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Talent Management Talk #4 – The CEO perspective on talent management (featuring Graeme Strange)

In this edition of Talent Management Talk I’m joined by Graeme Strange. Graeme is Managing Director at Readify, a large and fast growing Australian software services company.

I was excited to get Graeme on Talent Management Talk to explore the CEO perspective on talent management. The interview doesn’t disappoint, with some great insights from Graeme on:

  • What the CEO is really looking for from HR
  • How Graeme recruits and manages his leadership team
  • How Readify recruits technical staff
  • How you drive your own development as a CEO

Toward the end of the discussion we also dive into some fascinating thinking about organisational culture and the importance of storytelling. If you’d like to jump straight there, you can find that discussion at 8:32 in the video below.

You can watch the full 10-minute discussion or read the transcript below.

Jon Windust:

Welcome to Talent Management Talk. I’m here today with Graeme Strange who is the Managing Director of Readify, a multi-award-winning, global-award-winning software services company. Welcome Graeme.

Graeme Strange:

Thank you.

Jon Windust:

I think we’ve got something really special to offer our viewers here today as HR people. And that is to hear from a CEO just exactly what they think about HR and how they see HR fitting into the organisation.

What does the CEO want from the HR group?

Jon Windust:

What does the CEO want from the HR group?

Graeme Strange:

Our people and culture area is extremely important to us because there are times, particularly in high growth organisation that you need to accelerate your hiring process.

You’re so reliant on your people and culture to turn their attention to hiring, and then be able to turn their attention back to retention. Then the dial goes back to hiring again. It’s one of those things that goes through waves.

You’ve got a business pipeline and all of a sudden you might have won a whole bunch of new work. The message goes over to people and culture very rapidly to say, “Right, we need you to fire up your hiring engine”.

Equally, turnover in professional services is fairly high. So the other really important aspect of people and culture for us is to keep that churn rate down. To make sure people are happy, that they are not only performing well but they’re happily performing well.

Jon Windust:

Yes, it seems to me like you see HR as a really key determinant of the organisation’s success?

Graeme Strange:

Absolutely. It’s fundamental to our success.

Jon Windust:

Which will be good news to a lot of our viewers out there.

How does Readify recruit technical staff?

Graeme Strange:

We’re a technology firm. We have the advantage of being able to say, “You know what, let’s build some really smart technology to start filtering the people as they come in and apply for work with us.”

Jon Windust:

Right.

Graeme Strange:

We have this great little system called Knock Knock, and when you come onto our website to apply for a job, you have to hit Knock Knock first.

What Knock Knock does is basically asks a whole bunch of technical questions – we’re talking about the technical people here – to determine that you actually know what you’re talking about.  Because we’re trying to hire just the very, very best in the industry, that’s a high bar to get over. They’re code puzzles and questions that you should know the answer to.

The next step being that you will go on to a technical interview if you get through. We set the bar for Knock Knock, that if people don’t get over 75% they typically don’t go on to the next phase. But we could raise that bar to 90%.

We typically never drop that bar so it’s a great early filtering process. There’s a whole bunch of things that we want to do with that system but it effectively means that your people and culture area is not going to have to deal with 600 resumes.

Jon Windust:

You’ve automated a lot of that process.

Graeme Strange:

The filtering process is automated, yes.

How does the CEO of Readify recruit his leadership team?

Jon Windust:

We’ve got the advantage of having the Managing Director here, so let’s talk about the senior leadership group.

What involvement do you have in the recruitment of that group, and how do you go about sourcing great candidates for that leadership group?

Graeme Strange:

Clearly I have a lot of involvement in that. That’s not something you can actually take a hands-off approach to.

We do tap into our network, so people we know and therefore are in the industry. We do use recruitment firms as well to try and get to those people we don’t know or don’t necessarily know. But it’s a pretty involved process.

Because we’re in a high-growth business, we’ve had double digit growth for the last eight years, which means that you’ve got to hire someone at a level above where you are today.

Saying I want an executive for exactly where we are today means that they’re on the same development curve as the company. If you hire above, you’re getting better value from them as you’re growing as an organisation as well.

Jon Windust:

Yes.

Graeme Strange:

So it’s really important that we hire people that are more experienced than probably what we believe we might need at the time. And that are capable of growing as the business grows because otherwise they’ll get left behind.

The CEO perspective on managing a leadership team

Graeme Strange:

I would like to think that in every executive team member that I have, they are better at their job than I’ll ever be at their job.

I look at myself as becoming more and more of a generalist and hiring people that are far, far smarter than me. I think that’s a great way to hire, and then you can just trust them.

Jon Windust:

It’s a peculiar thing about being a CEO. It’s a strange thing having everyone else in your leadership team actually smarter than you are or better at what they do.

Graeme Strange:

I like that. It gives me a lot of confidence.

Jon Windust:

Yes, and I’ve heard someone say that you actually should, as a CEO, feel like you’re the dumbest person in the room!

Graeme Strange:

Yes. Your value then is bringing the view of the entire company to the table.

So you’re getting a picture across the entire organisation. Whilst your executives are looking at things through a sales lens or a people and culture lens or a marketing lens or a finance lens, each in their own right very important parts of the business.

How do you develop as a CEO?

Jon Windust:

When you get to that Managing Director or CEO role, there is no longer anyone above you to actually look at and learn from. How do you actually go about developing yourself?

Graeme Strange:

Look outside. Mentorship is still a really important part but you’re looking outside the organisation.

Jon Windust:

Right.

Graeme Strange:

So maybe looking within the industry at someone that you’ve seen be successful or go where you’d like to take your career already.

Connecting with those sorts of people, that’s really important. In fact, I almost think it’s better to have a mentor outside the organisation.

Jon Windust:

Right.

Graeme Strange:

I mean people on the board or board of directors that you can bounce ideas off, that’s actually important as well for them to help you.

Jon Windust:

It’s not quite a mentorship relationship is it with the board?

Graeme Strange:

No, it’s not at that stage. It could still be a development thing but yes, the relationship is different to a mentor for sure.

Jon Windust:

Yes. Okay, great.

Graeme Strange:

And they change. The reality is that you can find someone that you really like and they’re a fantastic mentor to you and that relationship might last for a few years – but there’s also a point where they might not be the person for you anymore. You might need something else in order to develop further.

Where does culture come from?

Jon Windust:

I definitely think culture comes largely from the CEO. It’s amazing how much influence the CEO and the type of CEO that they are has over the organisation.

Tell me about Readify and how your culture has developed?

Graeme Strange:

I sort of agree and disagree. The bit I disagree with is that I think it comes from the wider leadership group, so not just the executive. They definitely do set a tone for a culture. I think that is very true.

There’s a guy called Stan Slap wrote a book called I Left My Heart in Conference Room B. It’s a book on leadership and there’s a passage in there where he talks about leadership culture. Without explaining the whole thing, he talks about how culture is set from the staff telling stories about the leadership.

If you see the relationship between culture and the stories they tell, then it’s your behaviours at the leadership level that are important. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. Because what you say… people can go, “Yeah, yeah, a bit like a mission statement, a bit like a value statement but do you live the values? Do you really embrace the mission?” If you’re not seen to be actually living it and doing it, then it lacks credibility.

What Stan says in his book is pretty much, as a leadership group, you’ll never hear any of those stories. They will be telling stories about you and what you’ve done but they won’t be telling you.

So even at the office Christmas party with photos of them that they don’t want to get around in one hand ,and a pay rise in the other, and cornered at the back of the car park, they will not give up those stories to you. So you’ll never actually know them but you’ll feel them come from the staff.

Jon Windust:

All right, look, I think we’ll finish off there today Graeme. Thank you very much for your time.

Graeme Strange:

Thank you for having me.

This transcript has been edited slightly for readability

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.