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Ep 587: Getting The Basics Right


With so much focus on potentially AI-driven disruptive change and debate about the future, it is sometimes easy to forget that many employers are still struggling to develop and leverage their culture, and some still lack basic standardized processes for talent acquisition and other aspects of the people function.

Looking at what is happening in start-up and scale-up businesses is always interesting. They build business functions from a blank sheet of paper and often develop interesting new ways of thinking and working.

My guest this week is Roza Szafranek, Founder and CEO at HR Hints. HR Hints acts as the external HR team to over 70 scaling companies. Roza has used this experience to develop the Culturivy method of building organizational cultures and processes, which she has shared in a recent book called Culturivy: The Power of Changing a Workplace. Roza believes employers should address some long-standing issues in TA, such as candidate experience and biased hiring processes. She also has a counterpoint view on the current efficacy of AI in hiring.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Building and scaling organizational culture

• Managing a burnt-out workforce

• Leveraging culture to power engagement

• Practices, behaviours and values

• How should companies think about talent?

• Strengthening the candidate experience

• Building a non-biased recruitment process

• Verifying candidates as a good match

• Will AI and Automation have the impact we think they will

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts


Matt: Support for this podcast comes from Transform. Recruiting Future is excited to announce a partnership with Transform. Transform brings together people driven leaders, investors and innovators across industries and backgrounds with a shared passion for people innovation and transforming the world of work. Transform 2024 promises to be the best yet. You can expect three days of powerful content, innovation showcases, probing conversations, hands on learning experiences over 300 speakers and energizing after hours networking Las Vegas style. So, come and meet me in Vegas on March 11th through the 13th. Register now and save $200 by going to That’s Matt Alder dot me slash Transform.

[Recruiting Future theme]

Matt: Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 587 of the Recruiting Future podcast. With so much focus on potential AI-driven disruptive change and debate about the future, it’s sometimes easy to forget that many employers are still struggling to develop and leverage their culture, and some still lack basic standardized processes for talent acquisition and other aspects of the people function.

Looking at what’s happening in startups and scale up businesses is always interesting. They build business functions from a blank sheet of paper and often develop interesting and new ways of thinking and working.

My guest this week is Roza Szafranek, Founder and CEO at HR Hints. HR Hints acts as the external HR team to over 70 scaling companies. Roza has used this experience to develop the Culturivy method of building organizational cultures and processes, which she has shared in a recent book called Culturivy: The Power of Changing a Workplace. Roza believes employers should address some long-standing issues in TA, such as candidate experience and biased hiring processes. She also has a counterpoint view on the current efficacy of AI in hiring.

Hi, Roza, and welcome to the podcast.

Roza: Hello. Hi, super nice to be here and thanks for having me.

Matt: My absolute pleasure. Brilliant to have you on the show. Please could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Roza: Absolutely. Thank you. I’m Roza and I’m the Founder and CEO of HR Hints. That is the first HR boutique operating in subscription model. And we are working for European and US companies. That’s our first business, HR hints. So, it’s like B2B model. And our experts are acting as external HR managers, consultants change managers, so like acting as interims on a daily basis.

And our second business is Culturivy. Culturivy is the platform, the method, and the book. The book published in October. Actually, it was the last year. So, we’ve kicked off from US, because we are having great partners there, so the first version was published there. The second version will be having the premiere in April in Europe. And Culturivy and the full title is Culturivy: The Power of Changing a Workplace.

As I said, it’s the set of the methodology based on more than 100 of companies we’ve supported as HR Hints and writing down all the patterns, all the repeatable things, all the standards, because what we see when we are having quite a big scale is that, a lot of things when it comes to the people and culture and talent area are just repeating. So, just having all these things down. So, yeah, these are two main things I’m into right now.

Matt: Cool. Fantastic. Tell us a little bit more about the book. You hinted there about why you wrote it. What else is in it? What could people expect to see if they read it?

Roza: The main thing about Culturivy as a method is that it is a guidance for building and scaling organizational culture. Organizational culture, not in that understanding that it’s just the atmosphere or it’s just having free lunches or pizza Fridays, chocolate Wednesdays or whatever. It’s rather about building effectiveness teams and showing that this opposition between business, and delivery, and people and culture is false, actually. So, making all super tidied up, having rhythms, having routines are really boosting effectiveness. Having people and culture is not like additional nice thing or spending time together and having fun, but it is the must have for building a healthy business and scaling it. So, that’s the main theme of the book.

