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How Companies Identify Talent with Denise Cooper & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Denise Cooper Inc. Human Resources Hiring Strategies

If you can’t see a way, then what you do see is what’s in the way. Our brain is trouble seeking magnet. No matter how good you are, you’ll always see what’s missing if you don’t train it to appreciate what’s possible.

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 Denise Cooper.

Denise Cooper has worked with individuals, union organizations, government agencies, and transitioning corporations. She partners with C-suite executives, department heads, or transitioning individuals to develop leadership skills and behaviors that unblock their personal success, all with an eye to achieving very quantifiable improvements in performance. Denise helps assess incoming candidates’ leadership abilities, or diagnose why a talented Manager is not performing as well as expected. She also helps create high performing inclusive workplaces, identifies the key differentiating behaviors that matter, and creates quantifiable measurement criteria against them.

Thank you for joining us, Denise! Can you please share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career? What lessons did you learn from that?

Several years ago, I was the HR manager for a research and development division of a company. It was in January, and the company had just finished the annual performance reviews process. Managers and employees had been lined up at my door, complaining about their performance reviews for a couple of weeks. Another typical January day in HR.

I decided to have a sit-down talk with the Division SVP about what employees were sharing with me. We needed to find a way to recognize and reward their hard work.

After I finished my carefully crafted pitch about equity and fairness, he turned to me. He took a big sigh and said, “Everyone is expected to bring their best thinking here. Working hard is the price of admission. That group they’re talking about regularly delivers blockbusters. Even the few that don’t make it to market are still viable ideas. A business runs by solving our customer’s problems and making sure we do that better than the next guy. I reward those who deliver ideas the company can capitalize on.”

That day I learned what’s meaningful to a great business leader: what’s expected is more than effort. It wasn’t just about any particular results but about game-changing results that contribute to the long-term success of a company. Over time I’ve realized it doesn’t matter what department you work in, any department can be a game-changer. Those who do it well are secure and rewarded handsomely.

Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?

My pleasure. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and when executives and HR professionals connect these 5 techniques into one strategy identifying talent gets easier.

Idea #1: Let’s admit the current hiring process is broken for everyone. Many executives and HR representatives don’t think about the experience that candidates are having when looking for a job. In general, most job seekers don’t know how to look for a job. On the other side, hiring managers don’t know how to select or retain the right kind of talent, and the advice they get is just plain out of date. The result is everyone is frustrated.

Idea #2: Decide why is this the problem to tackle and be clear on what is the right solution. Every business executive is faced with hundreds of decisions. We don’t fail to do better because we lack ideas. We fail because we don’t pick one, understand why it should be a priority, and what it takes to eliminate it. For some businesses, turnover is not a problem to be solved.

If it starts with some pretty basic questions such as:

  • What’s the purpose of the department, and what are the 3–4 critical deliverables for anyone in this job?
  • How does the role, not the person, contribute to the company’s success?
  • What are the skills that in our culture facilitate work getting done?
  • What are 4 reasons someone wants to work here besides getting a paycheck?
  • How would we know in six months to a year that we elevated the capabilities of the department and/or the company?

Some may look at these questions and think, “everyone knows the answers to them. The problem is everyone’s answers are different. Those differences matter a lot, and when everyone isn’t on the same page, then things can go very wrong. Asking these questions get everyone on the same page.

Idea #3: Hiring the right talent isn’t about what they do. It’s about creating an environment that people want to excel in. This lesson was driven home when I was involved in hiring IT talent while at the Gap, Inc. When you live in the SF area, you’ve got to have a pretty compelling offer to get someone to change jobs, let alone stay with the company.

When a person has a lot of options, the right thing to do is help them decide. It’s not a whole lot different than thinking about attracting a customer. For us, as a department, we all needed to understand what was meaningful about the role. Then we asked, what were the critical interest and aspirations of someone who would work with us are?

We developed a psychometric profile now called an avatar of who would love to work with us. We got our employees involved by asking where they like to hang out and what did they enjoy doing when they weren’t at work. What did they really enjoy working in the IT group and the Gap? We asked them what they would like to do that would be exciting for them and their friends.

Idea #4: Enable decisive action. During the discussion with our managers and employees, we got the idea of hosting Friday afternoon events at our campus. We would invite all kinds of IT professionals. We asked our employees to invite people from their network. We asked them to invite people they would like to work with regularly.

At the events, managers, and recruiters talk to attendees about their future interests. We wanted to know what they love to do, what was exciting in their specialty field, and what made their work rewarding.

Managers were told if they met someone who was a good fit to get their information. If we had an opening, they were able to make an offer on the spot. If we didn’t or the person wasn’t quite ready to leave their current employer, give them your card. Get their contact information and, over time, develop a relationship with them. Then, when the opportunity was right, we moved quickly.

Idea #5: Engage others to eliminate confusion and drama. I used a version of this modified “customer-centric” technique to educate and equip our employees to find co-workers at almost every job I had after that. It turned out to be a great thing, not just because we were able to fill open positions. Our employees got a better understanding of what it took to be successful.

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

Bringing humanity back into the workplace. Technology is a tool that aids in decision making and automates repetitive work. Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and other technology gadgets can either be a distraction or help you get traction.

Businesses thrive, societies thrive and governments are more effective when we embrace our humanity.

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

If you can’t see a way, then what you do see is what’s in the way. Our brain is a trouble-seeking magnet. No matter how good you are, you’ll always see what’s missing if you don’t train it to appreciate what’s possible.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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