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EP 30: Meqa Smith, Founder of The Unforgettable Agency

Podcast Transcript

James Mackey  0:00  
Hello, and welcome to Talent Acquisition Trends and Strategy. Today we are joined by Meqa Smith. Meqa, welcome to the show. How are you?

Meqa Smith  0:20  
I'm great. How are you, James?

James Mackey  0:22  
Doing great. Thank you for joining us today. Before we jump into the topics that I'm really pumped to discuss with you, I was hoping you could just share a little bit about your background with everybody.

Meqa Smith  0:32  
Absolutely. I originally grew up in South Africa. And I actually lived there until I was 21. But I live in Australia now. And I also worked and lived in New Zealand for a while. So I'm a little bit of an antipodean.    I went to university and did a Bachelor of Business because I had to, my father pretty much insisted, and I never really knew what I wanted to do. And so through a whole lot of things that happen that I won't bother boring everybody with today, I ended up with a double major in human resources and marketing. And, to be honest, I really didn't know anything about human resources even after I completed my degree. And I got double distinctions and top of the class and all the rest of it. And it wasn't until I was living in Australia and waitressing that I got offered a couple of jobs by a few general managers that I was serving, and one of them was a human resources coordinator role at a hotel. And I thought that was something I have a degree in and I am going to do that. I'm going to get that job. And so I did. 

And that set me up for about 10 years in human resources. And I worked across companies like Ernst and Young, Sitel, some banks, some other hotels like Marriott, that kind of thing. And then, through another series of boring events, which I I won't go into, I ended up not being able to get another job in human resources when I moved back from New Zealand to Australia because it was the GFC. 

So I moved across to the marketing side of the business. And I naively thought that was going to be super easy, because how much was there really to know about marketing? After all, I had a degree in it, right? So I spent the next almost 10 years working in strategy roles in agencies learning everything that I possibly could and working for a couple of other SaaS companies in-house and that kind of thing in marketing. But ultimately, in 2015, I was in an agency role. And I became very, very frustrated with the fact that all the clients were coming in looking for lead generation, but nobody was focused on customer experience and retention. And nobody really seemed to get the whole, you know, competitive strategy value proposition thing. So I naively set off on my own. 

That's when I set up The Unforgettable Agency. And it's called The Unforgettable Agency because of the Maya Angelou quote about people will forget what you said, they'll forget what you did, but they'll never forget the way you made them feel. And at the time, I was very focused on customer experience and loyalty, and retention. Through the next few years of consulting with clients, it boomeranged me back around into the people space. And I very reluctantly, like kicking and screaming, reluctantly, went back around into the talent acquisition side of things and helped some of my clients to recruit. But I didn't want to do it the traditional way, because after my human resources experience, and then after some traumatic experiences as a candidate, myself, I felt like recruitment was really, really completely broken. And it needed to be fixed. 

And it was at one of my last HR roles, ironically, at Saatchi & Saatchi, where I had this kind of epiphany where I thought, wow, human resources and marketing, they're actually really similar. A big pot of success in both roles is about successfully communicating with the intent to influence. It's just that one is internal, and the other one is external. I didn't really know what to do with that epiphany at the time, it was only later when I started helping clients recruit. And I thought, right, this is it, I'm gonna do this differently.

And that's when I first in about 2017, I first created what I now call the unforgettable way, which is my marketing-inspired talent acquisition methodology. So I guess that's a good background for where I'm coming from with all this work. So now I really do my best to focus on helping other HR practitioners, talent teams, and sometimes sea-level people or business owners to actually understand how to harness the power of marketing thinking to win the war for talent, engage employees and boost the bottom line. So it's pretty fun.

James Mackey  4:51  
Yeah, I love it. I think that's a great analogy, in terms of just thinking about recruitment and from a marketing perspective. I think just from a general revenue perspective, even you know, sales right, have you thought about outbound motions for sourcing talent, things like that, that really do your sales activity? And then you look at conversion rates and you're looking down funnel top loss reasons, time and stage. I mean, those are all things that revenue org sales organizations are tracking. 

And then you have talent, attraction, branding, employer branding, some people call it right? Producing assets, creating frictionless experiences throughout the funnel. You know, all of those things are directly correlated with how good marketing departments are built. So, I think there's a tonne of parallels, and I actually philosophically am very much aligned with your perspective and approach to talent acquisition. Yeah, that's right.

