On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Charles from Group One Trading about engaging employees during transformational change.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Listening time: 27 minutes
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Charles J. AlaimoFollow
Announcer: 00:00 This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup: 00:34 Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tin Cup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Charles on from Group One, and our topic today is engaging employees during transformational change. It’s a wonderful topic. Can’t wait to learn from Charles and to talk with Charles about this. So Charles, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Group One?
Charles Alaimo: 00:58 Absolutely. Thank you, William, for the opportunity.
William Tincup: 01:02 Sure.
Charles Alaimo: 01:02 So I’m Charles Alaimo. Boy. I’ve been in HR for about 32 years. I’m not ashamed to admit that. It’s been a long time in a lot of different capacities, from public to private firms. And recently authored a book on the topic, HR Leadership During Bankruptcy and Organizational Change. And I rejoined Group One back in September of 2019 as their managing director of human resources, so just a fun fact. I worked with Group One. We are a options trading firm, and I had joined Group One and worked for them back in 2000 to 2004. My last firm went through a private equity buyout. I decided it was time for me to move on, and my former boss called me up, she was retiring, and said, “Would you want to come back?” So interviewed. And I’m back now for three years.
William Tincup: 02:09 Wow. Well, that is fantastic. Let’s start with the book, because I’m always fascinated from an… First of all, why did you do it? And tell us a little bit about the process.
Charles Alaimo: 02:25 So I find writing very cathartic, and whenever I go through a pretty big change, I always put my thoughts down on paper. And so this was something… I’ll kind of step back a little bit. So in 2018, I started taking notes, because my firm at the time was going through a Chapter 11, which was a new process for me. I had been through acquisitions. I had been through so many changes in terms of small organizational changes and what we’re talking about today, transformational changes.
03:05 And I took those notes, and I had the summer of 2019 off after I left Aceto, my last company. And it’s funny in retrospect. I thought that was going to be the only summer I was going to be home, so let me enjoy it. And as it turns out, the last two summers were at home too, but pandemic-related. And just took my notes, started writing about the process, because for me, one of the things, and I think the driving force behind why I wrote it, is there wasn’t any resource out there for HR professionals going through an organizational bankruptcy.
03:49 And so I often relied on outside consultants. I did a lot of research myself. So I took all of those notes and I said,” You know what? If I can help one other HR or leadership person, I’m going to do it.” So it was meant to be. It’s not a thick book. It’s really meant kind of like we’re having a discussion over coffee, talking about some of the steps that we went through, some things to be mindful of.
04:22 There’s chapters on leadership and communication, but there’s also a chapter on being very mindful of yourself. Because as you’re going through the process, and especially being in human resources, what I find, we’re so caring about other people that we sometimes forget that we too need to vent and need that outlet. So that’s why I wrote the book. And it was about a one and a half, two year process, and found a publisher that would take it on. So I’m really happy I accomplished that.
William Tincup: 05:00 Well, it sounds like a fascinating book. I want to get your take on how people consume change, because for whatever reason, I’ve had this in my head for years that people consume change… Everyone hates change, but people consume it different. And again, this is just my thought, so tear it apart, that certain people are just hardwired to consume change better than others. First of all, again, crush that if I’m way off, because you’re the expert.
Charles Alaimo: 05:42 No. Well, I would have to agree with you. So a few things that kind of lead me to that. Again, having been in organizations for 32 years and a lot of those organizations going through pretty sizable changes, the one thing I will… I’ll take a step back. I’ll kind of describe my own experience. Believe it or not, I’m a sentimentalist at heart. I don’t like change. If I could keep all the good stuff going forever, that’s how I would love to live. But funny enough, I always wind up in these roles that have required me to take ownership and drive much of these changes along with our management team.
