Practicing kindness in business and creating an inclusive environment where a diverse group of employees can thrive can bring many benefits! Lydia Wilson, VP of Strategy and Development at Signature Consultants, talks about her start in the industry as a recruiter and her thoughts on combating the talent crisis by considering candidates on a global scale. She also shares ideas about how she feels younger generations such as millennials and Gen Z have changed the professional landscape for the better.
David Folwell: Hello everybody. And thank you for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show. Today, I am super excited to be joined by Lydia Wilson, who is the executive VP of strategy and development at Signature Consultants. Thank you so much for joining us today, Lydia. To kick things off, why don’t you tell a little bit about yourself and how you got into the staffing industry.Lydia Wilson: Got all day, Dave? We got all day. I’m old, buddy. It’s going to take a little bit. So I started the old-school way. I started as a recruiter and sat on a desk. This was back in the day when you still answered ads. So people posted an ad, I answered an ad and when I got into it, it was really love at first sight. So I started as a recruiter, got into sales, worked my way through managerial positions, leadership positions, and I started at Adecco. So it was a position that there was a lot of growth and a lot of opportunity for me. So then, I also got into VMS, MSP, that space and ended up here, within Signature, a DISYS company. So that’s where I sit today.
Folwell: And what type of recruiting were you doing out the gate?
Wilson: I was doing administrative and clerical. It is a lot easier doing that gig in the beginning, but cut my teeth there for sure.
Folwell: Awesome. And why don’t you explain a little bit about your organization and your guys’ position in the staffing market?
Wilson: I came in three years ago to Signature and it was an amazing experience for me because when I joined the company, it was running right around $350 million or so in revenue. And I had just stepped out of an organization running $38 billion and managing a division of $6 billion. So, I, talk about a huge shift. So I got into the role with Signature and the reason that I came to it was just the vision and the purpose of the organization. So Signature has been around for 25 years, and in this last year, it was acquired by the DISYS organization. So those two organizations together created, we got a run rate right now at about a $1.2 billion organization. So it’s been fun even watching in the last 12 months. Primarily IT staffing on both entities, but there’s a lot of project-based work and a lot of managed service consulting project type work as well. But both organizations had cut their teeth on the staffing side and continued to expand out. So happy to be part of the organization today.
Folwell: Yeah. Well, that’s great. And I only hear good things about Signature Consultants and we’ve had Mahfuz from DISYS on the podcast as well.
Wilson: Oh, great. I didn’t know that. I’m going to listen to his podcast now, see how he did. See if he can hold up.
Folwell: He was great. One of my favorite conversations, he was fantastic.
Wilson: Oh, good. He’s a feisty guy.
Folwell: He is. He has some great stories about creating the organization. And Signature, I know you guys were part of the…was it the Breaking Through book? And I feel like it was a very, very cool learning organization. So I was very, I’m excited to have you guys on and have you on and hear how you guys operate.
Wilson: You know, it’s Dr. Jay Cohen, founder of Signature, and started and had a full-blown career as a doctor for 25 years, started the organization. And interestingly, started it with the same premise of what he had as a physician. He came in and didn’t understand business, but came in with the pretense that, “I want to build an organization where I would like to work and I wouldn’t want to leave.” And the first thing he started was, I’m not going to do any harm. Came from the Hippocratic oath, took that from the Hippocratic oath.
Folwell: That’s cool.
Wilson: And then took this idea that, in the medical practice, you collaborate all the time with other doctors to come up with the best approach for your patient, took the exact same premise for how he was going to attack staffing. So you collaborate with each other, you work with each other, you come up with the best decision for your consultant and your customer. So that’s the premise of the organization. And 25 years later still sits that way today.
Folwell: That is amazing. I did not know that backstory. I’ve just heard about some of your, I think it was at Executive Forum a few years ago. I was learning about some of your sales training, and I think maybe even college training programs that you guys are doing, which sounded incredible.
Wilson: It’s the reason, actually, the reason that I came was, there was this idea that you’re taking people right out of college and starting them in their first job. And having that first experience be the most amazing experience that they have, whether they choose to stay in staffing or not, you want to get them off on the right foot. And you want them to have this experience that hopefully they stay with the organization, but if they don’t, you want it to be a really positive one. And then the growth from that, the whole organization’s about learning and development. And we have teams and mentors, and they take them all the way through their careers. So they move from recruiter to sales, to management, to leadership. So yeah, quite a bit rests on that collaboration with learning and development and sales and recruiting. So it’s an interesting mix.
