Anabel Morales

Worksome VP TA Anabel Morales

Anabel MoralesVP of Talent Acquisition

Bigger and better are aspirations that most companies hold, but scaling a business is complicated and requires a range of expertise to ensure that the culture and values are sustained as the company grows. In today’s episode, we speak to Anabel Morales, who is in charge of VP talent acquisitions at Worksome. Worksome is a Danish-based company that offers an end-to-end solution for companies to manage their external workforce. Anabel’s approach to her role is centered on forming interpersonal relationships, and upholding company culture and values. In this episode, we learn more about Anabel’s role at Worksome, the services that Worksome provides, recruiting in different marketplaces, challenges in the current marketplace, the importance of company values, and much more!

Episode Transcript


[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me. A podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment.

[0:00:12.8] 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.

[0:00:22.7] RS: No holds barred, completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs and everyone in between.

[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.

[0:00:39.7] 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.

[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me.


[0:00:59.9] RS: Here with me today on Talk Talent to Me is the VP of TA over at Worksome, Anabel Morales. Anabel, welcome to you, how are you today?

[0:01:06.9] AM: I’m good Rob, thanks for having me.

[0:01:08.4] RS: So pleased you’re here. Remind me where you’re broadcasting in from?

[0:01:12.0] AM: I am in Copenhagen, Denmark.

[0:01:14.6] RS: That’s right. So end of your day, beginning of mine but here we are together, it’s an international global podcast now, how about that?

[0:01:22.2] AM: It is. Yeah, thanks for having me.

[0:01:24.5] RS: How is Copenhagen, is it like fully back open or are you having to have vaccine passports or what’s the state of things over there?

[0:01:31.7] AM: Yeah, we’re pretty open so no masks are required, no vaccine passports required to go into restaurants or anything like that. I just traveled to London this week and was able to go to the airport and get on my flight without a mask so everything is pretty much back to normal.

[0:01:47.3] RS: That’s great. Some kind of return to normalcy here at long last.

[0:01:51.4] AM: Yeah, it feels really good actually.

[0:01:53.6] RS: Good, good. Well hey, there’s so much I want to get into with you here today. I guess, let’s start with you, would you mind sharing a little bit about your background and how you found your way to your current role at Worksome?

[0:02:03.8] AM: Yeah, of course. So as you can probably hear, I’m American but I’ve been in Denmark for 10 years. So I’ve been in the recruiting industry for over 20 years so I’m kind of an old timer. I fell into it as most people do, right out of university and started for a large staffing company in the US and was basically there for quite a while, working in Texas and California.

Then, I decided to move to Denmark. So I moved here because I met my husband, who is Danish. Yeah, I decided to make the leap and try living in Europe and it was definitely the best decision ever made so if anybody out there is considering relocating or trying out a new adventure, I would say, go for it.

[0:02:49.3] RS: Is Worksome a Danish company or are you just working fully remote?

[0:02:53.1] AM: It’s a Danish company. It was founded in Copenhagen in 2017 but we have offices now in London and New York as well.

[0:03:01.5] RS: So, you’re American, are you still an American citizen?

[0:03:05.9] AM: Yes.

[0:03:06.2] RS: So, do you have to pay taxes to the United States and Denmark?

[0:03:09.6] AM: I do. I have to file taxes in the US but if what I owe in the US is less than what I owe in Denmark, then I don’t have to pay anything in the US.

[0:03:19.7] RS: Okay, so that’s like if you’re a citizen, you still have to go through the motions but if you didn’t make any money, like, if you, since Worksome is not an American company presumably, then you don’t owe Uncle Sam.

[0:03:32.3] AM: So, as long as what we’re paying in taxes in Denmark is more than what we’ve had to pay in the US based on my tax return, then I don’t owe Uncle Sam anything.

[0:03:41.4] RS: Okay, got it. That’s definitely like a lingering consideration for me, certainly as I flirt with the idea of leaving these United States. So, a bit of selfish bit of tax advice from you. But I’m not an accountant, we should say that, not financial advice, all those other incantations that are for US but anyway, thanks for sharing that.

Would you tell us a little bit about Worksome and what the company is doing over there and then how you kind of approach your role?

[0:04:03.8] AM: Yeah, absolutely. So Worksome is building software to support the future of work. So essentially, our platform offers an end-to-end solution for companies to manage their external workforce. So what we’ve learned is that there’s many organizations that are struggling with managing freelancers and contractors due to outdated processes and legacy systems and what we can offer is basically a simple tool that will save them time and money.

[0:04:34.1] RS: So, what’s top of mind for you? What’s kind of keeping you up at night from a talent perspective?

