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Identify And Retain Top Talent with Jacky Cohen Of Topia & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Topia Human Resources Hiring Strategies

Interviewing is about so much more than just the answers to questions. It’s about everything that goes into the process — how does the person show up, follow up, and engage with our team. This is all part of how you get insight into what it would be like to have them on the team.

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 Jacky Cohen.

Jacky Cohen, VP of People and Culture at Topia, a global mobility management company. Jacky leads oversees the employee experience and people operations from the moment a candidate applies and throughout their journey as a Topia employee. She brings experience leading teams and scaling People functions at both Lyft and Pandora to the Topia organization. Jacky is passionate about embedding the People function into the organization as a strategic partner and building a values-driven 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?

Growing up, my mom liked to read books about any major life stage or decision. When it came time for me to start thinking about college and a major, she bought me a book with a questionnaire designed to help with career planning. She also planted a seed in my mind that HR might be a wise career path as it was clear from a young age that I loved to build relationships and talk to people — a lot. I took the questionnaire in the book and the rest is history. I’m happy to say that I never looked back.

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?

While I was working as an HR Business Partner at Pandora in Chicago, a group of sales leaders invited me to be part of their team Halloween costume. This was a big deal. Little did I know when I agreed to be part of the group costume, I was subsequently told that I had to dress up as Violet from Willy Wonka’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — the blueberry. After weighing my options, I made the decision that I just needed to fully commit and I showed up in a blueberry costume, with a blue painted face and all.

This reinforced my approach to HR. I believe in building extremely strong relationships and connections with people throughout the team. The only way to do that is to be real and to be myself. In this moment, I am committed to being me — quirky, goofy, and always looking to make people laugh — and it I think it took some of my relationships with that team to a whole new level because they saw me as more than HR.

Also a big fan of laughing as much as possible! Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?

Measuring engagement with data — We just finished our second engagement survey and have committed to doing this on a regular cadence, measuring progress and communicating actions.

Culture Catalysts — We launched a cross-functional global team of employees last year whose charter it is to channel feedback to leadership and be catalysts in our local offices for building our culture.

Expanding our team to meet strategic business goals — this means aligning our talent to areas we need them to be in order to meet our business objectives.

That’s fantastic. Now let’s jump to the main focus of our series. 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 started recruiting for values fit a few years ago. Each interview panel includes a values-fit interview, typically completed by the People team, where we test alignment with our five core values. We strongly believe that how we work is just as important as what we produce.

2. Interviewing is about so much more than just the answers to questions. It’s about everything that goes into the process — how does the person show up, follow up, and engage with our team. This is all part of how you get insight into what it would be like to have them on the team.

3. Be location agnostic. Mobility is the key to talent management and we need to be able to leverage our talent regardless of where they are.

4. Focus on today and tomorrow — look for coachability, scrappiness and hunger.

5. Keeping people in mind for future openings. Think about your talent pool from prior hiring efforts and re-engage.

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. Leverage the internal team — smart people want to work with smart people and employee referrals are the best type of reference.

2. Hosting or sponsoring events. We’re hiring in our Tallinn office and recently hosted a series of Dev Club sessions onsite to not only sponsor the event, but also raise awareness about Topia in the market.

3. Engage on social media.

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

1. Invest in your managers — they are the key to an employee’s experience.

2. Career development — what this means is different to everyone, which is why #1 is so important to ensure managers are having quality conversations. The most important thing is that people have the opportunity to discuss their goals, feedback and action plan with their manager.

3. Create feedback loops with action-oriented outcomes. This should be at the company, team and individual level.

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?

I think it’s important to be knowledgeable about the industry, but don’t believe in keeping up with trends. If you’re following a trend, you’re already behind.

HR tech: Investing in technology that enables the impact of the human element of HR.

Being data-centric and measuring progress: tying results to measurable outcomes (OKRs, engagement surveys, leveraging technology for dashboards and visibility).

Mobility: Technology solutions allow employees to work anywhere.

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

Trust your employees and treat them like adults to manage their own flexibility, time and schedule without compromising outcomes and setting appropriate expectations.

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

“Treat others how you want to be treated.”

It’s my underlying philosophy with how I approach HR and business relationships. Be human and humane.

I’m with you on that one! 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?

Michelle Obama. She has mastered a balance of grace and assertiveness, family and career focus, and passion and kindness.

Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful insights!

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