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Interview with Jared Hartshorn, People and Culture Advisor

Baron Leacock

It is rare to find someone with so great a depth of experience and mastery of a subject matter as Jared Hartshorn has attained this early in his career in the recruiting and human resource field. When we sat down with Jared earlier this year, he was setting up a new human resource function at Nanolyr, a leading global textile manufacturer of nanofiber products based out of Auckland, New Zealand. Nanolyr had been experiencing explosive growth due to the success of their revolutionary custom-made fiber, so Jared jumped in to help them establish a state-of-the-art People and Culture department.

Jared has now moved on to tackle HR and recruitment in the healthcare field as Human Resources Business Partner at Counties Manukau Health, a provider of health and disability services in Auckland.  With over 512,000 people under their responsibility, CM Health is on a mission to achieve equity in key health indicators for Maori and Pacific communities with health disparities.

What follows is an abridged version of our rich conversation with Jared from earlier this year on best practices in attracting and retaining top talent.

What are you working on these days?

I'm currently working for a company called NanoLayr, a firm based in Auckland, New Zealand in the bespoke R&D/manufacturing space. Without giving too much IP away, essentially, they're a non-woven textile production company that produces rolled goods with different degrees of accuracy and quality and active ingredients for a range of different applications across multiple industries. It can be everything from a collagen delivery system to face masks, which I believe over the last two years, we've all become very used to using.  My journey with NanoLayr started not too long ago, they were a deep tech R&D startup and overnight success of twelve years. Over the course of the last eighteen months or so, they've gone through a bit of a very high growth phase, with revenue increasing about 400% and people count increasing about 330%, which is expected to continue.

It's a fantastic time to be with a company like that, especially in the people space.  We can focus on not only attracting and retaining some of the top talent in New Zealand, but being able to compete on a world stage.

How would you define recruitment and retention before and after COVID generally?

I suppose the New Zealand market is a bit of an interesting one.  It's small, relatively isolated, and there are lots of both push and pull factors, which can define which people will be interested in staying around for the market.  I believe that sets the tone for how you would use your recruitment and retention secondaries.  When I was initially working in recruitment, when I was an HR focus and building departments, it was an employer's market.  Attraction of top talent was never something that was particularly difficult.  That's almost flipped a complete 180° over the last eighteen months or so. 

Unemployment is the lowest that it’s ever been.  I believe it's just below 4.8% or something like that, and most of your candidates, or at least the ones who are going to be what you would consider top talent, top 10% in industry, are likely to be passive.  So 80% or so of that top 10% will be passive candidates rather than actively looking.  As a result, the attraction strategies that we've used have been very reflective of that. We've used a wider range of talent acquisition providers and we’ve been incredibly aggressive with both the quality of candidates that we are looking for, because we make no mistake, we are world leaders and we are looking to bring the kind of people who are going to be world leaders, but also the quantity of people we’ve been looking for as well.

In addition to that, we've produced a number of really interesting media tidbits.  Number one that comes to mind is a recruitment video, where we've highlighted everything from what we do, to who we are, to what we would add as a company for anyone coming through, and shared a bit about our journey as well. It was a really powerful piece that as a candidate, you would look at it and go, wow, that's the place I want to be. It's going to treat me not as a human resource, but as someone who's turning up and bringing their full self to work.  

Obviously there are some key things that are reflecting on the retention pace. There are some key things I believe a lot of people are going through and utilizing these days. I'm sure in America, the hybridization of flexibility is something that's starting to be more widely experienced.  In New Zealand or in Auckland at least, there's a, not necessarily an old school view or old world view, but there's certainly a resistance to it.  One of the USPs [Unique Selling Propositions] we’ve found in retention has been offering that flexibility and hybrid ways of working and being very agile with that, which has allowed for a lot of our people to be as productive or more productive than they were during or prior to Covid. 

We have the metrics to back that up, we have actively measured this.  But we also went through and actively removed any and all obstacles that were in place and tried to support people through that transition as much as possible. I don't believe any of our employees are fully remote at this point in time, but it's certainly something that we wouldn't be adverse to.  A lot of other tech giants in particular who would be offering similar work, who would be the kinds of people we would be trying to poach from so to speak, tech, banks, large manufacturing companies, et cetera, we would be able to bring the top talent over here from companies who won't be offering the same kind of USP, as it’s certainly something that is both well received in the market from the feedback that we've been getting both from candidates and talent providers, and also has been fantastic in terms of our retention as well. 

“We have a very key view of moving towards automation 4.0 as much as possible, where possible, to try to remove as much manual work, and move towards more of that work-life integration, or work-life balance.”

What’s been harder about that shift to hybridization with remote work, the logistical side or the cultural side?

Company culture is an interesting one.  I'm a relatively young guy and so I take the view that if you can't measure it, there's not really much point in talking a lot about it. Company culture is one of those things that people find incredibly hard to articulate. It's often incredibly intangible.  As a result, I sort of actively moved people who are trying to coach our senior membership team well away from anything which is culture that they can't articulate. We're very much of the mindset that we are high-performing and we’re out to remove as many obstacles and to support people as much as possible and we will be able to let them do the work.  That the culture that we will be able to define is, how good are we at our job.