[0:04:38.9] AM: Well, at the moment, we’re kind of in a mode where we’re establishing processes and we’re looking at our hiring plan for when we get our next round of funding. So when I joined last year, it was really busy with hiring, we had just received series A funding in the spring of last year and so I quickly went into that hectic mode when I joined Worksome and now, things have slowed down a little bit and we’re gearing up to get the next round of funding later this year.

So we’re preparing by basically setting up a… Firming up our processes, ensuring that our hiring managers are trained and know what they’re doing and yeah, making sure that we’re ready.

[0:05:18.1] RS: So, you kind of got through one round of growth, right? After the series A, the number one thing in every press release when the company raises funds is like, “Wait, this will be used to hire” right? Were there some – I don’t want to beat the process up too bad but were there some cracks in the process there going through that series A hiring round? That now you can kind of shore up, is that sort of the idea?

[0:05:41.8] AM: So when I joined, thankfully, there was already a recruiter in place who had helped the company scale up from 20 to about 50 and I would say that it wasn’t so much that they were cracks. It was just that this recruiter was really just working non-stop across three locations. So there really wasn’t time to slow down and look at how things are running, there wasn’t time to source, it was just all about a combination of managing applications and just interviewing people.

So yeah, essentially when I joined, I looked at how I can prioritize what needed to be done and so first and foremost, I think I wanted to make sure that we were at capacity and able to fulfill the hiring plan. So quickly partnered with our leadership team and started building those relationships with hiring managers to understand what the hiring needs were and build out the hiring plan for my team.

[0:06:40.4] RS: How close was the capacity, ability to the hiring into that point?

[0:06:48.2] AM: We were not close but really, it was more about the locations that made it really tricky. It wasn’t so much about the volume because we were hiring in London and New York, they’re each very unique markets and you really need that local expertise to be able to quickly and successfully fill those positions. So my approach was about finding great recruiters in both of those markets that could promote our brand, build relationships and also be cultural ambassadors in those offices.

[0:07:18.2] RS: So is the idea that you wanted to find people who maybe already had a substantial network in those geographics?

[0:07:24.2] AM: Ideally, yes and ideally, somebody that had also the experience in recruiting for the types of skillsets that we were looking for, which are the times primarily around commercial sales, customer success, engineering is primarily here in Copenhagen but we have it covered at the time.

[0:07:42.3] RS: I’m also really interested in the hiring manager tour you have to go on once you find yourself in this role and just trying to get a sense of things and also, probably provide a little bit of a reality check for like, “Oh, they want these hiring needs?” and then, they get Anabel to hire, like “Hey, we have a VP of TA. Now, we can hire ‘till the cows come home” right? There’s not ceiling on this, what were those conversations like when you were kind of taking stock of what the organization needed and what your real capacity was?

[0:08:10.1] AM: Yeah, first and foremost, I wanted to understand how aligned people were on, what our company stood for, what our brand was and how they were pitching that to candidates because I think that’s just so important. Being a startup, you want to make sure that early on you are able to build a great experience and a good brand in the market, especially for entering new markets.

So, one of the things that I was able to do was, once I got a firmer picture on the hiring plans, start working with them on setting expectations and looking at what some of our time to hire had been and just be able to really set a realistic expectation of when we could deliver on those needs. Although, I have to say that the hiring managers I was working with and am working with were all quite flexible, super eager to support talent acquisition and generally really easy to work with.

[0:09:03.8] RS: That’s great. You mentioned like speed to hire or time to hire there. When you first start at a company, it feels like for your role, such an opportunity to kind of – especially when you go first person in that role, there may be some institutional beliefs about how recruiting should happen or how it has happened.

Were you able to find some easy wins or pardon the cliché, low hanging fruit right away to be like, “Okay, here’s something I can add value in right away, here’s a quick win I can register.” I’m just curious and like, once you got there and needed to prioritize how you went about adding value right away?

[0:09:36.4] AM: So I think as far as low hanging fruit, one thing that I knew we had to take action on it at some point would be our ATS. So the ATS we were working with was really not generating the data that we needed and wasn’t super user-friendly. So I immediately talked to our chief people officer and asked her how open she would be to considering a new ATS and thankfully, she was super open to it.

So now we’re using Greenhouse and it’s actually made a really nice difference and in addition to that, I’ve also felt that it would be really nice to give our hiring manager some resources to equip them on interviewing and just make sure that they feel comfortable with our processes and compliance. So I went ahead and set up an interview training that basically runs a couple of items every quarter. So those are some of the first things that I set up.

[0:10:27.6] RS: Got it, the ATS is an interesting one. I feel like that comes up a lot when the first person in your role comes in because in their early stages, people know you’re supposed to have one, right? That’s probably it. What told you, you needed a new one? You said it wasn’t spitting out the data you wanted, why were you like, “Okay, look, time to rip and replace.”

