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Ep 431: Talent Density

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The challenges of 2022 are causing many organisations to think very differently about talent. The employers who are getting it right are looking holistically at talent acquisition, development, retention and attrition to create the opportunity to build a talent dense organisation.
So what does this look like in practice, and how can your company get there?

My guest this week is Taylor Roa, Director of Talent at Wistia. Wistia is a growing technology company with an incredible culture and a big focus on talent density. They also use video as their superpower to showcase their unique employer brand.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Recruiting challenges at Wistia

• Meaningful work and culture versus cash and compromise

• Using video to represent the company culture authentically.

• Making a competitive advantage of putting people first

• Becoming a talent dense organisation

• Why retention is not about trapping people

• Being a business that it is good to be from

• How the pandemic has changed work

• Advice on getting more from video in employer branding

• A defining decade in the future of work

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts

Interview transcript:

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

Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 431 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. The challenges of 2022 are causing many organisations to think very differently about talent. The employers who are getting it right are looking holistically at talent acquisition, development retention, and attrition to create the opportunity to build a talent dense organisation. What does that look like in practice and how can your company get there? My guest this week is Taylor Roa, Director of Talent at Wistia. Wistia is a growing technology company with an incredible culture and a big focus on talent density.

Matt Alder (1m 49s):
They also use video as their superpower to showcase their unique employer brand. Hi, Taylor, and welcome to the podcast.

Taylor Roa (1m 59s):
Hello, Matt. It’s great to be here. I’m a huge fan so I’ve been really excited to join you for this conversation today.

Matt Alder (2m 4s):
Well, that’s great to hear. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just start off by introducing yourself and telling everyone what you do?

Taylor Roa (2m 14s):
Yes, absolutely. My name is Taylor Roa. I’m the Director of Talent at Wistia, which is a video marketing software company based in Cambridge. I basically had all things hiring at Wistia. We’ve been growing quite a bit, especially since the pandemic so it’s been a really exciting time.

Matt Alder (2m 31s):
Fantastic stuff. Now, all kinds of things that we’re going to talk about, in particular, a lot of them around what makes Wistia quite unique place to work. Just to give us a bit of background before we start, could you tell everyone a little bit more about Wistia and its story? It is such an interesting company.

Taylor Roa (2m 52s):
Yes. Wistia, to be honest with you, is such a hidden gem in the Boston startup ecosystem. We’re unique in so many ways, but we’ve actually been around for 16 years now and we’ve stayed pretty lean. We’re currently at about 177 employees. As recently as two years ago, we were only around a hundred. I think what’s really different and special about Wistia is that Chris and Brandon, our co-founders, bought the company back from investors about five or six years ago. In the time since we’ve chosen to be profitable, we haven’t operated to double in size year over year at growth at all costs type of workflow. That’s really enabled us to be super intentional about the products we’re building and the teams that we’re building.

Taylor Roa (3m 37s):
Chris and Brendan really have been able to lead with their values first. This has been really just an amazing experiment for me to lean into building a people-first company that has really resulted in a really solid business. We couldn’t be more excited about the path ahead.

Matt Alder (3m 52s):
Fantastic. Tell us a little bit about the recruiting challenges that you have.

Taylor Roa (3m 57s):
I think I’ve come to see what a lot of folks call as a catch all the great resignation. I’ve come to see it as three phases of a pandemic talent market. I think in that first phase, there was a lot of fear and uncertainty with a bunch of layoffs. That really defined the first phase. A lot of companies were shutting down, people were off work, and they just had time away to think and digest. Then in the second phase, really, we saw candidates really putting what was most important to them first in terms of meaningful work, a great company culture. That is what I would say defined the second phase.

