Making the Most of Your Talent

Making the Most of Your Talent

We all know it’s important to recruit and hire great talent. But are you doing enough to grow and develop the people you already have? We’ll be discussing the ins and outs of talent management, including cost-effective ways to develop your people, the risks of holding on to poor performers and the employee trait you should always look for when making a new hire.

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Run Time: 36:47

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Brandon: Hey, welcome back for another episode of the HR for Small Business Podcast and I’m your host Brandon Laws. Hey, in today’s episode, I interview James Sudakow. He’s a returning guest. Last time we talked about his book, Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit: And Other Stupid Stuff We Say in the Corporate World.

That book is all about jargon and we had a lot of fun with that discussion. So go back and listen to that. James is a lot of fun. James also serves as the principal of CH Consulting Inc. They’re a boutique management and organizational effectiveness consulting practice. In this episode, we discuss talent management strategies, succession planning, performance management, and some other management tips and development things about employees.

So I think you’re really going to love this episode. I had a lot of fun. James is great. So I will step aside and get on with the interview. Thanks.


Brandon: Hey, James. Welcome to the podcast. It’s great to have you back.

James: Yeah, thanks for having me again.

Brandon: Yeah. So last time, you and I, we talked about your book Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit: And Other Stupid Stuff We Say in the Corporate World. That was a fun conversation. I enjoyed it because we know you use the jargon and it’s so hard to get away from. But you made fun and it was a good discussion. So hopefully you enjoyed that –

James: Oh, thanks. Yeah, I’m not sure I’ve actually helped myself in that – it’s more of a buzzword now after I wrote the book than before. I think I went backwards. That’s all right.

Brandon: What was the one you just told me about over Skype before we started recording that was one that’s just popping up quite frequently. We will start with that before we start on the talent management side.

James: Oh, yeah, yeah. My new most despised buzzword is “side hustle”. I don’t know why. It just drives me nuts. You hear it all the time. I think I even heard it at an Uber commercial. Not to get them free press here but the ad talks about the side hustle and I don’t like that.

Brandon: So what’s the context that they used for a side hustle? What does that mean?

Picking the Low Hanging Fruit Book Cover

James: So this – I think it’s this context today because all this – like we have our job and then we all seem to be very much impressed with ourselves for having other things we’re doing that are real things that we’re going to do. Once we end up – we will supplant our job. I think the term that now we’re labeling it as until we’ve made it big with that thing, it’s our little side hustle.

Brandon: I like it. Yeah.

James: Yeah.

Brandon: That’s good stuff. Well, you didn’t come on to talk about jargon again. In your business, CH Consulting Inc., you are a boutique management and organizational effectiveness consulting practice. But I think you focus on organizational transformation and talent management. It’s really your expertise. So I wanted to talk a lot about talent management.

So in the corporate world, it seems like, we as leaders, we’re working so hard to attract talent and/or steal talent away from competitors, instead of growing people that we already have. So one of your articles on Inc.com, I thought it was a great article where you talked about six inexpensive yet effective ways to grow your people from the inside out. What are some of those things that you love?

James: Well, I couldn’t agree with you more. I think so much attention – rightfully so. I mean someone’s attention gets paid to how do we bring in the best people. But from my perspective, once you get them here, how you optimize who they are becomes really important. You just really don’t want to lose those people. But then there are also lots of other people that you got within the organization that could easily be grown. We often forget about that.

The other thing is, the company that aren’t forgetting about it, they often come out with a, we can’t afford to really do that, because creating development programs are really, really expensive, and they definitely can be.

So there are always things you can actually do. They don’t cost you any money, which is – I think where the real development is at – a couple of things that I talked about in that article are you could set up mentor programs. Those things are fantastic in terms of getting executives to mentor people often outside of their function. So they get a really different view of the world. You can set up shadowing programs and I’ve actually – I went through one of these. I was the shadower of a person that was a higher level than me and then that’s exactly what it says it is. You just follow them around. They escort you around to their world and it really opens up your eyes as to kind of the breadth of what the job above you looks like.

I always remember earlier in my career I used to laugh at people but not quite get why I was doing it when they say, Oh, I can do my boss’s job, and my now conclusion is anytime somebody says that, I basically want to say, “You need to shadow your boss.”

