How Companies Identify Talent with Allison Hernandez & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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lotus823 Human Resources Hiring Strategies

If you want to retain the best talent, it’s important to keep up with the latest trends in HR.

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Allison Hernandez.

Allison established lotus823 in 2010 with her husband, David, and brought more than 20 years of experience to the business. With a mantra rooted in strong and passionate leadership, Allison has brought to life her vision of creating a company culture that attracts the best people and fosters growth.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?

Prior to lotus823, I spearheaded change management initiatives (including Six Sigma and ISO 9000 programs) at companies such as Toshiba and Office Depot that resulted in significant, sustainable business improvement and increased profitability. Like many entrepreneurial companies, lotus823 had humble beginnings… namely, the dining room table. It was here where my husband David and I developed the idea of an integrated approach to marketing communications. The new concept was born, in 2010, out of a realization that in order for brands to gain a competitive advantage and increase market share, we needed to help them address a major shift in consumer behavior. Brands were no longer discovered in traditional media only; instead, increasingly, consumers were discovering and embracing brands through cross-channel experiences in traditional media and searching online.

We evolved with the changing business models our clients need. Now a full-service agency, lotus823 combines traditional public relations, progressive content marketing, search engine optimization, and social media as well as Amazon marketing and website design for fully integrated strategies. This cross-platform approach helps increase brand visibility both online and offline, creating an immersive experience for brands and their publics.

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

I’m not so sure this is funny, as much as it is embarrassing. In our first few months of business, we were successful with securing quite a few media opportunities for a new client, one of them was with “Oprah Magazine.” The magazine agreed to review our client’s product and include them as an editor’s recommended buy. This was a huge win for our brand-new agency.

It was our procedure to send a handwritten thank you note to each media contact. We would typically send the samples directly, but in this case, the client was sending the samples. Our brand-new account rep, with us for just a week, overnighted the thank you notes to our client to include with the shipments. When the client received the thank you notes, they noticed all of them were written on the backside of the thank you note cards and written upside down. Needless to say, the client was very upset about our sloppy work. We learned to ensure better training and review for any new employee for every procedure.

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

We understand now more than ever with shopping trends changing and brands needing to abruptly adjust their strategies, that finding a successful way to pivot is not always easy. The majority of people are social distancing, resulting in more consumers shopping online for a growing number of new product categories. The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the importance of being able to transition your brand’s strategy at any time. We have had to shift strategies for the majority of our clients in both the home and consumer technology industries. In our approach to shifting our strategies, we have remained focused on being conscious of what both the press and target audiences are interested in at the current moment. By helping brands communicate effectively with their targeted audiences, we are able to help both businesses and consumers during this difficult time.

Wonderful. Now let’s jump into 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?

Before looking for top talent outside of our company, we look internally. We have created a high-development culture, where each person has a unique performance development plan designed specifically towards their goals and aspirations. We designate significant time to developing each person, which leads to higher levels of employee engagement and ultimately gets people ready for moving up.

Networking is key. Developing professional relationships has proven to be very effective in recruiting top talent. I cannot stress enough how important it is to network. I’ve built strong relationships with professors and counselors at universities, who are always more than happy to refer their best students. What’s better than a referral from an educator who has taught many students? They see first-hand how they learn, react, and perform.

I’ve developed relationships with other agency owners across the U.S. I find that people genuinely enjoy helping others, and when they know of top talent looking for a new career within their industry, they go out of their way to recommend them. I never pass up the opportunity to speak with referred candidates, even if we are not necessarily hiring at the time.

Our interview process involves multiple team members at all levels. We have one-on-one interviews as well as group interviews. This is a direct reflection of our company culture and how important our teams’ opinion is, but also speaks to the unity within our organization. We debrief after the interview process and each person shares their thoughts.

We offer an incentive program to our employees for recommending top talent. Our team is very active on LinkedIn and other social media platforms. When we have an open position, the entire team shares it and top candidates often come from professional acquaintances.

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

Back to networking — my go-to strategy is reaching out to my network. I find my best success has been reaching out to contacts at universities, other agency owners and leaders within the industry to ask for recommendations and to get the word out.

As a digital marketing agency, our team does a fantastic job of marketing our organization online. When we are looking for new team members, our team expertly target markets the positions so that the job posting ends up in front of the right eyes.

The longer play in attracting top talent has been building a culture that attracts the best. We work collaboratively and support one another, along with having some unique benefits like unlimited paid time off, remote working, flexible hours, and having a pet-friendly office. We were honored to receive “Inc’s Best Places to Work in 2019,” as this has been instrumental in recruitment efforts.

What are the 3 most effective strategies you use to retain employees?

  1. Investing in a performance software management tool. Our team utilizes 15Five, a continuous feedback platform that is designed to help managers better support their people as well as a place to bring your voices, share wins and ideas, appreciate each other, and collaboratively work through challenges. This has completely opened private communication between managers and their employees. It’s a continuous practice that helps form the backbone of our 1-on-1’s and performance development.
  2. Maintaining company culture. We are proud of our team and the creative energy they share, as we embrace the collaborative culture at lotus823. Despite our expanded scope and reach, lotus823 has maintained its grassroots, culture from which the company was built.
  3. Keeping morale up. One of our highest priorities is to keep our team’s spirits up and add an element of fun to our current situation. lotus823 loves happy hour, so we encourage our team to grab a beverage (completely optional) and join company-wide video calls to connect and share some laughs at the end of the day. With all the stressful news and challenging situations, this reminds our team how truly blessed we are to have each other!

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends? If so, please share an example of what this might look like.

If you want to retain the best talent, it’s important to keep up with the latest trends in HR. With the shifting changes in the work environment due to COVID, working remotely is something that has become a hot topic. Employees and employers alike are finding that productivity has remained the same or increased. People want flexibility and companies need to get out of the old mindset of being in an office from 8 to 5, five days a week. I think some trends to watch out for directly relate to remote working such as flexibility with hours, remote work options, remote team building, caregiving benefits, and more.

What are some creative ways to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?

Having been in HR for so many years, I wanted to create a positive work environment. My life’s motto is, “You get what you give.” We have an exceptional team and it makes me truly happy to honor them by providing a positive environment offering benefits beyond the norm.

Built on a foundation of collaboration, support, and fun, our employees enjoy the perks of a pet-friendly office where furry friends are welcome daily, on top of a fully stocked kitchen, unlimited paid time off, flexible hours, work-from-home schedules, monthly company outings, “stress-relief breaks,” Friday lunches and much more! lotus823 recognizes each individual on our team, offering personalized professional development plans and continued training programs, fostering the growth of each member.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

If I were to start a movement, it would be to help women that are victims of domestic violence. Approximately 1 in 4 women are victims of domestic violence. I’ve dreamed of creating a non-profit that helps battered women by providing shelter, protection, and post-traumatic therapy. Support would also provide continual care, as the abuse doesn’t necessarily stop even when no longer together.

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

The best advice I received was from my brother-in-law, who was a psychologist/psychoanalyst. When I was having difficulty dealing with my ex-husband, he advised me to treat conversations with him as though it was a business conversation versus taking it personally. It completely changed my perspective and positioning in the conversations and gave me the no-nonsense approach I needed.

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

Jim Collins, because I’ve read all of his books and we have successfully built our company with his bestseller, “Good to Great” top of mind. I’d like to thank him and maybe pick his brain a little.

Thank you for sharing so many fantastic insights with us!

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