When Jenny Cotie Kangas lost most of her memories as a result of a head injury, she had to undergo a process of extreme relearning. Though the experience came with hardships and frustrations, it turned out to be hugely beneficial to her professional life. During this episode, Jenny shares how learning to explain things in their simplest form, eliminating biases and blindspots, and employing reverse engineering strategies can lead to true organizational change.
Rob Stevenson 0:05
Welcome to talk down to me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the front lines of modern recruitment. We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions where they’re willing to take risks, and what it looks like when they fail, no holds barred completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment VPs of global talent, CHR rows, and everyone in between. Once I went through the classes and the trainings and got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing. 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. I’m your host, Rob Stevenson, and you’re about to hear the best in the biz. talk down to me.
Rob Stevenson 0:58
Here with me today for an extra special episode of top talent me you’ll see why in just a moment, I promise is a director over at veritone and pandologic. Jenny Cody Kangas, or JCK, as she’s known to our industry and to people who have earned it. I hope I have learned it is here with me, Jenny, welcome to the podcast. How are you?
Rob, I’m doing great. Thanks so much for having me here today. You’ve absolutely earned it. Hi out there to all of your listeners, like Rob mentioned, I met JCK. And y’all can call me that kind of going forward here. I’m excited for this conversation today.
Rob Stevenson 1:30
Me too. And we had to do the discipline thing, I didn’t interrupt you and be like, Jenny, we have to start the show. Like we were having too much fun. Before we started recording, talking about all kinds of things. And here we are, like halfway past the time we were supposed to start recording. But it’s just because you know, we get the dip between our teeth a little bit and start having fun, we’re gonna get to all the hiring stuff, we’re gonna get to the reason why we brought you on. But just to loop some people into the funnel we’ve been having over the last 18 minutes you are mentioning how you are sort of creating these systems around you to be more productive, one of which is basically telling your team, hey, I hate email, it drains me, it’s not the best way to get in touch with me. One, I respect the hell out anyone who can pull that off, because email is like the de rigueur way of doing work. But what are some other ways that you managed to do that? How do you manage to create these systems around yourself to be more effective?
Yeah, and I think like before I get into that, it’s probably important to know, right, but there’s an interesting piece in my story that kind of gives a little bit more context to like the identification of something like the email piece. And so you know what that is, and it’s hard to kind of lead up to it, because it’s such a weird piece. And so I’m just going to come out and say it. So I’m somebody who has been in the talent acquisition space in the HR space for many years. And my story took an interesting turn, in March of 2020, when I fell and hit my head, and I lost my entire memory. I was in the hospital with COVID-19, I was in kidney failure. And in the hospital, I fell and hit my head and was found facedown in a pool of blood. And so after that, I had to essentially start from like, it was a fresh start, right? Like I had to start back over. I’m a mom of three had to figure out kind of I had lost a lot of memories, right? Like, how do you move forward at that. And so there was a very kind of systematic process in terms of getting back up to speed. But then I rejoined the space later that year. And I was very, very, very scared, apprehensive, like, I thought people would look at me differently if they felt figured out like, Hey, I don’t have my rearview mirror that tells me what’s going on here. And so I dug into user experience research, to figure out how do you ask the right sharp questions to figure out what’s going on? Because again, I couldn’t trust on my rearview mirror to help inform to me what was going on kind of with anything. When you say you had memory loss, what did you still have? What did you still know, when you woke up from an injury? I had some language but not a lot. I didn’t know who my kids were, I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who my family was. I didn’t know like all the social implications of like how the unwritten rules, but like, how things are done, I lost that. And I really didn’t know the breadth and the depth of where my memory was gone. Until I encountered situations over the, you know, months and years that followed. That kind of helped me understand like, oh, as it relates to like, the pyramids of Egypt, like I didn’t know where the pyramids of Egypt work. So like, I was watching Despicable Me with my kids. And I was like, huh, those look like they’re probably an important landmark, but I have no frame of reference for where those are. Right. So it was really, really significant. And what I came to find is that, in a lot of situations, Rob, the memory was wiped, but the programming was still there. So like anything that I had done before in terms of like driving a car, or marketing or HR or town acquisition, there were some aspects that were kind of like ingrained in me that I knew. But I very intentionally and systematically went back to like relearn the best foundational practices of like how to do those things. And what I did I was able to relearn it just like when we acquire tech talent, you’ve got the option of like, acquire that person who has that unique like niche or you build it. Right. So like in this, I was able to build it in a lot of ways. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Rob Stevenson 5:14
Yeah. So it sounds like you had behaviors but not information.
I had lost the context. Yeah.
Rob Stevenson 5:20
Okay. It’s like riding a bike. So you knew how to ride a bike, but you didn’t know like, what a bike was?
