Devon and Eric talk with Kathleen Quinn Votaw, founder and CEO of TalenTrust and author of Solve the People Puzzle. Votaw’s 15-year-old company helps companies solve the human capital puzzle. It is a puzzle that many employers fail at, because they try to fit the wrong person into the wrong spot.
As the economy heats up and it becomes more difficult to find people, it is critical that employers take steps to maximize their talent. Particularly in tight labor markets, such as the current one, recruiting is a sales process. Votaw says it starts with good lead generation and engaging with prospective customers (i.e., recruits). But too many companies cannot even define their value proposition. So, the right recruits don’t find the company, they don’t engage with the company, and they don’t get into the selection/interview process.
Votaw argues that part of the problem is that recruiting falls under human resources instead of sales. Votaw insists that human resources is a valuable tool in any corporation that is widely underutilized and undervalued. But, like so many workers who are simply in the wrong roles, HR is asked to do things that are outside of its area of expertise.
The trio also touches on the growth of women in leadership roles and how the #MeToo movement has impacted the dynamic of the workplace.
Welcome back to SoCap talks helping innovators build tomorrow today. Now here’s your host, Devon Kerns and Eric Sutfin.
Eric: Welcome back to SoCap talks. Today we have an amazing guest Kathleen Quinn Votaw and she is not just the face behind TalenTrust, but she is the voice and the author behind the solving the People Puzzle. Thank you so much for being on today.
Kathleen: Thanks for having me. It is a pleasure. We originally got connected at this large executive summit and immediately connected around human capital and really being able to connect and solve people’s problems. And you work with them on a daily basis. You have for now closing in on 15 years. It’s our 15 year anniversary this year, big party and October 17, wonderful, super exciting will be there.
Eric: We will be there. Tell us a little bit about TalenTrust, about how you got started. What was the original people problem that you’re solving?
Kathleen: Well, TalenTrust was born in 2003, I had just been fired from a job from a company that had zero culture. And I was trying to figure out what was I going to do next, I was fired because I wasn’t a great cultural fit. And they weren’t a good cultural fit with me. And many people out there, never talk about the things they’ve gotten over the things they’ve had to go through. And I’m very proud that I was fired because from that moment on some of my clients, some of my mentors, some of the people I really rely on told me, they’ve just been waiting for me to start a company that will help them grow. So TalenTrust has become a company that helps solve human capital issues. We go into our clients and we do a people person gap analysis, and we really diagnose the issues that are driving them to find keep or grow great people. retention is a big issue that we find engagements and issue employment brand, which is your business, a lot of your business is a big issue. companies don’t have an identity so employees can’t find them. And our work is about helping middle market companies and a select group of Fortune 500 companies really define and culture employment brand, who they are, what they stand for, why they stand for that and really help people understand how to find them.
Devon: So now, let’s dive into some of the meat of what you were sharing with us earlier. And a big key point that you’d brought up was that recruiting is a sales process. What does that mean to you? Because that’s an interesting way of looking at recruiting. I’ve been in the recruitment industry since 1985. And recruitment truly is a sales process. It begins with lead generation who are who’s going to be attracted to your company and your culture, and why are they going to want to choose you? And why are you gonna want to choose them? So it’s lead generation is the first stage second stage is engagement, getting them to even talk to you? Why would an employee who’s gainfully employed, earning money for somebody else really happy and has a great commute, want to talk to you and your company? Yeah, you need to define your why and how to engage them. The next part that we uncover and unpack for our clients is really focused on selection. And that first that first touch pre-screening, the fourth stage is that interview, which is really where many companies fall down. They don’t have processes and systems around how to interview people and a behavioral based way, they don’t have words for the conference, they don’t know how to screen for culture, they don’t know how to screen for skills, they don’t know how to screen for values are non negotiable. And they don’t really know how to have an authentic conversation about what they want for their company. So and then, obviously, the last step that we bring our clients through is final selection, you know, hiring people, and again, that’s part of understanding the value conversation, we talked a lot about compensation, the compensations about value and it’s very emotional. So recruitment is a sales process, and we tend to give it to human resources. Have you met a human resources?
