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EPISODE 79: Speaker, author and former human resources executive Roxi Hewertson discusses challenges that employers are facing as a result of the ongoing "war on talent."



[00:00:09] JL: Welcome to today's edition of DHG's GrowthCast. I'm your host, John Locke, and at DHG, our strength lies in our technical knowledge, our industry intelligence and our future focus. We understand business needs and are laser-focused on company goals. In this ever-changing world, DHG's GrowthCast provides insights and thought-provoking conversations on topics and trends that address growth opportunities and challenges in the current and future marketplace. Thanks for joining us as we discuss tomorrow's needs today.

[00:00:42] ANNOUNCER: Views and concepts expressed by today's panelists are their own and not those of Dickson Hughes Goodman LLP. Always consult the advice of your legal and financial professional before taking any action.


[00:00:58] JL:Today, we address one of the biggest issues facing businesses of all sizes and industries, hiring. COVID-19 has launched an era many are calling the great resignation. However, the reality is that highly qualified people are looking for work, yet many organizations have yet to really recognize the need to retool to be able to initially attract and then retain good people. Joining me today to discuss this topic is Roxi Hewertson. Roxy is an experienced consultant, leadership professional, executive coach, and author. And Roxi has recently published Hire Right, Fire Right, a book providing practical tips for organizations to rethink and retool their approach to acquiring and retaining talent.

Roxi, welcome to GrowthCast.

[00:01:46] RH: Oh, thanks for having me, John. I'm excited to be here with you today.

[00:01:50] JL: Well, I'm excited to have you as well. And let's just dive right into this. There's so much richness in your book, and so many great tips. I don't want our listeners to miss any of this. So let's just get to the heart of the topic. I've heard you say that hiring right is an absolute business imperative. So why do you feel so strongly about the need for business leaders to pay more attention to their employee hiring and retention strategy?

[00:02:18] RH: Well, John, it's really pretty basic why I believe this and why I know it's true. Nationally, are on happy average of hire failures is at least 50%. Now, people might have less than that, more than that. But that's the national average. And it's been that way for quite some time, which means that we're screwing up too often. And with the cost of what it takes to bring on talent, integrate them into the organization, get them productive, and retain them.

If they turn around and leave or they're the wrong hire, and you have to fire them, this is a huge return on investment loss. And all I can say is if you're an owner of a business, or you're working in a business, where you care about your budget, if any other part of your business was failing at that rate, whether it's 10%, 20%, 30 or more, you would make it a top priority. It would not be sitting in the back room somewhere hoping somebody will fix it. You would get right on it. And that's what needs to happen here. We need to change the way we look at hiring.

[00:03:38] JL: I think that's such a great perspective. And also noting that when you hear people talk about their business, what's usually their biggest cost of their business?

[00:03:46] RH: People.

[00:03:47] JL: Well, right. Yeah. And so 50% is a huge number.

[00:03:53] RH: It is.

[00:03:53] JL: So let's kind of go a little bit further here. We have just gone through this incredibly unique time of life. This pandemic has changed the way many of us do a lot of the things that we just took for granted, and hiring, and interviewing, all of that is in that category. So when you look at what's happening today, what do you think is the biggest difference between what's going on today and, let's say, 20 years ago, other than just the obvious, we're in this virtual world?

[00:04:27] RH: Well, yeah, we are in a virtual world. I think one of the silver linings that's different today than was different before is we're having to pay more attention to this topic finally. And people are starting to get nervous about it and/or have been nervous about it for some time. And I don't think that in the near or even close distant future, I don't think that's going to change.

So in 2001, what was going on? Well, people stayed in their jobs longer. People were more loyal to their employers. Well, technology has exploded. What's going on and what people can and can't do anymore because of technology, it has changed. And it's changed how people look at their jobs. It's certainly changed the loyalty factor. And people, especially people in the big growth of their profession age group right now. And I don't want to label them. They're from 20 to 50, right? Lots of places within there. There's much more emphasis on culture. What's it like to work for you? What's it like to work here? What are my opportunities? And people did care about that 20 years ago, but the emphasis is really huge now, because people move. They don't stay in the jobs.