Taylor Roa (4m 38s):
We’re now in this current, this third phase, which I would define with cash and compromise. In other words, a lot of the companies that don’t necessarily have a great peachy environment have been throwing a ton of cash at candidates, which is really great, I think, for the talent market and from the candidates perspective, but we’ve seen a lot of candidates really feeling like they’re compromising between a great culture or an insane cash offer. I wanted to lay that out because we’ve actually done really well hiring throughout all three phases at Wistia. We were very fortunate that we’ve chosen to operate profitably before the pandemic, which gave us a good runway and ended up being a great time for video.

Taylor Roa (5m 19s):
We didn’t have to freeze hiring or do a single layoff, which we were super fortunate but really what’s most important is we’ve had this culture at Wistia that people are seeking right now. We’re one of those companies that people are going to, for the most part, and not from. We fared really well. I’d say honestly, our biggest challenge right now in this current phase is equipping our new hires with Mac books. It’s a little bit of a new tech desert out there with supply chain issues. That’s been the biggest challenge as we’re hiring full speed ahead.

Matt Alder (5m 49s):
Fantastic. If that’s your biggest challenge, I think that illustrates how well you’re doing. You talked about building a people-centric business, the unique culture, and all those kinds of things. Bring that to life for us a little bit. Talk about your employer brand and your employee experience.

Taylor Roa (6m 9s):
Yes, definitely. Another reason why we’ve been really fortunate through this remote and hybrid world is that, obviously, video is our super power. Not just the software we build, but we have a phenomenal video team. Really, what they put out is just purely authentic representation of our culture. A lot of the shows we’ve produced and the videos that we’ve made feature Wistia and employees, and they really imbue that quirky, fun, authentic culture that we have at Wistia. Interestingly, what it’s exciting for marketers watching our video, they get really excited because we’re marketing in creative ways that they want to be marketing, but they might not have the creative agency to do so.

Taylor Roa (6m 54s):
What works with our customers really works with our candidates too, because it’s just honest. I think folks find what they get excited about in the videos they’re seeing, they really perceive as true throughout our interview process and through onboarding. To me, that’s what has really stood out for us. It’s really hard to truly put people first when you need to grow at all costs. I think there’s a lot of good companies out there, but doubling in size year over year is just a pretty chaotic experience for everyone. It’s hard to maintain a positive experience for everyone on your team. We’ve definitely benefited from growing more at a 30% pace year over year. We’ve been able to really exploit our unlimited vacation policy for folks, especially through this time.

Taylor Roa (7m 40s):
Most people on our team take four to six weeks off a year, which might be more familiar to European listeners, but in America that’s quite a bit. We also even have shut the company down through some pretty traumatic times over the past two years. I’ve been so proud of how this company has put our people first and we really haven’t suffered from that. I think a lot of companies are scared to do things like that because they think it’ll hurt the business, but we’ve actually seen the opposite. We’ve seen our team super engaged and excited and grateful to be here.

Matt Alder (8m 11s):
I think what’s really interesting is I first came across Wistia, I can’t even remember now, it was quite a few years ago, but was immediately struck by the videos and the marketing that you do. I think, unless you’ve seen it, it’s actually quite difficult to appreciate how powerful it is. Obviously, we’re in the medium of audio here rather than video, but tell us a little bit about your favorite videos or the kind of things that you do so people can just get a bit of a sense of the marketing that you put out there.

Taylor Roa (8m 44s):
Oh gosh, where do I start? There’s so many examples. We do a state of video report every year that a lot of video and marketing nerds get excited about. This year, our launch video was particularly creative that they felt like an extra terrestrial delivering the report from Mars maybe. That was a lot of fun. I recommend you go check that out, but on an even bigger scale, we actually produce our own animated series. We hired professional voice actors for the series. We created the characters in-house and that was called gear squad, but it’s really reminiscent of some of those cartoons from the late nineties, early two thousands.

Taylor Roa (9m 26s):
That was just a really big and experiment that no one else would do. I think marketers are just excited about those kinds of risks and creative bets that we are able to take as a team. Definitely recommend to anyone listening, go check out Wistia.com/series. You’ll see a whole host of really interesting shows. We have a docu-series that won a Webby award that explored the difference between a thousand dollars budget and a hundred thousand dollar budget for a marketing campaign, and then all the way up to gear squad, which is an animated series with some really relatable characters.