Kathleen: Good point, who is a sales and marketing professional, I haven’t yet now, human resources. People are wonderful, vital, very important to companies and cultures, but they’re busy doing other things that are really important to the organization, talent acquisition, culture engagement is sales and marketing oriented, and it’s time to move it into those functions. That sounds like a very systemic problem that comes from how, or even creating individuals that might be interested in working in an HR department all the way back to the academic side of things. Absolutely. And how much of that needs to be brought in how much of sales and marketing needs to be brought into HR training? So wonderful question.
Unfortunately, human resources is undervalued and underserved. And most corporations, it’s not strategic it most, most people in the human capital Human Resources function, don’t have a seat at the table. They don’t have a voice they’re not heard. And shame on the organizations that are keeping them out of the conversation. Because people are your most important asset, you’re putting them first you can’t have human resources out of the conversation. Yeah, so I agree that we have to integrate, we there’s been awful articles written about our HR colleagues, Fast Company came out with an article that says why we hate HR was awful on the cover. And then recently, Harvard Business Review came out with why we need to blow up HR. So HR is in a really in a bad, bad place. They’re having an identity crisis. The good news is about that identity crisis as they get to reinvent themselves. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to reinvent yourself?
Devon: Well, I love that you’re applying a similar approach to recruiting in general, recruiting doesn’t have as a variety of perceptions around it. And there’s a whole gamut, but you are equally disrupt. And that norm because you have this process and multiple puzzle pieces to it, because it’s not just about putting people in an organization share a little bit about all of the puzzle pieces and components that you evaluate and look at, in putting people in the entire process. Sure.
Kathleen: So our people puzzle gap analysis, diagnosis, probably about eight, eight areas in we focus on eight areas. Overall, we focus on culture and talent, but we start with them culture engagement, employment brand, then we move on to market intelligence. So where you’re located really, really drives the inventory that you have to deal with. And many people don’t realize there’s a science to this, you have to, if you’re going to locate your company in Timbuktu, you’re not going to have the inventory of people to get work done. So we know that and people shake their heads. But we don’t think about that when we open up companies. But it is vital to think about. So we look at market intelligence, we look at assessments, we look at selection criteria, we look at behavioral based interviewing techniques, which I mentioned, most people fall down, they don’t know how to have that critical conversation. And they don’t treat it as a system or process that’s repeatable and predictable. And then we look at technology. And we’re resellers of some technology that can help streamline some processes and systems to make you much more effective and really message to the employment-population or the candidate population that you want to come work for you. So if recruitment is a sales process, and in typical sales process, you nurture and message to the companies, you want to actually work with you. So you all you SoCap works with middle market, you’re probably messaging targeted middle market companies to come play with you come work with you. Yeah, you have to apply the same kind of rigor, strategy, marketing messaging to the candidates that you want to come, work and play with you. And what are your values, attitudes, traditions and beliefs? Why would they want to choose you because there’s a lot of choice right now. And people are looking for more than ever before, they’re looking for purpose. That is the people in emerging generations out there looking for purpose, they want to be inspired. They want to hear your story they want to be in the battlefield right next to you. So what’s your story, we as leaders forget to tell our story. That’s why I share everything very transparently in my book, and I share that I’ve been fired one time and look at me now. I wouldn’t have never started a company if I didn’t get that guest how much of speaking of story how much of your how we got here matters and how much of where we’re going matters?
Devon: Is it a 50/50? Or is it a how we got here story that really pulls people in? Or is it let’s create a “rally cry” on where we’re going?
