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HRx Radio – Executive Conversations: On Friday mornings, John Sumser interviews key executives from around the industry. The conversation covers what makes the executive tick and what makes their company great.

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations

Guest: Tracey Parsons, President, Parsons Strategic Consulting
Episode: 337
Air Date: August 30, 2019


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Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused (or extremely confused) and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation and let us know if you find something wrong and we’ll get it fixed right away. Thank you for your understanding.

Full Transcript with timecode

Today’s Show is brought to you by the Human Resource Executive Magazine’s HR Technology Conference and Exposition, held October 1st through 4th at the Venetian in Las Vegas.

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Good morning, and welcome to HRExaminer’ s Executive Conversations. I’m your host John Sumser and today we’re going to be talking with Tracey Parsons. If you don’t know about Tracey, you might be able [00:01:00] to accuse her of being the energy behind the transformation of recruiting over the past 20 years.

[00:01:06] She’s been at every interesting junction and at every interesting company as recruiting evolved from a mostly posting process to today’s world where we spend a lot of time talking about candidate experience and embedding chatbots and AI and the process. So Tracey, how are you this morning?

I’m feeling great. [00:01:28] I mean, this is a great day Friday before a long weekend. I’m never going to complain about.

So take a moment and introduce yourself. Tell the truth about about the last 20 years or so.

Well, you use a pivotal word John, truth. First of all, I’ve been told by everybody that knew me as a child that I was born a rabble-rouser.

[00:01:47] So it’s no surprise that as I found my way in this in this industry over the last twenty blah blah blah years that that’s what I’ve been doing. I really think that I was put on this Earth to change the way people find their dream [00:02:00] jobs and how companies find “A players” because I’ve not met anybody on either side of this equation who thinks that it’s working.

[00:02:06] So, you know in the 90s, I work for TMP and Monster in the nineties. I wrote my first website like 1995, placed the first jobs related Banner ad on the internet ran a MySpace based campaign for a customer in 2005 at each of those pivotal junctions I was there pushing pushing pushing and I got here because.
[00:02:24] Well, frankly, I’m pushy and I just want things to change we have to fix this. This is not a good experience for anybody. So I started this company back in 2008 took some time off to work with a great software company for a few years and now I’m back at it.

So what does your company do?

We’re first and foremost a consultancy and I get a lot of questions, ‘oh are you an agency.’

[00:02:46] We are not an agency. We are simply a consultancy and we work with some fantastic companies to help them not only understand here, so here comes some buzzwords, are you ready to understand how they’re doing in the candidate [00:03:00] experience? Where their gaps are.

Hell, how do you even backup and define it look at their problems from inside and outside and then try to fix them and try to fix them in ways that are not like, oh my God, that’s never going to be achieved but in ways that are actually like, okay you did this one thing if you just fix the way that you did this function right here in this little Gap.

[00:03:21] You could see a nice return on this. We also do a lot of strategy work and employer brand and recruitment marketing that’s been my background for 20 plus years. And then we have a couple of customers who just have outsourced their recruitment marketing efforts completely to us. So we run We Run The recruitment marketing their strategy and execute their strategy and campaign form.

[00:03:38] So you said something at the top that I want to come back to you said nobody’s happy with how this is working recruiting has like a fifty percent failure rate. Why do you think it’s so broken? Well, I think I think that a couple I think a lot of things I saw some Statistics over the last couple of years that 90% of people according to Lincoln [00:04:00] or open to a job, right?

[00:04:01] So that’s essentially everybody. I mean if we’re if we’re you know rounding up that’s using universe and three quarters are just engaged or I’m sorry 2/3 or disengage that their job according to go Dallas but jives with us a couple of years ago that 20% of people would rather wait in line at the DMV all day and apply for a job.

[00:04:18] So they’re open they’re not thrilled with what they’re currently doing, but they just simply can’t even. With what we’ve created and we’ve created these things to appease hiring managers in the companies and I look at even I looked at I had a conversation this week of the customer about what I’ve been calling employer Bland.

