In this episode, Caitlin Delohery, the Editor in Chief of StaffingHub, talks with Chris Johnson, the Direct of Industry Strategy at Checkr. They discuss the rise of instant staffing, how staffing firms benefit from the Amazon model of candidate experience, and the staffing trends to pay attention to in 2021.

Delohery: Welcome to the Staffing Show. I’m here talking to Chris Johnson, Director of Industry Strategy at Checkr. Chris, thanks for talking to me today. Welcome to the show.

Johnson: Yeah, thanks for having me. Yeah, appreciate it.

Delohery: So you moved to Checkr from Adecco and I’m wondering if you could talk a little about that transition and what inspired you to move on over to Checkr.

Johnson: Yeah, for sure. So I was actually a Checkr customer. I think I might’ve been Checkr’s first staffing customer.

It was just really the kind of thing you write a story about. We were launching Adia inside of the Adecco group, so think of a startup inside a $22 billion dollar staffing company. And background checks were certainly part of it. And we had the normal players in house, but I just wasn’t seeing what I really wanted, and nor was the founder, Ernesto, who was really here in the US and together, we were launching Adia for the US market. And so, we kind of went out to the market and saw who was hot and Checkr, obviously we knew they were crushing it in the on-demand space, so it was a natural fit and I knew that were going to buy Checkr within 20 minutes. And really the rest is history.

We certainly signed a contract. We implemented it very quickly. The background check from an Adia standpoint was one of the slickest pieces when we actually launched in Austin. And then through all of that, I did a bunch of customer consulting with Checkr, when they were much smaller obviously, working directly with the marketing team and Daniel and the sales folks around how do we right-size for staffing. What does it actually look like? And I literally just clicked one day. I said, “Man, I love your culture. I would love to work for you guys.” And Mike Johnson said, “Let’s make that happen.”

So Kristen Faris was blowing out her industry strategy team and it just was a really unique opportunity, the stars sort of aligned, and I said, “Man, this is fantastic. I’d love to not tuck a shirt in and work for a startup and kind of mid-career, have an opportunity to slow down and think less about operations and more about what’s around the corner.” So it was just, literally lightning struck twice in my life. It’s the second startup I’ve worked for.

Delohery: Wow, that’s awesome. Background checks are such a pain point for so many staffing firms that it really can slow down the entire process in a time when speed is more important than ever. So can you talk just a little bit about how Checkr eases that pain point?

Johnson: Yeah, for sure. We get asked this all the time, and there is some secret sauce for sure, but if you take a look at the foundation, I was just on a call this morning talking with a prospector about it. There’s certain things that are equalizers in the background check industry, meaning there are counties that are offline. You just have to send court runners, right, and some of those processes just don’t change. But what we really do is we take a look at the places where we can say, make an investment in the supply chain. So the data, how can we get to the data sooner and faster and more consistently? How can we make the data cleaner so that we’re able to process results quite a bit quicker? And certainly, you sort of add all the cool Silicon Valley stuff on top of that with AI and ML, which a lot of people talk about, but we’re doing it in really deliberate ways and again, sort of processing that data.

One of the cool things, the unsung hero is just an example of Checkr, is if you go out and take a look at charge codes, driving under the influence or a petty theft, they are all different codes that are out there in space, and what you see in staffing oftentimes is that data comes back and you have to kind of go do a look up to kind of figure out, “Well, what does that 22BC code actually mean?” And one of the first big investments that our founders made were really kind of taking a step back and going, “Cool, let’s map that. Let’s create some AI around that, so that as we’re getting things back in from the counties, that’s the piece that we can’t change. What we can change is we can just show that and kind of bubble it up and say, ‘Theft,’ right.” And then, what does theft actually mean? Well, that means something that I want to adjudicate against or I want an adverse action against.

