Remote work isn’t a solution for small businesses - Lisa Shephard, TA Transformation Consultant

In this episode of Recruitment Hackers podcast, Lisa Shephard shares her unique perspective working with high volume employers as well as smaller businesses. She says WFH and remote hiring are fine for BPOs and other high volume environments, but don’t meet the requirements of smaller businesses when it comes to speed of execution.

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, everybody. Welcome back to Recruitment Hackers. This is Max and today I would like to welcome Lisa on the show. Lisa Shepherd. 

Lisa: Hi everyone. 

Max: Hi Lisa. So Lisa is someone I had the pleasure of meeting when interacting with Sitel and has a long experience in high volume recruitment in the BPO sector and financial services. And is now a consultant  as well. Can you tell us a little bit about how you ended up in the high volume recruiting space? 

Lisa: It's pretty interesting. My career didn't start in high volume. It obviously started as most people did, on the agency side and then moved into in-house. But over the years I kind of found myself more in professional services, IT, outsourcing, then financial services outsourcing, and then most recently with Sitel. So it kind of, I think once you start in one path it kind of leads to other opportunities. So, you know, when I moved to Miami, I wasn't expecting to be approached by such a global organization, because in Miami, you assume it's more regional headquarters.

When I got approached by Sitel for the role, I was like, wow. Okay. 80,000 people across the globe, hiring between, you know, 16, 17,000 people a year. So yeah, it was such a great opportunity that I jumped at it. 

Max: I love volume. You can make a small difference in so many people's lives.  I also started out doing a lot of IT recruitment myself, and I thought the job was tense, which is why I'm happy to work on automation and technology now. But, Miami being international, I'm not that surprised. We have a few, BPO companies that are operating out of Florida. Like iQor and Sitel and others.

How long have you been in Florida now? 

Lisa: Oh my gosh, almost three and a half years. And actually originally I was wanting to move to New York. Florida wasn't really somewhere that kind of was on my radar, but the company I was working for at time TMF, had a regional headquarters here. And when I thought about it, I thought, why would I move from London to New York to have the same weather? and expense? When I could move to the sunshine state and be close to them, the beach, my dad actually lives close. So it was kind of a no brainer. 

Max: Perfect. Yeah. I think it sounds like if people want to go and retire there, that means that they should just start working there. And, that's the world that we're moving into now where people are finding a work life balance through relocation and moving closer to their dream spots and still keeping  an occupation. So, today, you're doing consulting work. Can you tell us a little bit about that? is it technology related?

Lisa: It's interesting, actually. So, you know, this kind of happened due to COVID. So there's always a silver lining to everything. I set up my LLC very quickly and I got approached by a contact of mine and what's happened is over the last few months, I've ended up with two clients who are private equity backed.

And both of them are at, you know, early stages of either a carve out or an acquisition. And so we're in a situation whereby they're smaller businesses. So it's not a high volume, they're smaller businesses, but they're, you know, either it's a carve out with no back office support. So no TA function, whatsoever or it's a merger, people have left.

You've got to organize it, trying to merge during a pandemic. And people leave. And then suddenly again, you don't have a system that's being used across the board. You don't have a team. You've got local HR doing all the recruitment. You've got high spend, you know. Both of them have very similar situations in that they just need someone to come in and put in a process, put in a strategy, look at the team and put in systems.

So, yeah, it's pretty, interesting. Lots of ambiguity and very stressful in a sense, not for me, but for them. And that they're trying to do all of this whilst not being in an office.  Really difficult. Very difficult.

Max: Yeah. You have to switch on that camera and  smile at the camera a lot.

Lisa: You do, and you have to get your hair done in the morning and get on that camera. So, you know, it's been very interesting, I think either way it's difficult at the early stages of an acquisition or a carve out. You know, especially people that have come from a smaller business and now suddenly they're part of a larger business or they're part of a larger business and now they're part of a smaller business as well. 

There's so much change and it doesn't suit everyone and trying to get everyone to come on that journey with you is very hard when you can't be face to face with them.  When it comes to setting up a TA function and systems is the same thing, trying to get the hiring managers to align with the strategy.

It's just difficult. It's just different ways of communicating and trying to sell the story to candidates as well. Again, different ways of communicating. So you just have to be, you know, think out of the box. Yeah.

Max: That's the part that I'm most interested in talking to you about, this talking to candidates and how it differs from one team's to another’s mindset. And let's centralize, you know, best practices and then roll them out and sort you know, a one size fits all approach that is going to alienate local teams and local brands, and misses the opportunity to create meaningful connections at the front of the funnel for companies that know their local markets, and they know their sort of, one size fits all approach.