Meqa Smith  5:46  
Make sense when you think of it that way.

James Mackey  5:49  
For sure. I don't even know how else I would do it. I mean, that's just so in line with our approach at this point in time.  Let's start with the marketing parallel, on the talent attraction side. And then we can kind of progress to employee engagement, and achieving outcomes of the existing, you know, of the employee base. But, let's just talk about candidates and talent attraction. 

When you go into a new client environment, right, typically, more so in the SMB space, what are the first three things you look at? What are the highest leverage things that companies can implement or change or need to work on?

Meqa Smith  6:34  
Yeah, that is an absolutely fantastic question. The very first thing that I look for, is the C-level team and the Human Resources teams, understanding or perspective on employment. What do they think employment is? How do they think about employment? What is it that they think that they're offering when they're offering employment? So that's step one. 

Unfortunately, what's happened is, when we're in the HR function, quite often, and it's exactly the same in the marketing side of the business, you depersonalize and almost dehumanize the people that you're actually working for. And you will throw around these terms like, you know, candidate experience, new hire employee, whatever, but we're all humans, we're all human beings. Like, see you as a human being, the candidate for the casual line staff position you have as a human being. 

So the number one thing I focus on is getting everybody onto the same page, and understanding that we are in fact dealing with human beings. Not machines, not rational logical algorithms, human beings, which are emotional creatures. So I actually do a presentation on what I have come to call the human operating system. Because when you think about it, just logically right, you wouldn't get in your car, and drive if you didn't know how to drive a car, and you wouldn't be sat around planning with your friends, how you could drive more efficiently. If you didn't know how to drive a car, you wouldn't be planning, you know, speedway racing days if you do know how to drive a car. 

But strangely enough, we do this stuff with employee engagement and attraction and things like that without ever stopping literally never to actually say, okay, just before we do anything, how does the human brain actually operate at a very basic level? How are we hardwired, what hasn't changed, we're so focused on the latest tech, the latest trends, what other people are doing, we need this, we need that, that we haven't stopped to realize, actually, our brains, our hardwiring, that has not changed at all, on a very fundamental basic level since we lived in tribes. 

So now what we're facing is a very difficult challenge. We've got an environmental DNA mismatch. Our brains are hardwired, for an environment that no longer exists and will never exist again. And we keep trying to do more sophisticated, bright, shiny things, to try and give the brain what it needs, which is actually very, very simple. And so big, because we're not understanding that we're doing a whole lot of stuff that actually will never work. We're setting ourselves up to fail, hitting our heads against brick walls, and wasting time, effort, energy, and money. And the truth is that once you understand that human operating system piece, it changes the way that you approach everything. So having an understanding that that's step one.

Step two is then now that you realize what the human operating system needs, And I won't keep everybody in suspense, the very, very fundamental basic things that we need are we need a sense of purpose, belonging, and connection. So we were hardwired to live in tribes of 35 to 50 people, united against a shared enemy. That was death, we each had a call roller survival of the tribe. And our brains were hardwired to tell us that if we didn't have a core role, and we didn't fulfill that core role, we didn't have a purpose, we didn't have value, and we would be rejected. And if we were rejected, we would die. 

So we're hardwired to want to contribute, we're hardwired to want to belong, we're hardwired to need that clarity of purpose, that shared mission. And if you look at the world that we live in today, it's just not there. It's not there at all. And so that's why we've got so many social problems, which is well beyond the scope of an organization to deal with. But these are the humans that we're employing. These are the people that we're appealing to, right? 

So once you know that, you know that as an organization that's almost like a superpower. If you now understand that, and you go, wow, okay, we can actually mimic or mirror that environment for people, we can actually give them that sense of clear purpose, we can give them that sense of having a valuable role. And we can give them that sense of connection and belonging that's 100% within your scope of control, as an organism. And so suddenly, now you can kind of address that environmental DNA mismatch. It's going to have profound impacts for you in terms of being able to attract people but also engaging and retaining the performance. So it becomes this massive lever. 

So step one is understanding all of that, then step two is now that we know that we need to actually have a look at what we are actually offering people in terms of those things. Like, do we have a clear purpose for our organization, not just something that we sat in the boardroom, and we came up with, and we think sounds really cool, something that we're actually committed to achieving? It doesn't have to be ending world hunger, it can be very commercial, but you need to have some clarity on what you're actually doing there, and why something that people can get behind. And then how do you package that up into an employee experience? What are you doing within the context of your employee experience that makes you well and gives you the opportunity or the ability to offer people jobs worth applying for?

