TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast

Ep. 04 - Dr John Sullivan

June 04, 2020 Fuel50 / Dr John Sullivan Season 1 Episode 4
TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast
Ep. 04 - Dr John Sullivan
TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast
Ep. 04 - Dr John Sullivan
Jun 04, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
Fuel50 / Dr John Sullivan

In this episode, Dr John Sullivan (HR Professor, Corporate Speaker and Advisor) speaks with host John Hollon about all things remote work: remote interviewing, remote onboarding and how to manage a team remotely. John shines a light on remote innovation and debates whether it is possible to innovate while working from home. He also shares what he’s been working on during the lockdown and how by focusing on the opportunity it’s been an exciting time for him.

Find John on Twitter @DrJohnSullivan, LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-john-sullivan/ or at https://drjohnsullivan.com.

For more insightful conversations visit www.talentxpodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the TalentX podcast! 

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Dr John Sullivan (HR Professor, Corporate Speaker and Advisor) speaks with host John Hollon about all things remote work: remote interviewing, remote onboarding and how to manage a team remotely. John shines a light on remote innovation and debates whether it is possible to innovate while working from home. He also shares what he’s been working on during the lockdown and how by focusing on the opportunity it’s been an exciting time for him.

Find John on Twitter @DrJohnSullivan, LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-john-sullivan/ or at https://drjohnsullivan.com.

For more insightful conversations visit www.talentxpodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the TalentX podcast! 

John Hollon [00:00:25.740]
Hello, I'm John Hollon and welcome to TalentX, the Talent Experience podcast. Today's guest is an old time friend, Dr John Sullivan. Dr John is not only a longtime professor of business at San Francisco State University, but he's also an internationally known HR thought leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in strategic talent management solutions. Thanks for joining us today. Dr John, can you take a moment, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you've been working on during the lockdown. 

Dr John Sullivan [00:00:59.060]
Yeah John well it's been an exciting time. Change brings opportunities as well as problems. So I've been focusing on what I call data driven H.R., how to make us more scientific, how to make the business case for what we do, the business impact, because especially now with the downturn and layoffs having been through several of these, I know that the future is going to be bleak for any department, not just ours. If we can't show our business impact, if we can't show our ROI.

And in particular, I've been working on remote innovation with so many people working at home, innovation tends to be reduced. So the million dollar answers. Can you have people innovate when they don't see each other every day? 

John Hollon [00:01:51.060]
Wow, that's exciting stuff. And we're certainly going to talk about remote work here a little bit. And as you know, there's a lot to talk about given all that's happening in the world. But let me start by asking this. What are the big takeaways so far on how the Corona virus pandemic and the business shut down that it caused is impacting staffing, retention, recruiting and hiring and the future work? What are you seeing out there? 

Dr John Sullivan [00:02:19.950]
Well, I see what we call the VUCA world, which is volatile. Uncertainty, complex, ambiguous. So it's a term for the world, that is totally unpredictable. And so you look at the big picture. Yeah, we have health issues that are crazy. But what about an economy that's crazy. Oil prices are negative. Politics is crazy. Technology is crazy. The things we can do. So the big takeaway has been we need to learn not to adjust just to this virus, but to other disruptions, unbelievable disruptions like oil prices during the oil industry. You know, if you're in the lending business, you know, money is free. So we need to hire people that can handle disruption. Turns out there's 20 percent of the population that can handle it with no issues that are just really good at adapting to change.

Suddenly, remote interviewing is here forever. I've been pushing it a while, but it's certainly king. And in hiring, we're going to have hiring freezes, slowdowns. So that normally means when you have outrageously high unemployment. Now predicting as high as 20 percent in some regions, the power will shift back to the candidate. The candidate experience will kind of fade. And what will occur is you can have multiple applicants for every job. But how are you going to sell the best people?