Matt Alder (9m 59s):
Yes, fantastic stuff. I love that marketing budget one. That was so good. A lot of these videos, they just star your own staff, don’t they?

Taylor Roa (10m 8s):
Yes. A lot of them do. It’s our series and our videos alike. Gear squad is one that, really, we hired voice actors for, but yes, our videos really do start our employees, our team, and also industry professionals who believe in what we’re doing and have an opportunity to share some of their expertise and more of our docu-series.

Matt Alder (10m 29s):
Now, you’re obviously a growing team, but still quite a small team. The background to all of this is the great resignation. One of the things that is causing companies to put more time and effort into hiring is that they struggle to keep staff. How does your organization work in terms of turnover and retention and what are your views on what makes for a great business in that respect?

Taylor Roa (10m 58s):
Yes, this is a big question. At Wistia, personally, we’ve had actually a fairly normal attrition rate throughout the pandemic. It hasn’t really spiked in any scary ways for us. Again, I think that just speaks to the way that we’ve cared for our employees and that people feel really valued here. Also, we’ve been able to work really well together remotely given we were a fully in-person company before the pandemic. We’ve had a pretty reasonable attrition rate through the pandemic. The things that I actually look at on our team in particular is why are people leaving, what terms are they leaving on, and where are they going?

Taylor Roa (11m 39s):
Because when people are really sad to go, but just very excited for a growth opportunity that just wasn’t available here, that’s actually a really good thing. We celebrate that as a team. That really has been the nature of most of our departures. We’ve had a few folks that have been here for six to eight years depart in the past couple of years, but in most cases, people are growing. I think when we talk about retention, I think first we need to accept this truth from a candidates perspective that gone are the days where an employee might join your company and make your company mission their life mission. They may be planning to spend the rest of their career there. Today, someone early in their career really needs to see themselves as a startup.

Taylor Roa (12m 22s):
Any startup is prioritizing. They’re customer-obsessed. They’re prioritizing product development and financial growth, and the same is true for any early career professional. When you sign that full time, W2, at-will employment, you’re really signing on with a client to add value to their business. Just like any company, some customers might push your business forward and other customers might hold you back. We’ve seen that, really, the people who grow fastest in their career are the ones who are moving around early on in their career, because as soon as they get comfortable and they reach a ceiling of growth, they’re looking for what comes next and that often is elsewhere.

Taylor Roa (13m 6s):
I think that’s important for us to accept that truth because companies still tend to talk about retention in terms to me, that feel like “How do we trap people here long-term?” I think really, for any healthy business, a certain amount of attrition is a good thing. I think retention metrics, performance metrics, and hiring metrics all should play a role in how you’re looking at the health of your business. Really, I think the most important priority is actually Talent Density. Really getting performance right, making sure that you’re just as aggressive and growing your current team as you are in hiring external employees, especially those high performers, all that feeds into becoming a business that’s good to be from.

Taylor Roa (13m 52s):
It’s a business that fosters growth without trying to trap folks long-term. When I think about retention and strategy there, that’s what I’m prioritizing. I also think that it goes a long way in terms of just engagement and the way folks feel plugged in and excited about the work that they’re doing.

The Chad & Cheese Podcast (14m 11s):
Do you love news about LinkedIn, Indeed, Google, and just about every other recruitment tech company out there? Hell, yes. I’m Chad. I’m Cheese. We’re the Chad and Cheese podcast. All the latest recruiting news and insights are on our show, dripping in snark and attitude. Subscribe today, wherever you listen to your podcasts. We out.

Matt Alder (14m 32s):
One of the other things I wanted to talk to you about where your company values, because I think you showcase those in a really interesting way on your career site. I’m just interested in terms of how those values relate to your employee value proposition and how you use them to market the company to new hires.