Kathleen: I think it’s both I really think it’s both but I’m a real believer in your roots matter a lot. I’m the youngest of five and an Irish Catholic family and my father was an immigrant he came to this country legally with $20 in a spot in his pocket and a change of clothes and he built a wonderful life for us so understanding your roots where you’ve come from and your humble beginnings are really important and I remember those first couple years when I started my company it was called Denver executive search for a couple years it was me myself and I there were three people in the company and it was lonely and it was hard and I didn’t know if I could do it but I had to prove to myself I could do it and understanding that each each step in your in your entrepreneurial evolution forms where you are today so that is so powerful that I’ve learned so much from mentors who’ve given me time and so much time freely and so much great advice that I would never want to forget that Now on the flip side where you’re going is very exciting we’re talent trust is going is exciting. We are revolutionizing an industry that was established in the 1950s and not a lot, it’s changed with it yet. I mean, it’s still a huge transaction, you got a person pay me $30,000 who wants to do that anymore. So we really have a software as a service investments and lot investment model for our clients. So they can opt-in how they need to opt-in, we cash flow our fiscal model for them. So it’s concretely scaleable, we really want to grow great companies. And some of our clients have been with us for three, four, five, six years. I’m humbled that they love my team, which I love my team to shout out to my team.
Kathleen: But we’re, we’re going is is is very exciting. And companies need what we do. So for me, that’s just going to keep me going for many years to come.
Eric: So speaking of your team, as well, we met a couple individuals who are heavy focused on the data and the assessment, How important is that to your business?
Kathleen: Well, um, you know, when you talk about human beings and human capital, let’s face it, it’s very emotional. And even for you boys out there, it is businesses emotional because its people and data helps you get your arms around it and gives you something to focus on. It really helps you understand where you are, so you can improve whatever you want to improve. So we arm our clients with data that can help make they can help them make better decisions that are non emotional, that will help them chart their course from an employment brand engagement, a cultural perspective, did you guys know culture became really sexy, and every start talking about oh, what’s your culture? What’s your culture, culture, culture, but nobody knew what knows what to do with it. They still don’t know what to do with it. There’s lots of good tools coming out. Lots of great engagement software coming out. It’s a company called amplify that has great engagement software, tiny pulse has great engagement software, Zeal has great engagement software, but it only goes one step in it gives you the data. But then what do you do? How do you create a culture with purpose? How do you create a culture by design, not default, and that’s where we play. That’s where we spend our time. And that culture is foundational to building other processes, and serve and services like recruitment, like retention tools, like assimilation, market intelligence, the culture feeds into all of that you can’t have one without the other.
Eric: I love the culture by design, not by default. Mm hmm.
Kathleen: I think in any of these circumstances, the data is, is really important to you to be able to use it and reference it. And like you said, pull out emotional holding, you can really be unbiased because there’s still going to be the emotional side of humans that are able to make decisions based off of that data. But you’re at least able to distance yourself and see it through a different lens. And as I’m sure you do these assessments and look at really, what is this person’s strong suits and where they fit well, are they really great as a manager? Or are they better suited over here, I think that that you guys have a unique approach and being able to look at 360 or the whole, just like a consumer lifecycle in employment life cycle, to the experiences that someone is going through from looking at the job application all the way through to the training within their first few months of the business. Absolutely. An assessment tools can be very powerful, and helping the individual understand what their strengths are. I’ll give you a story on that we worked with a company that was looking to create a sales position and wanted to repurpose somebody from their organization to go take on the sales function, the business development functions first time for the company, and they didn’t want to add someone new to the culture. They wanted to repurpose someone. So assessment tools can really be powerful in assessing. Does someone have the enterprising drive to overcome objections every single day, because that’s what sales is to really be in a sales role? And we assess their people. And lo and behold, we found three people who had the sales gene, if you will, the DNA to be a salesperson, which they repurpose two of them. And they’ve built a successful sales engine by not hiring new people, but using the assessment tools to repurpose people who are not quite excelling in other roles. Because people matter and I believe in putting people first and if someone’s failing, you have a responsibility to understand what their gifts are. Everybody has gifts. I believe that people are people like up every morning and they have great intentions. That’s just my belief system, what are their gifts? And what can they give, and if they have that sales DNA, they can thrive in that area. But they’re more mechanically inclined, they’re never going to be successful. So assessments can help you make sure that you have people in the right seats so they can thrive because everybody wants to be successful.
Kathleen: Right puzzle piece on the right place.