[00:04:35] We keep telling people that were Innovative and we’re Team focused and we’re customer first and we don’t tell them what that actually means and we really when you think about the journey again buzzword, sorry, but when you think about how a candidate flows through what we give to them. We basically opened the floodgates to tell everybody how amazing we are and then they get excited but we don’t tell them the truth.

[00:04:57] Right? We don’t tell them the good the bad the ugly. [00:05:00] We just tell him that ye sprinkles and glitter and then by the way, if you really want to get through here, you’re going to have to sit through this horrifying application process and then we might call you back in all that branding that we’ve done upfront immediately stops after we get you in like it’s just.

[00:05:15] We cannot we cannot continue to do that. Like it ends up with those failure rates that you’re talking about John because we set the expectation in one spot. We get them through this bad experience and then we get them in and it’s not we were sold. It’s not what the candidates were sold and there’s just a myriad of problems that I see in the how we just constantly try to campaign problems away as opposed to really addressing the problem.

[00:05:38] That’s interesting. So you think if I were to if I were to cut to the Chase and what you said you think the problem has to do with the fact that recruiting drops the ball at the moment that somebody gets hired. Well, I do believe that not because their job is over like if you look at I was laughing the other day, I was looking at you know, everybody keeps talking about the [00:06:00] recruitment funnel and the final literally ends at higher like there’s a little arrow that says higher that’s the end of the funnel.

[00:06:06] And it assumes that people die when they’re hired like nobody dies in there hired. What are we doing? The keep them engaged in the workforce. What are we doing to make sure that they are equipped with the information that they need to start on day one that we are running. You know, I’ve been talking about, you know, Talent experience versus candidate experience because that’s one side of the equation then there’s the employee experience which also is not really dialed.

[00:06:31] So we have start looking this as a holistic person like pre hired a post retire. How do you do that? Because from what I can tell there’s nobody in the recruiting world who is raising their hand and saying I want to do work after their higher, right? And so it ends up being the recruiting department blaming the rest of the organization and and what people already people already don’t like the recruiters.

[00:06:57] So that’s not really an interesting [00:07:00] solution. So John what you’re getting to is what I think the Crux of the problem is. There are hand off that don’t happen because most of the big Enterprise companies. I mean they have internal come. So, how are we handing that off, right? How are we handing off this candidate experience to the employee experience because you’re right after the higher I got to move on to the next higher.

[00:07:22] Ain’t nobody got time for that is what does ends up being and what the real problem is. You know when you talk about the failure rate is that it turns into all of this finger pointing. I mean if you think about how unique recruiting is as an existing and function like marketing we make the sale, right you make the sale and marketing and you you get the information out there sales makes the sale.

[00:07:42] Then it’s up to our customer success teams are our customer support teams to continue to manage that relationship that there is some level of marketing to existing customers that happened. Right? So we’ve got to figure out how to hand this off more elegantly and stop pointing fingers at each other because that’s obviously not [00:08:00] working either when you don’t point fingers at each other you take responsibility, so I’m waiting for somebody any anywhere.

[00:08:08] Well, I’ll take you to take responsibility is kind of easy and being responsible is kind of easy waiting for somebody to insist that you do it is hard. And so so I’m waiting for the recruiting department that goes oh, I couldn’t possibly be over when we hire. We just first this new employee and we’ve got responsibility for the new employee for some amount of time until they are up and running and fully productive for instance.

[00:08:36] And yeah, you’re right. One of my customers is actually working on that if you’re unfamiliar with the work that’s going on at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City with Molly Weaver. Just pay attention to what they’re doing. I really we went. Did a complete Talent experience redesigned for them and they’re in the process of implementing a lot of pieces of those recommendations and a lot of it is about okay.

[00:08:57] We’ve got them we hired them. Hey, let’s [00:09:00] look at how we’re onboarding people. Hey, let’s look at that first week. Hey, let’s look at how our hiring managers are going to behave after the fact and what are we doing about review cycles? And how are we promoting an elevating people internally so that they continue to be advocates for the ha.

