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Ep 414: Change & Complexity


One thing that really annoys me is when commentators, consultants or vendors offer advice to talent acquisition teams that doesn’t recognise just how complex organisational hiring dynamics can be. Change is constant, but driving effective change in a complex organisation that radically improves talent acquisition is incredibly challenging.

My guest this week is Jenny Cotie Kangas, Director, Digital Experience Talent Acquisition at Regis Corporation. Jenny has an incredible story to tell about the power of adopting a beginner’s mindset to use technology to transform talent acquisition in a highly complex company.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The talent acquisition challenges in a franchised organisation

• A beginner’s mindset

• Calibrating talent acquisition as business critical

• Delivering intentionality to the candidate

• Identifying a recruiting technology partner

• Designing the candidate experience

• Offering consistency and flexibility in the recruiting process where one size fits all doesn’t work

• Modular technology

• The results so far and the next stages

• Advice to talent acquisition leaders

• What does the future of recruiting look like?

Listen to this episode in Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript:

Paradox (Ad) (0s):
Support for this podcast is provided by Paradox, the Conversational AI company helping global talent acquisition teams at Unilever, McDonald’s, and CVS health get recruiting work done faster. Let’s face it, talent acquisition is full of boring administrative tasks that drag the hiring process down and create frustrating experiences for everyone. Paradox’s AI assistant, Olivia, is shaking up that paradigm, automating things like applicant screening, interview scheduling, and candidate Q&A so recruiters can spend more time with people, not software.

Paradox (Ad) (40s):
Curious how Olivia can work for your team? Then visit to learn more.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 5s):
Hi there, this is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 414 of The Recruiting Future Podcast. One thing that really annoys me is when commentators, consultants, or vendors offer advice to talent acquisition teams that doesn’t recognize just how complex organizational hiring dynamics can be. Change is constant, but driving effective change in a complex organization that radically improves talent acquisition is incredibly challenging. My guest this week is Jenny Cotie Kangas, Director, Digital Experience Talent Acquisition at Regis Corporation.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 50s):
Jenny has an incredible story to tell about the power of adopting a beginner’s mindset to use technology to transform talent acquisition in a highly complex company. This is a must listen interview.

Matt Alder (2m 6s):
Hi Jenny and welcome to the podcast.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (2m 9s):
Good morning or good evening, I guess on your side of the world.

Matt Alder (2m 13s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (2m 21s):
Absolutely. Hello, everybody. My name is Jenny Cotie Kangas. Friends call me JCK. And I’m the director of Digital Experience Talent Acquisition for Regis Corporation.

Matt Alder (2m 31s):
Now, before we go on and get into your story and some of the things that we’re going to talk about. Give everyone a kind of an introduction and a background to your organization, and the sort of rather unique talent acquisition challenges that it faces.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (2m 49s):
Absolutely. So, I work for Regis Corporation. We’re 100-year-old company, but you probably don’t know of by Regis Corporation. You may be familiar with one of our 60 plus brands in the salon industry. Those are companies like Supercuts or SmartStyle, First Choice Hair, Roasters Men’s Grooming Center, Cost Cutters and more. And so, I developed talent acquisition solutions for our franchisees in the salon industry so that they can find, hire, and retain staff, which is really important in our world, because robots can’t cut hair. And so, when we’re looking at talent acquisition, it’s critical in my space, because we can’t open our doors if we don’t have the talent.

Matt Alder (3m 36s):
Tell us a little bit about your backstory on how you got to do what you do now?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (3m 41s):
Absolutely. So, a little bit about my backstory. I fell into the talent acquisition space as a project manager, and was specifically actually, I guess, reached out to because I had no background in talent acquisition. And my first project in the space is about a year. And when it got done, I looked around and was like, “This is awesome. I want more.” And really kind of continued in that world up until say 2020, which is when my story took a bit of a different turn, in a good way.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (4m 24s):
But I ended up — I fell and I hit my head, Matt, and I can’t remember anything from before that occurred. And so, when I rejoined the talent acquisition world after that happened about probably six months later, I had a very unique white slate or a beginner’s mindset. Because again, I didn’t have my rearview mirror from the past that was guiding me forward.

