Prepare for an enlightening conversation with our returning guest, AJ, a visionary in the field of Human Resources. His groundbreaking approach to simplifying HR and putting employees first is changing the game for organizations. AJ believes in moving beyond suppositions and so-called research, putting the spotlight on authentic experiences that keep employees motivated and minimize turnover.
We transition into the fascinating world of data, where AJ showcases its power in fostering effective leadership and instilling accountability. Learn how to transform complex data into actionable strategies and discover the different tools that can help you gather critical employee information. So, what does accountability look like when it's woven into the fabric of leadership? Listen in as we dissect this crucial aspect and its transformative impact on the work environment.
As we conclude our chat, we navigate the important waters of evaluating HR initiatives. AJ opens up about his process, the advantages of possessing such data, and the prestige associated with a seal of approval. Discover the importance of scrutinizing your organization's processes and how data can steer decisions and propel the Employee Value Proposition. If you've ever wondered about the strategic payoffs of conducting assessments and how to leverage them during discussions with leaders and stakeholders, this episode promises to take you on an informative journey.
Rebel HR is a podcast for HR professionals and leaders of people who are ready to make some disruption in the world of work. Please connect to continue the conversation!
This is the Rebel HR Podcast, the podcast about all things innovation in the people's space. I'm Kyle Rode. Let's start the show. Welcome back HR Rebels, extremely excited for the conversation today With us. We have once again Anthony Vaughn, aka AJ. He is back. This is his third appearance on Rebel HR Podcast and it's because he's got so much to share and just really awesome insights and innovations in the space that we spend our time in. Aj. Welcome back to the show. Thanks, lapril, I appreciate it. How are you? I appreciate you. I'm doing great. I'm doing great. This is always a pleasure to connect with you. It's been a long time. It's been too long. I appreciate you coming back on and talking to us a little bit about what you're doing Today. Quite frankly, I don't really have an agenda. We're just going to talk. I'm just fascinated to learn a little bit about the work you're doing. You've been doing a lot in a lot of different spaces. Really quick if you can just give some of our listeners that did not have an opportunity to listen to you the last couple of times just give them a little bit of a background on who you are and what you do.Speaker 1:
Yeah, man, I'll give you the bullet points. I'm excited to try to get it. As soon as I saw the email come through I said I'm definitely talking to Kyle. But long story short, I'll give it to you in bullet point form for those that have never heard of me before Started 19, former running back, built out a year-round football academy with Under Armour. Grew to a few million in sales, 300 full-time almost. As we were gearing up for our next year's integration as well as development of that partnership, had a key guy on the team that wants us to have a career mapping conversation. Had no clue what that meant. Didn't have it, didn't have it again. Next thing, you know, didn't have it six more times. He left the brand. I never told you this, parkal. I found out what happened too. He was actually the cousin of the executive that made the deal, oh my God. So it was also a little bit more of a family, personal thing too. But got a call from that particular person. They said let's have a talk. Leadership was important for Under Armour at the time. They dropped me as a partner. Business went to zero within six months. I give all you listeners that background because that was a linchpin for me to start my career, my understanding of all things HR. I went down about a year and a half rabbit hole of research. Came out of that wanting to be ahead of people didn't have any prior experience and then the rest of the bullet points. I'll run through it. Did that for about six years and then inevitably about let's call it year and a half to two years prior to the pandemic, maybe even before I started. The E1B2 Collective stands for Employees First, business Second. It's a myriad and series of different companies Right now we're up to about eight and everything that we do is trying to put employees first with technology, with services, with efforts. Also have a podcast 750 episodes. I talk a lot. So there it is, yeah.Speaker 2:
And I'll do it because you didn't. But a plug to the podcast a great podcast. It is the E1B2 Collective Podcasts. Yeah, and just an awesome, awesome show, super consumable. Check it out. If you like this podcast, you'll love that podcast. So worth the listen. So, AJ, before we hit record, we were just kind of catching up and talking about life and a little bit about some of the work you're doing. I think one of the really cool things that I've always admired about you is the fact that you do put employees first and background for the listeners. E1b2 means Employees First, Business Second, which is a mindset shift. But I think, as we have seen over the last number of years, by focusing on Employees First you will realize business and organization success and, quite frankly, it's also just the right thing to do. But I think what's cool about some of the work you do, AJ, is you believe that, but then you go and you actually build tools and programs and systems to help organizations do that, and we talked about a number of different ways you're doing that. I'm curious, as you have maybe broadly focused on the work that you do, how have you determined where to focus your time and energy? On where we start Like. I'm just curious because I think it's such an exciting and big opportunity for us to think about in our organizations. But we have to start somewhere. So I have to believe that you've got some methodology to figure out. Ok, where should we start with? How do we put employees first? What insight do you have for our listeners?Speaker 1:
That's a good question, and I don't know how to have the greatest answer. I'll just try to pull something out of thin air here.Speaker 2:
Just talk, we'll just soak it in. It's all good, yeah.Speaker 1:
No, that is a good question, right? Because I am working on so many different things and I am a person so fascinated by so many different things and, frankly, they all are in different stages of HR, different experience levels, different no-transcript, different bandwidths and desires. And so I think for me, if I were to start somewhere, in my opinion I always say start at something that is easy for everyone to get on the same page around, right? Because what I found as of late, a lot of HR people strategize and code with really cumbersome strategies, really cumbersome technologies and tools, and then expect leaders and managers to inevitably adopt it and buy in. And, as of late, what I've started to realize is that why don't we start finding tools, systems, methodologies that do one of two things Either A, allow you to kind of really get a deep dive analysis in audit of what you have, so you actually know where to start. That's probably a good place. Or the other part, find something that's simple and easy to use, where it doesn't take a lot of energy for someone to either learn the tool, to access the tool, to manage the tool, to develop and implement the process, something that's seamless and won't take them too much out of their zone of genes. Right, because if you want a sales manager to be a better manager, or if you want a product leader to be a better leader, or if you want, no matter what part of the business unit they're in, you want to be able to do that in a way where they're not feeling like they're having to double click into being a leader and putting their employees first. They can kind of stay in their zone of genes and their skill set, which is potentially sales or engineering, whatever the case is, but if you really unpack it, that little integration of that tool or that practice, they're actually over time becoming a better leader, naturally and organically. So that's probably where I would start. I would either start by auditing what you have or I probably really would easily start with something that is very easy to implement. What are your thoughts? That's probably what.Speaker 2:
I would say I love that. I love that. I think that's so right and we're side note to any of the listeners AJ and I are not gonna get into like arguments on this podcast, if you like, that kind of like back and forth banter, cause, like I am so aligned of that thinking, you know, and I think it's like for me it's like I like the analogy of you know, water always flows to the easiest place to flow, to, right, and I think about our jobs a lot like that, cause we're. You know, I think HR is one of those where you can only plan so much Sometimes. You just need to, you just need to listen and follow where the energy of the organization needs you to be, so like, as your example, keeping somebody in their zone of genius and just supplementing the work that they're already doing and doing something that's simple and easy and easy to explain and get buy in. And then, you know, here's the thing you might have a really big, cumbersome HR program, which I agree we sometimes we make shit way too complicated Right, like you know, like okay, take a breath, we don't need a 27 point, you know policy to fix this, this problem. That might happen, you know, 1% of the time, yeah, yeah, and that nobody ever even does, yeah, but something where you can get buy in and then, ultimately, if you have enough of these like little wins, easy wins, incremental wins, then you can do the big stuff, then you can get the budget for the big program. You know, and I think that's, I mean, I really think that's where the groundswell happens. And then when you have internal advocates that support the programs you've already done, then you have a little bit more clout and authority to come in and say, all right, here's where we need to spend. This is the big, hairy, audacious issue. This is where we need to spend our time and energy to fix it right. But ultimately it starts with, you know, I think that the simplicity is genius, right, and that's. I'm totally with you.Speaker 1:
I will say too as well, to add on to that, the best place to always start from, like a mindset perspective. Obviously I'm biased because I made up this term, if you will, but you should start with honestly putting your employees first no-transcript, genuinely understanding what's going to keep them there, and then finding a tool, a practice or methodology that's simple and easy for everyone to get around. That's connected to that one or two reasons why someone would stay. I always personally lean into any tool or system or best practice that can really help a leader genuinely understand who they're leading at a real contextual level workflows, how they want to be involved in decisions, like real business pieces, because I used to be the guy that would kind of get super fluffy and high level about it. Then I was like no let's. If someone generally enjoys how they're working or it makes it easier or more connected to how their brain thinks, then you're lowering the possibility of tension or conflicting moments. So let's find ways to just understand. Within one team let's say you have 10 team members how does each individual, each member, how do they want to work? How do they want to work from a workflow perspective, be involved in decisions, idea generation, time, whatever it's going to be, and then try to craft some of your efforts, tools, whatever you decide to do around solving those particular problems, because now you're going to find yourself just having more retention within your individual teams and let up Now you have a whole company of retention.Speaker 2:
I love that. I love it. You know what it sounds like to me and I can tell that you're what I would consider to be kind of a non-traditional HR professional, because to me that's what we would call the frictionless experience. But instead of being like an app or a customer funnel, it's your employee. If you reduce that friction, if you make the experience much more positive for an employee as their leader or as their peer or whatever, everybody's going to be more comfortable. They're going to have more enjoyment. That's going to drive retention. It's going to be less of a nightmare meeting. And I think here's the other thing and you use the word. I love this genuine, genuinely understanding what keeps people, because there's so much what I would call pseudo research out there about what keeps employees happy, but so often it's assumptions and the reality is it's like a lot of times when somebody asks me how do we drive retention, the honest answer is I'm not really sure, because we don't always know. Somebody over here might want a bunch of cash. They could jump your company for $1,000 more per year, which for many of us would sound extremely short-sighted. Because we like stability of the companies we work for, or maybe we love the benefits package, or maybe we love the time off, or maybe we just freaking love the team and we just, every time I walk in, linda says hi and I love Linda and I just want to high five every day. I don't know, everybody's got a different lever, but I think this is one of the areas that I'm curious to talk a little bit about some of the tools that you've been working on and some of the work you've done with organizations, as we've got all of these different, myriad reasons that people have and we've got these different styles and approaches towards work. How do we distill this down into actionable, individual information that a leader can actually use to stay in their zone of genius?Speaker 1:
For me. Let me try to understand the question better here. So how can we ask it again? My ABD is kicking in. You're good, man, You're good.Speaker 2:
Yeah, and that's in the whole. You have like 19 companies. So I get it right Like this is your zone of genius.Speaker 1:
Yeah, no, no. You were going on a good monologue here, so I want to make sure.Speaker 2:
Yeah, yeah, that's my. I'm good at that. What I'm really trying to get at is how do we take all of these assumptions of what keeps people, but how do we put that into a tool for a leader to actually understand? Ok, this is what makes Brenda tick. This is what keeps Joe engaged in at my company. Like, what kind of tools are you looking at and how do you think about that organization?Speaker 1:
That's a really good question. I'll be very honest with you. Like a lot of the tools that are out there whether they're engagement surveys, whether it's certain really interesting like HRI systems now employee data systems, like they're all interesting and I'm actually going to move around your question. The technology that is there is great and it's fine, but the person and how they think and approach the technology and how they use the tools even more impactful. So, for instance, all of these tools and technology that I probably could rattle off can keep that individual data impact intact. The individual data can be there. Now the question is going to be number one will the company creatively come up with enough questions on the survey or enough elements of that technology to have that contextual data? And then really the best question or the best element of this is will that individual manager of that product team or will that individual salesman leader leading eight people? Will they actually have access consistently to go into that tool, look at that data? Prior to having a 101, prior to gearing up for that sales team meeting, prior to having some thought, some perspectives on how they're going to improve the productivity of that team? Will they actually spend their time going in there, because a lot of these leaders that I just mentioned also are individual contributors, also have things to do and a lot of the time it's super administrative, super day-to-day, super mentally taxing, what. I think that's probably the funnest part. Like you know, you're going to get more out of your team if you go to these tools, look at that information, jot down some really thoughtful notes and use that information to guide the strategy that you have within those meetings or within that 101 setting. But that's kind of my answer if that makes sense.Speaker 2:
I love it, I love it. I couldn't agree more. I think the worst thing you can do is go out and do like a big, massive survey, data grab and then you know say, hey, mission accomplished, we did this high five and then don't do anything with it until you do Want another year later. Right, like, that's, it's better, this, the data has proven. Like it is better to not do anything. Just don't even ask if you're not going to do anything with it, right, so it's, it's about the actions and they go to more percent.Speaker 1:
No, you're right. And the go even more down that rabbit hole. Kyle, and you remember the last podcast? It takes a minute to warm up and then I just start. But no, to go down that rabbit hole to actually gotten a pretty intense debate with the part one Regarding you know, because their perspective was like, hey, the technology is great, all we need to do is plug in the technology and it's going to solve every issue. A lot of product people feel that way. They feel like if you just implement the technology, it solves every problem. And I said to them I said the technology is just the precursor, it's the beginning. Everyone that uses this technology has to actually use it. They have to be able to read that data story, tell that data, understand that data, understand how that data can be used to strategize, how you're actually going to make some impact. Just because you have the data there or just because the tool is there doesn't mean it's solving everything. And I think a lot of people in the HR technology world and frankly a lot of each are people that are really product, sound and articulate to a certain degree. They forget that piece their managers, they use the data. And I'll give you one more call to. I genuinely believe managers should be fired by not using the data correctly and not going into the tool and use that information Like, like. Just not a suggestion anymore. If your leader is not using the data and the tool that you're giving them as HR team members, then in my opinion they're not living up to the responsibility of being a great manager.Speaker 2:
Yeah, and isn't that? That's then the job description? Right, it should be. I couldn't agree more. Oh no, go ahead, go ahead, go ahead. I was gonna say, you know, when we, when we, you know, first started talking three, three years years ago, you know it, we were having this dialogue, a very similar dialogue, and you know it was rough out. That it was rough back then. It's like look at the workplace landscape right now, right, like, like the organizations that have not held their leaders accountable to be great leaders are struggling, right Like. You know there's and I mean I look at the headlines like you know, people are leaving and you know they're losing. And then you've got these companies that that it's not just their individual leaders actions, it's like it's like silly layoffs and record profits. And you know it's like it's, it's just like oh, what are we thinking as, as you know, as a society where, like, people are a force that we shouldn't, we shouldn't be thinking about the actual human being. But I struggle with with, you know, those, those kinds of organizational decisions and some of the challenges that we're facing. When really it comes down to, you know, are you a good leader, are you a bad leader? Are you a good organization? Are you a bad organization? And if you are struggling with leadership, then how are you holding your leaders accountable? I don't. I don't think it's as complicated as we all make it sound right.Speaker 1:
You know, tolerate bad leaders, you'll have a bad organization A thousand percent and I'll give you all even something that's like strategic and tactical to. To add to that, if you are noticing across a myriad of teams that there's low performance, low productivity out of a team and or the individuals within that team, the first thing you should be asking yourself as an HR leader that's leaving the entire company. The first thing that a VP or a C-suite executive that's that's leaving that division should be asking Is what did you not do as a leader? That's in my. That's the first thing that you should be asking. Not scrutinizing Sarah, not scrutinizing Andrew, whatever name you're gonna throw out. The first thing that I'm asking is what did you not do as a leader of this team of eight individuals? And I believe you should have a checklist. Did you? How often have you been having one on ones? What questions were asked? Knows one on ones? Where's the data being stored? Are you using the data? Show me that you've actually thoughtfully put this data into work to support them. Have you reached out to L&B and rearrange some things and made it more contextual, made it easy for them? Have you checked their home life to make sure everything else is good there, like? There should be a full range of checklist that you, as a leader, do prior to pointing the finger at them. That's like a. That's like a tangible example of what I mean by putting in police first.Speaker 2:
Yeah, yeah, absolutely, and I think you know it. It it's a requirement in my mind for for human resources to be asking those questions and Educating leaders. That that's the expectation. Right like this is no, this isn't, this isn't an HR program. Right, this is like this is what it's required to be a leader. Yeah, and so often there's, there's, there's, I think, a pushback that you know HR needs to, hr needs to do this stuff, but the reality is, leaders are the ones that are accountable to, to these types of programs working and Ultimately, the good leaders ie the ones with low turnover, best performance, you know, high, highly engaged teams are the ones that naturally do that Without anybody having to ask them to right, and and it's, it's those individuals that we should be. You know, having others aspire to be. So I did, yeah, I couldn't agree more. I want to, I want to shift gears. I want to talk about this a little bit because I'm fascinated to learn a little bit more about this program. So One of the one of the organizations that you've been supporting Is the top employers Institute, and it's a little bit of a different, different approach on assessing and analyzing the programs and systems that we have within our HR Organizations and so so tell us a little bit about you know some of the work that you're doing there, and and I'm really curious to learn a Little bit about the approach. Yeah this institute.Speaker 1:
Yeah, at a high level. You know I'll cover top employers and get into tactically. So you know we've been working with about 2400 moving wonder, almost 3,000 companies globally, Some of the biggest brands that you all know of adidas, of the world, you know, american Express of the world, pools of the world, pepsico, on and on right, big enterprise companies and At first glance, a lot of organizations always feel that we are let's call it a seal, a certification that inevitably just Supports things at a high level. But what the leaders are talking to us found out, and then what I found, that as we started standing up a new division here, is that Gently analyzing the best practices brings even more value at a level that I think a lot of HR team members have found is super meaningful. So what we do is we actually go through me, ask about 265 different questions. Then you have to verify as an HR team member that you actually have the answers and you can show proof that some of that work is actually being done and we're not doing it to be rude, or pop is or or or Not, that we don't believe you. We're frankly and I've always said this to people we're doing it to hold a mirror up against yourself because, kyle, you know this right. How often do you, at scale, know about HR team members that actually hold a mirror up against themselves? Pause and say what are we actually doing in employer branding, measured up against other companies in our industry, measured up against Globally, measured up against literally everything you could be doing from it from an employer branding perspective At top employers? We have that data. We have every single literal thing you could be doing from an employer branding perspective Up till 2023, like we literally, every single year, scour the market to see what are the most innovative new things and then measure that. What do you actually build from the employer branding perspective? Oh, we, let's say, there's 10 bullet points. Oh, we're only doing three of those bullet points. Fine, that's great. Now I didn't know. Now you know. Now you can make an impact, now you can learn, now you can utilize some of the best practices from other organizations, and so things like that is what top employers does and, in my personal opinion, things like this is what every single Organization should go through every year. You should have a moment where you're analyzing every piece of your HR effort, seeing where you are analyzing your gaps, cheering and being happy about the fact that you identify those gaps and now working with your learning and development teams, working with your TA teams, working with the internal comms teams, to grow, get better and get stronger. And then the last thing I'll say, kyle, then you can actually utilize that seal from a recruiting perspective, because now you can look every applicant in the face and say we actually do have a great employer branding system here. We verified it, we know what's in the market, we know where our gaps are. Here's, tactically and tangibly, how it can help you and then impact you in all these different ways. That's a little bit about talking to employers and how. I think it's super meaningful for organizations to think about it from that perspective.Speaker 2:
Yeah, I think what I appreciate about this is you and I, we think very strategically. I mean, I think that's pretty natural for individuals like us, but sometimes it's really hard to take that like 30,000 foot view and like we know what the right thing to do is and like, intuitively, we understand what we should do, but tactically sometimes it's hard to actually translate that into okay, we need to get this done. This is the best practice of how to do it, this is the resources required to do it, this is how I'm actually, this is how I'm going to actually get through into a system that works. And oh, by the way, I think this is another key point this is what everybody else is doing. So if I don't do this, I'm behind the eight ball right, like I can't sit here and sit in this meeting and say we're doing everything we can for employer branding to drive that EVP so that our candidates know, hey, this is the best place to work, when we have one out of 10 best practices checked on this assessment right. So it's like let's take a collective breath, let's make sure, hey, here's what we actually do, here's what we think will work for our organization, and have kind of a framework around that. I think there's a lot of benefit there and I appreciate the approach of having an assessment, but this is the exact thing we just talked about. It's a great tool, but then you got to know what to do with it, right? And so here's kind of the answers to the test. Here's what you need to do, and if you have that, as an HR professional, it makes it a whole hell of a lot easier to go into a board room or the CFO or your financial director's office and say, hey, here's what I want to do, here's the resources I need, here's what this will do for us. Here's the playbook, right? As opposed to trying to convince people through sheer will and passion and energy, which I'm sure we all have listening to this podcast.Speaker 1:
I have nothing else to add. You nailed it. That's exactly what I'm saying.Speaker 2:
Well, it's near and dear to my heart. I used to be the HR audit guy one of my last companies, so I spent a lot of time on this, but I do. I appreciate the approach and I think it's also been tested and proven that it works. So for those that are listening, we'll have a link in the show notes. Check it out. I think it's worth checking out. And even if you don't utilize the program just understanding the methodology and how it works and thinking about even if it's something where you put together a really simple protocol to go out and assess what systems am I using, how am I actually tactically impacting employee experience and how am I holding my leaders accountable to that If you just do that and take a true look at yourself in the mirror, I guarantee you that there's gaps there that you can improve.Speaker 1:
A thousand percent. And the last thing that I know we're almost at time here. I'll say on that note that's what we all know as human beings, we should be doing right, whether it's in our health, whether it's in our relationships, whether it's with our kids, our spouses, whatever it's going to be, we all know, at the end of the day, it's important to hold a mirror, being at yourself, whether that's getting a personal trainer, whether that's watching a film, whatever the case is going to be, where you see people that are working out or really pushing themselves to a new level and you're feeling inspired and motivated, or whether that's going to therapy. We all know at some point you should self-reflect and make some adjustments and lean into that. Don't be afraid of that. And I think that's really the nuts and bolts of what we're trying to bring to the table.Speaker 2:
I love it. I love it. With that, I think we're going to shift gears. I'm only going to ask you one rebel HR flash round question, because you're you know, at this point this is, you know, a third time's the charm. But we do have one new question since we last met and I'm fascinated to hear your answer. So the question is where does HR need to rebel?Speaker 1:
Need to rebel. Hr needs to rebel, in my personal opinion, on their talent acquisition processes and the way that it traditionally is done. I believe right now and I'll do a quick plug beyond brand give me a call. But seriously, though, every single organization in my personal opinion, needs to be brutally honest about the bad, indifferent, good gray area variables of their company department leaders and explain that to applicants as early as possible in the recruiting process. Stop BSing these applicants, stop sharing that this is the greatest place in the world to work. We have no issues. Be honest, be raw. I'm tired of recruiters BSing the game here. That's where I think it needs to rebel, if you want me to be brutally honest.Speaker 2:
Dude, I'm so with you. Like I said, we are not going to argue on this podcast. I, I shit you not. So early, early in my career, I was a campus recruiting guy, right, and we would, we would shine, we would polish, what I would call polish the turd, right, like it was like let's just make this the prettiest best place to work ever. We'll tell everybody every good thing. And we saw like 40% turnover because people would get in and they were like, are you freaking, kidding me? You told me I was going to be this and this and this and it was going to be all sunshine and roses. Exactly, and I am a huge believer of that realistic job preview and and I will, I will, you know, plug in for that. I actually have candidates who have hired recently that have come back to me six months later and said you told me exactly what I was walking into, I was fully prepared and I am so happy that you did that because I was ready from day one. And guess what? They're still with the company, right, because it, because they made an informed choice and we were open and honest. And at the end of the day, sometimes that's all employees want is integrity with their, with their company. So I'm with you, dude. We are right at time. Aj, thank you so much. It's always a pleasure. I love following your story. I love seeing you just just killing it out there and being successful. Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with us today. 100%, brother. We'll talk soon. Thanks, man, later. All right, that does it for the Rebel HR podcast. Big thank you to our guests. Follow us on Facebook at Rebel HR podcast, twitter at rebelhrguy, or see our website at rebelhumanresourcescom. Abuse and opinions expressed by Rebel HR podcast are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any of the organizations that we represent. No animals were harmed during the filming of this podcast.Speaker 1: