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Ep 608: Transforming HR

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Economic challenges, technology innovations, changing attitudes to how and where we work, and a new, very different generation entering the workplace. These are just some of the forces driving change across the whole of the people function.
In this second compilation episode of interviews I recorded at Transform earlier in the year, I speak to two of the most innovative HR Executives out there about the changing Talent landscape.

My first guest, Donald Knight, Chief People Officer at Greenhouse, shares his insights on the current challenges for CPOs, the importance of developing curiosity, and the need to eliminate the laggard approach that has categorized HR for so long.

My second conversation is with John Baldino, President of Humareso. This was the final interview I recorded at the conference, and we reflect on the event, our key learnings from it, and the future of HR in an AI-driven world.

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Matt: Hi, this is Matt. Just before we start the show, I want to tell you about a free white paper that I’ve just published on AI and talent acquisition. We all know that AI is going to dramatically change recruiting. But what will that really look like? For example, imagine a future where AI can predict your company’s future talent needs, builds dynamic external and internal talent pools, craft personalized candidate experiences and intelligently automate recruitment marketing. The new white paper 10 ways AI will transform talent acquisition doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but it does explore the most likely scenarios on how AI will impact recruiting. So, get a head start on planning and influencing the future of your talent acquisition strategy. You can download your copy of the white paper at mattalder.me/transform. That’s mattalder.me/transform.

[Recruiting Future theme]

Matt: Hi, there. Welcome to Episode 608 of Recruiting Future with me, Matt Alder. Economic challenges, technology innovations, changing attitudes to how and where we work, and a new, very different generation entering the workplace. These are just some of the forces driving change across the whole of the people function. In this second compilation episode of interviews, I recorded at Transform earlier in the year, I speak to two of the most innovative HR executives out there about the changing talent landscape. My first guest, Donald Knight, Chief People Officer at Greenhouse, shares his insights on the current challenges for CPOs, the importance of developing curiosity, and the need to eliminate the laggard approach that has categorized HR for so long. My second conversation is with John Baldino, President of Humareso. This was the final interview I recorded at the conference, and we reflect on the event, our key learnings from it, and the future of HR in an AI-driven world.

Matt: So, could you start by introducing yourself and telling everyone what you do?

Donald: Absolutely. Donald Knight, Chief People Officer for Greenhouse Software. What is Greenhouse software? It’s hiring software. Our goal is to make every company great at hiring. And last, but certainly not least, my favorite title in the entire world is being a dad to both Daylen and Avery. So, yeah.

Matt: What brings you to the show? What have you been here to do? What have you got out of it? What have you noticed? What’s been going on?

Donald: Yeah, this is my third one. And what I’m most excited about Transform Conference is I feel like we’re transforming the profession. I can see a shift happening right now where we’re getting greater tools and greater investment in new tech in the space. I’m seeing new leaders be elevated and they’re bringing with them fresh perspective on how you motivate and how do you develop talent. And last but certainly not least, man, I like to have fun. I love getting with our people and trying to just see some familiar faces and make some friends with some new ones.

Matt: And what’s it like being a chief people officer for a business that sells into the HR sector? That must be quite a kind of unique experience.

Donald: It is very unique. Look, I firmly believe that the hardest job on the planet right now is being a people leader. And I think the hardest type of people leader is being a Chief People or a Chief Human Resource Officer. What we’ve had to endure over the last three to five years is, like, unprecedented. And particularly being a CPO at a HR tech company, what it means is that the bar of excellence is just a lot higher because you got to think about it. 100% of my organization is contributing or connecting with other CPOs, other VPs of talent acquisition in the space. So, it’s harder. It’s both refreshing, rewarding, and very tiring. [chuckles] So I need to recharge sometimes, but it’s amazing, man.
Matt: I can imagine. And I suppose based on that and based on maybe some of the conversations you’ve been hearing throughout the event, what do you think the biggest issues and challenges are for Chief People Officers at the moment?