Matt Alder (4m 53s):
That’s obviously a very traumatic thing to happen. Tell us about what happens when you got back to work. What were you working on? And you know, what did you bring to that?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (5m 5s):
Absolutely. So, my former leader Claire Jean call about Maurice, knew me from before I had hit my head, and knew that I was tech savvy and project manager, and kind of had all those pieces of the puzzle. And also had kind of watched my story. I was one of the first people in our state here in Minnesota in the States to have COVID-19. And I realized very early on that it was an abstract fear until I’ve had a face. And so, I story told my experience up until I was actually in the hospital and kidney failure. And that’s where I had fallen and hit my head, which resulted in the accident with beginner’s mindset. And so, Claire had reached out in the summer, and said, “Hey, I’ve got this role, it’s a really robust tech stack.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (5m 53s):
And there’s some things going on. Would you consider coming on board?” And I was a little hesitant at first, but had met with the leadership team at Regis and was like, “Okay, I’m on.” And so ultimately, I was hired to solve a technical issue with some of the solutions that our franchisees had out there in the field. And because I couldn’t trust my rearview mirror, because I essentially have amnesia from before I hit my head. I had really dove into user experience research in order to figure out, what’s the problem?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (6m 34s):
You know, it’s almost like method acting. So, you really get into kind of the shoes of the people who are using your technology are facing with this problem. How big is it? How deep is it? How does it feel kind of all the different ends and everything? And so, when I started at Regis, I did a full discovery, so that we call it, and delve into the problem. And what I found was pretty surprising. And so, we did have broken technology, who wasn’t working. But ultimately, we also the problem was a lot bigger, Matt. We weren’t calibrating the importance of talent acquisition. And like I said before, in the salon industry, if you don’t get talent acquisition, right, you can’t open your doors, right?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (7m 18s):
So, this is a problem that we had to make sure to calibrate or set the stage for and really get our franchisees understanding about it on. Like, just how important this is. And without doing that first, we were kind of like fighting a battle uphill.

Matt Alder (7m 37s):
Talk us through what you did to help that recalibration?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (7m 41s):
Absolutely. So, first, it came from really understanding what’s the problem. So, if you can understand where the problem is kind of in current state and all of the edges and sides of it, it’s really difficult to define where you’re going and future state because ultimately, we’ve got to be the neck that turns the head. We can’t be the Iron Fist when it comes to these large scale changes. And so, understanding the problem was really kind of the first part. And then also understanding where is it we want to go? Right? Because when we calibrate, like our future state or what success looks like, that can’t just be my success, right? It’s got to be my success, your success, CFO success, CEO success, operation success, franchisee success. And when we can get all of those to stack on top of each other and match, we’ve got a calibrated problem in that way, so we’re marching in the right direction, because we’re all aligned.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (8m 33s):
And so, first step was really understand that problem, then truly get everybody aligned with, what a success look like? And one of the big things with user experience research, and kind of the UX world is we don’t want to assume. Right? We want to ask those sharp questions that let that story come forward. And if our processes and our strategies are built on assumptions, we’re going to likely get it wrong because assuming is one of the number ways to get it wrong. But really asking this start question to bring the story forward. Step one, understand what’s going on; step two, understand where you want to go by making sure that what success looks like is defined and calibrated across all the different parties that are experiencing the problem.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (9m 17s):
And once you have those two pieces, then we start looking at solution and where do we go from there.

Matt Alder (9m 23s):
Give us a little bit of context, in terms of obviously, not prioritizing talent acquisition was the issue, to how did that problem manifest itself? And how did you effectively use technology to change that and improve the situation?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (9m 43s):
Absolutely. So yes. The problem manifested itself by we didn’t have profitable franchisees. And so, our former CEO had said, “You know, it’s our job to make sure that franchises are profitable.” And when I looked at that of like, you know, my head or her we’re gonna put a man on the moon, Mr. President, kind of big problem. The way that I was going to help our franchisees be profitable was by making sure that they have the tools to effectively recruit, and retain staff out there in the field, because if we didn’t solve that piece, it didn’t matter if a customer walked through those doors, they didn’t have a stylus to cut their hair, we were gonna have a problem.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (10m 25s):
And so really just starting with that piece was, I guess, part of it and then really understanding like the discovery process and where the problem was, helped me to advocate to leadership to make sure that their eyes were turned on the problem too, because ultimately, when you have some of these big issues like this, and you might have a misalignment with leadership, if I tell you what the problem is, we’re probably not going to get to the right place. But if I point your head in the direction of the problem, and you go over there and look at it, and then come back to me and say, “Hey, Jenny, did you know that there’s a problem over here?” It’s, we’re able to then kind of move forward.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (11m 4s):
Because you first recognize that there’s something going on.