[00:09:13] But also I think that there are a few early adopters out there who are really thinking about the long tail of this because you and I know full well that turning people over is terrifying the expensive and it does nothing but double and triple wreck loads. Well, it’s really interesting. You know, I spent I spent some time in Japan looking at recruiting in Japan and attrition in Japan is 3% a year.
[00:09:37] As the result of a tradition being 3% a year the total cost of the HR department. Is like a third of what it is in the in the States because what drives the positive HR is attrition rates insurance. And so so you’d be tempted to think that people would go. Oh right. We’re causing that problem [00:10:00] recruiting is causing the attrition problem.

[00:10:03] That should be a bumper sticker recruiting causes a Tricia and I don’t know. I don’t know about that. I don’t think this is black and white. I think there’s a lot of gray in that but recruiting could help cause less attrition. There is nobody in the organization who is better position to identify what actual quality means in the organization and measure.

[00:10:29] They just have to you just have to stand up and take responsibility for it. But without that idea of why do hiring managers let these people go which is a quality problem with recruiting. So it’s just like follow-up from any other function you bought our product that we want to know why you’re not happy with it at 110.
[00:10:51] Right? And so it is recruiting shop. I think to understand why their work fail. And the document is it to measure opportunity there?

Yeah, [00:11:00] there’s a huge opportunity there. So do you use AI in your work? A little I go speak at a few conferences a year. So I use voice recognition to do some scripting on my speeches and recently I just posted research piece that was pretty well received on six players in the chat bot market and I had a lot of fun doing that like just watching everybody’s demos and seeing what was out there because I really got to spend time trying to trick the robots which was fun for me and some of them are very very smart and others are pretty darn easy to trick but I’m a huge.

[00:11:32] Huge believer in Ai and machine learning. I think that that is our future and I think that there are so many things that we can have the robot doing that were either terrible at or don’t want to do right. You’re just talking about that. Like hey, we have this failure rate. But why are we having that failure rate?

[00:11:49] What do we keep doing over and over again? And let’s unleash the machine learning on that. Like let’s talk about how robots could be doing dispositions because we’re really really terrible at that. I mean, we don’t do it [00:12:00] elegantly most times because frankly the worst part of the job is telling somebody that they were not hired and honestly the robot to send that message and they call so like overlays the machine learning to tell the candidate who wasn’t selected.

[00:12:12] Like how they stack up against the people who were like, I think there’s an opportunity for us to start building a little bit more relationship-based Communications using our robots. And then let’s be honest when I do an exit interview, I am not going to tell Karen and HR what really went wrong.

[00:12:28] What really went downhill for me and the culture or my manager, but I’m probably more likely to tell a robot because that machine’s not going to judge me or push back. It’s just going to gather that information. So I think that you know while I don’t use it, exclusively other than voice recognition, I see it has tremendous potential in our space Also the things that we just think.

[00:12:47] So what are the things that I’ve been wondering about with the whole chat button? What is something that’s really worth understanding is in our research what we’re seeing is that today and I imagine this will get [00:13:00] better over time. But today for every new chat but startup project somewhere. There’s a failure there’s a failure because it shows the failure rate.

[00:13:10] The historical failure rate is near a hundred percent. But over time it’s inching down chat, but you don’t chat Bots are a bigger deal than the vendors make them out to be the interesting question though is recruiting is this this sort of buccaneering Silo inside of the HR department and HR is deploying conversational interfaces with a lot of different parts of the of the system and you have this problem emerging that.

[00:13:40] The conversation that you can have with the recruiting interface. Is different than the conversation that you can have with the payroll interface. It’s different than the conversation you have with the benefits interface. It’s different than the conversation you have with all the rest of the HR policy interfaces on things as simple as the words and [00:14:00] phrases that the conversational interface is able to recognize and so it’s pretty clear that HR is going to have to move into having shingle databases at some level show that.

[00:14:14] Don’t have employees puzzled by the fact that they can ask a question in a certain way to the payroll system, but they cannot be given the same weight of the recruiting system. And so my view is that the longevity of recruiting as a discrete siloed function is short because data is going to force it to become a team player rather than an isolated.