Devon: So I’d love to switch gears real quick. And it’s a big passion of ours to work with women in leadership, and you’ve grown a very successful company. And equally as important, not only have you grown your company to be successful, you help companies become successful, particularly in human capital. I would love to know and we were having a discussion earlier as well around women in leadership, and how are women changing the landscape of business women are emerging as leaders more and more, which I’m grateful for years ago, when I was 15, 16, 15 years ago, I walked into a business association and I was the only woman in a sea of Navy blazers and khaki pants and men men out there, throw away your Navy blazers and your and your khaki pants. And I was really one of maybe I think I was the only woman or there might be been one at the registration desk. And it was awful. So I see more women being courageous and integrating into the business community. I see more women being curious about how to put themselves out there professionally, how to take the lead that Yes, they can. They don’t have to, they don’t have to work for somebody else to be successful. They have they can do it themselves. Unfortunately, there’s anything inventory problem with women in leadership. There’s a lot of women who opt out during a certain period of their life. They don’t think they can, they might not have the support system, they might not have the appetite to invest in themselves. And being a leader is about investing in yourself. And being curious all the time and challenging the status quo that we don’t have to do things the way we always have done things and I was also like to tell women be a girl You don’t have to be a boy you can be a girl you can have nice hair and we’re pretty dress you do not have to wear that navy blazer I swear to god you don’t you can be a woman and there’s so many things that you can do to be successful in your career with this whole me too upset that we have out there.
Kathleen: I think the pendulum has swung a little bit too far. And I believe that women have responsibilities to receive information and and use their words so they are not discriminated against. I truly I’m 52 years old and I do not believe I’ve ever been discriminated against now. Sure. I’ve been in a situation with men where it’s been interesting, let’s use that word. But I have been very clear about my intentions. So there was never any any kind of confusion about that. And so I worry that women need some training on the words thing to use to say thank you. But no, thank you. If somebody invites you to their hotel room, meeting the lobby, please. Let’s meet in the lobby. So there’s a lot of education that needs to happen around that. I think, especially for them merging generations tools that they can use. I wrote an article about how they can overcome any of these perceptions. I think the media has overplay this. Me too. thing. It’s not not all men are bad. Not all women are bad. There’s some people who have done stupid dumb things, and they should be held accountable for it. But it’s about me, it’s about women and men leading together and we have to find common language and be really honest and transparent with each other. So that direct nature that gets us a nickname we don’t like sometimes it’s okay to be direct.
Devon: Yeah, feels like there’s a shortage of platforms for women leadership, even though there are enough there’s not as many as we’d all love to see yet. But better platforms, louder voices on the good things that are happening in the ways women are leading, so that we can squash down some of the negativity now there’s a necessity in the conversation to make people aware of the crap that has been happening. And yet it’s overplayed to the point of maybe discouraging some of the other powerful conversations that could be taking place. And I think that’s awesome that you’re out there not only having incredible discussions around how do we change the internal dialogue within companies, and how are we human capital focused, and that people matter within your corporations and outside of your corporations. But in addition to that, you are a voice and a an individual who really other women can look up to, as someone who leads with heart bleeds with passion and focuses on the people dynamic. And I think that is so powerful, particularly in your book, I see a chapter in there that’s mentioning is it lean into lipstick, because that will lead with lipstick. Yeah, tell us a little bit more about that.
Kathleen: Because I think it’s that’s a fun chapter. And it’s it is about my evolution. As I remember when I started in my career, and I was with a company called Austin Corporation. And I do play the game of trying to kind of mirror the men pant suits and boring pant suits and short hair, and really take on the image. And there was an aha moment I had working for a woman at Johns It was one of my clients at john Hancock back in Boston. And she was so feminine. And she was such a can’t say it on radio. But she was so good at what she did. And she was so direct. And I was I took stock that she was very well respected. And she didn’t have to change her style to fit so lean in with lipstick is be have the courage to be yourself, have the courage to be a woman, have the courage to be a wife, a mother and daughter, a friend, have a courage to be your whole self, because it also bleeds into what we teach our clients. When you hire somebody, you hire the whole person, they’re not you. Nobody leaves their stuff at the door anymore. If you believe that you’re really dating yourself, because when you hire somebody who hire their whole family, and so they have the courage to be the whole person, the wife, the mother, whatever you are to other people bring all of that to the party, because it will enrich your career.
