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How To Identify And Retain Fantastic Talent with Scott Dettman Of Avenica & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

Avenica Human Resources Hiring Strategies

Look beyond buzzwords and flashy titles. Realize that skills can be taught, but self-determination and motivation, a strong work ethic and a competitive and curious nature cannot.

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 Scott Dettman.

Avenica CEO Scott Dettman is a dynamic leader with a strong track record of driving growth through transformation and innovation in the human capital arena. Scott joined Avenica in 2019 following a six-year stint with ManpowerGroup that included progressive leadership roles spanning analytics and transformation to general management and business development. Scott has a masters degree and PhD (ABD) from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and most recently completed an Executive Leadership program at Harvard Business School.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was working toward a Ph.D. in data science and had been doing some consulting for companies in the Milwaukee area when I received a call from a recruiter that left me one of the best voicemails I’ve ever received. She said, “You have impressive qualifications and I’m sure you regularly receive calls from recruiters offering you great opportunities, but I am calling to offer you an opportunity to change people’s lives. That’s what we do every day. So if you want to do work that really matters, please give me a call back and I can share more about this opportunity.” I was in the car when I heard the voicemail, and I immediately pulled over and called the recruiter back. Later that week, I interviewed and entered ManpowerGroup as a data scientist with a focus on trying to find ways to leverage data to put more people to work. After that, I served in a series of progressive leadership roles within ManpowerGroup until this past June when I accepted the CEO role at Avenica.

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?

I once expressed to a former manager that if they and I were to switch jobs, my business would be worse off. It was probably not the best way to speak to a manager, but standing my ground in that way really helped me embrace the importance of proximity to the business. I was closer to the business, closer to the individuals that we were putting to work, and as a result, I fundamentally believed that my perspective was more valuable.

Are you working on any exciting new projects at Avenica? How is this helping people?

At Avenica, we are really focused on building the bridge from education to work. We are doing that by engaging with educational institutions to provide students nearing the completion of their degree programs targeted training and coaching to take them the last mile into career track employment. Currently, we are building out technology to make this process easy and enjoyable for our client partners and the students we work with. The most exciting part of this proposition is that we can begin to move away from the over-reliance on resumes and keyword matching algorithms to drive job placements. Our approach, which draws upon the importance of the human interaction while leveraging technology to enable the experience, at scale has the capability to fundamentally transform the way we think about the transition from learning to work.

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. Start with culture. The better and stronger a company’s culture and reputation is, the better candidates they can attract and retain. In a study we did with our candidates, we asked about the most important factors when considering a job offer. 33% said online reputation, rating it more important than the company’s mission, insurance benefits, vacation and personal time off, and retirement savings programs. Start with culture by strengthening and bettering the overall employee experience, create development programs and find positive ways to keep employees engaged and contributing in ways meaningful to them. You’ll often find candidates who value strong cultures are also those who are more invested in their work and in the company.
  2. Get help. Leverage emerging technologies and recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) companies, like Avenica, who are not only experts at finding companies the right talent but can do it in a streamlined way that is more effective, and oftentimes, much quicker than a company can do with internal efforts alone. Many of the functions that were once managed by HR teams can now be centrally managed by smaller teams and individuals. HR teams can instead be more focused on crafting a strong employee value proposition centered around retention, continued and ongoing training, and development of talent — especially future leaders, diversity and inclusion work, succession planning, and the overall experience of employees.
  3. Don’t depend on technology and AI to make judgment-based hiring decisions. While I don’t disagree with the intent of leveraging data and machine learning to improve hiring outcomes, I fundamentally disagree with the tools being used to represent the hiring ecosystem. Resumes are fraught with over misrepresentations of achievements and even exaggerations about experience and accomplishments. Job descriptions read like a tech insider list of top skills and traits like “self-starter”. The use of these tools to fuel matching algorithms can be counterproductive and lead to huge missteps like we’ve seen with Amazon. While data and technology certainly have a role in hiring with various process-heavy HR functions, it shouldn’t be used as a filter or judgment-based decision-maker.
  4. Look beyond the resume. Look beyond buzzwords and flashy titles. Realize that skills can be taught, but self-determination and motivation, a strong work ethic and a competitive and curious nature cannot. This is what my company does every day. We take entry-level talent with little to no experience or technical skills and, when needed, provide them the coaching, training, and education needed to do the job. This is all before we match them to positions, companies, and cultures where they can be most successful.
  5. Be willing to train and invest in the right candidate. Review and analyze your strongest employees, leaders, and teams to understand what makes them truly exceptional and successful. Use what you learn about them to help you identify people with similar work ethics and drive. Make sure you’re asking open-ended questions that help you understand how candidates will engage in the workplace, not just about the hard/technical skills they have. Develop training programs or partner with firms who can provide the specialized training your employees need.

