The RPO Industry's Pivot to Remote Work Gives TA Outsourcing an Edge for 2021 - Sally Hunter Executive Vice President at Cielo

In this episode of the Recruitment Hackers Podcast, Sally Hunter, Executive Vice President of Cielo delves into the implications of the COVID-19 crisis for the future of the RPO industry. As Cielo pivoted even more towards remote hiring, Hunter examines the benefits automation and “best of breed” tech partners will yield in years to come (and how to strike a balance between innovation and efficiency.)

Welcome to the Recruitment Hackers Podcast. A show about innovations, technology and leaders in the recruitment industry brought to you by Talkpush, the leading recruitment automation platform.

Max: Hello and welcome to the recruitment hackers podcast today. I'm honored to have on our show, the Executive Vice President at Cielo Sally Hunter. Welcome to the show, Sally. 

Sally: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

Max: Sally, what does an Executive Vice President do? Or rather what do you do at Cielo? You've explained to me you're managing your customers.

Sally: So I'm responsible for all of our clients and client delivery across the near region and also some of our global customers. So that is operational delivery and performance, but also how we manage those contracts, continuous improvement, innovation, and really drive the thinking with the customers that we partner with.

Max: Okay. And, Cielo I think anybody in the recruitment industry should know, what you do, but perhaps shed some light on what's happened to this company? I believe they've had a change of ownership recently. 

Sally: Sure, no problem. We're the leading pure play RPO business globally. And you’re right with private equity banks, and secured a new banker, at the start of 2019.

So we are now backed by Primera, and that is a good match to our global footprint. So over the course of both organic and inorganic growth, we're now in every continent and supporting clients across all of those geographies and that's with hub locations in places like Manila, Singapore, Dubai, London, Budapest, Buenos Aires…

So it's really about us being able to be where our customers need us to be, but also being able to leverage a tech infrastructure and a platform that gives us world flex and scale across those hubs, because inevitably we still have a lot of team members that are high proximity to apply it.

So they are in the wrong site or near site and providing that support as well as what comes from the sensor. 

Max: Right. Well, right now you don't know where they are. They’re in front of their computer somewhere. And you're hoping it's close to their customer and maybe they all move to Costa Rica or something.

Sally: Yeah. And it's a great point. You know, we flipped to homeworking pretty much overnight. And that's been a really interesting dynamic for all of us that we've been driving those virtual conversations, for years. So often customers really want to see recruiters, but actually it doesn't add value to what they're delivering and they're not necessarily spending time with stakeholders in a way that an onsite role should be. 

So what's really interesting coming through COVID is that actually accelerates those conversations to make sure that people are where we can access the best talent, not necessarily high proximity to the customer from a present team perspective.

Shame on us If we don't take advantage of that and shift the model. 

Max: That's absolutely how I feel that on one hand, the governments and  the travel regulators made it difficult for people to travel. And as a response, borders are kind of melting. As a response we can hire everywhere in the world and now it doesn't seem like that's such a stretch of the imagination. 

I service a lot of the call center and the BPO industry at Talkpush and I think we're seeing a lot of activity that may not even have happened, in a different context, even though the economy is suffering, there's a lot of work being sent offshore.

Are you seeing similar shifts in the labor and demand of global markets as a response to this 2020 crisis? 

Sally: Yes we are. And it's been really interesting to observe and partner with our customers through this. So we work with Amazon web services, a great example.

So Amazon web services pivoted to virtual almost immediately and obviously had a huge growth in demand because we're all relying on that digital infrastructure. 

Max: 10% 

Sally: Exactly. What’s interesting is that a lot of the talent is coming from cross border. So, what we have to solve for, with them is how we find these really capable individuals, but potentially  we can't relocate them yet.

That, and to your point earlier that may not even be necessary. To relocate them. So can we just function with an entirely virtual team wherever that talent happens to be? So that's been really interesting to see that. So actually, when you think about the way a recruiter’s life has changed, that candidate control and and relationship management is so important because these individuals are going to take a long time to be able to ultimately relocate and also to make the decision to change jobs.

