top of page

EP 98: Navigating ROI, budgets as products, performance management, and Gen Z recruiting strategies with Anthony Onesto

Podcast Transcript

James Mackey 00:00

Hey, welcome to the show. I'm your host, James Mackey, really excited for today's episode. We are joined by Anthony Onesto. Anthony, thanks for joining me today.

Anthony Onesto 00:10

Good to see you. Thanks for having me, James.

James Mackey 00:12

Well, we have a lot of great topics outlined how to recruit for Gen Z, discussing your background in terms of also advising from a CEO, Chief Revenue Officer perspective and how that's probably impacted your perspective on running people, organizations, performance management, AI. We got a lot of good stuff to talk about today, So, I want to make sure everybody tuning in understands the perspective that you're bringing to the table. So would you mind you know where you're coming from? essentially, would you mind sharing a brief background on yourself?

Anthony Onesto 00:44

Yeah, sure, happy to do it. I'll go as quickly as possible because it's a pretty long background. So I'll just start off with the fact that I studied accounting in college and my first job out of college I got fired, so wasn't really all that good at accounting and didn't really love it And just got into the recruiting space, started doing recruiting, started doing HR and then started doing it in startups and these companies, particularly in New York where everyone was going into financial services. I decided to go into these tech companies and dot com boom and bust and through all that sort of stuff and been doing that for, I want to say you know, more than 20 years helping early stage companies scale, you know, from very early on to you know, thousands of employees in some cases and helping not only to help them scale but build their processes, their strategies and their plans around the three pillars in HR. They call it find, keep and elevate, which is very similar to my book. So find is recruiting, keep is sort of the normal HR operations and engagement, and then elevate is learning and development.

So I've been doing that for startups for 20 years, actually jumped out of doing that and went on the business side, so I went on the business side of a learning development platform that was expanding in the US and I became their president of US operations, so doing no HR work and taking the HR experiences and helping them with their go to market strategy, sales enablement, product, product marketing at the time there was no such thing as product marketing, but that's what we were doing And did that for a couple of years and then jump back into HR recently with Suzy, where I've been for five years and Suzy's a market research SaaS platform. And the one thing I haven't done in my career I've exited and acquired companies. I've closed companies and never IPO to a company. So hopefully with Suzy, we'll be able to check that box off.

James Mackey 02:36

That would be pretty cool.

Anthony Onesto 02:38


James Mackey 02:39

So I also wanted to mention I mean, you've been with some pretty well-known organizations as an advisor and hands-on, namely I see on your LinkedIn profile, Benny. I know Matt Stras not well, but I was introduced to him a year or two back. he was able to give me some pretty good advice, and then I also saw you were with Lattice as an advisor, so a lot of big names here.

Anthony Onesto 03:03

Yeah, I mean the advisor stuff is gets me into the operational, commercial side of businesses. So my day job, obviously, is mostly in HR recruiting. What these have done is and I truly believe that one of the biggest gaps, particularly with HR technologies, is that there aren't many HR folks helping them to really build their products, to help them strategize their go-to market, And that's what I do with these folks. So on the side, I kind of take off my HR hat and I put on my commercial and it's been a really fun experience bringing those two worlds together And actually manifested recently in a LinkedIn blog post that I put together in terms of how HR tech companies or recruiting companies really need to think about these things. So it's been fun and I've been fortunate.

I met Stras when he started, Namely, I basically told him everything I didn't like about it And he's like looked at me and said you should be an advisor. I was like what's that? And there you go. And it's been a whirlwind since I followed him to Benny doing some really fun stuff with Lattice. Right now I actually just signed up with a company called Overalls. They need a board advisor. So just really an opportunity to take all this HR tech experience and manifest it and help it with. Help with go-to-market strategies for a lot of these entrepreneurs.

James Mackey 04:27

For sure. I think that let's start with having that executive experience from a CRO go-to-market experience has impacted your perspective on people organizations And I think it sounds like you progress more so from the people side into that go-to-market side. But nonetheless, like I just think it's a really interesting topic to dive into. I think that there are a lot of correlations between revenue organizations and people organizations. I think that it's really important for senior HR executives to be able to put on that revenue, go to market, understand or start metrics, be able to communicate through data to the CEO, to the board, and I think that sometimes I'll see the posts on LinkedIn where I'll see town acquisition executives or whatnot, saying town acquisition should have a seat at the leadership table. I completely agree.

I also think that a lot of town and people executives don't speak the same language as executive leaders And that's probably why they don't have a seat at the leadership table yet, so I think it goes both ways right? It takes a company that values that perspective and then it also takes individuals that understand that they're going to need to become more analytical and understand how their function feeds into achieving companies north star metrics. So I want to just talk to you a little about how you think your experience as a business advisor and revenue advisor influences how you run people and organizations.

Anthony Onesto 05:53

Yeah, it's great. It's a great prompt. I mean I think traditionally I did have that HR background, but I also felt like coming from, even though it was a failed accounting experience. Having studied accounting and finance and being able to speak the natural language of business gave me one up in terms of how I thought about things, other than surprising a CFO or a CEO, when I could read balance sheets and income statements and start that, talking that language. I think it was incredibly helpful because what I do now is I start with that, with those things, and I work backward right Where I think a lot of folks, especially in your spot on.

