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Don't Be A Trainwreck

Robert Ruff is back and joins The Chad & Cheese for another VOICES episode with candid conversations about:

- Silver Bullets all around - Artificial Intelligence Trainwreck - CEO's at cocktail parties, that's the problem!

Enjoy this Voices Series podcast from The Chad & Cheese - HR's Most Dangerous Podcast.​


Intro: (00:00) Voices, we hear them every day. Some voices like mine are smooth and confident. While on the other hand, The Chad and Cheese Podcast is like listening to a Nickelback album. You rather stab yourself in the ears with an ice pick. Anyway, y'all now listening to Voices, a podcast series from Chad and Cheese, that features the most important and influential voices within the recruitment industry. Try not to fuck it up boys.

Intro: (00:34) 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 and Cheese Podcast.

Chad Sowash: (01:04) Welcome back. We're picking the conversation back up with Robert Ruff, president of Sovren, industry veteran and all around smart dude. Let's kind of pivot here back to the industry overall. And we've had a lot of movement in the last year, year and a half, acquisitions, mergers, I mean, and investment and what have you. Where do you see the most exciting piece? Because you see there's money flowing pretty much everywhere and anywhere in this industry now. What's the most exciting piece for you, knowing what you guys do at Sovren obviously, but maybe outside of that a little bit. What excites you the most about what you see happening?

Robert Ruff: (01:47) What I see happening is that, even as there's a lot of consolidation, that does not rule out the ability of new companies and smaller companies to thrive. So it is still all about a niche. You can't compete on scale if you're a little company or a start-up, but you can compete on finding a niche and servicing that niche better than the other person. I talked to a customer of ours the other day who wanted to talk to me about quote, how they were going to disrupt the industry. And my view of what's actually disruptive is literally just doing things right. So if you look at some of these really big companies, they have a momentum that propels them forward despite the fact that at the core level, some of their stuff is really bad. But it's like in the old days when they said nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. A huge company is not going to buy some tiny little company software to run the business on. So to a certain extent it's big companies buying from big companies and that's the way it is. But that doesn't mean that software is actually that good. And I think there's still a tremendous amount of opportunity just for companies to sit down and say, "From this starting point to this end point, what is required to do it really well?" Instead of looking for the magic bullet, like, oh, we just disrupted using those one little piece of AI, that's not disrupting anything.

Chad Sowash: (03:21) But isn't that what the buyer's always looking for though? They're always looking for the silver bullet. There's no real strategy behind it, building talent pipelines that will actually pay off, let's say five years in the future or what have you. It's all about the here and now, kind of like the birthday party. You want to have a party, but you don't want to clean up after it. There's a lot of work to be able to create something that is that sustainable and that can scale. But it seems like we don't want to do that. We're just looking for the easy button all the damn time.

Joel Cheesman: (03:54) Get off my lawn.

Robert Ruff: (04:00) Okay. The answer is neither one of us. That was the get off my lawn rant.

Joel Cheesman: (04:06) Yes.

Robert Ruff: (04:06)

Oh gosh. Yeah, there's a tremendous amount of that. I call it, to me it's what happens at cocktail parties, right? It's the Instagram view of you. No one posts on Instagram like this is me crying today in the corner. This is me yesterday, I was so depressed. It's the idealized view of you. Well, it's at the cocktail party. I've never been to a cocktail party and had somebody tell me about how they just lost a ton of money on an investment.

Chad Sowash: (04:36) Yeah.

Robert Ruff: (04:38) It's always, "Oh, my stocks are doing great." I'm like, "All of them, really?" I think that there's a lot of ... Oh, backup. I'll tell a tiny little story. We got called in by one of the biggest companies in the world. It's an extremely tech-oriented company and their whole mission was they had to put in AI into their hiring process. So, we wanted to talk to him about it. There was just a lot of stop talking, stop talking. No, we need the most AI. Tell me you have AI this AI that. And finally, I was like, "Did this come down from the CEO directly?" And they're like, "Yes. Yes it did." And I'm like, "Literally he went to a cocktail party and someone wound him up on this and then he called up the head of HR and told you this?" And that person was in the room and they said, "That is literally what happened." And I was like, "Okay, okay. Well, here's the thing. We're not here to actually help that happen because that's a train wreck." Again, that's like looking for the buzzword tool that's going to make you the cool person in the party. It's not going to get the job done.

Joel Cheesman: (05:38) Robert, can you talk about, I think longevity is sort of a part of that as well. You're one of those sort of rare organizations that at least from my viewpoint has grown organically, has grown fairly slowly, has been really committed to the vision that you started out with. And we have companies obviously, Uncommon comes to mind as a recent one that, we counted at least three pivots in 18 months going through $18 million and they're no longer around. So, talk a little bit about longevity and how that's been important to your business.

Robert Ruff: (06:11) I think it takes a tremendous amount of discipline to stay embedded in your niche and do one thing and do it well. It's not the shiny object, it's not sexy. It doesn't make people want to throw money at you. But if you're in business to actually make money and not just sell something to someone else, by more money I mean sell something. I mean, sell your company to someone else. If you're actually in business to, the old-fashioned way, just make some money. I don't think that there's any way that you can do that without having a laser focus. You can't be all things to all people. And what happens is companies want to chase every single dollar of revenue. So, somebody comes running in and they're like, "If we'll just add this feature, we can get that sale."

