Lorraine shares her journey into talent acquisition, her passion for working with early-stage clients, tips for intentional career decisions, and details about her coaching process. We explore common queries during career transitions before she introduces the Juxtapose model. Lastly, she predicts challenges ahead for talent leaders.
Rob Stevenson 0:05
Welcome to Talk talent to me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the front lines of modern recruitment.
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Rob Stevenson 0:52
I’m your host, Rob Stevenson. And you’re about to hear the best in the biz. talk down to me. Hello, hello again, all of you. Wonderful talent, acquiring munchkins out there in podcast land. It’s me, Rob here with another classic installment of your favorite recruiting podcast. And I have a great guest lined up for you today. She is the head of talent over at Juxtapoz and happens to be joined by her adorable dog Archie, Lorraine behenic. Welcome to the podcast. How are you today?
Lorraine Buhannic 1:23
I’m good. Thank you for having me.
Rob Stevenson 1:25
Really pleased you’re here and Archie as well. If Archie, you know barks at some point, we’ll just have to ask him how he feels about all of this recruitment stuff,
Yeah, he’s sat right there listening to all of your calls. I’m sure he’s picked up a thing or two. And I hope the folks out there in podcast land will pick up on a thing or two as well. So Lorraine, you are in an interesting role because you are chief talent officer at Orchard which is a portfolio company of juxtapose which is the venture capital firm where you now work. So you were kind of plucked out of orchard or picked out of orchard I suppose to you know, to keep things rhetorically consistent. And now you work at Juxtapoz as the head of talent for the whole firm overseeing the portfolio. So I’d love to know a little bit about that transition about when you kind of moved from one to the other, and how the role is different.
Lorraine Buhannic 2:21
Yeah, I think a lot of people say that they sort of like fell into HR or recruiting, I made a really deliberate choice to go into the space right out of college, which I know was maybe ill advised back in 2007, before talent was really a strategic function. But I’ve always been really fascinated at building great businesses through people lens. And so I spent the first few years of my career in financial services and recruiting eventually made the move over to tech at many fast scaling tech companies primarily in recruiting but over time scale to also do a lot of executive coaching. And then at my role at Orchard, we scaled the company for about 80 to 1000. Over the course of four years, I built the entire people and talent infrastructure, and I really loved being an operator. But I also love the ability to sort of impact a broader set of companies. So in my role at Orchard, I got to go really deep as an operator and really learn an organization build everything from manager development training to our leveling program to our compensation, philosophy, diversity, equity and inclusion programs. And I loved all of it. But when this opportunity came up to impact a broader set of companies and bring some of what I’ve learned as an operator for the last 15 years or so, to help earlier stage companies build on really strong foundations. It just seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I think Juxtapoz primarily focuses on company creation. So the companies that we work with and that we build are really early stage and it was definitely my experience at Orchard that when you build on really awesome talent foundations, the sky’s the limit in terms of what happens to your culture, your managers your engagement. And so I’m really looking forward to bringing that to our portfolio companies.
Rob Stevenson 4:02
You are certainly the unicorn when you say that you deliberately went into this talent space, because you’re right, so many people I speak to say that they never set out to be in talent, they kind of fell into it. But then of course, they realize it’s a really fulfilling career, great way to bring your skills to market and then they stick around and they wind up coming on my podcast. But you were a little more deliberate, which I love. So what was it that drove you towards this field?