And then we've got to try and throw eNPS [employee Net Promoter Score] metrics on top to ensure that we are supporting and challenging and engaging our people as much as we possibly can. I don't believe there has been much of a paradigm shift at least with NanoLyr, because we are incredibly agile on how we work.  It’s also a relatively new burgeoning company as well, and it allows them to be more flexible with how they want to go through and operate in the models in which they operate.

I don't think it has drastically affected how we've ended up working and how we've operated.  If anything, I think it's only been net positive rather than any potential drawbacks that perhaps some more established or older manufacturing company might experience. We also have a very key view of moving towards automation 4.0 as much as possible, where possible, to try to remove as much manual work, and move towards more of that work-life integration, or work-life balance. I think it's been an incredibly positive shift over the last twelve months rather than being a negative one. 

“...this is the first company I've ever worked for where the chair of the board has walked in and shaked my hand when I've never met him before.  That speaks to the more defining pieces of culture, that very much top-down, servant leadership style.”

People are talking a lot about the “Great Resignation.” Has that impacted recruitment and retention for you?

To answer that one in two different sections, the retention part is not something I've found is as particularly difficult as people would tend to make it out to be. You have your key points where employees can naturally be as selfish as they possibly want.  I think it’s a pretty common trend everywhere, people want to be paid fairly, have some flexibility and autonomy to run their life and work, and have some engaging work. I don't believe that across most industries, styles of work, job roles, et cetera, that is a particularly difficult thing to go through and do.  I think some companies have unfortunately been caught short, and as a result, particularly in America, you do hear a lot of the horror stories that have come out.

We find that when we have good talent coming into the company, we can retain them reasonably easily. We have those key things for people nailed down very, very well. And we have a very well-defined process to ensure that people are supported and challenged and engaged as much as they possibly can be.  Just by being a new company, we've done that very, very well from the people experience side of things. 

We've also got all of the USPs that anyone or everyone within the market can offer.  To give a great example of that, this is the first company I've ever worked for where the chair of the board has walked in and shaken my hand when I've never met him before.  That speaks to the more defining pieces of culture, that very much top-down, servant leadership style.  It's very ideal in terms of the way people would want to operate and work to try and get that high performance style environment I was speaking to earlier.  

The attraction part is significantly more difficult.  New Zealand is a very small market.  There has been a shift to a higher pay packet, which I can completely understand why people would want that. Not sure if it's a good or a bad thing, long-term, we'll wait and see what the effects of that will be. That's certainly one constraint. Number two is just the market itself, your 80% of candidates who are passive, who you may want to go and employ for those positions that you've got open, are most likely very happy with where they are. They're very happy because some of their employers have hopped on to the other things that will be required for them to be happy at work.  They've got autonomy.  They have engaging work. They've gone to a provider for a market adjustment for their pay packet, et cetera. 

I think to that end, a lot of our roles have stayed open longer than they probably should have. That's something that a majority of companies, in Auckland particularly, have been experiencing.  Auckland is also a high cost-of-living environment. As a result, we've seen a bit of a net flow away from Auckland rather than to Auckland during COVID-19. 

We've also had uncertainty factors that have played into it, whether we're going to be going into another lockdown or not, when will the borders be opening up, whether there'll be skilled immigrants who will be coming in and taking over some of the open roles when we do eventually open up, or whether there'll be a net flow away from New Zealand.  As well as, will people seek to go back overseas to the places where they were being paid higher for the same work?  To that end, it's been a bit time-consuming with attraction strategies. We haven't nailed down something that is going to be a sure-fire blueprint to solve that. That's probably a worldwide thing as well. 

“I'm actually of the opinion that when borders open up around New Zealand and the world, that people end up leaving to go to greener pastures. I only think this market is going to get tighter.”

What has shown some promise in helping with those issues? 

There are a couple of things. For context, the twelve to eighteen month prevailing predictional wisdom in the HR world is that when these borders open up, it's likely that we will have an influx of people who will potentially be able to take over some of those roles. That's possibly a nice little bullet, but it's just a wait and see methodology. I don't really like the “hope for the best'' strategy.  It's not fantastic. It doesn't tend to work all that well, as many people tend to experience, unfortunately.  I'm actually of the opinion that when borders open up around New Zealand and the world, that people end up leaving to go to greener pastures. I only think this market is going to get tighter. 

To that end, we need to cast our net wider. We need to try and bring more skilled people in to go and take over some of those knowledge economy roles that we currently don't have.  Going through and increasing the learning and development pathways, whether that's through tertiary education or job qualifications or certification, et cetera, or just providing those learning pathways within each role. By turn, doing some good succession planning is likely to be a really good strategy for not only retention, but also building those slightly bigger, better teams as well. 

