How To Identify And Retain Talent with Michelle Kilroy of PrimeRevenue & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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When I take my kids to school, the last thing I say to them is “lead with kindness.” They roll their eyes, but they know I’m serious. I share the same sentiment with our leaders. We’re dealing with humans. Not machines. Not businesses. Humans. Lead with the outcome in mind and start with kindness.

As a part of our HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts about their five ways to identify and retain fantastic talent. These valuable articles can help millions of employees better prepare for their next opportunity, while also supporting other HR professionals by showing them what is working for others in the field. Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Michelle Kilroy.

Michelle Kilroy joined PrimeRevenue in late 2018 as VP, People and Talent TEAM. She oversees PrimeRevenue’s global human capital strategy with a focus on attracting, growing and retaining top talent. Michelle and her team are responsible for leading innovative talent initiatives with a sharp focus on the employee experience. With 20+ years of extensive human resources (HR) experience in the entertainment, energy and technology industries, Michelle is accomplished in leading the strategy and execution of HR Business Partnerships, Talent Management, and Learning & Organizational Development to align human capital initiatives to business outcomes. Michelle holds a dual B.A. degree in Psychology and Sociology from Loyola University, New Orleans. She also holds an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia and an M.B.A. from Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business.

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

It’s a funny story because I spent a good bit of my career fighting my fate. Like a lot of people, I had a very one-dimensional and traditional view of human resources (HR). I thought it was all policy and rules. But I’ve always been drawn to roles where I helped support people in their ambition, even as a kid. You know those new student orientation leaders in high school? I did that. Following my education, I worked as a college admissions counselor then as a high school guidance counselor. Along the way, my friends and family kept suggesting I’d be great at HR. I pushed back for a long time, but eventually an opportunity came along and so began my HR career.

My first official HR job was as a university relations representative, in which I ran intern recruitment and diversity programs for a large media company. The programs we developed were very successful. One day, one of my managers approached me and said, “Hey, do you think you can build out an executive development program?” It was the first of many jobs where I found myself in a role that I was called on to build from the ground up. In fact, only once in my HR career have I ever backfilled a role.

I thrive on coming into fast-growth situations and putting all of the different puzzle pieces together. If you need someone to just “keep the wheels on the bus,” to maintain the status quo, then I’m probably not a good fit. I like working with companies that are trying to navigate all of the positive chaos that comes with rapid growth — which brings me to my current role leading the global People & Talent function at PrimeRevenue, a global financial technology firm based in Atlanta. It’s a great fit.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Being in HR for over 20 years, I have tons of ‘interesting’ stories, but most wouldn’t be appropriate to share.

Perhaps one of the scariest moments was when I worked at Turner, the parent company for CNN. I was hosting an executive development dinner with our leadership team when a call came in to one of our executives. It was during a national disaster and members of our news team were hiding from gunfire. Our leaders had to pivot from what had been a nice dinner event to full on crisis management mode. Watching them work together in real time with security and national and local authorities to ensure the safety of our team — as well as to make sure the story was covered — was both humbling and fascinating. You can’t design simulations like that. You just have to make sure the right people are in place to handle the job. 9/11 was certainly another critical day in my career at CNN. Supporting the employees and even the broader HR team on that day, and those that followed, was an honor.

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

One thing we’re working on is finding new ways to bring the TEAM concept to life. We’re a highly collaborative company, both internally and externally. We’re also growing quickly. That means we have to work hard to maintain a TEAM-first culture. And, yes, we capitalize the word TEAM every time we write/type it. It’s intentional because it’s the most important thing.

One idea we’re working on is creating different cross-functional TEAMs within the organization. Each TEAM would be responsible for leading one of our quarterly meetings and a community service project. We want people to feel connected to a larger TEAM from day one. That could mean receiving a “kit” prior to their start date with a TEAM jersey, sunglasses, etc. or having their work station decked out in TEAM colors. A lot of it’s still in ideation, but we’re having fun with it. That said, we’re very serious about the end goal — we want to make sure TEAM is part of the culture our people are living every day.

Let’s now jump to 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?

One technique PrimeRevenue uses is student outreach. We partner with local universities and high schools, such as Georgia Tech and Cristo Rey, to not just attract talent — but grow it. Atlanta is a fintech hub and we want to play a role in developing, attracting and keeping that talent here in our backyard.

A second technique is industry outreach. Our executives are actively involved in a long list of industry organizations across the globe, including FinTech South and the U.S. Department of Commerce Trade Finance Advisory Council here in the U.S. Many hold key leadership positions and that helps us to make organic, personal connections that attract the caliber of talent we want.