So that’s just one example, but there’s dozens and dozens of those where we’ve kind of looked at it and said, “Hmm, that might be the answer for the last three decades, but it’s not the right answer. Let’s come about this from an engineering standpoint and from a technology standpoint and solve that problem.” So when we get asked all the time, “Can you speed it up?” It’s like, “Well, there are areas where potentially I can’t,” right, because I just can’t pick the phone up and call three times any faster, but there are other areas in really your total talent workflow where we can. Where we can drive change, we can drive savings, with the cost or speed savings or candidate delayed or improving your brand, your employment brand. So I think the big differentiator for us is kind of looking at that HR process holistically.

Delohery: And you talk a lot about speed and what you can do to sort of facilitate that process more quickly. That’s a great example you gave of sort of really drilling down to the meaning with AI and ML. Can you talk a little a bit about this idea of instant staffing and how that ties into this really industry-wide need to move more quickly?

Johnson: 100 percent. To some extent, I would say it’s all HR. And we, even for myself, right? Working in a staffing practice, I come at it from a very HR kind of background, meaning I look at it from a buyer’s perspective. And if I’m a buyer sitting at a Fortune 500 company, what do I need out of my staffing suppliers? And if you start working backwards from that, and obviously staffing is always there to sort of fill just in time needs, but now, especially this year even more with COVID, staffing’s really supplying deeper and wider into org charts. So it’s getting access to harder to find skillsets as well.

So we have to find the right folks. We have to make sure we have a good candidate experience. And they also have to be credentialed the right way. So it’s kind of like all in. Getting somebody and finding a candidate and then losing them because the background check is taking too long or because we don’t have any transparency in the background check, that’s a dealbreaker. Now you’re going back to the well, going back to the funnel to find somebody else or worst case even, finding somebody, placing them, then they convert them to full-time and then you end up finding out that you missed something on that background check.

So I think it’s now more important than ever to not only be fast but be accurate and have high-quality. And I think staffing firms are starting to realize that it’s not just a numbers game anymore. It’s about having a good partner.  When we take a look at background checks, it’s not just a check in the box anymore. It can absolutely be a differentiator in your supply chain.

Delohery: And you mentioned COVID and you have a lot of experience in the industry and this year has been a game changer in so many ways, but can you talk a little bit about, I think COVID has really shone a light on the need for more innovation in staffing tech, and you guys are certainly one player in that overall picture, but I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you’ve seen the industry change in just these past nine months?

Johnson: Yeah, like a lot of folks, I didn’t know what to expect in March. It was crazy. The Friday before SIA Exec Forum, and we just kind of got a call and it’s like, “Hey, we’re not traveling.” Springtime was really, really wild. But I’ll say there’s two phenomenons from 2020 that were pretty cool. The first one, for me, and we actually wrote about this quite a bit in not only webinars but our e-books around, and you can call it co-opetition or just cooperation, right? But staffing firms or modalities or brands within staffing firms or even just businesses, right? Hospitality to hospitality, food service to food service, working together and I think the creative business models for me was really cool to take a step back and watch, you think Josh Bersin wrote about it first, at least for me, kind of talking about the Accenture-CHRO exchange. I just think that was a cool lever to pull and it’s still pretty consistent.

I’ve done two webinars in two weeks and this topic came up with four different staffing leaders and they all said, “Yeah, we’re still doing things like that.” It’s totally a thing. So I think that was super interesting, just kind of getting creative and breaking down those old silos. But from a technology standpoint too, it really really accelerated investments for operationalization of investments that were already made. There’s a lot of cool pieces of software out there, and I even saw it inside of Adecco. Sense is an example, right? Sense was out there being used in one business line and the business line totally loved it. But how many of those are sitting out there inside shops whether they’re staffing firms or they’re an enterprise in corporate recruiting, but they haven’t really been recognized yet. The ROI wasn’t there. Somebody bought it, was sort of using it, piloting it, testing it.

I think people began to go back and figure out what cool tech was in house or what cool tech was in the market that could fill a need, and then what do we need to do to get that in here because we knew that there was pretty much a calm before the storm in the spring and summer. And we just saw a ton of interest in people in saying, “Hey, now is the perfect time to change our entire process. Let’s build a tech stack that’s going to support the modern candidate.” So it was rough for sure, I think for all of us in the industry. But I think where we’re sitting today with innovative processes and innovative technology, I just don’t think we would’ve been there without a pandemic like COVID.