The reality is, some of the smaller companies who have been struggling over the last eighteen months or so may end up ultimately collapsing as a result of not having the infrastructure or capital they need, and that will add applicants to the candidate pool as well.  Of course I wish everyone the best, but I think it's likely that some businesses who have unfortunately started in an inopportune time circuit, late 2019, when COVID came up, they will have been finding it incredibly difficult and been struggling through up until this point in time. Some people unfortunately may decide to pull the pen. 

“I control everything I possibly can in-house, and then let the chips fall as they may, knowing that we've done the best possible things that we can and also do justice to everyone else who may be wanting to interact with us.”

Sounds like a lot of these factors are outside of your control.

Yeah, we can only control the things we can control.  We can control the kinds of roles that we want, the kinds of skills we believe we need to come within the business. What's going to give us the best ROI, what's going to sit well within our team, what we can pay people, how we can interact with people and create a fantastic experience for people at every facet of an employer relationship. 

That's just stuff that we can control and we can control as much of that, or as little of that as we like. I'm obviously of the view that if you can control absolutely everything within all of those processes, you're going to be set up better than the kinds of people who aren't going to be actively managing as much as they possibly can. 

In fact, that's probably a systemic failure on their end given the kind of market we’re in.  And that I believe puts you in the best position to attract the really good talent that is always out there, but seems very hard to find at this point in time.  It can be a little bit fickle finding very good, quality people. They obviously know that they have some negotiation power at this point. Now we can control where we sit in that negotiation, but we can't obviously advise them that they may not be getting a better offer elsewhere. 

We can’t control how our talent providers will interact with our potential candidates as well, or finding those best candidates, despite trying to give them the best possible leeway we can.  Automating as much as we can and going through continuous improvement and development and actively managing as much as we possibly can. But the external things that you quite correctly alluded to, sometimes it's been a kick in the teeth. 

I control everything I possibly can in-house, and then let the chips fall as they may, knowing that we've done the best possible things that we can and also do justice to everyone else who may be wanting to interact with us. 

“I hate [the term] “human resource” for so many reasons, but the number one being that if you start off with that kind of language and verbiage, you are so unlikely to get someone who's going to bring their full selves to work.”

How do you view the outlook going forward?

I think the outlook is that, as world/local economies start to recover and business starts to come closer to baseline circa late 2019, early 2020, or starts to grow onwards again, it's only going to get more and more difficult to get top talent. I think the ways in which people have been working prior to now are probably well and truly gone.  I don't think anyone who is going to survive the talent war, not to put too fine a point on it, is going to be operating in the same way that they have a majority of the time they have been operating.   And as a result, I think people need to be a bit smarter with how they negotiate with people and try to attract people. 

That's a piece that a lot of people are working on right now.  I suspect it's going to become a tighter and tighter market, not only locally and regionally for us, but I suspect as a global trend as well.  I know you mentioned the Great Resignation before, I believe it is a problem at this particular point in time.  

In terms of the paradigm shifts that I’ve seen and how people are operating, this is probably one of the really good things I think has come out of the COVID-19 saga, if you will. There's not a lot that has been really, really good that has come out of it.  But there's been a really good shift from a lot of companies to move away from the term human resource to people and culture. I hate “human resource” for so many reasons, but the number one being that if you start off with that kind of language and verbiage, you are so unlikely to get someone who's going to bring their full selves to work. You're always going to be limited with the kinds of people you're going to be attracting. You're always going to be limited with the kinds of work they're going to be producing for you as well. Mainly because of the mindset that's always going to be attracted as a result of using the term human resources. That's an old world term. 

“Going to go speak with human resources,” it never had any positive connotations.  Whereas if you say, “Hey, I've got to go and talk to our People and Culture advisor, we're going to talk about a wellness committee that’s starting,” it's a significantly more positive mindset you're experiencing.  That's significantly more positive in terms of both creating a fantastic people experience, but also in saying, we don't have something that's particularly scary that's coming to the company now. 

I was setting up an HR department at NanoLyr, and people were, shall we say, a tad apprehensive about HR coming into a company like that, which has never had it.  We were adding some really good organizational structure, improving some of the ways that people have been working, setting up the wellness committees and the more social aspects as well as improving some of the systems and processes that we've been actively using for attracting and retaining talent. 

There has been a definite shift of, argh, we've got HR coming into the company, great, which is typically what ends up happening when you're setting up an HR department. To, ah, cool. Hey, let's go talk to Jared.  He's setting something up or he could bring it on to the wellness committee, or that's a really good tip to health and safety let's bring it to them. They can bring it up at the next committee meeting and it becomes so much more about trying to improve things for people and remove those obstacles rather than going, I have a process I'm going to work through. It doesn't matter what the outcome is. There's so much more working within the grays than the black and white, when you move from a human resources mindset to a people and culture mindset. I think that is a fantastic thing, that's just come out in the last eighteen months in New Zealand specifically and I suspect worldwide as well. 

Thank you to Jared for lending us his perspective all the way from New Zealand!

About Rocket

Rocket pairs talented recruiters with advanced AI to help companies hit their hiring goals. Rocket is headquartered in the heart of Silicon Valley but has recruiters all over the US & Canada serving the needs of our growing client base across engineering, product management, data science and more.

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