Redefining HR w/ Lars Schmidt


If you've been in employment for any period of time, you know Lars Schmidt, author of the Bestselling Book, "Redefining HR," podcast host, founder at Amplify, and Fast Company contributor. If you don't know Lars, well, let us introduce you. Hot off the presses of his latest book, the boys dig into everything swimming around in Lars' head at the moment. And trust us, it's a deep, deep dive. Enjoy, the water's warm.


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INTRO (1m 1s):

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 (1m 25s):

Oh yeah. What's up everybody? This is the Chad and Cheese podcast. I'm your co-host in chief. Joel Cheeseman joined as always by my cohost Chad Sowash


Chad (1m 37s):

Chief, my ass.


Joel (1m 38s):

We are, we are super jazzed today. It only took four years for us to get Lars Schmidt on the show. Lars. Welcome.


Lars (1m 46s):

Hey guys, it's good to be here. Has it been four years? Has it been that long?


Joel (1m 50s):

Well, podcasting for four years, last time we saw you was drunk on a stage in London. Thanks for breakfast. Or at least according to Chad, only one of us was drunk. We won't mention who.


Lars (1m 59s):

On our way too. How about that? We we're on the road.


Joel (2m 3s):

Yeah. I feel like you, a lot of people know you, but some don't, so let's get the introductions out of the way. You have a lot of shit going on on LinkedIn, but you want to funnel it for the audience as founder of Amplify HR and the author of How Millennials Are Redefining HR, how millennials are doing it is my own, a little title for the book, but we can get into that in a little bit. Anything else that we missed there that the listeners should know?


Lars (2m 31s):

That's good.


Joel (2m 32s):

Okay. All right. I did my job. Chad, it's your ball now.


Chad (2m 35s):

So give us some background, some story around a book. You write a book and this is not, I mean, coloring book for God's sakes. I mean, this is total research, big names, big wigs, and an enormous amount of focus in discipline to put out a book like you just put out.


Joel (2m 55s):

Did you say this was an ego project and Lars wasn't hugged enough as a kid.


Lars (3m 1s):

Parents were pretty generous of hugs to be honest.


Joel (3m 3s):

So what was the Genesis of the book?


Lars (3m 5s):

The book really came from a lot of things that I had been working on before I actually signed the deal to write the book. You know, so the, you know, from, from the work in HR open source through, you know, the, my first book on Employer Branding For Dummies, through writing for fast company and Forbes and whoever else and the podcast, it was like, I had all these different things, these different channels, if you will, that were giving me insight into how the field of HR was evolving and what companies were doing that was different and unique. And so I had, you know, I'd been building all of these disparate connections, research writings, et cetera, before I kind of said, okay, you know what I need to, I want to package all of this in a way that tells more of a cohesive, you know, full story, rather than just focusing on a practice or an event or a person.


Lars (4m 0s):

And so in that sense, like a lot of the work I've been doing over the last five years was, you know, kind of foundational to the book. So when I, you know, set about to actually start writing the book, I, you know, the idea is a lot of the research, a lot of the connections and people that I knew I wanted the interview to go deeper. We're already in place. I wasn't starting from scratch, which was probably the only reason that the book got written during a pandemic. If I had to do that all from scratch, that would have been a little rough.


Chad (4m 27s):

So you're talking about key shifts from legacy HR to modern HR. What are some of those key shifts that you think are priority for HR and why the hell has it taken so long for us to do it in the first place?


Lars (4m 40s):

Yeah, I mean, so that last sentence assumes that everybody's done it and they haven't, you know, I think HR as a whole right now is kind of a spectrum. You know, you have some operators at the leading edge that are doing a lot of the practices that I spotlight in the book. You've got, you know, the other side of that spectrum and, you know, still old school personnel, transactional, yada yada. And then you're the bulk of the field is somewhere in the middle. And so, you know, for me, it was really about trying to shine a light on what, you know, interesting and progressive and modern HR looks like and do it in a really tangible way. So the book is full of case studies and practitioner spotlights and stories of people actually doing the work. Cause that's not me, kind of bringing that to life, really with the hope that that middle kind of tier of the industry can see some of those practices and be like, you know what, I can do that.