Pretty much. Yeah. So like, I knew, for example, like how to eat but I didn’t know what the fork was, like, I didn’t know the word fork, or like, have we talked before, I didn’t have the language for what things were on a menu. So I like figured out ways to optimize to be like, I would talk to the person who is like, at like, in the restaurant, right? And like, ask them like, Hey, that was a way that I optimize the fact that I didn’t know all those words.
Rob Stevenson 5:47
When you were in recovery, and sort of learning how the world works, basically, I’m sure there were moments where you were calling things out like, Wait, why is why are school buses yellow? Or like, why is this thing in place? Things that have like, become obvious to people? Were there moments like that, where you were calling out things that seemed strange to you that everyone else had just accepted?
Yes, there absolutely. Were. One of my mentors in the space got engaged in the last probably year and a half. And I remember being on Facebook, and seeing a picture of their engagement. And I looked at the picture, and I thought, Why is this person wearing a wedding ring? Or an engagement ring? Right? And a fiance isn’t? Because I was like, Well, this is somebody who’s very, very confident and like, the strong female like, and it just, I was like, this doesn’t make
Rob Stevenson 6:43
they both should have. They’re engaged to each other. She has a ring, why didn’t he have one? Right?
Right, exactly. Like, of all people like it’s 2022, right? Like, what’s going on here. So seek to understand the fact men don’t wear engagement rings. And so I reached out to my mentor, and was like, I have like, I might be crazy in this. But can you help me understand? Like, why doesn’t your fiance wear an engagement ring? And you do, because like, from where I’m sitting, it seems like it’s 2022. And this is a signal that like females are property, but males aren’t. And so the rules apply to women, and it doesn’t apply to men. And it was this aha moment of like, holy cow. I never really considered that. That’s, whoa, her fiance ended up like taking me down the historical journey of like, how that got there? And I’m like, okay, cool. I understand, like, now the context. But still, it’s 2022. How are we not potentially talking about this more.
Rob Stevenson 7:35
As Ursula Gwyn would say, it’s a relic of feminine serfdom
There you go, and that was also with So, Ben story, I proposed to my fiancee, which,
Rob Stevenson 7:45
Congrats by the way,
Thank you, when we were joking about this, he’s like, you know, we’d both said, we wouldn’t want to get married again, it’s not that we want to do because we’ve been married before, not to each other, but like, historically to other people. Like, that’s just not something we’re gonna do. And then it became like, after we’ve been dating for a while, like, Well, if that’s something we’re gonna do, you’re gonna have to propose to me, which I thought was the equivalent of honey, I’m gonna go to the store and pick up the eggs. I realized that like women didn’t actually propose them, then like, this is not a thing that’s common. And then I came to find out like, oh, it’s definitely not a thing that’s common. And then it was even more like, it’s like, even sharper my resolve to like, Okay, if that ever happens, I’m absolutely going to propose. And sure enough, I proposed and my fiance has an engagement ring.
We both do, because it’s important to us to have like the equality piece. But I think another fun story that you probably get a kick out of. So my fiance is very patient and helps to kind of connect the dots for me, especially with history, when I might not have it. And so there was one day earlier on kind of my recovery journey, where a famous person was mentioned. And, again, earlier on, when I didn’t know people in pop culture, if I ever heard somebody I got so freaking excited, cuz I’m like, I know this person. And so I had said, like, oh, you know who Michael Jordan is, right? Like my face lights up. I have no poker face, Rob, like,
you know, and he’s like, great. Who’s Michael Jordan? I was like, He’s the character in the first space jam movie.
Rob Stevenson 9:21
You’re not wrong.