I think it's talent, i think it's HR. I think often we speak our language right. So when we talk about things, we talk about engagement. Well, what the heck does that mean? What is the translation of that? when we say somebody is highly engaged, now you can infer a bunch of things, but we're talking about that like hey board. We have highly engaged people, versus the highly engaged people are producing more.

If we looked at the different traits of a highly effective salesperson, we would find that they're knowledgeable in their craft. There are certain hard skills and soft skills they have. The question is, how almost like if you think about a sound engineer, how do we pivot all these different aspects whether they're soft skills or I call those soft skills are now in my vernacular power skills or technical skills. What are those things that allow them? See, I'm talking about the language of HR, right, soft skills, and power skills. But what the reality is? what are the things, the habits that they do that accelerate them to hit their quota, to hit their revenue goals? right? And so when I was on the commercial side and when I'm talking to CEOs, like that's what they care about, they don't listen. Good leaders care about the employee and care about the employee on the human side of it, but they also care about the business side, and so we need to make sure that we're functionally looking at both of those things. What's the human aspects of these things? And then correlating those things to the best and sales is the easiest one, right, it's linear. We can see that doing these things actually impacts revenue.

There are some roles that it's very hard to figure out the true value of that role with the organization, where I think sales becomes really easy. So start off there, start off in sales, and understand, okay, what are the metrics? Everyone's trying to hit quota. What are the things that they're doing? And look at the successful folks What are the habits, what are the things that they're doing? What are the digital breadcrumbs for those folks? So I think it's that ability like looking at. You know, there was a great book years ago by an author, Josh Bernoff. He wrote Writing Without Bullshit, and I always, as I had said to him, I said I want to do HR without bullshit. It's like how do we strip out the language and make it a business language? And I think that's critical, that's the thing that was an aha moment for me, especially when doing some of the commercial advisory services.

James Mackey 09:01

Yeah, for sure. I just yeah. I think there's a lot to dive into this topic. In the previous episodes, we've dived into a lot about, like, the importance of being analytical and being able to speak business language. So for this episode, I would really love to get into exactly how to prove the ROI and opportunity cost And maybe you have some guidance for folks that, let's say, there's a key initiative they need to drive home to the leadership team, to the rest of the leadership team. that's important, right? Like, maybe there's a shift that needs to occur on the talent acquisition side, for instance, and there's a requirement for more budget to invest in a tech stack or recruiting headcount, for instance. So this is one example And maybe we can riff on this for a minute. How do you kind of prepare or set up the argument, if you will, to how, like, increasing a budget is going to impact the company's north star metrics? do you have any advice on how leaders can position that?

Anthony Onesto 10:00

Yeah, i think it's like anything, any other asset, right? Like, I don't see a difference here. Like, if you're going out and you want to purchase a tool to do something, how are you positioning that tool in your organization? right, you're starting with the end game. What is this tool going to do for us? And if it's something like and there's different elements within that too right, there's different elements in terms of this tool will just make sure that we're compliant. So it's risk inversion is the purpose of that tool. We want to be risk-adversary. It may not be adding revenue or creating profitability for us, but that's the risk. That's the purpose of that tool. So I would start with what are the main company goals? right, and at Suzy it's very simple. We have ARR, which is a huge metric in the SaaS software space. It's one of the things where you're evaluated on. But we're also concerned with profitability, given the major shift that's happened in the marketplace. Start off with those two things. Okay, backtrack. How would you position this tool in terms of one of those goals Is it impacting revenue or increasing profitability or productivity and start backtracking that way, i mean, everyone's going to have their own different framework, but to me, that's the way.

I'll give you an example. I won't talk about the tool or name the tool, but there was a tool that we were looking for in HR And so oftentimes and I talk about this with a lot of HR tech companies there's a lot of times you're competing with known names of other tools And then there's one competitor you probably don't even recognize is out there. It's called Do Nothing Incorporated. What if I do nothing If this tool, if I use your tool or do nothing, what happens? So there's a tool out there where, right now, a lot of our HR people are putting a lot of time into the process that this tool solves. So in my head, I'm going okay, if I just continue on doing nothing, what happens? It doesn't increase revenue, it doesn't increase cost, it just is different.

They came up with this tool and did a great job of going okay, tell us all the things you want to solve for all the different actions that are involved in here. And they have an ROI tool that they said oh, you're missing out on reimbursements from all these other places. And so when they did that, I immediately got into my head to say we're missing out on reimbursements, which eventually can help us reduce our costs, which impacts our profitability. The minute they changed the conversation to oh, this is helpful for a process and an experience and shifted it to wow, you're missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars that you can get reimbursed for immediately, i went to the ROI in terms of profitability. So that to me is like, and that changed the game for me. I immediately put it through our vendor process. I'm like this is an easy discussion. This is so easy.

So I think when you're an HR person and you're thinking about a program or a budget, you have to think of it as a product first. And how is that product going to either increase revenue or decrease your costs or increase productivity? So that way you're actually measuring and then taking it back. The only challenge I have is don't be acid like. Try to make the numbers real numbers. If people will call like, your CFO is gonna call BS on a lot of things. Your CEO is savvy, they understand these things. So make sure your numbers are solid and you're going to them and saying, hey, this is the tool, it's gonna save us a couple of hundred thousand in terms of lost revenue or lost costs or whatever it is, and then make the argument and the ROI here's the cost Like it's no different from any other asset. I think that you're gonna invest in.

