How Companies Identify Talent with Ann Walton & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Our greatest responsibility in life is to evolve.

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 Ann Walton.

Ann Walton is the Vice President, People & Operations at She has more than 25 years of experience in the Information Services and FinTech industry. Ann inspires a team of 120 people to not only succeed but to discover why they want to succeed in the first place.

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

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to work within organizations that promoted, and in many cases required, an all-hands approach to leadership. This allowed me to understand each business holistically and to develop a dynamic skill set across many core disciplines. Landing in People & Operations came out of my passion for and expertise in fostering an inclusive and creative approach to leadership, cultivating a performance and people-driven culture, and my relentless desire to seek out opportunities to evolve people, processes, and myself.

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?

In retrospect, I can laugh at this story, but at the time this was a painful lesson to learn. When I was a young manager I was sympathetic to the plight of a colleague who was struggling to effectively fulfill her duties each day. I coached her and retrained her many times, but I did not employ a performance management process with her. As she was dealing with some personal issues and had a young family, I couldn’t bear to have to exit her from the organization. This went on for over a year. The time came when we had to rightsize some roles and this role was affected. I remember losing sleep the night before and being nervous to carry out this termination with HR. But instead of the employee being devastated, as I had envisioned, she turned to me and said: “it’s about time, I haven’t done anything here in over a year.” Since I had championed for her I was hurt and embarrassed, but it was a great lesson to learn so early in my career. It wasn’t my job to “save” her at the expense of the business. As a leader, I had a duty to compassionately guide her through the performance management process just as I would with any other employee.

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?

When identifying fantastic talent, I look for what I refer to as the “5S Pillar Portfolio.” I created and refined this list as I’ve grown in my career and conducted over 1,600 interviews. If you find a candidate that possesses all five pillars then you know you have top talent.

  • Pillar 1: Show me, don’t tell me (Provide facts, data, examples, artifacts, stories)
  • Pillar 2: Servant/Self-minded composition (They will serve in the best interests of the business and customers while being mindful to remain loyal to their personal values, dreams, and ethics)
  • Pillar 3: Self-aware (Do they truly understand their capabilities, strengths, and opportunities?)
  • Pillar 4: Sustainable (Is this organization the right fit for them? Are they the right fit for this organization?)
  • Pillar 5: Starts-with-me attitude (Self-starter, takes responsibility, reliable, collaborative, kind to all, customer-centric)

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

1. Your reputation and company brand is your strongest recruitment tool. While your organization won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, you need to treat your colleagues well and foster a healthy culture so they become authentic recruitment ambassadors. Are your colleagues engaged, challenged, invested in, and treated with respect? What’s your NPS score? If it’s lower than 80% you have work to do to attract and engage strong talent.

2. The “I want in” factor: To attract top talent you need to be doing interesting things in the industry you play in. You need to be a respected contributor. They need to see a place for themselves in your organization as a key contributor to the success of the company. Is your company’s mission exciting and progressive? Is it ethical? What do your customers say about you? What does your website tell them about you? What can you offer them that no one else can? Your brand and your online narrative need to speak clearly about who you are and why someone would want in.

3. Locate and court: If top talent isn’t popping into your inbox, you need to locate and court them.

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

What a great question! How much time do I have to answer this? It saddens me to see a sense of loss of hope in some people when hope is ours to create and nurture.

In my experience the most effective solutions are simple. The movement I would inspire to realize the highest return would be that of kindness and education. This may sound trite, but I can’t think of a situation where kindness to our fellow humans, our planet, and, perhaps most importantly, to ourselves would not move the needle forward considerably. Kindness eradicates ego, which may just be the root of all challenges within our control. Kindness coupled with education, curiosity, listening to understand, and challenging the things that make us uncomfortable solves violence, war, starvation, greed, racism, and gender inequality, and fosters acceptance of every brother and sister on this planet.

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

I often say that “our greatest responsibility in life is to evolve.”

When we intentionally evolve we open our minds and hearts to new ideas, people, perspectives, and experiences. We ask more questions, we are curious, and, because we are interested, we are interesting.

Ignorance is born out of one’s inability or indifference to evolve oneself.

We often hear about the downside of aging from a physical perspective. As I age I think how cool it is that every year I’m on this planet I have the privilege to learn more and evolve this mind of mine, to challenge my beliefs, and fill my mind with wisdom to guide me. And more importantly, to pass these lessons along to the next generation.

We are very 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?

There are many people I admire for various reasons. If only Elvis were still alive…ahhhh

One of the women I most admire is Dominique Sachse. Dominique is the evening news anchor at Houstons’ KPRC Channel. She is also my favorite YouTuber. In a world where style, self-respect, dignity, and class often take a back seat to sensationalism, Dominique challenges this with wisdom, a strong work ethic, kindness, class, and elegance. She is Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, and Sophia Lauren of our time.

I would love to break bread and share a nice bottle of pinot noir with Dominique anytime.

Thank you very much! So many fantastic insights!

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