Alicia Kortmeyer

Axle Head of TA Alicia Kortmeyer

Alicia KortmeyerHead of Talent

Head of Talent at Axle, Alicia Kortmeyer breaks down the changes she made to the redundant processes when she first arrived at Axle, the importance of operationalizing the hiring process, and the reasons why a company must allow room for mistakes. We end the conversation by trying to figure out if it is indeed possible to avoid involuntary churn.

Episode Transcript


[00:00:05] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me. A podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment.

[00:00:12] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions. Where are they willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.

[00:00:22] RS: No holds barred, completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs and everyone in between.

[00:00:31] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.

[00:00:39] MALE: Talent acquisition, it’s a fantastic career, you are trusted by the organization, you get to work with the C-Suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between and everybody knows you.

[00:00:52] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me.


[00:00:58] RS: Here with me today on Talk Talent to Me is the Head of Talent over at Axle, Alicia Kortmeyer. Alicia, welcome to the podcast. How are you today?

[00:01:07] AK: I’m doing great, Rob. Thank you so much for having me on.

[00:01:10] RS: Pleased to have you. Under normal circumstances, you would be podcasting from Denver, Colorado. You are not, however. You are in Kansas. Is that right?

[00:01:18] AK: I am. I am in Wichita, Kansas. Great place. 107 degrees today. So, a little chilly out, but yeah, I think we’ll be fine.

[00:01:28] RS: What takes you there? Is it like work stuff or?

[00:01:30] AK: My family’s here. I’m actually from Kansas. I was born and raised in Wichita. I went to Kansas State. After Kansas State, my parents always vacation to Colorado. So, I knew at a pretty early age. I fell in love with it and I wanted to be there. Been in Colorado now for 14 years. Met my husband, my dogs. We live in downtown Denver, turned out quite well. So, I do miss Kansas. I miss coming back for a couple days. But it’s a couple of days and I’m ready to go back to the mountains.

[00:01:56] RS: That’s how I feel about rural Illinois as well where I’m from, is it the people you mostly miss in Kansas? Or are there other parts of the—

[00:02:04] AK: It’s the people. It’s the people.

[00:02:04] RS: The barbecue? I don’t know. What else does Kansas have? I’m not sure.

[00:02:08] AK: That’s all you do, is you go get beers. Yeah, about four o’clock hits and everybody gets thirsty. We’re doing Taco Tuesday tonight. Tomorrow, I think we’re going to go do live music. We pretty much do that every single night until it’s time to go back. I go back to Colorado, super dehydrated, tired, exhausted. It’s so much fun. I wouldn’t change anything. I love my family so much and I love my friends here. So, we love coming back. I don’t come back for the week. I don’t come back with the planes or the wind. I’ll be honest with you. It’s the people. They’re pretty magnificent here.

[00:02:37] RS: Of course. Of course. I haven’t been to Kansas, but I have heard that it’s so flat. You can watch your dog run away from miles.

[00:02:45] AK: That’s a good one. I’m going to try to use that tonight. I’ll probably butcher it. But I’m going to borrow that sometime. That’s pretty good.

[00:02:51] RS: You can have that. You can have that one. Write that one down and the next—

[00:02:54] AK: I’ll say it’s mine. If it kills, I’m going to own it. I will. Thanks.

[00:02:58] RS: That was me. I’m hilarious. Why do you think I started a podcast?

[00:03:07] AK: Definitely going to steal it.

[00:03:10] RS: It’s all yours. Alicia, I’d love to learn a little bit more about you and Axle. Can we maybe start with your elevator pitch that you give to candidates on Axle and then we’ll get into you and your background too?

[00:03:20] AK: Yeah, I’ll try to keep what we do less boring. But what we really are is that full 360 payment solutions in the logistics industry. So, a lot of times people look at logistics, it’s very archaic, kind of behind the times. Typically, payments take about 45 days in that industry. We can get it down to about 48 hours. We’re definitely one of a kind. It’s a very unique, niche company, let alone industry. I think what we’re doing is some major disruption. So, it’s a hugely exciting time right now to be at Axle. I started as employee number 21, as the Head of Talent. We are now tipping 100. We are planning to expand to about 400 to 500 the next couple of years. Every single department is blowing up right now.

