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Ep 396: Talent Acquisition Revolution

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We often talk about evolution in talent acquisition. That has always seemed appropriate in an area where the pace of change has been relatively slow compared to other areas of the corporation. However, what we are seeing now is much more like a revolution as talent shortages, changing business priorities, and rapid technological advancement send shock waves through the industry.

So what does talent acquisition transformation now look like, and how are employers moving at pace to keep up with the changing landscape.

My guest this week is Yasar Ahmad, Global VP of Talent at HelloFresh. Yasar is only six months into his role but has quickly embarked on an ambitious recruiting transformation strategy that is already showing tangible results.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Talent acquisition challenges at Hello Fresh

• Recruiting maturity

• From 1.0 to 4.0 and beyond

• Investment from senior leadership

• Driving a vision based on candidate experience

• Putting talent intelligence at the core

• Hiring and retaining recruiters by communicating a long strategy and building a sense of purpose

• The transformation roadmap

• The role of technology

• Automation

• Turning candidates into customers

• Hiring in 24 hours

• Sustainability in recruiting

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript:

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Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there and welcome to episode 396 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. We often talk about evolution in talent acquisition. That’s always seemed appropriate in an area where the pace of change has been relatively slow compared to other areas of the corporation. However, what we are seeing now is much more like a revolution as talent shortages, changing business priorities, and rapid technological advancement send shock waves through the industry. What does talent acquisition transformation now look like? How are employers moving at a pace to keep up with the changing landscape?

Matt Alder (1m 46s):
My guest this week is Yasar Ahmad Global VP of Talent at HelloFresh. Yasar is only six months into his role but has quickly embarked on an ambitious recruiting transformation strategy that is already showing tangible results. Welcome to the podcast.

Yasar Ahmad (2m 3s):
Hi, Matt. How are you?

Matt Alder (2m 5s):
I’m very well. Thank you. An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Yasar Ahmad (2m 12s):
My name’s Yasser Ahmad. I am currently the global vice-president of Talent at HelloFresh. I joined in June 2021 so this year. Previously, the Global Head of tech Talent Acquisition at Solando, and then prior to that, I was the director and head of strategic hiring at Wipro for many years.

Matt Alder (2m 38s):
Fantastic stuff. For those people who may be listening who’ve not come across HelloFresh before, could you tell us a little bit about the company and what it does?

Yasar Ahmad (2m 46s):
Yes, absolutely. HelloFresh is a, I’d say, sustainable company. We’re focused on food. What we essentially do is provide the materials for you to create great, fantastic meals at home at a lower cost and in a more sustainable way. We’re a global brand. We’re about 15,000 employees, a couple of billion dollars revenue. We’ve all over the world. We’re in the US, APAC, Europe, Canada, et cetera. We are growing. The meal kit industry is growing dramatically so yes, it’s a very exciting time for any lifestyle business.

Matt Alder (3m 36s):
Absolutely. I’m actually a customer and a big fan. Yes, you do some great stuff and you make it very easy for us to have great food, which is much appreciated. Talk us through the recruiting challenges that you’ve got at HelloFresh. You’re obviously still fairly new to the business. As we know, 2021 has been a pretty crazy time when it comes to talent acquisition. What are the challenges that you’re facing at HelloFresh?

Yasar Ahmad (4m 2s):
We, at HelloFresh, have been growing tremendously during this pandemic because it’s a lifestyle business. People are at home. They want cooked food. They want to eat healthy. They’re more conscious about their lifestyle so that’s led to more demand, more opportunity, which has led to more hiring to fulfill that demand and that opportunity. Thus, we’re in this situation where we’re in quite a unique place where we’re growing at such a pace. We really need to relook at Talent Acquisition processes and the way we look at talent acquisition full stop. Moving away from recruitment to more looking at talent shaping, looking at the talent industry as a whole, and this has led us to now where we are today where we’re looking at next year we have to hire over a thousand people in technology space across the globe and numbers of thousands of people in our commercial space.