Delohery: It’s an interesting perspective. And can you talk a little bit more about what you think the tech stack looks like for the modern candidate, especially in the wake of COVID and all these changes that we’ve seen so quickly?

Johnson: Yeah, I was joking a few months ago about what’s the new definition of a great place to work? Because I’m a career remote worker, so I’m used to doing laundry in the middle of the day and kind of having that work-life integration concept. But I’m the minority in the US or at least I was. So I think now, candidates are going to expect, not only from a working arrangement standpoint, working from home. But I think everybody is now used to this work-life integration. They’re used to having a bit more flexibility, having things accessible.

If you take a look at systems or companies where everybody kind of showed up to a co-located office, well, they had to quickly figure out how to get that data or to get these laptops encrypted or that data encrypted or remote access or whatever it happened to be, SSO, who knows. So folks are now really kind of used to that and when it comes from a hiring standpoint too, you’re going to have to be aware of that.

So number one, how am I recruiting for that modern candidate that wants to have work-life integration. Number two, we wrote about this in one of our e-books around the rise of the signup culture, even if you had folks where it was sort of like, “Hey, my personal life is I’m very used to a consumer-like experience, like the whole Amazon concept. But then when I go to work, I sort of shift gears and it’s cool if I’ve got to log in to 25 different systems with three different logins.” Now, because everybody’s working remotely and it’s up in front of them on a more regular basis or potentially even working on home computers, I think that concept of commercialization or consumerization is quite a bit more prevalent now.

So that tech stack kind of getting to the point, it has to really look and feel much more like a consumer system. So sticky bits in the process isn’t going to fly anymore. You need to almost sell to these candidates, whether it’s sort of rich media, rich type video things, what’s the experience actually going to be like when I’m applying for the job. I think we have a quote somewhere that said that “50 percent of applicants expect to basically go from application to offer within one week.” And that may sound pretty normal in staffing, but in corporate recruiting, that’s just unheard of. So that consumer-like experience where I can click a button, order something, and have it in my house in two days like Amazon is there front and center.

Delohery: That’s amazing and just that seems like such a big sort of shift in just how you think of hiring and how you think of the job process entirely. To map that onto the expectation for Amazon is like a huge mental shift. So many staffing firms are already used to working at that kind of pace, but how do you think staffing firms can best support their candidates who are looking for that kind of turnaround?

Johnson: You have to look at it holistically and there’s a lot of really, really cool systems out there. This certainly isn’t an ad for Checkr or anyone for that matter, but if you go out and look and say, “Cool, my candidates are applying. What does that experience look like?” In HR, it used to be, I remember the shift from just looking at requisitions in job descriptions where they went from these really heavy skills-driven things and you sort of read it and went, “Man, I’m never going to be a fit for that. I’m never going to apply for that,” to where now job descriptions are, not now, but this is 10 plus years ago, 12 years ago, job descriptions got very creative.

We were talking before the show around kind of creative and kind of being artsy, and it’s like all of a sudden it went from skills driven to are you a big thinker? Do you like adventure? Where we were engaging candidates to actually read the job description and say, “Yeah, I think I can do that.” So that was sort of like the tip of the iceberg, I think, for this consumerization, where now it’s not only that, but it’s also that experience in how you apply, and then when you apply, how are you engaging? What are the working arrangements?

But then it’s also kind of after the fact as well. Are you using a CRM tool that allows me to now be able to text and do outreach, “Hey, Chris. Are you still interested?” How do you offload that stuff from the recruiter so that the recruiters can do what they need to do, right. They need to work with humans. They don’t need to do the outreach necessarily. Certainly from an onboarding standpoint, what does that onboarding experience look like? I think our day zero or day one, candidates, when they become employees, is oftentimes a forgotten step. There are certain companies that do it well, but we have all this push around candidate experience, but we always forget about employee experience. So what does that look like? And certainly, are we set with the background check, oftentimes we’re really on that demarcation line. So don’t let that fall down.