And he’s like, You’re not wrong. But he’s also an athlete may play some sports, you know, which sports like I have no idea. But I knew he played the Bugs Bunny, right. So he goes on this journey to like, help teach me how Michael Jordan actually played basketball and baseball, but like change the world of basketball, like how we know it today. And we’re watching these iconic dunks. And we get to one dunk in particular. And I was like, huh, and he was like, Why did you hire and I was like, no reason. He’s like, No, there was something there. Like, why did you have and I was like, I know it’s gonna sound really stupid. And he’s like, what is that? Right? And I said, Well,
I’m sure that sounds weird. But that looks like the Nike symbol. Right? And he goes, it does. prefacing that symbol before, right? And I was like, Oh, yeah. And the shoes goes on, what are the shoes called? And I was like, oh,
Rob Stevenson 10:14
Like being able to, you know, re experience these or even getting into a bunch of examples, I guess, here, but in the HR tech space, one of my first conferences, like, I’m relatively new ish to like being in the space. And I was in this conference with some of news for the industry was that unleash 2022. And I had learned because I’m very, very, very curious. What do all these different vendors do? What are all these companies? And then I would ask again, the right sharp questions to the people who are they’re like, Oh, are you looking for a suggestion in that? Well, here’s the space, here are the vendors, would you like me to go introduce you? I didn’t realize that that behavior prob wasn’t normal. Like, that’s not what everybody did. Because I was like, Well, isn’t the whole goal of this to like, identify what the problems are, and almost like, make those connections. So it’s some of my mentors in the space and had been like, Chloe, Rita, Carrie Corbin, Elena Valentine, Amanda Thompson, like some of these incredible Sarah white like, incredible, incredible women, they found out that I’d never been clubbing before, right. So this is like post COVID. And the whole concept was absolutely mind boggling to me, because I was like, wait, you dance in public, because again, my only thing here is COVID-19, where it’s like you have to stay six feet apart. So the fact that this thing even existed was crazy. They’re like, well, we’re gonna do it, right? We’re gonna go get a table at all this stuff, right? And so we’re sitting there. And Kerry Corbett said, you know, you were the most connected person at that conference. And I’m like, What the heck are you talking about a character like one of the founders of the recruitment, marketing and talent, like attraction space. And because I might be very, very, very connected in the town, traction space, and the recruitment, marketing space. But you are connected in all the spaces, because you’re uniquely curious. And you don’t realize historically, that you don’t go and walk somebody over who has a problem to the person who could solve their problem. And like broker that interaction. And I think part of it is the fact that you just haven’t been conditioned, you’ve got hope, right? Hope for how it can be improved. And it’s a contagious thing to be around. And also just watching you be able to ask the questions, if you like, I’m sorry, we did what historically, like, that’s a terrible, like, How did that even happen, right? Like, but just like, my reaction helps to anchor the fact that sometimes the way that we had done things wasn’t always the greatest. And yeah, so those are a couple different examples of different situations, I guess that I stepped into, kind of with a newfound lens and trying to connect the dots, I could connect the dots just so I could understand it that just didn’t quite make sense.
Rob Stevenson 13:01
To close the loop a little bit. Did your mentors, fiance then begin wearing an engagement ring?
I think he did. I was at their wedding, actually, just after talent acquisition week, actually in Coronado district, I’m pretty sure he ended up getting an engagement ring. After that, I’ll have to go back and ask. So I think that’s one of those pieces too. Like with email. That’s what it’s tied to, right. It’s like identifying what takes you out of like the driver’s seat, and then figuring out how you can build strategies to like overcome that. So you can say, in like your zone of genius. But the other piece with me is I only have a finite amount of hours in a day I can be on a screen. And so like, if I’m on Zoom for eight hours, it’s gotten better. I’m like up to like 1314 hours. But if I get past that 1314 hours, I’ll pass out like so I have to be super, super careful about managing my time. And being hyper aware of like what’s happening my body so that I don’t push myself because what I found is like what I thought used to be soft guardrails, like overwhelm and things like that are actually hard guardrails. And if I hit them, my ability to function the next day is massively depleted. Does that make sense? Yeah, of course. So like, I have friends who who feel like you’re canary in a coal mine. So like at talent acquisition week, for example, there was certain lights that were there that were blue uplights that drained my batteries, way more than anything else. And I didn’t know that until I experienced it. And so there was a time at ta we remember there, or I was in like sunglasses and a hat and like laying with my feet up because I was pretty competent as the pass out. And so I started to feel myself drifting into that. And then was like, Okay, I need to be horizontal so that I don’t fall and hit my head again. Right.
Rob Stevenson 14:43
Yeah, everyone thought you were hungover. They’re like, well, she went wild last night as conference.
Exactly, exactly. But like, does that give some context like so it’s all tied to knowing what your guardrails are, and then making sure that you’re like optimizing within those guardrails. But it’s not a nice to have. It’s a nice to have. And so that’s one of the big, I guess, takeaways that I’ve had just with all of this. So I don’t know, if we want to just start back and like, kind of re re go into it. But that’s in general context for you know.
Rob Stevenson 15:10
That makes sense. So you’re setting these boundaries on how you need to do work. And for the average professional, that looks like, oh, I can’t be reached past this time, because that’s my family time or, you know, I’m really trying to achieve work life balance, I’m protecting my time, etc. And like you say, that’s a soft guardrail. It’s like, Would it be the worst thing in the world? If you answered an email at 730? And you know, that’s during family time? No, it’s undesirable, but it’s like, it’s not going to kill you. But in your case, it’s like, oh, no, this is not just how I like to do work. This is the only way I can do work. So it all stems from that.