We’re looking to hire about 100 engineers in the next two to three years. We’re looking to expand our sales team out, really every single department is opening jobs. As the Head of Talent it’s absolutely amazing to see the growth. The people that we’ve added, the departments, the leadership roles. It’s just such an exciting time just to see us grow and scale from where we were at employee 20, to now, we’re hitting 100 people. I don’t know, it’s such an exciting time.

[00:04:25] RS: Logistics is definitely an area ripe for disruption. I think anyone who has had even a little bit of experience with it can notice that my only experience with it was moving, and I had a terrible experience hiring this moving company that there was no oversight, there was no transparency in their process. I was absolutely price gouged. It was fantastically expensive. I was so sure I was being scammed at one point. And I spoke to a couple of other people they’re like, “No, no, this is what you expect. This is what it is.”

I know you maybe are not, like specifically in moving. But in general, the reality of moving physical things from one place to another, which is responsible for literally every single thing around you at all times, it seems like it’s one of those recession-proof spaces. It feels like. I try and talk about that on this podcast a little bit like, okay, there’s always companies that are growing and hiring no matter the economic realities and things have to move to where they need to go, always.

[00:05:18] AK: Yeah, I completely agree with you, and that’s a lot of times what I explained to people on phone screens. Logistics isn’t going anywhere. We’re all Amazon Prime people. We all order things online, especially when the world shut down. You couldn’t go do the things that used to go do, so you would order these things online, the toilet paper fiasco. But a lot of things that you took for granted weren’t there anymore. So, the logistics industry is not going anywhere and to where I think some things when COVID started, they kind of like Peloton, right? I love Peloton, but Peloton definitely boomed during COVID, because there was nowhere else to go. And then once the world really kind of opened back up, all of a sudden, they started seeing a little bit of kinks in their system, and to where I feel Axle has definitely sustained and we’ve definitely been there, and we’ve definitely kept growing our sales team. The things that are happening, the products that we’re doing. It’s just such an exciting time.

So, just to see us keep climbing this mountain, even after COVID, it’s been pretty awesome. So, it’s probably not the sexiest thing to say that I work in logistics, but yeah, to see what we’re doing and the difference we’re making the impact we’re making, it’s pretty cool. So, I can’t wait to see what the next two or three years are.

[00:06:18] RS: Yeah, totally. So, what about you, Alicia? Can you share a little bit about your background and how you wound up in this role?

[00:06:24] AK: Yeah, absolutely. So, I never thought I was going to be a recruiter, let alone an HR. I’m probably the worst HR representative you would ever meet. I, actually, like I mentioned from Wichita, moved to Denver quite a while back, moved here. I was working in sales, cold calling every day. Absolutely thought I would hate it, did hate it for a while. But then at night I was bartending. I always say, “I’m not really a people person.” But clearly, I am, because everything I did was extroverted and client facing.

So, I moved to Colorado, bartender at night, did sales during the day. Turns out, I actually really liked sales. I think what I really liked about both jobs was really having that connection, meeting people, getting to know them, learning their needs, learning what they wanted, and then just developing those relationships from there. So, that’s really how I fell into recruiting. I was doing pretty well in sales. But we started expanding a recruiting department and my boss asked if I wanted to work in and I didn’t, because I didn’t want to go under HR. She promised me 90 days if you hate it, we will pull you back out and you go back into sales. I ended up, I think I hired 20 people in my first three months. Lo and behold, started picking up other recruiting jobs, kind of started climbing the ladder. Found Axle eventually, after COVID, a fully remote company. Met the CEO, absolutely adored him and the interviewer. Met the co-founder, just listening to their vision and where they wanted to go, it was definitely going to be a challenge.

