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How Companies Identify Talent with Stuart Hearn and Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Clear Review Human Resources Hiring Strategies

We do an in-depth value-based interview for everyone we hire against our five values: Driven to be better; Get stuff done; Honest feedback; Keep asking why; Moment that matter.

As 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 Stuart Hearn.

Stuart Hearn is Founder & CEO at Clear Review. He is a performance management specialist with 20 years’ HR experience, both as an HR Director and Consultant. Before founding Clear Review in 2016, Stuart spent 10+ years helping organizations to improve their performance management processes and implement online systems. Prior to this, he held in-house HR roles for organizations including BP, United Biscuits, and Sony, where he was International HR Director. Stuart holds a BA in HR Management and is a Chartered Member of the CIPD.

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

I originally wanted to be a musician and study music at university. But I had a savvy father who said to me “In case this music thing doesn’t work out for you, how about doing a joint degree with a business subject?”. Human Resources fitted in with music on the timetable so I studied that alongside music. I’m probably one of the few people in the world with a degree in music and human resources management! But it ended up being more relevant than I could have known as by the age of 30, I was International HR Director at the record company Sony Music.

I love solving problems and wanted to help as many companies as possible solve their HR and talent problems, so I set up and led an HR consultancy for 8 years, and over that time, the number one problem that customers came to us to solve was performance management. It was fundamentally broken in almost every company we encountered because traditional annual appraisals and 12 month long objectives just weren’t working anymore in modern organizations. So in 2016, I launched Clear Review with the aim of fixing performance management once and for all by centering it around continuous improvement and development, using technology as the catalyst.

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 was running the HR consultancy, I had the mindset that because I was the boss, I had to be involved in everything and I found it hard to delegate. That inevitably led to working far too many hours and almost never switching off. I eventually became ill with “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” or “M.E” which was like having mild flu most of the time. Although I could still work, it took a huge amount of effort and it took me three years to fully recover. Whilst there is a lot of uncertainty about what causes M.E., I’m convinced that I just burned out from pushing myself too hard over a prolonged period of time.

It’s something that I never want any of my team to go through, so when I started Clear Review, I made sure that employee empowerment and wellbeing were at the heart of our company culture.

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?

  1. We recruit against our values. Whilst we want people to have the necessary skills and experience needed for the role, we are willing to compromise on this for the right person. This is because skills and be learned on the job with us. However, we never compromise on values fit as values and beliefs are difficult to change. So we do an in-depth value-based interview for everyone we hire against our five values: Driven to be better; Get stuff done; Honest feedback; Keep asking why; Moment that matter.
  2. We always do a work-based test. Whilst this is common for technical roles, we do it for every role we hire, no matter how junior. I’ve been burned in the past by people who did a great interview but didn’t perform in the role. So for all of our vacancies, we come up with a test that is as close to doing the job as possible. This might be facilitating a team workshop, doing a sales pitch over the phone, creating a strategy document, or resolving a set of customer support requests. We’ve had a number of occasions where we thought we had found the perfect candidate at interview, and then found that they underperformed at the test stage. So we’re convinced that the time we spend on testing has paid back many times over by avoiding bad hires.
  3. We get the wider team involved. We all have inherent biases which can subconsciously affect our decision making. So we always get our preferred candidates to meet a wider group of people within the business before we make an offer. This might be in the form of a group presentation or an informal Q&A session, and sometimes a drink down the pub! Again, this has helped us to avoid hiring people that have the wrong values fit and where the hiring manager has been wooed by the candidate’s experience.
  4. Take reference checking and vetting seriously. This might sound boring and obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who lie about their work history and who go to great lengths to cover things up. At my previous HR consultancy, I was hiring for a senior position and we shortlisted a candidate who had a great experience on his CV with well-known companies and who performed very well in both interviews and tests. We did our usual reference checks which were all very positive. However, because our company often had exposure to our customer’s employee data, we also used a specialist, external vetting agency. And unbelievably, their forensic checks found that the person’s work and education history was completely fabricated, and they had registered copycat email addresses from which they provided fake work and university references. The vetting agency even suspected that the person’s passport was forged! It was a close escape.

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. Right from when we first started, we’ve always offered flexible working for everyone in the company. We typically offer a ‘hybrid working’ model where people work half of the time in the office and half of the time from home. Whilst this is now more common in light of COVID, we’ve been doing it for years and we’ve been able to attract high-quality candidates who are looking for the flexibility to be at home for some of the weeks or who simply don’t want to commute every day to an office. On top of this, some of our team are fully remote which has enabled us to hire the best talent regardless of where they live.
  2. We start with why. All of our job adverts start with the mission we are on as a company and the difference we are looking to make in the working world. That comes before the job description! And because of this, we attract high caliber candidates who are interested in working for a purpose rather than just for money. Not only are these people more engaged in their work, but we retain them for longer and we have very low staff turnover as a result.
  3. We give everyone a learning allowance. One of our values is ‘driven to be better’ and we support our employees to do this by giving them a set learning allowance that they can spend, without approval, on any type of learning or self-development, whether that’s yoga or meditation, or something more job-specific like learning a new coding language. Personal and career development is so important to top talent so we find that this benefit means so much more to candidates than things like a free gym membership or life insurance.

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

Childhood mental health is a subject very close to my heart. A few years ago, I adopted two children from a very traumatized background and I’ve seen first-hand the long-term damage that early childhood trauma can do to mental health. We’ve worked hard to secure long-term therapy for our two children to help them to come to terms with their early life, but most children are not so fortunate and many end up on a path of addiction or self-harm. It’s not an easy problem to solve and I don’t have the solution yet, but it’s something I’m keen to work on in the future.

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

For me it would have to be Henry Ford’s quote “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”. I think I first became aware of the power of self-belief when I was a teenager and got my first band together. I told my Dad “We’re going to play Esquires (our local gig venue) by the end of this year” and my dad said “I’ll believe it when I see it son”, assuming that we would be the average rubbish teenage band that never makes it out of the garage. But his lack of faith made me even more determined and we ended up playing Esquires many times over and a few years later, in a different band, I was playing at Glastonbury, one of the world’s most famous music festivals.

Henry Ford’s quote was first told to me when I started my HR consultancy in 2006. As a brand new company, I believed that could only work with small customers and that large corporations wouldn’t take a risk on a small, unknown outfit. But a friend who was a coach said I was imposing self-limiting beliefs on myself. “Think and act like a big company and large companies will hire you” he told me. So we setup a website and created collateral that made us look like a large established consultancy and found some freelance HR consultants who were at the top of their game and who had the experience of working with large corporations. We then did a targeted marketing campaign to some well-known brands, and guess what, it worked. Within a year, we were working with companies like Visa, Sony, and EMI Music.

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 love to have lunch with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. Why? Well, a year or so ago, I saw a presentation by the writer and journalist Matthew Syed who had been lucky enough to spend a day with Nadella. The way that Syed described him was the total opposite to the stereotypical CEO, who are too often arrogant and put money above everything. Syed said Nadella was modest and highly valued continuous learning and people development, which are both very close to my heart as a CEO. He shared this great quote from Nadella who had told him “I want to change Microsoft from a company of know-it-alls to a company of learn-it-alls”. Now that’s the kind of business person I’d like to spend my lunchtimes with.

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

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