Technology Solutions and Best Practices for Small Staffing Companies


rian Delle Donne: Well, hello, good afternoon to those of you in the Eastern time zone and good morning to the rest of North America. My name is Brian Delle Donne. I'm the President of Talent Tech Labs and Talent Tech Labs is thrilled to be organizing today tech Friday of the World Staffing Summit. So thank you very much for choosing to join this panel and we hope to make it really interesting and share some great insights.

Brian Delle Donne: I'm suspecting that, do the subject of the panel that many of you who are listening in are in fact small and mid-sized staffing companies. And today's discussion is about. Technology solutions and best practices that work in small staffing companies. And so, it's an interesting session.

Brian Delle Donne: Those who might've attended the opening presentation today, where we framed up some of the talks for the day. We're talking about why it's really advantageous and fortunate to be in a small staffing company today because the availability of technologies are making a great equalizing effect. And so, you know, the larger companies that are in the space are somewhat indebted to the technologies that they sort of brought with them from the past, and sometimes create a bit of a barrier to adopting new things.

Brian Delle Donne: And smaller companies have, you know, some agility and you'll see from the panel today that they are really all quite agile and also quite tech leaning. So, great panel. I'll introduce the people and then I'll let them speak for themselves. But, you know, during the day, what we're hoping to do is create an interactive session.

Brian Delle Donne: There's a chat feature on the right-hand side. And if you have questions for any of us, please post them up there and we'll try to respond to them in line or save them to the end if need be. But please don't hesitate to put thoughts into the chat bar. So today we're joined by Jourdan Block.

Brian Delle Donne: Who's the Chief Operating Officer of staffing universe family-owned business. That is it's not so small anymore, but certainly has its roots in the family and stays that way. And so he'll get a chance to share some of his perspective. I'm joined by Susie Dietrich, who is the CEO and founder of a company in the Pittsburgh area called Tops. Actually there's a number of families under the umbrella that she runs and Susie will be able to share lots of those stories and insights with you.

Brian Delle Donne: And then we're joined by Nicki Palmer, who is the Director of Technology Enablement at David Aplin group, which is servicing most of the Canadian market. And you know, again, a small but growing business that has had a very strong interest in. Bringing technology to bear, to do a better job with their clients and their recruiters and and just create a better experience for their candidates.

Brian Delle Donne: So why don't we go around, start with Jordan, and if each could take a couple of minutes and talk about your background and more of your personal stuff, we'll get a chance to talk about the company in in our question and answer session, but let's use this time to just talk about yourself and who you are, and give us some of your glide path that got you here.

Jourdan Block: Thanks Brian. Again, my name is Jourdan Block, Chief Operating Officer staffing universe family of companies. We're a family of seven firms, but for me specifically, I've been in the staffing industry full-time for about 15 years, but my family has been in staffing since the mid fifties. So I'm the third generation.

Jourdan Block: Part of the ownership team here, live, breathe, and eat and sleep it. I work with my parents, brother or sister, so we absolutely love everything about the staffing industry. So I started in the business doing administrative work, working my way through recruiting front office, mid back office. So I've done just about every job at the company over the last 15 years.

Jourdan Block: I'm truly excited to be here. I think this is a fantastic topic and there's a lot of growing pains that we went through that we're happy to share some great lessons on. It's just from a tech perspective right now. I know we have a lot of initiatives in the works, but I'm actively right now involved with a SharePoint deployment, a revamping, a website, some communication automation, programs, and RPA.

Jourdan Block: So that's what is keeping me busy at the moment. 

Brian Delle Donne: That's great. Thanks Jordan. Susie.

Brian Delle Donne: Hi Ryan. 

Brian Delle Donne: Hey there. 

Susie Dietrich: Okay. So, my name is Susie Dietrich and I come from the Western Pennsylvania area. We have five families accompanying us, very similar to Jordan's block up there. I have top staffing, probably my oldest started in 1987 by my mom.

Susie Dietrich: So I'm second generation, me and my brother own it now. In 2002, we developed an engineering firm called Altec staffing. We just decided, and we say this all the time, we wanted a trunk full of dollars instead of a truck full of dime. So we pushed engineering now and it was a booming success.

Susie Dietrich: So in 2006, we launched two firms, which was not intentional in the worst timing in the world. Because my brother had two little ones at home and I was pregnant at home. So we figured, Hey, you know, we found the talent. Let's do it. 

Susie Dietrich: So we did, it was a long year, but a successful year, both e staff consultants.

Susie Dietrich: Which is now a quality staff search group. And I Accountstaff, which is accounting and finance, was launched that year. And then, oh eight, we launched Sterling office professionals. And a number of years ago, we decided that we didn't want to be, we don't want to be small anymore. We wanted to be big. We had already gone from the five to the 10, to the 15 to the 20 and capped out, but we wanted to be at 50 and we knew infrastructure would get us there.

Susie Dietrich: So we started pushing in technology directions and then it was probably 10 years ago or close to it. And I'm starting to show my age when we realized that there was this massive explosion of software in this industry specifically. And I attribute it to. The industry going from its infancy into its adolescence.

Susie Dietrich: And in that we just wanted to be on the front end of that way, if I did not want to be underneath that way. So we started our relationship with technology expanded, and I got so many initiatives going on right now. And our tendency in the staffing industry I think is to put out fires. And this is looking through a proactive glass sets through definitely through, through proactive goggles.

Susie Dietrich: And it's so easy to get yourself bogged down that we actually started with our technology setting a timetable to make sure that didn't happen. Cause I just, I don't want to be putting out fires. I want to be moving forward proactively. So a couple of years ago we got involved with Talent Tech Labs and it's actually propelled us even far more forward.

Susie Dietrich: Brian, I thank you for that 

Brian Delle Donne: loved helping you and working with you. It's been great. And you bring up a great point that you know, staffing by its nature is very transactional. So you tend to be in the deal at the moment and that's applicable almost throughout the industry, but at the executive level as you all preside you know, it's really important to carve out time to work on the business, not just in the business.