Coming in, like I mentioned employee 21. Listening to them wanting to grow this departments, expand these departments, build them out, listen to their dream and the rounds of funding they want to go through and really what they want to do in this market and this product, it was amazing. I fell in love with it instantly. I really genuinely love where I work and what I do and what we’re doing. I’m so fortunate, and people always say they can hear it my voice and I’m not lying. I literally love who I work for and what I do. I love my team. I love the people. I’m so lucky to do what I do every single day. It’s chaotic. It’s crazy. It’s never the same.

But I also get to deal with probably 89 other hilarious individuals who all have a common goal. I can have a bad day, and jump on Slack and just laugh out loud with someone from Boston or someone from Austin. It’s the best. So, that’s how I fell into recruiting and just knowing I hired those people, and here they are doing amazing things, and we’re all doing amazing things together. It’s pretty awesome. So, that’s how I fell into it. Very long way. I don’t know if I really answered that. But yeah, I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I don’t think I’m meant to do anything else.

[00:08:46] RS: I enjoy the CEO interview as well, because they can sweep you away a little bit, right? And they should. They should sweep you away. Because even if they’re a technical individual, they’re the company’s first salesperson no matter what, always. You were a bartender, strikes me you have a pretty good BS detector. How do you sort of see through the fluff? Because it is fluffy. It is easy to get swept away, like I said. They can show you the world shining shimmering splendor, et cetera, et cetera. How did you know that they were the real deal?

[00:09:18] AK: I think, I’ve definitely worked for leaders in the past where they painted this pretty picture, but there was no real execution and there was no real way to get there. There was no real roadmap to get there it was we’ll get there, but I’m not quite sure how that’s going to work. Or I have seen it where I’ve worked for companies where they had series a funding and it was like Wolf of Wall Street, where it was just like, you get champagne and you get champagne, and we’re going out every single night, and there really was no, “Okay, well, series A is here, but we still have such long ways to go.”

So, I think really sitting down with him, because I do remember applying and I was like okay, this company sounds great. If anything, it’s going to be a great learning opportunity for me to do this interview. But really once I fell into it, and really once I heard his vision and I heard the roadmap and I heard the growth, and the scaling, and where we want it to go and how far it needed to be, and just listening to how specific it got. That’s truly when I realized, okay, this is where I want to be. This is my home. I really want this job.

I think, the fact that he even put faith in me, I mean, recruiting is one of those roles where it’s not just sales, right? Where you’re just in sales, you’re just doing sales, you probably talk to account management, maybe some product, maybe a little bit of finance, you dabble. But that’s really it, and you’re siloed, and it’s nothing against salespeople, like I don’t mean that in a mean way at all. But that’s just where it is.

To recruiting, you’re dabbling in every single department. You’re working with so many hiring managers. You’re working with so many people on leadership. You have these cutthroat goals. You have to be a part of scaling and growing this company in order to ensure its success. Not only that, but you’re also extremely client facing or candidate facing, whatever you prefer to say. But you also have to turn around and really get people engaged in your company, like be dead honest with me and really share that dream and share that passion and hope that they jump on board as well.

So, it is probably one of the most difficult jobs, but I think he did a really good job of elaborating that and I knew what my work was cut out for. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. But who wants easy, right? That’s so boring. I thrive in chaos, even though I pound a bottle of wine often, wouldn’t have it any other way. Water is so boring.

[00:11:17] RS: Your room is full of empty bottles, right?

[00:11:20] AK: All of my trophies, all of my trophies.

[00:11:24] RS: You might have a problem. So, in those conversations too, you mentioned that they were betting on you a little bit. They wanted to invest in you, and presumably also the talent organization. What did they share about the goals for hiring and growth in terms of headcount that made you think, “Okay, this is a place where I always have to succeed?”

[00:11:46] AK: It was very transparent. It was very much, “Hey, we’re series A, we want to go through some more rounds of funding. This is where we want to be in the next five years.” Shawn and B, who are two co-founders are best friends. So, I immediately had a soft spot for that. These two best friends since the beginning of time had this vision. How could you not want to help be a part of that dream, right? These two guys sat around and thought of this amazing idea, this amazing product and open this business. So, it’s not two people that hate each other. It’s just two guys who just want to make this.

