Bureau Veritas – How To Think About Agile Recruiting With Trent Cotton
Today, we have Trent Cotton on the RecruitingDaily podcast from Bureau Veritas. Our topic is how to think about Agile Recruiting, so we’re going to be taking the concepts of Agile and applying them to all things talent acquisition.
He’s literally written the book on the subject, so get ready to learn a lot.
Listening time: 28 minutes
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Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. And you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Trent Cotton on from Bureau Veritas. And the topic today is how to think about Agile Recruiting. So we’re going to be taking the concepts of Agile and applying them to all things talent acquisition. Trent, do us a favor, introduce both yourself and especially talk a little bit about your book that just came out, And also Bureau Veritas, your company that you work with.
Alright, so my background is prior to getting into HR in 2004, I was a banker, and put myself through college started out as a teller did everything from private banking to retail, like running branches, did a little bit of commercial lending, and got into mortgage in late 2003, early 2004. It was managing a buck for states for a mortgage company and my daughter was two years old. And I just kind of reached a point where I was like, you know what alone’s alone, you know, managing 48 people at the time, I was fairly young. And I was like, you know, I want to see if there’s something else out there. And so did a pivot, and took on a contracting role for a bank as a recruiter and spent probably the first six months being told that I didn’t know what I was doing. But at the end of the day, you know, I mean, recruiting is just sales, you know, you’ve got to be able to identify targets, manage your pipeline and portfolio.
And, you know, as a lender, I was always having to work between my client and underwriting. And in recruiting, it’s the same, it’s just different, different players, you’ve got your candidate and your manager, you have to be able to manage both of them from the relationship aspect. So fast forward from 2004 I did HR consulting, I think HR management fell back into your talent acquisition worked for 10 years for BBVA, which is an International Bank. And this is week three for me at Bureau Veritas. So really, really interesting. Again, you know, I like to kind of change things up.
So, you know, I started on January the 25th, I released a book on January the 25th. And I’m moving soon. So you know why in the world do anything one at a time, I just like to do it all at one time and just kind of test the chaos theory. But Bureau Veritas is a really interesting company, I haven’t been in tech and banking for most of my career, you know, coming into a space that is is monster, to be quite honest. I’m learning stuff that we do every day. But what I do know now is that if it can be tested, inspected, or certified, somehow we have our hands on it. So that goes everything from the food labels, that you look on the back of a can or the back of a package of food, we certify that. We test it, make sure that all the nutritional value that has been stated is real. We also do all kinds of really cool stuff in the sustainability and renewable space: oil, building certifications, road certifications, we even certify things on cars.
So if you’re interested in learning, everything that we do, there’s a really cool video out on YouTube. It’s called a day in the life of Bureau Veritas. And it walks through, you know, this guy that wakes up in the morning and grabs his phone and you know, checks his email, and it talks about all the things that we certify, and the phone and as he goes throughout the day, we just kind of point out all the different interactions with objects or services that he has that we have a hand in making sure that what is being presented is safe, that it is real, and that it’s authentic to whatever the manufacturer or the service provider is stating. So a brand new world. It has definitely got my mind wondering. So it’s really it’s just a lot of fun. So here I am responsible for talent acquisition and talent strategy. So that includes from the time that we identify a candidate and speak to them the first time, all the way through the employee journey, which loops in, you know, things like retention, engagement, it also loops in employer branding. So, kind of a big boy role.
It scares me sometimes whenever I think about it, you know, I’m over, kind of all of these fun initiatives and a daunting task for the North American group. So it’s US and Canada. And then we’ve also got some stuff in Mexico and Central America.
What’s great about it, I mean, from my perspective, of course, not working the job, is you’re still dealing with experience, right? So candidate experience, recruiter sourcer, hiring manager, and now you’re extending that into some of the employee experience stuff so it’ll, that, that will impact learning and performance and internal mobility and all these other things. Which I think more recruiters, more TA leaders are getting themselves into one way or another, you know, either at some point. Or because of choice, but I actually like that.
Well, and I’m a data nerd. One of my famous quotes for teams that I lead is William Deming. It’s called “In God we trust and everyone else must bring data.”
Yeah. Either that or the guy from Napster that said, “If we’re going with anyone’s gut, we’re gonna go with mine. If not, you’ve better have data. I like that too, but I always, the Deming quote is a little bit more.
Yeah, yeah. I think, Shawn, I think Sean Parker also got pardoned by Trump. So…
Yeah, so we’ll we’ll just kind of stay away from –
We’ll stay with Deming. Yeah, you know. Safer bet.
That’s the reputational risk of theirs.
Yeah. It’s just, it’s fascinating. Because you know, a lot of the stuff that under the previous firm we had gone through an agile transformation. And, you know, we’re going to talk about how you know, the team and I developed sprint recruiting, so applying agile to, to the recruiting process, but it’s just kind of interesting, it’s a little bit of a shell shock to go back into an organization that’s not familiar with agile and just kind of slowly introducing some of the stuff. It’s really it to me, it’s fun.
It’s almost like coming to a canvas, a blank canvas and being able to choose the colors that we want to and choose what are we going to paint? You know, it’s to me that that’s what’s really interesting, and it makes me energized, sometimes too energized to go to sleep. Always, always does the wake up.