[0:10:45.6] AM: Well, to begin with, so, one of our values is speak data and I knew when evaluated that the ATS that we had at the time that it just, it wasn’t as easy to generate pretty simple reports that I was accustomed to working with in previous roles.

So, things such as how much time candidates were spending in each stage, time to hire, so that ATS was only giving us a time to hire for a particular candidate once they got in process but not from a point of opening the role. So little things like that, I knew that getting the right data was just going to be critical for us long-term. So right away, I knew that we needed to make a change.

[0:11:30.3] RS: Got it. I like speak data as a value. I’m always a little curious on company values because they have kind of evolved a little bit from the laminated poster in a cafeteria wall that no one ever pays attention to. What are some of the other ones?

[0:11:44.3] AM: Our values are speak data, be brave and my favorite, have fun.

[0:11:49.5] RS: Have fun.

[0:11:50.9] AM: Yup.

[0:11:51.7] RS: Keep it simple, I like that. How do you think that contributes to your overall hiring brand? Does that resonate with folks?

[0:11:57.4] AM: Definitely. I think that being brave really kind of connects to letting people be authentic and speaking their minds and having fun I think is not just about social events and team building but it’s also about actually having a passion for your work and having fun at your job because of what you’re doing.

[0:12:21.2] RS: Got it, can I have you reflect a little bit on the nature of company values, just like way zoomed out? You reach a point I think where you are meant to have them or else that you reach another point where you often revisit them because you’d grow out of early values. What do you think is the utility of even having them to begin with? Because I listened to a podcast recently with Mark Zuckerberg and for like 20-minutes of the interview, he just rattled off Facebook’s new company values.

I was like, “Okay, so eat our metas I supposed at this point” so I’m like, “Okay, even this company, you know they’re north of a 100,000 people working there, they are still doing this exercise too” what do you think is the value of doing this?

[0:13:04.0] AM: Yes, so I really think it comes from top leadership. I think if they are living-out their values then it will naturally trickle down to the rest of the company and in terms of how it can help, I think you can always use the values when you are trying to make some of these tough decisions and when you think about that, when you reflect back on the values, then it’s helpful in that way in kind of navigating through just your day-to-day.

[0:13:30.9] RS: Yeah, it’s important that they’re linked to behaviors too because if you just have like, “Be Honest” as your value, it’s like, “Okay, well sure but what else?” Also the idea that it can be exhibited by a behavior allows you to screen against it, right? Now, it can be a part of your interview process. So screening for values I think has been nebulous for a long time but only when it can be like, “Okay, here’s a behavior that’s demonstrable of a value.”

Now, you have something you can work with. So you have these values presumably they’re indicative of your culture too, right? They don’t just come out like yes, they have to come from leadership but they don’t just come down from on high either. You know, that’s a weird sort of a paradox but how do you think they contribute to the culture and I guess how would you describe the culture at Worksome?

[0:14:13.2] AM: As I mentioned earlier, our company was found in Copenhagen, so we definitely have Nordic roots in our DNA. I’m not sure how familiar you are with Danish business culture but essentially Nordic values are centered around innovation, transparency, high level of trust, and I think that’s definitely something that our founders embraced when they started this company and really wanted to keep and that’s contributed greatly to our culture.

So our cultural framework is actually made up of trust, transparency, and inclusion. So we try to approach every day interactions with our colleagues in this way and also throughout the candidate journey.

[0:14:57.2] RS: It’s sort of a tangled web in the way that culture and employment brand values and then how it’s displayed to candidates all play together. For you, what is the through line there and I guess how is it displayed to candidates? How does it turn into a differentiator for Worksome in the interview process?

[0:15:16.2] AM: Yeah, so we tried to use the same framework that we have internally, so the trust, transparency and inclusion and basically apply it to our candidate experience as well. So some examples of that are with regards to transparency, just being upfront about the expectations of the roles that we’re working on, the good and the bad of the role or the company, trying to provide salary data early on, things like that.

We also try to provide psychological safety in our interviews, so the reason we do that is because we want to ensure that people feel free to speak up and share failures as well as successes because we know that that’s really where the learning happens and that’s just important to share. So that’s how we try to approach the candidate experience.

So we also ensure that during our interview trainings that our hiring managers are equipped with how to create a basic positive candidate experience and part of that is really understand how to make candidates feel comfortable, welcomed, and be able to talk about their experience in a way that they don’t have to shy away from talking about their failures.

[0:16:33.0] RS: You said like it sounds basic but the idea just like welcoming someone, I don’t know, I’ve been in plenty of interviews where the higher-up the interviews go, those people just seem a little disinterested, right? Or they want to get right into the thick of it. Not a great first foot forward, you know? Not really putting their best foot forward, the company’s best foot forward in that interaction.

