How To Identify And Retain Top Talent with Jo Deal & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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If I can play a role in helping disrupt the traditional working model and help some of the amazing caregivers I know get back to contributing to the workplace, on their terms, that would be something I’d be really proud of.

The workplace is changing rapidly and so is the importance of technology in it. Our guest mentions how artificial intelligence is already playing a role in several of their programs. We also dive into top strategies they use to identify and retain fantastic talent.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jo Deal, who took a moment from thousands of co-workers to join us today.

Jo Deal serves as LogMeIn’s Chief Human Resources Officer. She is responsible for leading global people strategy with a focus on attracting, developing, and engaging world-class talent. Jo previously held HR executive roles within the mobility application division of Citrix and at Informatica Corporation. She lives in the Greater Boston Area with her husband and two children, holds a BA in Industrial economics from the University of Nottingham, England, and a post-graduate certification in HR through the Institute of Personnel & Development.

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 is rare that anyone grows up knowing that HR is what they want to do. I think many of us didn’t really know what it was before we got into it, especially 20 years ago. It has changed enormously as a profession and, with the increase in service and technology industries, people can be the main physical assets that organizations have. HR is evolving to match that, with the need for strategic, data-driven and business focused HR leadership becoming imperative to its success.

I had a business (economics) degree and liked numbers but also liked working with people. I went traveling after I graduated college and didn’t know what I wanted to do when I came back, so I enrolled in a post-grad HR program and was doing temporary work to pay the bills. I asked the temp agency to find me work in an HR department if possible. One Friday they called with a one-day work assignment in an HR department. I nearly didn’t take it as it was a Friday and only a day’s work, but I figured one day was better than nothing. They asked me to come back the following week, hired me permanently soon after and I stayed with that company for three years. They were a global conglomerate with many different business divisions across the UK and the US. I had a great boss who involved me in everything so that I could learn every aspect of the role, (and most importantly whether I was passionate for it or not). I got lucky finding a career that I love doing that suits my strengths.

Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company?

We are adopting AI into some of our HR programs right now. It is exciting to be working on some cutting-edge technology especially since we are using our own product, Bold360. Bold360 has a service that has let us scale our HR operations and support team by adding a new 24/7 team member. It has been a great learning process in thinking through how our mostly millennial employees look for support, preferring to engage digitally in real-time and have answers served up to them. Given that our inaugural launch was to support all our U.S. policies through open enrollment, we named her Benny. Benefits involve a complex set of choices and those choices are unique to each employee, their family situation, needs, and preferences so having extra, anytime support to guide people through the choices made a big difference.

We are expanding Benny into new talent programs globally so we’ve been thinking through how people from different countries ask questions, what language or phrases they use so we can equip Benny to respond appropriately. AI is creeping into so many areas of work and it is exciting to be adopting it into HR and seeing where we can take it next.

Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share five techniques you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?

I believe that hiring is one of the most important areas in any business that is competing for talent, hence it makes sense to adopt the same level of focus and discipline as you would for sales forecasting, lead generation or managing spend. Yet in many companies, each hiring manager does it their own way.

We are teaching a masterclass right now around Excellence in Hiring because we believe that there is a “best way” and we want all 600 of our managers doing it consistently and excellently.

  1. Write a new job specification: We think of this as a cipher or the key for success. It should be easy to identify the skills that are needed for an employee to be successful in the open position but often we just dust off an old job description or we create a laundry list of all the ideal attributes and don’t really think. We assume we know what we need because there was someone else in the role or perhaps, we used to do the job so we don’t even need to write it down. Instead, pause to think through what “great” would look like in this role as of now. Ask yourself has the business shifted, are some skills more or less important, are there things we do not need this job to do anymore?
  2. Narrow it down: Being focused only on the absolute “must have” requirements is the most efficient way to start, but then it’s helpful to expand these in a specific way by outlining what great looks like against each of those requirements. A shorter list of requirements will also help you attract a more diverse pipeline of talent. Research suggests that unlike male candidates, female candidates will self-assess against every requirement listed and not apply for a job if they don’t feel they can fulfill every criterion well. So, look twice and think about whether you really have to have every single one of the 15 requirements you wrote down. Instead, does a successful candidate need to display excellence in just 6 or 8 areas?
  3. Consistency: Once you have your list of needs and have thought through the right questions to gauge whether they can be successful in each area, be sure to address the same questions to every single candidate. This again takes discipline, as it is tempting to find something in common with a candidate and then assume you know how they’ll perform in a certain area given that common experience. Consistency helps eliminate some of the bias that inevitably creeps into all hiring.
  4. Preparation is so important, but so many of us are busy and we read a resume as we walk along to the interview room. Lack of preparation upfront means you are wasting your time, and the candidate’s. Spending 30 minutes with the interview team upfront will pay dividends later; agreeing how you will divide up the resume, who will ask what questions and then prepping your own four or five questions will avoid multiple people spending their 45 minutes with a candidate covering the exact same things.
  5. How we work together is as important as what we produce. Having a very employee-centric culture is important to us and we want to ensure that new hires will flourish in that environment and that we will preserve our culture. This may be just as important to you or the skill set may be the priority and it doesn’t matter how people work together. Either way, it is worth reflecting for a moment on your office dynamics, and how people get work done successfully. What type of personality traits would help a candidate thrive? From the beginning of our hiring process, potential employees are vetted to ensure they share the same passion, lightheartedness and intellectual curiosity that all members of our team have.