Because before we can go out and sell anything, right sales and marketing, we've got to know what was selling. So I think that's a very big piece of the puzzle that's often missed is that we, you know, we talk a lot about employment, branding, implement value propositions, and all that kind of stuff. But really, when you actually look at what people are putting together, it's very much like the EVP is a list of benefits, like this insurance, that discount, this pay perk thing day off for your birthday, this much PTO, that's not an EVP that's a list of benefits. 

And if you've got a list of benefits, and your next competitors got a list of benefits, explain to me how either of you is in fact engaging anybody emotionally. How are you standing out, so then you're not, and then it becomes a salary war? And when you find a salary war, you're never gonna get true engagement. You'll get presenteeism, you'll get someone in the job, you'll get them they're doing things, but we're unlocking that last 25% of creativity and innovation, you won't have commitment and loyalty. And you'll have to use carrots and sticks for the remainder of their employment relationship with you just to incentivize them to do certain things that you need them to do. 

So that being step two, right, so number one, step one is the insight around how human beings actually operate and that human operating system. And we do go into some more detail there. There are some other systems, one in particular, that's called the seeking system, that when we flick that switch on, that's actually the switch that turns on employee engagement. And we now move into step. 

So then there's step two, which is understanding what you're actually offering your core purpose, and your jobs worth applying for. And then we work into step three, which is, how do we package all of that value that you've now got this job worth applying for? How do we package that into some messages that actually have cut through, that people resonate with, that people can recognize? Oh, well, yeah, that's what I'm looking for. That's for me. That speaks to me. And that's where we get into that activating the seeking system piece. 

And I explained to people it's a little bit like a light switch. You know, if you walk into a dark room and you're like, Oh, I can't see anything, but you don't know where the light switch is, you're constantly you're looking for torture like, Oh, good. Oh, now I can see that if you actually knew where the light switch was, you just flick it on, and all of a sudden the lights are on. And unfortunately, most people, I mean marketing people as well, but most people in human resources have never ever heard of this thing called the seeking system. And it literally is like a light switch for engagement.

So what you need for that is you need self-expression, purpose, and experimentation. And so there's been a lot of research done in and around how to bring these things to the workplace in different ways in different contexts at different stages of the employee lifecycle, to improve everything from revenue generation to engagement. And the results are pretty compelling. But the traditional talent acquisition process, actually switch is the seeking system off. 

So some people, they'll be engaged by the newness and the novelty of having a new job. And so you do find that generally speaking, people will start, even if your recruitment process has done nothing to turn that switch on, they'll be innately kind of excited by the novelty of the new job. But very, very quickly, after they've started, the employment practices and the management practices will switch that off. And that's where we get to self-sabotage because we're doing stuff inadvertently that we don't realize is actually disengaging people. And then we're having meetings about how we can put engagement initiatives in place, which ultimately are not going to succeed because they're only sticks and carrots. 

So that's the first three parts of the process. And then the fourth part of the process would be, we actually now sit down and map out the talent acquisition experience, like, what is the process that you're going to use? What are the steps? What are the tools? How are we going to communicate with candidates, I've got a little nine-box matrix that I've built, which is the unforgettable methodology. And then the final of the five pillars is the magic that you need to actually keep delivering on with the employee experience. So one of the biggest problems that we have is even if sometimes you do work on the employment brand, and you put something out front that people actually do feel like they connect to, then you don't deliver on it. And that's almost worse than not putting anything out there at all. So, it's five pillars.

James Mackey  17:43  
For sure. So from a talent attraction perspective, it really sounds like you have to have a clear mission, right? You have to have a great value proposition that stands out beyond benefits. And I really liked how you segment benefits from actually, you know, a clear value proposition that you're presenting the candidates, and then it's about, the messaging, I guess, and getting that out there. 

What are the different ways that your clients are getting that out there? So you know, you have a careers page, you have job descriptions? Is there kind of like a script, if you will? I mean, obviously, hiring managers, if you're doing it this way, should know what the mission is inside and out because that's how they were brought on board, hopefully, but maybe not. What are all the ways that you get that message out and bring that kind of consistency into the hiring process?