Yasar Ahmad (5m 6s):
This is the first time we are almost doubling our tech function from 600 to doubling the entire amount from 600 to probably 1500. It’s quite an exciting time, which has obviously meant that we’ve had to change everything when it comes to talent acquisition, reinvest, reinvent. That’s why I joined to help them through that journey.

Matt Alder (5m 34s):
Talk us through where you are now, how that started to change, and what are the first stages in transforming Talent Acquisition? It sounds like you’ve got some big challenges ahead and I’m sure that you’re having to rethink the talent acquisition strategy behind that to meet that. Where have you started from and where have you got to?

Yasar Ahmad (5m 57s):
Yes, absolutely. I think this is a really unique time because we’ve got a lot of Investment from the senior leaders. They’re very invested in making sure this is successful so having a bit of a blank canvas of what we’ve done. What I did within the first six months was really look at where are we today in terms of recruitment, maturity as an organization. What I like to coin as the TA 1.0. The idea is you look at your recruitment process and say, “Okay, where are we in terms of maturity?” For us, the way that I leveled the different maturity levels was the TA 1.0 is where you had the 360 recruiter.

Yasar Ahmad (6m 37s):
TA 2.0 is where you had the recruiter and the sourcer. TA 3.0 is where you had the recruiter, sourcer, and coordinator. TA 4.0 is where you have all of those, but actually looking at building competencies for the future as well. What we noticed is that our teams across the globe were at different levels of maturity. Some had coordinators, some had sources, and they were doing things on all different fashions and manners. What I wanted to do was drive a vision and that vision was to create a function that focuses on candidate experience so turning our coordinators into candidate experience specialists and talent intelligence specialists, meaning that the coordinators are now having two more additional responsibilities.

Yasar Ahmad (7m 30s):
They have the responsibility of talent intelligence, looking at our previous data, understanding why we hired X amount people, why it took X amount of time, diving in deep into time to hire, finding out why does it take seven days to screen a candidate or X amount of days to offer a candidate, and then they had the third responsibility, which is around candy experience itself. How can we constantly iterate candidate experience? A lot of people think that’s just part of the job, but actually, there are lots of ways we can iterate it in the sense that if someone’s flying over from the UK to interview with us, maybe we could arrange a pickup service for all the executives.

Yasar Ahmad (8m 17s):
We pick them up from the airport, take them to the hotel, take them from the hotel to the office. It gives that high-level kid-glove service. That’s what we’re looking at, building more competencies. I can give you an example with the sourcing team as well. Just briefly, the sourcing team for us adjusted as well to now have multiple competencies in addition to just sourcing. They actually manage talent marketing, which is all online marketing campaigns – Google ad words, social media campaigns, sponsored campaigns, webinars, newsletters, talent communities.

Yasar Ahmad (8m 59s):
Then they also manage all the employer branding aspects so they focus on EVP, building internal employer branding, working with the HRBP. The way I looked at it was one of the two tasks or three or four tasks that we will potentially look at automating in the next five years and it came up very simply as the general recruiting, sourcing, and coordinating. I thought, “Okay, well these three things we definitely need right now, but what else could I do to make it interesting for them to stick around for the next three, four years?” Whilst everybody was losing recruiters, we were hiring significant amount of recruiters over the last six months.

Yasar Ahmad (9m 40s):
Our team size has dramatically increased. We’ve hired over 50 people in our team and quite easily as well, because we’ve got a long-term story, which is we’re not just trying to fill roles for the company. We’re trying to build proper Talent Acquisition careers.

Matt Alder (9m 58s):
That’s really interesting, particularly at a time where we know how difficult it is to recruit recruiters. What else did you do to get that buy-in and build that sense of team internally? Is Talent Acquisition something that was devolved across countries and departments? How have you built that sense of purpose within the team through what sounds like much changing times?