Robert Ruff: (06:59) But you wake up one day, five years down the road, and you have 400 features in your software of which 300 you don't even remember what they do, no one uses them. But you'll get a call today from someone who did actually use that feature and it's broken. And you're like, "Oh, gosh, how are we going to fix that?" And so, you end up with a company that either has too many products that don't do anything well enough, or one product that is so fragmented that you don't even remember what it's supposed to do well. And with Sovren, what we have done is say, "We don't want to be that store that has 15 different things on the window. Like you can fax, you can wear notaries, you can copy. I don't want to be 15 things. I want to have one thing that is super hard so that the barrier to entry isn't money, it's time and intelligence. And when we found that niche, the barrier to entry was time and intelligence, we said, "Let's just occupy this niche and let's dominate it. And while everybody is forgetting that they have to get better every day, they just want to do more every day. Let's just get better every day instead of doing more." And that is the entire secret sauce.

Chad Sowash: (08:11) I think the whole like 15 things was really the counter to Walmart. And that's kind of the idea, the whole thought process we've gotten into from a business standpoint is like we have to go against the big guys who are doing it all. So therefore, we have to try to do it all, which is sharpen lawnmower blades or whatever it might be, the little things, but I agree 100%. And when we're talking to start-ups, it's always, where's your focus and are you disciplined on that? Much like the Uncommon story, they just had no discipline. They had great, smart, incredible people, but there was literally no discipline behind it. Where does that come from? That has to be from the top. That has to be the CEO or from the C-suite. Where does that actually come from in a start-up?

Robert Ruff: (09:02) I don't know where it comes from in a start-up. It comes from the C-suite, for sure. Honestly, one of the surprising attributes that pervades the culture of Sovren is a stitch of collection of really lazy people.

Chad Sowash: (09:19) I can't believe Joel doesn't work there.

Robert Ruff: (09:25) When we hire people, we let them know that like, I want to know what you're lazy about. Because here's the thing, in our business, if you're up against ... if you're going to be great in IT, I guarantee what you learned five years ago isn't really important today. What I want to know is how do you learn? How do you solve problems? How do you get around this barrier? And when you're lazy, you're like, "Ah, I'm not going to go do this until I figure out the easy way to get this done."

Chad Sowash: (09:58) That's thinking smarter, not harder. I don't know about lazy but

Joel Cheesman: (10:02) I'm picking up what Robert's putting [crosstalk 00:10:05.11].

Chad Sowash: (10:02) You just do the lazy way, as in I'm going to wait until Chad does it.

Joel Cheesman: (10:10) I love these interviews where they're like, pro nap, pro smarter, not harder. We have some great guests.

Robert Ruff: (10:19) But you do realize that taking a nap is actually what you want your knowledge workers to do

Joel Cheesman: (10:24) Oh yeah.

Robert Ruff: (10:25) You want them going off.

Joel Cheesman: (10:28) Yeah.

Robert Ruff: (10:28) But when I say lazy, I don't really mean lazy. But what I mean is like, we had a situation the other day where our guy that runs our IT and I were having a discussion and I said, "I think employee X is way off track. There is no possible way what he's been doing for two weeks should have taken two weeks. I literally think it was a two-hour deal. What's going on?" And so what had happened was, is this employee misunderstood what our coding practices were and thought he was not allowed to do something the easy way, he was right, but he was wrong. In our core product, we would not have let him do what he was wanting to do the way he wanted to do it. But he was just writing a report that was not core. And yes, there's a simple easy way to do it.

Robert Ruff: (11:11) And instead of getting clarification, he decided that he was going to spend two weeks doing it the hard way. I don't want people to do it the hard way, I want people to do it the easy way. So what he should have done was pick up the phone and say, "This is going to take two weeks to do it this way. Are you sure that's what I'm supposed to be doing?" So we had a training issue there. I mean, you should have valued employee, but that's the kind of employee that needs more training on a mindset of you're not a hero for solving this problem yourself. You would have been a hero for solving it in two hours. Even if that really meant asking your co-worker like, "Hey, can you solve this for me? Because I don't know what to do."

Chad Sowash: (11:50) Did you find ... That sounds like a communication, yeah, you can classify it as training, but it also seems like a communication problem too. Generally working in sales and marketing, who are people who overcommunicate, you have to ask for clarity around things because there so much. In working with IT professionals, is it that there's not enough communication that's happening and they're just taking the information, not asking for clarification? How do you manage that? It's got to be much different.

Robert Ruff: (12:22) Again, we try to hire for what you could know rather than what you do know. When we're hiring you, we're not really looking for people that know the kind of software we do because they don't exist very often. What we want to know is what do you not know? We're going to find an important thing. We're going to give you that task and we're literally going to watch you for one hour live solve that problem. I want to know how you're going to research the problem. I want to know what sources of information you go to. I want to know if you even ask us questions. We didn't tell you, you couldn't ask us how to do it.

Robert Ruff: (12:57) I mean, that's an interesting thing, right? I want you to solve something, I'm going to watch you solve it. I didn't tell you what to do. You could've said, "Well, okay, how do I solve it? Tell me." We probably would have told you like, "You're brilliant. You're hired." Because that's what we want. I want to know that you are the most productive learner because that's what's going to get us down the road. I guarantee you the software that we do today the way we do it will not be competitive three years from now. But I don't know where we need to be three years from now, but I want people that are always figuring out this is the pivot we need to take.

Chad Sowash: (13:36) Look for more episodes of Voices. This Chad and Cheese podcast series devoted the stories and opinions of industry leaders. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts, so you don't miss a single show. For more, visit

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