James Mackey 13:47

Yeah, i think that that's. You can't just focus on the process, right. Like the process that it's gonna, efficiency is great too, but if you can tie it to cost or growth or profitability a key north star metric you're gonna have a much better chance. So the reality is like, if you can't do that, then maybe reevaluating, like well, do you really actually need this? Like, i love this phrase, right, paraphrasing, but it's a specific quote from a theoretical physicist.

I'm blanking on his name, but to paraphrase he basically said to prove yourself right, try to prove yourself wrong, Right. And I think that, like, as executives too, it's like we need to embody that mentality where it's like, okay, if we want something, let's not back into some kind of dogmatic belief system, let's really evaluate this from a data perspective and let's try to prove ourselves wrong and try to poke holes and you know, if it makes sense for us to actually make this investment, and so, if it doesn't stand up to the test to move it in a north star metric, then why? you know, like I think we just have to test that right, there should be a clear causal relationship between making an investment and generating the results of the company, north star metrics of the company, right?

Anthony Onesto 15:00

Yeah, i mean, i'll do a less sophisticated version of that. And so years ago I was watching, if you remember, and believe me, we'll get to this, so don't be shocked. But eight mile with Eminem, right? So I'm referencing Eminem. I wrote a blog article about this years ago when I saw the movie right, and in one of the scenes where he's going up against the rap battle, he knows exactly what the other individual is going to say about him, right? So in order for him to win, what does he do? He says those things about himself and he takes away the argument. Now I've made this correlation to how leaders need to talk to employees Like you know what they're going to be thinking when change comes in, so say it be transparent, right. Use and I call it the Eminem method. Same thing is here In your point of view.

It's all right. What is your CEO going to say? What is your CFO going to say? And if they are the litmus test of why we shouldn't be investing, or your CFO is cost control, right, That's their mandate. You definitely want to say, okay, what are the things that he or she or they are going to bring out on this? And make sure you're prepared for that right. Make sure that you're able to do it in a way, one that's authentic. That has to be the case And, like you said, if you can't and there's not always a clear line I want to be very clear. When we sign up, our HR and our payroll system, yeah, the only productivity there, like, if we don't have that, no one gets paid and then we're super profitable, but then we have no business, right? Like, some things will not have that clear line, but some things will.

Another example we're looking at this tool and what they do is they actually look at what I call digital breadcrumbs of your employees, and this is more sales, and what they try to do is say, okay, who's the best salesperson? and they backtrack statistically what are the things that person so they, they try to pull data from all these different you know systems, because everyone's leaving a digital breadcrumb in your gong or in your, your sales force or in your email, and what they? what they try to point out is what are the key factors that that individual does that makes them successful? Is it from time, from first email to second email, from demo to this to that it's getting? and so for me that's easy because I can say oh, what if we can unlock what you know? when I ask somebody what makes a great salesperson, i'm getting different answers from different people and they're guessing They don't know for certain. This could actually let us know for certain. What are the correlation, what are the behaviors that the salespeople do are online and that is easy, right? I know for a fact, if I get unlocked what makes a good salesperson the revenues there. So, but I start with the revenue first, like I start with the quotas. What if we can get everyone to 100% of their quota, or the good people to 150%? What would that do for us, right? So it's a very different discussion, but I like your point. Mine's less sophisticated with the M&M example, but that's the example. It's like call out what you think they're going to object to.

James Mackey 18:10

Yeah, yeah, I think it's. yeah, it's like two prong right, Like the first step is to be an effective business person. You have to love proving yourself wrong. You have to get in that mindset of making sure you're making decisions based off logic and sound reason. Step two is understanding what's the worldview or perspective of my peers and leadership. How are they going to approach this problem? And, as you said, like being prepared to handle that part of the conversation, And I think it's like understanding both of those things is what creates an effective one of the one core part of what creates an effective executive.

Anthony Onesto 18:42

Yeah, and also coming back right And being humble, like you went in. Amazon has a great thing. They call it the two door. Right, you go through the door and you can come back through it. There are certain decisions that are much more difficult. When we pick our payroll system, it's very difficult to pull that back. In this case, it's also being humble enough to go. It didn't work. What I thought was going to be the return. It didn't work. Let's pull it back, let's do something else and be humble with that. The humble pie is a very difficult thing to eat in the HR space, but I think it's one of those areas that we really need to do Like hey, actually, i was wrong, it didn't work, let's pull it back, let's try something else.

James Mackey 19:21

Yeah, for sure. We make decisions based off the data we have and there's power in changing our mind. When you have more data, you can make a new decision. I think it's like we're almost like culturally raised to think that it's like bad to change our minds right. And, of course, in some cases, there's genuine frustration in society. we look at politicians that I did flip-flop and these types of things. That's different. It's not to say in life that you should. If we have the same perspective we had 10, 15, 20 years ago, are we really growing?

I think often it's like we need to remind ourselves that there is power in changing our mind and making informed decisions based off the data and hopefully, over time, we're going to have more data and we can make better decisions.