What is still the same though, and I wanted to add this, is people still leave their leaders and their companies more than they leave the job they're in. And they leave because of the people. They don't leave necessarily because of the job. So that's something. The need for connection and the need for feeling like I belong here is growing. I think the pandemic has just made that more clear.

[00:06:24] JL: So you talk about connection, and the word that comes to me is relationships. And I know in your articles, and in the book, you talk a lot about relationships. So how do we create with prospective employees and candidates a relationship without ever seeing them or them seeing us?

[00:06:46] RH: You raised a really good point, because I start out in the book talking about – And all of my work with my clients, talking about this people connection. And I'm not just talking about woowoo stuff. I'm talking about relation – Hiring is relational, not transactional. And too often, we treat it as a transaction. Okay, candidate A, candidate B, candidate C. Checkbox. Checkbox. Don't check box. It becomes a transaction. Well, when people feel like they're being treated like a transaction, they're not going to be interested. And it's as simple as that.

We need connection. We need to feel like it's a fit for us. This is a huge human need, a fundamental belonging need that happens for everyone. Now, can you work without feeling that? Yeah, but you won't stay. You won't stay. I mean, you might come, but you won't stay. And I don't know how to say this more emphatically. We say people are our greatest asset at work. They're our greatest expense, and they're our greatest asset. But we don't treat them that way too often.

From the moment of recruiting, even posting a job, sending the job out there. What's the tone? How are you building a relationship even through just a black and white page on a on a computer? What are you doing to be welcoming to be inclusive to pique a candidate's curiosity? So there's just a lot that can be done right from the start. And the relationship starts, John, the minute you put that job out there to the world.

[00:08:34] JL: And you bring up such a good point, because it's a different world when it comes to people making connections with organizations because of just the incredible access that people now have the information about a corporation. And with that, we're creating impressions, I think early on. And our prospects and prospective candidates are trying to do research on the company. So why is it important to recognize what the potential applicant is looking for in an opportunity?

[00:09:07] RH: Well, I'm going to turn that around a little bit and ask you to think about considering who's your avatar? Who do you want to come work for you? And then think about what does that person – Where might that person come from? What might they have been doing? What are the qualities and characteristics of the avatar, the ideal employee for this job?

And then think about how are you expressing yourself out there in the world? What's your website look like? How did you word your recruitment materials? How did you word the job description? What's your reputation in the community? Because really good candidates have every means at their disposal to research you and your business.

[00:10:01] JL: Yeah, that's almost a little scary, isn't it?

[00:10:04] RH: Yeah. But it's true.

[00:10:06] JL: You can't hide a lot of things in today's environment.

[00:10:07] RH: You can't hide. No.

[00:10:09] JL: One of the things that is intriguing to me, I'm hearing a term often pop up and talking to a lot of talent acquisition professionals and HR people, is this term ghost hires. And I'm just intrigued by this and what's happening here. So what's the meaning of this term? And what can leaders do to minimize the occurrence of a ghost hire?

[00:10:31] RH: Ah, great question. Ghost hires are happening far more frequently. And what they are is people agree to a job. They say they're coming, and they never show up.

[00:10:41] JL: Never.

[00:10:42] RH: Never.

[00:10:42] JL: They don't even –

[00:10:44] RH: No. They never show up.

[00:10:44] JL: Not even day one?

[00:10:45] RH: No. Not even day one. The ones who show up on day one, and then leave, I call them show and go. Show and go people actually show up. They don't like what they see. Or just what they were sold was not what they're getting. I mean, I've seen this, where people think they're coming in for job A, and they're not. They get shoveled off into a corner.

I remember when I was working for others, three times in my career, I've walked into a job without an office. And yet I was supposed to be doing work. I mean, the physical office was not there. I had to build it. I had to build three of them. Why I stayed? I guess – I don't know. It was then and not now. So yes, the rate of ghost hires is escalating. The rate of show and go is even more, because people come and they might have had two or three offers. And if they don't like you, they're out of there.