Yep, it sounds from that, and being very, very aware, and then advocating for those needs to so for example, like, when I joined my company, I had an issue with my it setup, and I don’t know, if we’re still recording, or if we’re just gonna give a background context. But like, I had an issue with my it setup, there was an issue with the display, chip, or whatever it is there, it would blink. And that aspect, like actually ended up with me passing out and having seizures. And so not like, again, having tech issues not so ideal, when you have a disability of some sort. It’s not just going through maybe this is another thread that we need to pull for this conversation. It’s not just about adopting to like, and pushing through with, like, how everybody else does it, it’s figuring out what you need, and reverse engineering how to get that because it’s not a nice to have, it’s a need to have.
Rob Stevenson 16:36
When you go back to like post injury, and you are picking up the threads of your old life. It’s not as simple as like, Oh, here’s a picture of you with your kids. And you start to remember, right, it’s like, you just have to kind of trust that these strangers, these tiny strangers in your hospital room are important to you. How did you go about finding out who you were before?
Yeah, so I think out of the gates with this, I didn’t get it right at first, right? Like, what I mean by that is, I was so angry, because I have lost my memories. And I tried so hard to try to recapture what I had lost. And that was preventing me from actually being able to heal, and to move forward with this. And so what I ended up realizing is that while my memories of my kids are gone, their memories of me are still there. And so what do we call that, like in the business world? It’s actually user experience research. And so I dug in through the lens of clubhouse, which was really big at the time, and would jump into these UX rooms, to figure out like, how do I ask the right sharp questions to get back those pieces that I’m missing of who I am. And that desire, like trying to sharpen those skills was tied to me as a mom wanting to figure out how to fill back the pieces that I was missing. And that aspect of like asking the right sharp questions to figure out what the story is to clarify with the story is, is actually such an important thing in business, right? Because a lot of the times we have a term that I’ve come to find is called like a design bias. So that’s like a bias for how we’ve historically done things before. And that’s informed by, like your upbringing and your family of origin, and how you’ve encountered different situations like this before, or even the advertisements that you’ve seen on TV. So in our space, what this could look like is, oh, my candidates live on indeed. Right? Because all of the different things that I’ve heard, say my candidates live on indeed. So I have it designed by us, it says my candidates live there. Well, when you actually pull back the layers and you know, look at the data driven insights, what’s there come to find out, hypothetically, maybe, indeed lost a significant amount of the candidate market share. And so that bias, I’m putting all this money towards, like, say, Indeed, or some job board. And that’s actually not giving me a return on my investment, because it’s a gut instinct, strategy. That’s, again, driven by that design bias for how we think that these problems are solved, not like a data driven insights piece. And so I got really, really, really good at data. Because I realized that I needed something to support what my gut told me, right? And so like, what am I seeing here? How is this going on? How can I tell the story in the data? So it’s not just me, seeing like, what this isn’t saying, Oh, here’s a strategy that we need to move forward on. It’s actually like, again, a data driven approach. Because when you’re going to bring something for example, to leadership, or to say like, Hey, I need more money for this initiative, or whatever it is. Having the right story is important, but having the data to back it up to help you deliver that business case. So you’re the you’re the neck that turns the head and not the iron fist is really, really important that you know, you’re trying to maximize your outcomes.
So when you were asking questions to learn about who you were in your previous experiences, you are coming to that conversation with just complete open mindedness, right? Like the platonic ideal of what an open mind is, right? It’s like kind of a little bit of a tabula rasa, right? Like, I’m in empty glass, fill me up with this information. And that is what we tell people to do when they start a new job, right is like, ask lots of questions, listen, learn, don’t make any judgments. It’s impossible not to make judgments, because that’s what we do. As people, we’re like filtering this information through all of our previous experience. And when we do that, when we listen and learn, we’re doing it to be polite, a lot of the time, you’re just kind of biting your tongue. Because you’re new in an organization, you don’t want to rock the boat, you want to like figure out a little bit about the culture before you start really shaking things up. But you kind of had no choice. But to do that in its meaningful way. Which was like, I’m not asking this to be polite. I’m asking this because I don’t have any of this information. I have nothing like, besides these instincts, I can’t quite put my finger on to process information.
Yeah, it’s so like, right out of the gates after my head injury, I was a program manager for a franchisor in the hairstyle company, like a hairstyle industry. And I was hired to fix a broken technical experience. Right? I could have come into that role. And out of the gates man, like, here’s what we’re gonna go do, right, like and just started to go and try to fix the broken tech. But I pause and first did a full bottoms up discovery, which didn’t take that long. But asking like, Okay, what is this where as a problem kind of understanding the full landscape, before I decided to go out of those gates, because I needed to understand, yes, people are telling me it’s broken. But like, you need to understand the breadth and the depth of what’s going on in the current state, before you pull any levers or start to kind of begin to fix things. And so what I came to find in that process is yes, the technology that the organization had purchased was broken. But because I had done the conversations and like the intakes with some of the users of that technology, I came to find out that what their needs were the true needs were that they needed to solve that we needed to solve for, could not even if I fix the broken tech, it couldn’t be delivered. Like we couldn’t meet the needs of the customers, right. So like, it wasn’t just about fixing the broken technology. It was about also beta developing or like figuring out something else that might actually fit the needs. And so then we had a parallel approach of identifying a different vendor. And then actually, we ended up CO creating technology to solve those means.
Rob Stevenson 22:25
As you’re going on this biologically mandated listening to her, people might expect that your bosses, your co workers would be thrilled by that, like, you know, our new hire Jenny, she’s amazing. She’s asking all these questions. She has this optimism and she loves to listen, she has this like, wide eyed thirst for information. It’s great. I feel like that’s probably not what happened. You were probably shaking some things up, right? Was there pushback on this approach? You had?
Yeah, good point. A bottoms up discovery before you go to build is a really, really, really important precursor step. The way that that was met at the organization that I was in, was with massive resistance, because it was like, Oh, she’s an instigator. She’s trying to shake things up. Like this isn’t good. It’s not forward moving. And so I had to learn how to explain what I was doing in a way that got people to buy in on that journey. Right. So not just like, I want to understand this. It was, Hey, Rob, I want to understand this, because it’s clear that you have needs as an organization like in your business, and this is important to you, right? You say yeah, yeah, it’s important. I need people. Right? Cool. I want to make sure you get people to, but I can’t do that if I don’t fully understand what your wants and needs and desires are of what that experience looks like. So I’m hoping you can you know, level in with me for 15 minutes or 20 minutes, I’m gonna ask you some questions. So it’s like precursor, it’s like laying the stage for that. Because out of the gates, I found that, again, when we talk about this concept of design bias, there’s also a design bias for people who come in and start asking questions. And sometimes it’s like, oh, that’s not what we need, we need you to just run, right? But when resources are thin, when budgets are thin, it’s absolutely critical that you build your strategies that are going to mitigate issues, not mitigate symptoms. But the only way to understand if something’s a symptom or an issue is to really understand and do that full kind of mapping exercise and build out like, where’s this problem? It’s problem engineering, right? I don’t know if that makes sense.
Rob Stevenson 24:25
Yeah, yeah, of course it does. How can you keep doing that? How can you keep going? Does that make sense?
Oh, I don’t know. Because I guess I think this comes back to like, I’ll get really, really excited on things. And maybe this is just one of the optimistic optimizations that I’ve I’ve found is when I get really excited and passionate on something, sometimes I get a little carried away and I’m not checking to make sure that people are coming along with me in that journey. And so it’s that pause before we go forward to make sure like I’ve I don’t want to assume that I’ve connected the dots for you. Like if you’ve got questions, right? I want to be able to feel those then maybe that’s an email that I’m thinking about. This is almost like a takedown to me like therapy session style. But like that, honestly probably comes back to all the situations that I’ve been in historically, like since 2020, where I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And I often sometimes felt stupid about pausing to be like, hold on, you just said like DC FSA. Can you clarify what that means? Right? Because like in our space, in the HR and talent acquisition space, like the terms that we use, even within our own organizations, like they’re in our vernacular, and we understand them, but we don’t always level set like the actual definitions of those. It’s almost assumed that like, Oh, you’re going to know what that means? Or what that means to me. Yeah.
Rob Stevenson 25:44
Well, all those things that we assume people understand, that also represents designed by us, because that shortcut is the tip of an iceberg that we are now just like skipping over it, basically. And so when you pause someone to say, Wait, what is that acronym? You just said, What does that mean? What is that entire process you’re referring to? That we are not going to address? Or investigate that we’re just going to assume belongs there?
It absolutely is. And I mean, a lot of the times, right, we’re looking to handle or like, manage change. And we’re trying to optimize things. And when we go to roll out potential change strategies, whether it’s an optimized helm acquisition solution, or whatever it might be, we have to storytel that for everybody’s understanding, not just the HR person’s understanding, right. And so the way that we storytel, that, it has to be in a way, I always say, I don’t want the 80,000 piece Lego set. When we’re bringing this to market, we need the Duplos. Right? Because when you’re learning just like as a student, we don’t give people a college textbook. To begin, we give them a board book that teaches a basic foundational concepts of how to do these things, right. And in the HR tech and talent acquisition space, it seems like there’s been this historical drive towards like, Oh, I’m going to start with the college textbook, because that makes me look like I’m a strategic business partner. But now we’ve lost like the adoption, and people don’t feel like they can ask questions. And sometimes we don’t slow down. And we’re not clarifying. Like, if I was net new to this situation, would I understand what I’m doing here? Right, like, or what I’m trying to say. And the thing is like, or what I found is, when you storytel Something in a way that makes sense to to like a 10 year old. Now, all of a sudden, you’re really intentional about doing that, Rob, right, like, now, all of a sudden, everybody can understand it, not just the people who are the like, the top 10%, or like the most like, experienced in your organization, but everybody can and we’re trying to like actually make change happen. Right? Your goal is to hit everybody, not just the top 10 person. And so that, I guess, that journey or that like workflow or process or whatever, like that pause before you go forward to clarify, like, Am I making this makes sense. If somebody walked off the streets and knew nothing about what we’re trying to do here? Could they pick up this guide and figure out how to do this? Right?
Rob Stevenson 28:17
Well, that was the situation you we’re in right?
Yeah, it was a situation that I was in. And I found that when you’re able to simplify something down, you’re able to drive forward the outcomes you’re trying to actually achieve at it. Yeah.
Rob Stevenson 28:33
Yeah. I mean, what kind of premise revisitation did that result in? Like, when you kind of prodding and asking these questions like, hey, explain to me like, I’m five, give me the Duplo version of this? Like, assume I know nothing? Because I don’t actually did that result in sort of revisiting some assumptions and ripping out some process.
Almost every time it did, because it like, there is this assumption that like, the way that we had things mapped, like was the optimal way. But the other thing was, if you don’t know what good looks like, you can’t actually reverse engineer good, right? So like, if there’s friction in the processes, but we’ve assumed the fact that there’s not like that this is the optimal way of doing things. It was almost like bringing the people that were involved to the table, and being able to like step by step, ask like what works, who doesn’t want to change, right, like from these different lenses, and getting people to be able to share with that too, which was a hard thing as well. But when we got to that point, were able to build something so much stronger. And that’s what we need to do. And we’re building things in talent acquisition, it can’t just be my lens that views what there’s potential problems. I need a cross section of my potential users, right? The humans who are engaged in the talent acquisition process, what works, what doesn’t, what can we do to change for them? Because like when we were deploying talent acquisition strategies or systems or whatever, it’s not for us as HR to use were one of the use cases over typically not the majority of the use cases. But if you don’t understand what’s working or what’s not working for these other people who are engaging in these processes, you could end up building something that does not work. For example, if I’m looking to hire hair stylists, and my process has to be accessed by a desktop computer, and it takes 27 minutes to complete. What do you think my drop offs gonna be on that? When 82% of my potential like, population based on the data is on a mobile phone? And now the only way that you can access that is on a desktop computer? Like, we’re gonna have drop off, right? But it’s like being able to take that journey contextualized with data, and then have that data help to drive the story for why you’re pulling levers in different places or considering different things. So again, it’s not gut instinct, but it’s data driven insights, ends up being a positive thing.
Rob Stevenson 30:54
Yeah, this speaks to what I often refer to the multidisciplinary nature of a recruiting role, in this case, user experience where oh, we need to know that x percent of our applicants are coming from this channel, like, is the application process tailored to their needs? Like is it going to look good for them? That is just that’s design, that’s user experience design. When you started reading user experience design books, it was trying to understand the pathways people were taking, just like, like human behavior, rather than tied to a specific process, right?
Yes. And to clarify, right, because I had gone into clubhouse, which at the time, for those who may not be familiar with it, it was an audio only networking platform, that was a big thing during COVID 19, when we couldn’t be in person with people. So you could be in a room with some of the top UX and UI people from the biggest companies that were out there. And so at first, I started just going into these rooms and made a fly on a wall and listening to what was going on. And then eventually, it started being more confident. And I would actually go on stage quote, unquote, and ask questions, and I would ask the same systematic questions. The first question I asked her, What are the questions that you asked to get it? Right, right, because questions are your pickaxe, they help you figure out what’s there with the problem that you’re dealing with? They are one of the most important tools in your tool belt. And I wanted to learn from these brilliant minds, what are their questions? We’re getting it right. And so then the other question I would ask is, if you had a mentee, or somebody who’s coming brand new to the space, what education or resources would you put in in their past so that they can learn how to do this? Right, right, I had a lot of commonalities. With the answers that I got from that. A lot of them were centered around like Stanford D School Center for Design are humans that are for design. And so I use those answers to help calibrate like, what books I put in my path to learn. And then the last question that I asked Rob was, if you could go back to your junior self, knowing what you know, now, what advice would you have given yourself in order to help you get this light again to get this right? Because ultimately, it’s about getting it right. It’s not about being right. And the answer to that question, had such commonalities, it didn’t matter if somebody was from Mehta or from Twitter or from fill in the blank company. It was changes hard. I wish I would have understood how hard change was. And then there would typically be a follow up question like, Would you have any resources to recommend to get that right, and I got some, like, nudge was one of the books and some other different things that were there. But that helped me direct kind of my kind of ground up build in terms of going into this, to sharpen my skills around change. And once I realized, Oh, this isn’t like, again, it’s not one person that’s saying it, it’s almost everybody I’m talking to has the same answer. So that’s a signal to me that this might be something big. And it’s something that I should probably, you know, software or sharpen my skills for. If I want to get this right now, the results of that journey from the Stanford D School human centered design materials, some of the different books out there that were given to me by even some of the vendors in this space that were like, Oh, dude, you’ve got a beginner’s mindset here. You don’t have to unlearn all these bad practices, you can just start, right. So they would send me different books and stuff like Netflix, no new, no rules, rules, or Adam grants, think, again, write some of those types of books that helped teach the really good foundational ways of how somebody could work towards getting these things, right. It really helped me start with the right foundation, because at its core, a lot of this stuff has commonality in it that it’s like a systematic process for identifying what a problem is. And then like reverse engineering, how you’re like once you figure out truly what that problem is. Leadership agrees what that problem is you agree with that problem is like all the different users. Once we’ve clarified that that’s the problem that we want to solve. Now let’s reverse engineer to solve that problem in the most efficient way possible. Right? Not necessarily how it’s been done before? Not necessarily, here’s this one piece of it. Right? Like it’s starting. It’s like a ground up build. Yeah. I’m monologuing.