Meqa Smith  18:34  
So it is, again, a lot like marketing, it's very business specific. So, if you're hiring at a high volume, you're gonna have more channels, and you're gonna have more collateral. If you're not hiring at high volume, you're gonna have fewer of them, you know, and are you doing outbound? Or are you just like advertising, when you have something available like this, all of those things will inform the actual collateral? 

But the key thing that we try and do, is we start by mapping the process, right, before we get clear on what the collateral will be. The messaging is getting clear on what you will be saying in the collateral. The collateral then is okay, how do you package that message into different pieces of collateral, but one of the key things that you've got to be really mindful of in that process is you've got to bring the brand values and the vision to life in some way. So what may be a great piece of collateral for you is not a great piece of collateral for me. 

Let's say I have a very conservative financial planning business. And you know, our values are like hard work, compound interest over time and, you know, honesty at all costs or whatever it might be. The trick there is to now go okay, well say I'll say our vision is that We help retired people to live the same lifestyle that they were living before they retired. And we're very, very straight down the line. 

We're very old schools, you know, status quo traditional. It doesn't make sense for us to now have somebody dressed kind of like I am today on a video on our landing page going, Come on for us, we are so cool and fun. Because that's not in keeping with the brand at all. So we need to really get clear, first of all, what that brand voice is, and what is it that we're offering. Before we decide, Do you need a video? Do you need a landing page? Do you need the microsite? And I would say counterintuitively, less is more, really less is more because it's less difficult to get less, right? So having a centralized place, like maybe a careers page that you can drive people to from wherever they are. 

And also, here are some of the challenges that you're up against. People don't believe in marketing messages. And they're so used to the stuff that they read about jobs, opportunities, careers, everything else to think, quite frankly, not true. You know, if you read the job descriptions or careers pages out there, you're not going to find one single one that says, actually, we really didn't want it to be this way, but we've got a toxic culture. And, you know, our officers, they used to be quite nice, but since COVID, like, they're pretty ratty, and no one comes in anymore. And you know, to be honest, it's hard at the moment. Nobody's saying that. Everyone's like, we are innovative, dynamic, fast-paced, exciting, great offices, locations around the globe. So people don't really believe what you say. So the more honest you can be, the better. And the more real you can be, the better, that, you know, the less edited. But I would say there's no rulebook around what collateral you actually need to have. 

I will say that one of the most powerful pieces of collateral and the biggest missed opportunity is job ads, I beg of you, do not put a job description, as a job ad, I beg of you. Think about the last thing that you bought that came with a user manual. And imagine if all the marketing for that thing was the user manual. Just imagine, like, come on. 

So here's that when we come back to the human operating system piece, it's like, because of that whole thing around where we associate rejection with death, that drives us literally every single day, in every single decision that we make, all the time. Because we want to be accepted, we want to be desired, want to belong, want to be valued, we want other people to look up to us. And when you look around, you can see that behavior everywhere, from Instagram to European cars to fashion to, you know, it's plastic surgery, to whatever, just anything. We're constantly doing it, we're making these decisions to try and make ourselves feel like we can't be rejected because we're too cool. We're too nice, we're too rich, we're too powerful, which is beautiful, whatever it might be. 

So when you now think about the fact that this is what drives people they want to be seen and recognized and valued and all of these things. And they want to make decisions about, you know, do you buy an iPhone? Or do you buy a Google phone? Or do you buy Nikes? Or do you buy Converse? They make all these decisions because each of these things, all these organizations have invested so heavily in creating a brand for that thing, that I can now take those things, and imbue myself with their qualities. So I am making decisions all the time about what to be associated with, based on what I believe I need to show other people to be valued, right?

So we mustn't forget that our jobs, our careers, that's a big part of who we are. It's a massive part of who we are. So when you think about things like, you know, large organizations that are very well known, let's say Coca-Cola, Nike, Apple, all of those kinds of organizations, and then you could also go smaller, but I mean, those will be universally well known. Even though they may have reasonably toxic cultures and even though they may not be very nice places to work, they still have something to offer people. People who believe that working for a big company is a stable job and having a stable job is a smart decision. So they will want to do that because they feel like it reflects well on them. 