Lorraine Buhannic 4:28
Yeah, totally. Well, very funny. When I was in high school, I took one of those like aptitude test and people said you’d be really great in teaching or in HR. And I remember being like, Oh, I can’t imagine two things I’d be less interested in. So as a 15 year old, I thought marketing and branding would be way more cool. So I did a lot of internships in that space. But all through college, I worked at the admissions office and that culminated in my senior year in a senior interviewer role. So I interviewed about 150 students for admissions to Dartmouth and I love that experience. It was so cool to hear their stories, such a unique thing to do. I mean, in hindsight, was I qualified, I don’t know. But I took it really seriously. And I really loved it. And so when I was thinking about what to do next, after graduation, I realized I wanted to do admissions work, but in a corporate setting, because if I stayed at the admissions office, I probably would have never left my small town of New Hampshire where my college is based. And so that’s how I landed in campus recruiting. So it really was that experience, and really paying attention to the work that I love to do, as opposed to, you know, a lot of my friends went into management, consulting and investment banking. And obviously, those were, I would say, like higher paying more prestigious roles, but I just wanted to recreate that admissions experience. And so just following my curiosity has not steered me wrong. And I feel really, really lucky because I got to start my career in a place I loved and build from it instead of making a lot of career pivots.
Rob Stevenson 5:53
Were you following your curiosity when you moved into the head of talent role at juxtapose?
Lorraine Buhannic 5:59
Totally, you know, I think my experience at Orchard made me see a how amazing it is to build a people on talent infrastructure from scratch. But I think really importantly, it made me so much more curious about the process of company building, right was my first role where it was really, at the executive table, helping to think through our strategy, everything from how we delivered our service to our customers, what that meant for employees, how we could kind of blend the two to create really fulfilling experiences. And so yeah, it’s my curiosity to see how does that look, in a healthcare context, in a software build in a completely different industry, and the opportunity to get a lot of reps, which is what you get, I think, in these VC tailor roles that that made me want to make the jump.
Rob Stevenson 6:41
Now you had grown the company at the time 80 to 1000 people, you were a chief talent officer, that’s a pretty bright gold star on the resume. So I imagine you could have gone in a lot of different directions. Could you share a little bit about why this specifically was the role you wanted to pursue?
Lorraine Buhannic 6:57
Yeah,initially, going into my search, I thought that I would stay in the operator lane a little bit longer. But it’s been my experience, especially being in that sort of executive role at a company that when you’re leading people in talent at any organization, you have to find really strong alignment with a CEO. That’s ingredient number one, and you need to be really bought in and excited about the trajectory of the business. And candidly, in the market that we’ve been operating in, the more I talk to different companies, the more I realized that I actually wanted to work with earlier stage companies, because that’s where the exciting growth was happening, where most of the building was where I think a lot of the innovation is, that’s a lot of what made me pick this role over staying in the operator lane, I think we tend to think very black and white, like, Oh, I’ve made this choice. And I’ve closed the door, I see all of it as a two way door. And that’s what’s fun about career planning is giving yourself permission to start in recruiting, become an exec coach, move into Chief People Officer role go down the VC path, all those experiences, in my mind really build on each other. And I think, you know, if I were to sort of advise people that are thinking about going down this path, what I’d say is be intentional about what you want to learn in each chapter of your career be clear about what are the answers that I’m hoping to get out of this experience? What are the key portfolio of experiences that I want to add? And for me to juxtapose it absolutely was I wanted to work with CEOs more closely, I wanted to get lots of reps at company building, and I wanted to hopefully, learn what it’s like to work on many different types of businesses instead of just one. So that’s sort of what’s guided me so far. I may change my mind at some point. But so far, I’m really loving the work,
Rob Stevenson 8:37
you really sound like you are the master of your own fate and the captain of your soul. When it comes to your career, I just see loads of people, and I’ve even been guilty of this myself, where you do the job in front of you, you pick a new job, you get laid off someone lands in your LinkedIn, DMS, and you think, okay, maybe this would be a good job for me. And it’s easy to be passive in whatever job you pick next. It doesn’t seem like the best way to forge a career, it seems like we ought to be more deliberate.