Brandon: Go take a walk in their shoes! Yeah.

James: Yeah. Then you will see there so many things that they are shielding you from that you have no idea what they do. The shadowing is a great way to really open up someone’s perspective on what that looks like and then it’s a great – it starts a great conversation around, OK. So if that is truly what you want to do, what are the gaps? What are your development needs and how do we kind of figure out what those are?

So that’s a really cool way to do that and it’s a good relationship builder too. So there are those things that I’ve implemented. You can also – there’s the typical give someone some work to do outside of the scope of their job and let them own it. There are also ways that can go wrong and I’ve seen it go wrong. You know, these rotational programs became really popular for a while and people would rotate every six months and it seemed great on paper. But one of the problems with that is that people don’t stay in their rotation long enough to have to live with the implications of what they decided on, right?

So it’s great for exposure and it can help you live with it. So one of the cool things about giving people broader assignments outside their responsibility is you got to keep them there for a little while so that they have to – they make a financial decision and the implications of that don’t show up until nine months later. Well, then you live it and you work through it. If you couple that with a mentoring, those are great ways to get some really –on-the-job learning that costs you nothing and it actually is a great way to give people broader exposure and build talent without even having to put them through some sort of formal, very expensive, classroom days set of sessions.

Brandon: I could tell. There’s really no cost to it other than I can see that the downside might be you’re pulling or draining resources that exist.

James: Right.

Brandon: So for a mentor relationship, you’re taking some time out of some executive’s day to grow and develop, and then the other side, like you’re rotating jobs and you may not be super effective at that job. So maybe you’re just not as efficient. I don’t know. What do you hear as some of the downsides to the inexpensive ones?

James: Well, I mean I think the downside to any of them is that – well, the upside is you’re not spending any money. But the downside is that it does require investment of people to do it, right? I would say that’s probably the same investment that you would require otherwise. But if you’re not spending money, you’re having to find this somewhere else, right? So it does take time. So for example, the executive mentoring, to do it right, it takes a decent amount of time. Although what’s really interesting – we don’t need to quote a whole bunch of people that – I mean everybody knows Jack Welch.

One of the things that I thought was fascinating about what he used to talk about was by the time you get to be an executive, at least 50 percent of your time should be focused on thinking about people and how do you build people’s capabilities and skills. Obviously that depends on the size of your organization.

If you run a really small company, you got to do a whole bunch of things. But it was a really interesting perspective when you think about that’s your job now, not to be doing any of it, to be focusing on how do you develop the people with those next levels to be doing the work. In that way, you could say, yeah, it makes perfect sense that an executive should be allocating a decent portion of his or her time to be doing this kind of mentoring of the next level or levels below them, to give them that experience, right?

Brandon: My other point about how we often spend a lot of time like trying to find talent outside of the walls, to probably match the growth that we’re experiencing as an organization. It’s like, OK, we have a gap because of our growth. Now we need to go find this talent. But what’s your perspective on – if you’re developing talent upstream that maybe you wouldn’t have to hire somebody downstream when the growth happens. What’s your perspective on that?

James: I totally agree. You know, it’s funny. Unfortunately what I see a lot of – and some of it you can certainly understand why it happens. But what I see a lot of is people hiring for current needs and that’s great in terms of saying, “Hey, look, we have a need. We have a skillset that we need. We have a set of competencies that we absolutely have to have.” Of course you would want someone that could fit those needs.

But what we often don’t ask the question is, What else could this person grow into that would allow them to grow with me as the company? So clearly you don’t want to hire someone that can’t do the job as it stands now. But why wouldn’t we ask the question or set of questions to figure out, “Could this person grow with me?” because then to your point, you have this opportunity to really find someone that has – you know, it’s that P word, the potential word, which is what everybody is looking for. But what’s ironic is there’s often a disconnect between what we want, which is someone with potential and the operational way that we select for it, which is not asking about potential, right? We just try to fill the need that we have, right?

So it’s a bummer because then you do end up with people where the company outgrows the role and they’re not able to grow with them or sometimes you find yourself in a really weird position where had you asked about or tried to assess potential, you could actually have a person grow into a bigger role, that you’re now having to hire somebody else on top of the role that they’re already in, which gets very accretive in terms of cost of your business.