Because what we're seeing in candidate sentiment is that often during these times, people have reluctance to leave a current role because they feel there's an uncertainty in the world. So you know that we're managing through that, but it hasn't changed the fact that the demand for talent is extremely high.

And I think all of our customers have acknowledged in many cases, pivoted for good. That they are going to have a much higher proportion of home and virtual working and even needs to be in the same country. 

Max: And a bigger talent pool to choose from if they're not limited  by searching close to the office.

I also agree that like right now, we're in early September, those who still have a job are probably holding onto it quite dearly. And so, there's not as much movement, for us, you know, we target HR executives. They’re our buyers and people are just, nobody's moving, everybody's keeping their job.

It's hard to like start new conversations in a way, you feeling that too? On the sales side?

Sally: It's been really interesting. So we had a very quiet period for about the first three months. What we are now seeing, I think you made, this point earlier is that there are so many reasons to start talking to outsourcing partners about how you build back. So, those conversations and those sales opportunities are really starting to bubble up now. I think what is fascinating is are there organizations that are reluctant but interested? But may not ultimately make a decision to outsource versus those that really have a compelling set of reasons and also emotionally  can get comfortable with the idea of outsourcing? So it's definitely picking up, which has been really exciting for us, but it's also trying to navigate, what is a real business commitment and strategic drive to work with a partner versus a situation where I think we'll see a lot of hybrid blended solutions.

So what we're finding is some organizations that intuitively want in house are embracing outsourcing for some parts of the process or some role types, just to try and kind of understand how they're going to build out and leverage this kind of a solution. 

Max: When you've been in the industry long enough, starting with Kelly services before and then working on helping a contingent and permanent hiring at  Aviva to have seen at least one previous crisis, maybe two…

Do you think that the RPO industry is going to have a very strong 2021 similar to, I guess 2009 - 2010 was your year of expansion for the industry? I think following some of the dynamics that you outlined where people are getting more comfortable with outsourcing. 

Sally: I do. I think what's interesting and to be really transparent is I think we’ll see significant growth.  The important thing is how we translate that into being profitable and sustainable. So a lot of new business coming in will demand significant amounts of investment. And so what we've been preparing for is making sure that we're financially in a great position to take on that new business, but it does take time to go from implementing and building, to more business as usual with these types of programs, particularly if technology is going to play a big part in that. 

I think what's exciting about what we're seeing coming out of the pandemic is that organizations need to be more agile in how they implement and leverage technology. So often we're presenting a platform, but actually our customers are struggling to implement and integrate and scale into that technology solution quickly. And it'd be really interesting to see if that can speed up because that will make a huge difference on the overall performance.

So I think it will be a very exciting year. We've got to be really smart and savvy about who we partner with, and scaling that at speed. I think you mentioned, you know, having been in this industry like 17 years plus, one of the things I think people expect is mass applications. So that came out of the last challenge from an economic perspective, there was a huge volume of interested applications and how do you manage that? 

And as an industry, we've pivoted to lack of talent, not having this huge funnel coming in. I don't anticipate it being quite the scale that we've seen before. But I think that's because we are more sophisticated at managing that and managing our messaging to interested candidates. Because I think what's sad for all of us is to see a high volume of applications that then results in an email telling you you’ve not been successful. You know, we'd rather that people were applying for jobs that were really relevant and that they felt really connected to. 

Max: Yeah. You were talking about how difficult it is  to get quick results when you propose a new technology. So a customer, a typical RPO contract is that two or three years long?

Sally: Yeah, we typically — it's five in total and then often there's like a three plus two, three plus one. So, particularly, when we talk about  that high volume space and the scale of what we're delivering, some of these customers to do anything less, often is not viable and it makes sense to make that kind of commitment. 

Max: Yeah. So, I'm curious, the tech stack. It sounds like you've made  some bold bets on technology. What are some of the things that are working well for you this year that have picked up technologies that are helping or getting good looks from customers in 2020?