Lars (5m 27s):

Or I can do a version of that. And hopefully, you know, kind of move more people towards that more progressive approach to the field.


Joel (5m 35s):

And in writing a lot of books, talk about who you're writing this book for, and who's reading it. I, I feel like you're very central to sort of North America and your own experiences and contacts, but it has a very global vibe to me. Are you seeing a lot of buyers globally? And in what parts of the globe do you see action, and how does that stack up versus some of the other books that you've written?


Lars (5m 57s):

Yeah, I mean, so certainly the, there it's found a pretty large audience in the Media and part of that is, you know, I was able to spotlight different practitioners work there. You know, my publisher Kogan page is based out of London. I'm sure that helps, but I've also built a pretty sizable network in Europe and specifically in the UK. So when it came to launching the book, I kind of had that pre-built audience that was already, you know, interested in, you know, the story is, and kind of what would be covered North America would be next, you know, not as much in Latin America, you know, some in APAC, certainly the, the audience has been much broader than the employer branding book that I wrote a couple of years ago.


Lars (6m 39s):

You know, obviously that's a niche topic. I think it holds up and seasoned people, but it is a niche. Whereas this book, I think, applies to a much broader audience


Chad (6m 47s):

Dig into the employer brand space a little bit deeper just for a minute. Why does HR care now after not giving a shit for decades about employer brand? I mean, what is the major factor in why employers are caring more about brand today than they did two decades ago?


Lars (7m 4s):

Yeah, I mean, cause hiring is hard when you're, when you're competing for the same types of talent that everybody else is competing for. And you've gotta be able to find ways to differentiate yourselves and kind of the employee experience and what somebody is going to get out of working for your company, you know, beyond just being a recognizable brand. And I think that that shift probably happened right around 2011, you know, with the, you know, kind of ubiquity of social media and people leveraging, you know, Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook in different ways. And so, you know, employer branding has been around for awhile, but that was that kind of digital iteration and shift in employer brand is when companies started getting much more deliberate and thoughtful and specific.


Lars (7m 47s):

I mean, back then, it was like you threw the hashtag jobs on a tweet and you'd make hires off that. Like, I, you know, Twitter was our number four source of hire at NPR in 2011. I mean, it was crazy. So, but you know, now that would never happen because there's so much noise and everybody's doing it. Like we were, had a first mover advantage, then, you couldn't do that now, but it's, but yeah, I I'd think probably right around 2011 is when that shift happened.


Chad (8m 13s):

Isn't there also a layer of covering your own ass as well, because before Twitter, before Facebook, before LinkedIn, somebody had a bad experience with your organization, they told three people. Now they're telling 30,000. So I think there might be more of a reaction to that then, because they're trying to look for good people. Yeah.


Lars (8m 35s):

Yeah. I mean, I think it depends on how they look at it, right? Like, I mean, even back in the day, like pre 2010, you had fucked company. And that was, you know, that was a great site. You know, it didn't allow for individual reviews, but it, it certainly covered some of the, you know, shady aspects of companies and how they hire. I think if, if you look now, you know, companies, there's an offensive approach to social media and there's a defensive approach, right? Offensive, meaning actively using those channels to kind of convey what it's like to work at your organization and own the reality of it, right? Like the highs and the lows, like you, you know, good employer, branding shares both. And then there's defensive, which is like, how do we clean up last store? Like, how do we clean up Indeed or comparable, or some of the other sites out there where people are leaving negative reviews.


Lars (9m 19s):

Right. And that's, it's kind of backwards thinking, it's like, well, why don't you address the thing that led the person to write that review, rather than trying to clean up the reviews? So, so yeah, there's, there's, you can kind of look at it almost as an offense and defensive play.