Folwell: Yeah, and that actually leads to the next question I had for you, which we started talking about. One of the tactics that you guys use, and maybe you could dig deeper into that, but is, how do agencies win the war for talent today? I think it’s changed a lot in the last couple years. We’ve got the Great Resignation, all these different things going on. What’s your advice in terms of how you guys are doing it and/or best practice that you’ve seen in the market?
Wilson: We felt really strongly, as I just shared the premise of the organization, we felt that this idea that if you build an organization that is kind, has empathy, focuses on learning and development and caring for people, that you create an organization where not only people are drawn to it, but they don’t want to leave it. So this last year we worked with a research company to take a look at that and take a look at what that really means. And we found that there’s a direct correlation between leadership and empathy and innovation, and the likelihood that somebody comes into that organization and has a leader that is kind, opposed and thinks of people first, opposed to profits first. Now, it’s not Pollyanna, Dave. It’s not like we don’t understand that we have to make money. We clearly get that piece of it, but the decisions are made on people first, and the decisions are made around, how do we do right by our people and how do we create that environment for our people?
And we have found that by doing that, okay, let’s make sure I split the areas here. We haven’t had an issue with attracting talent to our organization, because we are in the people business, because we are in the placement business. Do we find, like many others right now, we have a difficulty and finding our talent that we place within our customers? Yes, we do. I’m going to add one little caveat to that. The same way that we treat our own full-time employees…
Wilson: Is the way that we treat our contractors or we call them consultants. So we speak with our consultants every single week. We contact them every single week. We talk to them just like…we have a culture of friends first. So if you’re talking with your friends, you’re updating your friends. This is the same thing that you’re doing with your consultants. And one of the really amazing things that we found is, we ran the last… I’m going to give you the statistics over the last three years. We’re running redeployment, which is putting our people back out to work. Our redeployment rate right now is 41%.
Wilson: I’m just going to let you sit on that one, Dave.
Folwell: I don’t know the industry average. Do you know the comparison to this part?
Wilson: I can tell you, we had a meeting with senior-level executives a couple months ago, and there was nobody in double digits, not one firm in double digits. And it was fascinating, because we were talking about something totally different and we just got locked on this topic. So it’s never one thing. It’s never anything where you’re saying, “Oh yeah, it’s because we call them once a week or we create this friends first culture, or we hire kids right out of college.” It’s all of those things. It’s creating an environment where you’re allowed to make mistakes. It’s creating an environment of encouraging people to learn and to develop and not make the same mistakes. I’m sure Mahfuz talked about that when he was on, he’s a big believer in mistakes. He just doesn’t like the same ones, neither do I. But that redeployment number, we are incredibly proud of. And we feel pretty strongly that, that’s because we’ve created an environment where people want to work.
Folwell: That’s amazing. And I know that everybody’s always looking for this silver bullet and it sounds like you guys have built, over…
Wilson: That’s it, Dave. You got your silver bullet. And we have this conversation with other leaders in the industry, because we feel strongly that when we do well and when we’re sharing information, the industry does well. And when the industry does well, it’s a win for all of us. So we take an approach that, we’re happy to share at least what we’re doing with it, because we know the more people that are continuing to work and feel good about contracted work, that helps all of us. It allows customers to still use it in a really positive way.
Folwell: Yeah. It sounds like you guys are focused on building the reputation for staffing agencies as a whole, knowing that’s an important thing.
Wilson: No, it’s good. The other thing that I didn’t mention and I think it’s an important part. I’m shifting my role as we go forward. And I’m taking on more of a, looking at how we’re handling leadership as we grow. And not only looking at our emerging leaders, but our current leaders and our senior leaders. How are we leading? We’ve got hybrid models, we’ve got such a demand for talent. We’ve got speed as necessary. And your first feeling is, you got to go, you got to go faster, you got to go harder. And again, kindness has shown that, not only do we need to be kind, we have to be empathetic, we have to teach. And there’s a lot of different hats. It’s not easy being a leader and it sure as hell is not easy being in the staffing industry.
Folwell: Yeah. Well, and you’ve brought this up a little bit, but could you maybe just dive into, I’ve heard you talk about being nice, being kind and what is kind leadership and how do you see that as a difference?