Then there'll be the other people that are like I'm not working for those people. They exploit people that are capitalists like I'm gonna go work for Greenpeace or whatever.  But because they believe that, we can see some research came out last year from the Edelman Trust Barometer talking about the rise of the belief-driven employee who is now making career decisions based on personal beliefs and philosophies. So that's the nearest research that I've got to back up what I'm saying, but I believe that the huge opportunity here is to create a brand that stands for something, what does it mean to work for you? Because at the moment, when I look out there, 99.9% of job ads are a set of tasks and responsibilities with a salary. right not to tell me what it tells me about me what I can tell other people about me because I work for you. 


But if you look at the Navy SEALs, like, okay, they're pretty bad. It's a full-on life-threatening kind of job. But they've got people lining up, like training for months just to get into the recruitment process, which is as punishing as all hell. And on the other side, we've got businesses who are like, Okay, we've got to have a seamless, frictionless recruitment process that we can get as many people in the top of the funnel as possible, and then make job offers within 12 hours. And then we've got to do it from home, and we've got to do this. So like, okay, no, that actually isn't the way that human beings operate. But when you don't give them anything else to buy into. That's all they've got. That's all they've got left is how much will you pay me? And how few hours can I work to get the money? But that's never going to truly engage them. So yeah, definitely. You need job ads that actually speak to people in need to tell people something about who they are. Who are you looking for? Why does that work for you? Like, speaking to people emotionally polarises people to be brave, that's the only way you're ever going to get people to love you is if some people don't want to borrow your view.

James Mackey  26:51  
That makes sense. So, I mean, it sounds like the key to talent attraction is really having a compelling mission that people can feel bought into. Because then you're not always playing this game faster, like, we have to figure out ways to get more engagement without just going to the core, as you said, which is having something that people actually want to contribute to and be part of 100%. And if you do that, then it just gets so much easier to attract talent at that point. Like you're not always, you know, falling short with your pipeline and whatnot. Right?

Meqa Smith  27:25  
Exactly right. And you're also not getting people to ghost you. And whenever I run my process, I've never had anybody ghost me. But I've also had people thank me for the opportunity to go through my process and be rejected, which I have literally never experienced previously in any kind of recruitment activity. So yeah, absolutely, that is the key. Because once you've got an emotional connection to the buyer, and once somebody imagines themselves working for your organization, and feeling like that's going to allow them, you know, we talked about the seeking system. So that's going to allow them to be self-expressed. And to have a sense of purpose and a sense of experimentation, then they are now emotionally connected to that in the same way that when you see a new gadget, or new pair of clothes, or shoes or car that you want, and at the moment, it's kind of outside of your reach, but you really want it because it's like, it's just everything too, you can just imagine your life being so much better. You don't suddenly just stop thinking about it. You're like, oh, I can't wait until one day I can afford that thing or you know, next month when I can afford that thing. You know, you imagine your life. 


That's what you want people to be thinking and feeling about working for you. Because when you've got that emotional engagement, suddenly it changes the dynamic completely from a transactional, okay, well, I'm contracted to work from this time to this time, and if I'm not doing this, then you've got to pay me out. And then if I'm doing that, you've got to pay me this. And yeah, so you want me to do that? Yeah, that's not my job description. It's like, your life is so much more difficult than as a management team because you're constantly putting new policies in place and managing them and monitoring them and sticks and characteristics and character, oh, we need a new incentive or new benefit or new thing to get people to do this thing. Because if they actually feel like they want to be involved in what you're doing, then they are intrinsically motivated. I mean, it's psychology, right? It's just how we operate.

James Mackey  29:26  
For sure. So getting into the employee engagement side and making sure that that excitement continues to live. Curious to get your thoughts on how to do that. And then also, for organizations where you're coming into, where maybe they don't have a strong mission. Like maybe they haven't, that hasn't been how they've been hiring and attracting talent, maybe it is more characteristic and, you know, hi, you know, just throwing money at people that kind of stuff. You know, how do you make that transition for companies when you come in? Right? 

I mean, have you found it to be fairly straightforward in terms of formulaic, to turn the company into mission-driven emotional engagement, employee engagement, or I'm assuming highly, maybe highly situational, but how do you go about, like shifting that culture to this strategy? Right?

