Will Talent Take Control?


On today's show, we have a heavy hitter. Kevin Blair is a Talent Acquisition veteran of Cisco, IBM, and Salesforce so sit back, relax, and take notes.

Kevin joins HR's Most Dangerous Podcast and covers everything from banishing "recruitment socialism," sales tips for HR tech vendors and how TA can genuinely articulate value to the C-suite.

It doesn't get any better than this Nexxt exclusive. You're welcome!

PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION sponsored by:

Disability Solutions is your sourcing and recruiting partner for people with disabilities.

Chad: Kevin, I'm going to flip the script here real quick. First off, I'm going to go through your resume just so people understand just the depth. Director of recruitment, EMEA for Oracle, senior director EMEA recruitment for Salesforce, global talent acquisition, Cisco, global vice president, talent acquisition, IBM. With all of that experience, what advice can you provide to TA about how to do their job better every single day?

Intro: 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.

Joel: Oh yeah. Hong Kong Phooey, number one super guy.

Chad: Number one super guy.

Joel: What's up everybody? Welcome to The Chad and Cheese Podcast, I am your co-host Joel Cheesman.

Chad: And I'm Captain Caveman Sowash.

Joel: And today we have Kevin Blair, VP talent strategy from Beamery on the show. Kevin from the UK, welcome.

Kevin: Hey, thank you. Good to be here. I appreciate

Joel: You sound not excited at all. It must be happy hour.

Kevin: Yeah. I was just drifting into Hong Kong a few weeks or so, yeah, so you're taking me back, man.

Chad: Just so everybody knows. If you don't know Hong Kong Phooey kids, definitely YouTube, Hong Kong Phooey, that's Kevin's favorite childhood cartoon. We were having a discussion before that

Joel: When kids of the 70's have podcasts.

Chad: That's what happens. Kevin, give us a little background, just history, you haven't been at Beamery your entire life, obviously. You've done many different things beforehand, very steeped in the talent acquisition side of the house. Tell us a little bit about you before we jump into this.

Kevin: yeah. No, absolutely. Happy to. First of all, I am a career recruiter and that's not by accident or lack of opportunity, it is entirely by design. Obviously like the usual path being a search consultant and then moving in-house really before in-house was a thing, certainly like a thing it looks like today. And so I took the opportunity to go in when I had the opportunity don't work for one of my clients and then was lucky enough to work at some of the world's biggest companies. First major role with Oracle. Then went did a couple of years at Salesforce. Then a big transformation body of work at Cisco over about four, four and a half years. And then open sale a couple of months ago, I spent just over two years, two and a half years working at IBM, driving the transformation of their internal recruitment team, so that it delivers that 52,000 hires into the organization.

Yeah. I then obviously have many opportunities to move into other parts of HR over the span of that career, but I like the product, right? I like the fact that value is so tangibly obvious in terms of how we create value for an organization and how we impact business performance. I've always liked the idea of moving away from anything that is, I think could be less commercial. It's not to say all the parts of HR aren't, but I really enjoy how you can make that connection through TA. And now I'm going to be able, as you say.

Joel: All right Kevin, you're not getting away that easily. We rarely cross the streams with practitioners coming over to the vendor side and vice versa. Was the move to Beamery more about what was broken in TA and you hoping to fix it or was it Beamery and what they offered was just so great that you know the allure of IBM, Salesforce and all these big one own companies drew you over there? And it's also interesting to know that you didn't leave for an indeed.com or ZipRecruiter or maybe like a big brand job site, Beamery is just off the beaten path. So I want to dig in a little deeper into what's maybe wrong with TA, and why you left, and what's really going on there.

Kevin: Where it came from, there's a couple of things. First of all, one of the opportunities I got through my work at IBM, and partially through Cisco, was being able to work with a multitude of companies in different sectors and really sought to democratize the experiences I'd had over a long period of time. Walking in the shoes of many of the people that solved the same 12 problems, irrespective of business size and scale. When I was thinking about what's next and some of the things I wanted to do, I was very prescriptive about the fact that I want to build things. That's the most important thing, I want to build and create, and I want to be pivotal to working as part of many companies transformation, either as a constituent components or as an advisor or just getting in deep around the tech stack and how they can re-engineer it.