Yasar Ahmad (10m 22s):
As I said, the teams were quite fragmented. My task was to bring everybody together and to see the bigger benefit. By organizing the teams and helping them understand that there is a future vision in terms of building your career path within talent acquisition, I was able to coin it TA 4.0. By just coining anything really, I was able to say, “This is the direction we’re going,” so there is now a clear direction because previously, the direction we were going was always based on the amount of hires we were doing. There’s always, what is the goal of TA? To fill roles. Whereas now, the goal of TA is to achieve TA 4.0, which means that people are meeting to align to understand what is 4.0 in the first place?

Yasar Ahmad (11m 11s):
That means that there’s a desire to learn more. Everybody came along on this journey. We did an offsite in July, I believe, just to align on the strategy to say, “Okay, yes. This is where we want to be. Now our strategy needs to help us build some milestones, some OTRs so we know each step is almost like a project. Each and every time we take a step forward, we’re getting to that TA 4.0 and that is a project that’s getting us there.” We built out a Gantt chart that showed us this is how many projects we’ll need to do, so now we have a clear roadmap as well. Not only just that’s what we want, but actually, this is how many projects we will need to do and improve on to get there.

Yasar Ahmad (11m 59s):
Those projects could vary from updating all our reporting so they synchronized globally, updating all of our job adverts, retraining our recruiters, or something like that. We ended up with actually 120 different projects, which is a lot, but we do have 160 recruiters globally so a lot of people can contribute to those projects and a lot of people are, which makes it a lot easier when you’re crowdsourcing.

Matt Alder (12m 30s):
You mentioned there the aspects of the recruiter’s role or aspects of Talent Acquisition that are going to be automated or that are being automated. Tell us a bit about the role of technology within all of this. What are you finding most useful? What are you looking at for the future when it comes to recruiting technolofy?

Yasar Ahmad (12m 48s):
The way we’ve always looked at technology is in three ways actually. One is, and I’ve mentioned this time before but it’s how I make decisions in general. The first is can the technology be iterated? Before I even decide on how technology works or whether it’s going to work for me, the first thing I want to know is if I wanted to, could I change it? We’ve all had those dreadful workday implementations which take three years. No one wants that again, but what can we do to quickly implement something, change it, iterative, pivot?

Yasar Ahmad (13m 30s):
Then the second is around automation. Is it actually saving me time because I have a limited amount of time anyway? Adding more time is impossible because I only have 24 hours in the day so is this tool technology going to save me time? I think that’s where we’re leveraging technology right now, which is mainly on automation to save time. Lastly is the human-shaped element of it, which is interesting because how can technology be human-shaped, right? It’s like an oxymoron to some degree, but the idea is to replicate human behavior.

Yasar Ahmad (14m 14s):
Can it make sense for the human being? Can it become ergonomic? Can it almost become natural to swipe left and right like it is on your phone? That’s also helped us with our vision of, not just TA 4.0 but what is TA 5.0 going to look like? TA 6.0 and TA 7.0? I think that’s where we’re looking at technology to put the future to say, “Okay, let’s be bold. Let’s dream big. Let’s not just focus on 4.0. If we really wanted to, what is the vision statement for five, six, and seven? Because we’re not going to just stop at four once we get that.

Yasar Ahmad (14m 55s):
I think that’s what’s also helped us get a really big backing because people are really excited for five, six, and seven. I’ll just walk you through it. 5.0 is where we turn HelloFresh candidates into potential customers, turning our TA function into a P&L function because typically recruitment functions are a cost. We can do this easily. We can easily do this because we have hundreds of thousands of emails that go out every month.

Yasar Ahmad (15m 35s):
What’s to say we couldn’t put a discount code and then connect that to the TA cost center? TA 6.0 is about Hiring in 24 hours. We put 160 minds together in a room and said, “Okay, how can we solve this problem? How can we hire in 24 hours?” I don’t mean 24 literal hours. I mean like over three days. How can we do it? What do we need to do? What do we need to get rid of? What do we need to invest in? What would be the prerequisites? Then TA 7.0 for us is more about sustainability actually. Using the foundations of HelloFresh as a company and say, “Okay, this company was built on sustainability.