One of the big reasons we went with Checkr with Adia is because you had this fantastic Uber-like experience where I’m looking for work, the robots are matching me, it’s super slick, it’s all in my phone. We basically said, “You need to swipe left or right to onboard yourself.” But then all of a sudden, you kind of hit this roadblock in the process where I had to go in my inbox, click on an email, click on a link, and then go through this 25 step process to get onboarded, and we’re like, “It’s just not going to work.”

So you really got to take a look at the entire process and then what’s supporting that process and then how can you honestly make it look and feel much more like buying something online? And I think a lot of staffing firms and potentially even a lot of corporate recruiting shops are going to find that they may have it 50 to 75 percent there, but there’s probably 25 percent in the shadows that’s super sticky that’s going to fall down. And I call it shadow fallout, it’s the folks that they start to have second guesses and they’re like, “Man, I don’t know, this might not be the place for me. It felt really good in recruitment, but onboarding, it feels really horrible. I think I’m going to go reach out on that backup offer.” And that’s very costly.

Delohery: And to build systems that are that efficient and sort of identify even the 25 percent in the shadow, it takes what I would think of as a kind of hands-on leadership to make sure that in any firm, you can sort of root out what’s not being seen. And as you’re a veteran of working remotely and a leader in the staffing space, so I was wondering if you could talk a little about how you build a culture to sort of root out those gaps while you’re leading remotely?

Johnson: It’s hard to answer, but it’s an easy answer, right. You really just kind of have to take a step back and think about, “What would I want?” And it’s really not a conversation to have, and I just don’t look at it and go, “What would I want out of this experience? What would make me feel good about this?” And it oftentimes means having really hard conversations. I can think of some stuff that’s happening right now where we’re kind of looking at the process and sometimes it’s scary. There could be a step in the process that’s on autopilot. It could be with shared service centers. It could just be a process that’s been there for a decade and people are like, “Yeah, I don’t want to open that box because it gets super scary. I don’t know what I’m going to find.” Even though you know it’s where all the pain’s coming from, you just have to be willing to dig in there.

And I won’t even say assume the risk, because I guess there’s risk with any amount of change, but a lot of times, the risk of doing nothing is even greater because the one thing that is a given is that the candidates are changing. There’s data all over the place. We wrote about them in e-books. There’s tons of webinars that are out there. Everybody’s talking about the modern candidate. There’s stats out there talking about temp workers are going to overtake FTE workers. The gig economy, not just from an Uber standpoint, but just the gig economy, that mindset, whether it’s millennials or Gen Z is happening. Winter is coming, so you really need to start testing and tuning these processes, and there’s literally a piece of technology to modernize every step in the process, whether it’s chatbots, CRM tools, talent intelligence, behavioral talent intelligence where you can start navigating the rack and stack folks with personality type data.

It’s certainly in trust and safety, the stuff that we’re working on with really redefining what the background check means, what trust and safety means and kind of taking it away from all the waste generally associated with the background check to figuring out how to reuse some of that data, more of a subscription type model. But again, it’s hard. So you need to have a change agent or a disrupter internally that says, “Cool, we’re going to take a look at this and really, it’s a blank whiteboard. Let’s rebuild it the way that I’d want to experience it, and then we’ll back in the technology into that.”

Delohery: You mentioned this sense of winter is coming, especially in terms of facing unknowns in an organization or facing these scary parts that maybe people don’t want to look at. I’m wondering what belief or behavior or habit has supported you in being able to face uncertainty or being able to really dig into those spots where you might initially not want to look?

Johnson: Luckily I’ve never had a problem with that because I’m a firm believer in that you cannot change reality, and I find a lot of satisfaction in that. And it was one of those things that early in my career, I was doing consulting work. It was hard to walk into. And I’ve been a part of hundreds and hundreds of HR processes in all different sized organizations and when you kind of look at them and say, “Look, this is the reality of the situation. It’s not going to change. We either deal with this or we have issues.” And I think it’s kind of one of those types of situations where you just kind of look at it and say, “Candidates are changing and we are going to have to do something.”

