Why Talent Experience is the New HR

Please welcome Brad Voorhees, the VP of People at Bluewheel and Trevco!



We're glad to have Brad Voorhees on Start with Who! Brad is the VP of People at not one, but two companies—Blue Wheel and Trevco. Catch his learnings about:

  • How to create values that stick with employees—and actually make an impact
  • Why every business should start thinking about talent experience more than HR
  • How building a diverse team is a flywheel to a more diverse and inclusive team

Thanks for listening to Start with Who: The Interview Intelligence Podcast! This podcast is presented by —where we're on a mission to make hiring and interviewing more efficient and equitable. Come check out what we're building, or connect with Grace and Ben on LinkedIn! See you next time!


(Transcribed by robots...sorry for the errors!)

Brad: You've heard journeys like the customer journey, the customer experience, it's the same concept, but on the talent side.

Hosts: Welcome to Start with Who, the interview intelligence podcast, I'm your host, Grace Tyson, and I'm Ben Battaglia join us on our journey as we learn about talent acquisition, hiring and tackle the challenge of building an amazing team. One interview at a time. We've invited CEOs, innovative people, leaders, talent acquisition experts and DIY movers and shakers as our guides would love to have you join us. Welcome to Start with Who.

Ben:  Welcome back to The start with who podcast, we're so excited to be with you again. And we're so excited about this week's guest. Brad, Thanks so much for joining us.

Brad: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. I'm really excited.

Ben: Will you tell people a little bit about you and your background and who you are?

Brad: It's kind of funny, given the topic of the conversation and interviewing. Of course, that's probably the number one interview question is, tell us about yourself. And so I think I've had some time to prepare. And so when I kind of thought about this, you've got your standard stuff right. Born and raised here in metro Detroit. I've been with my wife for eight years now. We have a 4 and 1/2 year old daughter. I have been in my field for close to 15 and it's something I'm extremely passionate about. And since this, of course, is the topic of the conversation, I'm going to go down that road. But a couple of personal things. I am an avid fan of baseball, in particular, the Atlanta Braves. I've never lived in Georgia, but they absolutely are my favorite team. And I could literally do this entire podcast about the Braves. It's such a passion of mine, but I love what I do when it comes down to it. I love what I do. My two very best friends are automotive engineers, and so it's very hard for them to understand why I love what I do. But I love explaining when we go down that rabbit hole on some Friday nights and stuff like that, explaining and detailing why I'm in the field. And so that's just a little bit about me. And I'm sure we'll get to learn more later on in this call.

Grace: OK, I have two questions I have to ask, so I'll give them both your ones. First of all, why do you love what you do? And second of all, how and why the Atlanta braves, how did that come to be? Have you ever loved do.

Brad: Yeah Yeah. Do I have to answer them in that order on the podcast to you on the. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Because we probably just want to get that one out of the way or take up the entire time. There you go. So in short, when Ted Turner owned the Atlanta braves, which was back in the 90s, he is also the owner of the cable station tbs, or Turner Broadcasting System. That's what it's named after. And so basically, the Atlanta Braves were the only nationally televised team because as long as you had cable, TBS was a fairly standard cable station. So anybody out of market, as long as you had cable, you got to watch the Braves because he used that channel basically as the exclusive broadcasting partner of every single game. And so I grew up with a lot of exposure. And, of course, they were really good back in the 90s. And so I just kind of hopped on the bandwagon and I've gone through the ebbs and flows. But of course, he no longer owns the Braves, and they haven't been on TBS for a while. But now they have great packages where you can watch on an out-of-network games and but out of 162 season, I watch at least 150 baseball games from start to finish. OK, so if anyone needs a partner in watching baseball. Yeah, yeah, Yeah. Anybody in Michigan. My wife absolutely loves it that I do that, I'm sure. And so why, why do I love what I do. There's several things, but I think it's all summed up is that this field of people and talent and talent, experience and culture, it's so much more beyond what it was ten, 15 years ago when people would use terminology like HR and of course, that's still used today. But basically, it was like, these are the bad guys. These are the people that stay in their office. And they come out and they enforce policy and they slap you on your hand and then they do hiring and firing. Right that's kind of their thing. I mean, of course, again, going back to my two friends who are engineers, that's still what they think I do. But it's so much more than that now. And the field itself has matured a lot where it overseas like talent experience. And what I sum that up is like every touch point, somebody maybe they don't even work at the organization yet, every touch point, they have with your company. And then it's making it just such a great experience for that individual person. Very similar to you for a journey like the customer journey, the customer experience, it's the same concept. But on the talent side. And I just love that piece of it, maybe there's a little chip on my shoulder saying, like, I'm not just an administrator. I'm sure, like, that stuff is always going to be a part of the job, the boring stuff, the payroll and benefits and handbooks. And that stuff still needs to be a part of the Department. 100% But the reason I love it is just, and why I got like an advanced education on it. It's like that's why because I think it's so much more than those pieces. Right it's really just what am I doing on a daily basis to improve the experience for the employees of the company that I work for or even the prospective employees of the company that I work for?

Grace: I love that. And honestly, one of the things we are most excited to dive into with you specifically, given your passion for this role, is your framework for creating values for a company. So we've heard that you have a framework. We both love to hear what this looks like for you in pastoral care and also at Blue wheel and how you integrate that into your process.

Brad: Yeah, absolutely. And I do appreciate that. And these are just some of the secrets that I've picked up along the way. Right and so I'm in a really unique opportunity right now. I actually work for two companies. They are different. But the CEO is the owner of both. He's also the CEO of both companies. And between the two, it's an employee population, over 200 people and growing. But I'm really in a unique role. This where I'm the VP of people at both companies, too. And so there's only just a couple of us between the two organizations that actually can say that. And so when I started, both companies had value sets, as you would imagine. Right and that's something that I knew going in. But my assessment after my first couple of months is that those values weren't being optimized. And what do I mean by that is when you have a strong set of core values, it can really do wondrous things for your organization. So blue wheel, which is the e-commerce agency that I work for, the set of values that they had, were actually fairly new, maybe a couple of months old. And what my assessment was after I did one on ones with everybody in the organization is basically, there was not one person that could name all the values and that told me that we weren't doing a good enough job in optimizing those values. So this is what I did. And this is the secrets that I learned from Ambassador and companies before. That is make an acronym out of your values, because as soon as you do that, you can revert back to the acronym rather than the five individual values or whatever they are. So in the end, I made one up and it came out to be Yossi white Ci. So when you pronounce it, it's just like, Yo and then the letter c, look it up. Yoast is not a word. You won't find Yossi in a dictionary, but it's catchy. And so when I said, here you go, we are now going to compartmentalize and frame this as Yossi and then all of a sudden people started grasping on it. And then and then we used slack in other modern tools. All of a sudden hashtag yosses starts popping up on Slack and the general threads we do biweekly calls, all hands. Obviously even more important now being that we're all remote and we're giving yosses shout outs. And of course, it's now a part of just a broader talent experience strategy. And so the reason I mentioned the other company, revco, it was actually last week at the beginning of the new year that we just introduced our new team values to terrifico. And so obviously, that's an actual word, of course, but it's about getting people to ask the question. Somebody asked you what your values are, what value set you like, or your SEO team. It's like, OK, well, what does that mean? Right it keeps the top of mind. It does. And for someone who maybe not even remembers the individual values, that they can at least go back to that. And then if they think them through one by one, the memorisation piece comes back. And so that has been my secret to success is making an acronym out of them. Even if it's a made up word, it just has to be something catchy. And I guarantee that your team will pick up on it.

Ben: Yeah, that's great. I love the way you've made it more accessible to your team because I think it's hard to live out the values. If you aren't thinking about them or can't easily recall them. And I'd love to hear how that plays out in the interview process. So obviously people are interviewing to work at your companies. How do you make sure that values are a part of your interview process?

Brad: So one of the basic things that almost any company can do that has an ats that stands for an applicant tracking system. So basically, this is the flow of how people apply and they get automatic responses and all that type of stuff. Assuming you're broadcasting your values either on your Glassdoor page or your LinkedIn page or maybe their direct. Visible on the website, if somebody applies that quick automatic response, you know, the thank you for applying to blue whale, what I've done now for several years now is I added, well, thank you for applying to this. We'd really appreciate it. Please check out our website and view our US values. And if in the event that we call you for an interview, be prepared to talk about it. Since I've been doing that, there's only been two people. Out of the thousands of interviews I've done that have said, well, what do you mean when I actually get on the phone with them, they're like, Oh well, I didn't I missed that, or something like that. And of course, that's an automatic no for me. It's like, well, why didn't you. You couldn't even follow the very first step. And so what I've done with that is in the first interview, you are asking the candidate, what's your favorite value? What's your favorite value? And then as the interview goes along, in the next, the hiring manager, maybe it's the final interview and you keep asking that question, what's your and you use notes to like in your 80s to track? Are they keeping the same value the same time? Literally, by the time they're coming in on their first day, they know almost your entire value said. By following that simple process. And so I would encourage anybody to do something like that is call them out in the response emails say, please check out our values and be ready to talk about it. And we are going to talk about them on that first call.

Grace: I love the intentionality of that because first of all, it qualifies whether the candidate is taking the time to understand the values that you have as an organization. And also it shows the importance. You place on those values in weaving it throughout the process. I wanted to pivot a little bit, something that I think is really astounding and phenomenal, which is that blue wheel is currently at 65% female workforce and 18% minority population. And I'm curious if there are things that you've implemented, brad, on the talent acquisition side to commit to that level of diversity?

Brad: Yeah, clearly there are tools that help you out with stuff like that. Right but I would say the number one thing is for someone in my position and hopefully there are others that would listen. Is that just understanding the importance of diversity in the workplace? I don't personally think that I have. Implemented great strategies to get to the numbers that we're at when I started, blue will already had a majority as an over 50% female workforce, not in the numbers that we have now, but since I've been there for 10 months, I think we have hired 34 people. And that was the last time, at least I checked. So that was that's even outdated data in 2004 of those 34 people were female. And so clearly we were doing something right to get more of that female representation to the numbers that we have now. And I would even imagine that it's greater than that, because even since the last time I checked, I think we've hired 10 people or so. And at least six, at least six or seven have been female. And so when I hired somebody on my team to be a recruiter, I thought it was important to have somebody different than me. On my team, not only just for the recruiting part, but when you have diversity on the people team, we are a resource to our customers. Our customers are our employee base. Like you don't want the people guy selling your programs. We're like our customers are not the people who actually pay us. Our customers are the people that we work alongside. And so the person that I brought in, Jessica, she is a minority in more than just female, but she's a minority race, too. But that wasn't the reason that I hired I hired her because she was the person I wanted, and she was the most qualified for the job. But I went into the process acknowledging the importance. And I think if you do that, it can really change your perspective on who you end up bringing on to the team. So now we have diversity even within my team. And then now it's her taking over. A lot of these first round interviews, which she has, and she's been with us for four months or five months. Even she's now putting a greater stress and importance on that, too, and so I truthfully think the reason we've been successful in this particular arena is because it's people like me and the rest of the executive leadership that is putting an importance on it.

Grace: Absolutely when you think about designing an interview process holistically, is there anything that's really important to you being part of that interview process or do you have any heartaches on?

Brad: Absolutely in every interview that I run, this is what I'm going to do. Yeah, for someone who has now taken a step back. And now I get involved with the later stages, I am a conversational interviewer and people really like almost like how we're having a conversation now. I mean, this is basically how I interview people. And 20 minutes in, you're like, this is an interview, right? So some people don't even understand sometimes. And so I am not the type of person that has the checklist that says, OK, ask how many years experience do they have? Do they have this specific skill? What are they looking for? What's your motivations and where do you want to see yourself in five years? Those are questions. I don't ask. And so I love coming in at the end. And asking questions about one reiterating that favorite value. But really, why? And then give me an example. Give me the reason. I just want people to, like, actually tell me and reflect on how they got to that point. So one of the values that blue will is open to change. So in the premise, the definition of that value is really understanding one core purpose, and that is you don't get to choose your co-workers. I mean, maybe I do to an extent, but for the most part, most people don't. And so it's like if you do that, you don't have to be exactly like them. But the actual definition of the value is you have to be open to their interests and open to their opinions and open to their work styles, ultimately open to change. And I really love that value because this is probably more of a hot take on values of anything else is going with an odd number of values because then you can have a building block. I love having no, because there's this middle value, right. The number three value or whatever. That's kind of like the building block. And so our second row is the open to change. I could have put organized conquer and deliver as the second open. I wanted open to changes. The second one because it's the middle value of the five. It is basically, it's the building block. It's saying if you don't do this one, you can't do the others. Well at all. This is the one that is the building block the foundation. You don't build your house on sand and so open to change is the one. So that's like that's one of the hot cakes. I guess I have is having an odd number of values. You can't get the building block with the events. And so I love being a part of the process coming out at the end. And asking questions, going back to open a change. The saying like. OK, tell me about a time where you were uncomfortable in a work situation, something that challenged you. Maybe it was what you were working on, maybe it was who you were working with. Like, what did you learn from that? It's such like a question that kind of opens your eyes that I just want people to walk me through that process. Those are the types of questions that I just love learning about. So it has a great style of question for an interview, too, to ask about the specifics of what they've experienced and get them talking about their story.

Ben: So I love that. So I would have give it a little bit. We know that building a great employment brand is really important to you. So what do you think are the key aspects of recruitment, marketing that you think every people leader should be paying attention to and thinking about?

Brad: So, of course, the obvious place, which is your Glassdoor account, your LinkedIn profile and to an extent your Indeed account, if that's where you have a heavy presence on blue will and travel, manage all three of them fairly well. Sometimes I hear people say like, oh, I take Glassdoor with a grain of salt or, you know, those are just people venting. Like I 100% disagree with that because I have seen the power of, what, a 4 plus star review on a Glassdoor account does compared to not having that. And people like me, we work really hard to make that Glassdoor review better. But the key is it's not the focus, it's the byproduct of the success. With a focus is on the talent experience, what you get in return with that is a positive Glassdoor rating, which of course, helps tremendously with recruiting and marketing and all that type of stuff. So those are your standard channels. I think your second largest presence has to be your website. Now, I've seen some oc career sections and I've seen some really bad career sections. Right so I think what's important is not just have when you click on the careers at the top right hand of your website, you just get the Lat you maybe you get some pictures of leadership and then you get like the openings, like all the opening, say check out our list of openings. But what I have done at the last three employers and particular ambassador, my last one. And what we're doing right now in terms of our development for both travel and bluegill, is we're actually laying out the talent experience. So as a candidate, you're going to go on there before you think about applying. You're going to say, wow, these are the actual stages. Oh, I love that recruitment process. Yeah and furthermore, these are the promises we promise to have constant communication with you. We promise to have a defining job descriptions where the expectations are perfectly clear. If you do get hired, this is what you're onboarding experience is going to look like. This is how we're going to commit to your training and development. This is how we're going to engage you. And then, of course, the heavy hitter, the big sections on values and all that type of stuff. It may seem counterintuitive, but I have always believed that if you have a candidate that sees an opening and they go to your website, they haven't applied yet. And at the end of reviewing for a couple of minutes, whatever, if they think, wow, this is a little bit too intense, I'm not going to apply, you've actually done your job. You've done your job, because that person in the end probably won't put it all on the line to be a culture ad, right? I've always appreciated that.

Ben: Yeah, I think that's great. I love the phrase you've been using over and over again, which is talent, experience. And if HR or people theme's companies were called talent experience, that really could lead to something different in an organization when that's so how you define yourself.

Brad: Yeah so I don't I don't use the term HR at all. In fact, when I was offered this job, the actual title was VP of HR and after talking to my future boss and CEO, it wasn't a hard argument to get. The point across was that my title needed to be VP of people because people it just it sounds and then, of course, all the people that work for me, they have that in their title as well. But we oversee the talent experience. And so I love using that term because it just connects everything. Right like what could you say out of the traditional HR functions is not a part of town experience like you could even say. The boring stuff is in talent experience. And so it's just it's all encompassing. It's less intrusive. I'm not someone who likes to use more of the soft language to dance around the subject of a very direct communicator. So, like, I think it's still a great term that gets the point across, but it's for the modern workforce.

Grace: Yep, absolutely. I totally agree. That's a perfect way. I think, to conclude that we do have a fourie. We really part ways. We like to do a little speed around to learn more about you outside of work. So we'll ask you a few questions if you're up for it. Whatever pops to mind first. And I will kick it off. What brings you joy outside of work, brad?

Brad: Yeah, I mean, I think of very detailed that. So I'm glad it kind of came full circle watching Atlanta Braves baseball.

Ben:: 100% not surprised. And what's your favorite part about the state you live in?

Brad: Driving up 75 I 75 North in the state of Michigan. It's a beautiful journey and there's a lot of terms. And when you actually reach up North Michigan, but usually it's past for me, it's past exit 200. And I just love once you get past that area up North Michigan, it's just great to explore. We're blessed with obviously being surrounded by all the great lakes, but we have thousands of inland lakes as well. There's this little town called central lake Michigan, which is about in the Northwest area of the state, and it's situated on intermediate lake. And it's such a great lake. It's one of the largest inland lakes, actually. It's very close to torch lake, if some people have heard about it. So I love that part about my state. I love up North Michigan.

Grace: That's great. From everything I hear, it's beautiful. And I've been there a bit, but I'm excited to explore more. Do you have a favorite place to order takeout from during covid?

Brad: I'm going to I'm going to catch some heat for this, but it has to be dub's. That's amazing. I'm impressed. Well done. I have a whole Buffalo Wild Wings ordering experience that we can start for, but it's delicious.

Ben: Yes well, what's your order at Buffalo Wild Wings out of courtesy of a preferred source?

Brad: Thai Curry. So it's like it's like the fifth hottest. Yeah, that's a hot take right there. Actually, I can't go any hotter. So that's it. And there was some fries with salt, vinegar rub on it. Perfect for a start.

Ben: But what's one show you've binged recently and love if you're into that? If not, we'll take a book.

Brad: Yeah so I'm not a big TV Watcher. So from April through October I just watch baseball and then from November through February, I watch gold rush on Discovery Channel and that's it. And so it just baseball ends and gold rush literally starts and then gold rush ends and then spring training is starting. And so it just kind of works out that way.

Grace: That's perfect. I have thought you were going to say you watch the recordings of the baseball games in that I've seen it.

Brad: Yeah yeah, I know. I know, the games. It's like, you know, I can't watch recorded sports. You have to watch sports live.

Ben: Fair enough. Our listeners can't see this, but you have a large picture of the Starship Enterprise in the background. I thought that might have been what you said. Not sure if this is your art or someone else.

Brad: It is not. Again, if you remember, revco is a manufacturer of licensed goods and we happen to be brand partners with Star Trek. So that's very cool. That's all this is. This is art that's included in the office.

Ben: That's very. Well, that's a good segue into our last question, Brad, which is something we ask everyone, we really want to know what you think. Do you believe aliens exist? Why or why not?

Brad: No, I don't, because if for nothing else, I am not that deep thinker, if I go outside on a summer night and there's no clouds and I'm sitting and, you know, in my front yard and I look up and I see millions of stars, the last thing I'm thinking of is, are there aliens up there? You know, like, I'm probably looking up, and I'm going. And that was a great baseball game. And it's perfect.

Grace: That's great. Brad, thank you so much. It was such a delight to chat with you. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. And, yeah, go get some baseball.

Brad: Yes this is a lot of fun.

Hosts: Thanks for joining us for another episode of start with who, the interview intelligence podcast presented by Pillar. Find out more about Pillar and how to do the best interviewing of your life and build an amazing team, all starting at pillar.hr. And if you like this episode, leave us a review or shoot us a note. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.