I think for me, it was really buying into that and getting on board with that, and knowing like I cannot fail for these people. I also do have a background in scaling companies. I have that background of, we need to hire 100 people in a year. We need to hire six people in a year. I love coming in to companies that don’t have a table set. I love coming into that chaos, where it’s like, you are the smartest person in the room, go take this, and don’t mess this up for us. I love having that pressure under me. I love coming in and making things better and fixing things, and building people around me. Even other recruiters who can come in and be like, “You know what we did in my last company, we actually did this and it was 10 times more effective.” “Fantastic. Let’s do that. Let’s make everyone’s lives easier.”

I mean, I really enjoy that scaling piece. I think I would hate my job if I came in every single day, and they had told me, “Don’t touch it. This is perfect. Don’t mess anything up. We have it the way we want it. It’s perfect.” And you’re like, “No, it’s a little uneven.” And they’re like, “No, it’s perfect. Just leave the picture where it’s at. I don’t think I would stay. That’s just not where I’m meant to be.” I’m really meant to come in and scale these companies and grow them out and meet hundreds of amazing people like it truly is the best place, and I think he did a great job of being transparent with that, and I think I knew that challenge, like I mentioned, and I had to do it. I had to jump on. I could fail, but not, and that’s the cool part about it.

[00:13:33] RS: Yeah. Those companies are definitely out there, the ones that are really averse to change, and why do they need you? Why would they bring you in if it was just to do business as usual? I don’t understand. When you got to Axle, you mentioned a little bit of chaos. What were some of the early things you wanted to put in place to make an impact early on?

[00:13:52] AK: Oh, man, so much. It was only a year ago. But I feel like I’m talking like I was 12. That’s how much I feel like—

[00:13:58] RS: It’s been 84 years.

[00:14:01] AK: It’s been 84 years. I think it was, there wasn’t so much that I wanted to change. It was the freedom and the autonomy to do it. And I think again, that just backs who these leaders are and this company. I didn’t ever get the feeling of, “Hey, come in and make this great, but don’t spend any money. Don’t touch anything. Don’t shake up the leadership team. They’re not receptive of it.” It was literally, I came in and I had such a warm backing from the leadership team on whatever I wanted to do to make it work. And I’ve been with companies before where I’m new, and they’re like, “Welcome to the show, go do these things for us. Go hire us the best of the best, but don’t spend any money doing it. Don’t change the process doing it” and that doesn’t really work. I think, especially now after COVID even, the things that we did three years ago, four years ago aren’t going to work now.

So, I think taking that to a smaller measurement with Axle, it really was I had the leadership team backing me. Some of the first things I did was get our branding out there. We had no Glassdoor reviews. We had no Glassdoor page. We had no built in. People have no idea who we were. Our applicant tracking system, we didn’t really have an applicant tracking system. We were using Google Docs before that. So, everyone had their own way of doing things. Interview processes were taking about 45 days from start to finish, about 9, 10 steps. This is not a market where you can do 9, 10 steps.

Rob, if I was interviewing you, and you were a 10, everyone else is going to know you are 10 too. Everywhere else you applied. And if we’re not moving fast enough, someone else is going to do it. So, I think it’s really capturing that and understanding you guys, we have gold here, we have lightning in a bottle, we have to move quick. I think it was just so much in that first six months of just implementing basic processes and slowing things down, but then speeding them back up again. And again, I think a lot of our success now is truly due to the fact that I have that autonomy, and I have that trust, and I was never really challenged in an unhealthy way or never really felt like I didn’t get the support that I needed.