Taylor Roa (14m 58s):
Yes, definitely. One thing I noticed when I joined Wistia was we only had four values at the time. It was very clear to me how those values could aid in making decisions. We valued simplicity, presentation, long-term company thinking, and creativity. That really did define how we worked as a team. It still does actually, but we recently updated our values because we’re also changing and growing as a business. In this time where the landscape for video has been changing and growing much faster than ever before, video and business, there’s also been a real change in the way marketers are seeing video and what they need from a video platform.

Taylor Roa (15m 48s):
We’ve, over the past year, really been growing our team and orienting around a team that can build many things at once and that’s changed the way the information flows and the way that our team is structured. It’s also changed the way that we work a little bit in terms of how we need to operate a little bit more as a growth company, even though we’re still not necessarily rapid growth. We still have those same people first values. There’s just a huge opportunity for us right now. I’m really proud of how we’ve done that. Everyone’s super engaged and aligned on a much bigger strategic vision than we’ve ever had. Actually, updating our values felt important to us in terms of staying outcome-oriented, centering the customer, remaining nimble and creative, et cetera.

Matt Alder (16m 28s):
You mentioned earlier in the conversation how the pandemic had affected the way that you work. You’ve been an in person company, and now you had to work remotely. What are the long-term impacts in terms of how the pandemic is creating lasting change in the way that you work?

Taylor Roa (16m 56s):
As you know, we’ve always had this really special creative, thoughtful, and kind culture at Wistia. Before the pandemic, it was mostly in person in the sense that most of our team was based in the Boston area and commutable distance into the office. Even then, we had a very flexible outcome oriented culture. In other words, most people worked two or three days in the office. When we did go fully remote, we had that remote collaboration infrastructure already in place, and it wasn’t unfamiliar for folks. What we found was actually, all the close relationships that were built in person carried through for a very long time through that fully remote period of the pandemic.

Taylor Roa (17m 41s):
I think the biggest challenge became the difference in experience for folks starting in the pandemic against folks who had a chance to build those relationships before going remote. We were really pleasantly surprised at how this team was almost able to be more creative in a virtual medium. Our all hands meetings are almost even more funny and entertaining in some ways. We remained actually really productive as a team. I think the biggest thing that’s changed in a positive way is that it’s much easier to be remote on this team because every decision happens in a zoom room. I think that’s really benefited our remote employees. We’ve grown now, I think about 30% of our companies out of state since the pandemic, but it also makes us more intentional about how we run meetings and how we make decisions.

Taylor Roa (18m 31s):
I think that’s actually been a really positive benefit for us. We’re really excited now to have this hybrid world where we can fly folks into the office and we can get the best of both worlds in terms of relationship building. Then from a hiring perspective, I think the biggest thing that’s changed is we never would have thought of interviewing fully remote. I think there’s just so much that we thought we would have lost from the human element of doing so. Before the pandemic, there was such a stark contrast between a candidate walking into Wayfair HubSpot, a huge buzzing open layout office, and then coming into our small, big window, natural brick Wistia office. It was just a very different experience.

Taylor Roa (19m 12s):
That benefited us, but then when we went remote, everyone saw us through the same zoom screen as other companies. We’ve adapted to really lean into our super power, which is video and sharing our culture, but also, we’ve been able to be so much more efficient in terms of how we hire. We not only don’t have to worry about asking a candidate to come in and find parking, take a day off work, which made interviewing that much more stressful, so we can interview more frequently, but we’re also introducing tools that help us interview smarter as well. We use a tool called Pillar that helps us record every interview, which might sound a little micromanage-y and big Brother-y, but it’s actually been insanely valuable for our interviewers and our hiring managers.

Taylor Roa (19m 59s):
It’s allowed us not only to check for bias, but it also allows interviewers to look back when they’re filling out their scorecard if they’ve forgotten something that happened. It’s allowed us really to coach and develop our interviewers as well, which is not something we had an opportunity to do before. That’s such an important skill as you grow and develop in your career.