Lorraine Buhannic 9:03
Yeah, I think there’s a few things. We’ll start with what not to do, which is I think how Unfortunately, many of us think about career development is don’t just react. And by that, I mean, don’t just react to LinkedIn, in males that hit at the right time, on the day that you’re especially frustrated, because you had a conversation that didn’t go so well. You might end up finding great opportunities that way. But then you’re essentially letting luck and recruiters drive your career decisions. And personally, I want to feel more empowered when I’m thinking about what to do next. So I always and I do this a lot with my coaching clients too. But I think it always starts with paying attention to your lived experience. If I reflect on the last two to three months, what are the projects that I felt so engaged and energized by? On the flip side, what are the things that made me feel like you know, I used to think that would be really interesting, but the more I’m living through it and experiencing it, the more I realize it’s not exactly right. So pay attention to that to pay attention to your curiosity, what are that when you look at Other people’s careers or you read books or listen to podcast? What are those little like kernels that like you up? You’re like, oh, it’d be really interesting to do this thing, right? So a good example for me was coaching wasn’t really part of the plan. But I was so interested in it, I loved having a coach. And so I took one class, and it all kind of escalated quickly. But So paying attention to where your curiosity is pulling you what you’re experiencing in your job, and then I think, also thinking about the future. So where do I want to be in one year and not through the lens of like, what have I achieved? But what do I want to have mastered? What’s a project are an area that I want to get more reps on? Who’s the person I want to work more closely with? Right, that can be a really helpful way to also frame where you’re going. But we so rarely do the internal work. And instead, we rely on our boss to tell us what they think we’re good at, or an external recruiter on LinkedIn reaching out at the right time. And, again, those things can be part of the process. But I think it’s helpful to start with a little bit more of an internal reflection exercise. So you know, where you want to channel your energy. Yeah,
Rob Stevenson 11:03
that’s definitely something a coach can help with. I’m currently working with an executive coach, and I’m not an executive. So I’m being generous to myself with that, but she has been fantastic at helping me prioritize, figure out the things I really care about, and I’m curious about. So I do recommend it to folks, of course, be deliberate about how you choose a coach, don’t just pick someone who got out of an MLM, and is now going to text you motivational quotes and help you meal prep, you know, but someone who maybe has experience in the talent space, I’ve seen a lot of that I’ve seen people who have had long fruitful careers in talent, then take on career coaching. And it makes sense, because they’ve spent a lot of time being thoughtful, they’ve seen a lot of career trajectories. So that makes all the sense in the world to me, but I would love it. Lorraine, if we could give people a taste of what coaching is like, is to say I was gonna sign up to be a client of yours, how would we begin?
Lorraine Buhannic 11:55
I think it starts with setting intentions and goals for the work that you want to do. Right. And I actually think that that exercise may seem kind of administrative, but it’s at the root of the previous question, you asked me around. How do you make more intentional choices? Well, first, you have to ask yourself, what do I want, right? And we so rarely create the space to explore that. And that’s true of people who are in job transition, but it’s also true leaders. What kind of leader do I want to be right, and one of the things they see in our juxtaposed CEOs is they’re really intentional about thinking about how they want to lead and who they want to be. So starting with that intention, setting, what if this engagement is wildly successful? What will be different? At the end of our time together? How will I be different? I think really importantly, how will I know that this was a good use of time and money, right? And those, to me are the most important questions when you’re kicking off. Because then you have, you know, you’ve kind of like turned on some light in a dark room, so you can start to figure out where you want to explore. Do you think that really helps. And sometimes, that process can be hard for people, right? We’re rarely asked, those questions are asked to reflect in that way. And so I think that’s probably where I would begin.
Rob Stevenson 13:03
Yeah,it can kind of take on a sort of design planning lens, right? When you start with the end in mind, and you ask, What do I want to get out of this? How could it go wrong? How could this go wrong? What does success look like? 3060 90 days. But when you start with some of the other stuff, some of the like, what do I want? What am I curious about? That can be hard for folks? I know it’s been hard for me, how do you coach people through that at the beginning of the introspection process?