It might be of people now, I love that my boss still comes to me even though I don’t report directly to the CEO anymore. I love that she comes to me. And every time I have something of a challenge, she’ll always say whatever you do, I support you. It’s maternal, but it’s almost like I need that, right? Whatever you do we support you, we have it, go take care of it, go get it done. I don’t think that happens enough nowadays. I don’t think you get that backing as much as people really should and I really do appreciate that. But I think again, I think I really just had the autonomy to really—I was a kid in a candy store. I could do what I wanted to make everything better and I loved that.

[00:16:36] RS: When you said there were like eight or nine steps in the interview, were some of them redundant? Were there just people in interviews that didn’t need to be? What did you go about taking out of that?

[00:16:45] AK: Yeah, it was everything from a full stack engineer to an SDR, and it’s nothing against the SDRs, or it’s nothing against the full stack engineers. But do we really need to do nine steps for someone coming out of college? Do they really want to do nine steps coming out of college? When someplace else, a competitor, is probably doing three steps to find out all the data points they need to make that decision. With our engineers, are we doing these nine steps and are they wasteful? There’s a one more step that we need to do.

We were doing things like culture fits, and we learned through this process, we don’t need these culture fits. This is in high school. But not to say that our team had that mentality. But I didn’t want to go down that. I didn’t want to go down that path of I’m hiring Rob because I like him, because he’s from Denver. And that’s why I want to make this choice.

We really never dug into, is Rob an actual fit for this job? Can he actually do this job? Can he actually make the business better? Can he actually impact this company? Or is he just somebody from Denver that I can go get a beer with. And so, I think it was really taking that step back and learning about these candidates and the impact that they’ll make at such a crucial stage.

I think that’s when we learned to cut some stages out, not to sacrifice quality at all, but to really make it more effective and to move faster. And also understand, like I mentioned before, if Rob’s a 10, everyone else is going to see he’s a 10 too, and adding these seven stages isn’t going to make us land Rob any quicker. If anything, we’re going to lose him faster.

So, those 45 days are not effective and that just does not work in this real world of recruiting that we have. Everybody wants people at this point. And so yeah, I think we learned pretty quickly. We could take some stages out, we could eliminate some things and we could revise.

[00:18:17] RS: I’m so glad how many times the little soundbite Rob is a 10 is in this episode. You can come on this podcast anytime, Alicia. I will be taking that snippet out. And I’m going to cut off the if part, you said, “If Rob’s a 10”, we’ll lose that. And then I will play it for myself when I’m sad.

[00:18:36] AK: The power of editing. Guys, I’m not saying Rob’s a 10. He’s just editing that. He’s just looping that together.

[00:18:42] RS: What is this actually about? Isn’t it that Axle needed just a lot of operationalizing before serious hires are made and the talent team hiring done by committee ad hoc through referrals? And it’s just like, “Okay, I’ve worked with this person before. I have a good gut feeling. We really can’t afford not to make this hire right now. Let’s just sign this person up.” Like you said, because he lives in Denver, and he seems nice. He seems like a cool guy and he has vague experience that seems like you get the job done.

So, for you, were you looking at like rubrics and meeting with hiring managers? What do you think about going from the scrappy ad hoc, early stage sort of hiring to a more proceduralized thing, what’s important there?

[00:19:28] AK: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think that I have definitely been with companies where we’ve hired just to hire because we’ve had hiring classes and we need to fill 10 by May 31st, and we’re only up seven. So, if they come to the door, and they can blink and they can breathe, they’re coming on. Problem with that is that you really do run into quality, right? I’ve definitely worked for startups at that high growth stage where it literally was conversations in a room where they would say, “Let’s just throw these hires at the wall and let’s see what sticks.”

[00:20:00] RS: Yikes. Those are people we’re talking about.

[00:20:03] AK: Right. And it was crazy to have that mentality of like, “Oh, well, we have a 70% success rate, we’re doing good.” But really, we’re churning 3, 4, 5, 6 a month. That’s really expensive. We’re clearly not doing things right. Or, you know, I’ve definitely worked for companies before where their train of thought on sales and like the success of sales was, well, this person is successful. So, they have to come on board. They were in a fraternity, they were prom king, she was prom queen, they did this, she was a varsity swimmer, she knows all about success. But what we didn’t take into that was, they also don’t know how to fail necessarily, either. There’s not a lot of failure in their life, there’s a lot of success.