06:33 So for me, I’ll talk about my own personal experience towards change and then how other people consume it. So for me, I think flexibility is key. My mindset is very flexible. I’m very open. I think that’s what helps me get over the hurdle once there is a change. It’s also a lot of communication and asking questions for me to get comfortable, because if I’m not comfortable with what I have to go out and then communicate, it’s just going to mess things up. So I always like to get ahead of it. And luckily enough, I’m very open-minded.
07:19 But you are exactly right. And so when I’ve gone through, whether it be taking on another company or we’re going through a layoff or anything that really does cause change in an organization, people adapt to that very differently. And so while there are all these models out there for leading change and change curves, I think what is so super critical and something that I’ve tried to emulate throughout all of my roles is understanding the culture of the organization. Luckily, I’ve worked in smaller companies where I’ve always had a really good handle on people and personalities, so I am always able to think ahead about which people might take this change very lightly, which others it’s going to impact more meaningful, and tailor my message according to those groups.
08:33 So one of the things I think that really helps is when the organization is really transparent and very open and critically important. And I talk a little bit about this in the book as well, is just management being very open door policy, being available to chat with employees when there are questions, and being straight with people. So I think all those things combined help mitigate some of how people digest the change, but it’s a work in progress. And things that you think, like, “Oh, we’re just changing the benefits or we’re just changing our performance management process,” these changes can be catastrophic for some people. So it’s just understanding your staff, understanding the team, and being prepared to do a lot of handholding.
William Tincup: 09:36 So oddly enough, I wrote down communication and transparency, and you had mentioned flexibility earlier. And I was going to ask you, what are the roles of these things in change and basically managing, shepherding employees through this process? What are the pillars? I mean, if we were building a house, what would be our foundation that we would lay down for folks, and especially as it relates to engaging employees during transformational change?
Charles Alaimo: 10:14 So I think the first pillar is definitely coming up with a communication plan. And that’s a multifaceted plan. It’s the individual communication, but more importantly, it’s holding town halls. It’s emails, following up when you say that you’re going to follow up, making sure that, again, employees know that you’re visible and accessible. So communication is definitely key.
10:51 The other pillar is leadership. I’m just thinking. I’ve worked at a lot of different firms, and I think everyone can kind of relate to this, where you’ve had great leaders and you’ve had leaders that… Well, let me take a step back. There’s no such thing as a bad leader. I think every experience you learn from, that’s kind of my mantra, and you take bits and pieces of what some of the best leaders have done, and you recognize where some leaders have fallen short, and you make sure that you avoid those going forward.
11:32 And so I’ll use an example. When we were going through the bankruptcy at my last firm, there was such a huge amount of work to be done behind the scenes that, at the time when the firm and the employees needed leadership and visibility, it was very easy to close the door and like, “Oh, I have eight spreadsheets that I have to work out for due diligence.” And what’s really critical is making sure that leaders understand that there’s a balance, and getting out, again, being visible, not behind your desk or tied up in spreadsheets and conference calls when the time really requires that visibility. So that’s another pillar.
12:31 I think the third pillar is education. And I say education because a lot of times, and what I’m cognizant of and I’m sure others in the field is, you don’t want to make a change and dictate, “Hey, this is how it’s going to be. We’re changing this as of September 1st. We’re changing our performance management system, and it’s going to be impacting compensation and the like.” I had that at one of my former roles. And what is so incredibly helpful is when you take the time to explain to people, and often, that starts with your leadership, again, getting the buy-in, is that we’re not doing this in a vacuum.
13:28 We’re doing this because we’ve benchmarked against what the market is doing. We want to remain competitive. Sometimes it’s a sustainability issue. So all those factors combine. It’s just making sure that our leadership as well as our employees are knowledgeable and understand why we’re doing it, that it’s not change for the sake of change, but that there’s really thought put into each decision that we make. And so the education, I would say, is the third pillar. So I would stop there with the three, because each one of them have so many different subsets. With communication, you spoke about transparency, how often you want to communicate, but those are the three big ones for myself.
William Tincup: 14:27 So I love the three-legged stool. Is there one of those that’s more important than the other? Would you start with one, or is it a war on three fronts? I get the pillars, first of all. We’ll stick with the metaphor of the three-legged stool, so I get the legs. Got it. But is there one that’s more important than the other, or is there one that you start with that leads to another, et cetera?
Charles Alaimo: 14:57 In my opinion, I think leadership is probably the one that I would place first, because from that… And I don’t know. If you want a four-legged stool, and I think something that kind of emanates from leadership is the vision. And so often, the leadership is sitting down and outlining what the plan is. What does change look like when we’ve achieved it? What does the organization look like? So having the ability to sit down and strategically go through whatever change may be in front of you, and plan that process out.
15:44 Because then from those steps, you can then go back and build your communication strategy, and then go back and use that education piece to, again, explain to people why we made the changes that we did. So leadership to me is really vital. And that is something that, without that clear and decisive leadership, you can have the best communication strategy, but if your leaders are not embracing it or they’re kind of absent or not visible, whatever change you’re going through is going to suffer.
William Tincup: 16:33 I love this, because we’re simpatico everything. I got two questions last. One is, we’re talking a lot on, because the topic is transformational change, but typically, if not always, change is always happening. Maybe not transformational change, like you mentioned rifts and acquisitions and things like that, the big moments, the inflection points, if you will. But there’s always change. Change is constant. So what’s your take on just… Is it any different with maybe not the transformational change, but just maybe the smaller changes that are happening? How do we help navigate or help employees navigate those changes?
Charles Alaimo: 17:24 Yeah. So there definitely is a difference. But what’s interesting, again, and going back to some of your earlier questions, everyone handles… What you think might be really small, some people, it might just set them off. So when it comes to some of the smaller changes… And look. I mean, I think as an example, that could be… I’ll just throw some out that I’ve had experience with in the past. We’re changing benefit carriers, or we’re moving to a different location. Well, that could be a big change. But we’re changing up our performance management process. We’re going to a new platform.
18:16 Often, that’s where we could get a little bit more personal, I would guess. So it’s not necessarily… Yeah, there’s the communication to the broader employee base as to what we’re doing. I think the premises are still the same, that you’re explaining what the change is, you’re explaining why we’re doing it, but you don’t necessarily need every level of management to be involved. And very often, I know, let’s say in my area, I’m the one that’s leading the changes when it’s more benefits or performance management related, little things like that.
19:05 That’s where we can get a lot more. I talked about handholding, and in a big organization, it’s not always practical, but that’s where our team can be a lot more visible and walk people through. And very often, we’re doing maybe smaller breakout meetings or trainings just to get people comfortable if we’re moving, let’s say, to a new platform, or if we’re changing benefits. I keep using those examples because before you know it, open enrollment is going to be upon us. But inviting our brokers in to explain the changes that are going on.
19:47 So I think what’s really critical and maybe similar in both transformational or smaller organizational change is just making sure people have an outlet, making sure that they’re heard, making sure that people are available to answer their questions, address their concerns. So I don’t think that changes, but the level of involvement definitely changes. So I’m not necessarily going to ask my CEO, “Hey, we’re having an issue with the new benefits. Can you come in and sit in the meeting?” Those are often things that I can handle myself. So hopefully that answers the question.
William Tincup: 20:28 Oh, 100%. I’ve said this for years, because I spent a period of my life doing user adoption of HR and recruitment technology, so I’d go and consult with vendors and also with practitioners. And you mentioned it very early on in the call about just changing out systems, and you just kind of hit it again. And it was a talking point for me. It was a talk track for me. It was like, “Listen. Jim or Sally, whatever, is really comfortable. They’re both competent and confident with the payroll system that you have right now. Now, for whatever reason, you’re moving to a new payroll system. That person now has lost their confidence and their competence.” Now, they’ll gain it, but they’re shook to their core, especially if they’ve used a system for a long time.
21:18 [Inaudible 00:21:20] ADP. If they’ve been on ADP for 20 years, and all of a sudden you move them to Ceridian, fantastic, great, good, whatever. It doesn’t matter. And again, there’s a business reason, there’s a business case for it, all of those things. But again, getting back to that person, even knowing… I mean, first of all, if you don’t communicate, I mean, you’re almost asking for trouble by not communicating, being transparent, and doing those types of things. But also understanding, having a level of empathy that says, “I know that you’ve been working in this system for a long time. I get that you probably think it’s like a second skin. I get it. We’re going to make sure that you’re just as competent and just as confident with the new system. It might take us a little while, but you will get there. We’re going to make sure you get there.”
Charles Alaimo: 22:15 You know what? Absolutely. And as you were talking, I’m thinking, look at what we’ve all been through over the last two and a half years, right?
William Tincup: 22:26 Yeah. Oh yeah.
Charles Alaimo: 22:26 I mean, I think we were using WebEx, and then we moved to Zoom. Even though a lot of our employees are just highly technical and very adaptable to new technologies, but think about all the individuals, even with that adaptability, having to now, “How do I invite all these people to a Zoom meeting?” And you kind of laugh in retrospect that when we all started using the platform, it was all new for us. It was like, “Oh, how do I create a waiting room? How do I do this?”
23:03 And then if my dog barked, I was mortified. And now it’s like, “Eh.” Everything is second nature. And that’s so important, because there will come a time where you’re going to be just as comfortable with this new technology as you were with the old. It’s just giving yourself the time. And look, I’m one of those people, I’m extremely hard on myself, and I want to know everything yesterday. But again, it goes back to understanding your team and how people are adapting and when you need to step in and give that empathy and that reassurance. So critical.
William Tincup: 23:48 Charles, the last question, it’s really just kind of a curiosity, is, have you noticed employee expectations changing, or especially as it relates to change, is there something, either related to COVID or otherwise… If we were doing a focus group of Gen Z or millennials or whatever, is there anything that’s fundamentally different or that we have to adapt to?
Charles Alaimo: 24:18 Oh, man. I think that could be a whole different topic on its own.
William Tincup: 24:24 Well, we have our next podcast title. Done. Done. Well, give us the abridged.
Charles Alaimo: 24:32 But definitely, right? Well, I think the pandemic has caused all of us to think about our lives and the meaning of work differently. I’ll use the example, so I have a 25-year-old daughter who, despite seeing me in HR for all these years, followed in my footsteps, and she’s an HR generalist at a tech company. It’s funny. That generation, they want to see change. I think they’re much more adaptable, number one. Number two, they’re much more challenging. So they’re not afraid to go to management and let them know how they’re feeling. So they’re very open. And you know what? And in a good way.
25:33 So at our firm, we bring on a lot of interns each year, and it’s so great to see when there’s no fear. And I think to myself when my daughter tells me some story, I’m like, “You did what? You went to [inaudible 00:25:49]?” I would be mortified, right? But I’m kind of fearless now because I’ve been in the business for so long, and you kind of get comfortable in your own skin. But that’s definitely a generational difference.
26:05 And honestly, I love it, because I think through the challenging, through the questioning, through the wanting to see those instant results, I think that it really gives companies a real insight into change and taking that feedback and doing something with it. So I love it. I mean, I think there’s definitely a lot going on there. I think sometimes the change may not happen as rapidly as some of the newer generation would like to see. And it’s also being patient and understanding. But again, that goes back to the education piece of it. But outside of that, I think they’re set up in a really good way, and I think companies can stand to learn a lot.
William Tincup: 27:04 Charles, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for your time and your wisdom, and I just appreciate you.
Charles Alaimo: 27:11 Oh. Well, William, you made this easy. I have to say I was nervous at the beginning, but yeah, no. Thank you for the opportunity.
William Tincup: 27:18 Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.