Yeah, absolutely, and sometimes that can be hard right If you work with other leaders that may be less forgiving or you feel like, but still it's going to come out. It's better to own it and be in the driver's seat of that conversation, because it shows that you're looking at the company's best interest, that you know what you're talking about, that you're staying on top of analyzing the data And I feel like, as long as you're like, hey, this is why this is the assumption that we made, or this is the decision we made because of the data. what we've learned is this So we're going to scale back and it's like as you put it right, like how you presented it, i think, as long as you do that in the right way, most leadership teams are going to be understanding, as long as there aren't just like too many big, costly mistakes back to back, right.

Anthony Onesto 20:41

Right, right, no, you don't want to stay in the same mistake over and over again. Yeah, that's not going to work, but and that's why I like to democratize the data to our team so they know exactly what's going on, because they're going to know. Everyone knows if something is not working, they know, so why pretend again? get ahead of it, it didn't work, let's move on to something different. I think, depending on where you are, if you're in more entrepreneurial situations, your CEO, your founder, is going to appreciate that ability to sort of go oh, let's test this out, it didn't work, let's go backwards. I think, in larger and, like you said, it's more prominent costs, it becomes a little bit harder.

James Mackey 21:22

For sure. Yeah, i would love to transition into performance management. I would love to get your thoughts. It's not a topic that we've discussed it a couple of times. We have almost 100 episodes. You've discussed it a couple of times. I would love to just dive deeper into the topic and get your like, let's say, just high level kind of philosophy on the topic. I want to understand how you approach it And then maybe let's talk a little bit about implementation and give some people tactical steps in terms of what they can do.

Anthony Onesto 21:51

Yeah, yeah. This is interesting performance, because performance has been through a lot of change recently. There's been a lot of opinions on performance. I'm reading a book right now about performance, so even my opinion I would say it's still evolving around this. Years ago we used to. We did performance reviews once a year.

No one liked doing them. Everyone hated the process. People would spend a crazy amount of time doing the process, and so our CEO at the time this was a larger company was one of the startups I worked with. He came to me and said hey, we want to revamp this. And I said to him I said how much do you think it costs us to do performance reviews? It's once a year, but it takes people a week to do. Everyone's involved. If we were billing per hour, what would you guess? We're like a million or something. I said all right, what if we don't do it? What if I came to you and said we want to do the same process and it's going to cost a million and a half dollars? Why are we doing all these things? that are sort of things we've always done but never questioned. And so he said I love the idea, let's just get rid of them. And the question. He was like all right, what do we replace them with? And that's where I was like, oh, it's so much easier to go up against an existing contract, it's so much harder to come up with a new idea. I was like, no, this is. But it was good, good point. And I said I don't know if I had the answer.

We put a team together. I was the only HR person involved. There were experienced folks, there were developers, there were innovation folks And we came up with this concept of doing more regular conversations. Right, this idea of performance. If it was a sailboat, you'd be off course a year later. We were like, well, we're going to be way off course. We have to adjust almost on a real time basis. How do we do those things? So we built a construct It was the SWAN project and we were planning on having an app and all this sort of stuff, but it never came to fruition. But the concept was we need to be more real time on these things, we need to be more events triggered, and that's not uncommon. Everyone's talking about more frequent performance reviews, i think, check-ins, all these sort of things.

But I will tell you, recently, with all the economic headwinds we went to when I first started with Suzy five years ago. We went to what we call growth conversations. So on a quarterly basis it was growth. Like hey, how are things going? Where do you want to go in your career? What's the next step? What are the things we need to help you on?

What we found is people you know we were a bit libertarian on how they were operated like, hey, do what works for your department. It was all over the place. Some folks never got their growth conversation. No one knew where they were. It was a little bit too open in terms of its guidance And so recently we kind of brought it into okay, we definitely want to do some sort of performance score, if you will call it ranking, whatever it is.

I was never a big fan of it, but I felt like people just needed that. They needed to understand where their performance was. But still, keeping that concept of this is a past-looking indicator, but we're all about performance going forward. So if you're struggling on these things, we're going to give you the tools. We're going to have regular conversations with you. So I think it's hard to pinpoint like, hey, do this. I think it's much, much larger discussion on the way people lead the weekly conversations that they have Like. To me, i would revamp the entire thing and I would say you have to do things weekly, you have to be having conversations with folks, really understand where their performance is. How is that going? Where is it going? But mine is a nirvana that doesn't exist yet. So I'll take quarterly for now, and we've combined some of the old world and the new world thinking around these things.

James Mackey 25:54

Oh yeah, i mean, if you look at sports which I'm not a big sports guy, so don't ask me specifics But I will say it's like you know, coaching is an ongoing thing. Performance is an ongoing thing. There's not a week that passes where it's not discussed. Positive, great coaches are giving positive feedback. As soon as it happens, they're correcting, correcting course quickly. You would never see in a basketball team or football team coach waiting a year to say, hey, you fucked that up, right.

You know, and I think it's it's, it's okay to have that type of maybe you wouldn't say it like that, but you know what I mean. I think it's okay to have that candor. If you just build the culture to expect it where it's, it's going to be transparent. When it's good, it's going to be transparent was bad. Just because it's bad doesn't mean we're giving up on you, we're not supportive of you. On the contrary, let's, let's make it right, but let's do it quickly, as fast as we can. I think too, it's true, identifying trends is important. You know it's like looking at anything. You know we're talking about the language of business when you're looking at a P and L or cash flow statement or whatever might be, without understanding the trend line is basically useless, right, i mean, you can look at oh, you're over a year.

Right, our cash balance is a million. Okay, well, that sounds we got you know X amount of months of runway. That's great. Well, if last year was 12 million And this year is a million and you haven't invested right, you know, you could have your own right, So it's it's.

I think people I don't know if we necessarily look at trends enough when it comes to performance and we need more process around that, And I think things like PIPs of performances that go well should be based on trend lines and you have to decide what point does this get to the point of a true performance improvement plan and what do we do to avoid that? and how can we identify performance issues as quickly as possible? And it all comes down to understanding data and trends.

Anthony Onesto 27:45

It does. and then I also think it's important, like so you brought up PIP, so I'm going to jump on that. So it's just fascinating to me that we created this thing called the PIP right Performance Improvement Plan. But isn't every conversation a performance improvement? like you know why do we decide, okay, towards the end of your life, we're going to do. It's just it's a silly document created by a legal team that said we need to cover our ass and that's what a PIP is. And that's when people come into Suzy and they're like do we do PIPs? I'm like absolutely not, because every conversation you're having needs to be documented, needs to be about growth and needs to be about changing behavior. That is a before. like there's not some magical document that happens that you give somebody a 30 day window to get better, like you've been terrible for the last year, but 30 days you have, like it's just garbage. Yeah, you know what that's? It's absolutely garbage.

James Mackey 28:41

I honestly hadn't thought about that before, but I completely agree because I think most of the time it is BS right. It's like just a way to cover your legal document.

Right, it's not actually like at that point the company's essentially been up on the person and I'm sure there's leaders out there that disagree, but that's more of like a individual leadership thing, it's not like a company wide process. So I think you're right, it's like it should be. It's a trend thing and there should be, based on the trend, certain actions that are taken along the way, and there does need to be some kind of threshold where, if it's crossed, there's some kind of warning, if you will, but I think you're right, like I think the term pip the other thing is a pip is like it turns people off. There's a certain there's such a strong connotation with that. I think we should just we should just remove it and just as you said, like I think performances consistently monitored, there's some bottom threshold that people should know of proactively right reaches a certain point We got to think about. Maybe this isn't the right fit, but maybe just avoid pips altogether, as you said.

Anthony Onesto 29:39

I would love to look at the data, like you know. Give me the world's pips and tell me what percentage actually of the person actually improved in state. I will, almost with a certain level of confidence, say 99 percent of them were terminated right.

So there it's. a useless document and it's performance improvement, i agree, but that's constant, like you should be performance improving in every conversation, and there should be a period where you're like and this is not working out And, by the way, that should never be a surprise and that's the biggest struggle I have, even with leadership today is thinking they've delivered a message that is radically candid in the words of Kim Scott and really wasn't. And then, when you look in retrospect, you're like this wasn't even close. You're telling me they were terrible and you gave them a, you know a three, or you said they were doing great. I'm like that wasn't. you did them no service, by the way.

James Mackey 30:34

I know so many people that were like two months ago I received feedback that I was doing well and this is just like a good life. for instance, you can't avoid hard conversations, you're just going to. it's going to create more problems in the future and it's going to leave people with bad taste in their mouth. I mean, i think, regardless, if it's not the right fitting yet to part ways, there's going to be some folks that are resentful regardless. But typically I think if you do it the right way, you maintain respect, people are more likely, some people are going to be more reasonable and I think it's just you don't avoid the hard conversations yet to make sure they're baked into process that those things are happening. People want to, they want to hear it, they want to know where they stand and to, because it's like even if your people are performing really well, so not receiving the right kind of feedback, it might be creating anxiety for them to. if they don't, they feel like they don't know where they stand right.

Anthony Onesto 31:24

And that's why this is complex topic, right, like everyone is like do you do performance reviews? do you do growth count? like it's not, it's not linear, it's so complex. And I will say the last thing on PIP, because I absolutely love them.

I think a PIP is a band aid for shitty leadership. I think it is. It's like hey, you haven't done your job by being a leader and being radically candid and providing feedback, so now we're going to give this document to the employee and, just like I said, it's illegal proceeding from that point. So it's unfortunate. So I think, with you know if you? and then the other thing I think the other big challenge is if you go to a leader and say define performance, what is high performance look like for your group, i think they'd have a hard time. They'd be able to go oh you know James, like they'd be able to point to a person. But then when you double click on that, you're like what are the things that James does really well that makes him a high performer? and and like how do you map that out?

I think that is another piece of performance that we really need to figure out. And if you asked every HR person what is high performance look like they might not even know what it looks like in their organization, right, and it's so funny when we did a whole bunch of conversations around performance in our in our last growth conversations I pulled out all the things in the conversation that I noticed in. Leaders were saying that made people high performers and they're off. Soft skills, it's collaboration, right, it's all these things. Initiative, like none of it was, was was technical skills, and it's just really interesting to me because I just assume the technical skills are probably at a good mastery level and that everything else at that point in terms of high performance has to do with more softer, or what I call power skills.

James Mackey 33:16

Yeah, but yeah, i think so. I mean I, yeah, i definitely think like for for my company secure vision we do. We know the profile, we know the experience, background, the skill set we want. But I mean one of the things that I've told my team and and this varies from company to company, so, like sometimes people give me a feedback well, it seems you know it should be expert, but I usually say around you know higher people who've done around 75% of the job. The 25% they haven't done is why they're going to accept your offer.

When you hire the right people, the right people have that mindset of value creation and learning. They're intellectually curious. Honestly, i value curiosity more than just raw like you, and I think that if you get people that are adaptable, ambitious, and curious, lifelong learners, humble enough to be a student but confident enough to execute, I think that that combination of people is exactly who wins. Like I look for that too in the final round interview for my company. It's, yeah, it's power skills, as you put it. I, as long as somebody has a decent foundation, we can teach them the rest. I just want that person that is like a driver, that's like a value creator, which is kind of vague, but all of the skills I just mentioned, or traits that I just mentioned, are ultimately going to determine success, and one of the ways that I do that.

By the way, like my favorite question, to ask somebody and I do this for individual contributors and some people I don't feel like get it. I'll try to articulate it in a way that makes sense, but I'll ask somebody you know, if you were promoted to CEO of your current employer tomorrow, what would be your top three initiatives and why it could be something you would double down on, something that you would change, something you would discontinue. And I love that question because to me it shows how self-aware they are, how aware of their environment, if they have a collaborative or lone wolf working style, if they truly understand what drives North Store performance of the company and how that cascades down to an individual contributor level. I learned about their engagement, their excitement, answering the question. There's how much time they spend collecting information versus executing, how they strike that balance And again I ask this for like individual, like recruiter roles, right?

But I tell you, man, like it's been a great question. That gives me and then I ask follow-up questions and whatnot It's given me a great understanding of somebody's ability to be adaptable, critical thinking, and awareness of their environment. And I mean, do they think outside of their JD? All of those things? I can dive so deep with follow-up questions based on that. But you're right like I think the main thing I'm looking for is like, just basically, how do they think, how do they think about their role within the organization And how do they think about getting results? Like I mean that to me that's the most important.

Anthony Onesto 36:06

I read a blog article. I wish I can. I mentioned this blog article a lot and I forget to give her credit. but then the author wrote it's called Learners vs Guides. What she talks about is basically, when you're at least when you're a startup founder or entrepreneur and you're building your teams out, what are you looking for? And she said there are two categories One is a learner, and one is a guide. And she said the learner is what you're talking about someone that maybe doesn't know the role 100%, but can learn into it. right, there are certain roles that you want to have. that Then the other role is a guide. The guide is someone that has done the role but not only done it, but has done it two or three steps ahead of you Of where your company is. And she said you need a mix of both of those. And I said you're absolutely right and it depends. Like.

I will give Matt Britten credit for Suzy. He hired me I was over-hired five years ago, in a small company, but he knew that I had built companies to a thousand plus employees And he always knew that Suzy would get there someday. So we were building the roadmap. What are the things that you've seen that you know are coming down the road as we get to 50, and its culture, its HR operations, it's all sorts of things. So I think it depends on the role and the position, but either one of those things. I thought that was a really brilliant way to describe what I've seen in my career in a very different way.

James Mackey 37:28

Yeah, that's a really good point And I think that's true. I think as a generalization, i think I used the 75 25, but there are certainly areas or roles that, as I'm thinking about growing my company, where you're right, i want the guide, i want somebody who knows what they're doing and just loves it. Right. Like of course they want to continue to grow, but the way that they see growth is nuance of the specific environment and the challenges that are within that. However, they have a lot of experience in the role. Like they're adaptable enough to. They're not going to copy and paste everything, right.

Anthony Onesto 37:59

But right, that's key because it's different. But they'll know, okay, the roadmap says, at this point we're going to be here, but it's Suzy, and so it's going to be a little bit different, and put their mark on it. Or even you know, frankly, I made a mistake when I did this the first or second time. I don't want to make it the third time and let's avoid that. So I think it's definitely helpful. But for some roles, it's okay. Some roles you want people that are learners, yeah, but in some you want gods.

James Mackey 38:25

Well, it's tough too right, Because, like, everybody has to take that top that first executive job. Right, and it's, and I guess. so. here's an interesting question. I don't know if we, if there's a clear answer to it How does an organization know if it's all right to promote somebody into an executive role that they haven't done before, versus getting the guide right Because every we've all had that first executives have all had that first role. Are we basically saying that more mature organizations are going to know not to be the ones to promote somebody for the first time, or is there a way to know if that's okay in certain situations? I don't know.

Anthony Onesto 39:02

Yeah, it's a great question. I mean, I don't have an answer. The way I would think about it, though, is I would look at it in terms of the function itself. So do I? If I am a midsize company and I know in two or three years I'm going to go IPO, do I take it? Do I take a chance with a learner as my CFO?

Probably not I probably want someone that has been through the process So that way any march toward that is not thrown away. There's no obstacles. If I am you know ahead of, I'm looking for you know ahead of customer success. Maybe not, I don't know. Maybe I want creativity, maybe I want somebody that's a good leader there, maybe there's an opportunity to learn in that space. So really to me, it depends.

I would argue we don't do enough of this in the HR space within. You know young companies, you're starting to see a little movement of this, but a lot of times it's like oh, you're the receptionist or the office manager, you're now the new head of HR, and I think it's a big mistake, frankly. So I think it's also prioritization of the role and the impact of the role. I don't think you would. You know sales might be, you might be in between right, like you might want somebody with new, fresh thinking in a space, or you might want someone that has built. You know a company that has generated, you know, 250 million in ARR. You know like it depends on the role, specific and, i think, stage of your company. So I hate the answer, but it depends.

James Mackey 40:31

It's so situational, yeah, and I think that there's also a tendency, particularly when you see on like LinkedIn and content development, where there's oversimplifications, because you're trying to create something in a consumable format And as I'm saying this out loud, like from my 75, 25%, i think that's an example of it, right, like there's context that isn't always discussed behind why decisions are made, and the reality is that business, a lot of these situations are pretty complex, they're highly situational, so it's hard to put out like a rule, so to speak. I mean there's generalization. You could say, typically, this is the way it's going to go, but we can never really be sure until we're in the environment, and then, even when we're in it, it's no way to know for sure, necessarily, right?

Anthony Onesto 41:12

Yeah, and I know it's misquoted, i forget the original, but everyone gives Mike Tyson the quote. right, everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face. Yeah, i think that's so true. We love and I was listening to a podcast recently. I forget who it was, but the planning part is I think it was Adam Grant talking to the CEO of Chobani And just a real interesting person, by the way, just fascinating folks should listen to it. But they talked about maybe the plan is not good, but the planning part is the value, the plan. once you get to the plan, it may change, like you said. but I think we all love frameworks, we love simplicity, so that's why you see a lot of the content out there. but you're right, it's so nuanced, every situation. But I don't think we have the capacity to understand that right. I think if you think about, every millionth of the situation is like our brains will explode. So I think it's easier to go oh yeah, there's a framework for that.

James Mackey 42:07

Yeah, we definitely need frameworks, for sure. Well, hey look, I got a few minutes left here. We didn't even touch Gen Z recruitment yet. You wrote a whole book about it, So I feel like we should talk about it. consider it's something you know quite well. You can read the book, Yeah yeah, just go to the book, go buy the book. I think everybody like a lot of the advice out there is just kind of very surface level. It's like Gen Z group with technology.

Anthony Onesto 42:32

So you got to be on social media.

James Mackey 42:33

You got to you know, and so I want to cover that. But I want to go deeper with you and try to give people some insights here that aren't in some of the blog posts that we've all seen right. So we'd love to kind of get your overview high level and then kind of diving into some. I want to go through some stuff that can guide strategy for CPOs and CEOs tuning in.

Anthony Onesto 2:56

Yeah, i mean it's pretty meaty. Maybe part two could go super, super dive into this, but I think you know if I, i'll take the one that you just talked about right. So digitally savvy group that's born digital. I would say not only born digital, born mobile. So mobile phone, iphone comes out in 2007. The other aspect so it's not only that, they have unprecedented access to information and things almost immediately. where you know, i'm an Xer we had to dial up and it took forever to get to anything and we never could get an item within 24 hours. We'd have to wait.

This generation does not. How does that manifest? Think about your recruiting process right now. go to your. you know there's an and I'm building an audit around this like a matrix that, like I said, everyone loves framework. So trying to figure out, okay, in your recruiting process, are you Gen Z ready, or your future proof, as I call it? So you go to your recruiting process. I won't say mine is any better than anyone else's, by the way, we're working on it but you go to it and you click on a job and you have to fill out your name, your email, your phone number, and then you click on another button and it asks you to upload your resume And then you click another button and you add your LinkedIn and they're gone. They are gone.

This is a generation, like you said, born digitally And, by the way, if you can't do that, all mobile, it's gonna be very difficult, but they'll get on desktop, of course, if that's. to me, that's the simplest way, like audit. you know, have a Gen Z person walk through your recruiting process and let me know what they think of it. They're gonna provide, by the way, they don't. they're unrelentless in terms of their feedback, so you're gonna get really good feedback. They're not gonna sugarcoat anything. But the problem is is even before that.

So when I, what I talk about in my book is that you know they're very big, this generation, in terms of cultural issues, especially diversity, equity, inclusion. This generation, like I said, has access to information. So on your Instagram, you put you know you have a Suzy thing with Pride behind it, or you talk about your focus on underrepresented groups. This generation will go to LinkedIn and look at your executive team. They'll look at your board of directors. Who makes up your board of directors? Okay, they're all white male. Okay, let's go to the next level. Who are the executive team. All right, they have one woman, but all white employees, like they're like they're gonna call BS on that, right, and to me that's the important part.

So when we talk about what's needed to attract this generation or recruiting perspective, it's not putting something out on Instagram, it's not being out on TikTok, it's much, much deeper than that. Like, at the core of your business, you have to change how you think about your diversity, equity, and inclusion. You have to start at your board level, you have to start at your executive team level And if you're not there, you need to get there. You need to progress in these places and then think about the experience, go super tactical and go okay, what is it to recruit?