Meqa Smith  30:19  
Yeah. Okay. So I will say that I believe that there are, in this context, almost three different kinds of businesses. So there's the business that, you know, let's say you've got a visionary founder, who's really mission-driven, and they've got a clear purpose. They are charismatic, and they know how to communicate and how to enroll people, those are the very few. Then you've got the majority, who would be very much mission less, purposeless, even if they do have a mission statement. It's like it could be anyone's right. And they have indistinguishable values, like honesty, integrity, whatever, nothing to set them apart. 


And then you've got the one that they aren't very good at articulating it, they haven't really packaged it up very well. But they've actually been doing a really good job of delivering a great employee experience. They've actually got happy people on their team, and they've got a pretty good value proposition in the market, even if they may not have been super good at packaging it and setting it apart. The people in the middle tend to be the ones that are the most difficult to help, right?


So the ones who are visionary or whatever, maybe they need a little bit of help with structure and that kind of thing. But they've pretty much got what they need, then the ones who are like pretty good, but just you know, they haven't done a super good job of packaging it or bringing it to life, then you work with them on that, but they've got a good intention, and they get it. And it takes them less time to get across it. The ones in the middle. The only way that they are ever going to be able to be helped is if somebody in the C-suite has a light bulb moment. I can't help you, I can't like to come in and go, you've got to see it, you've got to go don't just look at me like, No, I don't because I'm still profitable. And I don't have to do anything about it. So this all sounds like a lot of hard work that I don't need to do. So unless somebody in the C suite sees it and goes, Oh, man, we are leaving so much money on the table. And we're making our lives so much more difficult than they have to be. Man, this makes so much sense. Let's do it, then, of course, we just work through the steps. And of course, it's not, it's not very, it's not easy, but as simple.

James Mackey  32:48  
So for that middle group right there where it's like, people that don't have a strong mission? And really, maybe at first, they don't see the value. Do you have any success converting that way of thinking to yours? Or? I mean, to some extent, right, like people need to be bought and right. Sometimes, educating can work. For Me, at least in my industry, for what we do. Sometimes it works, but a lot of the time like people have to be open to it. And if they're not, my expectation is like, Look, if you're coming to us, as you know the experts, then you need to let us guide the strategy, right? Yeah. And if you're not going to, your point out is the right fit for us.

Meqa Smith  33:29  
No, that's right. To be honest, I've never tried to convince anybody. The only people I've worked with seem to be on the edges, you know, as the two that I explained before. And that's probably because it is a lot of work to do what I'm suggesting, and particularly for that middle cohort. So I would say possibly, maybe one day in the future, if the pain gets enough for those people, and they come across me, they may be prepared to do something about it. But I have fired people, clients, who have come on board and said, you know, they would be in the middle, they'd be in that category. And then they would say that they wanted what I was offering. But then it became very clear quite soon after we initially engaged that, in fact, I had no intention of engaging, but they just wanted all of the stuff to make it look like they wanted the results, but they didn't want to do the work. So yeah, they weren't clients.

James Mackey  34:24  
They were just looking for some kind of cookie-cutter content, or branding, without actually having anything behind that facade, is that accurate?

Meqa Smith  34:38  
Similar, I mean, it wasn't so much about the brand as the people they wanted to hire, great people. They wanted to engage people and it was a professional services firm, yet, there was literally nothing that they could show me or tell me that would make me believe that I would want any part in helping them to hire an engaged person or a great person because they were going to be treated better. Sadly and undervalued. And yeah, I just refuse to participate in that. 


None of this work is about dressing something up to be something that it's not. It's almost the opposite. It's about allowing yourself to be really honest about who you are and what you are as an organization. I think that is probably a really misunderstood aspect of the whole branding and sales process, particularly when it comes to jobs. People would so far rather know the truth they'd so far other than know, like, look, this is what we're great at. But actually, we're not really that great at this. We're working on it. But we're not there yet. Because psychologically, we all know, nothing's perfect, right? 


So I often use analogies like recruitment and dating, which is not my own unique take on it. People talk about it all the time. But if you meet somebody who's constantly like, Hi, yes, I am in a great mood, and I am wonderful. And I cook and I clean, and I work and yeah, I'm just the perfect person. Yeah, you instantly know that's not true. So now the fact that they're presenting that to you makes you distrust them. Alright, so this process happens within the context of employment. And it's quite funny, actually, because you've got so the organizations are doing it. Wonderful. And the candidates are doing it as well. So everyone's putting their fake best foot forward, doing their absolute best to edit out what they don't want to be seen or heard, or understood. They're treated in another really adversarial way. Like, I'm going to see what I can get from you and how little I can give you and how much I can almost con you into believing that I'm something that I'm not. And then once the agreement is signed, we're amazed that things aren't the way that we both thought they were whilst each party actually knows that they're being disingenuous.