Brian Delle Donne: And so, it's great to step up on the step stool and get above the fray for just a little while to sort of have eyes on the horizon as to where it's going. So let's share some of that as we go through, because it's so darn easy to just worry about orders getting filled. Getting the payroll out the door.

Brian Delle Donne: I know it, you know it, but you do need to take a break from that to be able to sort of plan where you want to go. Nikki, why don't you tell us about your experience? 

Nikki Palmer: Sure. Thanks for having me. My name is Nicki Palmer. I'm the Director of Technology Enablement at David Aplin Group. And I've had what I like to think is the great privilege of working for our organization for the past 14 years.

Nikki Palmer: I'm not an Aplin, but we are family owned and they have always made it feel as though everyone is part of the family. So I would like to think I'm honorary. I'm not really quite sure where all that time went, but at some point back in 2008, I think I blinked and it brought me to my current state today.

Nikki Palmer: You know, as for my background, I think like, you know, a lot of people who end up in this industry, I did not go to university thinking I would end up in recruitment. I actually graduated with a bachelor of science in agriculture, and I ended up working for a really small agricultural software company in a client-facing role right after I graduated.

Nikki Palmer: And it was a database tool and they were really small. So, I had a knack for learning systems. And so I ended up my role evolving beyond sales, into training, and I'm looking back. I actually think that's really where my love of really good technology was forged. I also thought my career would keep me in agriculture, but it was almost divine intervention of a lifelong friend who will now be a lifelong friend that the industry kind of found me instead.

Nikki Palmer: So there's a much longer story in there perhaps for another day, but I was lucky enough to be introduced to Aplin about 20 years ago. And they placed me in a pharmaceutical job only to end up four years later, working for them with that very same friend. As the 360 recruiter, we were in a job share partnership, and I immediately found the work and the pace to be incredibly contagious.

Nikki Palmer: Admittedly, I spent so many nights scouring our database at the time, which was max hire, looking for that perfect candidate. And so we were very fortunate as a team to enjoy a lot of success on that. I was able to move into a leadership role and then into a national role in a client facing capacity on our corporate team.

Nikki Palmer: And then my journey kind of organically brought me back to IT when we migrated from max hire to compass, which is now back in 2017 when I was asked to just get involved in a supporting role. And so, again, it almost happened by accident, but the more entrenched I became in the use of our ATS, the more my trajectory here pointed me towards the position that I'm in today.

Nikki Palmer: And for us, it's really full steam ahead. I am. And all of our tools, our systems, our processes, I love that. Not every day is the same and the amazing marketplace that has already been referenced a few times, keeps coming out with new and game changing tools and bots and buttons and things like that to keep things exciting.

Nikki Palmer: So, I get to wrap my arms around all of that. 

Brian Delle Donne: That's great. That's great. Thank you very much. So let's just go around the horn again. I know that Susie made some mention of the brands that you started, which some of them, the names suggest the types of skills, but so that the audience knows I'm about staff, the universe and David Aplin maybe tell us about what skillsets you place and what industries you serve.

Brian Delle Donne: And if you've got, you know, branches where those might be, Jordan, go ahead. 

Jourdan Block: Thanks Brian. So our firm, we're a generalist firm. We support just about every vertical of staffing from contract to direct hire. We, through our family of companies, support various needs. Back in 95 and 75, we started a company rotator and focused on government administrative and professional roles.

Jourdan Block: We have healthcare staffing from a lot of medical placements in hospitals and doctor's offices. We have an industrial firm that focuses on warehouse distribution, supply chain logistics. Another one that focuses on offshore oil, gas, more field service in nature. We have a telecom company and another one that focuses more on HR consulting, managed programs.

Jourdan Block: So across the family, we really support a wide variety of clients. We started as a zero revenue company and fast forward, 27 years, 10th, 10,000 contractors out. And that we're in every, we're all 50 states doing business and that's been one heck of a ride. So we're just having fun doing it. That's a little bit about.

Brian Delle Donne: That's great. That's great. Great story. Are you centrally deployed like everyone all around the family table or do you have branches that you've sent them, the family members off the run? 

Jourdan Block: Yeah, so we're a centralized support model. So we have a couple offices across the United States, but it's really focused out of our central New Jersey office.

Jourdan Block: And each of the family members has a different area of ownership in the company. So I'm much more technology enablement back office operations and client focus. So each one has a different area that we fit in. 

Brian Delle Donne: That's great. And Nikki, tell us about David Aplin, his distribution and even some of the great news you have about how you grow in the company.

Nikki Palmer: Sure. Yeah. Very similar to Jordan. We have a centralized model as well. Looking at our structure, I think it's fair to say we have a branch style set up. But our core systems and processes are all through our corporate group. We've been around since 1975 and so not quite 50 years, we're almost there, but we started out.

Nikki Palmer: I actually, I love our story. We started out in Edmonton when David Aplin himself graduated from engineering and couldn't find a job. And so that's actually, the reason why he started a staffing company was he thought there's gotta be other professionals out there, like me who are in the same boat and our very first specialty.

Nikki Palmer: Was IT even though he graduated from engineering, our, for specialty, was IT so, kind of a fun story to start with, but over the years we expanded and we ended up having locations and most major Canadian cities today. We do operate coast to coast, although over the past two years we were very fortunate to be able to switch to a remote model and now we're more hybrid, but we can essentially work from anywhere, which is great, but we service the whole country and we do a little bit in the US as well.

Nikki Palmer: Our team is, I like to think that we're represented by one of the strongest rosters out there of specialized consultants. So slightly different than a generalist model. We really do try to be experts in a variety of job categories that are, you know, further niched by job verticals and even placements.

Nikki Palmer: So unpacking that a little bit more. IT Contract staffing is one of our key areas. And funny, you kind of set it up for me, perfectly Brian, even more so now through the recent acquisition of Copystaff who operates in both Canada and the US. That is their wheelhouse, is IT contract staffing. And so that really allowed us to elevate our level of service to our clients.

Nikki Palmer: We also have professional temp, contract placement and permanent placement. We dabble a little bit in apple and executive, and we have a heavy industrial group too. And so all the rest of our teams cover off accounting and finance office, HR legal, supply chain, operations, engineering, and technical sales.