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

  1. Showcasing your culture to candidates is a big part of successful recruiting because this allows them to see inside the walls to what life at your company is really like. Finding smart ways to highlight your brand with authentic insights, such as “day in the life” videos or stories from other employees, helps candidates understand what it is really like to work inside your company. What kinds of people work there? Are these people interesting and fun to work with? Can I be successful and grow my career here? Candidates have many choices and sharing as much as you can with them about “life” is the best way for them to evaluate you.
  2. Ensure the candidate-focused content is all delivered through easily digestible bites on mobile apps and impactful career sites. Employers need to know their audience and where their ideal candidates are looking online as well as understanding the demographics and who responds to what, via which method of delivery. Social recruitment has become a key driver in successful hiring. One of our employees in Dublin told me recently that she had followed Google on Instagram for two years during college and decided she wanted to work there based on those posts alone. As we think about employee branding, I try and make sure we have multiple generations representing us and designing our programs so we can be sure to appeal to multiple generations.
  3. Experienced recruiters treat the journey like the customer lifecycle, thinking carefully about the connection points along the way and focusing on the candidate experience from the very first interaction. It may not be the right time to target a particular candidate, but you can engage with them, find out what may be of interest and then share company news and updates over time. Sometimes you are playing for the long game and it may take a while for the seed to grow and the connection to turn into a viable candidate. Patience and thoughtfulness are key.

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

My focus tends to be on engaging our employees; if we do that well, then retention should follow, though it is not an easy thing to do. Engagement happens in that sweet spot where an individual’s personal goals, whatever they may be, are being met and that moment intersects with the company’s goals being achieved. The challenge comes from us all being individuals with very different sets of personal goals. What someone wants from work varies during stages of our careers and personal lives, so it is hard to find the perfect answer for all. However, there are some common themes that help drive engagement for the majority.

  1. I believe we each want to know what is expected of us at work, how that work fits into the overall company goals and strategy and to receive ongoing feedback on how we are doing. It seems relatively simple to say yet it doesn’t always happen. Leaders need to communicate, share the vision and direction, managers need to give feedback (which is hard) and employees need to work with their managers to set sensible and realistic goals, hopefully aligning them to the high-level corporate initiatives. Investing in first line management development and a robust, companywide mechanism for communications are both critical to this effort.
  2. Perks are great, but they won’t substitute for creating a strong culture, one with good open communication channels and a focus on a positive environment. There is no right set of values or particular winning culture, authenticity is what matters. Don’t say you value a certain behavior if the reality doesn’t match. Don’t ask people to behave one way and then recognize a different behavior or ignore a leader’s behavior that contradicts the values. Employees are smart. Most will recognize and accept when your culture is a little aspirational and when there is room for improvement; however, all of them will see right through something that is inauthentic or “do as I say, not as I do.” We spend too much time at work to have to fit in somewhere where our values don’t align or where leaders consider themselves apart from the behaviors that matter. That kind of mismatch is likely to lead to low engagement and retention issues.
  3. Last and most simple, I would suggest actively listening to what your people want. Understand what you are investing time or money in that isn’t working for them, what is missing, what do they want more of, whether as an individual or a team or a country. The key, of course, is actively listening, which is another skill many of us have to work on every day. Engagement and retention can be tied back to simple acts if they are meaningful and well-intentioned. With a global workforce representing multiple different demographics, it is hard to keep abreast of what everyone wants but asking them is a good start. I love the concept of reverse mentoring, where both parties give and get, and am looking to find someone from Gen Z to mentor me so I can be better at social media and understanding a generation that (apparently) would rather have working Wi-Fi than a working bathroom.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends?

