How Companies Identify Talent with Jason Walker and Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Be authentic and sincere at work and how you manage people. A significant amount of research is coming out about the importance of empathy and trust and creating Psychological Safety for your employees. It is pretty compelling and shows this has a tremendously positive impact on your employees.

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 Jason Walker.

Jason Walker is the Managing Partner of Thrive HR Consulting, an HR capital consulting firm that specializes in project-based and fractional HR Leadership support. Before Thrive HR Consulting, he was the CHRO for P97, a Financial Tech Start-Up in Houston, Texas and he was the Vice President of HR at BMC Software where he led Talent Acquisition, HR Operations, Facilities and HR Operations. He also was a Senior Director of HR at Polycom where he led Talent Acquisition and HR Operations and Strategic HR. His formative years in HR include working at Cisco Systems for almost ten years where he held a variety of HR positions, including leading all Shared Services for Cisco Systems, working in Mergers and Acquisitions for Cisco and serving as Senior HR Manager helping to transform critical Cisco business units such as Cisco’s core routing business, and their network management software business.

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

Ialways love solving issues, and to me, solving issues that revolve around business and people have always been the most complicated. From a very early age, I had the ability to understand how and why people did things. I always felt that if you could get people on the same page solving complicated problems together, that was a pretty great job!

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?

One day, I went to a meeting when I was at Cisco and it was on the executive floor where our CEO John Chambers sat. I could not find a parking space, so I parked in a customer parking space. This was a huge hot button for John as employees should not do that. But I was in a hurry and there were no close spaces. I walked across the parking lot, into the building, up the elevator to the 5th floor and walked in. As I walked in, John walked up to me, looked at me and said, “Jason don’t ever park in a customer spot again,” with a smile and walked away. I was totally blown away. I was like how did he know? Apparently, he and the facilities VP were looking out of the window into the parking lot talking about restriping the parking lot and they saw the whole thing. What I learned is that you should never, ever, do anything that is not 100% full of integrity and honesty, even in the smallest things.

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?

Focus on Energy. You should compare the amount of energy the candidate that you are talking to has vs. the passion and energy you need. I have always felt that energy is so important to make up for the experience. Are they going to be fired up and passionate every day? Do they come in and go through the motions of an interview and expect what they have done to carry them through?

Network. I go out to my network and talk to people who know me and know them and can give me a referral on a candidate who they think would be a good match. People do not spend enough time building their networks. A strong network will get you a job virtually every time you need one. Even if you think you are doing well networking, I bet there is more you can do. Don’t lose sight of a strong network even when you’re busy.

Be Curious. Is the candidate curious? Do they ask good questions? I want somebody who is going to challenge my assumptions about how we do things and I do things. I won’t get better and our team won’t get better if they don’t challenge assumptions.

Promote Diversity. I don’t want to hire in our own image. We need to look at candidates who come from different backgrounds and bring different perspectives. This makes us all better.

Change up where you interview. Not every interview needs to be in a conference room where the candidate sits for hours. Take the candidate for a walk around the complex, meet for lunch or coffee outside of the office. Connect in a real way that helps you get to know. Covid-19 has made this difficult, but people are doing this with proper social distancing.

You asked for 5 but I am going to add one more.

Hire quickly. Great talent does not stay looking around for a job very long. Hire quickly and if your organization moves slowly in the hiring process, work to become nimbler so you can find your candidate and get them an offer quicker than the other companies.

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?

Make sure you have a compelling Corporate Responsibility program. Today it is critical that passive candidates see what you’re doing in this area. Candidates are motivated to work for companies that excel in this area. Make sure you get information out through social media and earned media etc. Job seekers want to be part of a company that values this space.

Get your best and brightest talking about the company. Make sure they are on LinkedIn, that they are doing podcasts and taking those invitations to speak at conferences or Zoom conferences to discuss the company, why they like it and why the company has great products and services. It builds a buzz and enthusiasm about your organization.

Work the Talent Acquisition Ecosystem. There are things you have to do! You have to recruit and use LinkedIn; you have to be on Glassdoor and managing your profile. Make sure that you are handling the nuts and bolts of TA well. Hire quickly, have a good onboarding experience, automate as much as possible. Have great recruiters. If you have more passive candidates, a great system of TA will cause them to be more interested in approaching you. There is nothing worse than a candidate saying “I would love to work there, but their hiring process stinks.”

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

I have always had very low attrition on the teams I have managed. I feel very lucky to have people tell me even 7 to 10 years later, “You are the best boss I ever had.”

Don’t micromanage. Hire great people and let them work. I used to tell people what I thought should happen and then I would give them the runway to do it. You also have to be a manager that knows what they are doing. I always knew exactly what every position needed to do on my teams. I could micromanage and handle when things went wrong. My team knew me as a manager that knew the job but gave them the latitude to get the work done.

Care about them and their families and support them. When their kids are sick, give them flexibility. When they need to work from home, support that because the Alzheimer nurse is not coming that day. People were so loyal and worked so hard for me because I saw their personal needs and worked with them to get the situation that would help them

Make the environment fun. Obviously, being appropriate is always key, but on my teams, we are going to laugh and we are going to have jokes in our meetings. We are going to plan lunches and go out bowling or have a Zoom Wine Tasting. I think the world has just become such a serious place that we have lost sight of having fun. Being able to laugh and have fun at work is such an important element of retention.

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

Be authentic and sincere at work and how you manage people. A significant amount of research is coming out about the importance of empathy and trust and creating Psychological Safety for your employees. It is pretty compelling and shows this has a tremendously positive impact on your employees.

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

Well, I would say “life is not fair” and it is not. In order to deal with that lesson, you have to learn to be resilient in life. I have learned how to be resilient. Because things will not go your way and if you sit too long in a negative space dwelling, you don’t do yourself any favors. You have to come back and keep moving forward.

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?

I would have to say Deshaun Watson the Quarterback of the Houston, Texans. I truly admire how gifted he is athletically, but he is so gracious, and he always says and does the right thing. It is such a rare gift to find somebody in this world who is so exceptional in their field but also has the ability to be so empathetic and aware of others. It is truly a remarkable trait that he has.

Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us today!

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