Nikki Palmer: Essentially the only job category that we don't really play in is light industrial. 

Brian Delle Donne: Thank you. That's pretty impressive. And Susie, I know you referred to it in the family of companies. Any added color you want to bring to that? I know you're largely a regional company, but is that still the game plan or what's on the horizon?

Susie Dietrich: We're mostly regional. Well, we're in 11 states now, but it's clients that have taken us there. We have, you obviously Tops is light industrial all the way through engineering. All tech is simply that engineering and professional accounts staff is simply that accounting and finance Sterling office professionals, you can figure that one out and then you've got an e-staff search group.

Susie Dietrich: That's all IT. And we're big believers, obviously that our brand names tell what they, what we do and what we specialize in. 

Brian Delle Donne: That's great. So let's start to talk about tech you know, I think that some of you alluded to some of the journey, but maybe go back to Jordan and talk about the front office tech stack, what it was, and, you know, what's, what direction are you moving in?

Brian Delle Donne: And if there's a particular piece that you're proud of having added, let's have a little bit of insight into that. 

Jourdan Block: That could be a four-hour conversation. Well, we're only going to give you, but I think, you know, we probably have a really similar story to a lot of other firms where we started the company with a CIO who developed and built out some proprietary technology to help us run the business on the middle and back office side of it.

Jourdan Block: And that brought us about 15 years in and we quickly learned as we want it to scale the business. If we wanted to grow, we needed a more robust system or enterprise grade platform that didn't rely on one person. And the challenge with building your own a, there was a ton of dollars spent in R&D and keeping it up to date and growing it.

Jourdan Block: But when something happened, when something broke, we relied on one person and that is just not a scalable solution, nor is it something that you could really build an enterprise around. So we made a very conscious decision to move into a more tech forward mentality. You know, growing up with that back office, we had a call it the shiny ball syndrome where every time a new tech came out, we, like we said, let's go buy that and let's go do that.

Jourdan Block: And that's going to transform our business. And what we learned was we didn't have the underlying functional programs in place. We thought technology would solve it. So without having the actual roadmap we just bought tech and. Replacing things and it was not successful. We did not do a good job with it.

Jourdan Block: And it was a really important moment for us as an organization that we really flipped our paradigm a bit and said, if we want to grow, we really need a great strategy. It really needed an understanding of where we are today, what our end goals are and how to get there. So that's when we built in a backbone with an ATS, with a back office enterprise payroll system, and then layer it in.

Jourdan Block: Now we're up to like 40 or 50 different integrated tech platforms into that. So it was a long journey. But there were definitely a lot of learning moments. So I hope that kind of addresses where you're going. 

Brian Delle Donne: That's great that you actually had a moment to realize that that ad hoc approach to growth, that shiny object approach is not necessarily a strategy that you can build around.

Brian Delle Donne: Susie, tell us, you know, besides your desire to double you know, the size of the company, what was the burning platform issue or issues that compelled you to start looking under the hood at certain of these technologies?

Susie Dietrich: I just realized that we were like everybody else and I didn't want to be anymore. That's an easy one. I mean, I joke every year I go to the staffing world, you know, with the American staffing association, I joke that's my biggest shopping trip of the year, but it is a guy literally walking up and down every single aisle and say, what don't I have?

Susie Dietrich: Do I want that? And say yes or no. And then when I realized tech was expanding and I shouldn't say expanding, it was exploding. And then I'm seeing all these different pieces of software and all these different apps and all these different apps. And I'm like, what does that do? What does that do? What does that do?

Susie Dietrich: And what I realized, I knew less than I wanted to know. I started digging and then I thought, you know what? This is what makes us. This is how we scale. This is, you know, I'm not Kelly services. I'm not saying, Hey, go tell my tech team to develop a piece of software. That's not in the cards for me. Right. And I can't have it rebuilt six times if I'm the Kelly services VP and they don't like it.

Susie Dietrich: So for me, it was a journey of, I didn't want to be like everybody else. And I realized what was happening around me. And it wasn't like 30 pieces of software or 30 apps. It was like 150, you know? And then I remember the first time I got theout. The platforms use what's called ecosystem.

Susie Dietrich: And I'm looking at this ecosystem, like, what the hell is that? I don't know which category is right. So then you just got to start dating what don't, you know, and how could that possibly help us get better? And we started building from there, put together a roadmap on our own and then thought, ah, we need help doing that.

Susie Dietrich: That's when we engaged you guys, we got help doing that. And we've just seen our growth explode after that. 

Brian Delle Donne: Well, that's great. So there's a strong tendency to want to be differentiated and good call out because, you know, staffing agencies have not been particularly keen to invest in technology, but when they realize that, you know, there's an ability to stand out in the crowd, that's a very compelling reason.

Brian Delle Donne: So, so Nikki you've alluded to at least two ATS migrations already. So clearly you've been marching ahead. And I know that you started considering what was next even before your acquisition was, you know, codified maybe even before it was planned for. So what were some of the issues that you and the executive team found to be driving you to you know, to seek out additional bits of innovation to, to enhance your game?

Nikki Palmer: Sure. And not that I want to recycle some of the same things that were already said, but to compliment some of the, I think drivers that were already highlighted, like for. To scale our business, to the point where we see it, there's a vision for where we want to be. And I think we know that us as humans can only do so many things well, and there's so many amazing tools out there that we knew that automation and integration was going to be our game changers for allowing us to have a source of truth, a single source of truth for both our recruitment and our sales teams to really be working in great synergies with each other.

Nikki Palmer: And you know, our biggest thing, one of the, I guess, value prop to the market is quality. We want to be recognized for the quality work that we do. And so there's so much data integrity that goes into delivering a quality product and a quality service that I think that was really the impetus behind a lot of the things that we've been exploring.

Nikki Palmer: I also think that the pandemic has played a really interesting role in. What tools we're going to need to achieve the things that we want. Like when I look back at, when I started with Aplin, we had max higher. That was it. And, you know, we might've had testing software. We might've had a tool for doing timesheet capture, but literally over the past, I would say five years, the amount of transformation that we've had already has been incredible.