I guess where it came from with Beamery was when I met the founders and there was a connection there. I also looked at the roadmap and the development path they were taking the company towards and expanding out beyond the current portfolio if you like, and actually starting to impact other areas where I think vendors maybe not stepped into as a practitioner that I would've really liked. So if I think about me as the buyer, and I've been the buyer in many situations of many different products, offerings and streams on there, there's a couple things that I always thought could be orientated a little bit different. The first one is, what I would always do when I looked at a product is, I could immediately see through whether it was just a shinier bell or a louder whistle, right? Selling to me all features and benefits isn't a great way to position something with me, because to me to get those features and benefits means me ripping out big system, potentially purging a load of data, it's a lot of change in management in my team. And just to go for, as I said, a shinier bell or a louder whistle isn't exactly the thing that I'm going to orientate towards. You find yourself making do with latency or wastage or redundancy in your systems. And so for me it was like, what do I need? I need something that's going to impact my operating model. I need something that's going to turn dumb data into smart data. How does that happen? Being able to, for them, being able to say, okay, I should be constructing my organization like this because my systems are orientating my operating model to deliver greater value. A bit of a long winded answer, but I was at the heart of it.

Chad: Okay. Well let's dive into that then. What will actually impact your operating level? You're talking about specific things that Beamery sold you on from a roadmap standpoint. What is a roadmap? A roadmap is really vision, right? And trying to put that into tactical terms. What did they sell you on that you saw happening with them that you didn't from all these other brands that were out there?

Kevin: It's not necessarily what I saw, it's that I saw my ability to impact that roadmap and co-curate it with them. And so that's what you want to chat with me, is I'm able to sit down and say, okay, I'm not interested like many vendors, and again, being on the receiving end of sales calls is like, "When's your RFP?" And I'm like, "Dude, are you asking me because you think that's helping me solve my problem?" It's like going way back. It's like, come and talk to me about what am I diagnosing? What's my problem statement? How am I getting the route to value? I think it's really interesting within HR now, and I've used this comment before, I always think about HR and where it is today. When I first went into the workplace, and you guys probably do as well, do you remember the IT director was like ... When I went to the workplace, the IT director was provisioning email, maybe put rolling out the Citrix thing client network and maybe reaping and or reinstalling your Microsoft Office product, right? And then at some point the CEO said, "Hey, IT director, I need you to be the CTO and I need you to get my sales people 30% more productive. I need you to simplify and automate and standardize some of our processes. I need you to do this." And so the CTO was born, it's like technology became value to the business, right?

I think the same question has been asked of the HR leaders and that's where the personnel department transitions to CHRO. Now they've been calling themselves in title CHRO when the C-suite configured itself in that way. But actually if you look at that journey that they're going on, it's like, okay, like how are you going to demonstrate value? How are you going to create value? What does the CEO hear? What does the CHR here? What does the CHRO say, and how does the TA leader operationalize that? I've been in that situation, therefore, it's about putting a practitioner's mindset on the, okay, well if recruitment's going to change, and it fundamentally needs to change, we need to stop hanging onto these opinions. There's some of the things I talked about, like the arbitrary set of KPI's, the talk about productivity and it's all about experience. I was actually having a conversation this morning with a peer in a large company, and I said, we were joking and saying, "We could drop ourselves into any company, anywhere in the world and impact their recruitment KPI's positively." That's not to say we'd have a better service. It's definitely not to say we drive a better experience, but what we do know after 20 years of doing this, I know exactly what levers to push, right? Now that might be like, you tang something or we remove assessments all of a sudden hired inspired face, quick cap, right? It's like, yeah, let's not pretend that that actually defines value and then that creates value. So

Chad: But Kevin it seems like, okay, so you were at some huge fucking companies. Most of those companies could impact their roadmap. You know that, right? There's no question you impacted roadmaps at IBM, at Salesforce, at Cisco. You could do that. What this feels like to me and what I'm not hearing is that they need somebody on the inside, almost like you need to be an evangelist, almost teacher to the rest of talent acquisition out there because they're fucking shit up.