Brandon: Couldn’t agree more. So how do business leaders identify what those current needs are obviously but what the future needs are going to be based on the business’s objectives or growth plans.

James: Yeah. It’s a great question. I mean sometimes you can’t see what’s around the corner, especially if you’re a small. It’s hard to know what’s going to happen. But I mean that’s kind of what the strategic planning process is really for and the way I always look at it from a talent management perspective is the places I’ve seen do the best at this are those that combine their strategic business planning with their talent planning.

So basically what they’re doing is they’re saying, OK. If we project out two years – because nobody does three to five-year business planning anymore. At some point, we will just do six months and call it a day, which would drive me nuts. But let’s assume we do two to three years out and we’re trying to figure out where we are going to be. What are we trying to transform this business into? Where are we going? What are the core competencies as an organization? We need to do it. When do we think we will need those?

The next question should then be, let’s look at our pipeline of talent that we have internally. Who can we grow? Who can adapt? Who can move? Where does that then leave us in terms of what we need to go groom from the outside and what types of potential do we need to do there? So where I’ve seen it work really well is when you combine those conversations and put this strategic planning and this talent review notion together into one thing. Then you got a plan, because you know directionally where you kind of take the business and you also know at the same time what are the skillsets from the people that we need to get there, to do it.

Brandon: So when you look at, OK, where the business is going, where you think it’s going to go or at least the growth projections, and you look at what core competencies you have within the organization – and let’s say, OK, we need these skills long term to get us to where we need to go. Do you look at the people, the positions? Like do you put names on those or do you just sort of look at like, OK. Here’s a gap. We need to grow somebody in this core competency, so that way we can get there? How does that – do you separate the person from the actual job? What do you do?

James: Yeah. So for me, in a perfect world, what I try to do when I work with companies is say, First of all, what’s the competency that we need? Let’s just kind of separate that and almost compartmentalize it and say, For us to achieve a business objective XYZ, what are the core competencies and skills we have to have? and if we think we have them already, then of course we can start to look at who are the people that have those sill sets or if we think that we don’t, let’s do an assessment of somebody or a group of people and look at whether they have the skillset or not just so we can kind of get a sense for just how much depth do we have in the skillset or not.

So I think you have to ultimately get to the people. But I don’t like to start there. I like to start with kind of what is the competency in and of itself that we think we need and then let’s jump over the next bridge which is, OK. Do we have it or do we not? and the only way to get into that is kind of assess the people. But doing it at that step of the process, not at the very beginning.

I see a lot of places where we don’t do that. We jump right to people and what they can do. But it’s kind of out of context if we don’t think about what’s the core competency irrespective of the person it might be tied to.

Brandon: I want to make sure I touch a little bit on succession planning because it seems like the generational shifting, it’s probably happening more and more and maybe in your business you see it quite a bit. So, what should an organization be doing to plan for the eventual ownership change or executive regime changes? You need to get some younger leaders in there to train them. What does the succession planning look like?

Planning for the next leaders at work

James: So I just have this come up with a client. So they went in – their executive leadership team went into a bit of a freak-out mode because they looked at their demographics of themselves and then they looked at the demographics of the next level below them and they realized that the demographics were exactly the same and that they were aging, right? They were like, Oh my god! What’s going to happen in terms of the continuity of our business here? What do we do? So I’ve been working with these guys for a long, long time.

So we came in and we did kind of a full scale talent review with the eye for saying, Hey, deeper in the organization, what do we have here? and then let’s combine that with, What are our timespans at the executive level for retirement or for people kind of like transitioning slowly into potentially partial retirement? and depending on where those landed. In this particular case, we landed on, OK, a few of these positions, we have more run time.

So we identified several people at several levels lower that were in a demographic that wouldn’t put them ready for retirement. We said, We got to invest heavily. We’ve got to figure out an expedited plan for that, which means how quickly do we kind of augment and provide multiple opportunities for development that might come more quickly than we had anticipated, if we didn’t have this demographic challenge.

Then for others, we simply said, You know what? Is there even enough time given the retirement window of this particular leader? So how do we then – this goes back to what you and I were just talking about. How do we then go to the outside to figure out who we can bring in, but someone that could also grow, right?