Nikki Palmer: So, shortly after we migrated our ATS a few years back, we recognized the advantages of having web based programs and. Strategy plus also luck and timing because when the world shut down we had already migrated to office 365. We had added an e-sign partner. We had added a messaging text messaging tool.

Nikki Palmer: We had teams on board for internal communication and then also through social media and the evolution of just having this online presence and the importance of that, we added great recruiters. And that really stands out for me as one of the best decisions that we made. It instantly had an impact on our Google ratings and and our texting tool is one of the things that our team would say they can no longer live without.

Nikki Palmer: So we were fortunate enough, I think, to have embraced that type of change and at the pace that we did. And so, now not that we're doing it all over again, but we know we've seen the impact that some of these things can make. And so we don't just want to sit idly by and allow the ecosystem to get too far beyond us being able to keep up.

Brian Delle Donne: That's great. You hit on some really good points and get back to that thread of being differentiated, you know, I think the first thought would be amongst people to say, we're going to differentiate for our clients, but in this market where recruiters are really hard to find, there is a great resignation going on.

Brian Delle Donne: Actually given them a great recruiter experience and giving them the best tools can differentiate agencies as a better place to work than those shops down the street. And there are many stories about people who have joined firms to find out that the way they were provisioned just made it too hard.

Brian Delle Donne: And they split to go back to places where. The tools are more intuitive. The company was more willing to provide training and get them conversant with those additional workflows to make their lives easier. So not only is it differentiated in the client's eyes, but also in this difficult market certainly for your recruiters, any of you using, I know that some of you have thought about being more progressive in in use of technology to wow.

Brian Delle Donne: Prospective candidates, passive candidates and or re-engaging people that have worked for you in the past. Maybe we could talk about some of the tools that you've used to or thought about using, or have perfected as it relates to candidate experience and contractor retention and redeployment.

Brian Delle Donne: So submit, we'll start with sJordan and go back around. 

Jourdan Block: Sure. And I think you hit it on the head. With such a low unemployment rate. It's how do we keep our talent engaged? How do we keep them happy? And how do you resolve issues before they become a bit more catastrophic? So a big push that we made was around contractor engagement.

Jourdan Block: I think that's a big component of all of this. So, once we use sense, it is a fantastic tool. Obviously we're capturing NPS or net promoter score at various points of the candidate life cycle to understand what their experience was like. And when I talked about strategizing technology, this is a perfect case.

Jourdan Block: If we would have bought sense and just deployed and said, okay, you know, we checked the box, we have this technology for candidate engagement, that's fine, but what's our end goal with it. And how are we designing it to actually meet those goals? So we are really thoughtful about using the feedback we get from candidates and actually changing our process.

Jourdan Block: When we get feedback. Someone had maybe a Rocky onboarding experience or some other experience that we could absolutely tailor and change. It's incumbent upon us at the executive level to make those changes to keep contractors engaged and happy along the way. It also helps, you know, knowing about problems at the work site for coaching and HR related items.

Jourdan Block: So that's been a big push for us to keep contractors engaged, keep them happy. And we use again since Ford, the redeployment of the talent checking, you know, are you available? How, you know, what kind of environments you want to work in? All of those hot buttons, top hot topics. It's fairly simple to deploy.

Jourdan Block: It works really well with most ATSs and that's been a great use case for us in that area.

Brian Delle Donne: It's great, Susie. I know you made a pretty big investment for a company your size in passive candidate attraction. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that and. You know how that went for you. 

Susie Dietrich: Yeah, sure.

Susie Dietrich: I actually just put it in this, in the chat. It's called phenom people. So rare I wanted to get to the passive candidate for the same reason. Once we find somebody re-engaging them and keeping them engaged as a priority, but you got to find them first, which is brutal right now. And you got to make sure once you get them you don't lose them.

Susie Dietrich: Cause you don't want to fill that position twice. It's just too hard. So we went with a candidate relationship manager called phenol people who was recommended to us along with a handful of other products. And we walked into it thinking how is this going to work to George's point, we saw the end point as to what we wanted.

Susie Dietrich: And then I tried to track it back with my recruiters because my ATS is Bullhorn and I don't really want recruiters in a couple of different systems. I want them utilizing only the tools that are outward recruiting, like for example, Sense, you know, fabulous product. And, but I don't want them using a candidate relationship manager.

Susie Dietrich: I want them using Bullhorn and everything else. So I hired somebody individually to use phenol people and she sends out all the campaigns. So what it does, and I joke it's a blue ski coat, right? Cause I'm a big skier and I wanted a Penn state blue ski coat. I ended up getting it, but that's not the point.

Susie Dietrich: So then you click on and you see a blue-sky code. It's really nice, but you're going to look at your local store. You're going to look at a couple of other places where you guys know the technology. Every time it comes back up, every time you boot up Chrome, it says, Hey, buy this, buy these ski coats from

Susie Dietrich: It's the same thing. It's a candidate relationship manager that goes out and Frankenstein's all these profiles together. Right? And then you can send out campaigns to them saying, Hey, I know you wanted a Penn state blue-ski coat, but this is a really nice Redski coat. Well, you know, you're buying the right.

Susie Dietrich: All right, same as you're applying for the mechanical engineering job, because you looked at it and you really liked this mechanical engineering job, but then Susie sent you this mechanical engineering job, and it's only 15 minutes from your house. You have a new baby and that's the one you click on, right?

Susie Dietrich: Once you get them, you can keep them forever. So we took massive downloads out of our applicant tracking system Bullhorn and dumped it into feed on people. And we started our campaigns from there. So we're outward reaching the passive candidate and getting mechanical engineers jobs and get blue-ski coats.

Susie Dietrich: It really works and it works better that we have somebody dedicated to just that product. So she's like this tie between every one of my recruiters that don't have to learn the functionality. Phenol can focus only on their ATS and their testing programs and the true kind of grassroots things that recruiters do.

Susie Dietrich: And she's half marketing, half recruiter, which is that perfect marriage for a candidate relationship manners has been tremendously. It was a fortune and I was worried about doing it, but boys have paid for itself.