Donald: I see three. The first one is there’s real anxiety and almost a lack of confidence that the progress that has been made on DE&I will stay around. So, there’s real concern there. There’s a second concern or fear around how do you deploy new technology like AI? And will the deployment of such technology eliminate jobs more than it does, more than it helps the people within those jobs? So those are the two fears or concerns. The third thing though that I see that is a big risk or a big fear is how do you navigate leadership development, particularly for younger generations entering the workforce. So those are the three fears or challenges. But, Matt, I have a recipe for how do you address those challenges.

I think the first one is hope. And it’s not like blind optimism. I use the analogy of a tunnel. Whenever you enter a tunnel, you can see the sunlight behind you. Whenever you exit a tunnel, you can see the sunlight in front of you. But in the middle of the tunnel is the darkest part. But that’s where real change is happening. And so, I’m not afraid of the sound bites people give me on DE&I because I’m seeing more inclusive workplaces. I’m not afraid of the disruption of AI, because what I’m seeing is folks being vocal around, how do you deploy that in the most meaningful way? And then I’m not concerned too much at all around the new generations, because they’re bringing a different zeal and energy to the workplace. And companies that are not ready to embrace them, watch out, because they are the future of talent.

Matt: With AI, do you think that I just get a sense that HR talent acquisition as a profession, it’s kind of a bit in the headlights when it comes to AI. There are people that are embracing it and that’s fantastic. They’re experimenting, they’re doing what they need to be doing. But I think there’s also people who are kind of either waiting to see what’s going to happen or are convinced that it’s not going to fundamentally change everything. What’s your sort of view? Am I reading that right?

Donald: Matt, not only are you reading it right, it’s refreshing to talk to someone else who’s as controversial as I am. [Matt laughs] Look, the reality is there’s people in this profession who have built a career, a rather successful career being laggards. They haven’t been early adopters once. We still have order takers in this profession. We also have folks who have been able to navigate a career without immersing themselves in new technology. And the lack of curiosity that I see in many of my peers is it’s concerning, because while I’m confident they won’t be able to remain in the profession too long, my concern is that they’re teaching behaviors to talent inside of their organization that says, “Don’t be curious.” And so, I think you’re spot on.

Like, there’s people that are staying back and watching from the sidelines, as opposed to suiting up and getting inside the game. And lucky for me, being at a SaaS company that’s focused in HR tech, look, my team is customer zero. There’s not a feature that rolls out from Greenhouse that my team didn’t play with or inform. And so, there’s some other curious folks out there, Cara Allamano is one, Dean Carter is another. But I’m excited about the shift that I see happening in our profession where those folks that are more laggards, I think AI will expose their lack of curiosity and hopefully usher in a new wave of leadership.

Matt: I think that makes a lot of sense because I think waiting to see what’s going to happen [laughs] it’s kind of not really a great strategy. I think the best quote I’ve heard about this was from Sam Altman OpenAI. Obviously, he would say this because it’s in his interest to do it, but it was an interview he did with Bill Gates, and he basically said that “The next 5 to 10 years, we’re going to see this exponential change driven by AI. And if you’ve got more than five years left in your career, this absolutely concerns you right now.” I think that was such a great way of putting it.

Donald: I agree. I mean, I’m a huge Sam fan. OpenAI is a Greenhouse customer. [chuckles] But I tell people Sam is not the father of AI. I mean, AI was being discussed back in 1936 by Alan Turing. And so, if any listeners in our profession heard that for the first time, I’m not a software engineer. I’m just curious. And I think the curiosity that Sam speaks of, meaning if you’re going to be working longer than five years, then you should be curious about the new tools that are coming, because they’re here already. And I hearken it to the typewriter. I love the typewriter. I think it’s an amazing piece of machinery. But if you devoted your time and your career saying you’re only going to work on the typewriter and you’re not going to conform to the desktop or the laptop, you wouldn’t have a job today.

Matt: Let’s talk about curiosity, because I think you’re right. It’s so incredibly important. Can you measure it as a skill and can you train people to be more curious?