So there are all this kind of stuff around – then do we think differently about the roles and the organization, so that we could actually take advantage of this “kind of scary opportunity” to extend people into roles they hadn’t done before with the appropriate mentorship, while those executives were still there? So this is what the succession planning looked like. It became this very big kind of organizational design, strategic session to figure out how do we kind of in a quick way figure out how to deal with this demographic challenge that they were facing. That’s what they’re working on right now. They’ve been working on it for the last six months since we did.

Brandon: That’s really fascinating. To me, it sounds like the very first thing you would have to do in this process is to figure out the timeline first, because it’s going to give you kind of the go-ahead to – when you develop people within the organization to fill up these positions or actually – gosh, it’s coming up fast. We need to probably go to the outside.

James: Right. We came up with a few go/no decision days where we said, Hey look, we are going to try to expedite the development of person X, knowing that this particular executive leader has a timeframe of Y before they’re going to be moving on to retirement. If by a certain point we as an executive leadership team don’t feel like they’re going to get there in time, then we have to go to the outside, right?

So kind of this notion of contingency planning around we want to develop the person internally. We were a little late to this game. I think they knew that. They kind of said, Man, I wish we had been doing this earlier because then we would have been further along with this person or these people. But we’re not. So that’s where we’re at and the contingency plan date is on the project plan if you will, to say, Look, are they ready? Are they not? and we have to make a decision.

Brandon: When people come to you about the succession planning, is any organization off-limits to when they should be doing this? Is there a certain time in the organization where they should consider doing this? Should it be just part of strategic planning, in general?

James: Yeah. So my nirvana world is when it’s just part of your annual process.

Brandon: Yeah. It seems like it should be.

James: It should be, yeah, because then what happens is, in many ways, you don’t get into the jam that I just described these guys were in, right? Because they’ve been really good actually about doing it for a while and then they kind of rolled off for a few years and then they kind of picked it up when there was this urgent kind of business need.

But the reality is we had done it every year consistently as part of the strategic planning, as part of the operating planning processes, combined all that. I think we would have some people that were further developed and more ready than they were at this point. So to me, it should just be part of a standard annual process to be doing this, looking at your people. I mean, they’re your biggest expense and they’re also the biggest asset that you have, right? That’s kind of a trite saying but everybody knows it. So let’s look at them every year and let’s do this exercise every year.

We want to figure out, Are they on course with the development plans? Do we need to change them? Has the business changed enough where we need to rethink about these things? especially in small companies and like tech industries where things are changing all the time. What you thought was your path and your competencies one day isn’t the next. So how do we kind of be nimble about that with our talent process too?

Brandon: I read somewhere and I think it was either one of your blog posts or your website somewhere. You talked about how most organizations performance management systems or processes as just simply tracking and documenting their performance. But how do you get organizations to move to something that you call progressive performance management?

James: Yeah. It’s funny. They’re all look-backs, right? I mean not all. But very common, it’s a look-back. It’s kind of like here’s what your performance was. To get to a different thing is that whole notion of a really big change in thinking. I don’t want to use like the paradigm shift because that’s a bad buzzword. But it’s a big shift in how you have to think about what you’re doing. So the whole concept is what is performance management really – what are you really trying to accomplish? That’s kind of one of the first things that I always say to companies is – we have to answer that question before you put any system in place.

Most people say, We want to get our teams to the highest performing level that we can get them. Well, what’s ironic about that is that the predominant set of performance reviews or performance management processes and systems out there actually don’t do that at all. They just tell you what your performance looked like in the past.

So how do you get there? I mean it’s really hard because the only way to do it, at least in my experience, is you have to implement this real-time notion of performance feedback, like real time because – I had a blog that I wrote where I compared corporate performance management to my high school basketball coach. It was meant to be a little bit of a joke. But it would be ludicrous for my high school coach to have waited until 12 games through our high school season to sit me down for a major review and tell me I’ve made that same bad pass every game for the last 12 games and that we’ve lost five of those games because I keep making that bad pass, right? Nobody would ever do that in sports.

What did he do? He said, “Sudakow, you make that pass right now. Don’t do that again.” Like he tells me in the moment what I did right and what I didn’t do right.