We added very recently, we added audio to our job description, so it's like a podcast. So we're trying to test that to see if that could attract folks. It's a very different experience than what you normally get, which is just a text job description, so you can actually hear our CEO talking about our culture. You can hear me someone from the role themselves talking about it in a podcast. We cut it up. So it's again think about this generation very quick.

in terms of if you think of the TikTok experience. these are mechanics, like they want to view something for a couple of seconds and then they move on to the next thing, so it's not always like, oh, beyond TikTok, it's understanding the mechanics of why TikTok is the tool of Gen Z right, and it is that all the data supports this, although Instagram reels are catching up. What are the mechanics behind the algorithm? What are the mechanics behind the user experience on TikTok that attract this generation to that platform and see if you can recreate that Again. if your recruiting process takes 20 minutes, it's not gonna work Like it's not gonna. yes, they're not gonna be engaged.

James Mackey 47:13

So one thing that I would love to talk to you about or ask you real fast, is human interaction. top of funnel recruiting right, like trying to decide. I different aredifferent ways to think about that. Like there's content creation, employer branding resources, video resources, potentially audio and job descriptions, as you mentioned, which I hadn't heard before, so I'm curious to hear how that goesYou Youthere are all these different things, but from the perspective of talking with a recruiter for a screening call, I often wonder if that's something that's gonna be disrupted.

Like, is that the type of human interaction that they're looking for? Like they care about human issues, like DE and I, but do they care about doing screening calls, which you could argue often could be like, does it really even need to be a call? You know? could something like generative AI replace top of funnel not the whole human process, but like would they almost prefer going to a careers page and having an interactive conversation with a generative AI program that maybe has recorded a hundred plus screening calls and knows how to answer specific questions that candidates may have? I'm just kind of wondering, like, how do you think Gen Z is gonna feel about AI incorporation into the interview process and what elements need to continue with the human touch versus what they may just not even like. they would rather almost just like use tech. I mean, do you have any thoughts on that?

Anthony Onesto 48:35

Yeah, i think there are gonna be different layers of it. There could be, on the front end, a chatbot experience, and actually there's been a lot of research done, not only with Gen Z but in general, where people are more comfortable having initial discussions with a chatbot. I will also say that there are a lot of research that shows like people want that human interaction or there are folks out there. So really it's hard to say any one or the other, but I think for Gen Z, absolutely, i think there is an opportunity because part of the challenge right now with the recruiting process is they apply and then it goes into some sort of black hole. Right, they don't hear. Maybe they get an automated message back or this is a generation again.

Remember the mechanics of this can go onto Amazon and get something within two hours. They can get something within three, two a day. Imagine like and I always use this and I came to the reality of understanding the technology behind this but they can order a Domino's pizza and know what stage that pizza is at on the app, but in your recruiting process they have no freaking idea where their application is. Who are they talking to next? I did find out, by the way that it's not real. The Domino's thing is a time thing. It doesn't really track the actual location You're kidding me.

James Mackey 49:50

I'm so sorry.

Anthony Onesto 49:50

I was so disappointed in learning that It's time based, so like every five minutes it then goes into the oven and the next five minutes it's being delivered. I was so. I was so angry when I heard that because I was like, why? Because I always use that in the recruiting aspect. I said, if we can track our pizza, why can't we track our application? So, yes, i do think if the experience is a chatbot experience, which gives it more transparency, hey, because it's hard, like if you want to do what generative AI can do, you'd have to hire an army of recruiters that are doing these things right, like you can't have. So I think there's definitely opportunity on the top of the funnel to have that conversation, set the expectation, understand where you are, move you through the process, almost be an assistant, a co-pilot, like Microsoft has in terms of your recruiting, and hopefully a lot of the recruiting systems are thinking about that. I know they're thinking a bit more in like qualifying way, but I think they can absolutely use it to change the experience.

James Mackey 50:49

I think you can do both at the same time.

Anthony Onesto 50:52


James Mackey 50:53

And give people answers immediately. Let me just go on to say I have these specific questions that I can't find in the content. Boom 20 seconds. You have exactly your. I don't know maybe I'm. I think that that's ultibule and maybe you give people the choice. Maybe it's like you can go this path and have the first interaction with AI, or you can just wait for a call. Maybe that's the answer.

Anthony Onesto: 51:15

Yeah, and also, i mean, if you do, it's already in the marketing world, where you have personas. Maybe you can identify the persona So what are they interested in And then you create a personalized experience from that. But you'd have to gather some information. We're doing that at Suzy, where we put together a driver's we call it segmentation driver's analysis, where we looked at what are the different personas of employees, and so and I asked the market researcher who was running it I'm like, can you tell me whether someone would be interested in, like, getting an email or a Slack message right, depending on their persona? So there's definitely some sophistication you could put into this to personalize it without even giving them the choice. Do you just know? oh, based on how you answered this your ex persona so we're gonna put you through the digital process versus the full human, maybe.

James Mackey: 52:04

Maybe. yeah, i mean, it's very interesting stuff. I mean that's one of the areas I'm most excited about seeing progress for the next few years. Well, anthony, look, this has been nothing short of a masterclass. I've really enjoyed talking with you. A lot of good insights here, It's going to guide talent strategy. I know I'm gonna get messages when I linked an inbox saying, hey, I shared this episode. Thank you so much for incorporating this. That stuff happens all the time. So, Anthony, I appreciate you contributing to the show and the tech and talent community.

Anthony Onesto: 52:31

Yeah, that was really fun. Thanks for having me, James.

James Mackey 52:33

Yeah, I agree It was a great time, And for everybody else tuning in. thank you for joining us. We appreciate your support and we'll see you next time. Take care.


bottom of page