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How To Identify And Retain Top Talent, With Amelia Ransom Of Avalara and Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

Avalara Human Resources

Talent sometimes breastfeeds, has brown skin, wears a veil and/or has a gender you may not be familiar with. Hire talent. Full stop. Every team I’ve ever led has been diverse and this is the only strategy I’ve ever employed.

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field about their five ways to identify and retain fantastic talent. Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Amelia Ransom.

Amelia Ransom is the Sr. Director of Engagement and Diversity at Avalara. Prior to this role, Amelia spent 26 years at Nordstrom where she held team, regional and corporate-wide leadership positions including Store Manager, Corporate Learning and Development Director, Corporate Early in Career Director and VP Diversity Affairs. Her areas of expertise include leadership development, Early in Career and Millennial engagement, executive-level mentorship and advisement and Diversity and Inclusion strategy and execution. Amelia serves on the boards of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Seattle Goodwill, The Institute for Sustainable Diversity and Inclusion and Building Changes. She is also on the advisory board for the Seattle Chamber of the Association of Latino Professionals in America (ALPFA). Amelia is also a thought leader, a sought-after mentor and an inspirational public speaker.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was working for a large corporation and wanted the experience of creating inclusion and engagement into a newer and smaller company’s DNA at an early stage. It was powerful to me that Avalara was proactively seeking a leader who would help them change, not just look good.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Growth companies do not spend countless hours discussing font sizes on powerpoint decks and they do not have meetings about meetings — they have a true bias toward action. So when I created my first “draft” deck and was able to get consensus and an action plan in the first meeting, I didn’t tell anybody but I was so stunned I didn’t even know what to do next. I had a secret giggle and then went back to my desk and reworked my entire calendar.

Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?

I’m so proud of our new Employee Resource Groups! I introduced one last year and now we have four that are still fledgling but creating real value in ways not even I could have planned.

We’re also teaching our leaders how to leverage and manage diverse teams and to really focus on engaging our employees. I am so proud of our leaders for really leaning in here and not being afraid to try something new, even if it feels a little awkward at times. Real leadership must include vulnerability and I see our leaders learning new skills and starting to implement them.

Fastastic. Let’s jump to the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?

Honestly, I don’t need five techniques. I need one: determine what “good” looks like in the role WITHOUT considering schools, who they know in your network or whether they worked for a company you “get”. Then start interviewing. Remember, talent sometimes breastfeeds, has brown skin, wears a veil and/or has a gender you may not be familiar with. Hire talent. Full stop. Every team I’ve ever led has been diverse and this is the only strategy I’ve ever employed.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are the top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

Ask yourself why before you seek to engage. What is it about your company, culture or yourself that keeps you from getting the best? Be brutally honest and ask others to be honest with you as well. If your employees don’t give you critical feedback about yourself and the company, the problem is you. Fix it.

What are the 3 most effective strategies used to retain employees?

· Solicit and encourage honest feedback.

· Don’t shoot the messenger when you receive the feedback.

· Determine whether or not you’re going to change, communicate that decision, and Do. The. Work.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends?

After 15 years as an HR executive, I went back to get my SPHR credential. I thought it was important, not so much to have the credential, but to ensure I was learning the newest strategies that would allow me to help my company meet its business objectives.

Can you give an example of a creative way to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?

I think we underestimate our employees when we think all of their needs and expectations cost millions of dollars. You know what employees want more than ping pong tables and fully catered meals? Leadership transparency and to know that they have the ability to do their best work for an ethical company that knows they matter. Those things don’t cost a dime.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

To learn beyond your own bubble. Beyond the things you already understand or believe. Beyond your career discipline, beyond your country, beyond your gender, race, and generation. We have to let information inform our well-worn narratives.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My mother used to say, “Experience is a fool’s wisdom, it gives the test first and then the lesson.” What she was saying was if you have to experience things to learn, you’re going to learn everything the hard way. Trust and learn from other people’s experiences and let that inform your decision making. I’ve saved myself a ton of headache and heartache by listening to this one!

An example of this: Too many times when male leaders are asked about women’s value in organizations, they answer something like, “well I have a daughter so…”. Women cannot wait for all-male leaders to have the experience of fatherhood to understand women’s core value as humans and business leaders.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

Sure, lots of them. But I’d rather those folks seek out a business owned by a female and/or POC entrepreneur and invest in and amplify them. Send me pics!

Thank you for sharing your valuable insights with us today!

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