[00:11:51] JL: Wow! So what's an employer to do? How can we reduce that probability?

[00:11:58] RH: You reduce that probability by hiring right in the first place. And that's a big deal, and people aren't doing it. So you need to hire right in the first place. You need to know your avatar there. I mean, there are lots of things to consider setting up there. I have a whole process, which is too long for me to go into right now, but a whole process to set you up for success in getting the right hire. And then you need to build that relationship from day one, contact, however that happens, and that interpersonal relationship and helping that candidate understand whether this is going to be a fit for them and help you understand whether it's going to be a fit for you. And on the whole onboarding process, which about, I would say 75% of companies do a really crappy job. It's probably even higher than that.

[00:12:52] JL: Yeah. I think we all have our worst stories probably around either our own onboarding experience or hearing others that are just like, “You got to be kidding me.”

[00:13:04] RH: Yeah. You heard about – I just told you about my onboarding. Oh, yeah. Here's the job. Build your office. I don't think so. That's not really a welcoming atmosphere. So yeah, the hiring right and onboarding right are key to retention of good people.

My definition of a good hire is that it lasts at least 18 months, and that person is doing what you asked them to do. They're highly productive, and they're engaged. And the opposite is also true, that they leave before 18 months.

[00:13:40] JL: Well, I know we don't have time to go into all of the best practices around onboarding. But could you just share a few for our listeners so that they could at least start thinking about internally what they aren't doing well, and maybe what they could do better?

[00:13:53] RH: Sure. I break this into several sections in my book, and one of the beginning is pre-boarding, all the stuff that you can do before they even land on their job, before the day one that they start in their job. And that's a lot of the bureaucratic administrivia stuff that can be done in pre-boarding. But it's also relationship building and connecting people and setting them up to succeed as they're getting ready to come on to the job. Everything you can do that doesn't violate confidentiality or get people in a situation where they're working but they're not being paid. None of that. I have a whole checklist for pre-boarding activities.

And then week one is critical. If you don't want to show and go, that first week, their first day, their first week is critical. How are you engaging them and introducing them around the company? I mean, I remember one of the best thing that ever happened is I was working at Cornell and I got a campus tour of what our organization took care of, and met tons of people, and really got a feeling for how complex this was and how interesting it was. I mean, I spent two full days wandering around campus with my utilities tour guide. It was wonderful. And do we do that? No. People don't do that. They might introduce you to the guy down the hall, or the gal across the street, or here's your HR sign person and benefits person. We don't spend the time in week one, day one, week one.

And then I would say no onboarding program should be less than six months. Preferably 12 or more. And that's all about getting people to stay on board. So I suggest a buddy system. I suggest having check-ins, feedback opportunities. Really listen to people. Find out what's going on. What would they do differently for somebody coming onboard? Learn from the new hires, and so on and so on. There's just a lot to be done. But it should be a process that's embedded in your whole retention strategy.

[00:16:02] JL: Well, there're some things for our listeners to think about and compared to what they're doing right now, just the concept of pre-boarding. I mean, I'm hearing more and more of how important that is in developing relationships and having stakeholders really engage, again, properly. Not to cause people to have to do work. So that when they get there that first day, they already feel like they've got a family. They've got people that –

[00:16:28] RH: And they belong. Yes. Yes.

[00:16:29] JL: And they belong. The big B word, right?

[00:16:32] RH: The big B word.

[00:16:33] JL: Yeah. So, yeah, there's a lot more meat in the book on that. But let's go to this other area that I think that you've done a great job and kind of highlighting in some factors, really, in the book, about really how we evaluate candidates. Can you just run us through a very high-level description of some of these top eight characteristics that you find are critical that we need to pay even more attention to?

[00:17:03] RH: Sure. John, I've hired a lot of people. And I've been in this business for a really long time. And what's really clear to me is that it's still old school how much experience, how much education does somebody have. That's just the tip of the iceberg. You're hiring an entire human being. You're not hiring – It's not a transaction, and you're not hiring stuff. You're hiring a person. So here they are. It's really easy to remember. I'll go through them really quickly. I'm not even going to explain them all together. What I do want you to think about how much emotional intelligence plays into many of these. And I have emotional intelligence even separately.

So it's A through H, eight factors. Attitude, brains, that's the one that everybody pays attention to, which includes experience and knowledge. KSA is now knowledge, skills and abilities. People pay a lot of attention to that. Great. I mean, you need to. No question. But what people often don't pay attention to his character, drive, the whole spectrum of emotional intelligence, which I could talk all day about, fit. And when I say fit, I'm not talking about did they look like you? Do they sound like you? Fit is about is this person interested in the same things in terms of results, in terms of value added that you are, and how you want to get there? Your mission, your vision, your values. That's what I mean by fit.

Gut, this is your gut, not the candidates. What's your gut instinct? Pay attention to it, but don't pay 100% attention to it, because gut can be very biased as well. And then heart. What kind of a person are you hiring? Who is this person? I'll just tell you a quick story about that one. I had this guy who is applying for job to be our contract lawyer from gazillions of dollars of contracts. And half the team liked him and half the interviewers liked him, but the search team interviewers didn't. And I was the hiring leader.

And after three days of being with this guy, I sat down with him on his last interview, and I said, “You know, I just don't know who you are. I don't know who you are, after all this time and all the conversations we've had.” And he went on to tell me that he was the best candidate I could possibly find. And he had real opportunity to talk about what he'd learned from us, all kinds of things. And what was really clear is that this guy, soul and person, was just not going to show up. He wasn't going to be a team player. He wasn't going to be any of those things. He had all the technical skills. He had all the experience. He had all kinds of drive. But he had no heart. So we didn't hire him. Yeah. We didn't hire him. We took another three months, honestly, to hire somebody else who was perfect for the job.

[00:20:27] JL: Yeah. Boy, that's great. Eight factors, A through H. Fairly easy to remember. So important. And never to forget. And sometimes the speed and urgency we have to fill positions, because sometimes we run past that.

[00:20:43] RH: But I give lots of examples in the book of how you can measure that. And you can do it pretty quickly if you plan ahead.

[00:20:51] JL: Oh, my gosh. Well, Roxi, this has been fantastic. And I so appreciate you spending time with us today. And I know we've only scratched the surface on hiring and retention, the challenges facing us today. But hopefully folks can get the book and dive into it. And I believe that if they run into some issues that you actually do provide some consulting services as well, right? You are a consultant as well as a mother.

[00:21:17] RH: I do. And I would love to be able to help business owners and others who are leaders in their field or really trying to work in a team to help figure this out so that they're not wasting time, not wasting money, and not having to start all over. Because that's really painful and really costly.

[00:21:38] JL: Yeah, I'm sure. And the website where they can read about you and contact you is?

[00:21:46] RH: Well, the short one is Ask Roxi, that's Roxi with an I, .com.

[00:21:51] JL: Oh, that's right. Yeah, you have a couple different websites.

[00:21:54] RH: Well, they're all in the same now. I have two domain names, but they all go to the same place. My company is And you can go to

John, thank you so much for having this conversation with me today. I hope it helps your listeners. And I hope to talk to you again soon.

[00:22:15] JL: Well, yes. Again, thank you, Roxi Thank you, our listeners, for tuning into today's GrowthCast episode with Roxy Hewertson, author of the book Hire Right, Fire Right, which is available today on So go out and get a copy.

[00:22:31] RH: And then write a review.

[00:22:33] JL: Hey, and write a review. Yeah, I love that. That's right.

[00:22:34] RH: Yeah, and write a review. I'd love to hear from you.

[00:22:37] JL: Yeah. And I'm your host, John Locke, and I look forward to reconnecting with you soon on another episode of DHG GrowthCast. And until then, be sure to rate, review and subscribe to DHG GrowthCast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or PodBean.

End of Episode

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