James Mackey  37:00  
You're right, that's a huge problem within talent acquisition, and just how companies are run in general, and in just building teams, right? I think one of the things that are really important for leaders to understand too, is that you do want to talk about the challenges that the company is having because you want to hire people that are passionate about helping you solve them. And it's been my experience, I mean, call it transparency, vulnerability, whatever you want to call it. But the reality is that when you're transparent with, okay, this is the stuff that we're crushing, this is the stuff that we are prioritizing, but are still learning about, here's some stuff that like, you know, maybe can do some work, we're not making it really a priority right now. But we think, you know, 12 months in the roadmap like that's going to be something that we can roll out or do. 


Those types of things are incredibly important because it's just been my experience that there are plenty of people out there that want to help solve that problem. And you want people that are passionate about that. That's part of the mission. Maybe it's like a submission if you will, but it's like you're getting into, okay, we have this overarching mission, like, here are some of the tactical things we need to do over the next few quarters in order to continue to achieve that overall mission or move toward that. And yeah, a lot of people I think just think, Oh if I'm vulnerable, if I'm transparent, you know, nobody's gonna want this right? And that just couldn't be further from the truth. For a lot of people, it's counterintuitive. 


And I think there actually is a parallel to dating too, right? I mean,  it's like this whole concept of putting up a facade, like if people just seem to be really, really good at that, I don't know why I use that word twice on this call. But anyways, it's just like, people put up this front, right? And you have to, I think part of what makes a good leader to an interviewer is being able to break that down. And the way that you break that down is you have to first do it. Like, you have to first be the one to just open up and to share with people like, Hey, this is what we're looking for, this is what we're getting better at. And when you share that level of transparency with people, and you don't pretend to be perfect, or all-knowing or whatever, like it's, first of all, it's more relatable. People like it more. 


And then you can start working on like, hey, is this actually a good fit, like, let's work together to see if this is a good fit for both of us. And, you know, here's the other cool thing about doing that, like, so we do this in the final round interview. It's your vision. And literally, it's just me saying, look, the goal by the end of this call is for both of us to have a good pulse on if this is the right fit. And we can share feedback directly with each other. Right on the call. So when I do it this way, many times by the end of the final round interview, I'm sharing that I already know what I already have the notes from the previous interviews. I've asked a couple of questions. They've asked me a tonne of questions. They asked me more questions than I asked them. And, we're just transparent and I'm transparent first and I open up, and then they do we get to know each other, and then we just have an honest conversation like does this make sense for both of us? Yeah, absolutely. And

Meqa Smith  40:00  
Of course, that's what you should be doing. Because you don't want to make a commitment to hire somebody and bring them into the team. Because it impacts the whole team. If they aren't actually wanting to be there. There's so much you can work on when somebody wants to be there. But they may not be where you want them to be in certain areas or aspects if they're open about that and if they've got a level of self-awareness about that. But here's the I mean, I love everything that you just said. But here's the other thing is that if we're starting to do that in the job ad, and we're using a human voice, I said last week at this conference, I'm like, can anyone please explain to me who it is that actually speaks the way those job ads are written? Because I don't know that person?

James Mackey  40:42  
But you want to?

Meqa Smith  40:45  
No, but I mean, nobody knows that person. So we are out in the world, like having been on this podcast, you know, going on Instagram, going on Tik Tok, going on Facebook, going out to the shops that, you know, wherever we're going, we're consumers or customers, we're getting marketed to all the time. So, you know, there's all this stuff coming at us, we're talking to each other. And then when we go look for a job, it's like an alternative universe where we've suddenly been transported back in time, like 25 years, where the experience is clunky and awful. It's very one way, it's completely master-slave and the mentality, it's like you will bring 15 years experience, seven degrees, you know, complete loyalty, commitment, dedication, communication skills, blah, blah, blah, like all the stuff that you will have to do, and we pay. Yes, that's correct. Apply here. And then they're amazed that they're not inundated by applications, you know. So I think we've got a long way to go just in terms of the style, the approach, the tone of the way that we advertise jobs. But of course, that only steps one in the process. 


