At the height of the pandemic madness, we had the privilege of chatting with Luisa Guzman, a long-time veteran of the recruiting industry and Founder and CEO of ConsulTree, a Miami-based executive recruiting consultancy, about what she was seeing and what companies needed to do to adjust to the new reality. As “Covid” becomes “covid,” the lessons learned during those times continue to inform recruiting and talent retention to this day and beyond.
Luisa was particularly well-positioned to offer up insightful lessons, featuring her no-nonsense approach to the business of recruiting, given her long, successful career in the field spanning three decades. Her firm ConsulTree is at the cutting edge of the digital transformation era. Utilizing their trademarked APTMETHOD, Luisa and her team help companies prepare and execute a comprehensive plan to attract, retain and ultimately set up for success, top executives for effective leadership in the new environment.
We were happy for the chance to hear her unvarnished opinions in the course of our conversation. What follows is an abridged version of that interesting discussion.
Tell me about ConsulTree.
I founded the company in 1998. I come from Human Resources, and founded the company to be specialized in telecom. And now we are in our twenty-third year. We are mostly generalists, but we have a specialization in media telecom technology and financial services, and now the digital arena. We have a division for middle-management search, executive search and leadership development.
“I see them leaving to another job because now they don’t have a personal connection with the person who hired them, and they get offered a little more money.”
How has going remote impacted your clients?
In so many ways. Clients are hiring without interviewing the person, in person. And candidates are suffering from the lack of onboarding and connection with the client. I have seen more candidates leave the job after one year. People that I placed at the beginning of the pandemic have left their job, more than ever.
Most of the time the people we place stay in their jobs. So I see them leaving to another job because now they don’t have a personal connection with the person who hired them, and they get offered a little more money. Because there’s no personal connection, they’ll just leave to the next job because they’ll be sitting in the same desk doing the same thing, with other people. And maybe these people were not able to communicate their culture to them in a way that they could be excited to stay, or maybe the communication skills of the boss were not the best.
Have you seen a difference in the companies that have been more successful in retaining folks under these conditions?
Yes, I am having clients who are having more success in what they’re doing. For example, happy hours where they send the employees a bottle of wine and then hold a virtual happy hour on Fridays from 3-5pm, to help people let go of the stress of not having a human connection. I have participated with some.
Sure, where they have invited me to talk about something inspirational. Something that would motivate them. And then we do these cheers from the safety of their homes.
Another thing that I’ve seen is, virtual offsite, where they do team alignment to make sure they are aligned, that they can express themselves.
Are the problems you’re seeing companies have more logistical or more cultural?
Both, both. Logistically now we have to ship your computer, ship your phone, not everyone knows how to set up a computer and a phone. You almost have to send them an IT person, as opposed to setting them up at a desk at the office.
What kinds of stories have you seen from the folks who were not prepared for any of this?
In my case, clients have sometimes asked ME to buy the computer.
Yes, some have asked me to buy the computer, have my assistant buy the computer, on behalf of my client. They don’t have the time, they don’t have anybody doing that, they don’t have a service, etc. Ok sure, I’ll buy it but like, what?? When did I ever buy a computer or phone for my clients?
Well, that’s one way to help your client with onboarding. Another topic that comes up a lot is the “Great Resignation.” From your perspective, is it real?
I’ve had four executives that I placed last year resign this year. It’s interesting because, one of them said, and she’s a Coca-cola marketing exec, she said, I need the team, I need the energy of the team, I just couldn’t do it at home. Another one said she could not communicate with her boss at all, he had a difficult personality, and they both couldn’t get on the same page.
That’s a lot for me. Four people to resign after placing them in a year? Unheard of for me. Four clients that paid for their recruiting.
They left and took another job, or they just left?
Three took another job, one just left out of desperation, the one that needed a team.
For her, the context was difficult. She wasn’t having the experience she needed. Do you have examples of folks who are addressing that successfully for the employees who are having trouble with the switch to going remote?
No I don't. Companies are so wrapped up in making sure the organization keeps selling, so focused on the business, that they’re not focusing enough on the people, and people are very affected by covid. They’re depressed, they’re weary, they’re dealing with children at home. I do have clients that have paid for coaching all of their top executives, to help them deal with the stress. They booked coaching from me to make sure that everybody was fine. This one company, for all their top execs, just because they acknowledge this stress from covid. In general clients are not addressing that.
How did they measure success from the coaching?
Higher performing team, increase in sales. From covid, sales went down, people weren’t motivated, the president of the company was repeating over and over, we need to sell, we need to sell, and the people were not making the investment. After the coaching, they went back to having a clear path, and getting better at sales and at managing themselves and their teams.
“Ask them what they need.”
What are people not talking enough about?
Culture. Culture, the importance of culture in hiring, people not being able to connect with that culture. The executive team not being able to transmit the values and behaviors that make them successful.
You need to do a cultural assessment and make sure everyone knows what's working and not working in the culture, bringing that awareness of how important your culture is. The fact that we’re all working separately doesn’t mean weren’t not focused on building the right culture. We can’t forget culture regardless of the situation.
Let’s say that covid has spread the culture instead of unifying it. Now I'm having one behavior at home. You're having another one at home, as opposed to being in the office and doing what is acceptable in that environment. Am I going to yell at you because the environment allows it? Or does the environment demand a very empathetic conversation? Now I don't know if the environment has empathy or does not have empathy.
Companies need to find ways to keep people together, to keep things together, through communication, through events, different things. Like this happy hour, or offsite meetings, where people can express themselves and be heard, and can hear. How do you feel working at home? I don’t like this, oh this is the same for me, or I can tell you how I handle it. Bring some empathy and communication among the team.
Keeping it top of mind that people need some support, not just pressing people for results. Ask them what they need. Or make an effort to say, hey, we’re here, we understand some of the challenges you may be having with this new situation.
Thank you to Luisa for a lively and insightful conversation!
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