Lorraine Buhannic 13:28
Totally well, and I think the other thing, too, is sometimes if articulating the wants or desires is hard, you can start with what are the questions where I feel really stuck, right? What are the big questions I’d want to answer? And again, that’s true of real planning, but it’s true of any sort of thing you want to prototype right, pilot that you’re running within a company, your engagement survey, what are the big questions, I’m hoping that it will answer so that you can be more intentional about really creating a prototype experience that aligns and will give you good data? Because we we spend so much time thinking about the data that we don’t have and not enough time thinking about? What’s the fundamental question that I need to have more clarity on to decide do I want to go down this path? Or do I want to close the door and go in a different direction?
Rob Stevenson 14:11
Are there common questions you hear from lots of folks at that stage?
Lorraine Buhannic 14:15
Yeah, I think especially so when folks are in career transitions, I think people often want guidance on what are the paths? What are the option at the end of the day, that all needs to come from from within? Right? Like what are you curious about what are the things that feel right, then you can do a lot of exploration, right? So if you’re curious about going down a Chief Revenue Officer role, take a look at a few Chief Revenue Officer profiles and on LinkedIn and see how did they get there? Hmm, which of these paths seems really interesting, right? Same with people and talent is such a broad space and it’s really strategic. There’s a lot of different ways you can go so think about what are the different options that feel most appealing and start to do research both on your own but also in having conversations with people and I think that you Don’t want to get stuck in data over analysis, because that can also be counterproductive. But you want to get enough of the right data by asking the right questions that you can determine your next step from there. And the way you have confidence about what direction you’re jumping into is by being really intentional about the process that you create for yourself to explore along the way and decide what’s next.
Rob Stevenson 15:22
So for you, Lorraine, it sounds like that process helped you decide you wanted to work more with CEOs and early stage companies, which you get to do a juxtapose and juxtapose has this interesting approach where it’s not quite traditional venture capital firm, not quite incubator, but you are more looking for companies to start than you are companies to find and invest in. Part of that I imagine is assessing CEOs to lead these companies. So when you’re doing that, what are you looking for both in terms of their ability to lead a company and also their understanding of talent and hiring, what’s gonna take for them to find the people to make these companies?
Lorraine Buhannic 15:59
Yeah, so we’re the largest fund focused on company creation. And what’s really interesting about the work that we do, and what I think is so special about our model is, before we even get to the point of hiring a CEO, we do somewhere between one to two years of user research and commercial research to really feel like we have a super strong concept that we’re excited about. So by the time we’re running a CEO search, we have a good sense of what’s the business opportunity, what kind of leader will be really effective here. And then our secret weapon, and I would argue, the most important ingredient of our builds is that we hire experienced leaders. So we only bring on CEOs who have been a CEO before, or who’ve been in really large operator roles, who have a proven track record of being excellent leaders, who are talent magnets who demonstrate all the intrinsic qualities we think make great leaders, and you could check off is that of critical experiences that we found again, and again, really makes you a better leader. So in my own experience working with CT and I guess I should say I met Pat and Jed who founded Juxtapoz, back in 2018. I was working at Squarespace at the time, it was not looking for a new role. But when they talked to me about their vision of company creation being anchored around seasoned, wonderful leaders, it made perfect sense to me. I mean, there was such clear alignment and to be part of the reason why I decided to join the firm too, because they really have this lens that talent is everything. And CEO talent in particular is really important. So a year later, when I got the call about orchard, it was a no brainer, because I knew I’d be working with a seasoned leader who already knew and understood the value of talent who knew how to hire well. And so working with CT was absolutely a career highlight for me. He’s the CEO of orchard to see him in practice was basically a masterclass in leadership. And so to answer your question on how we assess that, we’re extraordinarily thorough in assessing not just a set of like, Hey, have they checked off all the boxes on critical experiences, we think that that’s really important, because it gives you sort of the scar tissue and the ability to see around the corner that will be really helpful in business building. But we also blend that with a really thorough behavioral assessment that digs into who they are as a person, what motivates them, what they’re passionate about what they see as a work in progress within themselves, how skilled they are at articulating that in a way that gives us conviction that they have the self awareness to do an early build, and then their leadership. So how have they built teams? What do they think of as the best person they’ve ever hired? How have they evolved and grown as a leader in the process. And so it’s the blend of these two types of interviews, some that are, I’d say, a little bit more career narrative skill based, as well as these really important competency based and intrinsic base interviews that allow us to develop a really full picture through the interview process. And then in addition to that, we are very, very meticulous about references. We don’t treat references as check the box exercise, we try to talk to as many people as possible who’ve worked with this leader, to feel like we have real conviction on the kind of leader they’re going to be in this build and the impact they’re gonna have. And it’s been pretty amazing for me now that I’ve been in the role for about six months to, you know, I knew court really well, because we worked so closely for four years, and I knew how phenomenal he is, but it’s pretty magical to see how that same archetype can show up in across 15 Different SEO profiles who all share these, like really important threads. And it makes me really, really excited about the businesses that we’re building.