Brian Delle Donne: That's a great story. And embedded in that story is a little, you kind of went over it just kind of briefly, but so many companies buy a tool and then just dump it on the recruiters desk, expecting that the recruiters are going to be the beneficiary of it. You are really well advised to recognize that recruiters have to work in one place and maybe sorcerers or an individual is the best person to go in and make sure that other platform is working the way it should be.

Brian Delle Donne: So good. Good. Good use case identification to get that sorted out. Nikki. I know that you're pushing the envelope in this regard and thinking about the tools you buy with a product owner's mentality to make sure that the tool is being most fully utilized and adopted, maybe you could share any thoughts about that.

Nikki Palmer: Sure. And also too, I think, you know, from candidate, from the candidate engagement and the candidate experience perspective, one of the smartest decisions that we made as well was we brought our payroll in-house so we have a lot more flexibility on adjustments and changes, and you know, that isn't necessarily something that typically has all the same bells and whistles that, you know, we like to talk about.

Nikki Palmer: We have sense as well, and it is amazing. But the back office products don't necessarily get the same type of love. And so we did bring our payroll in-house so that we could essentially ensure to be properly servicing our contractors if there were adjustments or extensions or, you know, late batches, late batch runs and things like that needed to be.

Nikki Palmer: My apologies for getting slightly off topic, but I did want to make certain that was highlighted too. So when it comes to us, one of the projects that we have on our way right now is a full website redesign. And and again we leaned on some of the experts that were there. I don't know what I don't know, and I feel that I'm fully.

Nikki Palmer: In the ecosystem and the marketplace and all the tools that could be available to us. But, you know, thankfully we stumbled across TTL last year when we subscribed. And so we went through the opportunity map with you guys and really was able to, I know the buzzword product roadmap was, has been said a few times, but it really outlined some of the areas where we could make some strategic decisions.

Nikki Palmer: And at the same time we worked with a consultant, a third party consultant. Her name is Lauren Jones. She's been I know she's spoken this week as well. And so between the two groups they really helped, it was this amazing trifecta of getting to know some suppliers up there that I probably never would have found on my own.

Nikki Palmer: So we're working right now with staffing futures who specializes obviously in websites and job portals and things like that, specifically for staffing companies. Because from the time someone visits, We want them to want to come back. And so, we are trying to, well, we're working with a designer there, but we're trying to provide an experience where it's curated to the job seeker or curated to be a potential client.

Nikki Palmer: So, there's going to be different calls to action and, you know, don't forget to join our talent community and don't forget this and don't forget that. So we're trying to guide our users to certain behaviors that will allow us to service them better.

Jourdan Block: Brian, if I could just 

Brian Delle Donne: That's great. That's great. 

Jourdan Block: If I could just add one thing, please do. I wish I did it years and years ago when we're deploying technology, we now make a much more cognizant effort to walk in the shoes of the candidate to understand the candidate journey and the candidate. And it sounds simple, but if you actually go through as a candidate and see what it's like on the front, on their perspective of using your ATS, applying for jobs, getting these communications, how often are they getting communicated?

Jourdan Block: What does their process look like when someone calls or multiple recruiters reach out, understanding that will help you design and develop a much better candidate experience that keeps candidates more engaged on the backend? So something I really wish we did that years and years earlier, that now we make a much more concerted effort to do.

Brian Delle Donne: That's great. So just in listening to you all, you know, you're really very progressive, you know, thinkers and probably doesn't surprise the audience that you've learned in on technology. One of the things I was hoping we could do with this panel though, is to lower the anxiety level amongst your executive peer group in other agencies that you know, are concerned that they don't know what they don't know.

Brian Delle Donne: You know, where do I start? I'm already spending enough on the business. So maybe we can just take a pass around talking about, you know, overcoming that unknown, overcoming that anxiety about spending on things in general and you know, what you've done to, to you know, it sounds like you were born comfortable with it.

Brian Delle Donne: I'm not sure that's actually the case, but you certainly are on this call. So help those who are not yet as confident in their ability to change the direction of their trajectory with the use of innovation. Why don't we start with you? 

Susie Dietrich: So I, yes, I was born comfortable with it.

Susie Dietrich: My brother, who was my partner, however, was not. I also know Jordan, I know Jordan, his whole family and it was sister and it was sister's kids and it was brother and his mom and his dad's. And I guarantee they're not as comfortable with it as he is. So in your family, I'm guessing you're the champion.

Susie Dietrich: I am too. And I think you just, you got to get your head around it because listen, this is the way the industry's going. You can be part of it or you can not. But, you know, I mean, 25 years ago when I started in this industry, my mother had paper and I was like, oh my God, I can't do this. And then we moved into an automated system and then moved further into an automated system.

Susie Dietrich: And I remember there being agencies that didn't do that and they're not around anymore. This is the way it's going. And you just kinda gotta dedicate to that. And I know spending money is scary, especially in the COVID times, but if you're not going through somebody else's. That's the approach I take.

Susie Dietrich: Yeah. 

Brian Delle Donne: Nikki, any thoughts on that? I know your team is really served by having you on the team, but what perspectives could you share with other execs that maybe you don't have such a good resource as you are for your team? 

Nikki Palmer: Sure. 

Nikki Palmer: I think I can appreciate that change can feel scary, but I think there are so many great resources out there.

Nikki Palmer: Like the TTLs of the world that can really take that can really shoulder a lot of that in a non-biased way where, you know, it allows you to take a step back, really understand what problem you're trying to solve and then make smart decisions. I don't always want to be famous for this, but ask anyone. Who's done a demo with me, man. Do I ask a lot of questions and you know, they have their agenda and they're trucking along. Wait, what about this? And what about that? And so I think because I've worked on a desk before and I worked on a desk for a good number of years, I can appreciate what it's like to walk in the shoes of the people who are going to potentially end up using it.

Nikki Palmer: And so I think, you know, when you go to market. And understanding what you're looking for. Be leaning on the resource. You're going to spend a lot of money on the technology itself. So you may as well invest in the process at the same time, because it will be worth it. If you make this decision, it will 100% be worth it.

Nikki Palmer: So, a few years back, I actually did a survey of a number of our stakeholders in our organization, cross sections, you know, temp, recruiters, perm, recruiters, leaders, our back office, our marketing team. And I tried to understand what they like about our current stack, what's missing, where we need to be, what's going to help.

Nikki Palmer: And so it was a very complicated and colorful set of boxes, but that has essentially formed a lot. Opportunities for us on, you know, where we can have conversations and how we can be strategic. And then also taking a look at where things are going to integrate. Without that integration to us, it just doesn't make sense.

Nikki Palmer: It won't make things easier. Like Susie said, if you have to log into more than one system, they're just not going to do it,

Brian Delle Donne: Jordan, anything, any other take on that? 

Jourdan Block: A lot of similar experience and from my side what I would share, I know a lot of very successful staffing firms that operate on Excel spreadsheets and, you know, QuickBooks. And you know, they're doing a couple million a year and taking home a couple of million, so they're happy, but if you want to scale and you want to grow, you really need to take that strategic look and approach.

Jourdan Block: One thing we do, and I think any size business can and should be doing this. We hold focus groups as it relates to it. And it's always involving everyone from the executive team to everyone, every level of the organization, understanding the needs, the challenges. And we all kind of go to the market to look, to solve those challenges.

Jourdan Block: So I think that's something that anyone can and should be doing when it comes to new technology. And the other point I just wanted to make, I know a lot of us on this call included there's a lot of mentorship programs out there through American staffing association, getting involved in ASA, SIA, TTL.

Jourdan Block: Like any of these organizations, people are excited. I'm happy to talk to anyone, share and we'll talk. The industry is big enough for all of us to do really well. And if we can all help each other, raise the bar of it. It's a win-win for the entire industry. So feel free to like to call people, call, and find mentors in the business.

Brian Delle Donne: That's great advice. That's great advice. So, you know, people always like to brag about, you know, they're good investments and they never talk about their bad investments, right? Like if you talk about your portfolio, you talk about the apple that you bought at $18, but you never talk about you know, something that flamed out.

Brian Delle Donne: You know, we started Talent Tech Labs inside of a family owned staffing company. And my job at the time was the chief operating officer to try and automate the company. And we failed miserably. We wanted to onboard candidates into staffing companies. And so I went out to look for onboarding tools and most of them existed for corporations, but when you're onboarding candidates, 80 different banks, each with their own process, there was no single tool that did it.

Brian Delle Donne: We plowed ahead, found the solution, and ended up firing that solution within less than six weeks after the project. Because it was one work around after. Similarly, we heard referrals. What are the great, you know, of course referrals are good. We bought jobs right back in the day when it was only a referral platform.

Brian Delle Donne: And we turned it off again about three months ago because it just did not deliver. It was, we said we needed a Java developer and it would say here's a software engineer. And that was all that you got. So there was no, no value whatsoever. So there's lots of experiences that led to learning.

Brian Delle Donne: And so maybe as a, as another way to the lower, the anxiety of those reticent executives, maybe talk about one of your experiences that, that you learned from that that didn't work out as a good choice, whether you got there by ad hoc, shiny object, or even by design, but let's share with the audience some of those not so great war stories just to let everybody know that we're all human and this is not easy, but it's certainly.

Brian Delle Donne: Susie. I know that there's a couple that you'd want, I wanted to give you the chance to share what you've learned, because it's really important. 

Susie Dietrich: Yeah. 

Susie Dietrich: It was brutal. I wanted to bring in an onboarding product and I just should have been more patient and patients aren't in my, I just don't have much of it.

Susie Dietrich: Never have, but I should have, I wish I would've waited a little while longer because when it first came onto the scene, I'm like, this is like, you know, getting the new brand new Google phone or the brand new Android don't do it. And there were like three products to choose from. And I thought, oh, that's plenty I was not planning.

Susie Dietrich: And I chose one and it was six months later. But nothing was going right. You had to hand build everything. And if I would have just waited a couple more months for people to do some perfecting, really established the products and then turns out every major ATS ended up developing their own. Cause they went out, bought somebody that they developed as their own.

Susie Dietrich: Why didn't I wait for that? It was six months completely wasted. Nothing was right on it. The document flow is not flowing back into our ATS, it was just, I should've just given it more time to develop and mature a little bit. And had I done that and been a little more patient. I wouldn't have wasted so many months of my life on a non-successful product.

Brian Delle Donne: Yeah. You don't want to say enough. Right? 

Susie Dietrich: I know when to say enough, I washed my hands and within about six months after I washed my hands. And it was about halfway functional. I mean, after that much time, you gotta be kidding me. Right. It's not like I'm not building all the forms and building all forms.

Susie Dietrich: My ATS came out with their own product. What am I, hell, body they're out. I just been weighed a little bit. 

Brian Delle Donne: Yeah. Yeah. Jordan, you got any good that.

Jourdan Block: You know, I'm going to take a page out of Nikki's book here and give some love to the back office because not enough people talk about back office tech and one scenario that comes to mind, our executive team demoed a product and it was for bank reconciliation.

Jourdan Block: It was a third party ISV add-on to our payroll system. And we said, this is amazing. We'll be able to do bank recs in a quarter of the time. It's automated and streamlined and automatic sounded great. And as an executive team, we said, let's do it. We bought it, implemented it. It was great. And then we found out no one on our finance team cared and no one wanted to do it and no one wanted to use it.

Jourdan Block: And I learned the lesson really quick. About empowering your employees, empowering people that are actually going to be using the tools and making sure that it makes sense in their workflow. We didn't understand some of the nuances that if we would have taken the time to analyze did our deep dives follow our methodology of what our tech methods are.

Jourdan Block: We would've easily uncovered us, saved tens of thousands of dollars months of implementation. Empower your employees. They're the ones who are doing the work. They understand what they're doing. They're experts who lean on them to help you make good decisions. 

Brian Delle Donne: Great perspective. And we'll come back to that cause there's some interesting points there, but I want to hear it.

Brian Delle Donne: Nikki's get a more story to share with us. 

