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How To Identify And Retain Fantastic Talent with Kerry Wekelo & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Actualize Consulting Human Resources Hiring Strategies

Most often, people just want to feel validated. Active listening is cornerstone of all effective communication, trust, and relationships.

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 Kerry Wekelo.

Kerry Wekelo, MBA, is the Chief Operating Officer at Actualize Consulting, and founder of Zendoway, a company that encourages holistic wellness. She is also the author of “9 Principles for Creating and Maintaining a Thriving Organizational Culture”.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I went to college, my dad encouraged me to pursue something “practical.” While I did enjoy what I studied, I ended up studying marketing based off that suggestion. I also made room for something I really enjoyed, psychology, with a minor. Right out of college, I got hired by a big consulting firm, which is how I got into consulting. Then, in 2005, when my brother founded Actualize, he asked me to help build out the internal operations of the firm. I always joke I have three kids — my biological children, and the other child I helped raise, Actualize. I’ve really found that my passion lies in making our workforce mindful and leading by example with balance.

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. Behavioral interviewing: We use behavioral interviewing as an interactive tool to see how the candidates are at critical thinking. We’ll describe a situation and then ask them how they would handle it — it demonstrates their ability to think on their toes. Other questions just aren’t as interactive. Getting to know candidates by asking them typical questions, like to describe their strengths and weaknesses is great, but the answers can be rehearsed and potentially fake. We want to see how they would fit in the actual arena. We also ask them how they would handle situations that aren’t in their job description. When we hire someone for a particular position, we want to know that they would also be willing to step up and help out with tasks that they aren’t necessarily trained in. A team player attitude is so important, and it shows that they are always willing to learn along the way.

2. Video Applications: We recently started asking for video applications as a starting point for anyone interested in joining the firm. These are an awesome first step to the hiring process, and it really allows us to see the candidates’ demeanor and personality versus just an email screening. It does save time for us, but it’s easier on the candidates too — they really have a chance to rehearse and put their best foot forward. If they are successful with the video application, we then go on to schedule an interview.

3. Beginning an interview with, “Do you have any questions for me?”: I like to start with this question because I actually use it to assess how much research the candidate did on our firm. If they have clarifying questions, that shows to me that they have been looking at our website and reading through our offerings.

4. Assessing their conversational ability: Of course, technical ability is important to our firm, but so is personability. When we interview, we are just as much looking for how they interact with others, their demeanor, and their personality as we are their knowledge and expertise. Knowledge means nothing if it isn’t backed by those soft skills; we want our consultants to do great work for clients, but to build relationships with them too.

5. Asking them what they are passionate about: At our firm, we want to hire people who enjoy and believe in the same things we do. This is the easiest way to see if they would be a good fit for us — if the passion isn’t there, the loyalty isn’t either. There’s no way to guarantee that they’d produce great work.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

1. Leading by Example: We are really adamant about creating a good work environment for our employees, and that isn’t just a façade. Really, truly, at every level, we care about the health, wellness, and lives of our employees. That’s the reason we make work/life balance a priority. And when the leadership at your firm practices what they preach, it trickles down to mean that employees are happy and that they say great things about our company from word-of-mouth. It isn’t ever a struggle to hire people; people want to be a part of our culture.

2. Asking employees for help recruiting: Our consultants are some of the most talented individuals in the financial services sector. Odds are, they know others in the field who would make a great fit for our company.

3. Using social media: The way we use social media at our firm is a bit different than how other firms use it. We like to tell the story of our firm, what we’re up to, and where we are growing, but we also like to showcase the great things going on at the individual level. When you visit our feed, we want you to see our employees and get to know them and how they are using their passion and talent to make strides in the industry. Each of our employees is so skilled; it’s awesome to use our platform to demonstrate how lucky we are to have them.

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

1. Prioritize them: The bottom line is that our company is only as successful as our employees. We should wish the best for our employees and their health and happiness, because when our employees succeed, so do we.

2. Know them as people, too. Put in effort to really get to know each member of your team. This can help you pick out their strengths and what they enjoy, which makes it easier for delegating tasks. But it also lets them see you as a person. If they have a problem or question, they should feel comfortable expressing that to you.

3. Show them respect: Backpacking off of that, when an employee expresses a problem or has feedback, listen to them and correct accordingly! Use every constructive piece of criticism to grow. Take accountability where you can, and encourage them to do the same.

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

Listening. The simple act of listening is so powerful. Holding space for other people’s emotions and time is the easiest way to show you care. I’m really cautious to only give advice when I’m asked for it. I’m a big believer that everyone already has the answers they seek inside of them, and if you just give them space, time, and a listening ear, they’ll find the solutions themselves. Most often, people just want to feel validated. Active listening is the cornerstone of all effective communication, trust, and relationships.

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

My favorite life lesson quote comes from Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results.” I always try to stay innovative; to grow and change. Especially today, attention spans are very short. I keep things new and fresh, and really try to take any feedback and run with it.

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?

I’d love to get lunch with Simon Sinek. I’ve been a fan of his for a while, especially his concept of “The Power of Why.” I’ve infused a lot of his work into our company. What he teaches is spot on; when you look for people’s why — their passion and what fuels them — and make sure it aligns with your own, it’s magical. There’s more loyalty and hard work. Additionally, I’ve found that explaining why we’re doing something really helps people understand it, even if they don’t necessarily like the change. In business (and honestly, all areas of life) communication and understanding is the greatest thing to strive for. Simon Sinek has just been so influential to my leadership style and I’d love to talk to him in person.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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