[00:14:37] What do you think Jonathan II completely agree and one of the things that I found in doing this research has when you’re looking for these tools, you know, look across your organization. Like why do we have a different system for payroll? Why do we have a system on our careers website and then on our corporate website like they’re all different and they all have different levels of strength in the natural [00:15:00] language processing area.

[00:15:01] And that’s what I really wanted to look at. Like who can I who can I have a conversation with it makes it feel. Get the person versus like when you’ll have a conversation with some of the some of the chat box out there in a okay. So that’s 1 2 3 or 4. And if you put the words that are associated with that whatever for is if you type like Monday, it’s like I don’t understand your answer, but the really good ones.

[00:15:24] Well, I understand that natural language processing but I don’t like this siloed approach to find anything. Like that’s one of the things that we keep getting wrong. And one of the things that actually were solving as a as a side offering I am one of my partner’s is an amazing technology. So his ability to tie system together has been really really powerful for our customers but not buying things in silos like that just it’s a waste it’s a huge way.

[00:15:51] Well, it may be a waste but but there are no observable providers who cover it all well and there’s the classic sweet versus [00:16:00] best-of-breed sort of conversation here. Which is which is something that’s really good at doing with hooting may not be that good at doing payroll. And what you want is consistency at certain levels of the interaction.

[00:16:13] It’s just like having a standard interface anywhere else having a conversational interface that can tolerate the same level of interrogation is where we’re headed. And right now I’m aware of companies that have 50 different chatbots running inside of the HR. Oh, wow. Yeah, you know there’s a bunch of different components of sourcing so you can have four or five just in the sourcing model before you get to will put you know, this is this is a Char and a decent-sized HR department probably has 300 different pieces of software that that it uses to do its job.

[00:16:53] And so 50 might be intense 450 isn’t anything like that the real problem. Right, so [00:17:00] I don’t think 50 is the I don’t think 50 is the ceiling? Okay, and that means that they’re going to be companies boring that integrate all of that stuff. They just aren’t here yet because that question of how do you tie all of the HR systems together into a single conversational interface while keeping the people in the silos happy with the results.

[00:17:21] That’s a super challenging technical question. So what are the big questions you’re trying to answer? The thing I wake up thinking about every day is how we still struggling to treat candidates like people. Well, we still wonder where all the good people are. Like there’s this dichotomy that I will be there with a TA leader recruiting leader and sometimes c-suite leader and like yeah, man, we just can’t seem to find any good people and then I look at him.

[00:17:48] I was like what have you looked at what it’s like to apply to work here. Nobody’s doing this because you treat them like garbage and I was blown away because you said there’s not a day that goes by that you don’t read some sort of [00:18:00] insane blog post about take candidate. Behave this way. Hey, Canada, behave that way and I’m starting to write a series on it.

[00:18:06] Hang employer. You should think about these things to you know, think about things like if you’re telling me as a candidate to be on time for an interview you should be on time for an interview and you know, why are we supposed to treat candidates? Like people that we want to work for us? Yeah.

[00:18:26] Sure. Well, one of them is like when we’re going through all of this experience design and employer brand. I’ve determined that we’ve put every. All of the friction point because again, this should not be a frictionless experience. It should not be like buying a bunch of bananas at the grocery store ordering something on Amazon.

[00:18:50] It should not be like that because it’s not like toothpaste you can switch brands do safety switch Brands. If you don’t like it, you can toss it out and go get another one. So there’s got to be some [00:19:00] level of friction in the transaction of hiring somebody or getting a new job. My problem is that we have put all the friction.

[00:19:08] There is zero friction up front in the education phase which needs to have a boatload more friction. We are doing nothing to screen people in and out before they even get to the 80s and then we decided to put all of our friction in the 80s and the interview and the offer. That’s not where the friction goes not where all the friction goes.

[00:19:32] So what we’re trying to do with our customers is help them completely rethink. That experience so some of my customers have focused on updating their career site to be more green and screen out and when they talk about their employer brand it’s not all sunshine and Roses but it’s not Doom and Gloom either.