So okay, so let’s get into this sprint recruiting and agile. So for those that maybe hear about agile on the technology side, the concept of agile and agile development? How do you apply the concepts and in making work for, again, Sprint recruiting or agile recruiting? How do you how do you let’s, let’s, let’s assume people don’t know, and then let’s bring them into how you do it.
Alright, I love using this example, because I like picking on the government. If you think about any government project, there are some some pretty well-known concepts, right? It is not going to be on time, it will never come in on budget, and it will probably about 60% of the time not be what the users actually want. Right. And if you think about, you know, a website, we’ll use the Affordable Care website as an example. You know, there was 22,000 pages of documentation of what the website should do. And they spent 90 days on doing that, and then turn around and the thing was off – late and billions of dollars. And then they released the damn thing, and nobody can use it, it doesn’t do what it was supposed to do. And it reminds me of that Loki from you know, Avengers, when he says, you know, you have one job. It didn’t do it. Now, you compare that to a company like Apple, or Facebook, or any major tech company that has to move quick. But they have to be client-centric.
So they have to build something that a user will actually want to use and be able to use with, with a little bit of intuition. But they also have to do it at you know, kind of lightning speed but be able to manage the cost. And that’s where agile comes in. So versus your traditional project management. You know, we’re going back to the government building something, you know, all this documentation, there’s all these different people, you go from A to B to C. Agile says, Okay, let’s break up this huge project. Okay, we got to build an app for a company, you know, to increase their sales. So there may be what they call epics or major milestones that they want to do. One is, you know, they want whenever people were close to their store to get a notification that there’s a sale going on to try and drive traffic there. That’s one epic, you know, the other epic might be you know, being let’s say it’s a fashion company, it’s been able to build your own outfit and order it directly online. That’s another epic. So it takes those different milestones, but then it breaks it down into like two or three or four week sprints.
So that’s all you work on, you know, is that one epic and you test it with the client, get the feedback, then, you know, kind of move right along into the next one. So you’re able to move and iterate. And with each iteration, you’re increasing efficiency, you’re increasing the client buy in. But more importantly, you’re building a product that the client will actually want, and doing it in a more efficient manner. The other aspect of it is that, you know, if you’re developing something in Agile, you want cross functional teams. So you want the QA and the QC, you want the developers in there. And then they have what’s called a product manager that is responsible for basically being the voice of the client, and pushing back and making sure that everything stays on track. And it’s a it’s a fascinating, fascinating process.
So you’ve got agile as a methodology, and then you’ve got Scrum, which is kind of the process that you follow. And we took agile, but a lot of the stuff that we’ll talk about today is more in line with Scrum. And it’s how do you move, and I’m not a sports person, so the analogy I’m about to give you is the entire depth of my sports knowledge. The goal of Agile is, you know, whenever you go into a football game, of course, you want to win, and you want to win by a certain number of points. But how do you move that ball play by play by play in the team? You know, everyone has a different role, but they all function as a team. And the goal is, how do we get another five yards? Or how do we get another 10 yards? And that’s all they focus on for that one play. And that’s very similar to how Scrum and Agile work together. And it’s also very similar to what we built into sprint recruiting.
So from sourcing, working all the way to recruiting and hiring managers, all the way to the offer letter, and then possibly to onboarding. Take us, take us into one of – I mean, you know, genericize it. We don’t want to talk about, you know, specific people, but take us, take us through, you know, finding the talent, marketing the talent, getting them to apply to a job, and then working em through all the different things that you would work on through assessment wise and screening and all that other stuff, interviewing, offer letter, all the way to acceptance. Take us, take us into that from an Scrum and or agile perspective.
Alright, why don’t we actually zoom out? Alright, because that’s kind of the tactics. Yeah, let’s talk about the playbook. All right. When, when we were going through and and, you know, I’d just come out of Agile and Kanban and Scrum training, and it was more for an organizational standpoint. I had kind of reached another point in my career where I was like, do I really want to do this? From a recruiting standpoint. I was a leader of a small team at the time. And it’s your traditional stuff that all of us deal with, as recruiters. The managers are saying that you’re not hiring enough candidates in a quick amount of time. The recruiters are saying, hiring managers aren’t giving you feedback. And there were a couple of days where I go, am I a leader of talent acquisition or a daycare manager? Because I really felt like, you know, did Johnny slap Susie or did Susie bite Johnny? I mean, that’s just not, that’s not how I roll. That’s not what I like to do.