Wilson: Being nice is well-mannered and holding to the social mores, being kind is this idea that I care enough about you to talk about what you need to do, holding you accountable for what you do, but in such a way that it’s teaching and it’s learning and your development is building. It’s a way that not only, we’re both accountable for your success. It’s a way that, when we speak to each other and we work with each other, we’re working together on it in a way that is about their advancement, their improvement. And I think one of the things that’s important that we talk about is, it’s not being like each other. It’s authentically being yourself and refining that. So in that way that we’re talking about being kind, it’s learning…a lot of people say, “Hey, I’m just not that kind. Or I’m not that nice.” And it’s not asking somebody to step out of who they are. It’s refining who you are, and it’s allowing you to hold somebody accountable, with their best interests at heart.
Folwell: Yeah. And so with that, you brought up the point of some people will just say, “I’m not a kind person, or I’m not a nice person.” You hear people say that, they have this attitude of like, do you look for that when you’re bringing people into the organization as part of the hiring process? Is that one of your attributes? Or are you training for it and endorsing it, or both?
Wilson: That’s a really good question. We beat the hell out of them. And then we hope that they’re still standing.
Folwell: Haze them for a couple years and then say, “All right, you made it.”
Wilson: Coming in, and it’s really interesting watching the transformation and you can bring people into the organization and you can see that there is either a, me focus, or a we focus. And it’s hard because remember, we’re talking about getting our talent when they’re right out of school. And so, when you’re right out of school, you’re bright-eyed, you’re bushy-tailed, but, come on, let’s face it. You don’t really know what you want. So we go through this approach of see one, do one, teach one. So it’s this idea that they learn by watching, they listen, they learn a process. Then the idea is they move them forward and they do that process. So they’ve now seen it be done. They’re now doing it themselves. And the key part of this, the third part of it to reinforce it is now, they’re mentoring others to do it. And so, are we perfect?
Heck no. Do we have people that are not as refined as others in the kindness factor? Of course we do. But the idea is that, as we move this forward, there’s so much about holding people accountable, that you can hold people accountable in a kind way. And a lot of people come in and they go, “Gosh, you guys are so nice. Gosh, you guys are so welcoming.” And that is very true. It is a very welcoming organization, but it’s also a very hard-working organization. So this idea of seeing it, doing it, and then teaching it is the process that we go through about that. And kindness is only one factor in that, they’re learning the industry as well as learning how to manage and lead. But it’s repetition, like all things. And it’s creating an environment where somebody can authentically be themselves, but then work on being kind and creating an environment that’s about learning and development.
Folwell: Wow. That sounds really incredible. And what type of impact or effect do you think this approach has had on your organization?
Wilson: Hmm, huge. I told you at the start of this, that the organization, how it was founded on, and those beliefs have not changed over time. Friends first, do the right thing, do no harm, work hard. Those have never changed. What we’ve refined is the operating model that we use, is called develop in advance. And we put that in, in 2017. So we were doing things, but we hadn’t systematized things. And it sounds funny because, we’re talking about how do we find talent? That’s how we find talent, that’s how we retain talent. It is through that. And so, when we look at that and systematize it, and we’re still refining it. We talked about the acquisition of DISYS and we are putting that model into the entire organization. And so, it’s a heck of an uplift.
Folwell: And then too, you guys are actually taking the Signature model, applying that within DISYS.
Folwell: And that’s amazing. So that’s what I was going to ask, how the transition of the merger of the two in business…
Wilson: It’s been amazing, because both organizations have been successful in their own right, but they did it very differently. So the wonderful news is that we’re taking the strengths out of both organizations and applying it to the other side. Like all things, we’ve waited a little bit until we could do it and we’ve taken the same approach, getting to know each other, getting to trust each other, learning that part of it. The really nice thing is the similarities and values in both of the organizations. So even though on the surface, things were done differently, the values were the same.
And like any relationship whether it’s personal or professional, but there’s a shared set of values usually, that glue people together. And we found that in both organizations, now we’re making some shifts and refining some things on both sides. So even though the operating model is a Signature operating model, when you look at the DISYS side, Signature had no offshore capabilities or no international piece of business. So that’s fascinating, adding that piece of it to Signature. There’s out-based services that we’ve got. There’s a lot of different things that we’re passing on, on both sides, but keeping a pretty tight swim lane.
Folwell: That’s amazing. And switching gears a little bit from that, looking at your background, you were awarded one of the Global Power 150 – Women in Staffing recently, by SIA, you have a pretty incredible list of accomplishments. How has mentorship played a role in your growth in staffing, and how do you see it playing a role within your organization as well?
Wilson: I was surprised you didn’t genuflect when I came into the room, Dave, so I’m not sure how this is going from my side with all this stuff. No, there’s some incredible women and I’ve been fortunate to be in the space for a very long time. So I’ve had an opportunity to not only get to know a lot of these women very well as competitors, if you will, as friends, as mentors, it’s been tremendous on my side. So for me personally, I started out and the first mentor I had, honestly, was my mom. And I was very fortunate to have somebody that felt pretty strongly about, be yourself and do your own thing, and you can do what you want to do. And in my early twenties, when I got into the industry, I had another woman who was in her sixties, who I’m very grateful for, Jacqueline Lawson, who’s since passed, but she took that same interest in me and was able to continue.
I was able to grow with her mentorship. What it’s taught me is that, especially when you look at the IT staffing side of it, the staffing industry as a whole, has quite a bit of women in it, still has the issue with not a lot of women in executive roles. It’s still a pretty small percentage, no different than when you look at Fortune 500 companies. I think there’s still less than 10% of the Fortune 500 companies have female executives, but it was also one of the reasons that Jay Cohen had brought me to Signature. And one of the reasons Mahfuz and I have looked at this role of leadership being very important, and not only pulling women up and allowing women to see other women in senior or executive roles, but also looking at diversity and inclusion and making sure that we’re creating an environment that works for everybody, doesn’t just work for men or doesn’t just work for white men over 40.
The diversity of thought is how we get better. And I think that’s the part that I enjoy the most, that when you’re looking at how you can impact the world of work and the world of staffing, you do that with a lot of really energized people. And you do that with a lot of diversity and thought. So I’ve been fortunate to be able to do that.
Folwell: And have you guys had any challenges that you’ve faced in terms of trying to implement this or bring this to market within your organization?
Wilson: No, it’s perfect. Yeah, it’s a nightmare. You look at this stuff and you set out to do it and you always want to go at a speed that is faster than…
Folwell: By next year we’re going to be the most diverse company in the world. We’re going to solve all these problems.
Wilson: Yeah, it takes longer. While we still continue to have our top sales people, something like 52, 54% of our top sales people are female. We look at the same thing as our recruiters, but we don’t see that in our management and leadership. And there’s a variety of reasons for it. Some women choose not to go down that path. There’s still issues and concerns that we don’t put enough women, out of a lack of a better term, into the pipeline of talent in the industry, especially because we’re still IT staffing, it’s still fairly dominated by men. So creating that environment where women can see themselves in the roles, they can see themselves sitting at the table. We struggle with that as well.
Folwell: Yeah. No, it’s awesome to see. The industry feels like, in the 10 years I’ve been part of it from the supplier side and the publication side, it seems to have been shifting pretty drastically. I see a lot of movement. I just picked up my copy of Together We Rise, and I know Ericka Hyson and the whole group are…it feels like there’s a lot of positive things going on.
Wilson: I got to tell you a funny story about that book. I was part of that group, but I was doing a lot of stuff within Signature, so I couldn’t meet with them. And then, I was laughing because I was like, “Okay, really guys, you wrote a book?” And then I purposely, I didn’t make the call. We were all just together too, in Austin at the SIA. And it was great. I think most of the women that participated in that book were there. There’s a copy of it somewhere around here on my desk. So no, I love that they did that. And I love that the stories are so unique and everybody’s taken such a different path. And I also really like to see that we’re taking this industry, which has traditionally pulled women up from within and up, that’s changing, that Randstad hired a CEO out in the U.S., outside of the industry. I think it was in, I don’t know if it was IT or what.
Wilson: Which is awesome. Manpower’s done the same, outside of the industry. So the industry before, wasn’t attracting female talent at a senior level, and it’s nice to see that’s happening as well. Again, we talked about diversity of people, but that’s diversity of ideas as I think is helping the organizations grow.
Folwell: Yeah, no, that’s really great. And one of the conversations I’ve seen a lot of information about online and I’m personally curious, always to know your perspective and learn more on this front is, do you have any advice on how men can be better allies?
Wilson: Oh, it’s a really good question. I think that the first thing is that, when I take a look at it and at least the men that I work with today, I love the guys that I work with and I happen to work on a team that has all men. But first of all, it’s making sure that the criteria, the talent that you’re hiring and bringing into the organization is diverse, because that’s the first thing you have to do. You have to have this infusion of talent, whatever that is, that you have to be thinking about more women or more people of color into your organization. So it’s a very deliberate act.
And I don’t think before, it was always, “Oh, that’s just a good person. Or I know that person, or that’s a person that’s a referral.” There’s this idea that you have to be very conscious and deliberate about bringing in a talent that doesn’t look like the talent that you’ve had before. The second thing is, it’s an environment of psychological safety. So when you’re creating this environment, creating an environment that’s psychologically safe, all, it’s not just comfortable, we’re not just talking about sports or we’re not just talking about the same old, be aware that the language that you use is important and being inclusive is really important.
Folwell: Yeah. And I find it interesting with the company that I have. We just hired three new developers and we worked with staffing firms to help find those developers. And I would say that 80% of the people that submitted for it were male.
Wilson: Men, yeah.
Folwell: And we’re talking about being inclusive in that. And it’s how are you working with your clients in IT, or how are you handling that?
Wilson: It’s a great question. I’ll tell you on a bigger picture and then I’ll bring it in a little bit. On a bigger picture, one of the things that we did was, take a look at the environments in which we were supporting. If you look at the environments in which you’re supporting, what’s the demographic of where you are? And does the demographic of where you are match the demographic of the office you have? And if it doesn’t, what are you doing about that? And whether you’re looking for talent on your own, or you’re using a recruiter search firm to find that talent, what have you asked for in regards to that? And again, this has to start there, and then you have to create an environment that’s inclusive and then you have to talk about it.
We’ve spent some time this last year, unbundling quite a bit of baggage that some of our female employees had about…and when I say baggage, I mean that in a positive sense. I mean that it just needed to be unpacked, right?
Wilson: It’s stuff that it was like, “Hey, this is bothering me.” And didn’t feel uncomfortable until there was a female leader to talk about it with on, “Hey, how do we do this better? And what can we do here?” And I applaud our male leadership, because they came and said, I’m not the right person to lead this. This has happened under my stead. Could you lead this and decide where are we going to at this and how we’re going to do it. And people need to be seen, they need to be heard, they need to be valued. And that’s everybody, not just a certain color or a certain sex.
Folwell: Yeah, absolutely. And I think those are all great comments and insights on the challenges and opportunities there. Just speaking broadly about staffing, what are some of the other major trends that you see happening right now that are impacting your organization?
Wilson: No, everybody’s concerned about talent and finding talent. Obviously what we’re talking about today, but I think the pandemic honestly, is going to help us with that. Because when you look at the talent crisis, if you will, the really interesting, you could look at, I think specifically software developers and if I don’t have the numbers exactly right, but they’re somewhere in this range. The software developers that are being hired in the globe today, 58% of them, those roles sit in the U.S. or by companies in the U.S., while 17% of software developers are actually in the U.S. So 58% of the roles are here. 17% of the people here. Interestingly, 48% of the people are in Asia Pacific. So the people are there…
Folwell: Just not here.
Wilson: Yeah, they’re just not here. And so, when I look at this and before I came to Signature DISYS I had a global role, so it was really interesting looking at how talent worked in other parts of the globe and how you were having conversations where, just because the role is in France, does the person need to be sitting in France to do that?
Before COVID, I would say roughly 80% of the companies said, “Yes, that’s exactly what has to happen.” I don’t think that has to happen today. And so, I’m starting to see this trend. I wouldn’t call it international, I would just call it, that the talent can sit anywhere. And the bigger piece is that it’s starting to say the talent can sit anywhere in the U.S. We have to broaden that out to say, “Talent can sit anywhere in the globe.” And I think, once we start to do that and once companies start to get comfortable with that, we’ll see differences, we’ll see uptick in it. The other thing is, it’s just dealing with all of this, the hybrid model, going back, how do you train and develop people when they’re not sitting in your offices anymore?
Wilson: This is, how do you hold on to talent when the talent, you don’t see them? They’re sitting in their bedroom, in their jammies. What do you do with that? So I think there’s that, there’s navigating that. And then, the second piece is that actual physical component of navigating that. And the third piece is managing and leading in that new world, and that’s an issue for staffing. That’s an issue for all companies, but it’s definitely an issue for staffing. It has been traditionally done. The blocking and tackling has been done in-market. And if people are no longer in-market or sitting somewhere else, how do you lead remote teams? How do you give remote teams kindness, lead with kindness? How do you develop those people? That takes a different set of skills for a manager and a leader than it did before.
Folwell: Yeah. And how are you guys? My team’s been remote for, I guess, going on eight years now, so we’ve been used to this, pre-pandemic.
Folwell: But how are you guys handling that? Are you guys back in the office or what are you…
Wilson: Yeah, so the Signature brand is not back in the office, has not been in the office since March…
Folwell: Not at all, zero. Nobody’s going in. Okay.
Wilson: Now, we are starting to go back into the office, and here’s the other amazing thing. We’ve done better outside of the office, than ever as well. So when you look at the results, when you look at what things have done. Now, part of that is the uptick in work. Part of that is, there’s no commute time. There’s lots of other things to it. But the biggest struggle for us, for sure, is learning and development. So we talked about the people that we bring into our organization, have no work experience. And so much is picked up by being in front of one another and people just listening and observing, and I said, “See one, do one, teach one.” This one is really hard. We have…
Folwell: How do you interact?
Wilson: Yeah. We created open Zoom lines so people could hear. So people could see and hear for the teaching component. We are going back into the office a couple days a week, next month, and then we’re going to work, like a lot of companies, we’re going to run a hybrid model. And the main reason for doing that is just learning and development.
Folwell: Yeah, no, that makes complete sense. And as you’ve talked about the growth of the staffing industry over the last couple years, I saw a stat earlier today that I thought was interesting, might be relevant is, 68% of independent workers responded to the statement, I feel more secure working independently compared to 32% in 2011 and 53% in 2019, which is insane to me to think that independent workers working on contract has actually moved to a spot where people feel better doing that, than they do at a payroll job.
Wilson: I know.
Folwell: So I think that’s changing.
Wilson: Well, for our industry. Feeling really good about that. Yeah. I think the other interesting thing about it though is that, this was a, never are we going to see something like this.
Folwell: Hopefully this is it.
Wilson: I’m knocking on wood, but from the idea that, this was a global social experiment. So when you look, I don’t think we would’ve ever got here if everybody in the world didn’t have to do it. My mom’s 84 years old, my mom knows how to Zoom.
Wilson: Never would that have happened. So when you look at some of this stuff and what that’s going to mean now, I’m not surprised by that stat. It was moving up 2% to 3%, 5% each year. And then it just takes this meteoric rise, because the world’s doing it. And people are also finding that there’s control. They have control, they have a little more balance. They have things that they wanted to do that they couldn’t do. We’ve got more people retiring earlier.
We’ve got more people looking at, I’m always reluctant to use the word, work-life balance. But I think at least I know for my generation, we didn’t shift the way that the world worked. We had to shift to the world of work when we came into it. When you look at Millennials and Gen X, Y, and Z, these guys have changed the game. Now part of that is technology, for sure.
Wilson: But these guys are like, “No, we’re not doing it.” And “No, we are not going to do this. You have to show us purpose. You have to show us a little bit differently. You have to work with us a little bit differently.” And I’m not going to lie, I love it. I love that it’s shifted that way. I think it’s better for humankind. I do.
Folwell: I completely agree.
Folwell: So I think that’s the first thing people are looking for now, and what’s the purpose? Where are we going? What’s the team environment? And I can’t imagine if you forced everybody with my team, if I was like, “Oh, we have to go into the office every day.” Just being like, “Okay.”
Wilson: It would be rough. Yeah. We do it. We need to do it because of our model to a certain degree. We founded the organization on this premise of people first and doing the right thing. So this is why the…survey was so interesting to us, because we were really actually trying to see, does this still work? Does this still fit? If we look at this scientifically we know it works for us, but if we looked at this scientifically, what would we find? And when you find that people are answering this saying, “I want to work where people come first, I want to work in an environment that puts people first. I want to work for a kind leader.” And then you correlate businesses that have that culture or that approach. And you take a look at the results. They’re more innovative, they’re more creative. They’re putting out more profits. It seems a little silly not to do it. It goes against everything that’s logical. The data pushes it that way.
Folwell: It’s always nice when things make business sense and they’re better for the people.
Wilson: Yeah, it is.
Folwell: And for us, everybody.
Wilson: For sure.
Folwell: Jumping to the next part of the interview. Have some fun, little bit more personal questions to jump into, and then we can wrap it up from there. So starting off, what is advice you wish you were given before entering the staffing industry?
Wilson: I think about this often, and it’s going to seem a little corny that I say it attached to this. I wish somebody had told me to be kinder. And I don’t mean that about the industry. I came in. I am a high-charging, high-achieving, high-driven person. And I don’t think I was mean, but I also don’t think I was kind. And I think that, when I reflect back on my own leadership style and I look at the leadership style of others, I think if I had been kinder, if I had taken a little more time and maybe thought something through, opposed to running through it, that’s the advice that I wish somebody had a given me. And you know what, to be honest, they probably would’ve given it to me. And I would’ve kept…
Folwell: I’m going to keep sprinting.
Wilson: Exactly. I would’ve kept running anyway. But my point is that, if you’re listening to this, at least learn from my mistake and slow down a little bit. And in that concept, I think also what I’m saying is, I didn’t collaborate the same way. I thought that the responsibility was only on me. I didn’t seek out advice that same way. And I know I’m spinning off that a little bit, but I think that’s what I see when I look at myself, it doesn’t all have to be you.
Folwell: That’s a really great message. Next question. In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Wilson: Oh, wow. I am more patient. I deliberate more. I slow down. I look at something from different angles. Now, again, I don’t know if my husband and adult children would probably say the same thing, but I’m going to tell you, I have worked very hard to be more patient, and I’ve worked very hard to be present. And both of those things have served me very well. I used to be the ultimate multitasker, and I think that the two of them are very related, because I didn’t have patience. And I just told you about the speed earlier. I always want to go faster. I want to get things done. They have to get done, and they have to go. And so, both of those things, I’ve spent some time working on. And as I said before on the collaboration, I don’t think you do that stuff on your own. Talk to me about it, mention it to me. So that’s helpful for sure.
Folwell: And as you talk about that, are there any specific tactics, books, any advice on how to be more patient and present? I struggle with that personally. I know that’s something I, and I imagine many of our listeners here, who are listening to this to try to get ahead, have that same issue too.
Wilson: Yeah. I think the way that it was brought up to me was that I was going too fast. And when you go too fast, you either miss things or have to rework things. And so, that got me to pause, with that. Then I started to look at things that I was doing, and I can tell you exactly when I did it. It was when I came into Signature, because I was used to bigger organization, more people, larger things. And it was, why are you going so fast? Why are you not slowing down and being very deliberate about…
Folwell: That’s awesome.
Wilson: What it is that you do. And the really cool thing was, I was joking about my husband and my kids, but the really cool thing is, it carries over to other parts of your life. So you start to go, “Oh, okay. I don’t have to do 24 things in a day.” Now, you asked what specifically? Blocking out time in my calendar to think, or not putting things back to back, to back to back, having time to shift between those things and stopping between things to think about what it is that you’re doing now, and then being present in those things. Really difficult in the first six months of COVID and all the Zoom. I was exhausted.
Folwell: Zoom is just back to back.
Wilson: Yeah. I was exhausted with that. But the idea of putting your phone down and putting your phone away and not having it near you, and you don’t have to know all those things. Jay was also somebody who, one of the premises he shared with me was, it was also something that he learned being a doctor, which was, somebody would ask a question about a patient. And certainly he took it into business, which is, somebody’s asking you a question and your immediate response is to answer.
Wilson: You just immediately answer, opposed to, do you need an answer now? Yes. If you don’t, when? And so taking that approach has allowed me to process things a little bit differently and think about things a little bit differently, and has had a huge impact to me, because sometimes I would answer and it would be checklist, done, but it maybe wasn’t the right answer. Or maybe I needed a little more collaborating or maybe I needed a little bit more input before I answered something. So that’s another practical way to stop yourself with it.
Folwell: That’s great advice. And I’m going to take that one personally.
Wilson: Okay. You take it. I’m throwing it to you.
Folwell: That’s great. Somebody asks a question, and an hour and a half later, I’m working on something that has nothing to do with what I need to do, and I’m like, “All right, let’s pause for a second.”
Wilson: You stop. And it derails you.
Wilson: It derails you.
Folwell: So what are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Wilson: Did you say bad recommendations?
Folwell: Yeah. What are the bad recommendations, bad advice that you hear from people in the industry or maybe you’ve reached a point where you’ve surrounded yourself with excellence?
Wilson: No, I’m actually going back and I’m thinking, I’m thinking about it.
Folwell: Want to smile and dial?
Wilson: Yeah. No. It’s a good question. I just want to give it…. Do you need an answer right now? Or can I get back to you? No, I’m just kidding you…
Folwell: Yes. We need one right now. Dig in. No, we can jump to the next question if…
Wilson: No, no. I want to think about this. I’ll tell you really bad advice when I was younger was I had a leader that was very buttoned up and officious. And as you can tell over the last 45 minutes, that’s not me. And I was told that was what professional was and that to emulate that behavior and dress and talk and diction, and it was very robotic. And I did it for a while and I actually had some training. I had some sales training, by an external outside organization. And I can’t say what the guy said, because it was pretty… Yeah. It was not for podcast airing, but he literally said, “What the hell you doing?” But a lot harder. And I said, “This is what I’ve been taught to do.” Because, we were presenting.
And what he’s said to me, which I have passed on to hundreds of others was, “Never be anybody but yourself, and don’t ever try to emulate anybody else. And don’t ever try to think that’s professional.” And I spent a lot of time thinking about what professional was. It was being honest. It was delivering something when I said I was going to deliver it. It was keeping to my word. It was doing research. It wasn’t how I spoke. I’m animated. That’s how I’m probably always going to be. And honestly, after that happened to me, I had a lot more success. I had a lot more joy. I had a lot more that I just continued to grow and develop from there. And because a lot of people say, “Gosh, I want to do this like you.” And I was like, “No you don’t, you want to do it like you.”
Folwell: Yeah, I love that.
Wilson: Just refine you. Don’t be me, refine you. So that was pretty bad advice I got.
Folwell: I follow that. That’s great. It’s like the original Brené Brown.
Wilson: Yes, exactly.
Folwell: You got to embrace that. So, next question is what is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift and why?
Wilson: Mm. I’m sitting here turning around and looking at what I really…I push a lot of these through.
Folwell: You can go with a couple if you’d like.
Wilson: Yeah, no it’s interesting, right now they’re just all sitting next to me. So one of the ones I’m really enjoying right now is The Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. I really like this book. It’s funny, there’s leadership books, there’s all these things that I really enjoy, but I don’t really push books out to people. It depends on what they’re dealing with…
Folwell: Yeah, yeah.
Wilson: And what they’ve got. So then I’m thinking a little bit more…
Folwell: You’re very prescriptive.
Wilson: Yeah. It’s a little bit more on those lines, I think, “Okay. Yeah.” So it would depend. I’m sorry, that’s the one I’m reading now. So that’s what I got.
Folwell: Fair enough. And then last question I have is, how has a failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
Wilson: That same manager that I was talking about that I worked for, I failed under that leadership trying to be somebody that I wasn’t. And I often have said to myself that, the worst leader that I ever had and the most impactful leader that I ever had. So while all the other positive stuff, and I mentioned my mom and Jacqueline Lawson before is really strong, powerful women for me, this woman branded me in a much different way, because everything that she did, I said if I ever got in a position where I had influence, I would influence positively and I would influence in a way that inspired people, in a way that was collaborative. And so in that, I could just tell you, when I say I was failing, I just mean I wasn’t doing well. And I wasn’t…well, I can’t say I wasn’t happy.
I’m pretty happy all the time. I didn’t have the success I have now, that I have been here and that has taught me, that is that’s why it’s so important to be your authentic self. And it’s so important to trust yourself, get a lot of advice, but you know best for yourself. Don’t shy away from being yourself and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. So that is for sure. So it was that, it was just getting some advice. And taking that on like I had to, when I really shouldn’t have.
Folwell: Yeah. And learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do.
Wilson: For sure.
Folwell: And with that, do you have any closing comments for the audience? Any last thoughts?
Wilson: I think for me, strangely, whatever you do, do it passionately, have a bunch of good belly laughs throughout the day. I think when you work and when you work with that kind of joy and that kind of commitment, it’s contagious for others. And I feel like, if you’re fortunate enough to lead, lead people like you’d lead your children and that you care that much about them. Because I think it’s such a joy and such a privilege to be able to do it and to be able to have that kind of effect or influence on somebody. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. So don’t ever take it lightly. It’s not about numbers, it’s about people. And so, if you can do that, you can laugh at it and you can pass that along to somebody else you’re doing okay.
Folwell: Well, thank you so much for that, Lydia. It was really nice having you on today. I really appreciate all the insights and thank you again.
Wilson: Oh, thank you so much. I enjoyed it.