So, when we’re hiring, we celebrate these wins, but we also don’t really celebrate their failures. And we never really focused that on the interview process and that was one thing that has always stuck with me, through my career as I scale these companies is, yes, let’s focus on these candidates’ wins, especially at Axle, that was something that, this was my baby, and I didn’t want us to get in the habit of let’s only focus on the golden things that they do and shiny, and we’ll just shut out all the mistakes that they’ve made. I want to hear about your mistakes. I want to hear about your failures. I want to know because that’s what a startup essentially is sometimes. We’re going to fail. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to do things wrong, even as humans, we do that.

So, I never wanted that recruiting process just to kind of be forced, because of what we think we wanted. We need to take the good with the bad, and I think that ultimately reduces churn as well. I’m not quite sure if I answered that. I think I kind of trailed off. But yeah, I think for me, it was just really making sure that we were strategic, and we were effective, and we’re still figuring things out. Our process is not perfect. We’re still going back to the drawing board on some things and we’re still revising some things, and I think that’s what you have to do in recruiting.

Especially in this market, it’s not what it was four years ago. So why would our process from two years ago work on something that is not a current trend right now? So, I think it’s so important to, yes, update this process coming as a new employee, but really keep getting that feedback from candidate or in the industry and seeing how we can evolve and how we can change and how we can improve, because once you stand still, you’re already behind the game.

[00:22:05] RS: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I love this notion of focusing on failure a little bit, because you really understand where someone went through adversity and grew and changed. I was given that little bit of wisdom early in my days in Silicon Valley, that when you are assessing these founders, who it’s easy, like, “Oh, they’ve exited two companies like they’re going to do it again, they’re a star.” But someone took me aside and was like, “Look, having a couple of wins is good. But they need to have some elves on their resume too, because you really grow much more in that scenario.”

[00:22:35] AK: Yeah. There are so many things I’ve looked back at, like I mentioned earlier, that 70% success, and let’s throw at the wall and see what sticks. I think I’ll take that with me forever. Because I think to me, that was a failure. I wish, in hindsight, I would have spoken up more, and said, “This is the problem now. If we’re looking at three or four churning a month as a win, that’s a problem.”

So, I really do wish, in hindsight, I probably would have spoken up, and that is definitely a failure I’ve taken with me as I’ve grown in recruiting and made sure I don’t do that at the next company, or make sure I speak up next time and put my foot down and say, “This is not how we recruit. This is not the best model. These are people. This is an experience. They’re investing in us and we’re just assuming that three of them are going to fail.” That’s also just not nice.

[00:23:18] RS: Yeah. It’s a really transactional way to view people. And it sounds like you knew in your gut, it wasn’t right. But now you also have the experience of saying, “Look, I’ve seen this before, and I saw how it torpedoed morale and culture”, and you’re going to sacrifice hugely in the medium and long term to fill a seat today.

[00:23:37] AK: 100%. And it’s also looking at it as I don’t think we focus on the candidate enough. Why am I going to put you in a role where you’re not going to succeed? Job hunting is already hard as it is. Getting rejected is already hard as it is. Failing at a job is even worse. So, why would I put somebody in this position when I knew that they would maybe be on the fence hire or I knew long-term, they wouldn’t be successful. And seeing them fail, and then, “Okay, go find something else.” I also kind of looked at us, man, they just kind of floundered and we didn’t really do anything just because we had to hit this quota.

So, I think even as like a service to people, it’s not the best, and knowing that they have to go do this all over again, someplace else, or do this all over again in 90 days. Now I look back, yeah, that was a few jerk moves there that I definitely learned from and grew from, and really take that with me in every single stage of recruiting or how we can make our process better. Like you said, just keeping in mind that they’re not transactional. These are actual people. We’ve all been on the other side of an interview or onboarding, or 60 days in, or 30 days in, and just feeling so overwhelmed. We’ve all had that. Did I make the right choice? Did I do this? Did I make a mistake? Should I have taken the other job? This isn’t catching on.