Donald: Absolutely. I think measuring it has been the hardest thing to do in the workplace. But we’ve also created workplaces where we stifle curiosity. What do I mean by that? So, if I’m a software engineer or I’m a meteorologist, I get paid to fail. Software engineers, they roll out a new product, doesn’t work. Guess what they say, “Just beta. It was beta, Matt. Come on, it’s beta.” They roll out the real version, it’s still not working. You know what they say? “I’m debugging it, right?” Meteorologist gets the weather right 50% of the time. They still got a job. Now, here’s the great thing about those two professions. There’re still very smart, intelligent people in both of those professions. The only thing is we created an environment where failure is okay. And so they fail, but they fail fast, and then they iterate with the end in mind. I think we have to see that done other places inside of businesses stop expecting a perfect people team. Allow them the opportunity to test with things like AI, allow them to be curious, allow them to be critical thinkers again. And if you do that, not only will their level of fulfillment go up, but their level of impact will be 10x what’s happening today?

Matt: I suppose, related to that, picking up on the thing about the next generation in the workforce. So, the force of nature that is Gen Z in the workforce, one of the kind of the arguments that keeps getting trotted out for companies sort of dragging people back to the office, principally when they’ve told people they never have to come back to the office again, then they do, is we need to be in person so that this next generation coming through can observe and learn all the skills in the same way that we learn skills. And having spoken to people in that generation, they don’t necessarily buy into that as the best way for them to get up to speed with the workforce or develop the workforce. What’s your take on that?

Donald: Again, it’s always refreshing to talk to another controversial person in this space. Listen to me, I think I love history. History tells me that the youth has always been the most powerful force in anything. In any generation youth brought a different perspective. They also had different realities. And so, this idea that you have to be in person, I get it. I don’t agree with it, but I get it. Elon Musk has never made a billion dollars working remotely. He’s only been able to co-create with people in person. And so his bias, his default action and his behaviors, where he’s a safe place for innovation is in person. But what he has to realize, and what other leaders have to realize is there’s a new generation here. And their defaults, when they landed on the planet, they had different realities.

They’ve been able to pass tests remotely, build friendships remotely, be able to navigate colleges and universities remotely. And so, this idea that you have to be in person, that you have to have physical proximity from someone else to be able to learn, it’s bullcrap, number one. And then, number two, to Chief People Officers and Chief Learning Officers, stop being lazy. People learn differently. And you have to be able to create pathways that allow for the person who wants to come in person to learn and be developed. You have to create a pathway for that. You have to be able to create pathways for people who learn better when they’re remote visual versus audio learners. You got to create pathways for those people that are neurodivergent. Stop being lazy in the way that you grow and develop people.

Matt: I wanted to ask you about skills, because I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people about this over the last few weeks, and yesterday morning, I chaired a panel. It was called Talent Marketplace. It was all about growing skills within businesses and things like that. What do you think is actually happening in this sort of move towards skills? Because there’s a lot of talk about it. Every company seems to think about it in a different way. There are obviously technology solutions out there, your own company kind of included, that are powering this. What’s your vision around skills and building them in the workforce and having the right skills at the right time and those kind of things?

Donald: I believe the workplace places always rewarded skills and skill building. We just weren’t intentional on how we facilitated that, and so it often got masked with what I call widespread blankets. College and the degree itself is a widespread blanket. Education is nothing more than knowledge sharing. So going to somewhere for three, four years and listening to really smart people tell you really smart things and then assessing you on that, it was skill building. Now, some of those skills were no longer applicable to the jobs that you actually took on. Most people don’t even work within the occupation of what their degree specializes in. So, I think we’ve always been in skill building. This is where I think we suck though. We don’t know how to measure capability. So, you know, Matt wants to get into podcasting and has never podcasted before. And he’s starting his podcasting company, his media company, his first year he might not do a million streams. That’s an outcome. It’s not a capability.