Matt Alder (11m 8s):
I’m really interested to know more about the solutions that you put in place. What type of technology was it? What did the solutions actually do? And how do they resonate with the franchisees and other people in the business?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (11m 21s):
When we started on this tech journey, it was really important, again, once we knew what the problem was, once we knew what our needs were for the franchisees but also for us internally, because remember, we have 60 plus brands. And so being able to tell a story of numbers, in terms of what’s converting, what’s working, what doesn’t, what can we change is really critical. And if I didn’t have that data, or that infrastructure bill to tell me those stories, or I guess, connect the dots so that we could further connect the dots, we were going to have a problem. And so, one of my big things is I need an infrastructure to tell the story. And then for the franchisee side, they really needed something that was going to put essentially guardrails in place to ensure that intentionality was delivered to the every single solitary time.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (12m 9s):
That couldn’t be a nice to have. It had to be a need to have because in the salon industry, we have a shrinking pool of stylist. And therefore, it’s critical that we’re incredibly intentional that stylists when we do come across them. And so, I went through a full due diligence and talk to many, many, many, many, many more 60 different companies in the HR tech space, and got through that whole process. And I was looking for a couple key pieces. One of those was, if they could play with 60 plus brands? And if they said yes, my question was, show me how?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (12m 47s):
Because that how question is really important when we’re evaluating technology. And the second was, are you GDPR compliant? And while GDPR isn’t something that’s specifically affects our friends in the States, the answer to that question is very indicative of where that technology or kind of use privacy, and privacy so incredibly important. And so, got through all the 60 companies, nobody had an answer. And so, I turned to somebody who we had under MSA, and I asked them to partner with us to build what we needed to build. And that company was Paradox.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (13m 27s):
And so, leadership from Paradox, and I had some conversations early on, and I said, you know, “I’ve got 60 Plus brands. You guys know that that’s a nightmare in terms of like, company infrastructure, and telling stories if members, and most people won’t want to play with us. But I think that’s the wrong business case and you guys should play with us. Because if you do, you can solve for really any unique global business case.” And Paradox saw the, I guess the allure that tells us in this and that, and we decided to begin and that was fall of 2020. And we essentially took where McDonald’s had left off with the project, and posed the same question, what if we made it simple?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (14m 15s):
And we decided to begin with our unique kind of world of the salon industry. And so, brought a cross section of our franchisees to the table in order to pose that question, really rally them around the problem to become co-creators. And then we’ve said it again, and it was the process of test, sharpen, sharpen test. And through that, we developed technology that’s really never been done before. And it’s solving some very huge needs in our industry.

Matt Alder (14m 48s):
And what does the candidate experience it feel like and look like? If I was a stylist, which I’m not even if I was, what would it be like? What would the process be like for applying for a job or your franchisees?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (15m 4s):
Absolutely. So, the process would be depending on where you first engaged with Olivia, who is our conversational AI. Olivia would ask you questions. And come to those sharp questions would be, are you are you legally able to work in the country for which you’re applying or country or state for which you’re applying? Do you have a license? So, it really basic questions. And the answer those questions will determine whether or not we’re going to auto schedule you for an interview with whatever hiring managers in the field. And so, if I’m going through, and I say that, “Hey, Olivia, my name is Jenny.” She asked me, “Are you legally authorized to work in the States?” I say, “Yes.” Olivia asked me if I have a license.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (15m 50s):
I say, “I do.” Olivia’s gonna automatically schedule me say, Matt, the hiring manager, put a interview with me on that schedule for the next two days. And that interview will automatically pop up on that schedule. We’ll say, pull up a notification that says, Jenny Cotie Kangas just applied for a job. You’ve got an interview with her at two o’clock tomorrow. And then he could see the background of our conversation, and we’ll throw an application out there, eventually, which is more than traditional way of applying. But really, we’re going to interrupt that process of applying, get the interview on the books, and then go through some of the more tactical pieces.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (16m 33s):
And then we would have an interview. And that can be done either virtually through the technology right there in the app, or it can be done live in person or via film. But regardless, Olivia’s gonna follow up with Matt afterwards, asked Matt, “Hey, how did they interview go with Jenny?” And Matt can answer that question. Olivia is going to ask, “Do you want to extend an offer, or if you’re looking to move forward?” Matt might say, “You know, we want to bring you in for a technical interview, or we want to extend an offer.” If it’s a technical interview, Olivia would help schedule that interview and automatically putting that on both parties’ calendars, but then if we’re going to extend an offer, Olivia’s going to help do that right there in that application, which is on iOS and Android.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (17m 22s):
And that would automatically go to me and Matt, on my phone, or in my email, and I would have an instant offer letter that is welcome, meet the organization. And Olivia would help me go through the background check process, fill out my tax forms, which are Laws and States changed regarding kind of how we do some of the tax world, and it’s very confusing to most people. And so, Olivier will help you fill out those questions, and really makes the process incredibly frictionless.

