In this episode, David Folwell, the President of StaffingHub, sits down to talk to Lauren Jones, the Founder of Leap Consulting, about the digital transformation, common pitfalls in tech adoption, and the power of gratitude.
Folwell: I’m here with Lauren Jones today, the founder of Leap Consulting, a former VP of Talon Technology and Bold Staffing and a longtime staffing industry expert. I’m super excited to have you here today, Lauren. Very good to have you on the podcast.
Jones: Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Folwell: To start off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background in staffing. You’ve got quite the interesting story. Over 20 years of experience so let’s start there.
Jones: Yeah. I have been in the industry for 22 years. I’ve spent the last eight years completely and totally immersed in HR tech. I started out as a temp 22 years ago. I grew up with a real southern meemaw who, once I came fresh out of college, she said, “You know what you should do? You should go be a Kelly girl.” So I did. I signed up to be a Kelly girl and the rest is history.
I was a musician, that’s my education, music and language is my education and my background. I was a professional musician for years and years before I got real job, but I fell in love with this industry and it had me hook, line, and sinker and then when you brought in technology to sort of change the landscape, I just started forming really strong opinions because I’ve always felt like this industry, we are $160 billion middleman industry and we stake our claim on relationships and so if we’re going to be the relationship people, I want to make sure we continue to honor that, but also leverage technology so that we can continue to advance.
Folwell: That’s fantastic. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about how Leap Consulting is helping and kind of fits into the tech industry and what you’re doing with Leap.
Jones: Yes! I saw three areas of opportunity both in large and small agencies. Really the way that we’re consuming technology. First was just the abundance or overabundance of technology, because there’s good and there’s bad and there’s connected and integrated and not connected and integrated. Really just helping, especially the small to mid-sized firms who aren’t going to have the VP of Digital Transformation or VP of Talent Technology, really helping them wade their way through the muck that is all of the HR Tech that’s out there.
The second opportunity that I saw was ensuring that we didn’t have waste, meaning you’re buying for the short and the long term. There’s no transformation without integration and road mapping alignment is profoundly important to ensuring that you realize the ROI of every tool.
Thirdly, it drives me bananas when agencies invest millions of dollars and all of this technology and put one press release out and they’re like ta-da does the whole world know we’re changed?
There’s three areas of opportunity where I can support agencies and that’s what my firm does.
Folwell: Do you have any specific stories, use cases, case studies? Just an example of who you’ve worked with or what you’ve accomplished? Maybe that outlines a more specific story. Also that you can share, I should say.
Jones: I signed mutual NDAs with everybody, so I’m a little guarded with what I can talk about, but I’ve created some really great stacks and I’m in the process of building a beautiful stack for one agency that’s really, really high volume and they had really sort of overlooked, I mean over demoed, looked at so much technology that it was really hard to narrow down where the overlaps of the technology was. Now, I’ve gotten in, gotten my hands in, looked at every single detail of the contract where the technologies overlap, how they fit, and now we have one of the biggest barriers to success is that you don’t get those vendors talking early and then you find out later that, Sims had texting, why did I buy Text Us or why did I do this or why did I do that? Our portal of record between WorkIn and EmployStream and now we’re creating these great integrations and relationships outside of the ETS and getting tools to talk to one another sooner rather than later before you know it’s a problem in implementation.
One of my really early successes is getting the technologies to talk early so that we don’t have delay in the implementation in go live later. Had they not brought me in to sort of organize all of this, find out where all the overlap was, we would have had significant delays.
Folwell: Just from my perspective looking at, we’ve got a couple things going on. You’ve got Leap Consulting, you’ve got the Go Leadership wall, you have your Tech Tuesdays, you’ve got a lot of great content going out and the way I see it, you have one of the better perspectives on what’s going on with all of the different technology compared to – if you’re internal line of staffing firm, you go out and get a bunch of demos basically that have been sold by a few dozen people. They kind of have a limited amount of time and resources that they can put towards it.
I think from what I understand in just having a conversation with you, you have a very, very good idea of all of the different technologies and how they fit in together. It’s awesome that I see that you’re out there helping staffing firms kind of move forward in a meaningful way.