The capability is how much is he able to keep guests engaged? Is he on time or is he late? Do people come follow up on him and say, “Hey, I want to amplify that Episode 117, because the conversation you had with that SME was so phenomenal.” That’s the capability. We don’t measure capability. Most performance today measures outcomes. And if we want to be able to truly build skills, we got to stop measuring outcomes and start measuring capabilities. Now outcomes still matter, but I’ll tell you, I got a VP of people success on my team. He’s been at the company a little over a year, a good portion of that he was on parental leave because he had a second child. I care about his capability. Can he present better in front of Greenhouse? Has he been able to connect learning and development programmatic modules that we’re going to roll out to new team members as opposed to how many people passed their assessment at the end of the growth and development module like that’s an outcome we got to start measuring capabilities.

Matt: I suppose to summarize and tie this all together as a final question, what do you think the future looks like if we’re having this conversation again in, I don’t know, let’s say, three years’ time, what will we be talking about?

Donald: This is where I think me and Sam are aligned, although we’ve never met. So, Sam Altman, if you hear this, “I’m looking forward to meeting you.” I think the quest that we’re on is to create an environment and a society where people are living their most fulfilled lives. That’s the mission I’m on. The companies I work for, they’re on that same mission. How do you create an environment and a society where people are living their most fulfilled lives? And in doing so, you may have to call Sam and OpenAI to be able to deploy technology that allows people to stop being bogged down in monotonous work, in manual work that stifles their creativity and ideation. And you need to be able to free them up so they can really unlock that potential that we’ve been sitting on as a planet and as humans since the beginning of time. That’s the mission we’re on, allowing people to have the most fulfilling lives.

Matt: I don’t think I could agree with you more, Donald. Thank you so much for joining me.

Donald: Matt, thank you for having me, man. We got to do this again.

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[music]

Matt: Hi, John. Welcome to the show.

John: Hi, Matt. Thanks so much for having me.

Matt: And I can’t believe you’ve not been on before.

John: I am highly offended that I have not been on.

Matt: [laughs] That’s my bad, that’s my bad.

[laughter]

Matt: So, I’m fixing that right now.

John: You are.

Matt: So, could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

John: Absolutely. I’m John Baldino. I am the president of Humareso, which is a global HR consulting firm. I’ve had the privilege of leading that organization for the last 12 years and have been in HR for 30 plus my friend. That’s all we say now.

Matt: Absolutely, absolutely.

John: That’s it. Yeah.

Matt: I stopped at 20 plus, [crosstalk] said anything after that.

[laughter]

Matt: So we’re at Transform. It’s literally kind of closing down around us now. They’ve pumped the music up, we’ve had to move out of the podcast zone and people are drinking. It’s kind of, you know–

John: Because of us I heard.

Matt: -Yeah, I think, yeah, that’s it. [John laughs] We finished it all off. So, tell me about the show. Why did you come? What have you got out for it? What are the interesting things you’ve heard?

John: Yeah. I mean, I had the opportunity to be on a panel and moderator panel was asked to do that and that was great. I also was asked to be a part of our webcast that Jackye Clayton and I do on But First, Coffee. But I have not been to Transform before. This is my first time coming to this conference. And so, I honestly wasn’t sure. I’ve talked to some people, but I wasn’t sure exactly how it would flow and what it’s like. And I have to say I love the opportunity to have connection the way it happens here. It’s more intimate, and I don’t mean intimate as a misnomer for small in that regard. There’s about 3000 people or something like that here and that’s significant enough, but it’s not overwhelming that you can’t have good conversation with colleagues, with other practitioners and quite frankly have really robust conversation with the tech platforms. That’s so good.

Matt: Yeah. And even like the expo floor here, they’ve got it in a circle so you’re not disappearing down those aisles. And there’s kind of a flow of walking around and stuff like that, which is I think is quite clever.

John: The never ending aisles that you and I have walked, right-

Matt: Yeah. [laughs]

John: -for decades. But that’s right. They’re really wise about the way in which I think they laid out the expo floor. And it gives you a great opportunity to really be exposed to a lot of platforms really easily.

