Caitlin MacGregor
CEO Plum

Caitlin MacGregor is the CEO/Co-founder of Plum, the most accurate top-of-the-funnel employment assessment. Plum is Caitlin’s 3rd startup. She was Employee #1/Director of Operations for Me to We Style in Toronto and President of goQ software in New Hampshire. Caitlin was selected by Springboard Enterprises in NYC as one of the top 10 businesses led by women.

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On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Caitlin MacGregor from Plum about calling bullshit on the talent shortage.

Plum is a SaaS platform that leverages industrial, organizational psychology to assess people’s innate talents and understand what drives them and gives them a sense of self worth, and what drains them and leads to burnout. The platform can quantify people’s innate talents, like their ability to innovate, communicate, and work well with others.

They work with mid-size to enterprise companies, to help them in everything from hiring through onboarding, as well as employee development, internal mobility, workforce planning, succession planning, leadership potential, and taking this data across the employee lifecycle.

 

Some Conversation Highlights:

So it’s real easy to talk about the talent shortage, but we’re going to call bullshit on that today.

I think every company right now is experiencing talent shortages more than before, wherever they were fishing for talent, whatever pool they were reaching out to try to hire people in, they’re finding that the competition is more fierce than ever. That the same people they’ve been going after, their competition is going after and the salaries are going higher and higher and the demands are going higher and higher. And so there’s now this, “Oh, well there’s a talent shortage.” Every company, “Oh, well, there’s a talent shortage. What do we do?” Do we increase our salaries? Do we do more? Do we remove every barrier to make it easier to hire them? Do we give them a offer sight unseen? I mean, everybody’s trying to figure out how do you go after the same people we’ve always been going after with this even more fierce competition.

And so everybody’s saying there’s this talent shortage. And I think that it’s almost an excuse to really say… The status quo has been broken for a long time. Let’s just call it what it is. The way that we’ve been sourcing talent, the way we’ve been treating talent, the way we’ve been thinking about hiring talent, it’s broken. And this is just a symptom of an already broken system. So instead of trying to put a bunch of band-aids on it or up the stakes, how do we actually get to the root cause and deal with that? And I don’t think the root cause is that there’s a talent shortage. I think there’s a lot of other elements going on.

Excel Powertools Shally Steckerl

 

Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 29 minutes

 

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Music:   This is Recruiting Daily’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:   Ladies, gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you are listening to the recruiting daily podcast. Today we have Caitlin on from Plum and we’ll be discussing our topic for today is calling bullshit on the talent shortage. This is going to be a fun topic, and I can’t wait to get into it with Caitlin. Caitlin, would you do us a favor, the audience a favor and introduce both yourself and Plum.

Caitlin MacGreg :   So my name’s Caitlin MacGregor. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Plum and our purpose is to help everyone realize their full potential at work. And so we’re a software, as a service platform that leverages industrial, organizational psychology, to be able to assess people’s innate talents, understand what drives them and gives them a sense of self worth and what drains them and leads to burnout by quantifying people’s innate talents their ability to innovate, communicate, work well with others. And we do that for companies, mid-size to enterprise, to help them from everything from hiring all the way to onboarding, employee development, internal mobility, workforce planning, succession planning, leadership potential, and taking this data across the employee lifecycle.

William Tincup:   I love that. Well, I love the data going across the employee lifecycle, because that… Well, that undoes whole lot of historical problems that have existed with systems just being siloed and people having to reenter data, and having whole bunch of errors and stuff like that. We’ve got a wonderful topic. So we could throw a rock and find an article or a podcast or something on the talent shortage. So it’s real easy to talk about the talent shortage, but we’re going to call Bullshit on that today. So let’s start there. Let’s just start with, okay, well, why are we talking about it in the ways that we’re talking about it?

Caitlin MacGreg :   I think every company right now is experiencing that before, wherever they were fishing for talent, whatever pool they were reaching out to try to hire people in, they’re finding that the competition is more fierce than ever. That the same people they’ve been going after, their competition is going after and the salaries are going higher and higher and the demands are going higher and higher. And so there’s now this, “Oh, well there’s a talent shortage.” Every company, “Oh, well, there’s a talent shortage. What do we do?” Do we increase our salaries? Do we do more? Do we remove every barrier to make it easier to hire them? Do we give them a offer sight unseen? I mean, everybody’s trying to figure out how do you go after the same people we’ve always been going after with this even more fierce competition.