Rob Stevenson 19:25
When I speak with people who are starting a new job as director or VP, even sea level on the talent side, they always say that part of their evaluation was figuring out how invested in talent the leadership at the company is, do they get it? Do they care about it? Will I be able to get time on hiring managers calendars, to they spend a lot of time recruiting themselves? I imagine that would be part of CEO assessment for you to right you get to kind of do that before the future ahead of talent steps in and then does it themselves in an interview. So is that important to you when you’re speaking with the leadership for your new companies?
Lorraine Buhannic 19:58
Absolutely. And I think It shows up in the hiring process. And, you know, we need to make sure we get to a place of conviction that they, they see the value of talent, and they also understand how to be a talent magnet. And that comes through very clearly in the references as well as the conversations. But I think we also spend a lot of time during the onboarding process with CEOs resetting expectation on how do you build an amazing recruiting machine? How do you think, really strategically about competency based interviews, and we help to set the foundation around hiring needs to be priority number one, right? Because at the end of the day, if you don’t have the right people, it’s gonna be really hard to scale the organization. So by the time that we bring in a head of talent for their companies, we’ve generally run quite a few searches with them and walk them through the basics of how to partner with a really great search firm, how to build a recruiting infrastructure, how to assess candidates really well, too often people make the mistake just to think that, well, this person has been a C level or VP level person before or manager before, which means that they know how to do this. And the reality, I don’t know about you, but most people just kind of progress in their career without ever getting trained on this stuff. And so rather than then leaving it up to chance, we try to teach in practice as they’re making their first few hires so that when they bring in a head of talent to join them within their companies, there’s a pretty good infrastructure and point of view on hiring established already.
Rob Stevenson 21:22
So when you sit down and speak to some of these folks about their investment level and talent, what kind of questions do you ask to understand whether they get it? And what are the good answer sound like?
Lorraine Buhannic 21:33
Yeah, so I’ll share a couple of my favorite questions. So one of my favorite interviews to do with a leader, especially towards the later stage of the process, is to ask them to walk you through sort of how they’ve set up their org structure. So where did they start? What were the goals that they were trying to accomplish when they were building this team? Who did they hire first? Why, what did they learn from that hired? Like, I go into quite a bit of depth throughout to understand, at every step, how intentional they were about their org design, how nimble they were at realizing, Oh, wait, we thought the service was gonna be delivered in this way. And actually, it needs to be more of a technical build than a service built. So how does that inform you know, the pivot that you make in the hiring strategy and the types of folks that you bring on board? So that interview, where you go into a lot of detail is great, and you can in the process? I think good answers look like a clear articulation of what were the goals when you were trying to design this org? And how did they shift? And how clear are they at every pivot on why the business essentially required a different org structure? How granularly? Can they articulate the ideal hire a leader for each of their different roles? How fought for are they making trade offs? Because the reality is, in an early stage field, you can’t hire people who’ve done the job for 15 years in every role. It’s just it’s not practical from a budget perspective, nor is it practical. From an experience perspective, some of these folks are going to want to stay at larger scaled organizations. And so how do they make calculated bets on more junior level people? So I think that org design conversation is really powerful. And you can tell based on the answers, how thoughtful they are. And then the second is, I love to have a conversation or ask a couple of questions around the best hire that the person ever made, like what made them great. How did they develop that person over time with C? Are they now and how has that changed? And then conversely, what they’ve learned about bad hires through some failed experiments, right? Like, I can think of a few people that I brought on board to my teams who I thought were going to be phenomenal, and it didn’t work out. And great answers, in my mind are good combination of demonstrating that they really see the person but also taking responsibility for their part in things not working out, right. It’s never a one way thing. And so those two questions, I think, are really helpful to get a good sense of how center they are in their leadership around hiring and talent.