Rob Stevenson 35:09
That’s what I wanted. Why did you turn to UX in the early stages of recovery?
Because Are you familiar with what Kintsugi is? No. Okay, so Kintsugi is Japanese pottery, where broken pieces are fused by gold, in order to make something more beautiful and stronger. Ultimately, I with my head injury, right, like, essentially, like the cup of my memories and things like that was gone, I didn’t have the pieces. And so I had to figure out how to get those pieces back. UX research was a way where I could ask the sharp questions and figure out that story was from the different people from my family and friends and otherwise. So I could put those pieces back together and then fuse them again with gold to like, have what I lost. In a way. It was the way that like, when I looked at the problem, that was my memory, it was the quickest way to be able to reverse engineer getting those pieces back. Yeah. Okay, that makes sense. And then because that was sort of your pathway, that was then the lens through which you were reviewing process, when you came back into the recruiting space. Yeah, it was that scientific systematic approach to understanding what the problem is doing, like a ground up discovery, and then reverse engineering, how to optimize the solutions to be able to build to achieve the goals. And when you’ve done it that way, you can also understand where there might be biases in place, or like, what is the, for example, like, what’s the candidate journey look like? So if I’m going in, and I’m auditing from high to fire, or I start with high to hire my talent acquisition processes, if I put on the cap of me as a talent acquisition, like or as a candidate, right, and I’m going through my process in auditing that workflow of from that high moment of where did I find that role, and then I’m mapping everything, that map ends up being a really important piece for me, when I’m going into pulling levers or be able to fix things.
Rob Stevenson 37:10
When you were ready to get back into the professional world get another job, new role. Why did you go back into talent?
So I had an amazing leader. And he was clarity and cola Bell virus, she’s phenomenal. And she had known me before I hit my head, and had a unique situation at Regis, where she needed somebody who understood talent acquisition, but also understood the tech side of it. And so she knew that like, well, I hadn’t historically done this work before I had the skills that were needed to potentially get this. Right. Right. And so she gave me an opportunity to begin. And so candidly, that’s why I had the opportunity to begin. And that’s why I chose to dig into that. And now Claire is an amazing, amazing mentor. And also just helped me to develop my program management skills. And just like my systematic processes for identifying what the problem is for mapping solutions for identifying what’s a, what’s an issue, or what’s a symptom for being able to deliver change with through the lens of tweetable moments. Because if you’re trying to get somebody to understand this process is there like this concept that they don’t know, when you can anchor on something where they’re like, Oh, that’s amazing. Like, we have to connect the dots. So we can connect the dots, right? Like that tweetable piece or that one liner, they write it down on a post it note, and they put it on their display monitor. And all of a sudden, that’s going to help you the stickiness of driving that needed change. Like those are some of the pieces that are happening. And yeah, so it was the opportunity, and came to find when I dug back in that, that systematic process, and kind of understanding where there’s friction, and then reverse engineering something stronger. That skill sets really needed in our space, right, because a lot of people will buy very expensive systems, but they didn’t understand necessarily how to implement it. Or when they’re then adding a system on top of the system. All of a sudden, what we end up having is you’ve got these Frankenstein type situations where you don’t know what stuck tape, you don’t know what’s gone and you don’t know, you know, what’s actually the system or where the problem is. And yeah.
Rob Stevenson 39:20
You know, when you describe your post injury approach to problem solving, which is information gathering, which is bias, free design, right? No expectation for how things should or ought to work. And just in general, you have this curiosity, I think and thirst for knowledge and information about you. When you ask or hear about preinjury Jenny, Jenny 1.0 Surely there was some of that in you, too. Do you think that this is just you’re a brand new person or how different are you really from the professional? You were before this all happened?