And so everybody’s saying there’s this talent shortage. And I think that it’s almost an excuse to really say… The status quo has been broken for a long time. Let’s just call it what it is. The way that we’ve been sourcing talent, the way we’ve been treating talent, the way we’ve been thinking about hiring talent, it’s broken. And this is just a symptom of an already broken system. So instead of trying to put a bunch of band-aids on it or up the stakes, how do we actually get to the root cause and deal with that? And I don’t think the root cause is that there’s a talent shortage. I think there’s a lot of other elements going on.

William Tincup:   So one of the things that we want to explore is the different talent pools. The idea that you would go back to the same pool and try the same old things you’ve tried for the last 15 years and oh, they’re not working. Well, some of that is scarcity. And some of that is maybe you’re fishing in the wrong pools. I also think that maybe some of it might be that they see candidates having more power and they just don’t like it. So some of what we’re hearing about the talent shortage is like, well yeah. But some of it’s also that candidates are now driving. So that’s kind of an interesting concept. And so if you want to… I mean, we’re going to fix a bunch of stuff, but if you want to fix the talent shortage, the first thing is to think about talent pools, let’s fix the front end. Think about fishing in a different place. So let’s unwrap that for folks.

Caitlin MacGreg :   Yeah, I mean, first of all, I want to completely acknowledge the power balance has changed and it needed to change. And I think there’s a great opportunity there, and we can come back to that. But I think that the pieces of the puzzle that haven’t been talked about a lot are first of all, where are we fishing? Why are we constantly going after the same people that our competition is going after, especially now in 2022, where the borders.

We are not just hiring people in our own backyard. We are part of why the competition is fierce is because anybody can be poaching and be trying to attract people from anywhere in the world. And a lot of people take that as a threat, but it’s a real opportunity. There’s two massive opportunities with this. The first one is how do we expand our reach to areas of the world where there are people that we may never have hired from before, and really tapping into that opportunity.

But I think the other opportunity is why are we always looking for the same backgrounds? Why are we using past experience, past education, the things that are familiar to us, why are we relying on that pattern matching to go after people that look like what we already know? There’s a huge opportunity to cast a much wider net and to open the aperture and to screen in people that don’t fit the current pattern. 

We’ve all read everything about the future of work. Consistently for the last five years, we’ve been bombarded with the future of work. People’s hard skills are going to become outdated so much faster, every year as we progress. The shelf life of that past experience, the shelf life of that past education it’s diminishing. So this is an opportunity to start looking for those transferable skills. Where can we go to find people that maybe aren’t already in our space, but we can transfer in from other industries, from other geographies, from other locations.

We talk about upskilling and reskilling. This is an opportunity from day one to bring in people where they may have those transferable abilities, but now how do we internally as quickly as possible onboard them to the other pieces that they may not be familiar with. And how do we start developing those capabilities within our organization to onboard and upskill and reskill people from other backgrounds? Because in that case, we’re not competing with our competition for that talent we’re going where our competition isn’t and screening in people that frankly based on the science are more likely to be top performers because of those transferable qualities, rather than just pattern matching to historically what they’ve done.

William Tincup:   What’s interesting about this is going after the same people that we’ve always [inaudible 00:   07:   58], it flies into the everything we hear publicly around diversity and inclusion. 

Caitlin MacGreg :   Absolutely. 

William Tincup:   So it’s like there’s lip service being given to diversity and inclusion and then we go and fish in the same ponds where we’ve always fished, but the same people that we’ve always fished for. So that kind of, it’s just A, wrong, B underneath-

Caitlin MacGreg :   Well the main thing is that… Sorry, go ahead.

William Tincup:   No, no, no, go ahead. You’re the guest.

Caitlin MacGreg :   I was just saying the great thing about solving for the talent shortage is that the same solution also solves for DE and I, and it also solves for retention also solves for the power balance being changed. It’s all the same solution. If we start going after people that weren’t necessarily the… The problem with there lacks diversity in leadership. And everybody’s looking up to those leaders as the role models, as the examples of success. And even subconsciously, we are matching everybody towards that example of success and saying, do they look like it or not? 

And subconsciously when we’re doing that we’re really removing anybody that doesn’t match what leadership looks like. And so we’ve got really big problems. So if we just say flat out leadership is not the beacon of what success in our organization looks like, where we want to be in 2023, 2024 is vastly different.

It opens it up. So then we’re throwing out the model and saying, okay, we’re going to go after people that look different, that sound different, that have different backgrounds. And we’re going to use this as an upper two to go and screen in people we’ve never had before as a way of going after untapped potential, untapped talent pools, stop competing where everybody else is. And when you do that, you then are also increasing that diversity equity inclusion. Because you now have new people coming in, you have new areas, you’re getting rid of patterns. And when you bring in that extra diversity, you are also bringing in the opportunity for people to live up to their potential in your organization, which allows people to also feel seen and heard and included. And those are the things you also need to retain people.

