for every type of audience. You're not going to reach a VP or senior level person necessarily through text. You're going to reach more of those hourly workers, more of the gig economy, more of anybody that's on their feet all day long. Again, you got to break out email and texts in two different categories, and sometimes, depending on the audience, the best thing to do is hit them with both of them. It reinforces the message, the brand that's coming across. They'll know who the company is and it's like any other commercial or podcasts. You might have to listen to it a few times before it resonates and it sinks in. I believe it's the same thing with text versus email versus any other form of communication.
Chad: For more information, go to hiring.nexxt.com. Remember, that's Nexxt with the double X, not the triple X. Hiring.nexxt.com.
Chad: Let's talk a little bit about this direct sourcing piece that you guys are actually focused on right now, or at least you are, I think. You're championing this. What is it all based around? Direct sourcing's been around for a while, but what are you guys doing?
Mark: It's been around for a while, but it's not really adopted in North America. It certainly is in Europe. That's how we started the business back in 1997. If you think about what happens today, when an organization has a vacancy and a contingent labor vacancy, what do they do? In 90% of cases they farm it out to a large number of staffing suppliers. And what do they do? They then farm it out to job boards. And then you're in a numbers game of, who can get me the most resumes first, fast, and then you're dealing with, where's the quality in that? There's speed. Let's look about what happens today.
Chad: Not to mention also, the candidate experience is shit for that.
Mark: That's comes back to one of the benefits of what we're doing. That's what happens today. You get a poor candidate experience. Yeah, you get good time to hire. In 90% of the cases, you're getting the job filled, so everyone's happy. But that's going to change. If you read any of the reports, by 2030, 50% of the workforce in North America's going to be some form of flexibility, some form of [gear colony 00:21:51] worker. So organizations need to be able to have the ability to attract those workers. And then it comes back to brand as well.
Mark: What direct sourcing does, is it enables us to create a talent pool which belongs to the organization. It's their IP. We are the custodians of that talent pool. We attract people in and we can use a bunch of tools to attract people in. We can use their brand, we can engage on social, we can engage and referral networks, and we then manage that population of workers in a talent pool. When there's a vacancy that comes forward, we then supply that vacancy. That vacancy gets sourced and we support the filling of that job. We do that at a much lower price than a staffing agency. That gets us through the procurement door.
Joel: Let's dig into gig economy for a second. I guess, what's your overall perspective of the Upwork's, the Fiverr's, the Uber Works, et cetera? Above your opinion, just generally, how are companies best leveraging solutions like that, if at all?
Mark: Well, I think they're not, I think some are, but the large corporate, blue chip, Fortune 500, I don't think are to the same degree. Because 99% of how the U.S. market has operated, is the same today as it was when I was a recruiter back in 1990s. Gig workers have been around for many, many decades. It's not a new thing, it's just that there are tools now to engage them. The Uber creates the tool and it makes it perhaps a more of a socially acceptable way of working, but it's not new. It's been around for many times.
Joel: Your perspective is, the gig economy has a long way to go to make inroads with big enterprise level companies?
Chad: On the AMS side of the house, are you guys looking at trying to build an app for that? Because I mean, it obviously works, and the transparency of all of those individuals matched up against all of those opportunities, is that something that you guys are looking into today or maybe in the future?
Mark: We're not a technology company, that's not our area of expertise. What we do really well is talent management and talent acquisition. I think there is Skype, over the longer term to think about what technologies we use, but certainly in terms of the direct sourcing activities, no, we're not looking to build an app at this point. There are plenty out there that do a really good job, so I think our focus is on making sure that we manage the experience and we focus on the brand and focus on getting people to the organizations.
Joel: I love that he brought up Skype, that brand new technology that no one's ever heard of. Talk about talent acquisition. I think there's a lot of clutter out there. You mentioned Skype, which I don't think most people would default to in terms of a recruiting tool. We talk about tech talk on the goddamn show almost every week. I mean, Snapchat, all social media.
Chad: I'm on it right now.
Joel: We talk about programmatic advertising, chatbots, you guys know quite a bit about. From a recruiting and a marketing perspective, what works best for you guys? What should companies out there be looking to use, from a platform or medium standpoint, to get traffic in the door for candidates and applicants?
Mark: Do you know what? That's a great question. Part of the challenge is-
Joel: I only ask great questions.
Chad: He's full of shit.
Mark: Cheers. Part of the challenge really, is there's too much out there. There's literally too much out there.
Chad: It's noise.
Mark: Before I came in here this morning, I had 15 emails of people trying to sell stuff or-
Joel: Email, what's that?
Mark: But this is how they're pushing the products.
Joel: Say that again. You had 15 emails this morning of vendors trying to sell you shit.
Mark: Not just-
Chad: Not surprising.
Mark: ... talent acquisition vendors, but vendors across the board. I think part of the challenge is that ... Well, to answer the question, what's the best out there? You've got to try and use it. You've got to have the case studies. You've got to really try and understand who is pushing best practice and is that best practice got a return on investment? That's what we try and do with, I mentioned the Hive earlier, which is basically our internal ecosystem that enables us to try products.
Chad: Kind of like a marketplace.
Mark: It is.
Joel: The Hive sounds much sexier though.
Chad: It does. People don't know what the hell a hive is.
Joel: The Hive.
Mark: You can be a bee and you can come into the marketplace.
Mark: It does sound good. It wasn't me that came up with it by the way. But I think the different organizations have different needs as well. We work with a lot of banks and a lot of financial services organizations that have extremely tight security requirements, as you would expect. So what works for them might not work for another organization in the healthcare industry or the farmer industry or whatever. I think that's the other challenge. You've almost got to look at it in terms of, what's working well, what are the products, what's the success, where have we seen the benefits, and what's going to fit with this organization? Which comes back to your original question, in terms of does one size fits all? No, it doesn't. You do have to try and customize to be able to get the right return for that organization.
Chad: It seems like all these other RPO firms are doing business wrong, because they're trying to slam all of these square companies into a round hole. That's what I'm hearing from you.
Mark: Well, it's not wrong. It's a way of working, and that's working for them.