[00:19:52] It’s somewhere in the real middle, right? This is what you’re actually going to do at this company for us. And [00:20:00] here’s the good part and here’s the tough part and if this sounds like something that you can accept. More houses we want to talk to you and then streamlining that application. I mean, I I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to a customer.

[00:20:12] It says why do you need somebody social security number at that point? You don’t you need it when they get to the or contract the correct that like they’re already invested. So there’s there’s all of those things that we’re trying to really put the friction in the right spot to impact that ultimate Downstream experience of hiring somebody to get them to stay and stick.

[00:20:33] Cool. So what do you think the ethical issues are in this world? You’re operating in? Well, that’s a big one going back to how we treat palette all I see these days is just some serious bait-and-switch, you know, hey sunshine and roses and let’s be honest people know that they’re going to work like you literally they know that you you’re going to have to pay them to show up.

[00:20:53] So they know that it’s going to be hard but here’s the problem. We keep Google promising over [00:21:00] messaging. Trying to message our way out of that blast Door reviews. Instead of really fixing the problem and one time I actually had a perfect candidate experience John one time. It was perfect.

They were on all the best places to work list and they were on all the places that I want to see I talk to customers and I talk to people who work there and everything was adding up and the interview in the application.

[00:21:22] Everything was simple the friction was where the friction needed to be and I got there. They on-boarded me like like a chance and I quit nine months later, right? The employee experience was not what they were selling.

So the the sad thing about his in Washington is totally unethical when we put out there something that we believe in, you know, we believe is going to attract people and get them in and it’s not true.

[00:21:49] But then we force them to say for at least two years of we’re going to label you a job topper. It’s not after you have to tell him.

[00:22:00] Right, and if you don’t tell the real story by God, you better stick around for two years or me. And my peers are going to call you a job hopper and we’re not going to let you in the next time.

[00:22:09] It’s me. Oh, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Thank you for bringing up something that I’ve been asking this question for a year now. No, nobody has come close to. Oh, yeah this whole thing about telling the truth.

[00:22:25] As I’ve been told frequently what I’m and I believe what I’m saying is not rocket science, but somebody was like, you know what Tracey common sense is not necessarily common practice Yeah. So what makes your company different we’re cruising up to the end here what makes your company different. I think I mean, I really think that the key differentiator for us is that we come to this table is voice of the cannon.

[00:22:51] Right, and so we’re coming at this from a completely different angle and we always talk about how we treat our candidate but we don’t really talk to our [00:23:00] candidates. You’ll see a lot of messaging out there that obviously nobody talks to the employees of the candidate. So we’re trying to come at this from a slightly different angle and we have some pretty bad aspect that we’re developing around internal mobility and candidate experience Italian experience indexing, but the cool thing is that unlike most tech companies.

[00:23:18] We re Services first software. If you go to work at a fast company its software first and services. No, thank you. So we are voices a candidate our core and we want to bring you know, some great technology that supports the candidate that makes them feel heard and that makes that you know that really brings us right.

[00:23:36] I think we started developing and selling Talent personas on our website earlier this year and you know, you simply go in and you want to hire a salesperson you download a Persona and it’s all filled out and understand what makes that salesperson to. Awesome, awesome show. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

[00:23:54] Why don’t you take a moment and reintroduce yourself? Tell people how to get hold of [00:24:00] you.

Yeah, my name is Tracey Parsons and I work a Parsons Strategic Consulting. My Twitter handle is at TParson – couldn’t be more clear about that. You can find me on LinkedIn, blond hair, red sweater Tracey Parsons, and then my email is Tracey, T-R-A-C-E-Y because Joyce and Jeff were pretty good sticklers about having an “e” in there.

[00:24:18] And it’s T-R-A-C-E-Y @ with an extra s in there an our URL is

It’s been a great conversation and you’re right, everybody does feel better after they spend a little bit of time talking to you.

Well, there’s your dose of Vitamin T.

There you go. Thanks.

Thanks for taking the time to do this, and thanks everybody for listening, and we’ll see you back here, same time next week.

Bye bye now.

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