They’re not just going to go to your competitor a year later because you were the one that gave them that opportunity to transition into a new role, a new type of industry, a new type of company. And it’s interesting. We see it all the time. We see in the services industry, for example, that somebody can go and work in a restaurant and then go and work in a hotel. 

Well, how come we can’t take somebody who’s been working at a bank and now have them work as a customer success person in a tech company. Why can’t we then move somebody who has been doing mortgages at a credit union, why can’t they be doing… At a global marketing organization why can’t they be operations? There’s so much transferability, but we get really fixated of, oh, well they came from the packaged good industry. They must not be able to do our type of work. Or they came from a bank. So they must not be able to transition to our type of culture. And we use all of these assumptions that are just frankly incorrect. And we’re really missing this opportunity to solve for talent shortages, diversity, equity, inclusion, higher retention, better performance.

William Tincup:   So one of the things I wanted to unpack with you is this why we go back to the same talent pool and fish in the same spot is just your… And again, just off the cuff. Is it comfort? Is it laziness? Is it fear in terms of going after a different pool? Why do you feel that HR and TA goes back to the same pool? What’s the underpinnings there?

Caitlin MacGreg :   Yeah. I think that there’s two main reasons. The first one is that as humans, when we make decisions and I’m talking about like all decisions in life, we tend to take a shortcut in our brains to match people towards what does success look like. So for example if in my family we always drove Volvos because I heard from my parents that was the safest vehicle. When I go and look at cars, I’m going to automatically assume Volvos are the safest. Yes, I have Consumer Reports and other things that I can do a bunch of research. But if I’m given to three cars and two minutes to choose, I’d probably go with the default of what I was told is the safest. It may be true, or it may have been true at one time, but unless I’m doing a whole bunch of research and that research takes time, I’m probably just going to go with the default of what I’ve been told or what I recognize as success in my life.

This is why when we have people from different backgrounds and different areas, the things that they default to are often different than things that we default to. And that difference only amplifies how different somebody is. Differences scare people, differences are something that is unknown and equates to risk. 

As humans we are constantly trying to de-risk our decision making and we make these mental shortcuts by matching to patterns of success or patterns of things that we grew up thinking were right. And it’s really hard to uncondition those, because it happens subconsciously and it happens within seconds. So I think that the first thing is that we match towards pattern of success as a mental shortcut, and we don’t necessarily provide a realistic alternative. And so the alternative is that we need something to interrupt that bias. We need something else to give us a data point to give people confidence.

And I think that’s why a lot of companies are excited about an algorithm and about a platform that’s run by AI to just say, here’s the person you can go with. And that’s like, oh, okay. I didn’t make that risk. I didn’t say it, something else did. And there’s a lot of benefit of looking at other data points by all means there’s a lot of benefit of having programs, surface things that we as humans may not have seen on our own.

But we have to be careful. Were those systems designed to just speed up that pattern matching? Are they taking a broken system, are they taking the pattern of current success and just replicating it? Because that can be really dangerous. Whereas I think the solution is looking at bringing in the data that up until more recently, we just haven’t had. Which is we know all the research around the future work is talking about these transferable capabilities and that that’s the future of… And we also know from industrial organizational psychology that looking at people’s innate talents whether or not they excel at innovation and then they’re in a job that needs innovation or whether or not they excel at teamwork and they’re in a job that needs teamwork. 

We know the science is clean, that’s, what’s going to predict performance. It’s four times more accurate than a resume. The question is that type of data hasn’t been readily available to provide people an alternative, to give them that data that’s objective, to interrupt that bias and to say, “Hey, this person, if just given the opportunity will excel.” 

You can then decide if you can afford their salary, if you can afford the time for them to learn the hard skills to get up to speed. There’s a whole bunch of other data you’re going to need to know if you’re willing to take that bet. But I think that’s been the missing data and the equation is quantifying and understanding those transferable capabilities. And that’s what we’re trying to do is provide that missing data set.

William Tincup:   So we’ve used the phrase screening in a few times. I want to kind of come back to that. If we reframe screening in, because I think screening out, we’ve all probably been in this situation where we have knockout questions and different things. I just went through a bunch of position descriptions, master’s degree. There’s all kinds of stuff in there that just screens people out. And we’ve talked publicly about like the application process and clicking the box where it has a felony, and that’s 70 million Americans. They don’t go forward in the process. So how do we get people to kind of rethink screening in and just conceptually, and maybe even tactically, how do we get them to just kind of reframe the thing in their minds?