Another is community outreach. We’re invested in our community and they in us, both here in the U.S. and in our offices abroad. We need other organizations and ventures in our communities to be successful. Giving back is part of our culture. One example is that PrimeRevenue was selected as a Backed by ATL company, which helps high potential companies accelerate their growth and economic impact across Atlanta. A byproduct of this involvement is its introduction of PrimeRevenue to a highly-qualified talent pool.

There are also some smaller-scale techniques that help us identify talent. A good example is our migration away from job descriptions, which are very flat. Instead, we create A-player profiles that address the whole person and how they will fit into our larger TEAM. And, we have a formal methodology for how we handle recruitment that’s specifically geared towards attracting A players.

Referral program: We realize that ‘good people know good people,’, and we recognize a robust referral program is important to hiring and retaining A players. We are currently in the process of re-imagining and enhancing our referral program to include a more employee-centric and connected approach. On top of a monetary incentive (which employees currently receive), we are thinking of adding recruitment cards linking an A Player directly to our career page, social media sharing, employee/A Player events, recruiting committee (10–15 employees that want to be more involved in what we are doing to attract and hire A-Players), etc. We are excited to roll this out by the end of Q3.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are the top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

Much of what I talked about in my response to the previous question applies here, specifically industry, student and community outreach. The fact of the matter is the unemployment rates in our major hiring centers (Atlanta and Prague) are super low. It’s rare that we attract new talent that isn’t already employed. So we double down on engagement. We offer a highly competitive benefits package, covering 100% of the base. We’re also insanely invested in our people and our values. A lot of companies make the same claim, but when you see it in action — when you walk in our doors — it’s obvious that we’re different.

Case in point — when I joined PrimeRevenue, I sat down with the CEO and explained that in order to meet our growth and talent acquisition objections, we would have to accelerate HR’s growth first. That’s a fairly unconventional approach. HR never scales up first, but I knew that’s what it would take if we wanted to hire and retain A players. He agreed, we tripled the size of our team and the organization’s growth has since skyrocketed.

What are the 3 most effective strategies used to retain employees?

One, get to know them. What do they want? What’s important to them? There is no “one size fits all.” This is particularly important to consider as we think about our employees all over the world and the impact of globalization. We’re open to the fact that top talent doesn’t always have to be on site. If an employee can do their job incredibly well from a different workspace, state or country, then that’s great.

Two, stop asking why something won’t work, and start asking why it can and will work. Taking risks is necessary and we need to remember, me included, to take a beat to stop and think about the possibilities

Three, inspire positivity and gratitude. There’s so much talk about mindfulness and wellness, but when you’re busy it’s easy to focus on the negative. As a leader, you have to lead with the positive. Take time to recognize each other and the successes.

I’d also like to mention the role of employer branding. We have to make sure we stand out amongst other employers. We pride ourselves on being a Best Places to Work organization, but it goes beyond accolades. We embed our organization and leaders into our communities and make sure we’re visible. That goes a long way in keeping us top of mind as we attract, engage, hire and retain A players.

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

Of course it is. I’m an avid reader and particularly interested in how innovative businesses operate. I love to draw inspiration from how other businesses are improving their technology, their sales strategies, etc. and look for ways to apply those high-level themes to our People & Talent approaches and to our organization overall. Resources like Fast Company and other ‘non-HR’ related media outlets are great places to tap into in order to keep our ‘HR view’ very broad.

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

When I take my kids to school, the last thing I say to them is “lead with kindness.” They roll their eyes, but they know I’m serious. I share the same sentiment with our leaders. We’re dealing with humans. Not machines. Not businesses. Humans. Lead with the outcome in mind and start with kindness.

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

I’m not sure if it’s a movement or an innovation, but how great would it be if we could figure out how to pause the fight or flight reaction in our brains and bodies? What if we could figure out how to physiologically and psychologically pause the survival mode instinct and instead take a moment to open ourselves up to the possibilities and understand what we’re actually going through? The world would be a very different place. The mindfulness movement is obviously heading in this direction, but we have so far to go.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” — Wayne Gretzky. Or, if you like The Office, Gretzky via Michael Scott. I try to live by it. You have to take risks. If you play in a defensive stance all the time, you can’t make headway.


Gotta love both versions of that quote! Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

Carol Burnett. I’d love to ask her what it’s like to make people laugh and use humor to appeal to the heart and mind. That kind of power and gift is something to behold.

Thank you for sharing these fantastic insights with us!

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