Those are really helpful tips. 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. Share your mission. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. You need to not only have a mission but really be able and willing to speak to that mission through all mediums.
  2. Be different. Distinguish yourself and your workplace as unique and competitively different. Separate from the noise and stand alone as an employer of choice.
  3. Hire for fit not function. Too often we try to hire people into a role based on our perception of all the skills that they bring to the table as opposed to their ability to be successful and grow within the organization.

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

When it comes to retaining talent, my approach is a bit counterintuitive. I don’t believe in making Employee retention a focus. Instead, I believe in making employee experience a focus. The emphasis on Experience is all about cultivating an environment of empowerment, transparency and growth. The focus on empowerment refers to enabling individuals to work the way they need to in order to achieve maximum productivity. This may manifest in flexible scheduling, virtual working or, more broadly, the creation of an environment where employees can take risks and try things that are maybe a bit outside of their comfort zone. This type of environment fosters elevated levels of individual accountability and is really predicated on the belief that an individual’s ability to drive their experience at work creates a level of fulfillment and enjoyment that is difficult to replicate.

The second key strategy is transparency. People need to receive honest and fair feedback, and they need that feedback every day. I believe in creating a culture that is willing to have tough conversations but that those conversations need to be driven by a fundamental commitment to improving performance and adding value. When employees know where they stand and how they are perceived, they can operate without the burden of wondering if they are doing a good job.

The final strategic lever to creating a great employee experience is an emphasis on growth. By growth, I am referring to the growth of business and the growth of the individual. I believe leaders should function as mentors and objectively invest in the development of their teams. This can mean exposure to new areas, continued learning and stretch opportunities. Believing in growth is easy but implementing a growth-oriented culture is a challenge. However, when you create an environment where people can grow alongside a growing organization you not only build a more sustainable business, you also foster an environment of loyalty and commitment that is next to impossible to replicate elsewhere.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends? What are some examples of what this looks like?

I fundamentally believe that the secret behind great companies is great people. With that in mind, I believe that the people part of any business should always be looking for ways to innovate and drive engagement, productivity, and acquisition of great talent. However, the key is not to chase trends but instead to create behavioral or talent goals that align with the culture and goals of the organization. For example, Google offers nap pods and free food, but they do that because they want to create a culture wherein the commitment to your work is all-consuming. Doing this in an environment that deals with clients and typical business hours wouldn’t yield the right kind of results. That being said, the best advice I can provide is that leaders should take steps to hear directly from current and prospective employees about what kind of work environment they desire and then take action where possible.

Can you give an example of a creative way to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?

In my experience, the best way to add value to employees is to take steps to show that you trust their judgement and empower them to make some decisions about how and where they work. Providing opportunities for employees to drive their experience through a series of choices is empowering but also, in most cases, doesn’t cost anything. Beyond flexibility, I believe in providing opportunities for individuals to take risks and participate in stretch opportunities and projects that will not only challenge their current skillset, but likely add to it. Ultimately, great employees stick with great companies because they feel valued in how they are compensated, they feel challenged and they feel like they are able to make a difference. Finding ways to incorporate those key elements into every role and every environment will, without question, yield results that grow the bank as opposed to breaking it.

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

Over the years, I have come to realize that the key to happiness is having something to believe in and having something to work toward. The combination of purpose and having something to strive for can take shape in any number of ways, but in almost every case, meaningful employment is at the core. Unfortunately for most, work is an unpleasant and unfulfilling necessity as opposed to a truly positive force in their lives. In large part, this exists because truly fulfilling work is thought of as a luxury or based on the luck of the draw. I fundamentally reject that notion. I believe that through a combination of access, opportunity and support, anyone from any background can find truly fulfilling work. Now, that doesn’t mean that everyone will be engaged in completely altruistic employment opportunities, but everyone can enjoy work and find happiness and success.

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

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo DaVinci

In looking at business problems or potential solutions, it’s alluring to dive so deep into complexity that you feel the urge to throw up your hands in frustration. I certainly am not immune to this phenomenon, but when I sense myself really digging in and potentially over-analyzing, I remind myself of this DaVinci quote and take a step back to simplify what I’m looking at. The ability to understand, and more importantly articulate, something complex in simple and clear terms is pivotal in leadership and effective communication.

Great quote! 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 would absolutely love to have lunch with Reed Hastings (CEO and Co-Founder of Netflix). First and foremost, I have always marveled at the Netflix business model and its path to growth. The evolution from operating initially as a DVD distribution subscription service to the name in content streaming and one of the biggest names in content creation, Netflix has gone on a journey that required innovative foresight but also pure operational rigor discipline. I really respect what Mr. Hastings has been able to accomplish at Netflix. I’ve also read that he is quite passionate about education, so I would love to pick his brain and get his honest feedback on what we are trying to do at Avenica.

Thank you so much for sharing these valuable insights with us today!

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