So I’ve actually worked with and been part of a couple of companies that did this really well. It just requires a really big culture shift. So one of the things that we did in one of these companies was something as simple as after every single meeting, the last five minutes of the agenda was always dedicated to what went well, what could have been better about that. Every single meeting. It became part of the culture. It seems the most overly daunting, but you would be surprised at how effective that was in course-correcting, in helping people change a little bit about how they showed up for that meeting, about how the meeting went.

Then that kind of extended to this notion of how do you get real time feedback. Now that’s really hard because people are running around. But one of the things that I try to do with companies is how do you start to give people this notion of giving real-time feedback versus giving a documented report of performance that happened six months ago. That’s a change that has to take place. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. But that –

Brandon: It does. What’s interesting to me is it’s still technically a look-back. Even in the moment, it’s still in the past. But we’re talking about performance management. You’re talking about annual reviews and like things that happened a long time ago whereas if we could just develop some sort of system to give instantaneous feedback, whether that means in the moment verbally or in an email. What do see work the best?

James: Yeah. So for me – it’s funny. There are some systems out there and you’ve probably even used them or seen them where what they ask you to do as a manager is like keep this running journal or running log. Like, I saw a person do this and let’s put that in there. But it only really matters if you actually tell them or have a quick conversation about it.

So for me, it’s one of those things where there has to be a dialogue and obviously if you work in an environment where there are lots of different locations, you can’t always have a dialogue in person. But get on the phone. Email to me doesn’t feel like it works as well because people often want to discuss and have their own interpretation of what just happened, good or bad.

So it’s just that notion of carving out five minutes to say, Hey, you know what? Let’s come together and let’s talk for a couple of minutes about that last meeting. Even though – you’re right. It’s a look-back. It’s meant to be either corrected in the moment or it’s meant to be reinforcing in the moment of something that went well. Then you kind of go on with your day and you remember that as to what worked well and what didn’t work well.

That’s how you kind of modify and manage behavior at a real tactical level. I’ve seen it work but it works a lot better than kind of a look-back performance review system does where people are just sitting there, kind of taking their feedback, right?

Documenting an employee's performance

Brandon: Well, that’s the thing about the annual performance review. It’s like, well, as time went by, let’s stack up this year against last year and see how I did. Whereas you should have a general sense for how you’re really doing and then it’s just – you go through the motions of a performance review just because it’s what you’ve always done.

The thing I do about the annual review is it is a benchmark year over year, right? But it’s so subjective. You have ratings and what not. It’s one manager giving you ratings. I don’t know. I mean I like the model of everyday feedback. But is there a perfect system for it? I think that’s the question we got to ask ourselves.

James: It is the right question and actually you bring up a really good point. I think combining the two is probably the most effective because having some sort of document review and kind of some forward-looking set of goals. I mean you’re probably goal-oriented. I’m goal-oriented. A lot of people are. I like to know what those things are and I like – at the end of the year, be able to kind of see how I did against those, right? So I think that’s great. I think it’s that – what happens in between is the part that we fail at. You know what I mean?

Brandon: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, because I think what happens is like we would know generally how we did for the entire year, because it’s like you don’t have specifics. You have this broad information about like, Oh, did you hit your goals? Did you meet these benchmarks?

James: Right.

Brandon: But in the moment, like if you’re getting feedback on a daily basis, you’re going to see the nuances of how you work on a day to day basis and you’re more likely to have tangible takeaways for how you actually work. It just seems like combining the two would be the best.

James: Yeah, I think it is. It’s just like anything else in the business world, right? That just requires a lot of effort from people to make a big shift and that’s why I think a lot haven’t done it yet. A lot of people have tried to go one or the other.

So, it’s interesting. I know of a really big company that went away from ratings. Like you said, they went completely away from it. They said, You know what? Let’s try this different more kind of progressive way of doing it. We’re not going to have a numeric rating scale. We’re not going to do this kind of like qualitative feedback, and they got a lot of press for being this kind of innovative front running organization doing this. But what was really ironic about it, they went away from it and they – I knew a few of the leaders that were driving it and eventually they said, Yeah, it was great in concept.” But as soon as it came down to trying to kind of compare people’s performance or do some sort of – kind of a lot of organizations do the rack-and-stack where we try to figure out where do people fit relative to each other. They had no way to do it and that was really important for them.