Kevin: Yeah. Not everyone is, for sure. I'm actually ... But there's a lot, a lot of it comes from the 20 years or 30 years or maybe like a thousand years, depending on how long you think the idea of tasking people to do roles and rewarding them, so when recruitment began. I think that we've all been pushed towards this belief and maybe this position of performance data is a defensive shield to insulate us from budget cuts as opposed to turning into a windshield to show where a company could go. So yeah, you can infact ... And if I think about where I started with it, I didn't start ... When I think about the products I'm going to co-design and the work that we're going to do here at Beamery, I didn't start and say, what product do I need? I started by saying, what are the things that I'm trying to solve? And I actually wrote down, I started writing this, if you like, talent acquisition operating manual where I said, okay, ignoring technology, because technology will be the enabler, where does it stir that we need to look at these things to fix? And currently up to 34 chapters in that operating manual, right? It's literally winding back to, okay, what are we trying to drive? What's the outcome we're trying to have? How are we trying to transform to a point of demonstrating and articulating value so we can go on the front foot?

Technology is a part of it, but it is actually starting to, not to destroy the evangelism, but it's creating some definitions and standards. So I'll give you an example. Everybody talks to me, when they talk about recruiters, they post, "I want a 360 recruiter," or, "I want a full stack recruiter," right? What does that mean? The recruitment role is so individually defined from company to company, particularly in enterprise right now, and I'm like, okay maybe we need five definitions of recruiter. How do I know if I have an agile recruiter in my team and I did a lot of work and I built a huge agile practice. If I have an agile recruiter, how do I know that that definition of my agile recruiter in IBM has the same definition as one at Microsoft, and SAP, and Oracle and all of these other companies. How do I know that we're actually ... Because if you go to sales, you have global account executives, you have key account executives, you have SDR's, BDR's, there's a pretty clear definition or a narrower channel on what that work is. What is sourcer? What about swarm and source? What about agile source? And what about end to end sourcing? We just haven't got definition that enables TA leaders to exchange information between each other to curate their operating models that actually talk in a consistent way to all of our benefit, not so I can steal people from another company, but so have you have standards between companies.

Announcer: 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: The big difference between text and email is the open rate where texts are getting a 96 plus percent open rate, an email could be getting in the 20s on average. The click through rate in emails is somewhere between one and 6% on the high end. The click through rate for text messaging is somewhere between 15 and upwards of 40%. Again, it's really more engaging because people are specifically opting into that form of communication, that's what they want.

Announcer: For more information, go to hiring.nexxt.com. Remember that's Nexxt with the double X, not the triple X. Hiring.nexxt.com

Chad: Well, sales is accountable with their operating model by revenue, right?

Kevin: Absolutely.

Chad: That's entirely different. The entire sales industry is predicated on being able to perform, around being able to sell. Therefore, there are lines that are drawn in the sand in creating these new methodologies. From our standpoint, who are we accountable to? That's the biggest question. And should we not just change the operating model overall? Is that really what you're trying to push toward?