Yasar Ahmad (16m 18s):
If we really want to talk about sustainability, how can we own it in recruitment? If we’re getting 500,000 applications a year, that’s a lot of cloud that’s being used. That’s a lot of unsustainable potential loss just there. We could definitely reduce our carbon footprint by utilizing it better so what can we do with applications? Should we get rid of applications, stop, or see these full stops? Should we invent our own CV that’s on the blockchain? We’re not sure, but as TA 7.0 is what do we do with the 499,000 people that potentially don’t get jobs with HelloFresh?

Yasar Ahmad (17m 6s):
How do we help them help themselves? How do we help the environment? How do we help just do something with that? Because there’s so much wastage. I think that’s just really nicely tied back into the company that HelloFresh evolved as well, because we don’t like to waste things. That’s the whole idea of HelloFresh that you get the exact ingredients you need to make the meal.

Matt Alder (17m 37s):
You’re addressing some really big issues and really big questions there that, obviously, are really well aligned with your business. I’m sure that lots of people listening will also recognize them as challenges and things that they’re discussing in their businesses. You very much have a timescale for everything that you’ve talked about. Do you have a timescale for five, six, and seven? Are we talking two years, three years, 10 years, 15 years? What do you think?

Yasar Ahmad (18m 7s):
You know what, I’m really surprised with how well my team has done so far. I was expecting TA 4.0 to take me until mid of next year. I can happily say that within I joined in June, by September, the team had almost tripled its productivity with the same amount of people. I couldn’t understand that so I even deep-dived, separated it, and looked into it. It was just this extra motivation, the morale, the vision leads to clear results. By now, we’ve added our team members, like all the extra team members that we’ve added and the productivity is still based on the ratios and the absolute numbers.

Yasar Ahmad (18m 57s):
It’s still significantly over what we were expecting. We’re much earlier to our targets than before. TA 4.0 is becoming very easily achieved because our sourcing is now talent engagement, which is around talent marketing, and like I said, the whole employer branding piece, our coordinators are working on candidate experience projects as we speak. They’re working on talent intelligence projects. We’ve got brand new dashboards being loaded up so I think TA 4.0 will probably be done by mid of next year, like a hundred percent done. I think TA 5.0 is when we’re going to start in H2 next year, which is turning our candidates into customers.

Yasar Ahmad (19m 39s):
I think that’s going to be a fairly easy route but there are multiple different routes we can take. We’ve only got one or two ideas right now, but ideally, we want to have five to six different streams to turn candidates into customers. Then TA 6.0 will start in 2023, how do we hire in 24 hours? They’ll probably be like a six-month period. Just so you’re aware, I did trial this before we came out and we did hire someone in 24 hours actually, believe it or not. We found them at nine, spoke to them at 10, interviewed them at four or five, and then offered them a six.

Yasar Ahmad (20m 26s):
It was very intense, but I wanted to prove is this even feasible?

Matt Alder (20m 32s):
Yes, absolutely.

Yasar Ahmad (20m 32s):
That’s going to be 2023 and then what to do in the extra applications, we haven’t got a date for TA 7.0, but likely as 2023 H2. That gives us a nice roadmap for the next two years.

Matt Alder (20m 49s):
I think that’s so interesting that you’ve got out and said, “We can hire in 24 hours,” and you’ve got that proof of concept. Obviously, the challenge is how do you scale that, how do you maintain the candidate experience, and how does that work? I presume that’s the thought process you’re going through.

Yasar Ahmad (21m 13s):
Exactly. You have to dream like you can’t fail. I think that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re dreaming like we can’t fail. How big can you dream them? If you’re not going to fail at wherever you attempt, how big is that dream going to look like? That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re focusing on really trying to. I’d say what we’re doing right now is the mid-level of innovation that I’m looking at, but what really have plans for, hopefully, if all this goes through, TA.0 and beyond. It’s like the iPhone, we’re just going to try to revolutionize recruitment full stop.

