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Jeannie Donovan Shares Her Top HR Strategies with Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

There is freedom with shifting the focus to working smarter, not longer. Instead of wearing insane work weeks like a badge of honor, we’re much more interested in efficiency and turning out quality work.

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 Jeannie Donovan.

Jeannie Donovan is the Vice President of Human Resources at Velocity Global, the leading provider of global business expansion solutions. Jeannie brings over 15 years of Human Resources expertise, specializing in early-stage to mid-size entrepreneurial companies. She has demonstrated success performing in all Human Resource disciplines, including benefits administration, employee development, employee relations, recruiting, and training. Jeannie thrives on operating strategically and tactically in high-growth environments. Jeannie has a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Jeannie is an avid college basketball fan, and in her free time, can be found chasing after her family, and hiking up a trail in beautiful Colorado.


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

As an anthropology major in college, I never thought I’d end up in the business world. Let’s face it, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. My first “real job” out of college I worked as an assistant to an entrepreneur who pursued angel investments before starting another business. He encouraged me to use my first year of employment with him to figure out where I wanted to be and to work towards that goal — whether it was graduate school, a career, or something else entirely.

Burned out on school, HR interested me, so I took a certificate program focused on the profession and fell in love with the variety and people-focused nature of the field. By the time my boss started his new company a couple years later, I was employee #1 and totally hooked on building out the HR function for start-ups.

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?

Human behavior is fascinating and continues to be one of the main reasons I continue to be passionate about the HR field. While my employee stories are countless, there was a time in my career when I worked for a company that grew significantly through acquisition.

Through the acquisition process, I discovered merging people is a fascinating exercise and as the acquiring party, just because we think our way is the better way, this is not always the case. I learned quickly that we can’t talk people out of how they feel, and I found more success in actively listening to what mattered to our newly acquired friends most, and to focus accordingly in an effort to make the transition as smooth as possible.

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

It’s a very exciting time at Velocity Global! Last quarter we launched our first employee engagement survey to gauge what’s working and what’s not. Overall, the feedback from our employees was positive, but the survey results shined a light on some areas we need to focus on to make us an even better place to work.

Now we’re diving into identifying initiatives that will help bridge these gaps, gain executive support, and assign champions to each cause. We’re spending the second half of this year and beyond implementing these important measures for improvement. What I love about this project is that it’s driven directly from our employees. Instead of guessing what needs to be done, we can hone in on what our people are asking for and take the necessary actions to meet and exceed their needs.

Fantastic. Now let’s 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?

· Consistent selection process. We’ve adopted the WHO technique courtesy of Geoffrey Smart and Randy Street, and diligently apply this method to assess talent. We run this process and use scorecards to find the best candidate fit for the role and our overall team. We’ve become very effective in our recruitment and retention as a result.

· Strategic posting of jobs. We leverage job forums big and small, regional- and skill-based in order to laser focus our candidate search based on what we’re looking to fill and where, given our global reach.

· Referral bonuses. Because more often than not, good people tend to know good people, we have a candidate referral program in place to find like-minded and motivated professionals to join our team.

· Targeted sourcing. Given the very competitive job market, we source the best and brightest candidates for all of our openings in order to continue building our team of 10’s. We tell our company’s story and are transparent about the opportunity in our quest to provide a “professional experience of a lifetime.” Our approach tends to attract motivated professionals excited to join our fast-growing and fast-moving “rocketship”.

· Events. We promote our presence in the communities in which we live and work by participating in career fairs at local universities and colleges. Having our executives speak at engagements on topics that resonate with our targeted audience, and partaking in internationally-focused events is important to our business and recruiting process.

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?

We create a buzz when sourcing passive candidates, attending events, or holding speaking engagements as our approach is direct, transparent, and always fun. We’re adamant that we only want those here that want to be here so, being upfront about what we’re about. As an internationally-focused, results-driven, energetic, collaborative bunch, we tend to attract similarly motivated people who are eager and passionate to continue to push our organization forward with unmatched zeal.

What are your most effective strategies used to retain top talent?

In my opinion, an employer should place a strong emphasis on transparency, communication, and gratitude in order to build trust which, in turn, results in loyalty.

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

Absolutely. The foundation of the HR function is to balance the role of employee advocate while protecting the company and its success. As a result, keeping pace with what is trending well at companies is vital.

One example that resonates with me is being a results-focused organization. There is freedom with shifting the focus to working smarter, not longer. Instead of wearing insane work weeks like a badge of honor, we’re much more interested in efficiency and turning out quality work. This is all with the mindset of being of service at the core, not only to our internal and external partners, but to ourselves, which includes having a life outside of work.

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

In my experience, those in HR are masters at doing more with less. We typically have the smallest team and budget in an organization and are responsible for the entire employee base. One way to increase value provided to employees is to stop and say thank you. It doesn’t cost anything, and I’ve found celebrating the wins — big and small — and expressing sincere gratitude often lets your employees know their contribution has an impact and is appreciated. The mileage you gain out of showing goodwill as an employer is immeasurable.

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?

I consider myself extremely lucky to be a part of my current team at Velocity Global. This company is a movement in and of itself. Our mission to give the gift of employment on an international scale, which opens doors to people literally across the globe. Transcending cultures, physical distance, and socioeconomic factors is pretty impactful.

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

It sounds silly, and may be a testament to spending loads of time with my young children, but I’ve adopted Dory’s “just keep swimming” mantra from the animated movie Finding Nemo.

HR is so rewarding but it’s also a grind. We’re dealing with people when they’re at their most vulnerable and in situations that can be delicate. There are often times I’ve been part of tough situations or conversations I don’t want to be in, but I know it’s important to keep going. We can’t shy away from doing the hard things just because they’re hard. It’s necessary to take action, find resolutions, and drive results for the good of our employees and for the company as a whole.

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 tops my list these days. As I read her memoir, it’s a refresher on how she continues to transcend boundaries and make connections that result in huge impacts — always with intelligence, humility, elegance, and grace. She is a trailblazer.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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