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Michael Simpson Of PAIRIN Reveals His Top HR Strategies with Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

PAIRIN Human Resources Hiring Strategies

My goal is to prepare everyone for great success outside of our company, but to make leaving the hardest thing they’ve ever done.

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 Michael Simpson.

Michael is the son of educators, and corporate intrapreneur turned 3x entrepreneur. He co-founded PAIRIN after a decade as a certified coach and spending six years in Russia coaching at-risk young adults to successful careers. As the CEO of PAIRIN, he works to bridge the opportunity gap for future generations by enabling educators and employers to predict and develop behavioral performance. Michael has had the privilege of partnering with corporations, educational institutions, State and Federal government agencies, and has spoken in 25 countries and at the White House, U.S. Census and Dept. of Defense on workforce readiness programs. He is an ICF certified executive coach, avid cyclist, fly fisherman, and award-winning chocolatier.


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

I grew up in a difficult situation with a troubled childhood of abuse, constant financial stress, and eventually had to drop out of community college to work four jobs to live. I was fortunate to work for some people that put more value in my ability than my history. I rose to be an executive at numerous corporations, and now I run my own, largely because of their faith in me. I started PAIRIN with a mission to make education relevant and hiring equitable, because until we focus on valuing abilities we are just increasing the socio-economic divide and inequity. After my last company sold, I lived in Russia for seven years, coaching mostly adult children of alcoholics to be successful in business. That’s where I came in contact with the science at the root of PAIRIN’s products. We all know that it is behaviors and mindsets that either activate or hinder potential, and I found a way to get the insight into how to help people grow. I came back and founded PAIRIN to bridge the opportunity gap for future generations by enabling educators and employers to predict and develop behavioral performance.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career?

There were three times in the first few years when we were 24–48 hours from not making payroll. Everything in my logical, business mind each time yelled “Let it go. You’ve done your best and it’s over.”. But there was another voice that whispered, “You’re not done yet. And I’m not done with you.” Each time, I chose to listen to that softer, gentler voice that convinced me I was not alone, and there was a reason bigger than me for pressing forward. Every single time I chose that path, something miraculous happened, like an investor calling out of the blue and offering us money. I don’t so much believe in the impossible, but I am a strong believer that the possible is much more miraculous than most people think.

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

Oh, gosh, yes! After years of helping businesses and nonprofit workforce programs like Hope House for Teen Moms and Goodwill match people to jobs and develop their skills, we decided to expand our reach. So, we built a system that allows any state to connect their citizens, especially the most disadvantaged, to career planning tools, education, professional development and jobs. We recently launched in the state of Colorado and the Commonwealth of Virginia. In Colorado alone, 400K people walk through the doors of their 53 workforce centers every year, and we get to help them get matched to careers, training and employers based on their needs, desires and abilities. It’s very exciting work and completely in line with our mission.

Helping others is what it’s all about! 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?

1-Know and live your values: The first place to start is long before you think about hiring — with the values your company lives by, which should also be the hill you will die on. Our values were defined by our staff and their families, and they don’t sit on a desk plaque or poster on the wall. We actively act them out and celebrate them daily. They make us uncomfortable, they define us, and they set the foundation for all hiring.

2-Hire for what you need — not what you want. We hire for potential, not where someone is today. We’ve often chosen the candidate with less experience, less education, and that performed less impressively on a code challenge, because they wanted to develop more than the other candidate and in ways that we knew we could help. That has NEVER been the wrong choice.

3-Hire for what gets people promoted or fired — behaviors and mindsets. We create behavioral targets for every position based on our existing staff and hire for that as our first priority.

4-Select the best people for the job: We don’t have a diversity and inclusion plan. Surprise! We are a tech company that is 50% female, in a city that is known as “Menver”, due to it being predominantly male, and our ethnic demographics match our city and exceed our industry. When you eliminate years of experience and education as a filter to exclude people, your hiring matches your environment. Go figure.

5-Interview like reality: I’m usually the last interview for candidates we want. My first question is always, “How has your process interviewing with us been so far?” Every time, I hear they loved it, and then a bunch of horrible stories about interviews that had no resemblance to how working with the people that interviewed them would be. We work hard to help people know us, what working here would be like and for us to know them.

Really valuable tips in there. With so much noise and competition, 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-Get involved in the community, support your staff volunteering, and work hard to make a difference. Everybody wins and word gets out.

2-Take the time, spend the money and enter Best Places to Work contests. Our staff loves to talk about how they enjoy working here. Let your team express themselves on your website. We have 100K visitors a month to our website and the most visited section is our staff blogs.

3-Always be hiring. If you meet someone amazing, even if you do not have an open position, find out what they really want out of life and how their current job doesn’t satisfy that need. Then tell them that when they are ready to take that need seriously, call you. Often, a year later, I’ve received those calls and we make room. I just hired an amazing I/O psychologist two days ago with that very process — 15 months after I met him.

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

1. Unwavering commitment to your values. If you don’t live them, your team won’t care. That should manifest itself as doing everything you can to make every person better (professionally and personally) for working at your company. If it doesn’t, your values need re-evaluating.

2. Hire great people, set high standards, trust your team to make good choices and give them grace when they fail.

3. Make their work matter. Get your clients to tell stories about how what you do makes a difference. Get your team out of the office to meet the people you help. Give your team stories their parents want to tell their families during the holidays.

My goal is to prepare everyone for great success outside of our company, but to make leaving the hardest thing they’ve ever done.

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?

The seemingly obvious answer is yes, with technology, but your business is really people. Yes, work on your efficiencies anyway you can, then use that efficiency to make time to learn more about the people you serve. Become a student of human behavior and learn to ask “What’s really happening?”, rather than responding to outward expressions of an inner need. Everyone wants to be known, but most people, maybe all, are afraid of being exposed. Instead of keeping up on the latest trends, maybe start a new one — building a safe environment of trust where people can be known and valued.

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

Give them freedom to get the job done whenever and however they can and let them know you care. If you know what’s happening in people’s lives you can do the little things that make a difference. For example, if a team member has had to spend an inordinate amount of time traveling lately, send flowers to their spouse and recognize the sacrifice their family is making. When you see someone isn’t looking their normal self, cancel your meetings, get them out of the office and make their needs your priority. Caring isn’t expensive, but it’s priceless.

Love that! Caring really is priceless. 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 would transform the post-secondary education system in the U.S. to require three years of apprenticeship work experience to get into any four-year degree program. It would force our high schools to implement skill-focused learning, build relationships with employers and connect educators to the outcomes the students want and need. It would also prevent most people from making ill-fitting degree choices, and lead employers to become developers of talent, rather than consumers of talent. I would also require accurate outcome reporting, based on wage and employment data for the graduates of all post-secondary institutions. Students and employers would make wise choices and educational institutions would have to start caring about what happens once a student graduates.

Great idea. Putting students in a real-life work environment would benefit everyone. Give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It is a lesson which all history teaches wise men, to put trust in ideas, and not in circumstances.– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love this quote because every great story, including mine, is about rising above your circumstances.

“It is not a change in circumstance that is the accomplishment, it is the belief, however lonely, that you can.” — Michael L. Simpson 😉

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’m a coach, and nothing impresses me more than someone who inspires others to greatness. Two people I would love to share a meal with: Bill Belichek (Coach of the New England Patriots) and Peyton Manning (Future Hall of Fame quarterback). Not the same meal, mind you, but I’d like nothing better than to have some time to ask how they see potential in others, convince them it is there and help facilitate it’s attainment. THAT would be amazing!

Two sports legends right there. Thank you so much for sharing these valuable insights with us!

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