Matt: Let’s start with that. Have you seen any interesting tech? Is there anything that’s caught your eye? Any interesting conversations with vendors?

John: It’s funny. Yes. It’s the simple answer. In being specific so there’s obviously a push in the generative AI perspective. Everyone that I talked to starts out with their kind of key points. Make sure that they say the AI thing. You know, it’s a have to now, right. You have to say it, but it’s fun to kind of go a little deeper with them to say, “Well, what problem do you think you’re trying to solve for, with it? What pushed you to let that be the reason that you built what you built?” And I love hearing from, especially in the innovation area, the smaller companies that are just getting going, they’re super passionate about, “This is what I saw and this is why I’m doing it.” So in that area, I had a great conversation with VirgilHR and they’re doing the oh so sexy compliance component of life.

Matt: There we go.

John: Right. [chuckles]

Matt: Someone has to.

John: Somebody has to. And I know everybody wants to be involved with some other things that seem, quite frankly, sexier.

Matt: Yeah.

John: But there’s a portion of HR that still has to handle compliance. And especially when you have distributed workforces, that sort of thing. Having something like that in your back pocket as a platform is really helpful. So that was one that I chatted to. I talked to another one Contact Co., I think is what it was. Its health based in that it is sort of speaking to the various platforms that you might have on your apps, on your iPhone or Galaxy or whatever it is you’re on. And it’s sort of culling all this data into one app platform to say, “Let’s talk about your heart, let’s talk about your breathing. If you want, you can open it up to integrate with your medical provider.” And so, there’s some tracking that can go along there.

Now, I know people might feel that scary that, you know, Apple will now know everything about my health, but it’s not right? there’s a lot of safeguards in that. But to be able to just from your phone look to say, “What should I be handling in my health right now? What are these steps that I’m taking and these integrated workout platform and my new nutrition platform? What is all that saying about what I’m doing?” I think it’s a smart play and it has flexibility. So, someone can go as deep or as light in it as they’d like to as an employee.

Matt: I was going to say that, how does that work at the corporate level? Is that all about wellness or what’s the–

John: I think it’s a mix of wellness. And to be honest with you, if I’m the business owner, it’s also about utilization. And so, if I can have people be more proactively healthy in a perspective based upon real data, not just what I think. Because you and I, I’m sure we both know people that go to like WebMD and self-diagnose all of the issues right? that they’re having. You know, my big toe hurts and so I look it up and WebMD tells me I might have cancer. There’s a good chance it’s something else besides cancer. As to why your big toe hurts, but having something that’s much more specific for you in terms of this app, I think from an employer standpoint, helps an individual to know, “Is this worthy of me visiting a doctor or is it not?” I have a lot of data points that help me to have confidence in sort of what the recommendations are.

Matt: Healthcare is such an interesting area, just in terms of the amount of quantifiable data, which, as you say, I mean, there are obvious privacy concerns about that, in terms of what employers do with it, etc. etc. But the benefits for individuals, I think, are just enormous. Just in terms of knowing what’s going on.

John: Absolutely. Now, look, you and I though know as well, besides the smaller ones, some of the big tech platforms are here as well, and showing off what they’re able to do and successfully what they’re able to do. And I love seeing that as well. I mean, HiBob is trying to make a move for sure in the US, much North America, I should say, more broadly. It’s been a market that they haven’t been able to penetrate as well as they would like to, and they’re really making a push for that. And I honestly think as a tool, it’s quite impressive. If you look at it it’s a pretty impressive tool.

Matt: Yeah. No, I remember when it launched, actually. So, it’s been interesting to track its progress.

John: So do I, my friend. We again, we keep coming back to–

Matt: It doesn’t seem like that long ago, [laughs] surely it can’t be. You tell me, it’s been going for 20 years now. [John laughs] Changing topic slightly, what was your panel about? Tell us about your panel.