Yasar Ahmad (21m 59s):
I think our founders are great assets because they both believe in innovation. They both believe in rapid iterations, pivoting, and utilizing resources, technology, and everything so I’m quite inspired. None of this wouldn’t have been successful anyway if not because of our team. Our team has been a click, absolutely amazing. The TA team really bought into the idea and they’re really actually owned it. TA 4.0 isn’t something that I’m driving. It’s something they’re driving.

Matt Alder (22m 32s):
It’s interesting you mentioned your founders there because I wanted to pick up on something that you said right at the beginning of the conversation, which was the level of buy-in and investment you had from the leadership team. How did that come about? Is that something that they just naturally see the importance of Talent Acquisition when it comes to scaling their business? Is it something that they’ve had to be persuaded of or change their thinking towards?

Yasar Ahmad (23m 2s):
No. We’re very fortunate to work with two founders who are very hands-on. We’re talking of a company with 15 to 16,000 employees. Dominic, the CEO, still gets involved in the greenhouse. He’ll look at scorecards, has happily, in the past, even looked at LinkedIn to help search for candidates. He knows how to source blue search because he built the company from scratch, both of them, him and Thomas. It’s only a 10-year-old company so LinkedIn was still around in 2011 so they were using LinkedIn to find their candidates when they were only 20, 30 people, 40 50, a hundred, 200, 300.

Yasar Ahmad (23m 49s):
They’ve just kept such a close into the ground when it comes to recruitment. They realize that people are our biggest investments and biggest assets. As an organization, I’d say, they are probably up there with the most invested companies in the world in terms of how much they want their people to succeed and how much attention they have on development, learning and development, et cetera. Yes, I think I’m very fortunate that I haven’t had to do any of the selling.

Yasar Ahmad (24m 31s):
In fact, they’ve been involved in a lot of my ideation phase as well of like TA 4.0, 5.0, et cetera so really exciting stuff.

Matt Alder (24m 39s):
I always like to finish with a question about the future, but really, we’ve been talking about the future and the way that you’re planning towards it in a very interesting and structured way throughout the conversation so I’m going to end with a slightly different question. One I think that we value, very valuable to lots of people who are listening. We talked about the technology earlier. You gave a great position on what you like to see from technology and how it fits into your process. If you could speak to the recruiting technology community right now, what would you be asking for in terms of what does technology needs to develop and need to do to support the vision that you and many companies have when it comes to TA?

Matt Alder (25m 32s):
What do you need from technology that you’re not getting at the moment?

Yasar Ahmad (25m 35s):
Actually, I think technology is a tool, so it’s helping you get there, right? It’s not the answer, it’s how you use it. I believe that you’ve got that cover for adoption that you see all the time. You have your enthusiasts, your visionaries, your pragmatists, your conservatives, and your skeptics. Typically HR is in the conservatives and skeptics. I think for us to really thrive in the TA industry, we need to be enthusiastic about technologies. When something new comes out, we all need to get on board, try it and fail, try and fail, and try and fail.

Yasar Ahmad (26m 16s):
I think if you want to really take hold of all technology, you need to be out there trying new technology every single day, trialing every single tool. Every time there’s someone saying “I’ve got a video interviewing tool,” the amount of recruitment leaders I hear that say, “Well, I’m using this. I don’t need another one.” Well, hold on. If someone’s coming to you and saying, “My tool is different,” try it. What’s the harm? I can’t think of an alternative analogy, but the point is that if you’re getting a free tast into something, taste it. See if it tastes nice, if it tastes better, and it serves its purpose, then explore it.

Yasar Ahmad (26m 59s):
I think this idea is that we don’t have time to do this. I think that’s the biggest cuss when it comes to technology stagnating because if we were more adoptive and we were more enthusiastic about trialing technology, failing with it, learning with it, we would be moving at a much faster pace as an industry.

Matt Alder (27m 22s):
Yasar, thank you very much for talking me.

Yasar Ahmad (27m 26s):
Thank you, Matt, for having me.

Matt Alder (27m 28s):
My thanks to Yasar. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show.

Matt Alder (28m 20s):
Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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