Matt Alder (17m 57s):
Sounds to me, there’s still a degree of flexibility in there for individual franchisees to do different types of interview and those kinds of things. So, is it sort of facilitating that consistency, but also some flexibility as well?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (18m 9s):
Yes. Important to note, Paradox is technology is Lego blocks, it is not written in stone. And what I mean by that is, in order to get hiring right, one of the things that we learned in that discovery process was one size fits all didn’t work, because our franchisees didn’t have one size fits all needs. Some of them were large, some of them are small, different infrastructures in terms of reporting, and approval processes. And, again, the needs, they didn’t match. And so how do you solve those? Well, you can try to get the perfect blueprint, but there’s not going to be a perfect blueprint. And so, what we’re really working on building with Paradox was essentially the perfect Lego blocks to be able to put into that process.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (18m 52s):
And then we made the process of building very, very, very easy. So, think of it like The Lego Movie. We’re really empowering everybody to be those master builders. And so, our franchisees put the Lego blocks in the right order for them. And in that process, they become co-creators. So, they’re bought into it too, so it helps spur user adoption. And essentially, at the end of that process, which takes just a couple of days, because we’ve made it very, very easy for them, they’ve got accustomed to them kind of design process. And so, again, there’s no one size fits all the Olivia solution that our franchisees have, and is live with almost half of our salons now after just a couple months have been taking this project fully alive.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (19m 40s):
That’s, I think I want to say it’s about 700 unique instances of technology that are built man. And those do not match. There’s no one to one match. Because again, all of the needs when it comes to hiring, they’re going to be different. And in order to get it right, we’ve got to build those Lego blocks, right, instead of building the perfect Lego house.

Matt Alder (20m 2s):
Now, that’s fascinating in terms of being able to do that. Obviously, it’s a project that’s still rolling out. What results you seeing from it? And what are the next steps? How are you going to develop things further?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (20m 19s):
The results we’re seeing are incredible. I’ve got some markets where we had conversion, so interest to say application, or applied, which were the traditional markers that we would kind of track success off of. We would see that and like the 30%, historically, with our former vendor. And today, we’re seeing conversions from interest to interview scheduled in nearly 90%, which is incredibly high. And so again, a lot of people when they’re having issues at the top of their funnel, or not having enough candidates, they’ll instantly go and throw more candidates at the top, because that’s how we fix it. But if you’re putting more candidates into a colander, right, that’s not gonna be you because you’re still losing people through that process.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (21m 5s):
And so, step one always needs to be, let’s replace that colander with an actual full funnel, so that when we find that person, we’re not going to lose them through a friction build process. And so, our first step was really replacing that colander with the funnel. And now, it’s how do we synthesize kind of what’s working? What doesn’t? Those best practices back to the franchisees and how do we start to augment or get more people at that top of the funnel, so that we have more people in the bottom. And so, we have three pretty large projects currently in state with Paradox. One of those is the franchise project, which I’m talking about right now with Olivia.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (21m 50s):
And that’s for 6600 franchisees or 6600 locations. The second is a complete redesign of our websites. And so that’s with Paradox, sister company, And that’s been extraordinary, because ultimately, it’s all about the experience, right? So, we have to make sure that we’re telling that right story, in order to attract the stylist. And then the third project is we have a very friction filled instance of an applicant tracking system internally at corporate. And we are in the process of replacing that with the technology that we’ve co developed with Paradox. And so again, corporates very different from franchise, and so the change management journey.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (22m 34s):
Well, you know, I don’t have to serve 6600 locations with this one, I’ve got to address some pretty rigid sometimes design biases, internally, as we’re looking at how do we create something differently. And so those are kind of the three projects what we got going on, right now in my world.

Matt Alder (22m 52s):
It sounds like you’ve done an incredible job at driving change through a very complicated organization, you know, very quickly, and coming up with a technology solution that really drives things forward. What would your advice be to the other TA leaders who are who are listening, who might be facing similar challenges? What do you what would your advice be in terms of how they can do something similar within their organization?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (23m 20s):
Absolutely. So, I think one of the first things I would say, Matt, is a beginner’s mindset is really important. And what I mean by that is, you know, I had the luxury in many ways have an accidental beginner’s mindset. And so, when I hit my head, I lost that rearview mirror. But what I also lost was my design bias for what good looked like. And so, when I didn’t have those guardrails, telling me what success looked like, I could really go and ask those questions to figure out what the problem was and what success looked like. And then once they figured that out, reverse engineer to solve for it.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (23m 59s):
And so really bringing that beginner’s mindset to the table is absolutely critical in the world today. Because y’all like what’s worked historically, doesn’t work today. That’s why we’re kind of where we’re at. And humans and how they interact with things, and what works, and what doesn’t, and what they like, and what they don’t like, that’s objective. The only way to be able to get that right is to ask those sharp questions and to really listen. And so, I’d say the beginner’s mindset. First, would be number one; seconds, check your design bias the door; and the third is really ask the sharp questions to figure out what’s going on. That I use the double diamond model of design, which came from the UK and I kind of like that one, because it’s a good visual for it.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (24m 45s):
And then the design, like the diamond on the left, essentially, you’re really digging into what’s the problem, what’s going on here. You never solution when you’re in that diamond. And so, it’s really about painting the picture, what’s the story that method acting of like, what’s going on? Leaders and TA today need to do more of that. A lot of the time what I’ve seen is people will dive in thinking they’ve got the problem right. And if again, if we’re assuming we know what motivates the stylist, or assuming why somebody is going to leave, we can actually get it right because many times what’s presenting itself out of the gates isn’t the actual true story.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (25m 28s):
And so, I think those are these some of my recommendations to the TA leaders out there. And also, I think, another one is, you got to be the neck that turns the head can’t be the iron fist. And so, what I mean by that Matt is, a lot of people will find the solution, build the right solution. And then when it comes to rolling that out, they’ll essentially mandate it. So, here’s the blueprint, here’s what you want to do. They don’t hit on that with them, or what’s in it for me, then that go to market strategy aspect, you’ve really got to think about like a marketing or sell, right? And so, you’ve got to tell that story of what’s in it for that user? Why should they do this? What are they going to get out of it?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (26m 11s):
Paint that picture for what success looks like, and when you do that alongside of actual users, you can really get it a lot more, you know, the narrowing the bull’s eyes, that you actually land.

Matt Alder (26m 21s):
Final question, what does the future look like? Where do you think recruiting is going? I suppose both of in your organization, but just generally?

Jenny Cotie Kangas (26m 32s):
Oh, gosh, that’s a big question, Matt. Where do I think recruiting is going? I think, out there, you’re seeing a lot of companies that are spinning to get things right. And they’re sometimes leaning into solutions to address symptoms, instead of solutions to address root issues. And ultimately, in order to get it right, we’ve really got to start addressing those underlying issues instead of the symptoms. And so, I think you’re gonna see a little bit of a divergence of the how in the months to come, and you’re gonna see people who are digging into some of those issues. And you’re gonna see some people who are just kind of simply doing that more transactional symptom mitigation.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (27m 17s):
And ultimately, like, well, those might seem like little steps are very similar right now. Those changes end up becoming pretty significant when you scale back and over time. And so, I think we’re gonna see a little bit more of that, that they might guess. And my hope is that, you know, the talent acquisition world, I think truly, that we want to get it right. Not be right. In other to get it right, we’ve got to become good team players. And we’ve got to ask what the problems are, and really build those collaborations people in our organizations too, because it’s got to be us versus the problem. We can’t get it right if it’s you versus me, Matt. And so, I hope that that’s one of the things that comes kind of with the future here and the TA space.

Matt Alder (28m 4s):
Jenny, thank you very much for talking to me.

Jenny Cotie Kangas (28m 10s):
Thank you, man. Have a wonderful day, now.

Matt Alder (28m 10s):
My thanks to Jenny. 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 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. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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