John: Oh, yeah. So, I had the privilege of moderating a paddle around working with a shoestring budget for HR, I’m going to say broadly for HR initiatives. So it did include tech, but it’s even about hiring headcount and for HR process. And so, if you don’t have a budget or zero budget, as some of the organizations here was interesting, and we kind of did a quick kind of survey in the room, and the vast majority were either a department of one or maybe of two for their organizations. And so, they already are working very lean and they need to lean on tech and sort of historical process that they need to just adopt for right now because they don’t have flexibility. And so that was a really robust panel. People have opinions and that’s shocking. And so, some very varied responses as to how to handle building a business case, how to handle winning the right to be heard with your finance team or with your ops team. So, yeah, it was really cool.

Matt: And what was the kind of top insight for you, the one that you said, “Wow, that’s, you know, I’m glad I heard that. What stood out?”

John: I would say probably confidence. The underestimation of walking in confidently to these conversations. We do a whole lot often of sort of process mapping. Okay, start with your business case and section A make sure you talk about this, and here’s the kind of prep conversations you have to have. But I think there is still something about the soft skill, the personal skill around confidence development that is important in the HR world because we sometimes have touched the hot stove once or twice and even in a previous company, and we come into a new company and we bring that with us. And so, we assume that finance is going to be negative. Right.

Matt: That is interesting. Yeah.

John: And so, we have to get past that to say, “No, no, no. You know what you know, so sit in it confidently.” You’re not a jerk, but you’re sitting in it confidently to say, “Here’s why I’m making this business case.” This is what I see.

Matt: Yeah. And do you think, because I think that might be kind of a trait of HR when you look at other areas of the organization, when they’re going to ask for investment and stuff like that, do you think it comes from people’s lack of confidence in being able to provide comparable data to maybe what the sales department would put forward for their investment?

John: I absolutely think that. And I think that too many HR people through the years have been trained to believe that we are a lost leader, and that’s just not true. And I’ve never thought that. I mean, earlier in my career, I’ve sat with a CFO who let me know that, you know, you’re a necessary evil, John, an expensive necessary evil. And that’s exactly what he said, “expensive necessary evil.” And my response at first, I would say was a lack of confidence. He caught me off guard, and I was younger in my career, and I felt that I almost had to be apologetic to him about my space in the organization. And I will tell you that lasted about an hour before I went back.

Matt: [laughs] Went back and put him right.

John: And that’s correct. And sort of recalibrated, yeah. [laughs]

Matt: So as a final question to you, this is obviously, everything that’s going on, so you could write a list as long as my arm, you know, AI, the economy. I read somewhere there’s more government elections in the world this year than ever before. So huge amounts of kind of disruption and general craziness. What do you think the future looks like for HR? I suppose, particularly in the context of the whole AI thing.

John: I would say, I’m going to tell you what I hope it looks like. Because I’m not 100% confident that it will be like what I’m going to describe. My hope is that we really do embrace AI, machine learning, tech-related support, and I literally mean embrace. Bring it into the fold with intention so that it can help to handle these components that it’s built for repetitive task, initial employee engagement questions, those kinds of things. Let that be an initial step. It helps those that are on the people side of things focus in on developmental work, transformative work for the organization that really does energize us. So, the fact that we’re not doing that because we get wrapped up in a lot of these process-related areas is a miss for us.

So, I’m hopeful that we really are okay with it and stop looking at it like I have to justify my existence. Who’s going to answer these leave questions if I’m not the one doing it? We have to stop thinking that way. The other thing that I would say is we’re probably going to have, I’m hopeful that we are going to be able to build smartly budgeting, I would say, and I know this isn’t true of everyone, but the highest percentage of HR practitioners still struggle to build a relatable budget and then share that with the leadership in a way that is meaningful and directly correlated to success.

Matt: John, thank you very much for talking to me.

John: Thank you for having me, buddy. It’s always good to be here.

Matt: My thanks to Donald, John and the team at Transform for hosting me as a podcaster and organizing such a great event. You can follow this podcast on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also subscribe to our YouTube channel by going to mattalder.tv. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. 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.

[music]

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