Jones: You said it, like a 1,000 piece puzzle that you put together on vacation and how does it all fit together and how do we maintain the candidate experience, and likewise how do we ensure adoption. I think one of the things that drives me crazy is spending all of this money and then gaining no adoption on the tools. I’ve had really good success with adoption and it’s not only through buying the right tools and ensuring that they’re integrated appropriately and all of that, but evangelizing it internally. Doing a coat of paint from a marketing perspective on who you’re going to partner with and getting your recruiters and sales people and executives excited about what’s to come. Involving them in that is a really powerful way to gain adoption early on. You have to start that at the same time that you’re road-mapping all of your implementation. If you start that early and often, when you go live, you’re already going to have buy in.
Folwell: That actually what I was going to ask as you were talking about that. Adopting. I’ve watched lots of staffing firms just go out and buy, they get excited about a product, a new shiny tool. They buy it, no plan for implementation and there’s some software that that can fly with, but very limited.
In terms of do you have a process or any tips that are valuable that you would like to share with staffing firms in terms of making sure that the adoption, that the product is adopted successfully.
Jones: First, one of the best tips I’ll give anybody for free is have a town hall. Have an open discussion with your teams. Really get their perspective because even if you know as a buyer, as an owner, as a leader, even if you know what the problems are, what the business process problems are, having a town hall and getting everybody engaged in really talking about what the impediments to success are, in that one action you’re making them a part of the solution so when you do bring something forward and say this is what we’ve found to answer some of the issues that we’ve got, they’re already bought in because they’ve got to discuss what some of their barriers to success were.
If you can have your town hall and then in that one action, you create your early internal evangelists, when you have somebody that’s really excited about a feature that you’re bringing in, you really want to capitalize on that and leverage that individual as a part of the implementation process. They may be a recruiter, they may be a manager, but if you have somebody that’s wildly passionate about a new feature that you’re bringing in, I say you leverage it. Give them the opportunity to help you gain adoption. I’d say there’s so much listening that needs to happen when we’re solving for some of these technical issues and sometimes we just don’t listen. We think we know the answers and just the one action of involvement and listening can make the truly powerful difference in adoption.
Folwell: That was a great tip and also something I’ve seen skipped many a times where sometimes it’s the CEO only brings in the software without talking. Actually I feel like I see that a lot on the ATS front where it’s just like we’re going all in on this new ATS and we talked with none of the recruiters. None of the recruiters have been engaged in the process. I’m like well, maybe that works, but I might go about it in a different way.
Jones: It’s a fine balance, right? You don’t want to take it out to committee because that just slows the process down, but how can you identify through a sort of town hall conversation or mega Zoom, how can you leverage individuals that come forward with great ideas? It’s got to be a balance of committee versus action.
Folwell: Absolutely. One thing that I’ve, just from our experience with staffing referrals, we’ve seen that some firms, and actually I thought this was a great idea four years ago when we first launched was that consistently they would say they were going to take this software and we’re going to put it with our top five recruiters out of our top 100. Out of 100 recruiters, we’re going to pick our top five and they’re going to be the ones. And to your point on the town hall, identify who evangelizes the software or who will adopt it, it is frequently not in the top producers.
The top producers, from our experience often already have. They’ve got their process built out, they know exactly how they do things. They don’t need something new, they’re hitting quota so sometimes it can be, and I think this is probably different with any type of product, depends on what you’re implementing, but I think letting people raise their hand on if they’re excited about it and giving it to people who are excited about it might be a better approach there as well. It’s great advice.
Shifting gears a little bit, I know you’re doing a lot with the digital transformation really helping savvy firms adapt and come into their own with the digital transformation. I saw a thing, and this is a little bit of a segue way, but I saw a thing on Reddit and posted a little quiz on LinkedIn about who drove the digital transformation at your organization, the CEO, CMO, or COVID-19.
I was like, well I think we’re all rapidly moving forward towards digital and seeing the importance of that, but why don’t you tell me a little bit about how some trends that you see happening with the digital transformation or kind of what you see as what’s going to play out next.
Jones: Yeah. Some of the trends that I’m seeing, obviously COVID-19 has had a big impact on our industry. I was just talking to an executive earlier this morning who, on their first day showed up and they had a desktop and they kind of said, “Where’s my laptop?” And they said, “We don’t believe in laptops.” They believed in brick and mortar and now the whole world is now remote so there’s been some forced change that I think is wonderful for our industry because it’s forced us to look at things through a different lens.