Also I don’t know, because someone is more senior, because they’ve been successful in their role previously, I thought we’d give them a lot of credit that I think is often undue frankly. You know, I have spoken about this before on the show but the vehicles by which we choose leaders are not often the ones that lead the best leaders, right? Just because you are quite good at being an individual contributor doesn’t mean that you’re going to be a good manager.

So just like the selection process I feel like is a little fraught. Is that something that you think about? Do you think about how to make sure that leaders once they are elevated in this position that they’re actually well-equipped to serve their teams?

[0:17:35.4] AM: Yeah, absolutely and you’re completely right. I mean, if an individual contributor is great at their job, it does not mean that they’re going to be a great manager and we recognize that the key to scaling successfully or at least scaling our culture successfully is going to be to equip our leaders with some tools to really scale this trust transparency and inclusion.

So what we’re doing for that is essentially when we hire managers or if we promote somebody into management role, we’re right away introducing them to our leadership principles and giving them, educating them on just how to live up those values.

[0:18:19.0] RS: Like we were saying before, does that translate into specific behaviors?

[0:18:22.8] AM: Yes. So what that means is essentially facilitating inclusion, teaching people how to build trust. So something as simple as leading without micromanaging, asking for feedback, just being a good listener, I think these are all really basic things that managers can sometimes forget to do and as I mentioned earlier, the psychological safety piece I think is also very important.

It is something that you need in a team to really ensure that you are having that innovation happening. The last thing you want is a manager is to have a team where everybody just agrees with you. So you want to make sure that you are creating that environment where people feel open to speak.

[0:19:05.6] RS: That’s well put, just in terms of the importance of creating psychological safety because when I hear that work psychological safety, what comes to mind is like an archetypal, like a stereotypical New Yorker being like, “Listen, I don’t care about your feelings. We are here to make money. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” right?

That kind of thing and it’s like this over-wokification of the workplace but as you pointed out, don’t you want people to speak up? Don’t you want people to be able to share their ideas? Isn’t that why they’re there? Is that for you the key reason to create psychological safety? Why do you think it’s important to cultivate that sort of environment?

[0:19:48.7] AM: Well, a lot of the inspiration is behind the research by Amy Edmondson. I am not sure if you are familiar but Harvard professor on leadership. So her research shows that the psychological safety actually leads to innovation and in her research, she found that successful teams did actually have high level of mistakes but that was the reason why they were successful and I think that translates to the workplace.

So psychological safety is really just having the ability to speak your mind and being open to candor and so our inspiration from psychological or about psychological safety is from research done by Amy Edmondson, who is a Harvard professor. She is a leadership professor. Her research shows that successful teams actually make quite a lot of mistakes and I think that is something that you can directly apply to the workplace.

You just don’t really hear about teams making mistakes because that is not really what leadership or management wants to hear about. So I think if you create an environment where you are encouraging your team to talk about what goes wrong and sharing those loses, then we could really just learn so much more from each other and in that sense, it is going to create that innovation.

[0:21:12.2] RS: You know, now that you mentioned it, I feel like I experience a lot of fear of failure in my work life, right? This idea that you have to perform and you have to put up great numbers and you have to get everything right, that’s immense but it also sounds like that’s not realistic.

[0:21:28.0] AM: No, it’s not and it’s really not possible to expect people to feel comfortable talking about their mistakes if you don’t have the leadership to support it. So it really starts at the top as do most things. Thankfully, we’ve got a founder’s team that is, you know, they have a high level of trust and that’s really what they go by when they hire us, when they hire anybody into Worksome, we hire for great talent and we also have high trust but high accountability.

[0:22:01.8] RS: Can you think of any examples of how you might cultivate psychological safety? I had someone on and they mentioned that, if I am remembering correctly, they were trying to weed out sarcasm in company team meetings because sarcasm is like usually what it means is like – is someone is always the butt of sarcasm, right? Someone is always the butt of the joke when someone is being sarcastic.

So their idea is like, “Oh, we’re not going to just mock each other in meetings” I guess was probably the bigger idea there. Do you have any examples of that like interpersonal ways you try to cultivate psychological safety?

[0:22:36.3] AM: Yes, I think as a manager, if you are in a position where you have a meeting with your team member and you ask them something, if you ask them for feedback or you just want their insights on something, then one simple way to provide that psychological safety is simply to really listen and let them talk.

Another insight for maybe Edmondson is that people can sometimes ask for something but then they’ll end up either ignoring that person or doing all the talking and in that way, the other person is just going to feel that they’re feelings are not valued anyway. So that is really a quick way to lose the psychological safety.

[0:23:15.3] RS: Got it. Well Anabel, we are creeping up on optimal podcast length here. So this has been a delight chatting with you. At this point, I will just say thank you so much for being here and sharing your experience over at Worksome with me, I’d love chatting with you.

[0:23:25.2] AM: Thank you so much Rob, this has been fun.


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