Kevin: 100% we should. I think, and first of all, who are we accountable for? We're accountable for the revenue. This idea of recruiting socialism that every requisition has equal value to a company is ridiculous. When recruitment leaders set their capacity models, I am one of the leaders that when I look at a hundred roles and I have five recruiters, I do not give five recruiters 20 each, I give one 50, one 30 and three on 20, and those 20 is what drives revenue and growth for the company. This idea that we arbitrarily peanut butter to all of our capacity, all of our utilization against our demand is ridiculous, right? And so first of all, let's move away from that and I start thinking, okay, how do we create a route to value? How does recruitment show it is a profit center, not a cost center, not a process optimization operation? It actually is going to create money and growth for the business, because that's what we can do. We're in a unique position, we're not doing engagement processes or projects that may or may not impact productivity or revenue growth because we're not exactly sure how we would measure that. We have very specific measurements about what we do. If you're running recruitments in a consultancy and there are billable consultants, if you increase the velocity of your recruitment around billable consultants by 10 days, you drive tens of millions of dollars to the bottom line. Facts. We've got to start to orientate towards that, and so as we get into that, we've got to be more deliberate on how we define and curate these operating models. I think a big factor here by the way is get away from these ideas of things like TA delivery managers, right? That's the UK delivery manager. That's the US delivery manager. That's the North America sales delivery manager. If we're going to have different types of recruiters and as a result, that's the fallout of having prioritized work that's based around business volume and complexity therefore, we have different services attached to the types of roles and work that those recruiters do. We should have product owners, not just managers. We should have products to find in agreement. We should have service lines. We should be measuring the resource capacity management utilization. We should be acting like a services business, we should not just be acting like a process business.

Joel: Hey Kevin, I'm curious, you touched on this a little bit, a lot of vendors listen to our show, a lot of salespeople in this space listen to our show. I'd be a miss to not ask, you've been through a lot of sales pitches, a lot of sales calls

Kevin: Yeah, I have.

Joel: And then you took that knowledge of what works and what doesn't and you took it over to a vendor. I'm curious, what was Beamery doing right? What were they doing wrong? I'm talking more tactically here as opposed to strategic, what did you change and what was good at Beamery from the sales process after having so much experience?

Kevin: Yeah. I'm early stages into the company, I'm here, now eight weeks. Living life, because as I said, I've got this three pronged role of running talent acquisition in Beamery, helping customers that we have today enable themselves through moving further back away from the product. And obviously, as I said before, getting into the design of new products, new offerings, that kind of stuff. What I'm able to think about is exactly what we said before around, it's having the conversation at a different point. If you think about seven stages of the process, you have diagnosis, problem, root of value, business case, budget, tech stack alignments and RFP. Right now vendors mostly come at you in stages six and seven, tech stack alignment and RFP, maybe in budget. Very rarely was I ever attempted to be engaged at a place further back.

I remember when I was going on the transformation journey and I was a long way from thinking about like, what's next for tech and where are we going to go and how are we going to maybe collapse the stack a little bit and go more horizontal and vertical with these big entrenched systems. And I remember someone on the phone to me, and I wasn't being playful, but someone phoned me, I encountered this after the call and they like, "Heard you're doing this transformation and we sell this product, we do this." And I remember on the phone I was saying, "Oh yeah, we're not going to be at that point for 12 months." Then they hung up the phone, and I was sad that they did. Okay, but I'm not doing all this. So this felt like, you can absolutely help me with this crap if you are able on the basis that I still have like millions of dollars aligned to that transformational piece of work, but you just want to know where my RFP is. Right? And that's not aligning to my values. That's not aligning to what I need the value, sorry, from this conversation. So there's an element of like, it's actually having the conversation at different stages and understanding like, how can you help? Because I don't know what I'm doing in every single situation, but I have the benefit of a lot of networks I can pull on to get experiences. I have a lot of friends in the sector. I have a lot of friends in vendors. And I have the benefits of being able to lean in and say, "Hey, I'm trying to solve this problem, how do I do it?"

I think the vendors can hold themselves more to account in a very positive way for helping with that and actually curating their experiences from their customers and trying to create this opportunity to bring that together. And I think that's a big part of it and I do truly believe in ... I know every person that's in the buy in stages and being on the other side and maybe someone who has a lot of different opinion of mere nonsense, but if you were a partner and you were an absolute partner and you consulted ... I think about some partners I've worked with over the years, someone like John Wilson, Wilson HCG is someone I've partnered with them a couple of times now through a couple of different cycles, he would validate, they go deep in my company. If you're in, you're deep, you're in everything, you're not just staying providing head count and resources, I'm all over you for all kinds of services, support, all of your insights and data. I'm always so, so I can help refine what I need and it's not just tied to, what is the product I'm buying off you?