First of all, we can do our jobs from anywhere and I think we’ve proven that. We’ve done so much pivoting and I think we’re seeing now more than ever that candidates want control. I think on demands, the work ins, the work llamas of the world, there’s so much opportunity there to balance out your business through your high margin, high touch, white glove service, but then also have this experiential choice for whatever generation you’re trying to attract through on demand platforms. I think that is really going to make an impact in our world.
I have the opportunity of sitting, I have the benefit of sitting right next to the Silicon Valley and seeing the Manolo’s and the Blue Crew jobs and the Stella’s of the world sort of compete with us and see their success, but I also see where the significant value of us being the relationship people is something that they just don’t have an won’t have and where if we are not afraid of the technology and leveraging the on demand, that we can capitalize that and really diversify the business and add this element of flexibility that I think is really powerful.
Employee’s want flexibility, they want control. I think the agencies that provide those experiential choices, whether it’s text now, work now, chat now, however a candidate wants to engage with your brand, that flexibility and adaptability and options or experiential choices as I call it is what’s going to make the difference.
Those are the things that I’m seeing are candidates that want control, they want to work for a brand. The Gen Z’s, Adam and I were talking about candidates, the Gen Z’s that want a one on one conversation as opposed to our millennials who like the chat, like something a little bit more removed. Our younger generation workers that are coming in, they want a handshake or they want a conversation so how do we adapt, how do we not put the pendulum so far to automation where we dehumanize the whole process? We have to honor every generation that we want to engage with. That to me is where I want to focus my energy as far as helping firms adapt to that need and the generational diversity that we have that is seeking work right now.
Folwell: I agree with what you’re saying. It seems like there is a big shift to the need for multi-channel communication, making sure it’s on the candidates terms. Some people want to talk to you over text, talk to them over text. If they want to call, get on the phone and talk to them. That’s where I think a lot of firms are trying to force things down the path that’s easiest for them with maybe not looking at the candidate experience in mind.
I’m also curious just to see where, and I don’t have an answer here, I think about this a lot, but I wonder how far things will go and you do have companies like Blue Crew and others that are betting on, they’re comparing this to the travel industry where they’re saying you have travel agencies and now you’ve got Expedia, Kayak, and when’s the last time you talked to somebody to book a hotel, which I think is a very different thing.
It’s your career, it’s a job, it’s somewhere you’re going to show up 40 hours a week or more, but I’m curious to see where do you see three years from now, five years from now, what do you think the recruiter/candidate relationship looks like?
Jones: Wow. That’s a big one.
Look, the best thing you can have in your pocket when you’re looking for a job is a great relationship with a recruiter. We have to remember that looking for a job sucks. It sucks, there’s no other way. You’re out of work, you’re essentially looking to strangers for acceptance. You are saying, on this piece of paper right here are some of the things I think I’m really good at and some of the things that I have done. Will you accept me now? It’s such a vulnerable, emotional place to be and I think that we have to remember that regardless of the technology that’s in front of us, it’s still a really vulnerable position for a person, it’s a person, a human being to be in. That’s not going to change in three to five years.
I still think that the powerful connection and relationship that you can create through recruiter partnerships are going to remain steadfast. I think that technology will help us do more with less because businesses are coming to us saying we want this, we want this, we want it all for cheaper and we want it better and faster. How are we going to adapt to the client need and ensure that we nurture the relationship? I think that’s where the focus needs to be, because these are still human beings. That’s not going to change. These are still relationships that we need to honor, that’s not going to change, but how do we have technology that allows us to do more sometimes with less.
Folwell: I think you hit the nail on the head with the relationship side of it. That’s not going away, people know people. Anything on the automation side or the technology side that allows people to focus more on their relationship feels like the right approach to where things are going in the long run.
Continuing on, this is shifting a little bit here, but still tied to digital transformation, but are you seeing anything unique, I know as everybody’s kind of shifted to trying to find compliance so maybe we can actually broaden the question here, but anything unique that you’re seeing from staffing firms that is helping them do a better job when it comes to sourcing and/or finding new clients or new job orders?
Jones: I just put together a, it’s a little out of my offerings but I just couldn’t say no to the executive that asked me to put together a social selling campaign. I’m really good at it and so she said –
Folwell: I agree.