Sally: I think you're right we have, and as an organization we're very committed to tech enabled, but also acknowledging that we're not a tech business. So we need to make sure we've got partnerships with best in class solutions. And I think it's a blend of, there's amazing stuff out there, but to what degree can it be operationalized and deployable in a timeframe that really works.

And also, what do we leverage as Cielo for all of our customers as a platform. And also what we have as point solutions for them. For us, a big part of the run up to what we've seen this year is things like: self scheduling and candidate control of the process. So, just the basics of allowing your candidates to schedule time, to have a conversation that suits them. You know, it's a really simple thing, but the back and forth is time consuming, frustrating.

And coming through, moving to such a virtual set up. That is a given that every seniority candidate is tending to prefer to own their time and to schedule their time in a really easy way. And from a mobile, not from a desktop. The other piece of that is obviously virtual events and virtual assessment centers has been so critical.

So pivoting to being able to deliver group assessments collectively and virtually, and engaging people in those kinds of communities, has been a big part of what we've been delivering this year.

Max: The virtual career fairs are also a trend that's really picking up. For more like graduates, university hiring, maybe  that's not something, that you're more focused on more senior hires, perhaps.

Sally: it's a blend actually. So the early talent space is really critical because what a lot of organizations did In the last recession was they removed all those programs and then they didn't have a pipeline for high potential and their next level talent. 

So, it's a big part of what we deliver to our customers is making sure that we understand the full life cycle and how we work with that type of hiring. And what's interesting is that some of our customers are pivoting to doing, an early talent program that is still internal mobility.

So then looking at drawing individuals from parts of their businesses that perhaps quieter rule or struggling during this time, and actually pulling them into other parts of their business as part of an early talent program. So, and you're right, that was a big part of the tech solution that we built ahead of, kind of, our next generation was being able to run these virtual events and do that really successfully and potentially across multiple countries as well.

Max: Do you spend a lot of time, you said you used the expression best of breed solution earlier, or point solution. As a tech entrepreneur, I always have to decide whether to buy or build and I suppose our customers are asking the same questions. Should we buy our build and, you know, generally best practice is to buy and buy  best of breed and then glue it up together.

And that might end up with you having a number of system integration engineers on your payroll. Is that how Cielo works? 

Sally: Yeah, absolutely. And I think we've acknowledged that, we need to ensure that we're leveraging everything that's out there and acknowledging that the way that we're efficient is making sure that we can deliver those integrations and have one source of truth.

What's been really interesting when we work with customers who’ve built and customized it is so challenging to be efficient and effective. And it's really tough for them to outsource because what it then asks of us is a mass amount of administration and duplicated effort. 

Max: They’re not the best engineers, actually the ones who’ve built stuff in house. So it's a slower working process.

Sally: Yeah, exactly. What’s really interesting for all of us is that we've moved talent acquisition and resourcing to the C suite. We've made it core  we've shown the value that it brings. And outsourcing was born out of your non-core repeatable tasks, so, and what we've now moved the industry on to is thinking about how to do it well. And actually whether you outsource or you do it in house, you have responsibility to do it well and effectively, 

Max: What's the most basic sort of easiest thing to outsource if you're outsourcing phobic and you want to start to, you know, reduce the amount of  internal costs to your talent acquisition team?

Sally: That's a really interesting point. So, actually to do something at speed and to feel comfortable that you've got accountability, it's better to take something end to end, and ask an outsource to work on it.

If you start to pull pieces out of your process, one, it tends to... You'd need to have a great process to then have something that you hand off and then you hand back. So in order that you don't need to redesign the entire ecosystem, what we tend to suggest is that you look at an area or a segment and you ask an outsource partner to own that end to end, because then you can hold us accountable because there's not too much co-owned and you don't necessarily have to completely redesign the process. 