Eric: And it sounds like the corporations need to create environments that allow for that whole person to show up.
Kathleen: Absolutely, they do. And, you know, I joke with my team, I have 18 full time employees on my team. But I’m accountable for 75 people.
Eric: Mm hmm. Right.
Kathleen: And, and if you think in those, if you think in those numbers, it’s an awful lot of people to be responsible for, but you really are, they depend on you, for their livelihood. And, and most people spend their their most of their waking hours at work. So you get up at five, six o’clock in the morning, you get in your car, your, you know, walk to work, you start working at seven or eight o’clock in the morning, and then you get home at five or six o’clock at night, you have three hours with your family, the cultures we create, at our business places directly affect the way the family receives you coming home. So we have a real responsibility as business owners, leaders to create environments where people can truly be themselves and, and, and have the freedom to do with it need to do to take care of their life, a woman who works for me who will go nameless, she had very important medical appointments today. And she was all worried about well, you know, I’ll be in at, you know, 11, and then I’ll leave and I’ll go to my appointment, I said, Why don’t you just go and not worry about work today, because you’re not gonna be able to think about it anyhow. And in our company. And we teach other companies this that we have an unlimited PTO, a strategy with our, with our colleagues. So if you need it, you take it, it’s an on the honor system. And on average, people take three to four weeks. And I’m glad they take they should they don’t have to punch in if they need to go to the school play. Or if they want to go to the baseball game. Or if they just want to go run out the back door and go, you know, go for a jog or go play racquetball or whatever they want.
Eric: Yeah, well, I’m sure that allows them to be rejuvenated. And they’re talking about your company and its highest regard, not only do their family and friends, but it has to be able to show and they’re passionate, they’re talking with their, your prospects with your consumers. And just the ripple effect of that is massive. And I think that this changing of the guard, this reputation that has existed around recruitment as a whole, it’s time that we really shatter that procession, and I’m loving you and women on your team are really moving the needle and, and company by company engagement by engagement, showing how you can put people first and how it’s not just a butts in seats, numbers business, how it’s really a people business, and it’s not, you know, B2B or B2C. It’s really human2human, it’s a stage and that that is what I’m hearing is, you know, the axis of what you’re really doing is that nurture feminine experience and how that translates in the various circles of your life?
Kathleen: Absolutely. You summarized it very beautifully. I like your B2B. See, to see human to human, I love that I’m gonna steal that now.
Eric: You can steal it, how’s yours? I got it. I got it.
So if you were to have one final takeaway moment, something that in most engagements, whether it be employees, or it be the C suite, they recognize and they have these epiphany moments, what might that be that you would share with your audience to to marinate on and perhaps really think about whether it be on their driver as they lay their head down on the pillow? What’s something that you think that really they should walk away from this way?
Kathleen: I think the key point that I want to bring to companies around the country is that it really is time to put your people first if we give lip service to people our most valuable asset let’s start living the values that ensure that they believe that you’re putting and how are you going to do that? How are you going to how are you going to achieve that and build a culture of really engaged thriving human beings that can help grow your company wonderful well well said people also can be able to listen to you do public speaking you’re traveling the country and they can also if they just want to be able to read the book they can pick that up too.
Eric: So overall, how can people listen to your message? How can they get in touch, or maybe take the next step with some interest.
Kathleen: Sure, so visit our website at TalenTrust.com, which is spelled with one T in the middle and we have a Resources tab that you can download all kinds of content and also order a complimentary book/ We have a website that’s entitled KathleenQuinnVotaw.com, which is my speaking site, so you can certainly engage with us for speaking as well. And our phone number is 303-883-8334. If you’d like to engage further. We’re happy to engage for a free consultation to see if we can be helpful. We’re very selective, we want to make sure we can make a difference and and we are very thoughtful about the customers that we work with. And they’re very thoughtful about working with us too. Awesome.
Eric: Thank you so much for your time. It was amazing meeting you and we look forward to future conversations about how these companies can engage with you and engage with their people. Thank you very much.
Kathleen: Pleasure to be here.