Jones: She said could you put together a strategy for a social selling campaign and agencies who are grounding their sales people and teaching them how to leverage the power of the internet through LinkedIn or what have you, they’re having extremely good results. As a matter of fact, where we built the social selling campaign, the most grown region through this pandemic and so I think agencies that are, not necessarily pivoting but adapting to not being able to be right in front of the customer and learning how to socially sell, how to find relevant content, how to leverage LinkedIn in a way that is really powerful and meaningful, that’s where I’m seeing agencies still have great sales success during this time is through learning how to social sell. You’ve got your traditional agency sales people who are used to knocking on doors, cold calling, going through a 13 week campaign, blah de blah and handing out their little chotskies or what have you. You can’t do that now so the agencies that are adapting to that and figuring out how to social sell, we’ve had some really powerful results.
Yeah, it’s out of my tech stack realm, but this was an executive I couldn’t say no to so we put together a little campaign and from a consulting perspective, it worked out beautifully. That’s where I’m seeing some really great adaptation happening.
Being extremely cognizant of where the opportunity is. Think about the Grub Hubs and the Postmates. My youngest daughter is 19 and she signed up with Postmates and it was like she got on her little phone and was like, “I’m a Postmates employee now.” I’m like, “Huh?” There was no interview, there was no screening. I’m like, “They just hired you? You have no job experience.” I’m thinking to myself, as an agency, what an amazing sales opportunity you might have to go to the Postmates of the world and say let us help you up skill people so that rather than getting asparagus when you ordered celery, you’d get the right product. A little quality in hiring. Not that my daughter’s not a quality person, but I was like wait a minute. They handed you a credit card? What?
I think that there’s tremendous opportunity for agencies to really look at where there’s opportunity and pursue that in a way that is helpful to getting individuals jobs and elevating the quality of service that we as consumers are getting.
Folwell: I think that’s absolutely great and I don’t know if there’s anybody that I’d recommend more on the social selling front. I love your LinkedIn so I think we’ve got our whole team following your LinkedIn, watching your videos. I’d give you a high level of recommendation on that front.
What, we have a lot of listeners who are newer to the staffing industry. A lot of times I talk to people and they’re first year in or three years into an executive role trying to figure out the lay of the land. Are there any tips, ideas, things that you wish you knew coming into the staffing industry? Things you wish you knew either before, you’ve been in it for a bit so say before would be, how about things you wish in an early-stage atmosphere. What knowledge do you wish you had or resources?
Jones: Oh man, as a female I would join every staffing group that you can. I mean the women in our industry are some of the most supportive women that I’ve ever encountered. I sit on a couple boards and I sat on the board for the National Charity League for Mothers and Daughters. I’ve seen it from a couple different perspectives. Our industry in particular has some really powerful groups.
I wish I would have known earlier about joining some of the groups that are available to us, whether it’s through ASA or SIA or Tech Serve. There’s a million out there so joining every group that you can to engage with other like-minded individuals or even that have diverse opinions is a really great way to, I’ve had so many people that have worked for me in the past who just were new to the industry and who ended up leaving the industry because they said, this is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. I don’t know about you, but as a young sales person, I was like, big warehouse, lots of cars. Big warehouse, lots of cars. Make my husband pull over. Who’s going there? I see they’re breaking ground on something. What’s going on? We’re like the nosiest people in the world. As a sales person, if somebody was breaking ground somewhere, I would go out and ask the construction men, “What are you building? I’ll give you 20 bucks.”
I just think surrounding yourself with people who love this industry will make you love it more. I wish I had known earlier on in my career about all of these groups. It took me a little bit later on in my career to really embrace all of that and I just wish I could have known that.
Folwell: I’ve seen just the organizations and it’s a really tight knit community. Sadly not having the I feel like I’m missing seeing a lot of my friends.
Folwell: I’m starting to feel like we are, that’s actually what’s happening. That’s a lot of good people that you get used to seeing. I was thinking if you go to SIA, it’s nine years in a row, I don’t think I’ve gone more than two or three months in a row without seeing that guy. It’s funny how it all … the groups are an amazing way to move towards learning in this industry.
What are some of the keys to, you’ve had success with your job and also grown a lot and started your own organization, your own consulting firm. What are some of the keys to what drives you in your own personal success?
Jones: Well, I talk about it kind of ad nauseum in my blog, on my blog. My gratitude practice. I really think that, I talk really openly about losing my marbles a few years ago on my GOAT Leadership blog. My gratitude practice is really what sort of saved me from myself. Meaning, I took a lot of things for granted. I had a lot of stuff. I think I was in my career thinking that consuming all of this stuff was what the end goal was supposed to be and that I’m supposed to have the big house and I’m supposed to have the nice cars and I’m supposed to have all of these things that I was just really mixed up in, I had my priorities all sorts of fouled up.
Midlife crisis or reset, we’ll call it a reset.
Folwell: A little reset.
Jones: A little reset and that’s when I really started my gratitude practice. Yesterday, I’m going to talk about it on my Woman Crush Wednesday today, yesterday I had a terrible day. It was a terrible, terrible, terrible day. I woke up with a headache, I didn’t do my gratitude practice, everything was going sideways, this ways, all the ways, and had I just taken a minute to sort of center myself and go, “Okay, the world is not on fire. You have a beautiful roof over your head. It’s not a chicken little scenario.” But when you’re in the feels of it, it can be really overwhelming and your emotions can get the best of you.
One of my big differentiators and how I am sort of the eternal optimist is my gratitude practice. It grounds me, it centers me, it keeps me from being a consumer. I really just didn’t want to be a consumer any more. I would say to anybody, ground yourself in gratitude and you’ll have more to be grateful for.
Folwell: Do you have any specific daily routines? Is it a, I’ve gone through a little bit of your blog, but do you have, with the gratitude practice, is it 10 minutes a day that you set aside? Or what’s the gratitude book?
Jones: It’s my gratitude journal. I talk about it all the time. Yes, I ground myself. I do three things in the morning that I’m grateful for, three things at night that I’m grateful for. Sometimes they’re the same thing, sometimes they’re not.
Rachel Hollis has a really great gratitude journal. “The Five Minute Journal” was the one I started with. Is the three and three. Rachel’s a little more robust because she asks at the end of the day, and that’s the one I’m on right now, she asks at the end of the day what got in your way.
What I’ve found day after day was I kept writing me. What got in my way? Me. I really had to go back. I kept writing down me. I got in my way and I really had to go back through my gratitude journal and go, “Why am I getting in my own way?” And figure out what that was. Yes, morning and night, six weeks to make a habit, two weeks to break a habit so you’ve got to be committed to trying to work your way through it just like an exercise plan. Gratitude is a muscle and it must be exercised in order for it to be strong and so I live by that and it changed my world and I think it can change anybody else’s.
Folwell: I absolutely love that. Are you doing any type of meditation? Do you do anything beyond the gratitude component? Sounds like you’re very intentional with how you’re living.
Jones: I Peloton! Who hasn’t heard about my Peloton Bike, for the love of God! I mean half the time I have Peloton swag on.
Folwell: Should we drop your referral link in the Podcast?
Jones: I love my bike. I’ve tried to balance a little bit more. I’ve had bilateral hip surgery so I was going a little wild on my bike so I’ve kind of calmed it down a little bit. I try and do four or five days a week. I was doing seven days a week, two classes sometimes.
Folwell: Oh wow.
Jones: Yeah, I can get really intense sometimes. I try to do four and five days on my Peloton. They’ve got a wonderful, I do their sleep meditation. I did it last night. Peloton’s got some great offerings. Again, what I love about them, and I’ve vlogged about this as well is the community that they create. I don’t think that there’s anybody better at creating this community momentum that’s pretty powerful.
Folwell: I hear about it from you and of course Erica Hyson.
Jones: Oh yeah!
Folwell: I actually don’t know if I’ve met two stronger brand advocates for a product in a long time. I’ve got the app download, but I haven’t jumped in yet. That’s pretty exciting.
Jones: You’ve got to.
Folwell: Continue on. Do you have any books that have, I guess, can you list any books that have had the biggest impact on you that you’ve gifted the most to others?
Jones: How Women Rise. I have talked about this one. It is so powerful for women in our industry. It’s one of my favorite books. I’ve read it a couple times and then I just finished “Competence Creator” and then I’ve just read, I’m trying to look and see, which ones have I read. How Women Rise, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Bleep.
Folwell: You know what’s hilarious? I was about to bring that book up earlier when you were talking about your gratitude journal, I was talking about The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Bleep last night with somebody and it’s modern day stoicism and it helps you kind of step back and realize it’s all going to be okay.
Jones: It’s all going to be alright. Those are ones that I’ve got now and I’ve always got something going on. Heather Monahan, oh and Erica Keswin has a new book coming out, Bring Your Human To Work. My god, first of all she is an amazing individual. She spoke at our women’s group. Bring Your Human To Work, she uses the language of honoring relationships and every motivation business owners have should be about honoring the relationship with your people, with your external companies that you partner with. Erica Keswin, she’s got a new book that’s coming out as well. She’s also got a podcast. She’s an author that you need to be following. She’s fantastic. Sally Helgesen, How Women Rise, my goodness she is one to follow as well. Then anything Brene Brown, sign me up.
Folwell: I’m on board with that as well. Brene Brown. I have not heard of Bring Your Human To Work or How Women Rise. I’ll check those out, but Brene Brown, I feel like every one of her leadership books is just on point. I saw her at a HubSpot inbound conference live for the first time, maybe four or five years ago which was incredible with my entire marketing team. They looked over and saw me tearing up and I’m like I’m just really embracing that vulnerability. It was funny, but she’s fantastic.
What are the top category, top technology, anything that is related to tech that you’d like to share with the audience before we get to the last couple questions?
Jones: Anything related to technology? I think that companies need to remember what it’s like, even if they have to go out and search for a job themselves. I think that leaders need to remember what it’s like to go out there and be that vulnerable when they are buying technology. Then buy the technology with that in mind. I think if you do that, you will honor the relationship with the candidate and honor the relationship with the recruiter and how they’re utilizing the technology and then your customers reap the benefits of that. All of this is so the candidate’s happy and the recruiter’s happy and you have adoption, but ultimately your customer gets their orders filled faster, they have quality candidates who are happy with who they’re working for. I think every business leader that is in a position to buy technology needs to remember what it is like to go out and search for a job.
Folwell: That’s great advice and I’m just wondering about how many executives in staffing do you think have, even on their own website just applied for a job to see what it’s like. I’m wondering what that experience, I know that throughout the years we’ve done that quite a bit just to test things out with different companies. It’s a very different experience, but do you think that or do you hear of many times that CEOs or executives in staffing are actually taking the time to do that on a consistent basis?
Jones: Some. I try to do it with every company that I work with. I’ll go in and do their hiring process.
Folwell: Do like an audit of it?
Jones: Yeah. The recruiters that call me and they’re like, “Hey are you looking for a job?” I’m like something’s working there and then sometimes it’s crickets. You’ve got to really reevaluate how you’re posting jobs and how your process is if nobody’s responding to the candidate. If a CEO or COO or whoever’s buying technology goes through an application process and they never get a call, you need to scratch your head and go, “Is that what my other candidates are experiencing?”
Folwell: That’s pretty wild how frequently that can happen. I think I still get, maybe just from my background at probably about five calls to be a travel nurse throughout the week on any given week. It’s like I’ve applied to enough jobs in that sector that they keep coming.
Wrapping up here, is there anything else that you’d like to share with the staffing audience? Anything that you think would be valuable for anyone listening in today or anything that you think you would just like to get out there in the world?
Jones: Oh my goodness. We’ve had such a broad conversation. I think all of it is really good. Again, the more agencies that can remember that our industry is built on relationships and the more we keep that as our core value, the better the experience for everybody. However, I can support an agency in doing just that, in honoring those relationships through the advancement of technology, call me. Call me, I want to help. I’m not an attorney. I don’t charge you by the email. I’m not going to charge you for an hour. If you want to call, chew my ear off, ask me a couple questions so that we can continue to maintain the integrity of our industry, then call me. Call me.
Folwell: Awesome. Lauren, it was really great having you on with us today. I appreciate all of your insight into the industry and also the fact that you are moving things forward, focusing on the human connection, the candidate experience, and bringing technology and in the way that I believe it should be.
Thanks so much for being on today and we’ll talk with you soon.
Jones: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. This has been a ball.