Nikki Palmer: I've got two actually, and I'm debating if I can squeeze them both in. But actually, I feel like even a failure and I'll say that in air quotes, if you can see my fingers through my blurry background, but I think there are still some really amazing learning opportunities.

Nikki Palmer: Even if something doesn't turn out the way that you want it to, because then I think you really appreciate where you want to go. And I, you know, there's an investment and money and things like that at the same time, but we started out with one texting tool a few years back and it was used okay. Adoption was meh.

Nikki Palmer: But the biggest thing for us that we realized was making the difference was that it wasn't writing back to our ATS. So our teams liked that, you know, they could use their desk lines and they didn't have to use their personal cell phones. But when it comes on, I'll double back to that candidate experience.

Nikki Palmer: When you have more than one person, sometimes dealing with the same candidate and you have these handoffs and communication, if there isn't a central repository to really understand what's happened with that person, there's extra work that the candidate needs to do to get the second person caught up.

Nikki Palmer: And so we made the switch to Sense engage a few years back since engagement and Sense messaging, we actually did both products and instantly it made a huge difference and our team's engagement levels and just having that right back capability and how engagement works with messaging. And so, I would say it allowed us to make a smarter decision the second time around.

Nikki Palmer: Our second one just happened in the past two years. Actually we were recognizing that we had a huge gap in our sales and marketing. Processes. We had HubSpot running our website at the time and we had it, and wasn't writing back to our ATS in any way. And so everything was kind of being done manually. And so we thought it might be beneficial to move our account managers to HubSpot sales, but then we ended up with these two pathways and two centers of information and we're bringing them back into the fold.

Nikki Palmer: So, you know, we kind of tested it out. We developed some workflows and some projection models and things like that, but it just didn't have the uptake that we needed for it to have. And it allowed for the conversations to take place, to really solidify where we want it to be. So those were two. I would speak to.

Brian Delle Donne: Those are great. Those are great. Thank you. Thank you. So we're all human and we all learn and you learn from those experiences, fail fast, fail forward. You know, Jordan picked up on a really interesting point, which I wanted to get into around change management generally because you know, family businesses, I imagine that you've got a lot of folks on your team that you've had for a long time.

Brian Delle Donne: Feel like family members sort of potentially old dogs, trying to show them new tricks. So here you are confronted with making a nice investment to give them the latest and greatest, the ability to search social channels for candidates or who knows what, and they're still used to doing it the old way.

Brian Delle Donne: So maybe we can go around and talk about what you've done to orchestrate change management or to get people excited. So they wanted to participate. In, in the adoption because obviously an investment that's not adopted is as good as a write-off. So, maybe we start with Susie and talk about, you know, how you've sort of orchestrated the willingness to change in your organization.

Susie Dietrich: Yeah. I'm a good example of this. So I bought sense too. I was looking for a texting program. I thought that's the coolest thing ever. Right. And we're moving in this direction. It doesn't substitute for the grassroots of picking up the telephone, mind you, but it's still a text program. It's just another tool.

Susie Dietrich: Right? Another arrow in the quiver. And I bought Sense cause I'm like, wow. As soon as I found out, to be honest with you, that Google Ventures bought them, I'm like, yeah, I should probably go with them. That wasn't hard. Right. Then I started implementing it and it was a complete nightmare. So I had this great product that nobody wanted to use.

Susie Dietrich: And like, what the hell did I do wrong? Right. Straight to Jordan's point. Why didn't I get the employee to buy in first? Won't make that mistake again. So then what I did for the next product, actually to relaunch Sense, and then to start designing that roadmap was I put together a tech team and I made sure I had recruiters and salespeople on it.

Susie Dietrich: And I made sure I had ones from each one of my different brands, the most senior people in the building, the most respected people in the building and the people that I knew, the other recruiters and the sales people would listen to regarding tech issues. And it just shot off like a rocket. I never had that problem again, even if you have a great product and Google ventures buys it and you're like, wow, this is a no brainer.

Susie Dietrich: Right? People don't like change. And I don't just mean recruiters. Don't like change, but people don't like change. And if I would have done it differently on the front end by putting this tech team together and I call it my tech team. We have the singer's Christmas party called the above and beyond awards.

Susie Dietrich: And we usually give out either 500 or a thousand or a gift card from somewhere. And the question is who went above and beyond that year. Right. And the first year I gave it to every member of my tech team. Cause like they didn't get paid for that, but they really, I mean, not only did they start looking at, they started being real leaders in the building from a true leadership perspective.

Susie Dietrich: I didn't have any of the problems I had on the first launch with Sense. Everyone had buy-in because these guys, these particular couple of guys were like, yeah, we want to do this. Let's do it. Let's make the investment. Okay. And then I honored them at the Christmas party. I haven't had any of those problems since 

Brian Delle Donne: That's great.

Susie Dietrich: That's great. And I actually ended up taking one of those guys and promoting him to the team lead of top staffing. And he just flew into the positions. 

Brian Delle Donne: Wonderful story, Nikki. I know you've got change management on the radar. You've got an integration of an acquired company. You've got two different tech stacks.

Brian Delle Donne: What are you thinking about in terms of getting people excited and willing to pull it as opposed to push against it? 

Nikki Palmer: Yeah, we're really trying to stay ahead of the curve on that one. So, I was listening intently as everyone else was speaking. So I think change management is its own initiative.

Nikki Palmer: And so, you know, when you think about acquiring a technology, that's one decision, but there's almost a secondary project that goes along with that. And it really is gonna make or break how it's adopted and how well it's used and things like that. So, layered into the many projects that we have this year.

Nikki Palmer: What's going to be communicated. Who's going to communicate it? What format is it going to be communicated in? Is it going to be a video? Is it going to be instructions? Is it going to be a training session? Is it going to be all of the above? And thankfully, because my role is dedicated specifically to this very function.

Nikki Palmer: You know, we have a self-serve library that continues to grow where, you know, question three times in a row while it's going to be documented. And so someone else asked that question and boom, here's the answer. Here's how you do this. Do you want it? And step by step in a PDF, there you go. You prefer it in video.

Nikki Palmer: There you go. So I think that there's a huge investment that needs to go into this and almost taking a step back and again, putting yourself in the shoes of the people who are going to be using it. What are they going to want to know? What are they going to want to know what's going to get them excited?