And that what we’ve noticed when we were having 100 companies on our account, as HR Hints, we decided to divide them into four groups depending on the growth. It’s like the second super important thing of Culturivy that it’s not about industry, it’s rather about the size of the company when it comes to opportunities, when it comes to challenges. We are usually used to that type of thinking that, “Okay, if we are looking for candidates, let’s find if we are the med tech company,” for example. We are used to thinking that, “Okay, let’s hire someone from the other med tech.” And it’s much better to think, “Okay, we need someone from the same size of the company, or someone who brought company from one stage to the second, or who was looking at from the very close distance or building it, actually the growth.” So, that’s the thing basically that we are having four basic stages for companies up to 500 people on board.

We are just going through three areas. So, through the leadership as the first one, people and culture as a second one and talent acquisition as a third one. And we are just giving the guideline how to go through every step of growth just to make sure that we are able to standardize it, optimize it and have it written down.

Matt: I want to talk about recruiting and talent acquisition in a second, but just to talk a little bit more about culture first. You mentioned it there as a critical part of what companies do and their growth. Is it more important now than it has been in the past?

Roza: It is. Because what we see when we look at the reports of Stanford University, University of Harvard, and it’s the same for bigger companies, reports like big four companies, for example. We see that last year was the worst, the most challenging when it comes to burnout, when it comes to all these effects we know from tabloids, so lazy girl, bare minimum Monday and all that stuff. But it’s just the top of the problem. Under that, we see that people are extremely tired, especially in Europe, especially in US, when it comes to the following consequences of the wars around us, lockdowns, pandemic, hybrid work or fully remote work.

In the first phase, it was super enthusiastic for people who are super enthusiastic. We can save time one hand, but on the other hand, it’s like super new and Zoom fatigue effects that makes us much more tired than ever makes people in a super different and new situation. And the fact that the last year was having the highest rates of just having a gap for senior managers, people changing job or taking part time job. And we see that one-third of whole companies, especially hiring white collars, they are struggling with people who say like, “I’m not able to work as previously. I know that business is having its requirements and expectations, but on the other hand, I’m super, super tired and burned out.”

This is a huge challenge, how to manage people and culture area and still being able, especially that we are having the crisis and how to manage the business delivery with people who are responsible at the end of the day for this delivery and they declare being extremely tired. So, it’s paradox, but in the current times, people and culture is really needed area and it cannot be the additional one, the additional thing because of the fact that it’s too crucial, and people see that effectiveness in a lot of companies is going down. We need to manage it well. We need to tidy it up when it comes to behaviors, practices, rhythms, interactions, just to able to measure it, just to able to forecast it. Because if we are able to find a concrete problems or just write down and name the problems, we are able to solve them.

And so far, people and culture for many, many years was in that position that it was quite fluffy in general, in descripting, in wording. So, it’s the highest time to rescue business, just putting a lot of effort in the people and culture area.

Matt: I think that’s really interesting, because you’ve highlighted there just how much these stories have been in the news and on socials about burnout and people having very different attitudes to work after the pandemic. What’s the answer to some of this? I mean, what practical steps are you seeing companies take to develop and really leverage their culture to power that engagement with their people?

Roza: The first thing is just to name it, because you are not able to measure it. You don’t need to measure, describe or forecast something you don’t understand. And the first step is to stop the situation and to end up that mindset that people in organization are the black box. So, the first step should be writing down the basic practices, behaviors and values in organizations.

When we talk about values with a lot of companies, we hear like, “Okay, so what’s the change following after having five values written on a wall or something in the presentation, like, no one is able to remember it and people really don’t care?” That’s the problem. So, it’s not about values, it’s not about having these three main topics or five main topics, but it’s about practices and rhythms. So, that’s the first step, just to write down, just to know where we are.

So, what are the reporting routines? How often people are meeting with the managers regarding skip level one on ones, one on ones, weekly, monthly. What they report, how often, what’s the form of this reporting? If they don’t deliver, what’s happening? If they don’t deliver for a month, what’s happening? If they don’t deliver for three months, are they able to get any help or any steps the company is doing or what’s happening in the situation of undelivery? Because organizational culture is to support effectiveness and to tidy it up. So, that’s their first thing, just to describe it.