How are you going to hire them remotely? Because now there's really no talent shortage. If you work at home, I can now hire the best people wherever they live. And that means that even though there might be a shortage in Auckland or in Boston, there's not a shortage around the world. So it gives you tremendous opportunity. And unless retention, you know it, when there's high unemployment, people don't tend to quit. But certainly machine learning people, technology people, people that are highly valuable will still leave. So you have to have a personalized retention plan that targets those individuals and what they need to stay.

John Hollon [00:04:27.150]
I know you stay on top of what's going on in the business world and the latest trends and things that companies are out there doing. Have you seen any workforce management decisions recently that have surprised you? Is there anything you thought that would happen during this crisis that we're in right now? That hasn't happened.

Dr John Sullivan [00:04:48.830]
Yeah, well, primarily in talent management, we've got caught with our pants down, we're assuming growth is going to continue, we're going to hire. We were not ready for a downturn. So if you if you live long enough, you know, there's a term called flexible or fluid workforce. Well, you need a workforce that can change both in skills and in size. And we just didn't do that. We got surprised. So we ended up with a lot of layoffs, more furloughs than we've ever had.

Google had a hiring freeze. Never happened before. And they're now changing who they hire based on the fact that they need remote workers who can innovate. So it's like 84. Like 2000, like 2008. We weren't ready. We need to be ready. We need to be able to expand talent quickly in a particular area like machine learning. But we also need to shrink cost quickly to contingent workers or other methods. And we just got surprised. I don't know really of any firm that was prepared for the downturn.

John Hollon [00:05:51.890]
Well, you hear a lot about, you know, that companies need to be more agile in what they do. That sounds to me like what you're what you're talking about here, that companies weren't really ready to be that and now they need to get with it pretty fast.

Dr John Sullivan [00:06:10.170]
Absolutely. Only the definition of agile is greater. So you know what? Not too long ago, oil prices were one hundred dollars a barrel. Now they're minus 35. They pay you have to pay people to take the oil away. And so that kind of change is kind of unusual. But if you look at the weather, you look at the climate, look at so many things, you know, earthquakes in New Zealand and things change becomes not just constant, but radical.

And so we need to say we need new skill sets. We need to be able to change skills rapidly. We need to do onboarding. We used to hire people. They came on board. We met them. We shook their hands. But now it has to be remote. So there are a lot of things that are changing, not just a little bit, but a huge amount. And so that's an opportunity to me. If you win and say this is the way I always have done it, you get no value. But if you say I have a competitive advantage, I can do it in half the time. So speed becomes critical. Adaptivity and innovation, they're going to be the three buzzwords.

John Hollon [00:07:14.030]
I want to talk about remote onboarding here in a moment. But before we get to that, I want to maybe touch on a little bit. Is this crisis really a breakthrough moment for remote work? Is it the final push we need to get organizations that had been resisting it for a long time and getting them to be more willing to make it a rare option for employees? What what's your what's your view on that?

Dr John Sullivan [00:07:42.580]
You know, the world has changed. So it's like, you know, used to go to movie theaters and now you have Netflix streaming. Once you go that way, movie theaters are in trouble. Well, the same is true for remote work, is that most people didn't like it. Managers didn't like it. Common, old style managers they want to look over your shoulder, see what you're doing. But in information technology, you can't look over someone's shoulder. You can't tell they're working and you're innovating. They might look like they're sleeping, but they might be thinking. So it's really been the managers that have been a pain in the butt. H.R. has not liked it because you can't watch people remotely. You know, they might work, do illegal things, immoral moral things, not work at all. And so what I found is that remote workers here, what is not here is how to do it well, how to manage a team remotely. And most importantly, metrics. 

You just can't have people working around the world without constantly measuring their performance. So you can't trust you have to trust and measure. And most of our performance measures or performance output measures are so weak that that's going to be an issue. 

John Hollon [00:08:50.460]
You know, I've been working remotely for the better part of ten years, and I can remember having discussions with with a lot of managers and bosses in the past about working remotely, even like once a week. And they always push back. And yet the funny thing is, since I've been working at home for the last 10 years, I work more and harder than I ever did in an office. So I'm not quite certain what these bosses I had the past thought. And I have seen a lot of studies that said that people who work at home by and large tend to work more cause you never leave work, you're at home because you're at home and you work at home. You can work any time. And there's a lot of time shifting of work. When they work, when they do things. 

Dr John Sullivan [00:09:38.880] 
You know, it's at least 20 percent, sometimes 40. One quick example, Best Buy used to do what they call results only work environment. You work whenever you want, come to work, dress up. Nobody cares. Just measure performance. They got a 40 percent increase in productivity, but they eliminated the program. IBM used to sell remote work equipment. They made money off it. Now at IBM, everyone, well before this last month, everyone was forced to come to work. And the reason was companies like Amazon they innovate so quickly that they found that you just couldn't innovate with remote work. So that's why it's my number one issue right now. How do you get people not just to be productive? That's clear, but how do you get them to also be innovative when people don't see each other?

John Hollon [00:10:29.980]
You know, I've also been reading a lot about remote onboarding. Can you talk a little bit about that trend and how those programs seem to be doing?

Dr John Sullivan [00:10:39.750] 
Well, it came from Google. They've never remote onboarded anyone there was no need for it. And then all of a sudden, all the people they have in the pipeline, which is thousands, can't be onboarded. Well, there's nothing worse than getting started the wrong way with the wrong attitude, with the wrong equipment or being hired, and you're really excited. You know, you're Tiger Woods, you get hired to play golf and then you can't play golf. It's very frustrating.

So they started this and then we had a look around. There's tons of automation, but it's all crap. No offense in that. It's about sign ups. You can sign up really quick. Administratively that's it. Turns out that's not the issue. Time to productivity, it's time to learn how to collaborate, time to work with teammates. Time to build your network. So that's been the focus. How do you get people up to speed. So even though they haven't been on boarded or they don't see people, their productivity is up to minimum. In a faster time. And Google found that approach. Five simple things you can do. And it increased their productivity by twenty five percent. So that's been a major issue because literally only administrative parts of onboarding have been automated. 

John Hollon [00:11:55.170]
Yes. Do you know the numbers that that Google is onboarding these these days? Do they are they still hiring? Quite a bit. Or is has that slowed? Slowed down?

Dr John Sullivan [00:12:08.180] 
There are thousands in the queue. They did have a hiring freeze last month, but they're still hiring, but they're just struggling with onboarding. So, no, I wrote a book on onboarding. There's a list of things. So the manager doesn't show up the first day. What could be worse? Because a new job and your manager is not available, which makes you feel like you don't matter. You can't meet people. We can go to lunch. You can't do the things at Google. You have food everywhere. You go have food, but you can't do that now. And so it's become a huge issue, but not because they don't get hired, they don't get on payroll, but it's because they're not productive. And you're hiring people, paying them a lot of money. They want to be productive. So it frustrates them when they're working on nothing. They're literally told, read the manual.

John Hollon [00:12:56.090]
Now, I've heard that the companies that really do onboarding the best are the ones that start the onboarding process. The moment somebody accepts the job that they start talking to them, they start sending them the paperwork, they start introducing them. Have you been hearing that? Do you think that is the best, the best way to go?

Dr John Sullivan [00:13:19.580] 
The only way to go. So I have an article on that. It starts with the offer process. The minute the offer is accepted. You need to send them a thank you, send the spouse, the kids, everything to close the deal. Then it's called preboarding. IBM does it really well. So they found that if you involve people. So remember, we had a lot of ghosting. And if you involve people by offering people, you don't have to force them, offer them training, tell them what package. So we when I used to work at Agilent, we said new hires, a package with a computer, the cell phone, business cards, everything before they even started to shock someone say this company is different. They trust me. Here's thousands dollars with equipment. I don't even work there yet. And they trust me. So preboarding has become critical even before onboarding. Get them involved. Get them to feel like they're part of the team building their network. Turns out one of the most important things is building their network. So giving them a profile of LinkedIn profile of all the team members, connect them on LinkedIn so that they instantly, before they start, feel connected and part of the team.

John Hollon [00:14:25.670]
John, you've advised and consulted with businesses for a long time, as long as I've known you. Certainly. What one piece of advice do you have for companies and organizations that are struggling to get through these difficult times?

Dr John Sullivan [00:14:41.390] 
Don't look at them as difficult times, look at them as opportunities if you move fast, as I said, if you innovate in both your product and people management, if you adapt. If you just take changes as part of life, you're going to do well. And within H.R., it's it's two things. Is it focus on the data. Database decisions. Don't assume you know what works because what worked last year won't work. This year when the world's totally different. So you need to be data driven.

Then the other part in tight times, you have to show your economic impact. So don't say we hired five people or retained five people. Say we returned a million dollars by retaining someone or we hired great salespeople. So they sell more. You have to show the business impact. You have to quantify it. Or they will cut you like they did the last several recessions. So it's already happening. And recruiting soon will happen and retention because people aren't quitting. Internal movement will become a huge issue. But you'll have to do it and show the business impact.

John Hollon [00:15:45.320]
Are you surprised that companies who dealt with a big recession a dozen years ago haven't reacted better to this change? Or do you think that this change is so monumental? It's such a huge thing. I mean, it's it's certainly something that none of us have ever dealt with in like our lifetime. The lockdown and the virus. Do you think that it just wasn't possible to even learn a lesson that would be something you could apply this time around from what happened back in 2008?And so.

Dr John Sullivan [00:16:18.420] 
Well, I don't I disagree a little bit. I don't see any different than 2001 in 9/11. Everything shut down. We laid off. People were in shock. Nobody traveled. No conferences, things like that. So it doesn't matter, though. It doesn't matter. There's no history. You have to learn. So there was Ebola. There were so many viruses. And the weather just changed. Everything has changed. So no there's a list of companies Boston Consulting Group did a study and there’s companies like Apple. They make money when times are tough, when times are great. There are companies that just do that because they're adaptive. So I would go to people, say, what's your plan B? And they look at me like I'm strange. I have to have a plan A, Plan B, but now you have to have a plan C and D. So that's where we need to change if the economy improves. We'll do this but guess what, you it won't improve in every area. So we might hire in machine learning, but we'll lay off in another customer service. So that adaptability becomes critical, speed becomes critical. So we get to hire people that just move really quickly and then innovation can innovate. You have innovate fast. You have to be the first one. So I look at it as an opportunity. I know several firms that look at it as an opportunity. Now, there's going to be an abundance of talent because they can work anywhere. And because they're laid off now, you can get all the great people you need if you can put them to work and show business impacts.

John Hollon [00:17:44.840]
Well, John, this has been a great talk. I'm always amazed how quickly our podcasts go. But I have one more question to ask here at the TalentX podcast. We wholeheartedly believe everyone should have a job that they love. And one that they're very passionate about. So, Dr. John, what do you love about what you do? 

Dr John Sullivan [00:18:06.080] 
Well, my emphasis is making people management a profit center, showing them that we spent 60, 70 percent of our money on on employees. Let's show how much revenue they can generate, how much money they can generate. So I love pushing the envelope and adopting business tools to H.R. in order to increase profit. So hire great people, you know, in sports or in arts when you hire a great actor. Profit of the movie goes up. Well, we need to adapt the same approach within H.R..

John Hollon [00:18:37.790]
Well, that's great again, John, thank you very much. We appreciate you spending time with us today on the TalentX podcast.

Dr John Sullivan [00:18:46.160]
Thanks, John. Stay safe.