So there has got to be this kind of notion of like incorporating a better set of real-time qualitative discussions without losing the quantitative documented end of your approach.

Brandon: I want to shift gears just a little bit because you got so much other great information that I wanted to just make sure I ask you before we parted ways. You talked about management and like there are some really common things that managers do that drive people out of the organization. What are those things? So people listening can absolutely stop doing those and encourage managers that report to them to stop doing it.

James: Yeah, yeah. So this is unfortunately something I see all the time. So I do a lot of work with teams and sometimes I work with teams that are doing well, but we’re trying to get them to like optimal performance. But often I come in when something is just not going well at all.

The caveat I will give you, the sad part about it is, it’s not the stuff that like Hollywood depicts, where people are doing like unethical things or they’re lying or they’re cheating or they’re stealing, and they’re just getting away with it. These are actually well-intentioned people that are just doing these things that drive people nuts and so there are a few that I always call people out. I think the first is this notion of not listening to your people and not soliciting their input.

Yes, there are times where you just need to make an authoritarian decision of moving forward and I think people are pretty – they understand that. But the manager that never solicits input from his or her people, especially about things that they’re doing in their job, just drives people nuts because they feel like this person doesn’t know what I’m doing or doesn’t want to understand the implications.

They know – their mind is made up. But they don’t have the awareness of it. So that’s like sin number one and then you can combine that with the second which is asking for people’s input and then not actually using it. So that drives people even more nuts I think because people view that as like a check in the box. It’s like they say, OK, somebody must have told my manager that they should be asking for input. But if it never gets used, that really, really frustrates people. So those are a couple that I see all the time.

I think one of the other ones that I see all the time is – it’s hard to blame managers for it but it’s a reality. It’s this notion of like chronically understaffing. We work in times where margins are thin, especially in certain industries, and we’re always crunching. There’s always this notion of you got to do more with less. I mean that has kind of been the vibe in the corporate world for a very long time, which is sad.

So managers are often put in this place where they don’t have the resources that they need. For a short period of time, I think people can rally around it and kind of they can say, You know what? We can charge and we can get it done. But it was happening all the time. People burn out and people just kind of say, Well, does my manager even really care about me as a person? which is kind of a number now, because we’re going to keep squeezing and squeezing and squeezing. Again, a lot of – especially in middle management level, they’re kind of put in the tough position where they don’t necessarily have the choice around it.

But they certainly have the choice to say, OK, then we got to prioritize better. If we have to do what we have and we can’t staff the way I want, then something has got to come off the table. Those are hard decisions. But I see those things happening all the time.

Brandon: Let me add one more that I found from one of your posts, that I thought was very smart. It’s so true. So you talked about how – let’s say there are nine great performers out of ten and there’s one person that’s just not cutting it. They’re a poor performer. They might be disruptive. What are the risks of not getting rid of that person and just hanging on to them? What does that do to the team?

Employee struggling at work

James: Yeah, that’s a great one. I see sadly quite a bit. I mean there are several risks. One of the first risks is they – they kind of become a cancer to the group, right? That thing where you have this poor performer that everybody knows is a poor performer and if there’s no action taken on it, it’s really demoralizing the team, which ultimately impacts their performance. But the other thing it does is to your really good performers, they look back and they say, Why is this person not taking action on that? We know that this person is not performing.

Some of them are going to leave, right? I have many top performers come to me and say, You know what? The reason I left here is because it seems to be OK to not do a good job and nobody seems to care. So why am I working so hard?

Now really good performers, there’s something about their DNA. I don’t think they have it in them to not work really hard. But what it drives them to do is to say, Well, I’m going to go work hard somewhere else where other people work hard and that’s rewarded, right? So it really can be debilitating to a team.

Brandon: You described “learning agility” as the most important trait to look for when hiring a new employee. Why is that?

James: Yeah. It goes back to what we were talking about earlier. It’s this notion of, we do not know what’s coming our way, even if we’re really good at planning. I’ve learned that the hard way. I’m a big planner and I still don’t know what’s happening half the time because things change.