The second thing is to check if the business goals are supported by the culture. Very often, we say like, “Okay, we need to be more, let’s say, inclusive.” When we look at our talent acquisition practices, when we look at our people and culture descriptions, routines, flow, behaviors acceptable and nonacceptable, we say like, “Okay, we don’t do nothing actually to support inclusiveness.” And that’s fine. Because having that consciousness, having that knowledge and making it concrete is just taking us to call to actions. So, call to actions is the first step. And having the plan, if we want to modify the culture, if we want to set up the rules, for example. I know, set up the all hands meeting or set up the different way of reporting. If we are using, I don’t know, Confluence or Jira or Notion for reporting, and it’s not working.

So, people every week are saying the same and nothing is changing. We are not able to estimate the time and we are not delivering on time. However, we are having a lot of people in the team, because that’s the problem that leaders are flagging very often. That, “Okay, I have people for that and I think I have skills in my team, but I’m not able to commit to any terms, because we failed for the last three times’ we’ve committed to that.” So, that’s this basic three steps. So, the first one, describe the situation, the culture. Meaning, values, behaviors, and practices. The second step, decide how they support the business goals. And if not, what are we doing to modify that or to change it somehow? And the third one, what are the specific call to actions, how we implement it, what we change when it comes to the rhythm of the company, the reporting style and all that things.

Matt: You mentioned there, the issues with skills, the issues with recruiting people, also companies recruiting people, then laying people off. There’s so much going on in the talent space at the moment. How do you think organizations should think about talent right now?

Roza: I think that challenge of the talent space, it’s quite interesting. Because on one hand, we are having a lot of new solutions. We are having AI for HR. We are having automation processes. But on the other hand, still, we are having basic problems, like 90% of candidates in Europe are not getting any feedback after recruitment process. So, we are discussing culture feed checked by AI, but we are not able to give people the basic information. So, that’s the thing to solve.

When it comes to the understanding of talent, I think the biggest change in the current year and in the next years will be strengthening the importance of that part of asking questions and verifying the candidates, because we are pretty headhunters and headhunting driven. So, we say, I need the best candidate. I need rock star, the best candidate from the market. We don’t care or we don’t have enough knowledge very often as an organization to verify that candidate. So, we think that if we are having great CFO, for example, he or she will be the best match for every company. We know very well that it’s not true. So, what are the practices of the company to build the non-biases or less-biased recruitment process? So, how to ask questions, how to divide these aspects of perfect recruitment persona to interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills and role related skills? How we avoid problems that we are having five recruitment steps? And every person is checking the same. It’s just chitty chatty and checking the vibe.

We are having a lot of situations like that that someone is saying, “Oh, yeah, we are having great candidate. We are having great vibe with this person.” And you say like, “Okay, so what was checked already? You’ve taken five hours of someone’s time and your time as well as a company, so what do we know about the candidate?” Well, he’s a great guy or she’s having a great communication flow and it’s like, “Okay, I see that.” She’s having 15 years of experience. So, I can imagine from the CV, what do we know after all these conversations?

And very often, it’s not much, actually. So, just again, tidying it up, standardizing it, having goal for every step, not repeating questions and dividing all that skills like no matter if we are looking for interpersonal, intrapersonal or role related, just dividing them to steps and asking one person for asking one thing will be the strong focus for that, because organizations are more and more aware that it’s not only about who they got, how hot is the CV, but also how we check that person.

Matt: So, the organizations who are doing that really well, is there anything else that they’re doing to make sure that they’re evolving recruitment into this nonbiased process that works for everyone and is giving them what they want? Is there an aspect of something else that those companies do to make that work?

Roza: You know that very well that it’s lot of things to do still in a talent acquisition. However, it’s better measured than people and culture still, because we are having all these measures like number things. So, time to hire, time to feel, the response rate and all that stuff. I think what’s crucial for being good in recruitment is really having standardization and not making it too psychological. I’m saying that after spending 10 ten years at the university in psychology, after PhD studies, very often, I see that avoiding that mindset that, “Okay, I see that candidate was sitting on the right side of the table, and that means that he wants to dominate the room.” All that not concrete, but guesses based on just feelings and avoiding them and building the mechanisms in organizations that are helping to do that are making recruitment process less biased.

