Five Ways To Identify And Retain Fantastic Talent With Kathleen Brenk And Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Stop putting experience and education on job postings. Unless it’s TRULY required. We disqualify a vast population by doing this.

Too many unnecessary requirements might be preventing many businesses from finding golden opportunities in the hiring process. You might have been hearing this advice more and more, especially in regards to trainable jobs where a degree might not be necessary. In fact, some of the largest tech companies in the world no longer require degrees for some of their high-paying positions. 

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 speaking with Kathleen Brenk.

Kathleen is VP of Human Resources for Trustile Doors, a 100M, 500 employee custom door manufacturer where she serves on the executive team. Previously, she was Director of HR Strategy & Implementation with CareerWise Colorado, consulting on talent strategy and program implementation for Colorado’s groundbreaking system of youth apprenticeships. Past leadership roles include CHRO at Recondo Technology and VP of People & Culture at Trust Company of America. Kathleen is an HR leader that believes in creative, strategic solutions and shaking up past practices to get things done smarter and faster. She is a Six Sigma greenbelt, with SHRM-SCP and SPHR credentials on top of being a certified Pairin coach. With experiences ranging from acquisitions to complex compliance issues to internal executive coaching, Kathleen brings a unique operational skill set and business-focused experience to engaging people practices.

Thank you for being here! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After college, I taught HeadStart for several years. As I was thinking about starting a family, I didn’t think I could both teach and parent successfully. Such a draw on the same energy. I took a job as an office manager which led to benefits and training and an HR professional was born. HR and I found each other.

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?

I was supporting a manager during a termination for attendance issues. We were literally sitting around waiting for the associate to arrive. He finally did, 15 minutes late and carrying a bag of McDonald’s. Late. To his own termination. For attendance. All I could do was laugh. That’s what I learned. And never, ever believe that you have seen it all. Humans are surprisingly unpredictable beings. Just go with it. It’s never about you. I’ve learned to separate in a healthy, balanced way.

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

We’re building a brand-new facility in Denver. It will be beautiful. Right now we’re spread out across 3 shifts and 4 facilities. Beyond the inherent inefficiencies, it’s disjointed for the workforce. It will change the way we work which will require some solid planning and leadership. I’m leading a few employee committees who are driving some of the space planning. That involvement results in buy-in and organizational connection.

Thank you for sharing! Now 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? Please share an example for each idea.

  1. Take a long, hard look at your requirements. What does 5 years in accounting really mean? Is that bachelor’s degree absolutely required, or is it preferred? This opens up your candidate pool to talent you might not have known was really best-suited.
  2. Let the team in. Co-workers can play an important role in talent selection. They will, after all, work with the person you hire. Let them have a voice in what’s missing from the team. Be clear that the ultimate decision will be yours.
  3. Find a great tool. I’m partial to the Pairin tool and also like Predictive Index. Use this information as a data point, not a “go / no go”. I like to use this after the first interview, to inform and drive the 2nd interview.
  4. Don’t interview to death. Have a process. My current organization uses the WHO interview for higher level hires. We use interview questions that align with our business principles. When you follow a process, you can hire faster and with greater confidence.
  5. Pay attention to what the candidate asks you. The interview isn’t over when you’re done asking your questions. The questions you are asked can be telling data to collect and consider.

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?

  1. Be known. Get out into the community. At our Denver location, we’re 350 people in a metro area of over three million. At our Iowa location, we’re 150 people in a town of 1500. Different problems, but same solution. In Iowa, we take part in local events and broaden our reach to other neighboring communities. In Denver, we partner with local non-profits and high schools to find different sources for talent.
  2. Pay above market when you can. Money doesn’t cure all things, but it is a very large factor in manufacturing.
  3. I’m going to repeat number one. When you remove experience and education from a job posting, it opens the aperture.

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

  1. Listen. Provide opportunities for staff to speak and ask questions. We have monthly plant meetings, bi-monthly open book meetings, birthday listening forums, committees, newsletters, etc.
  2. Provide goals. Everyone at our company has at least one goal they are working on. Either a project or something developmental. Humans need something to look forward to. Something to focus on. Far more engaging than waiting for the next item to come down the production line, or the next email to pop up.
  3. Share profits. Nothing reinforces contribution like a piece of the pie. When I can see the impact safety, quality, warranties, have on profits — and that impacts my profit sharing check…the dots are connected.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends? Can you give some examples of what this looks like?

Trends are just that…it’s a trend. Not a “must do”. We all loved culture when it was eating strategy, then we realized it can create group-think when irresponsibly hiring for “fit”. We love engagement, but then it became out-of-vogue to survey. No one ever loved performance reviews, but now they’re the devil.

It’s absolutely important to know what’s out there in the wide world. What tech? What practices? What’s working and not working at your colleague’s companies? Then take a step back and think about what is right for your organization. Your industry. Your employees. Your culture. There is no magic wand. Doing the right thing should always lead.

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


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?

Stop putting experience and education on job postings. Unless it’s truly required. We disqualify a vast population by doing this.

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

Can I have 2?

“Optimism is a force multiplier.” — Colin Powell.

I’ve had an amazing career because I simply believe stuff will work out. Always does. So, I don’t get bunched up about stuff. It’ll work out.

“The highway of life is paved with flattened squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.” —  Unknown.

Be smart. Be logical. Be quick about it. What the worst that can happen? You can always ask for forgiveness later.

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

Amy Poehler. Not because she’s famous, but because she cares about opportunities for girls. And we should ALL care about that.

Thank you for sharing all of these wonderful insights!

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