I don’t think you should keep up just for the sake of it, but HR has come a long way in the past two decades and there are many more offerings and technologies geared for supporting our most important, and often our only, asset, our human capital. Companies spend a vast amount of money on human capital so finding ways to make it better, happier, more productive and engaged makes a lot of business sense if you want to improve your ROI. It isn’t just about keeping up with HR trends though, I think it is equally important to stay abreast of global, digital and business shifts. For example, with the demographic shifts in the workforce, our digitally savvy employees expect a far more personalized and easier experience in multiple aspects of life, including life at work, so staying up to date with those technologies is necessary.

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

I think it comes back to that balancing act of programs that work for a global audience and then more tailored programs that may only work for a subset but are key to those individuals and their engagement. You need a portfolio approach on where and how you invest.

There are plenty of ways to make employees feel more valued that don’t cost much if anything. One of those is around recognition. Yes, there are some very cool global platforms that do most of it for you, but the old-fashioned way is free and equally effective if done well. Who doesn’t like to be told thank you? Who doesn’t like to receive a handwritten note praising a piece of work well done? In the age of email, slack, and text, we recognize the effort it took for someone to write a card or a note and it is personal and meaningful to receive one.

I also think that positive leadership and strong employee communications are both important to reinforcing value and really doesn’t cost much. If you can’t travel to visit with dispersed or remote employees, host town halls on video. Help your team connect to one another by sharing personal stories and successes as well as business ones. In my team, we have started doing small roundtables which the HR leadership team hosts. We decided that All Hands had become stale with us presenting one way and nobody wanting to ask questions in front of such a large audience. So, we are trying with smaller venues, hosting them at different times of day and evening to accommodate our global team, and this way we can hear what is on people’s minds. Once we know, we can address things, find answers or remove hurdles that are getting in the way of their success. I believe it will drive further connections, awareness, and engagement across our global HR organization as well as giving us a chance to learn from our team about what is going on their part of the world or the business. Maybe I will find my next reverse mentor there too!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

That’s a tough question. I am not sure how much influence I have. My daughter told me she wanted to be homeschooled the other day and I told her I wouldn’t be anywhere near as capable as her second-grade teacher. I asked her and my son what they had learned from me and all they could offer was “brushing our teeth” and “breathing.” So, one out of two!

I do spend a lot of time thinking about the hugely talented parents and caregivers I know who can’t, or prefer not to, work a 40 or 60 hour week. When I talk to them, they have such smart brains, great skills and a commitment that I know would be invaluable to so many companies, yet our jobs aren’t designed to fit them in. There is a big untapped pool of potential talent out there and I think companies are missing out on it. I keep thinking about how to tap into it in a way that works for both sides. With the shift to the gig economy and a different way of thinking about work, I am hopeful the more forward-thinking companies will create more flexible opportunities and find a way to access this pool of smart, experienced talent. If I can play a role in helping disrupt the traditional working model and help some of the amazing caregivers I know get back to contributing to the workplace, on their terms, that would be something I’d be really proud of.

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

My favorite quote is from the John Lennon song, Beautiful Boy: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Things never go quite how you’d expect even when you’ve planned them meticulously, so you may as well not stress about it. I used to get really wound up when things didn’t go according to plan, and I was sitting on a train stuck outside Waterloo station one day, getting irritated that we weren’t moving, when my brother asked me why I was stressing out. It was a bit of a slap in the face, (as only a sibling can give you), and I realized I’d be better off focusing on adapting instead of wasting my time getting frustrated with things I couldn’t control.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

I am a big fan of Sir Richard Branson. He has never stopped being an entrepreneur even while scaling multiple businesses in completely diverse spaces to great success. He seems to treat change and failure as big learning opportunities; we’ve seen businesses come and then go in a different direction, be sold or wound down but then new ones emerge. He has a great appetite for life, is an inspirational leader, makes time to teach others and gives back so he definitely would make a fun and fascinating person to have lunch with (and if that lunch happened to be on Necker Island then it would really be something to remember!).

Thank you so much for taking the time to share these fantastic insights with us!

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