So kind of just grabbing that bull by the horns, not to be too cliché, and just assessing it and then charging through it and dealing with it, I think that’s the scary part because it’s way easier to stay on auto-pilot. It’s just way easier to keep doing the same thing. So it’s what I always did as a consultant and a professional services guy, I would come in, really flip everything upside down, and then rebuild the best way. And whenever I get asked that question, it’s what I say.

It’s like, “How do you drive change in an organization?” Don’t disrupt just to be squeaky or to be the cool kid. You go through it with an end state in mind and I think the end state is really beginning to number one, recognize that the modern candidate is really kind of changing expectations a bit. If you look back two decades, I talked about the job descriptions changing, when I first started working, remote work was super exotic back in the ’90s. You really just didn’t do it. And then, all of a sudden it became cool in certain industries. When I worked at Accenture, it was cool if you were remote even if you lived in an Accenture city. Now sort of fast forward where we’re at today, and you have entire organizations saying, “Yeah, I just think we’re going to close our offices.” Probably should’ve done that a long time ago. They’re realizing the cost savings, but they were just too worried about… it was easier to stay on auto pilot. So yeah, I just think grab the bull by the horns.

Delohery: Maybe this is related to sort of entering into these spaces and really shaking things up, but what are some bad recommendations that you hear in the industry that you’d like to fight against a little bit?

Johnson: Do you mean like staffing industry?

Delohery: Yeah, the staffing industry.

Johnson: Literally probably the opposite of what we just talked about, the reluctance to change. It’s “Business is going well. I don’t want to disrupt. I don’t want to inject.” It’s like there’s never a good day to say, “I’m going to change a process.” There’s never a good season. You’re in ramp and then you’re in planning and then something else comes up. So I think the thing that is most concerning is just like, “It’s not a good time,” because you’re never going to find a good time.

You just have to get in there, and honestly, not even looking at the data, there’s so much good data out there right now in any of the shops whether it’s from Bersin or SIA or Ardent or Gartner. If you just start piling all this data together and start looking at the patterns, and that’s really what we do in the industry team, the handwriting’s on the wall on what needs to happen. And whether it’s just in staffing, whether it’s in recruiting, total talent, direct sourcing is certainly not slowing down, it’s accelerating at a great rate, so how are you going to adapt to these models?

Trust and safety, the wheelhouse that we sit in, what is the new expectation for trust and safety? And then what does that actually look like for the suppliers and the buyers? What do those contracts begin to look like in 2021 and on? What is IDV+ name based credentialing look like? Health screening? There’s just all sorts of macro trends that are out there. So the thing that scares me most is when people just don’t take the time to realize that’s happening.

Delohery: Yeah, that dovetails perfectly into my next question, which is what are the top two or three trends that you think is most important for staffing executives to pay attention to and educate themselves on in 2021?

Johnson: Yeah, I’ve probably beat the dead horse a little bit. Again, what we wrote about as the rise of the signup culture. It’s a cool e-book, because we took it a step back and it’s not just about being web enabled. It’s about really just stopping, thinking about yourself, what do you expect, thinking about your candidates. So I think that’s number one, and just realizing that saying, “Oh you can read my job descriptions on my phone just isn’t good enough anymore.”

But then, really digging deep, deep, deep into that and looking at things like daily pay. How do modern candidates want to be paid? I did a ton of research on this at Adecco and gees, this was probably even three, four years ago now, kind of figuring out, “Well, how does a hospitality worker want to be paid?” And started asking and polling folks, and I realized that not only is daily pay a thing, “I want to work today and get paid tonight or work today and get paid tomorrow, and I want access to all of my money, not just 50 percent with some kept in reserve.” But digital banking. “No, I don’t want it to go into my bank account. Can you just send it right to my Venmo account.” So it was an interesting eye opener for me to go, “Wow, this is more than just experience. It’s about,” even down to the type of work that they want to do, what do they expect out of the staffing firm, how do they get paid. So really kind of digging into that signup culture concept, I’d say number one’s a really big one.