I definitely thought that at Axle, on my first 30 days, and it was nothing against onboarding, there was just so much to do that it was very humbling to just sit here and be like, “Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I shouldn’t be here. This is too big.” But it worked. But I also just look at it as, I don’t know, I just don’t want that for everybody. If it’s not a fit, I think finding a new job is hard. So, I think, to your point, yeah, you just treating them like transactional, it was a mistake. I’ll probably take it for a long time.

[00:25:11] RS: Yeah. I’ve seen this in sales, commonly too. A salesperson might realize I can get this deal across the finish line, even if I don’t know if there’ll be a good fit for the software, or there’ll be a great customer, or they’ll have success with us. But like, they’re not incentivized for that customer to do well, really. They’re comped out when that deal closes in a lot of cases. And I think there’s probably a similar temptation in recruiting, where it’s like, will this person take the job if I give them an offer? Yes. Do I think they’re going to be really successful? I don’t know.

You shouldn’t do it, right? You shouldn’t put someone through that, and there’s much more at stake, too, with recruiting a salesperson. They don’t feel as bad that, “Oh, they’re just going to churn in six months, and then their company will be 20 grand poorer, but they’re like an enterprise company. Who cares?” That’s a callous way to live your life. But I think that’s probably what’s going on in their brains.

But it’s not the same, with people, with human beings, who’s like, this is their own emotionality, and this is their own—they’re going to tell everyone in their lives about this job that they’re about to take. And they’re going to go through all of this. Also, it’s not easy to just leave a job or to get fired from a job. That’s a trauma too, and if you just shrug and say, “We’re okay with that happening”, I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to do business that way.

[00:26:22] AK: Yeah, I 100% agree with you. I think every term I do take, personally, because I do wonder what could we have done differently? I mean, I think we’re seeing that now as we scale. We’re looking at as we’re doing okay now, at 100. We’re doing great. But at 200, this is not going to work. At 300, this is not going to work. What do we need to do? Are we hiring the right people for the right jobs? I think we’re seeing that in our sales process right now, to where we’re really, as we grow the sales team out, we’re really shifting the way we ask questions and the things that we’re looking for, and the things that we’re digging for.

We did the same thing with our engineering team. We moved the final interview, so to speak, up to the front. In terms of coding, we wanted to see if they could code early in the process rather than waiting until the end of the process if they could code. And that was a process we just recently changed. Because we wanted to look at it as we didn’t want to waste their time, we didn’t want to waste our time, falling in love with somebody who maybe couldn’t do the basics of the job.

The same thing with sales. We didn’t want to—we wanted to ask the right questions early to get that data that we needed to know if they were going to be successful. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to be successful someplace else, just maybe not at Axle for our current sales cycle. So, I think for us, getting that early, capturing that information, and then using that to move fast, I think has definitely been a benefit for us and has really helped to the success of our hiring.

[00:27:38] RS: Yeah. You got me thinking, maybe this is too utopian. But is there a formula to remove all involuntary churn, where the only situation where someone would leave a company is because they found their next great job and it was like, “Oh, they outgrew us? They got to a point where they wanted something different, and they left us on the best terms.” I don’t know.

[00:28:02] AK: It’s not a compliment, right? That’s a compliment to you as a recruiter.

[00:28:06] RS: Churning is inevitable. People will always leave your company. We don’t live in a world where people will retire after 40 years of service, really anywhere. So, that situation I just explained, that is the ideal. That is the acceptable version of churn. I’m wondering if there’s a way to make it so that that’s the only churn you experience, and you just remove all instances of someone unexpectedly quitting or unexpectedly being fired? I don’t know. Certainly, if it’s possible, no one’s done it yet.