Max: I can see why you say that, Sally, because if they're so good at breaking down the tasks, down to the single you need a deliverable then no, there's no way you're going to get any margin on that deal. Right. It's just not that attractive because they know how to run their stuff.

They can run it so good they don't need you.

Sally: Yeah, absolutely. And I think a big factor as far as tendencies, and that's what everybody's learning is that, you know, we've had a lot of conversations with our existing customers that we were working with before COVID. And, you know, they have been able to take cost out by simply having this model.

So it is just, you know, outsourcing is designed to be unvariable costs. And so I think it's where you've got that volatility outsourcing can really help you handle that. And actually not have to go through very painful redundancy, restructuring, or frankly just have a standing thing that is not fully utilized. 

Max: Yeah. You know, and selfish thing I want to ask you, are your customers asking you for chatbots? and I'm wearing my chatbot tee shirt, so...

Sally: Oh no, it's an interesting question. So our customers ask us for innovation. They want to understand what is going to really differentiate them in the marketplace. So I don't think they're specifically asking us for chatbots. What they are asking for is agility and scale, and being able to understand where automation makes sense, where it enhances the experience and where potentially it could be detrimental to the experience from a candidate’s perspective. So I think they're driving us for that thinking.


Max: That detrimental idea is one of my favorite topics.

What's an automation initiative that  fell flat on its face? That was unable to deliver its promise. If you can go back, you don't have to name people or clients or situations just, does that ring a bell? Were you able to bury those memories? 

Sally: I think this is a partial part of the process that we learned to do differently.

So, we have a number of high volume hiring solutions that are very much tech enabled. And what we tended to find is that if we completely round the process end to end without human interaction, we had a challenge at the backend  with no shows. Actually, when you start to really dig in, there are typically very high volume solutions, you will have no shows. That is not possible to eliminate. 

What we established with the one call or contact that was personalized between the arrangements being made and the attendance actually made a huge difference to the number of people that did the no show. I think actually it was a huge success from a tech perspective, but we need to keep evolving.

Max: You went too far in one direction..

Yeah. You have to find, well, I mean, we've seen that over and over again. And it was when we launched our technology in this area, the first response from people was like, sorry, it doesn't work. Because we went from all humans to all automation and the humans outperformed the automation.

And we said, well, yeah, we never told you to get rid of everybody. Now it's very much a big part of who we are is this training the users and what we call augmenting the recruiter. And one number that we're trying to drive is the number of hires per recruiter, which I guess is the ultimate productivity metric for an RPO as well.

Sally: It's hugely important. And also what we, each time we're looking at what impact it has on the experience. So you've got to work out how many hires they do, but also how many of them stay? Let's understand what the attrition is. Let’s understand all of the implications of what we do.

But that's a big metric for us.  And there's a level where actually there’s limited benefits to going even further. So it's a bit like time to hire actually, how fast. If you get so fast, do you have to not plan? And planning and forecasting demand and workforce planning is so important for businesses to be successful and so the more that we solve things in  distress and with quick fixes, the less planning is needed. And actually that I think is always, it's a balance that we have to, I think whether you're providing a tech solution or outsourcing, that's something we've got to really consider. 

Max: The two and then opposition, you know, planning and response time. I'd like to think that we could probably pull off both. But there are an endless number of ways of measuring even something simple, like time to hire. I can not get straight answers with people because it's time to fill from point of application to the point of hire, is it the day they came into the office or when they signed the contract, et cetera.

So it's just a lot of definition that needs to happen up front. And then for the cost per leads, you know, we have to also decline it into 10 different numbers. So we're going to do a webinar just to talk about all that soon for our listeners. And it is as boring as it sounds — heads up.

Sally: But it is like the Nirvana of the industry, you know, if we can get to the implications of an extra seat, and to your point, it's different for every client, you know, but actually the philosophy and the science behind that is going to transform the way we build business cases and what we choose to invest in.

And I think it talks to the business average as well because, to really be successful as a TA function you've got to be able to translate the risk and the demand into language that the business is comfortable with. So I get it, it's a bit dry sometimes, but I think it's hugely important for us.

Max: Yeah. It's all about the numbers. It's a numbers game, but it used to be a people's game. It used to be, you meet at the pub, you have a beer with your customer and you negotiate the contract renewal, and that's how you did business. With that option removed from your workforce for the last few months how's the morale holding up and can you give us some practical tips on how to keep people connected while they're talking to a webcam? 

Sally: That's an interesting point. And I think for sure that's been a challenge for us, I think in terms of our relationships with our customers, as well as our employees connecting, what we were doing ahead of this was adopting more of a daily huddle approach.

Like a stand up huddle, and that's been really helpful coming through this to actually just do 15 minutes at the start of the day with your core team members and sometimes we talk business and we work through all the priorities for the day. Other times we just take a moment to check-in, you know, and let's hope if I ask you if you're okay and how you're feeling, I want to hear the answer. And that didn't always happen before. 

So I think something we should take is that we continue to do those check ins and really listen to how people are getting on and acknowledge that they might need to talk about it being tough at home or homeschooling or all of the stuff that we've had to deal with and, you know, making the time to do that's been really important.

And we use Yammer to connect and just talk about what we’re facing and the stories  that we're hearing and what we're seeing from our customers.

So all of those platforms have had significantly more engagement during this 
time. 

Max: So Yammer is your platform of choice. And then you, of course you latched onto the platforms of your customers, your clients. 

Sally: Yeah, absolutely. So, think about our employees, particularly those dedicated to a customer they're operating both in our systems, but also in the customer’s.

So it's on both sides that we're kind of curating information to try and help people through this and that. And then some of the new ways of working. 

Max: Yeah. It must be quite actually it's sounds like, you know, for these jobs that are dedicated to our customer, the new normal is probably quite an easy transition in a way, because you know, they're not so dependent on, having that, you know, the company is more of a concept rather than a building kind of thing.

Sally: Yeah. And I think it's, you know, I've seen with a lot of our customers that they've taken a long time to embrace video, to really get comfortable with it. Often they're designed to connect to me in person. And in many cases I would support that I would be doing quarterly business reviews, not in person.

That's really tough. But when you think about the way in which we connect day to day with recruiters and hiring managers, et cetera, being able to do that virtually, it just makes. You have imminently more time to be able to really do what's important and what we're there to do. And so that has been a big shift and a really positive shift.

Because your team is any worse, it's not because you haven't seen them in the office this week. You don't feel like they're doing work for you. 

Max: Yeah. Happy times, I guess. One tip that I read from, uh, from somebody who does sales and trying to build trust with our customers is they're organizing cooking sessions, live cooking sessions, over zoom, with a chef giving a personal cooking class to their customers, an opportunity to network while being at home, doing something fun. 

Maybe something for the holiday seasons, but  people are back in the office 

in London?

Sally:  So we are not back in the office yet. So globally we haven't returned to office.

What we are doing is building out a rotational process. So actually at the moment it looks like Hungary will probably be the first location that goes back. And we'll start to do that on rotation A and B teams in terms of being able to get people into the office securely and safely.

Max: Where did you put yourself on that list? 

Sally: So I've been going into the office in London probably once a week for about the last month. Just because, you know, I wasn't a high worker before this, so it's been important to just stay kind of connected and spend some time away from home. 

Max: Well, I know how you feel.

Yeah, it's good to be back. When it happens I like keeping a foot in both, but, thank you for putting one foot inside of our podcast and spending a little bit of time with us sharing your story and the story of Cielo going through this crisis. And I do agree, you know, very exciting times for the RPO world.

So thanks to Sally and wishing you a very strong end of the year. 

Sally: Great. And you too, I've really enjoyed it.

Max: That was Sally Hunter from Cielo sounding very optimistic about what the end of 2020 and 2021 has in store for the RPO industry. I hope you enjoyed the show. If you want to hear more, please subscribe and share with your Talent Acquisition friends. Thank you.

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