Caitlin MacGreg :   The thing I love to ask people is, in this crazy talent shortage where you don’t have enough people, if I could you the perfect candidate, that’s a 99 match in terms of if you give them three months or six months or eight months on the job, they will outperform anybody else in your organization. You just need to get them through that onboarding, you need to educate them about your specific organization and what you want them to do. But if after six months they could outperform everybody else in that role in your organization. If I could bring you that person, that’s a 99 match for being able to and be a top performer in that role. What would you have to know about them to say, “No, I don’t even want to interview them.” If I said they’re a 99 match, is there anything that would make you not want to interview them?

If I told you that they’re in a different country, would that prevent you from wanting to interview them? Maybe two years ago, but now in 2022, most people they’re probably like that’s fine. If I said that they actually have salary expectations that are 30% less than anybody else in the role in the organization, because they want less money. Would that prevent you from wanting to interview them? No. 

If I said they didn’t finish university. Would that prevent you from wanting to meet them? I mean, what really is the knockout thing that would say, I don’t want to interview them? If it was a neurosurgeon role and they didn’t have their doctor degree. Okay, you want to say that they have to have a certain certification. That’s a totally valid thing for you to say, if they don’t have this medical certification, I can’t talk to them. It’s going to be a waste of time. Okay, fine. 

But really outside of some sort of… Even in the case of a designation we have one person we’re talking to where they have to have the real estate certification. But in this case, they’re willing to train that on the job. They’re willing to take the time throughout the year to get that certification. So even without that certification, they want to talk to them. They want to know that that would be somebody worth investing that time and energy to get the certification. So the question is is what is the bare minimum thing that somebody has to have so that if they were a 99 match, unless they had that bare minimum, you don’t even want to talk to them. And nine times out of 10, there’s like one or nothing. There’s like nothing that would say I don’t even want to talk to them.

If there is nothing on that list that would prevent you from wanting to talk to that 99 match, then it should not be in the job description. It should not be one of those pre-screening questions. If this person has insane potential, why wouldn’t you want to talk to them? Especially in this market, especially if they’re going to be excited because you saw the potential in them and you gave them the opportunity to get into a new industry or a new line of work. They’re going to be incredibly loyal to you for you not judging them based on their past. 

There is so much of that opportunity. You talk about the felonies. I mean, how many people have a felony from marijuana and now are living in a state where marijuana’s completely legal. There there’s so much that we have in our brains that make us go, no, no, no, I don’t want to talk to them. But if I could tell you they’re a 99 match, are you still confident that those things are necessary?

William Tincup:   I love it. Because it’s really getting people to deal with their preconceived notions and ideas and their own experiences and really kind of confronting kind of their own baggage in a way. I love this. So you’ve mentioned transferable capabilities. People usually say capabilities and skills, they use them as synonyms. I think the audience will understand exactly what you mean, but they probably won’t raise their hand and ask for a starting point. You know what I mean? 

I’ve presented a bunch from the stage and when I ask questions, people… Not that many people raise their hand and one person raises their hand. It’s usually a representative of like eight other people that have the exact same question that just didn’t want to raise their hand. So I think people listening to show, I think they get transferable skills and capabilities. I think conceptually they understand it. However, not sure they know where to start. So what’s been your experience with your clients and getting people kind of off that ledge, it’s going okay. All right. So we haven’t thought about this before. No worries. Here’s where we start.

Caitlin MacGreg :   I think there’s two great opportunities to start. I’m going to start with a different one that we haven’t talked about, which is the other solution to this so-called talent shortage is look at your own people. As everyone’s leaving, is there an opportunity to provide your existing employees an opportunity to fill those open roles? 

Just like when we talk about transferable capabilities of somebody outside your organization, everything I said applies the same way to your existing employees. And if anything, they deserve first and foremost for you to take a risk on them. Somebody that could be in the accounting department may actually be your next best project manager. Somebody that is in the marketing department actually might be much better customer facing, helping with customer success. There is so much opportunity inside your organization to move people around.

Some of the most successful organizations have rotations, that every two to three years, people are picked up and moved to another part of the organization. And it keeps people engaged because they’re constantly learning. You’re again, giving them an opportunity for a new type of work that maybe if they went out to the market, no one would take that bet on them because they don’t fit the pattern. So I say the first way to get started is look at your own people. Look at this as an opportunity to counter the great resignation and allow for people to feel seen and heard and appreciated and take the bet on them, to upskill and reskill and move them internally into new opportunities. And not just any opportunity, but find out what they’re excited about and find out which ones their transferable capabilities really match to.