Have you been on both sides of these battles 

Lisa: It's funny, I've been in both. I've been in a situation where they were very localized and centralized. So the idea was that we have a global process, but not to lose the local nuances. And then again, a different situation whereby it was extremely localized, but somehow they wanted to have a global process, but still keep it very localized. 

And quite frankly from what I've seen, you need to meet somewhere in the middle. If you're a global organization, you need to have one voice. If you're trying to create a culture, and have, you know, competencies and values that align, there's got to be one approach, but with those local nuances. 

So how you attract candidates in different markets hugely varies, right? And how you talk to them and the messaging that goes out, but it needs to still be an aligned message. And I've seen it where it hasn't been. So you create silos within a business and you're not creating a culture per se. And no one feels part of an organization.

Max: let's get down to specifics then, like when you're saying, when do you cross the line? If I'm allowed to speak in a different language, through a different channel, advertising on different boards and with a different step by step process, you know, there's five interviews in one part of the business and there's only two in another part. If all of that is fair game, which I believe it is, then what isn't?

Lisa: You need to have at least you’re saying the same thing, right? So who are we as an organization? What is the stress sheet? What's important to us as a business? And you know, what are the type of people that we want to attract into our business that align with our values?

If you're talking to the same language, so to speak, but not the same language, but saying the same thing to every single candidate and assessing candidates against those premises, then I think it's fine, right? You have to have some consistency because you have to have a fair process. So, you know, if you're doing five interviews for one candidate and two for another, then obviously that's not right.

But if it's totally different jobs then that’s fine. My view is as long as everyone's kind of saying the same thing about the business and passionate about it, you know,  if you have a central HR function, then as long as you provide those guidelines to local HR, to local TA teams, as long as everyone buys into what that is.

Then I think then off you go. Right? As long as the results, as long as you're hitting your numbers, as long as you know, the tenure of those people that you're attracting is good and you don't have crazy attrition, then you're doing something right. 

Max: Yeah, I think it sounds pretty easy when you say it, actually, it sounds like, okay. I mean it’s just a set of guidelines and values and then off you go. On the technology side, it's not so easy because most of the tech stack is focused on the North American market, maybe Europe. And does not really do that well with other markets on the sourcing side.

But maybe this crisis is an opportunity to centralize more than ever. I mean now, if we can hire from anywhere, as long as you got an internet connection, then maybe there should be one size fits all. You know.

Lisa: I still don't think that would work.

I still think, you know, especially if you're looking in Asia, for example, how you manage the process in India versus Singapore is going to be very different. And so as much as you know, yes, maybe this is the opportunity to get one system, for sure, but if that system allows you to have local nuances then amazing.

Which I think is not easy to find when you're looking at technology, when you know, for example, when I was in Sitel and we were looking at various different pieces of technology, CRM, et cetera. We really needed something that was agile when you're working with so many different markets in Latin America and Southeast Asia, you need to have that diversity to say, okay, well, we want this kind of process in this location and this process in this location, but we still want to use the same tool. We need to be able to tell a story to the business. We need to be able to share MI, and be able to see how we're doing against our KPIs as a TA function, then great, we can still show all of that if you have one system. But when you don't or you're working off spreadsheets and you're trying to manage, you know, high volume from social media, from all different places. It's insane. You can't, I mean, it was almost impossible. 

Max: I agree. I've been trying for years and I agree it's almost impossible. I know.

Lisa: I think actually over the years, with utilizing things like, you know, Facebook as an example, and Instagram, and really trying to attract people from  those tools, fairly hard, because quite often you don't necessarily know where the candidate actually heard about your organization, first off.

So, you know, they could have seen your advert on Facebook, but then gone to your website and applied online. So, that's another challenge that I think businesses have and I've seen is where did that person really come from? Do we know that our methods are working? How do we know? Unless they directly apply from that link, which doesn't always happen. So, to understand how social media is evolving you need to see where your candidates are coming from. 

Max: Very difficult. We used to classify channel Facebook, but now we have to split it into communication channel in order to try to be fair with every channel. And ultimately you recommend that...I do see the value that at the end of the process, you ask the candidate, by the way, where did you first hear about us? And they may not remember exactly, but it's as good as any source almost,  if you’ve got a lot of channels activated.

Lisa: Yeah, I think at the end of the day, it's the only way to really get a true answer. As much as we want to automate that piece, you just have to ask the question. 

Max: Yeah. It's like one of those questions that, you know, you're never going to get a perfect answer, but that's as good as anything else, like a good comparison would be like, are you happy right now?

There are so many different ways of finding out whether somebody is happy or not. There's like, you know, physiological signs and other things, but really the best way to find out is just to ask them and hope  they're not lying.

Lisa: Right. Exactly.