Brandon: Yeah.

James: So if you don’t have someone that can learn and grow – and learning agility is really not only your ability to do it. But it’s your desire to do it. So you find a lot of people that are really smart. But they just get entrenched in what they know and they don’t want to expand and that’s a problem too. But you got to have people that are willing, eager and excited to learn more, expand what they know, because that’s the only way you adapt, right? I tell people I’ve made a career out of just being flexible and learning and shoving as much information into my head as I could because you just don’t know when you’re going to need it.

When business, the landscapes change, you want someone that you can have the confidence to say, You know what? We haven’t done this before. But we’re really good at taking some similarities of a different experience and extrapolating them and putting them in. You know, let’s figure it out.

That’s really what you want. That’s what you want. That’s the skill set you want. If I can get that in everybody that ever worked for me, it’s amazing what you can accomplish with that skillset.

Brandon: The million dollar question ultimately on learning agility is, “How do you even interview for it or recruit for it?”

James: Yeah. So it’s hard, right? So the good news is, because this learning agility thing is becoming more accepted and well-known out there, there are lots of assessments that you can actually take and a lot of the big executive recruiting firms have them. They’ve built them in. There are lots of them that are doing that now. We’re trying to really factor that in. There are quantitative objective assessments you can take to see how people land on a learning agility scale.

The other thing though, there are lots of things that we already do from a recruiting perspective way you can do that. One is as simple as the reference check, which for many people is. They check the box activity. But you’re getting the opportunity to talk to someone or interact with someone with whom this person that you’re thinking about spent a lot of time working. Now granted they identified this person. So there is some bias there. But most of the people I’ve talked to when I’ve kind of probed and said, OK. So tell me about something where this person got thrown into something that they didn’t have any experience with. What did they do? How did they handle that situation? What was their response?

You usually get some pretty honest answers in terms of both sides of the good and the developmental opportunities. So you can certainly use your reference check. That’s a great way of getting into that kind of thing and you can even kind of throw in some stuff in the interview process. I’m not a big fan of this because I had it done to me a few times and it felt really strange. You can have people who are on your interview slate throw a curveball to that candidate and see how they respond to it.

I can give you an example of what happened to me. This was years ago. I was interviewing for a consulting firm and one of the partners came in. I was on like the fourth person in the agenda for the day and one of the partners came in and he just started antagonizing me.

Brandon: Wow.

James: Yeah. He started literally disagreeing with everything I said, challenging me. Not in a kind of peer-to-peer kind of way. But in like a, Why would you think that? kind of a way. Putting me on the spot, making it really, really difficult. What I found out later was that was purposeful. That was his role. That was his purpose in the interview was to see how I would respond to that, how I would deal with the curveball that he threw me.

It’s not pleasant. So you have to be ready to kind of explain that to people after the fact that this – we’re not a bunch of jerks. This is kind of a test in many ways. But it was a really interesting thing to see from a learning perspective how able was I to adapt and be flexible to what was happening there and pull from previous experiences in the real-time moment, dealing with some difficult challenges that he was throwing at me.

Brandon: James, I want to give you the last word before we part. Anything else you want to talk about on workforce planning, talent management? Anything about your business? Anything that you’re working on now that you want listeners to know about?

James: Yeah. No, I just always appreciate talking to you. It’s always a lot of fun and I think the biggest message I always try to get people is this alignment between business planning and talent planning. We’ve hit on that a few times. But that to me – when you’re doing that, it’s amazing how much it opens up the conversation to really talking strategically about people. So that’s kind of my parting message and I know we’ve hit on it a few times. But it’s probably my main – if I can put that in a fortune cookie, that’s what I would put in there.

Brandon: James Sudakow, thank you for joining the podcast. I appreciate it.

James: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Brandon Laws

As Director of Marketing, Brandon Laws leads all marketing efforts for Xenium, providing oversight on all marketing campaigns, digital marketing strategy, events, sponsorships and public relations. Brandon brings a positive energy to every aspect of his role at Xenium—from internal initiatives around culture and wellness to industry thought leadership through the Xenium podcast and other social efforts. Active within the HR community, he currently volunteers on the board of the Portland Human Resource Management Association as the Director of Marketing & PR.

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