Often people are surprised at opportunities they never even thought about. They didn’t realize that by leveraging their ability to work well in teams and communicating and executing actually would be really well suited for a totally different department they had no exposure to. So being able to surface the opportunity for individuals to utilize what makes them exceptional in new ways inside the company that they’re already familiar with is a great way of getting started. 

And that starts by the individual being able to take a 25 minute assessment to understand and develop that self-awareness and understand the common language to help advocate for themselves. And that can translate into employee development and creating new succession pools of talent. Identifying emerging leaders is great opportunities to start with your existing people. And then the other opportunity that we see, that’s kind of an easy lift for companies is to start in an area where throwing out the resume is already something that most people understand makes sense.

And that’s often with your early entry type roles. So we have a customer, Scotiabank that is completely eliminated resumes with campus hires. And they’ve seen this massive increase in screening in people from different schools and different backgrounds that they never were hiring from before. And they’ve had an increase of hiring underrepresented minorities by 60%. And they’ve seen retention double. 

And so there’s a really great opportunity to remove that piece of paper, that 8.5 by 11 piece of paper that does not represent the potential of these recent grads and people just entering the workforce. And so those tend to be two really kind of easy areas to get started. Because who doesn’t want to retain their existing employees these days, and who doesn’t want to look beyond that resume for somebody just entering the workforce where that paper, everyone could kind of admit is pretty useless.

William Tincup:   I love it. So two things I want you to respond to. First of all, is the talent slash shortage. When we’ve talked about talent so far, what I’ve heard is we don’t really know our talent. Two on the shortage side, we’re doing the same and expecting different results. So just what’s your responses to that?

Caitlin MacGreg :   Absolutely. I think that it’s about time in 2022, that we start with understanding the whole person. What is the opportunity for them to really grow and develop and bring their whole self to work and feel fulfilled? I mean, I really imagine a world… I think every company should be striving for… Every employee should be waking up every day, excited to start work. 

Can you imagine a whole bunch of employees excited on a Monday morning that they love their job? And can you imagine that every day when people are done their job and they’re sitting around the kitchen table talking about their day and they get to say, “I absolutely killed it today. I nailed it. I was just on the top of the world. I did such a great job.” I mean, that is possible, by aligning people’s transferable capabilities, with the behaviors that are needed for success in a job, you can actually predict if somebody’s going to feel fulfilled and feel amazing. And until you have that data about your people and roles, it’s like you’re doing it all blind. And we don’t have to in 2022 anymore.

William Tincup:   Yeah. We do show by choice. So last thing before we roll out, I wrote down skills and experience have expiration dates. It’s kind of like beer in the US. We have these born on dates or expiration dates, kind of the same shit. Should we be looking at skills, capabilities, experiences in much the same way.

Caitlin MacGreg :   I believe that it’s like reference checks. You still want to do them, but where you’re doing them in the process, you don’t start with 1,000 people that you’re looking at with doing reference checks on every single one of them. You do reference checks much later on. And for me it looking at those hard skills and that past experience, that’s simply a calculation of, is this person going to be up to speed in three months or are they going to be up to speed in six months or nine months? Do I have the capabilities of being able to onboard them and fill in those gaps? 

Or do I need somebody to hit the ground running. It’s same thing with salary. Are they within the pay band that I need to pay, or is there some reason that they’re outside of that. Those questions are important, but they come later, you want to start with meeting the best people that over a 2, 3, 4 year period are going to be the ones to outperform all their peers.

You want to start with those people and then use all the other data to whittle down the pool. But the great thing is sometimes there’s somebody that is a great match. And you realize that maybe some of those other boxes aren’t checked, but maybe you now want to think about where else in the organization could they help. That time that you spent meeting this amazing person you can now talk about where else could they fit. You haven’t wasted your time. You’ve met in great person with great potential. Now it’s about finding how do you place all of them into different opportunities in your organization.

William Tincup:   I love it. Listen, thank you so much, Caitlin, for your time and wisdom. This has just been a great show.

Caitlin MacGreg:   Thank you so much.

William Tincup:   Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast until next time

Music:   You’ve been listening to the Recruiting Live Podcast by Recruiting Daily. Check out the latest industry podcast, webinars, articles, and news at recruitingdaily.com.

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Authors
William Tincup

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.


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