We spent 15 minutes with Robert St-Jacques, Director of Customer Success at 7Geese and self-proclaimed “people nerd”, to get his take on the past, present, and future of recruitment.
From changes to the recruitment process and his take on upcoming trends in the industry to the ways that candidates often let themselves down, Robert had a wealth of experience and insights to share.
Tell us a bit about your role
My official title is director of customer success and professional services here at 7Geese. One of the reasons I was brought in is that I was a 7Geese customer, and apparently, quite successful at implementing the product.
One of the things that really attracted me to the position at 7Geese was that, as an HR professional, I had spent the recent years of my career in one and two year contracts focused on “HR transformation” but I felt limited by only helping one company at a time. What I liked about this role was that I would have the chance to work with hundreds of clients who need support to get the most out of the continuous performance management software they buy.
People tend to look at software and say, "Oh, I bought the software. Everything will be fantastic." What I've learned the hard way is that it needs to be wrapped up within an implementation and change management framework.
So, as a company, we've moved away from being purely product-centric, like most technology providers, to focusing on more structured processes (project management, change management, benefits realization management) that go along with the solution to help bring in the growing range of businesses that want to use the technology more effectively. We’re no longer working with just the ‘early adopters’ who are technically minded, so and we have to able to help the people who are folks implementing new technology into their HR processes to make better use of it.
How would you describe the company culture at 7Geese?
I recently read a really interesting piece about the fact that SaaS companies need two types of people. They need the navy, the steady people who follow the rules, get things done on time, and consistently deliver, and they need pirates, people who are maximizers of potential opportunities, passionate, enthusiastic, and most importantly not afraid of making mistakes. It’s a nice analogy and I’d say that here at 7Geese we've got both. Obviously, with me being more on the pirate side of things!
We have a great mix of people at 7Geese and we make it a point, in a fun way, to shock each other. That way we get the most from every project, product update, and marketing campaign we roll out. I love being able to get a different viewpoint from different parts of the business, from people that specialize in different things.
In terms of some of the more social aspects of life at 7Geese. We've got some beautiful digs here in downtown Vancouver. We're in a place called Gastown. Our office overlooks the harbour. We can see the ski hills on the north shore. We've got the typical ping pong table, and on Friday afternoons, usually by 3pm, the beer comes out.
It's that nice combination of serious business and everybody leveraging their own weirdness to get stuff done and, on the social side, the weirdness all seems to work together!
Tell me a little bit about the recruitment process at 7Geese
Typically we're quite lucky, especially locally. We've got a great brand because we do things that are, I would say, ancillary to our brand. We also do a lot of outreach in hosting meetings here (such as Women in Tech, Futures of Learning) and with those efforts, over the past few years, we've developed a reputation for being thought leaders and individuals who are connected and giving back to the community.
With that, we tend to not have too many problems in terms of attracting candidates.
Now, it's a little bit more difficult when we're looking for people who have foundational skill sets but are not the “finished product.”. This is particularly true for my team because the job, as we've scoped it out here, doesn't exist anywhere else. Our competitors typically have customer success managers and so they're full account management and focus on upsells. What we found is that our clients don't need to be upsold and that what they occasionally need is a helping hand with their processes.
There is a thirst and need for help in the change management and project management space, and that subject management expert who can become kind of an extension to an HR department. So those positions have been a little bit harder to find, because I'm looking for change managers and project managers, with a background in HR.
How has recruitment changed in the last 10 years?
It's changed in the sense that it has become a market for job seekers. What I tell people all the time is: “The war for talent is over. Talent won. Get over it.”
What I have found is I've changed my approach, so that we focus on candidate experience. I use a tool called Smaply and we map out our whole candidate experience and make sure we’re getting it absolutely right. Some of our auto replies have been shared on LinkedIn because we speak to people in their language.
To transition my recruitment team, I used to ask them to think of it like a dating situation. So somebody has a bad breakup. They want to get on the market. They go on Tinder. We're on Tinder, and they decide to swipe right on us, and the conversation starts.
Onboarding is where things break down dramatically, because everybody thinks, “Oh, I've got a contract with a person. We're married.” But it’s quite the opposite.
When a candidate/new employee agrees to come to work for you, they've just agreed to a first date. You need to be on your best behaviour. You need to make sure you have excellent hygiene, i.e.: your nails are clean and your hair is combed.
In our case, that's the onboarding and orientation process. That's where you win or lose people, because if they come in and they have a great onboarding experience, not only does that add financial value to the organisation, it creates a perception in the person's mind that they’ve joined a great company and are more likely to create a psychological contract with the organisation..
Where do you find candidates let themselves down during recruitment?
One question I find tends to trip people up is, "Hey, tell me about the biggest mistake you ever made and what you've learned from it?"
About a dozen times the candidate has told me they can't think of anything and all that leads me to believe is they’re either lying or you haven't tried anything or accomplished anything, or have no interest in personal growth, because there's no way you cannot have a stumble anywhere in your life.
I used to be a trial lawyer, so I tend to be extremely detail oriented. I go into great detail. Then I'm not kidding you, after two, three hours, I'm asking the same questions over again to make sure I get the same responses, like I’m cross examining a witness.
Because of my thorough interviewing nature, the joke on my teams has been that: "No, you didn’t give us a job— we all earned it." But, they mustn't have held it against me, because most of the people I hired worked with me again at two or three other companies.
What do you think will be the biggest industry trend in the next 12 months?
I think there's three of them, and they're somewhat intertwined.
The first one is the HR tech side. Jacob Morgan summarised it well. People are looking for consumer-grade technology at work.
Imagine you've got all these great apps, you've got all this great software at home for your home computer, and you get to work and you're using systems that look like Windows 95. It's just such a disconnect that you almost have to dumb down, deal with bad UI, and deal with bad workflows/logic. So HR tech is going to be a big area— because employees will demand it. It'll be part of an employer's brand.
The second piece, and this has been a huge fall down for HR and management as a whole, is the growing interest in evidence-based management and more specifically evidence-based HR. The industry is moving away from a cart before horse approach. Unlike marketing and other departments, HR has been unable to show its value to the business in the past because A), they don't have the tech to easily collect and report on the data it has and B), they haven't used an evidence-based approach to come to it. That will have to change in the next year.
The third trend is HR analytics and using that data properly. So that means a pretty big upskilling in your typical HR person and HR department. You need to get on the tech bandwagon. You need to go back and understand statistics and research and all those kind of things. You need to get into data science a little bit and be able to understand what to do the numbers.
What are three personal development tips that you would give HR professionals?
The first one is pick a problem you're passionate about and make it your mission to solve it. You'll never go hungry.
The next one is diversify your skill set. Steve Jobs talked about how he took a calligraphy class and how that helped him develop some of the fonts for the initial Apple products. I would say do the same thing, continue to add to your tool belt and pick the tools that will give you more heft when you come to executing your mission in terms of solving the problem you picked.
Thirdly, be a “go-giver”, not a “go-getter”. That means you actively seek out opportunities where you can help people. I don't think it's Pollyanna-ish to say that has its own rewards in and of itself, but what it does offer is the learning opportunities that you get from interacting with people you wouldn't normally interact with.
When asked about himself and what he does, Robert says, “People, Performance, and Culture Optimisation - with a healthy side of science. Essentially, a people nerd.”
Originally hailing from a small town in northern Ontario, Canada, Robert has lived and worked in many parts of the world. After stops in the USA, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and SE Asia, he now finds himself back in Canada.