Joel (9m 33s):

You talk in the book, the sort of the evolution of employer branding. And I'm curious your thoughts on how COVID is going to reframe employer branding from our perspective, it seemed like as soon as the virus and the pandemic hit, some of the first people were to go or be laid off for employer branding managers. So what is the future of employment branding look like as we come out of the pandemic?


Lars (9m 57s):

Yeah. I mean, look, I think it's what I hope it is and what I think it will be as somewhat of a resetting, you know, we employer branding, it became kind of an arms race as more and more companies were investing in employer brand managers and resources and budgets. And so, you know, we kind of defaulted to hyperbole and like looking at all the cool shit we've got and look at our, you know, we still sold ping pong tables. Now we sold three flavors of kombucha and you know, all these amazing office amenity is unlike no one really cared about that, but we didn't, you know, we still sold it thinking they might, but that never really truly was a differentiator for the majority of candidates. And so now we're at a place where obviously offices are irrelevant today, that will change.


Lars (10m 39s):

You know, people will be back in offices at some point, to some extent, it won't be the same, but you know what, we'll have physical spaces to go to for those of us that go into offices. But I think that we are the language I would like to see, start to shift, right. It's not about like, we're the best, we're the greatest. And like, let's find all the hype buzzwords and try to insert as many of them we can into our copy. It's, let's kind of recalibrate a bit, to like, what is the employee experience like here? What's differentiated and what will be interesting? And I think this will put more stress on employer brand is, as more companies that have employees, that have the ability to work remotely, choose to have either fully remote or hybrid structures, you know, and people can really work anywhere from anywhere.


Lars (11m 25s):

Work itself kind of becomes a bit of a commodity, right? People can easily move from one thing to the next. And so, you know, from a recruiting perspective, it's going to become even more important that you can convey and articulate a clear value prop about why somebody would want to do what they do at your company. When they, you know, have dozens of choices of top tier companies, they could do that same work from their same home without having to relocate. Right. Like, that's a huge difference than world we were in a year ago.


Chad (11m 54s):

So moving from ping pong tables to actually something that's meaningful.


Lars (11m 59s):

Yeah. How refreshing, right?


Chad (12m 2s):

Yeah. Yeah. So talking about the opportunity to scale, right. Because one of the things that we have to get ready for in recruiting in HR overall is scalability. So explain what you mean in the book by building for scale? Is that mainly predicated on internal mobility and tech, where does that go for you?


Lars (12m 24s):

Yeah, for me, the kind of lens through which I looked at that in the book was more about really building foundational elements of the kind of talent HR people strategy, however you want to frame it in the early days, so that as you scale and grow, you're building on processes that are designed to scale and grow. And, you know, historically we've been terrible at that, right? And it's not, it's not HR has fault. There's a variety of factors, but you know, companies that were in hyper-growth mode, it was like, okay, we just need to, you know, 80% of our HR and people, operations, budget resources are focused on recruiting. Like we're just trying to get people in the door.


Lars (13m 5s):

We need more people, people, people, and, you know, you're, you're growing and you're scaling off Excel sheets and, you know, all of these like random, you know, tools and systems that are taped together. And then you hit, you know, 200, 300, 400 people and you're, it's breaking. And then, and then you have to kind of go back retroactively and rip out all of that stuff, put in new systems, new tech, new approaches, new leadership in many cases. And so, you know, having to do that, once you've hit a critical size is massively disruptive to the business. And so the approach is more of like, okay, we know that we're going to be going through this growth trajectory. Yeah. We probably need to hire a head of people or a CPO earlier than we would have.


Lars (13m 49s):

We probably need to invest in a tech infrastructure built for a company that's 500 to a thousand people rather than 100 earlier. So that when we are at that stage, you know, we can still be building on that tech that's in place. So that that's really the kind of, you know, theme of the chapter.


Chad (14m 6s):

Isn't that kind of HRS fault though, because I mean, it's our job to be able to bring the business case. And one of the things that we're really bad at in HR and TA is to be able to demonstrate how scalability and what we're doing in our tech affects the actual bottom line either positively or negatively. So you say it's not HR's fault, but really shouldn't, we take responsibility and start taking accountability for these types of numbers so that we can have the bigger conversations with the C-suite.


Lars (14m 36s):

So I I'd say yes, but I'd put an asterisk by that. Cause I think if you look at a lot of startups, you know, thwey have an office manager who moves into an HR manager and the HR business partner who is now asked to run the whole team, like they're in those scenarios that I mentioning there, they had junior talent that they're scaling with. And so, you know, yes, you could say like, shouldn't, that person have said like, Hey, this is, but like, they don't know they haven't done that before. So I think, I think that is why you're starting to see a shift in particularly in startups hiring that more seasoned HR leader earlier on, because they do know those things and they can push back and they can say, Hey, look, I've done this two, three, four times over.


Lars (15m 17s):

Here's what we need and when we need it. Right. So that I think, you know, yes, that is HRS responsibility, but all too often, they have a junior person in that role, that's just not equipped to, you know, they don't, they don't have that context, they don't have that direct experience to be able to steer the leadership team in that direction.


Joel (15m 35s):

A couple of things in the book, sort of going up a little bit back to employment, employer, branding that you talk about in the book that I want you to, to expand upon. One of them is sort of the ongoing performance reviews in the book. I think you talk about, they should be daily to some degree. And I think a lot of us agree that the yearly performance review is pretty broken. And the second thing I think that piggybacks off of that is managing burnout, which you talk about, which I think the work from home environment has sort of reframed what that looks like. So talk about the importance of those two things. Maybe some companies that are, that are doing it pretty uniquely.


Lars (16m 9s):

Yeah. I mean, I think in performance, you know, daily is probably a bit much, but I think, you know, whether it's quarterly or monthly or whatever the framing is, it's gotta be a cadence more than any like annual reviews or that's just a Relic of the past. It doesn't fit how we work. It doesn't fit how people want to be developed and coached and have expectations. Like, am I hitting the mark? Am I missing the mark? Like, what am I, what do I need to do better to, you know, to be excelling in my manager's eyes? And so that, you know, that I think is pretty clear. You know, one of the case studies I go into in the book is from Survey Monkey, which, you know, they, Becky Cantieri, Chief People Officer walked through like how they shifted from their annual review process to a quarterly review process.


Lars (16m 50s):

And it was received really well. And what was cool about them is they actually then gave away like all the templates they used in that shift. They open-sourced sourced all of that. So, that was one example. And I think, you know, burnout, especially kind of, you know, coming out of 2020 and like we're still in a pandemic, right? We're not over this yet. I think that every, every employee has been hit hard, but in different ways, by all the circumstances of the past year, right? Whether it's Covid, whether it's working from home, whether it's kids at home, whether it's, you know, the, the conversations around social inequity and black lives matter, like everybody has been impacted in multiple angles and multiple ways. And they're carrying that with them every day for a CPO specifically, or CHRO or whatever the title might be, if you've got a really unique burden of all of that, because they're going through that as an individual, they're going through that within the context of, you know, leading their executive team and helping guide all the decisions that they're having to make as an executive team for the direction of the business.


Lars (17m 48s):

And they're going that for, you know, their own HR team who is on the front lines in many cases of a lot of these very emotional situations that these employees are experiencing and all of their employees, and they can't talk to their peers like within the organization, they can't talk to their colleagues about what they're experiencing. So, you know, I've seen a lot of really robust CSRO peer networks kind of flourish of last year because people needed a place to go and like talk to people who actually understood what they were going through and could, you know, commiserate and console in some cases. But I think too often they were addressing their own needs last. And that really, I think, caused a spike in burnout that we're still carrying today.


Chad (18m 30s):

Yeah. And Joel, he loves, you know, having more empathetic managers and HR, those types of things, going back to.


Joel (18m 38s):

I've been burned out on Chad since 2007 so I'm trying to get some guidance on that.


Lars (18m 44s):

We have support networks to help you get through that, Buddy.


Chad (18m 46s):

But yeah, no kidding. So you talked about, you know, a little bit about black lives matter and I mean, there's, there's definitely a culture shift and not to mention there's a different, I guess you could say conversation about things you can talk about at work. Right. And things you can't talk about at work. I mean, things have changed over the past year plus in really moved the needle in so many different areas. So as you talk about culture, can you talk about what culture might look like or should look like in 2021, 2022 to try to get away from the past and how rigid and how sterile it has been.


Lars (19m 22s):

Yeah. I mean, you know, one of the shifts that I kind of described in the book specifically around the CSRO role or CPO role, but I think it applies much more broadly than that. It is this move from being infallible, right? This like buttoned up polished archetype, that would say the right things and, you know, always kind of, you know, just a super, highly polished.


Chad (19m 45s):

Right.


Lars (19m 45s):

And like, right. Not real, too vulnerable, you know, to people that are able to be more real and share some of their own struggles and just be more human. Right. I think that there's a couple of cases in the book of CHRs from, you know, talking about things from their own struggles, with infertility to mental health and thoughts of suicide to, you know, coming out and the office is as gay for the first time and, you know, and sharing those experiences with their employees and that those kinds of conversations barely ever happened, you know, even a couple of years ago. And now I think we're seeing more of it. And I think this whole notion of work and life and separation, like we've all been in each other's homes through Zoom.


Lars (20m 29s):

We all know more about our colleagues now than we probably ever did. Just kind of going through these circumstances together. And so I think culture is going to be, you know, much more real and open and honest then I think before it was very, it could be very manufactured in some companies, you know, and it could be very aspirational, right? Like this is who we want to be like, that's cool, but that's not at all who you are. I think people need to like, be more comfortable with who they are, maybe talk about who they aspire to be, but like have that rooted in their reality with more of a direction of where they hope to be.


Chad (21m 6s):

Now, do you think that we are feeling more comfortable with being uncomfortable since we've been so fucking uncomfortable over the last year and maybe that's, what's pushed a lot of this EMP empathy is that it's just being human and living and it's uncomfortable, but we're becoming more comfortable with providing that in and actually having this conversation.


Lars (21m 27s):

Yeah. I mean, I think we're having conversations now that we never had before. Right. Like, I can't meet this deadline. Like my three kids are home from school and I'm at my wit's end trying to teach them. And our wifi is cutting out and like, I'm sorry, I just, I can't do this. Like, you know, when did we in the construct of work, did we have people say like, Hey, I just, I can't meet this deadline for personal reasons. And like, have that be acceptable and not to say that's acceptable across the board. Like some managers are probably still dicks about that, but like that, you know, that those kinds of conversations like taking a mental health day, like a wellness day, like saying like I'm just the stress of everything is getting me. I just need to take today off, like before it was like, we'd have to hide her out in a sick day.


Lars (22m 9s):

Like, Oh, I've to go to the doctor. We'd have to make up some excuse. I think, that is certainly starting to change. And part of it is just going through this like massive, you know, humanity level event that we've all experienced that has kind of knocked down some of those veneers and walls we put up around us and has given them permission to do so in the context of kind of how companies and employers are looking at their employees.


Joel (22m 36s):

I think some of the support that people are turning to, you've mentioned a few times in this interview is open source and opening sort of the doors. One of the stories you give in the book is of a Coinbase. And for those playing Chad and Cheese, bingo, that's our crypto reference for the show, they used open source for their COVID response, basically allowing other companies to come in and see that. So a lot of our listeners probably aren't even aware of what open source is. So talk about that and maybe some other examples of how companies are leveraging that strategy.


Lars (23m 10s):

Yeah. I mean, so open-source broadly, it's a, it was a concept, you know, started in the software. The idea being, if you write a line of code that does X thing, why not give that away and upload that to a common repository that other people can then just use to do that X thing. And over time, other people will take that code. They'll make it faster or they'll make it more efficient. They'll make it better. And so you have, you know, thousands and thousands and thousands of engineers, all optimizing lines of code that's available for anyone. And so it's, you know, it became the fundamental backbone, much of the modern web that we use. And so taking that kind of open practice approach and bringing it into HR, which, you know, historically we sucked at that.


Lars (23m 50s):

We were all about silos and hoarding our data. We wouldn't share anything. And so that started to shift around five years ago with the launch of HR Open Source and Google Rework and other platforms. And so I think if you look at it now, I mean, the Coinbase situations, a great example, like back in late February, they, they publish their internal kind of pandemic response plan. And you know, that event at that time at that scale was something that no HR practitioner alive had experienced. Right. It's just, we, you know, we haven't had anything like that in years, and so lots of people were looking, you know, CHROs and HR leaders. They're they're CEOs, executives are looking at them for guidance.


Lars (24m 32s):

Like, Hey, what do we do? How do we approach this? And doing that, there was no precedent. And there was no playbook having that Coinbase example. The way that it played out was exactly like open source software. So they publish theirs. I then created an open source doc that included that. And I began curating other resources and news and updates from companies and how they were responding. And then I encouraged other companies to say, Hey, look, if you're basing your own pandemic response on Coinbase's doc, then please consider uploading your version of that doc to this common document so that other practitioners could read it. And, you know, within a week or two, we had about a dozen or more companies that had all open-sourced their pandemic response plans.


Chad (25m 16s):

That's awesome.


Lars (25m 16s):

And I think that was really instrumental at that early stage when like we were, you know, the pressure on HR teams was massive. Nobody knew, you know, nobody knew for sure, like, Hey, this is the right way, this is how you handle X. Like we're all figuring it out. And so being able to see like, okay, Coinbase is doing it this way, like Sneak is doing it this way. Dashlane is doing it this way. I'm not going to do any of those things, exactly. But I'm going to build what I'm going to do off of all of those other things. It was invaluable. So to me, like, you know, the use case for Open Source was firmly established in my view, long before that, but that was kind of the moment where, you know, globally people all around the world were borrowing from that doc and then adding their own. And I think it was just a master case study in how open-source can work in HR.


Chad (26m 0s):

That is amazing. Well, the, the book is Redefining HR. That's Redefining HR, Transforming People, Teams to Drive Business Performance. That's from your buddy, Lars, Lars. We got to have you back. We didn't even get a chance to talk about DEI, AI and a bunch of other acronyms. But until then, until then.


Joel (26m 22s):

Yeah.


Chad (26m 24s):

You know me and then.


Lars (26m 25s):

Chad Huxtable.


Chad (26m 27s):

Where can people actually find this book? Where can people buy this book?


Lars (26m 31s):

Yeah. So just going to redefininghr.com. I make it easy. The links to the book, podcast, any other content and projects and whatever they come out of the Redefining HR umbrella. It's all there.


Chad (26m 43s):

If you're not listening to the podcast, definitely listen to the podcast. Lars, once again, man. Want to have you back soon?


Lars (26m 49s):

Yeah. Thanks guys. Thanks for having me on and I'll see you in four years!


Joel (26m 52s):

Alright Buddy.


Chad (26m 52s):

You got it Dude.


Joel (26m 54s):

Another one in the books. We out.


Chad (26m 56s):

We out.


OUTRO (27m 51s):

Thank you for listening to, what's it called? The podcast with Chad, the Cheese. Brilliant. They talk about recruiting. They talk about technology, but most of all, they talk about nothing. Just a lot of Shout Outs of people, you don't even know and yet you're listening. It's incredible. And not one word about cheese, not one cheddar, blue, nacho, pepper jack, Swiss. So many cheeses and not one word. So weird. Any hoo be sure to subscribe today on iTunes, Spotify, Google play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts, that way you won't miss an episode. And while you're at it, visit www.chadcheese.com just don't expect to find any recipes for grilled cheese. Is so weird. We out.



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