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Five Ways To Identify And Retain Fantastic Talent With Todd Horton And Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

todd-horton-hr-tech

Don’t get scared about the unknown. Embrace each day and focus on what is working well.


Technology continues to influence HR more each year. As talked about with today’s guest, artificial intelligence and machine learning are terms that are being thrown around more than ever. Today we get some perspective from the technology service side of the industry.

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 talking with Todd Horton.

Todd is the Founder and CEO of KangoGift, an HR tech company focused on empowering companies to increase employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention. Todd is a big believer in the power of celebrating great work in timely and authentic ways and enjoys speaking on workplace trends including the rise of AI and on global HR recognition practices. He has extensive experience working in compensation, recruitment, and corporate culture. He has a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and an MBA from Yale.


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

Many of my peers never knew they wanted a career in human resources. We fall into the HR world because we are interested in people. Finance tends to have clear answers — profit/loss. My HR peers tend to like grey situations. People are complicated and we learn how to communicate and focus on the needs of others. What makes you happy may differ from what makes me happy. People make stuff happen and I enjoy learning what motivates each of us.

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 worked in recruiting early in my career. I worked at JobKorea in Seoul, Korea. We were working on a project with a Korean TV drama and I was invited to act in a short scene with the star of the show. This was a popular show and people noticed me on the street afterwards. I learned to embrace spontaneity and not be afraid of the unknown.

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

We help companies improve their corporate cultures with technology tools leaders use to make the employee experience more meaningful. We are working on a project for a client where we help employees celebrate life events such as marriage, new baby. I’m impressed at the intersection of work and personal life. Employees want to know their employers care about all aspects of their lives.

Fantastic. Let’s now 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.

Authentic — The top employees bring their true selves to work. I want to identify the true person not what they think the workplace needs.

Adaptive — Employees who know how to adapt their style to the team or company work well. The reason is that adaptive employees are true to themselves yet can demonstrate the ability to work with others.

Inquisitive — We never stop learning. Top talent asks questions to ensure they are growing.

Communicator — This is one of the top skills I seek to identify in people. Can they communicate their goals, preferences, and articulate what they need from colleagues?

Decisive — Work is hard and uncertain. I look for employees who make the best decisions with the information available. Then I look for people that learn from those decisions.

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?

Referrals — Motivate your employees to recommend people in their networks. Then reward the referrer in a tier-based way.

  1. Referral
  2. Candidate Discussion with HR
  3. Interview
  4. Hired

Promote Your Corporate Culture — Employees want to work in meaningful environments. Communicate your values and mission.

Highlight Your Impact — Communicate the change your organization has on your industry, society, or specific groups. Could be environmental, social, how you improve a specific group, or are disrupting/changing an industry.

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

Celebrate the employee experience — Think through the entire experience for your employees from on-boarding, asking how their first 30 days went, celebrate milestones, and make sure managers give positive feedback on a regular basis.

Regular Manager Feedback — I believe in the 5:1 ratio. Five positive feedback moments for each developmental one.

Mentoring — Encourage senior leaders to coach or speak on lessons they’ve learned and will help employees develop new skills.

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?

Yes, it’s important to keep up with trends. Understand the ideas and messages your employees are observing. It’s also equally important not to jump on the latest trends. Let’s take artificial intelligence and machine learning. Those are buzzwords. Stay focused on the problems you need to solve. Perhaps AI can help, but don’t lose focus on the problem/goal.

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

Let employees design and customize the workspaces. Let them bring in art. Or give them access to a rotating art collection. Let them choose a chair and desk set up that works for them.

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?

Connect with others by sharing food. Some of the best moments in life occur when you learn about someone over a small meal.

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

“Life is an adventure. Embrace it.” — Don’t get scared about the unknown. Embrace each day and focus on what is working well.

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?

Aaron Feuerstein — He was the CEO of Malden Mills which is the company that invented Polartec. His factory burned down in 1995. He continued to pay the salaries and health insurance of 3000 employees until the new factory was re-built. He could have easily let everyone go. I admire a leader with true heart.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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