Max: How do you see  the market evolving right now? Obviously from your perspective you're dealing with some internal changes in your companies. Could you give some insights into how talent acquisition has changed for your clients over the last few months and dealing with the pandemic? And the response to the pandemic, things that went better than expected and things that went harder than expected, perhaps.

Lisa: So I think it's a fascinating thing, right? So to kind of see these changes and see how different businesses react to it. I think for me, that's been the most interesting because now I've seen a very large BPO and now two smaller kind of private equity owned organizations and how they have various different approaches.

I think a lot of people are talking about you know, there’s going to be so much more flexibility. Everyone's going to be able to work from home. It's going to be amazing. I actually don't necessarily see that in the smaller businesses. What I see is at the moment, yes, people can work from home, but we're planning for people to be back in the office.

So when you're hiring, you need to hire someone that is still in the vicinity of our location. So there's a lot of talk about, maybe some of the larger organizations… You know, especially those that are most well known are talking about, you're not going to have people come into the office. Everyone's going to be remote. 

I don't think for smaller businesses that is necessarily a long term option. Maybe there will be more flexibility for people. You come in two, three days a week when maybe before it was five days a week, but I think to create a connection and create a good working environment they feel like they need to have people back in the office. So that's very interesting. And especially because both businesses are at very early stages of their creation, so there's definitely a feeling that we need to get people together. So that's one thing From a TA perspective, it's been interesting to see how hiring managers have responded to interviewing people on zoom and whatever, you know, virtual thing that they're using.

Positives and negatives. I think obviously in terms of having more flexibility on time and, you know, just doing what they need to do, because we still have to hire through a pandemic. They've done it, but I think, again, when I look at the smaller businesses I'm working with, I think we're losing some of our technique.

And you know, trying to make the right decisions when you're interviewing someone on a video is very difficult, especially for senior roles. I think there's still a feeling that I want to meet this person face to face. So that's very interesting. But then when I go back into the kind of high volume space, when Sitel, just before I left, we had rolled out a hundred percent automated process in the U.S, so assessment and face to face, well sort of virtual interviewing process. And that worked from what I’ve seen and what I've heard that worked extremely well for them. And I suspect that they won't necessarily go back to having candidates come and sit in the reception of the call center waiting to do an interview or an assessment and spending maybe two, three hours there. 

I think it would be extreme and very different world for them now, which I think is hugely positive and was exactly what they wanted to achieve, but needed a little bit of a push. And the pandemic kind of gave them that push, especially in the U.S actually for sure, in the U.S.

So, you know, when you're looking at high volume, I think it's been great in the sense of going virtual. I think for the smaller businesses that have more sort of intimate relationships with candidates and have to spend more time. assessing candidates for fit has definitely been more challenging.

And managing a process, remotely is fairly challenging. Managing people's diaries and you know, sometimes you have two interviewers and doing that virtually and sharing information on your logins and then the internet goes down and it makes an interview much harder to do, I think than face to face.

But we'll see, you know, I still think it's evolving. When this pandemic comes to an end we'll see how businesses react, but I do think some of these smaller companies will go back to being in the office.

Max: Yeah. There's a case to be made for faster collaboration, faster iteration, easier to make meetings, easier to get people's attention. Easier to do training. All of that is easier in person, easier to go for a drink afterwards as well. 

Lisa: You’re creating a culture, you know, if you're a business that is still in that sort of startup mode, you're trying to create a culture. And that's very hard to do when everyone's on remote call on a video.

So yeah,  for the two businesses I'm working with very, very hard because really early stages and very interesting that trying to do all of that remotely. 

Max: Maybe I can give you a couple of tips on how we do it at Talkpush. We've got 60 people working in eight different countries, everybody working from home and has been that way for a while pre pandemic. We randomly allocate two people together once every week or two weeks for a water cooler chat so that they get to know each other on a non-work basis, mixing departments between themselves. So we build some team building there.

I don't participate personally, but we do have lunches in front of the webcam and a bunch of other things I've seen online. Like people having charade competitions and karaoke competitions, all kinds of things in order to make it, feel like you're connected.

Lisa: Yeah, I love all of those ideas. The two businesses I'm working with are about a thousand people each so I think there's definitely opportunities for them to do some bits and pieces, but I still think they're still trying to deal with this situation as much as where, you know, four or five months in, that there's still an element of figuring out what to do day to day, just to keep the business going. 

So I think in some places you forget that you're also still trying to create a culture. And right now they're just trying to make sure that they're keeping the revenues up right? to survive. But that will come because attrition will go up and that's when you really, you have to focus on your employee value proposition for sure.

Max: Yeah. I think everybody's trying to wonder who's going to tender a resignation three months from now when the unemployment goes down. 