Rob Stevenson 23:57
Now, Lorraine, in your role, you get to see a lot of different hiring organizations, you see talent professionals and lots of different industries at once, which is unique because most of the folks I speak to their internal they’re in one industry, but you could see the whole portfolio. And so when you are looking across that portfolio and across the various industries, I’m curious, what do you kind of anticipate coming our way? What is coming down the pipeline in terms of what talent pros are going to be faced with in the coming year? What sort of challenges and unique things do you think are coming their way?
Lorraine Buhannic 24:31
Yeah, we’re all operating in a more resource constrained way. I think fundamentally, that’s a good thing, right? The high level of capital availability in the market the last few years has meant that like, it’s been a growth at all cost exercise, and like I’ve scaled now three tech companies, it’s really fun to scale companies fast and you learn a lot of really important skills in the process. But when I look back on 2008 2009 When a lot of today’s big scale nailed really successful companies were built? I think back then you had to have way more diligence around how company building came about, and particularly as it relates to resourcing. So I think what this means for talent is a few things. Number one, we’re all being asked to do more with less. And that’s a hard place to be. But it also means that you can be much more judicious about how you spend your time, what you invest in what you specifically don’t invest in. And I think everyone is going to be everyone that’s in a talent seat is going to be asked to do more than just one function. And that can be overwhelming, right? Your recruiter, all of a sudden, maybe your team has been scaled back a little. And so you’re being asked to also own onboarding, right? I’ve never done onboarding, how do we do that? See that as an opportunity, right, dive fully into it, how cool that we’re all getting a masterclass in things we haven’t done before, right. And I think if you approach this moment with that attitude, you’re going to walk out of the next couple years with really good skills. The second thing is, I think from a recruiting perspective, it means that I think that most of the really exciting roles in talent, but also in in any function today are at earlier stage companies, because those are the companies that they’re smaller, they’re not fully scaled. So their operating expenses are lower, which means they have runway and the opportunity to innovate, and really move quickly. And I think that in this environment, those businesses are going to really thrive. So if you’re in the moment where you’re trying to figure out what should I do next? I think early stage is probably the most interesting place to be right now. And I think the last thing is because the market has been so tumultuous, I think a lot of companies and businesses that fundamentally were probably not built on really solid fundamentals are going to sort of fade into the distance. And so the companies that kind of come out of this moment are going to be doing really exciting things. And I think that’s why taking a gamble join in an earlier company being willing to be more of a generalist will be where the most exciting work is at this moment.
Rob Stevenson 26:55
That is tremendous advice, Lorraine, and it comes to the end of an episode full of tremendous advice. So as we creep up on optimal podcast length here, I just have to tell you, this has been really, really fun. And the time is flown by so Lorraine, thank you so much for being here, sharing your experience and wisdom on the podcast. I’ve loved chatting with you today.
Lorraine Buhannic 27:13
Thanks so much for having me. This was really fun.
Rob Stevenson 27:18
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Speaker 2 0:31
Once I went through the classes and the trainings and got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.
Lorraine Buhannic 1:33
very strong opinions about talent strategy. He’s been training for the last four years during COVID. So he’s really learned all my best tricks.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai