When business is booming, staffing can feel something like a game of whack-a-mole. We are so busy taking care of the big, exciting opportunities popping up that we don’t stop to develop a conscious, intentional approach for helping our clients.
But, as any staffing professional who’s been around for more than one market cycle knows, once those whack-a-mole opportunities stop popping up, things change. In more challenging environments, it is the businesses that have developed an intentional growth strategy and worked to reduce friction with their clients — and only those businesses — that continue to find success.
Ericka Hyson knows first-hand how important this intentionality is. During her almost two decades at ettain group, Ericka helped the company stay ahead of industry trends and the competition by implementing intentional growth strategies — both internally, where she helped develop a People Department, and externally, where she challenged long-held assumptions about how to meet client needs — and rose to the role of COO in the process.
Now, as president of WorkN, Hyson has been hearing repeatedly from current customers and prospects about how recent industry changes, brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, have reinforced the need for intentional strategies and for the technologies that can help realize them.
“I can’t tell you enough how much urgency we’re hearing from our current customers to accelerate their digital transformation journey and adoption of mobile technology,” said Hyson. Prospects too are starting to think about “what could or should they have done faster, wishing they would have had our platform in their hands right now, in these pandemic times.”
The future of staffing is always digital transformation. And at a time when the on-demand and gig economies are flourishing, it’s more important than ever to have an intentional strategy that can leverage the right technologies to help meet those needs.
One of the ways Hyson helped ettain group shift from opportunistic to intentional growth was by building out the company’s People Department.
Hyson found that, like most companies, ettain group was initially hiring based on referrals. Friends, family members, previous co-workers made up 83% of hires early on. Ultimately, though, this pool of talent was relatively shallow. In order to help ettain group grow and keep feeding the engine of the company, they had to find a better way to keep the talent pipeline full.
To do that, Hyson created the People Department, which focused 100% on ettain group’s internal talent. As opposed to a traditional HR function, the department was concerned solely with talent acquisition, development, retention, and engagement. “We were really trying to build a plan to constantly bring great people into the organization,” said Hyson. “Once we have them, how do we help them be wildly successful?”
To help answer that question, Hyson asked herself another one: “What are some of the best practices from some of the leading companies that we could bring in to our company and emulate?”
That led her on a search for inspiration from a variety of sources, some close to home and some much further away.
“One company that I’ve always admired is Southwest Airlines,” said Hyson. “They have an amazing culture and they make it really fun.” So Hyson decided to see if she could learn more about how Southwest had created that culture.
“I actually picked up the phone one day and called their People Department leader. I reached out to someone I didn’t know, took a bold move, and said, ‘Hey, would you mind helping me. I really admire your company. I’d love to get to know you and learn from you. Can you teach me?’”
Southwest agreed. The company gave her a tour of its headquarters, where she got to see its learning center in action and learned how to build internship programs. Even more importantly, she learned how to bring company values to life as a way to shape culture.
For Hyson, it was a lesson in the importance of being intentional.
“Be intentional about figuring out how else you can go build your business, not just from limiting yourself by what you’ve always done but thinking differently, outside the box,” said Hyson. “How can I learn from others? What other ideas do other people have that I can bring into my own organization and bring fresh air to the conference room table?”
Businesses can also intentionally assess client relationships to see if processes are as streamlined as possible.
“I’ve always felt very strongly that the human touch will always need to be there in staffing. It’s such an important piece to the job search, which is such a personal thing,” said Hyson. “But I also believe there’s opportunities for friction to be removed.”
That’s where technology can help, by smoothing out processes — even when those processes are considered differentiators.
When Hyson was at ettain group, for example, the company had built its reputation on being very high touch. They would bring every candidate into the office physically to meet them before introducing them to clients. “That was one of our differentiators back in the early days,” said Hyson.
But eventually she and other leaders realized that perhaps the importance leadership placed on that process didn’t reflect what their customers actually believed to be important. Perhaps it was time to ask whether that process was as important as they believed it to be.
Hyson and others asked that question and were immediately met with pushback. The process was an integral part of the company’s self-image, afterall, and some worried that losing it would be a mistake. But Hyson and her fellow supporters kept promoting the idea and eventually were successful in advocating for the use of video interviews and other technologies as a way to replace the high-touch process.
It’s a conversation that Hyson still hears echoes of today.
“I was just talking to a customer the other day that said, ‘My customers would say I’ll never hire off of a video interview. And now, with Covid-19 and its impact, it’s actually speeding up the process.’”
As Hyson sees it, in order to identify and remove areas of friction, businesses must be willing to recognize that some long-held assumptions may not be true.
The right technology is an essential component in enabling more powerful and timely recruiting. But in order for that technology to be effective, businesses have to do more than simply find and purchase it. They have to implement it with intentionality.
“You can have a tech stack and it’s not going to work for you,” said Hyson. “It’s only as good as what you can do to implement it.”
Measuring feedback loops is one easy way to check whether your technology is working for you. Hyson has long been a proponent of going out into the field and soliciting feedback from customers as well as talent. But to be successful, the process can’t end after the questionnaire.
“Once you ask for feedback you then have to do something with it,” she said. “You can’t just ask, you have to be prepared to respond.”
Another step businesses can take is recognizing that technology can and should be a central part of the broader, comprehensive strategy — not something that exists in isolation.
“A big piece of how we helped our employees become more productive, which in turn would help them be more engaged and retain them, was really thinking about what are the tools they need that will help them be successful,” said Hyson. “Technology wasn’t like this thing over here. It was a big piece of the comprehensive strategy for how we helped our employees become more productive and then, in turn, deliver value up the chain to our clients as well as our candidates and contractors.”
One final piece of advice: technology should be evangelized from the bottom up as well as the top down.
“It’s really important for leaders and executive champions to really be committed to these investments in technology, to believe in them, and also be champions,” said Hyson. That way, it’s not just recruiters who are telling the story of how technology is changing their lives, but executives are also able “to really talk about the big picture and how this is going to prepare to move their organization into the future.”
As businesses start to emerge from the pandemic, Hyson encourages executives to think about how technology can help them adapt to the new normal. “What is the new normal? What are we going to be doing differently in the future? We never thought we could all be remote, for example, or that candidates would get hired based on video interviews, or that we could onboard talent remotely.”
WorkN has embraced that future-forward mindset by creating a mobile-first platform. “The mobile experience is paramount to engaging with customers. That’s where the future is,” said Hyson. “You can reach anyone in the world on their mobile phone. And there’s an element to keeping it real, keeping it personal, having great connections and human touchpoints, as well as opportunity to automate and remove friction from that experience.”
Business leaders will have to intentionally examine their own processes in order to understand how they can best leverage technology to streamline interactions with customers.
For more from Hyson on transitioning from opportunistic to intentional, check out episode eight of the You Own the Experience podcast.