Chad: Kevin, I'm going to flip the script here real quick. First off, I'm going to go through your resume, just so people understand just the depth. Director of recruitment, EMEA for Oracle, senior director, EMEA recruitment for Salesforce, global talent acquisition, Cisco, global vice president, talent acquisition, IBM. With all of that experience, what advice can you provide to TA about how to do their job better every single day?

Kevin: When I talk about some things like at like agile methodology or requisition prioritization, one of the things I did, I did a presentation recently to a group of UK recruitment leaders. It was through Jamie Leonard’s group. I presented to that group and I remember someone coming up to me afterwards saying, "It feels like some of that is easy for you to talk about, this operating model, this business value, this looking into difficulty of of hire and then applying agile to work on the most effective roles, because you have to scale the organization. I'm like, what is it really? Because I have that? Do nothing you can take these principles down to even 10 requisitions or a five person recruitment organization. Do you think that I create disproportional workloads for recruiters to drive better outcomes for high value? I didn't do that because I had scale, I did that because it was the right thing to do. So as you are in this everyday work and process, think about applying principles and methodologies, not just applying wholesale enterprise level changes. And it does work. I see as much, I get involved with many, many smaller organizations where I actually see the tangible impact of those things happening in real terms. Just because you're in an enterprise, you're talking about big names, we talked before like big organizations a lot of highs, do you think proportionally my budget was always bigger than everybody else's just because it was? Or do you think I was actually more squeezed to drive operational efficiencies? I'll leave you guys to figure it out, I'm sure you have an opinion.

Chad: I'm going to go with the latter.

Kevin: Right. I'll tell you. I sometimes go into these smaller organizations and they're like, "We can't possibly run it to the level that you're on, like this hyper prioritization. There's all kinds our cost per fill is like six and a half thousand dollars." I'm like, "Whoa, it's as much as that. Wow. You could do a lot more with that if you want to." So I think the first thing is, don't feel like some of this stuff that feels like it's enterprise level is excluded from any scale of recruitment operation at any scale of recruitment business. And then the second thing is lean on your vendors. These all have experiences with other companies. Ask for their support and help. Even if it's not really the part of that, I know sometimes there's trust issues where people are like, "Yeah, but they just tried to up-sell us, cross-sell us, resell us, whatever. Right? Okay. So you feel like they're controlling the conversation and you don't want to put yourself in that position. Well, take back control. Like say, "Actually I'm doing this. Who else are you working with that's doing that? And how are they solving? And introduce me to that, because we're both customers. And I want to go and talk to that customer about different a problem. There's nothing to do, you're a vendor, but you have a connection with them and I want that connection. I want to leverage your networks and your customers to help me do my work." I think that's a powerful thing.

Joel: Kevin, thanks for your time man.

Kevin: My pleasure.

Joel: For our listeners who want to learn more about you and/or Beamery, where should they go?

Kevin: First of all, it'd be a miss of me being a recruiter not to say, just hit me up on LinkedIn. Right? Because that's a whole lifeblood right there. So definitely hit me up. Go to obviously, beamery.com for the products, but actually for a personal connection, reach out to me via LinkedIn. As I said, like the employment for me is, I want to democratize my experience as much as I can. And if I can't help you, I know people who can. Just reach out and lean in. Honestly, the only way we're going to doit is do it together, and that's why it's all about this co-creation piece, get on board with.

Chad: Make that connection people. LinkedIn, Kevin Blair. Excellent dude. Thanks so much.

Kevin: Thanks man.

Ema: Hi, I'm Ema. Thanks for listening to my dad, the Chad and his buddy Cheese. This has been The Chad and Cheese Podcast. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts, so you don't miss a single show. Be sure to check out our sponsors because their money goes to my college fund. For more, visit chadcheese.com.

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