One of the biggest challenges we've got is this disembodied thinking between talent acquisition, and then engagement, and performance, it's like the one that actually links into the other. If we don't do talent acquisition, right, we've, we've really, really caught our noses off to spite our face, because sometimes it's going to be impossible to engage and retain that person. Other times, it's just going to be harder. So see it as the gateway to performance, and then understand what you need to do differently to improve performance.

James Mackey  42:26  
One other just kind of side note, for listeners, I know we're coming up on time, too. Benefits can be correlated to a value proposition, they just can't be used in place of one. So for instance, if one of your core values is diversity, equity, and inclusion, right? You could have certain benefits and flexibility baked into your benefits plan that helped create inclusive environments, like certain remote policies, and certain childcare services and things like that. So people that may not have otherwise been able to take advantage of the opportunity, have access to it. 

Another example would be like minimum PTO, right, or just any kind of like, the thing that's valued, you know, in terms of for people that value, flexibility, they value being able to integrate their professional life with their personal life really well, those that can be weaved into your mission, but you can't just have a benefits list. Like you cannot and can leverage that people-first culture concept into your mission. It's just what you're saying, you have to tell the story that you can't just put that stuff out there and expect people to connect the dots when they don't know you.

Meqa Smith  43:41  
100%, the thing you want to be doing is you want to be working top down right from that sort of mission or vision, however, you describe its purpose, different people have different ways of explaining it. But whatever it is that you exist to do or achieve, you then have to underpin that bias and distinguish values. And a good litmus test is if you've got them on your list, but so does everyone else in your industry, you have to take them off your list, you need to have three to five distinct values that you can operationalize every single day. It's no use putting things like ethical integrity, honesty, whatever, like, that's kind of table stakes. Like we assume that we need to be operating that way we need the things that make us distinct. And don't you don't have to go overboard here, get really, really clear on what that looks like how do you do that thing, make it into a verb, so that people know that in the pursuit of this mission, we do things this way, which then will help you to attract the people that want to do things that way and identify as that kind of person you know, and then as you say, you now say Oh, and because we have this mission and these values, we actually have these benefits or this work structure or whatever like it has to make sense. This then enables The next thing and it hangs together so that you're not just trying to bang together as I saw in an HR group the other day, somebody had seven pages of bullet-pointed benefits.

James Mackey  45:12  
No one's gonna read all that. 

Meqa Smith  45:15  
No. And if you're relying on seven pages of a bullet point of benefits to get people in, you've got a major problem, right?

James Mackey  45:21  
I mean, I like the idea of personalization of benefits. Like, I think that that's a cool concept of the company in general. Can I mean usually, when you see that many, like, it can be you know, if it's like that many benefits and whatnot, like, hopefully, it's something where people can pick and choose, right? Some ways that that, but yeah, I mean, that's like way too much to be putting out there in the world. So yeah, I completely agree with you. And well, this is, by the way, this has been like a total masterclass on employee engagement and branding and mission, being a mission-driven organization.


I feel like you've really broken down. So many of the steps that everyone from founders, CEOs, to talent advisors, leaders to people, leaders can implement, you talk high-level strategy you got into tactics. So I'm just incredibly grateful for you sharing this insight. I've learned a lot. And there are already some things that I'm thinking about, like, Okay, I want to go back and implement in my own company. So I'm really packed with value. So we are coming up on time, but I just wanted to say thank you so much for contributing and sharing your knowledge. And I'd love to have you back on the show if you're open to it.

Meqa Smith  46:25  
That's my absolute pleasure. And I would love to. Thank you.

James Mackey  46:28  
And hey, real quick before we jump off, where can people find you online? If they want to follow you, engage with your company. What's the best way to do so?

Meqa Smith  46:34  
Okay, well, the website is But there's probably not too much info on there for you. I pretty much live on LinkedIn. So if you want to look me up there, it's msmeqa. But if everybody's kind of, well, if you're inspired by what we've just talked about today, and you wonder how you kind of measure up, I've actually got a free scorecard you can do online, which will give you some practical pointers based on what your situation is about how you can move forward. And I'll give you the link to pop into the show notes to that.

James Mackey  47:14  
I love it. I love it. Well, thank you again for joining us today. And for everybody else tuning in, thank you and we'll see you next time. Take care. 

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