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Exploring HR's Narrative Power

Recorded live at the HR Tech Conference from the Fuel50 booth in Las Vegas, Chad & Cheese interview Doug Shagam, Head of People Data and Insights at Johnson & Johnson. Shagam shares his unconventional journey from aspiring drummer to data analytics, emphasizing the power of people analytics and storytelling in HR. He discusses integrating multiple HR platforms, democratizing data, and shaping J&J's talent acquisition. Highlighting their J&J Learn program, he explores skills inference, employee growth, and the significance of sharing the company's vision with its workforce. Shagam's insights reflect the intersection of data, technology, and employee experience in HR. To learn more about Fuel50, visit


Chad: Coming to you live from the Fuel50 booth at the heart of HR Tech, it's the Chad and Cheese Podcast. We are diving deep into the world of HR technology, tackling workforce challenges with innovative solutions. And we'd like to give special thanks to Fuel50, the science-based talent marketplace that bridges skills gaps, unlocks hidden potential and supports better retention and engagement. Let's do this.

Chad: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheeseman 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. What's up everybody? It's your bookie's favorite podcast, AKA the Chad and Cheese Podcast. I'm your co-host, Joel Cheeseman, joined as always, The Edge to my Bono, Chad Sowash [chuckle] and we are recording live from the Fuel50 booth at HR Tech in Las Vegas. So we are excited to welcome Doug Shagam, Head of People Data and Insights at Johnson & Johnson. Doug, welcome to the podcast.

Doug: Thanks so much. It's a privilege to be here.

Joel: Did you know that your last name, Shagam, auto-corrects to Shazam?

Doug: I did but most people remember me because of Austin Powers. [laughter] And it's Shagam, baby.

Joel: Shagam, wow.

Chad: Shagam, baby. That's a good call. That's a very good call.

Joel: If only your parents knew that one day their last name would default to Shazam. [laughter] So anyway a lot of our listeners don't know you, I'm guessing. Give us a quick Twitter bio about what makes Doug tick.

Doug: Truly on Twitter you can see that I am a guy who really is a drummer by training. I started out my career at Julliard. And then my parents said, all right so how are you gonna actually live, like pay for your family, pay expenses, do things? I'm like, oh, all right.

Joel: Did you say have you not known like Keith Moon, John Bonham? Like you could make...

Doug: Yeah, I pointed out like there are some pretty cool drummers who have been very successful. And they're like, no we're gonna give you four choices. They start with letters A, B, C or D. You could be an attorney, you could be a banker, investment type preferably, C, CPA or doctor or dentist. So admittedly I tried for the whole doctor thing until I realized that you actually need a higher GPA than a BAC [laughter] to get into one of these medical schools things. So I said all right that's not gonna work. So spent an extra year degree in political science and realized well I could work at Blockbuster back then. Not exactly gonna provide stable... Good idea but then is it gonna work?

Chad: Great access to films, I mean.

Doug: Tons. And watched plenty, trust me. I went to school in Buffalo right across Niagara Falls. So easy access to...

Joel: I need to interject that he went to a MAC school, I attended Ball State so little brothers in arms here for the MAC.

Doug: Love it. Love it. Love it.

Joel: A little shout out to the MAC. Yeah, go ahead. Keep going.

Chad: I love the MAC.

Doug: So ended up getting my MBA and fortunately I had a little help from a friend, namely a family member who was a chief medical officer at GE.

Chad: Ah. Hello.

Joel: Again proving it's not what you know, it's who you know.

Doug: It's always about who you know. Got into GE in their FMB program and realized after the two years of training, very nice to meet Jack Welsh, brilliant man, learned a whole lot but also realized I am not a finance dude. So it started there and a lot of my learning and lessons came from that and progressed into analytics, people analytics and love the fact that work that I and my team does can actually make an impact on people where they spend a lot of their life really.

Joel: So you were a blast at parties. You went from aspiring drummer to data guy.

Doug: Yeah. And I'm now like 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours, dude. [laughter] I'm the guy who, no joke, like saw in the sixth grade some dude playing drums and I'm like, wow, he's got a lot of people watching him. I wanna be that guy. Went into training band the next day, met my guidance counselor, signed up and he's like, shit, he's good. [laughter] So turned out... I went through some lessons, figured out that I had this thing called relative perfect pitch, I can play anything on a piano if I've heard it and...

Joel: No.

Doug: Honestly.

Joel: Really?

Doug: Great bar trick especially after a couple of bourbons. Really good.

Joel: Well, we love going down this musical party avenue. [laughter] But let's talk about your role at J&J and what you're doing that's exciting.

Doug: Yeah, absolutely. So I'm the Head of People Data and Insights which really sounds exciting. It's more people analytics really if I break it down into two words. And from the start of just gathering what are the right data elements to collect, the right variables. What are the questions that people really wanna know answers to, to what actions will they take from that and making sure that it's democratized. We don't wanna keep data in jail. I've always said most of these core systems that exist, they're powerful, they're huge. But how many people can really access them and understand them? And when we talk about an employee's lifecycle that's what we care about. Understanding what are those moments where we can access data to really help improve impact and drive outcomes.

Chad: Well, and then actually tell the story around that data. 'Cause data doesn't tell its own story. You've got to tell that story.

Doug: So true. Data's unemotional. And nobody wants to read pivot charts for a living.

Chad: No.

Doug: Right. Nobody does.

Chad: Some people do but they're boring as hell.

Doug: Well, yeah. I mean come on.

Joel: They don't wanna be drummers. [chuckle]

Doug: Who wants to do that. I mean come on. So you've got to have people who are great storytellers who can influence and make decisions and bring it to life. It's like reading a book is great, it's important, you need to do it but when you have somebody who can tell the story of the book, now that's powerful. And that's what we wanna create, a culture. And we wanna make sure that not just the HR people who are great, do that, we want business leaders. These are people who manage P&Ls. We want them to do the same. And they're very willing to do the same with human capital data. We want people who are... Even our employees to know, well, how many people do we have in the company? Are we hiring more people? Tell us about how many more we've made. So basic stuff like that is so important to us.

Doug: And when we think about talent acquisition that's our big play right now. For the next three years, this is our big focus area. And bringing not the old school way of thinking about TA but understanding, people have skills, people have experiences, people have all these different attributes that we wanna bring at this front, not at the back to the table for our recruiters, our hiring managers to help make better more informed decisions. Because that's where the gold is. I mean heck, I'm sure ChatGPT could write a great resume for me. No question about it. But I'm old school and I don't wanna just take a job description and have ChatGPT do it. I wanna understand what's reality. I wanna measure it. I wanna do a side by side. My dream, I want... All right, maybe two monitors, I'm a little old but two screens. I wanna have one screen that shows my internals, one shows my externals and I wanna be able to understand tell me when I measure all these different pieces who should I be selecting for? 'Cause I got 578 people apply for one job that I had.

Chad: Yeah. Because of scale. So back in the day when we were passing around paper resumes and applications and those types of things we didn't have to deal with the scale that we deal with today. And now we've got the opportunity of new scale with AI. So you being able to scale, a lot of this can't happen just in one platform. So how many platforms are you trying to sew together to create this ability to tell that story that you're talking about?

Joel: How many cats are you herding?

Doug: If I told you we are close to triple digits I'd probably be...

Joel: Oh, my God.

Chad: Of tech platforms?

Joel: Of tools?

Doug: Of general HR platforms.

Chad: Okay.

Doug: TA is not up there. They're in the double digits in fairness but...

Joel: Totally.

Doug: There's overlaps between different things and we don't use them as probably as bestly as we should. And that's where we've got opportunities. So part of why we look to figure out what's next on our horizon is just for these reasons. It's because... There's some great companies out there who have outstanding things but how does it all tie together? 'Cause I don't wanna use somebody who just does video recruiting to have to go to somebody else who just does skills assessment to somebody else who just does this or somebody else who does that. Which is probably how many companies have done it and admittedly how we have too. Can I find somebody who can integrate these things, bring it together and give me that whole experience in one so that it's easy, it's simple and we place the candidate at the center and that's what matters most to us.

Joel: Are there any of those tools that are invaluable that you couldn't live without? And is there any effort at J&J to build your own tools in terms of the data that you're collecting and how you're analyzing it?

Doug: I always think there's opportunities to explore or build strategy but what I've learned across 25 years of experience is building is hard unless you're a tech firm. If you're a tech firm you can probably build all the great stuff. But it's so much easier when you find people who are experts in their craft at knowing this thing. And there's always trade-offs. Like they may not be perfect at that but they're experts at that. So when you can figure those things out and help push them and admittedly we're 150,000 employees, we've got close to 100,000 contractors, 70,000 contractors gross. Those are the areas where we say all right how do we do this better? Why does it take 12 steps sometimes to get somebody from A to Z? Why can't we do that in four? I mean unless you're some super top executive where of course there's gonna be more interviews, of course there's gonna be more... But for most of our people you don't need 12 steps or some magic number.

Joel: Just to be clear. You're dealing with data on the front end with incoming candidates as well as the current employees upskilling opportunities, where should people be moving? So you're using tools on both sides of the fence. What kind of stories are you telling with the data and specifically I think data helps talent HR tell a story about profitability in the organization. Are you doing that at J&J and how?

Doug: Yeah. So something we're super proud of is launching, we call it J&J Learn. And a lot of it is based on some of the work we've done in partnership with you folks as well. And the fact is we're already seeing those returns. We think about the fact that now we don't have separate training that takes place within our firm group, within our MedTech group. It's all under the umbrella now of J&J Learn. And I love it because I think about what I experienced at GE at Crotonville. Where you bring people together whether they're in aircraft engines or in capital, sure, there's some specialized groups that existed back when I started years and years and years ago but most of the training really happens right there at the center, at J&J Learn in our specialized campus in Orlando. And what I love about the fact is we not only have cost benefit from bringing all that together but more importantly we're seeing people already who are taking classes who are not only gaining skills but working with others that they've never worked with before.

Doug: And that cross-pollination plus the benefit of going through the classes, completing them, seeing how their talent velocity whether lateral moves, promotions are occurring and this is early stages. We're just beginning one year in, imagine what this is gonna look like three years in. We think about retention, we think about that talent velocity score, we think about return on investment, what it costs us and what we'll get back later on. These are huge opportunities for us. And it's certainly one of our big rocks if you could use that phrase. But it's something we're very proud of. Sandra Humbles is our chief learning officer.

Joel: Dig into the ROI part of your statement. What does that look like at J&J? Who are you sharing that with? What does it look like?

Doug: Well, I could tell you our CFO is certainly interested in something like that.

Joel: That's good. I fear that's unique in not too many companies so that's a good problem to have.

Doug: Oh, yeah. I mean, these are things that really matter to us. And we want... I remember back when we started to do some pilots and people were asking questions like wow you can infer skills. That's pretty cool. Pretty cool except for the people on the factory floors in our supply chain organization at the time where they don't have equipped laptops to put in what skills they have and how we can measure them and all this stuff through inference. So we had to come up with other strategies. There's lots of ways to measure skills, lots of ways to go through content but how do we make sure it's good and equitable for everyone?

Doug: And what we cared about was, are we seeing employees getting value out of this? It wasn't just the dollars and the cents at first. It was really about the employee experience. Are they growing? Do they have aspirations? Are we helping them to get to their aspirations? And you've got to have a hook. It can't just be well we're gonna save the company money. It's got to be about well what can... The old, tune into the radio station WIIFM, what's in it for me? And that's really what helped us get started. Don't you wanna grow? We posted, here's what we're playing for. And when you post that and then you start realizing, well, oh, I have some of these but not all of these, I better start focusing on some of these. They matter to the company. We're not saying we're gonna throw you out or kick you out or not keep you up but what we are saying is you should know what we're playing for. And a lot of people got on that bandwagon real quickly.

Chad: Yeah. I bet so.

Joel: You are listed as a top 10 influencer via CIOLook.

Chad: Top 10.

Joel: I'm not a reader of the publication but how do you get to be a top 10 influencer for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Doug: Well, I would always say this... So thank you for bringing that up. I appreciate it. It's certainly something that I'm honored and humbled by. So let me start there. And what I would say is this, you've got to have learning agility. If you think that what you learn now and what you know now is something that is always there, you better realize that it's not.

Chad: Amen. Amen.

Joel: Well, Doug, thanks for sitting down with us here at the Fuel50 booth at HR Tech. For anyone who wants to connect with you or learn more, where would you send them?

Doug: Hit me up on LinkedIn.

Joel: Easy. That is Doug Shazam if you're in auto-correct plan...

Chad: AKA Shagam.

Joel: AKA Shagam. He is the Head of People Data and Insights at Johnson & Johnson. Chad, that's another one in the can. We out.

Chad: We out.

Outro: Wow. Look at you. You made it through an entire episode of the The Chad and Cheese Podcast. Or maybe you cheated and fast forwarded to the end. Either way there's no doubt you wish you had that time back. Valuable time you could've used to buy a nutritious meal at Taco Bell or enjoy a pour of your favorite whiskey or just watch big booty Latinas and bug fights on TikTok. No, you hung out with these two chuckleheads instead. Now go take a shower and wash off all the guilt but save some soap because you'll be back. Like an awful train wreck, you can't look away. And like Chad's favorite Western you can't quit them either. We out.


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