Agile workforce is a massive one. If we go back out to the buyer side, I think everybody got hit this year with the pandemic. Furloughs and layoffs was a super scary thing. So now what are we doing is we’re trying to rebuild very reliant TA processes. So our buyers, coming at it from a supplier side, our buyers are sitting out there going, “Man, okay I need to consume contingent labor at a higher rate now because I want to be more agile, more flexible, and more resilient. And the quickest way to do to that is through an external workforce.” Well now, what does that actually look like? So now, we’ve got to hire a consumption of staffing labor. It could potentially be more complex. We could have MS fees. We could direct sourcing, employee referrals, so all sorts of different modalities on the buyer’s side.

So now on the staffing side, you kind of have to meet that charge. Because they’re trying to be more agile, the staffing firm has to be more agile. And when I say agile, I don’t just mean fast. I mean yes, fast, with a good process like we talked about. But also really taking a look at redeployment, indexing your database, understanding the folks that are in there. Are they still relevant? Are you using those cool outreach tools like CRM type tools that are texting and warming people up, gauging their skills? You could have had a ton of shadow fallout through COVID, you may have been sitting on a million candidates in St. Augustine, Florida, but if you don’t go back and prune those, they could’ve moved out of state. There could’ve been a big mass exodus. “I need to go to where the work is.” I, just this morning, was having coffee with a friend and he said people were moving out of Colorado to Florida in the service industry because Florida here, we’re open, but Colorado is still kind of closed.

Delohery: Wow.

Johnson: So if I’m a staffing firm in Colorado, I’ve just had a ton of shadow fallout with my candidate pool. So what are you doing to prune those so that you’re able to react on a moment’s notice. So that the idea of having an agile workforce, I think, is more than just speed. It’s also talent intelligence is a really big one for me right now.

Delohery: And maybe relatedly, what’s on the horizon for Checkr?

Johnson: Yeah, I love that question. Commercially? Not sure. Being fully transparent. But I sort of alluded to it. We keep toying with what the future of trust and safety actually looks like, and my job is really to stay around the corner quite far. So certainly not coming at this from this is stuff that’s on the roadmap, but if you begin to look at things that we have, certainly we kind of cracked the ice with a really solid ETA calculation. That was kind of like that first how do we start putting talent intelligence or data intelligence in the hands of the right folks, exposing it to the candidates, exposing it out to the recruiters as well or the folks on the hiring side of the house.

But now, just like leveling that up and saying, “Hey, how do we begin taking adjudication data and matching that stuff to, beginning to match that to racks, creating more opportunity.” We’re a big fair chance shop, so we really want to begin to unlock opportunities for folks where the background check becomes an enabler for hiring employment versus a filter.

I think traditionally background checks are like, “Keep the bad people out.” And we’re like, “Well, no, let’s just understand folks, so everything is transparent. Let’s find really good work for them.” It’s certainly yes, we want to make sure that we don’t have bad actors where they shouldn’t be. But there’s also a lot of folks that sit in the middle that have good stories about things that have happened in their life and there’s a lot of good opportunities waiting for them.

So what does that look like? Number one. And how we make that process easy so that it’s not sticky for our hiring professionals. And then really trying to reach into the future and say, “What does it look like? What does that modern background check actually look like?” Is it still press a button, you get something back or is it more of a subscription model? Is it more of a 360 type model? This is the stuff that I’m looking at and my peers where we say, “Is there a hiring passport? Is that a model where the background check becomes separated from the rack and it’s more attached to the human being?” And a human being, again coming back to the modern worker, where they’re now kind of more mobile in their employment, where they may be making their 40 hours up with six or seven different employers, potentially even a couple different counties. So those are the things that are really keeping a lot of us up in the sort of the thought leadership side over here.

Delohery: Well, thank you so much for that insight and thank you for joining me today, Chris. Really appreciate it.

Johnson: Yeah, thanks for having me.