So, I think if I could say one thing additionally to your previous questions and one thing that is the common thing for successful recruiting is that thing just to making it standardized and not adding things that we cannot measure.

Matt: Absolutely. And what impact do you think AI is going to have on HR and talent acquisition? We’ve seen huge amount of talk about it in the last year, some sort of impacts in various places. But there’s a real sense that the biggest impact is to come. What do you think that impact will be?

Roza: When it comes to the AI in recruitment especially, so when we are talking about automation, when we are talking about bots, when we are talking about ATSS, for example, making notes, this is the great thing when it comes to the declaration. What I see in practice from the last year, I see very often that people are super interested, especially in tech organizations. They explore a lot of solutions, and they implement them only if they are small things changers. I see that big solutions that are, for example, AI driven and they focus on, for example, culture feat. I’ve seen three such solutions last year, and they were all tech startups, because we are working a lot of private equity and VC venture capital investors. So, we are having a lot of new tech businesses on our table.

When I see so sophisticated solutions and when I see big changes when it comes to automation, I’m afraid that in the next two, three years, they won’t be successful, because people are super afraid of new implementations. And I see that HR directors are taking care– There’s first reaction to that. They say, we won’t be automating, so big amount of things, not to being forced to fire a lot of people after these actions of Google, for example, or IBM, when AI was able to replace a lot of people. And in the following, thousands of people lost their jobs. It was like the middle of the year. After that, I saw that a lot of HR directors and a lot of, especially, head of talent experts and managers, they decided to not go super bravely with the boldness into new solutions, rather focusing on, “Okay, so maybe we can take additional feature to our ATS.” So, that’s the vibe.

I think that we rather talk about changes made by AI in HR than we do that in the last two quarters. That’s what I see. I think that before we won’t go through the mental change, because what we see, especially from candidate’s side that if they are taking part in the recruitment process supported by AI, the response rates and their interactions are going down even up to 40%. So, people still are having that distance to AI. They don’t like to talk to bots, especially if they are like voice bots. And on one hand, we know that it’s coming in talent and people and culture. On the other hand, we want to be sure that it won’t be super intensive. That’s my take on it.

Matt: So, I supposed to summarize everything that we’ve talked about, how do you hope that talent acquisition will develop in the future? So, if we were having this conversation two- or three-year’s time, what do you hope would be happening?

Roza: I think like three basic things. The first one, we discussed previously. So, the people will pay more attention into verifying and checking candidates, not only getting great candidates. The second thing, for sure, it will be because we see that wave already, and I think it will be stronger and stronger that people are able to spend more time on defining the perfect recruitment persona. So, who exactly am I looking for, rather than meeting hundreds of candidates later?

It’s quite new because it’s like five years maybe, because very often, hiring managers previously were saying like, “I don’t know, who am I looking for? It’s just CFO.” Just using that example. It is just CFO. So, find me 10 candidates and I will make the decision who exactly am I looking for? And now, I can see that people are able and want to spend more time on defining the persona. So, to prepare more at the beginning to save the time, actually, because you are able to meet three candidates when you are having a pretty great standardized persona and you know who you are looking for. So, that’s the second thing.

And the third thing, what I see, especially in a crisis in the last year, a lot of recruitment agencies, a lot of headhunters and advisors were waiting for having the job, because companies were saying, “Okay, we’ll be doing it on our own. There is a lot of candidates on the market, so we’ll manage.” And what we see, they are not able to manage. So, the recruitment processes are taking a lot of time and they are even 150% longer than before the crisis. So, they are looking for and they are waiting for the perfect candidate from the market. Surprisingly, they are not able to do that if they don’t have HR manager or talent acquisition expert, because it’s still hard. Like, market, okay, maybe there are much more candidates. But on the other hand, people are tired, and great candidates are off the market or they are having another different expectation than previously. So, they won’t work a lot as in last years. So, the pool is smaller, actually. The real pool.

And the next step of that, and that’s my third forecast, is that it will be professionalizing regularly and quite intensively in the next year, in the next two years, because people see that mindset that, “Okay, it’s easy. I’ll do that on my own,” It won’t work. So, that’s the third.

Matt: Roza, thank you very much talking to me.

Roza: Thank you very much for having me. It was a pleasure.

Matt: My thanks to Rosa. 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 our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and 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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