This is a little bit of a triple threat coming to us from AMS. We’ve got Bill Cleary, Jeanette Leads, and Jonathan Kestenbaum, with a few interesting topics. They discuss issues like “do we build or do we buy?” and the problem with rigid work cultures that refuse to change. We sat down with these three and get to the bottom of company adaptability.

There’s a threshold where you no longer want to outsource a particular aspect of your organization to a third party, and would rather have a full time expert employed to do so. But how do you know when your company is ready to make that transition?

Do you have a work culture that actually allows change? To understand the problem, you need to first understand the problem, but you also need to have the openness among your organization to adapt. Engraining the same bad habits into your culture and expecting positive results is the definition of insanity, and we’re better than that.

If your organization doesn’t get the results you’re looking for, you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. 

Our Guests on Company Adaptability

“As companies go to the market to either buy technology or build a process internally, it’s super important to understand how meaningfully those two things have to connect together to get the outcomes you need.” -Jonathan Kestenbaum

“I think we can get strategy insights by companies talking to their peers. We can also get strategy insights by bringing in outside experts. They’re two different perspectives, and they’re both very valuable as you’re evaluating your overall path forward to craft your strategy, align it to objectives, et cetera.” -Bill Cleary

“Can your organization change? Do you have the culture that embraces doing things differently? And if not, then you might really need that outside help to push that. Change is hard, but change is key.” -Jeanette Leeds

For all other Sourcing School podcasts, check out here.

This HR Tech 2022 series is sponsored and made possible by our friends at Gem

Jonathan Kestenbaum, Jeanette Leeds, and Bill Cleary
AMS Follow

Introduction  (00:05):
School is in session. This is Recruiting Daily Sourcing School podcast. We’re recording from HR Tech in Vegas, thanks to our friends and partners at Gem. Sharpen your pencils and get your sourcing pants on because we have the scoop on sourcing news, recruiting tech, and all the hot topics that you need to learn about. Here’s your professor, Ryan Leary with special guests, Shally Steckerl and Mike “Batman” Cohen.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (00:31):
All right, welcome back. Here we are again with another episode of Sourcing School, brought to you live at HR Tech. Really excited actually, had a really great conversation with our next guests. That’s right. This is a little bit of a triple threat coming to us from AMS. We’ve got Bill, we’ve got Jeanette, We’ve got Jonathan. I’m going to let them introduce themselves because they’ll do themselves better justice than I will. And we’ve got a really interesting topic. This is going to be a conversation talking about do we build or do we buy? But we’re going to talk about thought leadership. So we’re going to approach this in a brand new way. So why don’t we kick this off? Hey. Hey Bill, why don’t you introduce yourself first?

Bill Cleary (01:10):
Thanks. Thanks, Batman. Bill Cleary, I’m the advisory leader for the Americas for AMS, helping our clients as they transform talent acquisition across all the different facets, and excited about the conversation about buy versus build.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (01:24):
I love that. And where are you from?

Bill Cleary (01:26):

Mike “Batman” Cohen (01:27):
Philadelphia. So the greater northeast area. Oh, that’s excellent. That’s really coincidental. Awesome. Jeanette?

Jeanette Leeds (01:34):
Hello. Great to be here. So I head up Hourly. I’m the managing director for Hourly technology at AMS. So we’re doing all sorts of fun stuff to optimize and engage our labor force for our customers.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (01:48):
I love that. And Janette, where are you from?

Jeanette Leeds (01:51):
Well, as I was saying earlier, I’m the Jersey girl living in New York.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (01:54):
The greater Northeast area.

Jeanette Leeds (01:56):

Mike “Batman” Cohen (01:57):
Okay. That’s really weird. And last certainly not least, Jonathan.

Jonathan Kestenbaum (02:01):
Hey everybody, great to be here today. Thanks for having me. I’m John Kestenbaum, I’m the managing director of tech strategy and partners at AMS. And I’m mostly out in the market trying to understand the evolving tech landscape so that we could advise our clients on what technology is best for them.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (02:20):
Awesome. I love that. And obviously the trend, if y’all are listening to this and know AMS, is this idea of advisorship and really educating companies and enabling them to make the best decisions for themselves as opposed to taking things necessarily over for them. So to that point, and we discussed this beforehand, and this was a topic that I’ve never heard talked about. So part of this is actually just me being selfish because I want to know about this, but also I think you guys will like this.

The idea of build versus buy, right? We talk about this all the time. I’m sure you guys discuss this with clients. Do you build out your … Oh. Oh, that’s good. That’s good. My headphones connected. Hey, when you’re doing video editing, if you could cut this shit, that’d be really great. Really great. Ryan made me use these headphones [inaudible 00:03:10] my own fault. Okay, cool. Thank you. Thanks, guys. And we are almost live. Okay, there we go. Okay, cool. Video editing, you can kick back in here.

All right, so we talk about buy versus build all the time. You hear people say like, I’m going to build my own ATS, which by the way don’t do that. And there’s that conversation about where the investment goes and what the value add is from doing something all internal versus going out to somebody who may be a little bit of a market leader who has more experience. We don’t hear the topic though about industry thought leadership. And it’s interesting because is it really this idea of build versus buy? No, it is buy versus hire.

When does it make sense for companies? And this is what I want to dig into with you guys, because a triple threat, when does it make sense for companies to hire somebody who’s an expert in X, Y, Z? Right? Whether that’s transformation, whether that’s working with hourly employees, whether that’s technology and growth. And when does it make more sense for a company to reach out to an organization or a group of people who specialize in that and have a wider breadth? So I want to break this down into bite size chunks. So I’m going to start, whoever wants to jump in on this first can do that. We’re all from New York, so you don’t mind talking over others, which is great. So the first one is, when a company is looking to implement a process or a piece of technology, what would you say their first step is? Not necessarily deciding buy or build, but understanding their problem more of how to attack that. So John, why don’t we start with you?

Jonathan Kestenbaum (04:50):
Awesome. Yeah, so I’ve had the unfortunate privilege of demoing thousands of talent acquisition technology tools over the last eight years. And if I’ve learned anything in that process, it’s that the technology’s only as good as the people and processes you build around it. And so as companies go to the market to either buy technology or build a process internally, it’s super important to understand how meaningfully those two things have to connect together to get the outcomes you need.

And I can tell you that every tech vendor will tell you that they either have a feature, it’s on their roadmap, they’re the best, the greatest to only the first. And similarly, service providers will tell you that they can work with any tech vendor. But it’s really important to understand that unique processes need to be built on unique technologies. And that these technologies, when not optimized, cannot perform the outcomes they need.

And so, one of the things that I think makes AMS special is our deep understanding and our ability to connect those two together. And when a company goes to the market, you think about building or buying, it’s important to work with someone who deeply understands the connections between people, process, technology.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (06:10):
Yeah. I love that idea of really analyzing and assessing ahead of time, that idea of [inaudible 00:06:17] cut once. Right?

Jonathan Kestenbaum (06:18):
A hundred percent. And I think just to go back to the homework assignment, which was the question, I was just trying to give some background, you have to have a business problem first. You can’t listen to the problems that you think that a solution provider or a technology can solve. You have to have a business problem first and then use that business problem to create a business case for a solution, be it an outsourced services provider or a piece of technology.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (06:50):
John, are you telling me that there’s no silver bullet on how to do this?

Jonathan Kestenbaum (06:54):
Absolutely not.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (06:55):
I am so confused. Bill, don’t why don’t jump in here for a sec.

Bill Cleary (06:58):
Yeah, and I think I agree with everything Jonathan said. And then step two, typically we start talking about a strategy. How does that strategy then align to fixing your business problem? And then how does that buy, build decision support that strategy, right? And then what is that strategy going to drive you towards? So I think the strategy is really the next piece. Right? I think we can get strategy insights by companies talking to their peers. We can get strategy insights by bringing in outside experts. I think they’re two different perspectives and I think they’re both very valuable as you’re evaluating your overall path forward to then really craft that strategy, align it to objectives, et cetera, et cetera.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (07:41):
Okay, so if I’m putting the pieces together here, this is assess first the business problem in the areas and then assess what the best path to a solution is. Not the best solution, but the best path to figure out, hey, do we think we can do all this internally? Which by the way, if you’re listening to this, it’s that old adage of what got you here is probably not going to get you to where you want to be. So throwing that out there if you’re listening.

And then the next piece obviously is how do you decide between the hiring somebody versus going to an expert in the market? And we had talked about, right, John, which you had brought up, if you listen to a vendor, they’re going to sell you on the idea that they are the perfect hammer and everything is a perfect nail. And that may or may not solve your problems. I imagine bringing in an external person to hire unfortunately is going to come with biases and skewed perspectives. And you’re going to hear a lot of, well, at X, Y, Z company, this is how we blah blah blah.

And so it’s going to be a little bit still of that tech vendor piece where they don’t have an invested interest in selling X,Y,Z, but that’s also what they know versus hiring a firm that maybe specializes in something at a broad range and a broad level of experience. So Janette, we haven’t heard from you yet. When thinking through when companies would consider, do we just hire somebody who’s an expert in this thing or do we actually seek a company who’s expertise is this thing, what goes through company’s minds? What are you seeing in your guys’ clients?

Jeanette Leeds (09:19):
Yeah, it is a great question. I think one of the biggest pieces we haven’t touched on, but it’s related to answering this question is around being open to doing things differently. And I think that is really key in the market that we’re in, right?

Mike “Batman” Cohen (09:35):
Yeah. I think a lot of companies say like, Oh yeah, we want to do that, right? I’m sure you hear that, but what do you see after that?

Jeanette Leeds (09:42):
And it’s interesting to say, okay, we want to optimize or do things faster and they’re like, no, no, no, but we need to do something. Ask a hundred questions to [inaudible 00:09:52] That’s not candidate [inaudible 00:09:56] that’s not going to win things right now. So you have to really take that step back and think about, okay, one, what’s that business’ problem? Two, what’s that strategy? But how am I going to execute and really get there and fully embrace that? Right? And so I think looking at your own organization, can your organization do that change? And do you have that culture that embraces change in doing things differently? And if not, then you might really need that outside help to help push that change, because change is hard, but change is key.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (10:28):
It’s uncomfortable for sure.

Jeanette Leeds (10:29):
So I think there’s something there to think about that. What’s your culture of your company?

Jonathan Kestenbaum (10:33):
I have a couple interesting anecdotes that we could use that I think highlight some of what we’re discussing, and some of this comes from my own failures that I’ve learned from. So in 2009 I was running a town acquisition technology company. It was an online recruitment platform and I made a lot of assumptions and spent a lot of money building up functionality, technology functionality without speaking to the market, listening to the clients, understanding what they need, understanding the business problem. And in that case of what we did was we spent, I think at the time what was $10,000 building out a referral system.

What I didn’t realize, because I didn’t talk to the market, was that no one likes to share that they get tutoring. So they were never going to refer their friends into the system. Right? Had I listened and identified a business problem and listened to the market, listened to my company, I would’ve understood that that was likely not the best feature to invest my capital in. At the same time, another example is I’ve seen the same referral technology by the same head of talent be brought into two separate companies where it worked beautifully in one and horribly in the other.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (11:45):

Jonathan Kestenbaum (11:46):
And so to your other point, you can’t just assume that if something worked somewhere once it’ll work well somewhere else. And I think the lesson that I’ve learned from all of that also is sometimes you have to take a step back and you have to bring someone who deeply and intimately understands the space and can help advise you around some of these decisions into the conversation.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (12:08):
Yeah, well put, good anecdotes. Sorry for the failure, but thank you because we got to learn from that. I want to touch on something, Jeanette, that you had said and I would love to hear your guys’ perspective on what you’re seeing, which is do you have a culture that actually embraces change? And right now everybody’s listening to this is going, Yeah, we totally do. Stop it for a second. Are you still burning your hand on the stove consistently on the same burner? Because if you are, that means you’re doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, which is by the way the definition of insanity.

And so, one of the things that brought up for me, and I would love to hear you guys talk about this, it’s amazing how if you are in a relationship, and that could be with a best friend, a spouse, a partner, and you’re talking about a thing and they could say 20 times, Hey, I think we really need to do X, Y, Z. And you go, Yeah, let me think about that. And then you talk to somebody else and they’re like, have you thought of doing X, Y, Z? And you’re like, Oh that’s such a great idea. Right? And in my example, my wife goes, I’ve literally been saying this for a year. Yay, you got there, but apparently you had to hear it from somebody who wasn’t entrenched in this day to day. How often are you guys seeing that same type of mentality at companies who they may be preaching this change, but until an outside resource comes in to verbalize and validate, it’s hard for them to get buy in? Bill, come on, hit me with it.

Bill Cleary (13:44):
Yeah. So my background went from consulting to software vendor back to consulting. As the software vendor, my recommendations were perceived as trying to sell software. As a consultant, my recommendations are seen as trying to help them solve a problem. Exactly to your point, I’m saying the same thing. A software vendor sometimes can’t give recommendations in certain places because their message is being perceived as trying to push their product in this certain client scenario, whereas a consultant I think has a little bit more opportunity to provide a perspective that is going to be listened to.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (14:29):
Any idea why that is? Asking literally for a friend who’s curious for their own marriage, why that is.

Bill Cleary (14:36):
I mean a great example, I mean I live this with a Fortune 50 company where I was literally told yes, but your input to the roadmap is going to be conceived as self-serving and we have a firm that’s doing that already with us even though you spent 15 years in a big four consulting firm.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (14:58):
Interesting. Okay. It’s the perception maybe of the self-serving, trying to get yours type of model.

Bill Cleary (15:06):

Mike “Batman” Cohen (15:07):
Interesting. Okay, so then the question I want to pose as our main talking point, we’ve still got four or five minutes, how can companies recognize when it’s time to reach out to an expert in the space versus trying to hire a person who’s done something similar? Because we’re going to run into what John talked about and I’ve seen countless times, I’m sure you guys seen a hundred times more than I have. It’s so weird that this tool was the great fit at company A and then low and behold that head of talent or PMO in recruitment goes to another company, and that’s so weird, they’re also working with that tech. And then the third company is also that they go to working with that tech and I’m sure it’s just the best piece of tech that works for everybody. Right? But how do you guys assess or suggest businesses assess when it’s time to do one or the other?

Bill Cleary (16:04):
I’ll jump in on this one.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (16:05):
Do it, Bill.

Bill Cleary (16:09):
We talked about the business problem, we talked about the strategy. I asked my clients to come up with the hard questions. What are the questions that you can’t answer because you haven’t experienced something? Right? And I think there’s an opportunity to learn from an outside thought leader about what they’ve experienced as they’ve tackled these different challenges and have had experiences. Just because X turned into Y one time doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again, but we can learn from that and I think we have to learn fast so that we can be successful at the end of the day. And so I think as clients create these really in depth questions, if they can’t answer those questions and they don’t have the resources to answer those questions, it’s probably time for a thought leader to come in and bring an outside perspective, bring a case study where they’ve tried to execute against a complex problem and provide that thought leadership.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (17:03):
Awesome, awesome. I’m getting the two minute warning, which is fine. There’s just a couple more points around this that I think are going to be worth talking to Jeanette and John about. Jeanette, I know you want to jump on in. Come on, jump on in, water’s warm.

Jeanette Leeds (17:19):
Totally. So I think there’s something around expertise as well, which is really touching on. Right? If you have that internal expertise within your team, and someone’s done this before, right? Okay, again, what’s the problem? What’s a [inaudible 00:17:35] Has someone done this? Maybe they’re a new hire, they’ve come into your company, they’ve done this before. Well, then that’s great. That’s almost your answer, okay, we can handle it versus we haven’t done this before, the market’s moving so fast. Go use that outside expert because why reinvent the wheel? People have made mistakes before. So failures, if someone has gone through this process again, whatever it is, they’ve made the mistakes, they’ve cut their teeth already, they know. And so I think there’s a piece there, right? So look at your own internal team, what expertise do you have? If you don’t have that, then go out. And obviously simplifying it as well, but think about that. That’s what I would be doing.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (18:11):
Yeah, to add to that, and an and, I always like to ask people is my test on this one of like, oh, okay, so you’ve done this two or three times in the past, what’s the best tool to solve this problem? And if they answer with anything other than something akin to, well, it depends because every problem is unique, then my hackles go up and I’m like, Nope, nope. You’re going to come in with the solution you’ve provided every time in the past versus the solution that’s uniquely appropriate for what we need based on what you’ve seen in the past. Would you agree with that?

Jeanette Leeds (18:47):

Mike “Batman” Cohen (18:47):

Jeanette Leeds (18:47):

Mike “Batman” Cohen (18:49):

Jeanette Leeds (18:49):
For sure. And it’s also, it’s a point, it’s like how much time do you have? So has someone done this before? But do they have the time and resources to really focus on what the issue is? So that comes down to it as well. And a lot of times we know people are under resource, so can you just bring in something to plug in, help to get you over to that net next point?

Mike “Batman” Cohen (19:10):
Yeah. Yeah. I love that. Time is money, right? We all hear that, but are you actually acting on that, right? Am I trying to learn how to build a no code automation with Coda? No. Hire somebody to do that. It’s not worth the time. You’re trying to figure out a process that other companies have done. Why?

Jeanette Leeds (19:26):
Right, and how fast can you get that done? Right? Time is money [inaudible 00:19:30] speed, right?

Mike “Batman” Cohen (19:30):
Yeah. It’s weird. I know for most companies, when you post an open job, you can get that high level thought leader filled in three or four days. So how important is actually getting to the market? And my last point I want to hear what you think about this, John, is I … and it is going to be a weird correlation. Ready? Companies who really focus on strong DEI components, the idea being, A, everybody’s unique. We can’t treat each person that they’re the same and they’re going to learn the same and they’re going to communicate the same and therefore the way we train them should be the same. Their tech process … Companies have really bought into this and as they should be that humans are all unique and therefore, while you may have 80% of the foundation, that last 20% is really what’s going to make the difference of the success of your organization.

And if you are a company who values DEI, wouldn’t you want to approach your own growth, your technology, your transformation, how you interact with your employees the same way to say, hey, that one approach is probably not going to fit for everybody? Wouldn’t it be better to have a broader perspective so that you could deal with all the different types of problems and road maps, speed bumps that are going to come up? So John, let me hear from you and then we’ll close this out.

Jonathan Kestenbaum (20:51):
Yeah, I mean I would say that every conversation I have, the first question is, okay, what’s the answer? What’s the best tech for me? My first answer is, are you trying to get me killed? What’s my favorite one, right? The second answer usually is it depends as you said, because it really does depend on the unique situations, what your tech [inaudible 00:21:12] is, what integrates with what, what your business problem is that we need to solve. Do you have a problem of getting too many applications or a problem of not getting enough applications, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera?

I think DEI is imperative for every organization. This is a baseline that you have to be thinking about always. And I think it’s good that organizations have started to be more thoughtful about paying attention to it. To me this is table stakes and everything … It shouldn’t even have to be a point of conversation other than the fact that we have to be aware of it to make it happen, to drive the right behaviors, but it should be something that is given with every technology and every process.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (22:14):
Love that, should be ingrained in our DNA.

Jonathan Kestenbaum (22:16):

Mike “Batman” Cohen (22:16):
Okay, so our closing is how I like to close. I told you guys this ahead of time, so hope you’ve been thinking real hard. You have one thing that you can share with all of the listeners right now that you hope hits their head, hits their heart, hits their entire being, what would that one thing be? And we’re going to start with you, Bill.

Bill Cleary (22:36):
The original question was buy versus build and that can seem like a simple question. It can seem like a simple answer. I’m going to buy. I’m going to build. I think that there’s a lot more to the question around how does your strategy support that decision? And then where are you going to go and how are you going to get there? And I think that there’s a really interesting dialogue to have inside your organization, outside your organization about creating the path to success. And what are the key things to get there and how can you learn from the others who have done it before you?

Mike “Batman” Cohen (23:12):
I like that, looking behind to go forward. Great, understanding what expertise means. Jeanette.

Jeanette Leeds (23:20):
So I love this question and what’s really coming to mind, hearing what Bill was saying, is a piece of being okay when you’re making changes, with taking some baby steps. You don’t have to do everything at once. So-

Mike “Batman” Cohen (23:37):
But I want to get everything done tomorrow.

Jeanette Leeds (23:40):
That’s the idea, right? But it’s being okay with, hey, you’re going to crawl before you walk, you’re going to walk before you run. And thinking about that, and I’ve seen that work really well when people are going to make changes, whether it’s with the tech and look at … let’s just do it in this piece and let’s advise it, let’s look in this … because otherwise it’s almost are you going to bite off too much right away? And so I think being very measured and thoughtful about that. I’ve seen it work really well.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (24:13):
I like that. I like that conceptually. As an employee that would be really tough because we as employees are held to SLAs, right? You’ve got to get this thing done and maybe that’s another use case for buy versus build, right? Is this going to affect this person’s SLA as an employee to do this the right way? And if the answer is yes, probably bring in somebody else to do this so it can be done the right way and not negatively impact someone’s perception of what success looks like in their job.

Jeanette Leeds (24:44):

Mike “Batman” Cohen (24:45):
So yeah, I think that’s a great point. John, close us out, man.

Jonathan Kestenbaum (24:48):
Yeah, so I’ll move just to another point we mentioned, which is that point about what to do first. So circling back to that first question, technology is not the answer. 100% of the time that I’ve been involved in any kind of business transformation, technology has not solved completely a business problem. The future is a combination of tech and touch. And so it’s really, really important as you go through any kind of digital transformation or journey of deciding about building or buying, you need to make sure you have a business problem first, that the problem is with people and process. And then you bring in technology to solve those business problems and create efficiencies.

Mike “Batman” Cohen (25:30):
I love that. Triple threat from AMS, thank you guys so much for being here, giving us your time. I will definitely be following up again. Y’all gave some really, really cool insight into a topic I’ve never heard discussed, so thank you from all of us.

Closing (25:46):
Oh, man, that means it’s over.

You’ve been listening to the Sourcing School podcast, Live at HR Tech in Vegas, sponsored our friends at Gem. For all other HR, recruiting and sourcing news, check out

Sourcing School Podcast

Ryan Leary

Ryan Leary helps create the processes, ideas and innovation that drives RecruitingDaily. He’s our in-house expert for anything related to sourcing, tools or technology. A lead generation and brand buzz building machine, he has built superior funnel systems for some of the industries top HR Tech and Recruitment brands. He is a veteran to the online community and a partner here at RecruitingDaily.

Michael Cohen

Mike “Batman” Cohen is the Founder of Wayne Technologies, a Sourcing-on-Demand and Recruitment Training Organization. Wayne Technologies On-Demand Sourcing is a revolutionary approach that provides the most actionable data available, is based on deliverables – not time, and is based on access to more recruitment tooling than any organization worldwide.

Shally Steckerl

One of the pioneers of the sourcing discipline, Shally is the Founder and former President of The Sourcing Institute, where he has helped numerous F500 and mid-market organizations train and develop their talent sourcing capabilities for nearly 20 years. When it comes to innovative approaches to candidate search, Shally literally wrote the book. He is the author of the industry-standard textbook “The Talent Sourcing and Recruitment Handbook” as well as “The Sourcing Method: Tactics to Find Unfindable Talent.”


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