Matt Alder (20m 19s):
Obviously, the power of video in telling business stories is absolutely amazing and something that your entire organization is basically built on. As you say, video is your super power. It’s very much in your DNA. I know there’ll be lots of people listening who want to get better at video in employment branding and their recruitment marketing. Other than joining Wistia and having all the available video resource you can imagine, what would your advice be to them to get more out of the video that they’re doing?

Taylor Roa (20m 56s):
I think companies still are hesitant to listen to their marketing team. We hear from marketers all the time that want to do video, but maybe finance is afraid to invest in it because they don’t see the value in it. I think it’s a great time to be a video producer who’s interested in a career in tech because there are more job openings in that field than ever. I think that’s an amazing thing. I think every good brand should have a video team, not just one person, but a team that’s producing video for their customers and for their team internally, especially remote first companies. If you’re too small or you’re scared to make that leap of full-time hire, then you should definitely think about what pieces of information are most important for you to communicate in a human way.

Taylor Roa (21m 42s):
Identify those bits, and then invest in informative videos that you can leverage a year, two years into the future. You’ll find you’ll get a ton of value out of that. The reason I say that is because, especially HR teams, probably are not thinking about how they could use video at all, but there’s only so much you can communicate in a Google doc or a PDF that gets lost in an inbox. Just like any message that you need to get across, people are far more likely to retain information when they’re actually engaged in how they’re receiving it. Video goes so far to accomplish that.

Taylor Roa (22m 22s):
I think it should be clear now, two years into the pandemic, that video is important, not just for marketing, but also for keeping your teams engaged and communicating information internally. For those companies that are still hesitating, I definitely encourage folks to hire some consultants for a specific project, listen to their marketing team when their marketing team says, “We need to invest in this video,” and then also acquire some really awesome software that’s pretty affordable like Wistia.

Matt Alder (22m 54s):
Of course, absolutely. Highly, highly recommended. Final question, just interested in your views on what the future might look like. I suppose, two parts to this. What does the future look like for Wistia, and what do you think the future looks like for work, for talent, for talent acquisition?

Taylor Roa (23m 17s):
Yes, it’s really uncertain, but also exciting time. I think we we’ve come to call every decade a defining decade maybe since, I don’t know, as long as I can remember, but this really does feel like a defining decade in terms of, at least in America, how we see work in our culture. It’s always been common in America for companies to only offer two weeks of vacation just for example. I think the tech industry is one that really started to break that pattern. We all know about Google’s amazing culture and Netflix and their viral culture deck. I think part of that is because tech is an industry, obviously, that has such insane scalability and margins that allows them to invest more in their people.

Taylor Roa (24m 3s):
I do feel a sense of altruism in being part of this shift in work culture because I see in the next 10 years, almost every industry becoming a tech industry in some way – from healthcare, insurance, finance, education, you name it. I really see an opportunity for change to trickle down into all kinds of different sectors. In terms of competing for talent, folks have always looked to tech companies to acquire the best talent and to see what they’re doing to attract and retain those folks. Really, as work becomes more technical and we have more software to do some rote activities, it’s also becoming more human.

Taylor Roa (24m 44s):
I really think the companies that are leaning into the human element of the work that they’re doing and the teams that they’re building, especially right now, those are companies that will win the decade. We tend to fear AI and robots taking our jobs, but it also tends to create jobs that we just can’t see and predict. I’m really optimistic that, actually, as certain things can be done automatically, the work that we are doing as a team becomes more human. If we can leverage that in a way that’s meaningful and integrates with our lives in a healthy way, I do see a future where a good culture is even more competitive. It’s almost a requirement.

Matt Alder (25m 26s):
Taylor, thank you very much for talking to me.

Taylor Roa (25m 29s):
Matt, thanks so much. This has been a blast and it’s been such a pleasure to meet you.

Matt Alder (26m 3s):
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. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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