Lisa: But also, actually I'm finding in some markets, the unemployment is not that high. So, you know, back in 2008, and the last crash that I remember, there was an assumption that there’s going to be tons of great people out there. We're going to hire, it's going to be super easy for us to hire because now we're in a recession. So everyone's looking for a job. And what happened then is happening now.  In some industries, yes, absolutely. There are a lot of people who are available, but not in all  industries. And, you know, then people get lazy and they don't create a good experience. And I'm starting to see that now with one or two clients, there's an assumption that they're going to get the best candidates, but some of these people are still working and we're actually approaching candidates who are still in jobs, thank God. But, they don't want to move because they don't want to take the risk. So that's the other side, right?

Max: My first reaction, when you said people are getting lazy, I thought you were talking about candidates, it's like, they're getting their checks in the mail.

Lisa: I would never say that, now. I mean corporations are getting lazy because they think it's easy to attract, so they don't want to spend too much time doing it. And you know, us at talent acquisition are having to educate managers and senior leaders to say, guys, the people that you have asked us to approach, they're still working.

Some of them are still working and they don't want to move because, you know, they don't want to risk coming out of a business that whether, you know, still got a job and still earning cash, to an organization that is fairly new. So it's pretty interesting that, as much as there's an assumption, that's not always the case. 

Max: Well, I think it's ridiculous to have that mentality If you're in Talent Acquisition to think, oh, now it's easier to hire. And so, of course it may well be true, but if it's easier for you, it's easier for everybody else. Hence you still have to beat competition for the best talent.

Lisa: Exactly. And that's a problem, people get lazy and then you're not able to fill your roles.

Max: Okay, well, parting words, last question. Tell me how you think that the role in Talent Acquisition is evolving and what are the qualities required to be competitive in let's say 20, 25, that are, you know, not such a big deal now or a few years ago, in which direction is the Talent Acquisition profession evolving.

And how do you keep your team competitive and on the edge of this battle for talent?

Lisa: I think it is going to come down to technology. Yes. And depending on what market you're in high volume or not, we need to be able to be on top of the newest technology that's on the market that can help us source the best candidates.

So that's the first thing. But then the second thing is you still need to have that human skill of building relationships with your stakeholders and with your candidates. Irrelevant, whether you’re doing high volume or not. I think there's, you know, a lot of people talk about, oh, we won't need people anymore. It will be automated. And you know, you're gonna use AI and it's going to be great and that's how you will select your candidates. 

There will be, of course there's an element of that. And there will be in 2025, no doubt, but there will still be the human element. We talk about the human part of human resources, right?

TA is a huge part of that. And as it gets harder and harder to attract talent, you need individuals who can build relationships, who can do that and attract the best candidates. And in terms of how businesses attract candidates it has to be more than the package. And I still have this conversation today with organizations and businesses to talk about, especially smaller businesses, to talk about, okay, you might have a really great benefits package in one of your jurisdictions. But, what is it, what do you believe in right? What's your strategy? What are you doing in the local community? That to me is what people are looking at these days in businesses.

Like what does that business do? do I really align with their ethics and you know, their values? Is that me? Can I see myself working there long term? So I think more and more, it's going to become harder for organizations to really be able to articulate that and focus on that because of course the bottom line is bottom line. You always need to focus on the cash.

But they also need to look at who they are and how they're being portrayed in the market. and that will get harder and harder. And especially since  social media changes so quickly. That's the other piece like being on top of where candidates are looking for jobs or where you can attract their attention. More and more, that there's so much advertising on social media these days you get bombarded.

So how do you differentiate yourself as an organization to people that you want to attract? That also is going to get harder and harder. So being on top of that and constantly recreating, it's going to be super important. 

Max: Well,  it sounds like a very complicated career to be in. 

Lisa: Yeah, but you know, we love it.

Max: There's that storytelling piece, then you gotta be on the edge of technology. Then sort of a strategic positioning where  you want to stand out and be able to develop an identity that people can feel drawn towards and want to be associated with. Quite a juggling act.

But, yeah, it does sound fun. And, it was fun talking with you, Lisa and catching up after your hopefully temporary departure from the BPO sector. Where can people get a hold of you?

Lisa: So obviously linkedin and I have my email address on there. So get in touch, send me a message.

If you want to talk, I'm here. 

Max: Thank you, Lisa.

Lisa: Thanks, cheers, max, have a good one. 

Max: And that was, Lisa Shephard,  from Florida, an English woman in Florida with an interesting perspective on whether the work from home trend that has been initiated with the pandemic will last much longer, especially for small businesses who rely on speed of execution and the energy that you get from the team meeting in person.

If you liked the interview and you want to hear more about the exciting world of volume hiring and talent acquisition automation, please subscribe to the recruitment hackers podcast and share with your friends. 

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