Yeah, that’s a great question. And so I’m gonna get a lot and so I have been blessed to have some incredible friends who knew me beforehand and obviously know me now. And there was one specific dinner it was out on the leash last year. So it’s been 2022. And that was Matt Alder, and Chad. So Washington, Joel Cheeseman, and Evan Wyatt’s and Patrick Hutchinson, and like some of these great, great leaders in the tsps space and chatted asked Patrick, who knew me before I hit my head, how is she different? And he responded with, it’s really quite simple. She hasn’t been conditioned, that her voice doesn’t matter. Or that her ideas can’t make a difference. And so often, especially as women, like we take ourselves out of the game, because we think that that’s how we need to present. And so as I think, and this is a response that I’ve gotten back from a lot of different people like this was there before, but I didn’t throttle it back. I didn’t feel like I couldn’t ask that question or couldn’t make like, I could do it like in a one on one situation. But it was almost like, I was scared or nervous that like, I’d come off as a weird data nerd, or like asking the wrong questions. And I think the fact that I didn’t know, for example, like, when you’ve got a problem, and it’s a huge problem that’s preventing your, you know, organization from being profitable, walking into your leaders office to be like, what are we doing to solve for this? And then having them be like, Why are you asking that question like, Well, isn’t that my job? I’m here to, like, ask that question. Isn’t that like, in not realizing that that’s not something that people often did? Right? helped me be a lot more impactful. But I think that’s the difference is that I guess I haven’t watered down who I am or tried to fit the box that I think I should be fitting, and just being okay with, like, This is who I am. Like, I’m a data nerd. I love systems. I love tech, I’m ridiculously curious. And there are a lot of benefits to that, that are going to help an organization. And that’s also not the particular type of spice that everybody’s gonna love. And that’s okay. You don’t have to be like, not everybody has to like you and your processes and your systems and things like that, or like how you work, but it’s finding that alignment, and that right fit, so that you know, you guys can go on that hero’s journey together.
Rob Stevenson 42:23
You’re who you were before the world told you who you’re supposed to be.
Yeah, that’s a much better, better way of synthesizing that message. Thanks, Rob.
Rob Stevenson 42:32
But you weren’t browbeaten into obsequious. Right? You weren’t taught to be small, you weren’t taught to be quiet. You hadn’t like accepted a lot of these things that, you know, were you out in the world. And that is, I think, how most people, as you call out, particularly women love to be like, how do I unlearn this? How do I know my voice? And how do I be strong? And how do I not accept mediocrity? And then that kind of thing? There must be a way to do it without sustaining a traumatic brain injury? How would you recommend people try and replicate this? If they are to try and become aware of their blind spots aware of their biases, and aware of their own strength?
Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think it starts just, you can even use, like, my sister likes of Jenny walked in this situation, would she see this differently? Or with somebody who walked in off the street who had no experience doing this? Right? If somebody stepped into your team today? Who was brand new to the talent acquisition, acquisition space? Would they see the same things I see. And so it’s like checking your lens is ultimately what it’s doing. So before you move forward, it’s checking that lens that’s there. And I think the other thing is really being able to get in tune with your body and your responses. And like, a lot of the times if something doesn’t feel right, there’s a signal like there’s a spidey sense that goes up, whether you’re a man or a woman or whatever, right. Like, there’s some sort of feeling of this doesn’t feel right. There are some people in the space and my mentors who called this like, Jedi is a canary in the coal mine, because she’s had to be uniquely aware of when her body is not like something doesn’t feel right or a situation doesn’t feel right. And clarifying before we go further, I think being able to go back to trusting your gut instinct, and seeking to understand what that signal is for you is a really, really important piece. Because again, like you said, we’ve been conditioned, a lot of us have like, this is how we’re supposed to act. This is how we’re supposed to do that. And it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing. It just means that’s how it’s been right. But our goal often is to get it right, not necessarily be right. And if our goal is to get it right. Getting it right is about the collective group, getting to the finish line, not about me getting my idea to the finish line. And you know, being able to just like seek to understand those pieces, it helps you to do that.
Rob Stevenson 44:53
That is fantastic advice, Jenny, what an amazing story you have and I can’t wait to keep tuning into your story as it carries on because you’re a fascinating individual. And I’m so grateful that you booked one of your 13 possible hours of the day on screen with me. I’m honored. And at this point, I would say thank you so much, Jenny for being with me here. This has been an absolute pleasure.
Awesome. Thanks, Rob. So much, and thanks to the top talent and the listeners, keep looking to sharpen your skills everybody. Like it’s important to stay curious, keep asking those questions and going on the journey to get it right until next time.
Rob Stevenson 45:28
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