How Companies Identify Talent with Rebecca Houghton of BoldHR & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series with Kage Spatz, Founder of

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BoldHR Human Resources Hiring Strategies

Focus on creating a great place to work, and then make sure word gets around. There’s nothing more powerful than hearing a friend talk about a company they are truly delighted by. It cuts through all the noise.

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 Rebecca Houghton.

Rebecca Houghton is a Leadership and Talent Expert and also the founder of BoldHR™. Before starting BoldHR, Rebecca was the award-winning Talent leader for major organizations like the Australia Post and Bupa, where she was instrumental in developing the capability and careers of thousands of people.

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

Starting BoldHR was a dream of mine for several years. I had spent a large part of my career as an executive headhunter in financial services and then led increasingly large teams delivering increasingly complex talent programs.

I learned that great leaders were far scarcer than individual high performers, and I learned that without mid-level leaders in particular, transformation fails in every sense. It proved to me that by developing stronger mid-level leaders — what I call B-Suite Leaders™ — organizations can more easily impact engagement and performance.

So today I put that into practice helping organizations, leaders, and their teams to have more impact, more easily.

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?

When I started BoldHR I was well known in Talent but not yet in Leadership. I’d always done Talent and I had a deep passion for Leadership and I found myself at a crossroads where I felt I had to choose between one or the other. All advice told me that I couldn’t be both.

I see a lot of people at similar crossroads in their life or their career, where traditional advice would tell you to choose. I’d say ok, pick the third option — both.

Focus on the place where your interests intersect and rebuild a single option that incorporates both paths. Binary choices are a fallacy. We always have more choice than we think.

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?

For me, the most powerful techniques to elevate your hiring outcomes are related to mindset rather than skillset.

Yes, hiring is time-consuming, but being understaffed or having the wrong staff is ten times worse. Yet we focus on hiring as our problem child all the time. Illogical really. We should start with retention. If we knew — with certainty — why people didn’t work out, we would lose less and hiring would be far easier.

Think of hiring as an investment into performance. A way to get better results with less effort. With that mindset, hiring very quickly feels less of a necessary evil and more of an opportunity. Failing to invest energy and focus in your hiring effort is like failing to invest in leadership — poor foundations always net poor results. And the irony of failing to invest in hiring? You’ll end up doing more hiring.

Treat every interaction as a meeting of equal minds. If you approach your interviews like a robot, or you think that they are lucky to be here, or that you’re just ticking the boxes so you can get this over with, then you’re truly wasting your precious time. You’re also wasting your precious reputation and you’re probably missing an opportunity to learn something new.

Interview interesting people, even if they’re only a 70% match. If someone’s CV is almost right but not quite, why not ask them what they need to be perfect for the job. If that’s something you can deliver for them, do a deal. You’ll have a better arrangement than waiting to pick the perfect candidate for whom you offer very little upside. That perfect candidate will cost you more and leave you sooner.

Be really clear on what behaviors work well in your organization, in your team, and under your leadership. That’s the true magic of ‘fit’, and we often don’t spend enough time reflecting on that. Even if we’re told what competencies to hire for against a certain job, we should still bring it to life with local examples to give you both a good chance to evaluate that fit.

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?

Focus on creating a great place to work, and then make sure word gets around. There’s nothing more powerful than hearing a friend talk about a company they are truly delighted by. It cuts through all the noise.

Let good people come back. Don’t take resignation personally, and always keep the door open — in fact, call them to see how they are doing and remind them they can come back from time to time. The grass isn’t always greener, don’t forget that.

Be a magnet. Focus on your leadership and on your reputation. If people are seeing you, hearing from you and hearing about you, they’ll want to work with you. Your reputation can be doing the hard work for you part of the time.

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

Engagement requires you to engage. If you always email, it’s always formal, and you pretend there is no elephant in the room, then you are actively driving disengagement and attrition. If it’s always face to face, addressing the elephant in the room, and sharing your own challenges with it, you’ll build more trust, more quickly.

If you love them let them go. You have to reward your high performers with career opportunities or they will seek them elsewhere. This means letting them move internally, which most organizations struggle to achieve. Of course it hurts to let your best people go! But you are not their keeper, and if you restrict their movement, it’s the whole company’s loss rather than just your own.

Be useful to them. Leaders can choose to play an important, useful role for their teams, using their position in the hierarchy to benefit the team, remove roadblocks and get them what they need. If you spend all your time inside your team, you are probably not being as useful to them as you should be. In fact, you might even be in their way.

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

This is going to sound odd, but in the work I do, the standout gap for most people is confidence. If we could distill confidence — if there was a silver bullet — it would have a phenomenal impact.

It’s not about righting a wrong, but it is about giving under-confident people a sense of worth, of self-belief and personal agency. Imagine what more they could achieve with that constraint removed?

We are very blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, 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?

Dead, I reckon Catherine de Medici could offer some very interesting advice about how to be a powerful female no matter the obstacles. Alive, it would have to be Oprah. I don’t even watch her stuff, but there is no question that she came from nothing to be just about the most powerful woman on earth. There’s got to be some great stories in that.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your valuable insights with us!

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