Nikki Palmer: And I think too, having product champions within the various teams, again, we're remote. So it's really hard. I can't go into a branch and, you know, with my pom-poms and get everybody excited about something, but we do company-wide seminars and sessions and meetings, but also having, you know, a strategic group of people dotted around the country who can help to be that voice and, you know, show a best practice or highlight a tip or things like that.

Nikki Palmer: That really goes a long way as well. 

Susie Dietrich: That's great. I'm stealing that idea. That's a great idea. Nikia library. That's a great idea. Yeah. Yeah. 

Jourdan Block: We embrace all of those methodologies. I mean, everything from the knowledge base and we call it our Wiki library to different champions, a few things that I'll just add that are a little bit unique when we are deploying.

Jourdan Block: Like I mentioned earlier, we're getting people involved in the demos, in the decision-making process all the way through other things. I think it's so important that you let the employees know how it's going to impact them. And one area that I'll highlight is that we're doing a lot of work with RPA robotic process automation.

Jourdan Block: We use catalytic and a few other tools, but like phenomenal tools, phenomenal opportunity to streamline answer the elephant in the room, like right upfront, you know, you're not losing your job. You're not this to help you do things more efficiently, so you can do less administrative work, more production work.

Jourdan Block: So. Be upfront and share with the employees how it's gonna impact them. I think it goes a long way in in effective change management. 

Brian Delle Donne: That's great. Yeah. It's gotta be, it's gotta be thought about at the front of the process. It can't be an afterthought. It's too late. By the time you're just going to conduct training, there are great insights there.

Brian Delle Donne: I appreciate your sharing that with our listeners today. We're coming up to just a few minutes being left. And so I'd like to ask you each, if you can talk about what's next on the roadmap, what are you thinking about? You know, what's the next horizon, what's the next area that you might consider automating or streamlining or applying technology?

Brian Delle Donne: And you've already got some pretty good investments in place in all cases here. So, but I also know you're thinking forward. So, maybe start with Susie. What do you think is, what do you think is on the horizon in terms of what might be next for your consideration? 

Susie Dietrich: We're starting to look at social search, you know, the programs that go out and do the Frankensteining together.

Susie Dietrich: And it's interesting because some people know me, some people don't, but those who know me know I'm like kind of a really private person that I don't even linkedin. I don't have any social media or anything. So my guys are funny. Cause when they're testing these programs, they search me to see if it could come up with anything.

Susie Dietrich: And honestly, if it does it's pretty good. I mean, I mean, I've had the same cell number since the early nineties. It's not like anybody can't reach me, but you're not gonna find me on Facebook. Right. Again, I'm not even on LinkedIn, which is kind of rare, but Social search is definitely the way to go.

Susie Dietrich: I am way happily mind you way behind the eight ball on that kind of stuff. And there's too much talent out there that we're not identifying right now because we're not using a strong social search. So that's the direction of. 

Brian Delle Donne: That's great. And after we go around, if there's any question about what that is, we can unpack that a little bit.

Brian Delle Donne: Nikki. What's next? I know you've got a queue in front of you, so what's next? 

Nikki Palmer: Should I start with the Whopper or we're actually just embarking on an ATS transition. I think Bullhorn would have been very disappointed had I not highlighted that in this session. So we are moving to Bullhorn one and our kickoff is actually next week.

Nikki Palmer: So, it's going to be, there's lots of things floating through my head about timing and communications and change management and all of those good things. But we're focused on the buzz and making certain that, that moment. Is held up until we go live. I want to give a shout out to Actually who's the sponsor of this event, because that was one tool that was introduced to us that we're hoping to have active on our go live as well for anyone who hasn't seen it.

Nikki Palmer: And they're not paying me to say this, it's absolutely worthwhile checking out. It's something that I think is novel in the market. And it is really going to fill a nice spot for us from a sales and marketing standpoint when it comes to marketing passive candidates and just the client experience, actually in how we go to market with shortlists.

Nikki Palmer: And another partner that I was, well, they're not a partner yet, but another tool that I was introduced to recently is called pager. And I was pretty blown away with what they offer as well. So those are a few that are on my radar anyways, amongst many others. 

Brian Delle Donne: I know you've got a good shopping list, but thanks for giving, given that upcoming go live.

Brian Delle Donne: Thanks for making the time to share with this audience. Cause I know that's probably got you spending a lot of extra hours, Jordan what's what's next then in your consideration. 

Jourdan Block: So we have, I think eight or 10 different tech initiatives going on right now, but I think I want to highlight something for a lot of small business owners and it's not a very sexy topic.

Jourdan Block: So I apologize for not giving you the newest tech trend, but data cleanup is so important and that's a massive initiative. That's going to be coming up for us. Next quarter, we do a ton of dashboarding and visualizations and you know, all of the buzz words around that, but having poor data is so disruptive to the business that we're making a mess and massive shrines and investment in a lot of data cleanup.

Jourdan Block: So that's a huge area, sorry. It's not like, you know, the new tech trend, but I think for a small business to get set up properly from the beginning because as you grow in scale, things get a lot more difficult. And if you say, oh, I'm only doing this for 10 people this week, 20 people next week, it's only going to get bigger problems and bigger problems.

Jourdan Block: So get set up properly from the beginning. 

Brian Delle Donne: Great advice. And I love the notion of getting the data cleaned up because know, the it's an overlooked, it's an overlooked asset that you have. And every staffing company has stale data and imperfect data that they'd all be well-served if they could just get a handle on that and increase the confidence that it's the right place to be looking at stuff.

Brian Delle Donne: So all good stuff. Panel you've done a great job. Thank you. Thank you I found that really fun. I'm having this conversation with you. I hope our listeners enjoyed it as much as I did working with you. I really want to thank you for the time you spent to prepare and to share your insights on really great work, building your companies, and I wish you continuing success and look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.

Brian Delle Donne: Thanks, ever so much. 

Susie Dietrich: Thanks for having.


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Jourdan Block​

Susie Dietrich

Brian Delle Donne

Nikki Palmer




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