[00:28:29] AK: Yeah, I was going to say, I think if you find that person, let me know. I mean, I tell my recruiters that though too. I’ll tell them, “We’re all not going to retire at Axle. The day will come where something will happen and we all part ways for one reason or another.” But I don’t ever want my team to leave Axle with this same bullet points that they started. I want them to leave the company with better bullet points, or they implemented this process, or they tried this out.

There are still so many things that our talent team is doing. DE&I, scaling out these departments, building out these apartments, hiring the first head of whatever, the first VP of whatever, the first manager or whatever. I want them to leave this company, whatever their next role is, and taking that head of talent, taking that senior director role, taking that director role, because of their resume at Axle and the things that they learned and the challenges that they conquered, that they’re adding that to their resume, and they looked at their resume from three years ago, and they’re like, “Oh, man, this is laughable. I’ve grown so much.”

Yeah, I think that’s such a compliment, is go. Go be successful. Go spread your wings. Go find something better, you deserve it. But I always tell my team that in our one on ones, or on our six-month reviews. I’m like, “What are you working on? What can I help out with? Where does your passion lie? Where do you see gaps that I don’t see gaps on that you have a better way of doing things or a process? Let’s do it. Let’s roll it out. Let’s add those bullets. Let’s get you better.” Because nobody wants to stay stagnant, right? Stagnant is boring. So yeah, let’s figure it out. Let’s make you better.

[00:29:58] RS: Yes, I love it. We should report on that on ideal churn, I mean. That should be a metric where you can come to candidates and be candid and be like, “Look, you’re not going to retire an Axle employee, probably. You have other career goals. We want to be a part of that journey. And here are some examples of this person came to us as an SDR, and three years later, they’re now in enterprise somewhere else.” Or whatever it is. But those anecdotes are great. It’s great storytelling from marketing perspective. But what if you put a number on it? What if you were like, “Look, we’ve had x amount of people churn and x minus four of them have all been what we define as acceptable churn.” As in, they worked out, they did a great job, and they went on to have a really good job afterward.

[00:30:42] AK: Yeah, I would love to see it. I would worry why people wouldn’t be honest. Why they wouldn’t be honest about their wins, I don’t know. For me, I think I see it like just creeping on LinkedIn, and I see maybe the SDR that I hired that was shaking and stuttering in the interview process and had clammy little hands, and they debated coming here if they could do it or not. And now you see them as like an enterprise rep or you see them as like a senior director and you’re like, “Man, I remember when you were like in this like non-tailored suit, just sweating and just probably doubting yourself. Look at you go, dude. You are killing it.”

[00:31:16] RS: You had Microsoft Office and great communication skills on your resume.

[00:31:21] AK: You forgot to shave. There was one guy we interviewed that forgot to shave and had a little toilet paper thing on his chin. I wonder where he is now. I hope he’s killing it. I never told anybody about it. That guy was pretty nervous. So, if he ever listens to this podcast. I hope you’re doing great things. I’m sorry.

[00:31:38] RS: But you can do that in the exit interview, right? You could be like, “Hey, give it to me. Give it to me real here. You already quit. This is your last conversation at this office. Do we do we do right by you?” And even if they don’t say no, you didn’t do right by me, you can tell by their enthusiasm or lack thereof that you really did, right? And you’re going to mark that down as like ideal churn or regrettable churn.

[00:31:59] AK: Yeah, I hope. I mean, I really do. I think that’s something. That’d be very interesting to track. Because I would love to know who’s left and where they are now and what they’re doing. Man, I hope it’s something for the better. I hope it’s not leaving because they hate the company. I really hope it’s because they’re going to go find a cure for cancer, whatever, they’re going to go do. I hope so.

[00:32:19] RS: Yeah, me as well. Well, Alicia, we are creeping up on optimal podcast length here. This has been a delight chatting with you. Thank you for coming on the podcast and thank you for abandoning all of our notes that we had and just kind of shoot and breeze about other things. That’s my favorite kind of episode. So, at this point, I just say thank you for being here and for being yourself.

[00:32:37] AK: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for having me on. Have a really good day.


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