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How Companies Identify Talent with John Hoppes of Progressive Insurance & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

Progressive Insurance Human Resources Hiring Strategies

Respect others, and they’ll respect you back.

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 John Hoppes.

John Hoppes is a Business Leader of Employee Engagement and Development at Progressive Insurance. With over 14-years of employee experience in talent management and acquisition, employee engagement, learning and product management at Progressive, John plays an integral role in the company’s HR department. John holds a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from Pennsylvania State University and a Master’s in Business from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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

My career path is fairly unique. I started out as an engineer, and have enjoyed roles in operations, management consulting and running staff areas. However, my early career fascination with what makes people tick has only grown, eventually driving my career toward HR and ultimately talent management.

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?

Sometimes my career feels like the movie The World According to Garp, with an unexpected, yet amazing occurrence just around the corner at any time. For example, less than two years after landing an exciting revenue role with Progressive Insurance, my boss let me know there was interest in moving a business person into HR, and that my name was suggested for the role by several business leaders. Convinced that I would move into HR at some point in my career, but not sure that this was the right time, I decided to at least check in with the hiring manager. One conversation and I knew that I could learn an awful lot from her. At the end of the recruiting process, I was offered the role and jumped at the chance to work for this amazing leader. Sure enough, I learned an incredible amount from her. Sadly, we only worked together for a year before she was promoted from the CHRO role to running Progressive’s entire Claims organization. Today, she’s Progressive’s CEO, Tricia Griffith, and I share this story as a reminder that it’s not always about the role…it’s also about what you can learn (or who you’ll be learning from).

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?

Truly finding the best talent for your company and role is far more complex than most people realize. Fortunately, we have an amazing recruiting staff at Progressive. Here are a few techniques we use to identify and select talent:

1. Be very clear on your needs for a role. Are you looking for someone in an individual contributor role to become an incredible leader in the future? Or, are you only looking for a very specific skill set? Our recruiters are thorough with our managers who are hiring, as it always pays to spend a little more time defining needs upfront.

2. Cast the net wide. It can take extra time and effort to provide the candidate pools of diverse talent that our leaders want. This requires us to always reinvent how we find talent, trying new sources and using as much data as we can to help assess what’s working.

3. Focus on what candidates have learned. We want to hear about our candidates’ past successes, and especially about their failures. We’re a company that prefers to test, fail quickly, and learn from the situation. So, it’s actually beneficial for candidates to share their failures, as it’s important for us to hear what they learned from the experience.

4. Identify and engage top talent. Progressive’s recruiting process is very thorough and helps us zero in on the employees of the future. For example, we rely on behavioral interviews, which give us the opportunity to step back and consider each candidate for who they are, instead of solely relying on their resume, or who they may know at Progressive.

5. Help the candidate find success. We want candidates to put their best foot forward with us, while kicking the tires on Progressive at the same time. So, we strive for transparency when communicating our roles and culture. Plus, many of our recruiters help candidates prepare for behavioral interviews and even provide feedback after the interview.

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?

In the last question, I mentioned casting the net wide. To attract and engage this talent, we have a great search team looking for talent and developing ways to share our genuine, compelling story with candidates.

1. Meet the candidate where they are at. Progressive has talent advisors who are great at finding talent wherever they are and engaging with them however they prefer.

2. Make informed, strategic recruiting decisions. Sometimes this proactive search can take years before you find the right role match, so we test and learn which sources work, and study where and how to get the most value from building these relationships.

3. Share the Progressive story. We also think it’s important to tell our story in a way that will resonate. While the version or format may change, the story is always the same — it outlines who we are, and what we care about. It’s also important that this story is real and genuine, as candidates should experience the Progressive they thought they were joining, once hired.

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

There are many great causes to support, and one of the biggest opportunities I continue to notice relates to our collective mental health. Today’s world bombards us with a seemingly non-stop stream of information, much of which is shared in a way that places it directly into the “concerns” column. I feel especially bad for today’s youth, who don’t have adult filters or perspectives, yet are bombarded just like the rest of us, creating anxieties we never dreamed of at their age. If unchecked, this increased anxiety in our youth will follow them well into their adult years. Seeing youth take on adult responsibilities, like transitioning into the workplace, has me continue to think about the role companies should play. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to help those new to the working world build a more balanced perspective regarding life and the world around them, helping them to live happier, healthier and better-adjusted work and home lives.

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

My favorite leadership quote is simple, “Respect others, and they’ll respect you back.” I was fortunate to hear this quote early in life, as it helped me survive to be one of six kids, and as a teenager, I started out my leadership career on the right foot. My most memorable experience with this quote came as a young engineer when I took on a floor supervisor role in a GM factory. Many employees had kids around my age, they had a union contract and they knew the “rules” far better than me. I did the best I could to respect each and every one of them, and after a while, most of them did the same in return. That was long before I’d heard about the golden or platinum rules, and over 35 years of people leadership later, this quote continues to serve me well, both inside and outside of work.

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 must admit, I never really thought about this question before. So many people come to mind, and the person who kept resurfacing for me is Audra McDonald. I’m a father first in this world, and my wife and I have been blessed with four wonderful children. One of my daughters is currently an Acting major in college. The two of us stayed up one night to watch Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill on HBO. Next thing you know, we were out buying tickets to see Audra performing live. I’ve never seen anything like Audra’s performance — for me, she reset the boundaries of what’s available in understanding and connecting with others. I completely understand why she’s won the most Tony’s of any actor and would love to talk with her about her ability to connect and her approach to life!

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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