And some of the transformation and the targets that we had to hit from a talent perspective, I couldn’t believe the team was constantly doing that. And we discovered that there are four basic pitfalls of how recruiting is done now. The first one is that everything is a priority, which means that nothing is a priority. I love, I think, I can’t remember who says it. But if you say no to one thing, you’re saying yes to the other. But if you say yes to something, you’re probably saying no to two other things. So you know, managing your recruiting workload is a lot of yes no’s, because you know, what’s what’s going to be the most, most impactful for your business. So that’s one of the major pitfalls. The other is that there is like a lack of direction or beat. I’m a musician and I always like to play whenever there’s a drummer. Because regardless of what the time signature is, we all lock in step with what that beat of that drum. In traditional recruiting you don’t really have that. It’s it’s very much like that Lucille Ball, that famous scene from her where you know, you’ve got her trying to like work in the Chocolate Factory and like speed up and she’s
Whenever I look at traditional recruiting that exactly the, the, I guess, the scene that comes to mind, and I imagine that a lot of us who have been in recruiting. That’s just kind of how recruiting is. And a lot of times we are out of touch with our with our clients we’re misaligned to what their business goals are. That could be because we don’t understand the business or we’re just going after the lowest hanging fruit, you know, what jobs can we get filled quick. And then the last, the biggest thing is the feedback loop is broken. So a lot of recruiting organizations, they’ll go out there and they’ll develop a service level agreement or SLA, but it’s only what recruiting will do. There’s no accountability on the manager. And it just doesn’t work. So you take those four pitfalls, and then you look at the four principles of sprint, and they deal with each one of those to make sure that the recruiting organization can start working more efficiently and start helping the business meet their talent needs. So the first principle is the sprint itself. What we do is we look at what can be accomplished in a two week period.
Alright, so we kind of set a smaller scope. Eating the elephant, one bite at a time. The next one is the business drives the priority. So I’ll come to you and go, Hey, William, you’ve got 45 jobs over the next two weeks. Which one’s the most important to your business? I’m giving you the voice. And I’m making you define success for me and the team, by giving you a bucket of points lets just say, 100 points over 45 positions over the next two weeks, you have $100 of my time, how are you going to spend it? So that 45 jobs, that seems like you know, you’re kind of struggling sand now comes down into something that you can manage over two weeks. And now we’re going to have the prioritization from our client. So you may go, this role is 45. This one’s 25, then allocate it somewhere else. So now I’ve got a dashboard. Every day, I can be completely obsessed with where I am, to be able to meet the definition of success that you’ve set as my client. And then the third principle comes into play. Within agile, there are things called work in progress limits, often referred to as whip limits. And essentially what that means is, if you think about recruiting, there are three different swings. You have the what the recruiter is doing, you have once you find candidates and you submit them to the manager, that’s another swim lane. And then the final swim lane is, of course, the hiring manager interview, what we do is we put in whip limits.
So a maximum number of candidates can be in each one of those swim lanes. And once you hit that limit, you stop working on that 45 pointer, and you move on to the 25. Because then that’s where the fourth principle comes in of feedback. We set an SLA, a mutual SLA of 48 hours. Once a manager interviews the candidate or reviews a resume, they have 48 hours to give us feedback. So that way, we can move quick and get that candidate in the process. Or we can disposition them out and go and try and find additional candidates. What we were finding when we charted this, the candidate journey while we were in beta. Is in the line of business. I think it was 67 days was the average period of time that candidates spent in process. And honestly, when it was one of the few times in my career, again, I’m a data nerd. So I chart everything. I measure everything. So I put you know, in each different stuff, how long do they spend in each step, and it is unreal, that glaring. The two bottlenecks were getting feedback from the manager after we submitted a candidate for review, and after they interviewed, to the tune of an average of two and a half, three weeks. But yeah, the client was coming to me saying you’re not filling this. So we put this into play the four principles. First one, we broke everything down into two weeks, we went to the clients, and you have a bucket of points over all these jobs. And we took a snapshot of the beginning of every sprint of all the open jobs and said, Where do you want us to focus. They allocated their points. We went in, we started sourcing, and it allowed, you know from the prioritization, allow the recruiter actually time block and look at the different swim lanes. So we’ll go back to the example of the 45 pointer. On that 45 pointer. How many candidates do I have in each one of those lines, and if I’m at my whip limit, meaning maximum of five sitting with the manager for interview, and I’ve got five sitting in his or her email box, I don’t spend any time on that 45 pointer, I go right to my 25 pointer.
So there’s that drumbeat that recruiters can start following. And then, the only way that that manager is going to get more candidates is if they give us feedback on the ones that they’ve already interviewed. And once we put that into play, you know, the first sprint was a little rough, because all it was trying to figure out what the hell we were doing. And managers and us, but by the third sprint, so six weeks in, I went in and recharted the candidate journey. We went down, we went from 67 days to 27, in six weeks.
Wow. Again, that’s focus. I mean, what I love about agile in general on the development side, and as you’ve applied it to, to recruiting, obviously, we can apply it to HR as well. Is it gets everyone on the same page fast. I want to I want to ask you two questions. First one is, is you talked about I think briefly talked about talking classes. So I want to kind of A get your, your your take on you know what do whatever recruiters, you know, when they’re thinking about this or hearing the podcast, and they’re gonna say Okay, that sounds like a real – that sounds like that would help me. What did you do? What do you think other people need to do and then second off of that is Can you imagine recruiting, can you imagine a world where you don’t do agile recruiting in the future?
Well, I can I can answer in reverse order. And yes, I can. Yes, I’m implementing sprint, at Bureau Veritas. And it was a shell shock, right? Whenever I came back, but it was good, it was really, really good. I got so used, I mean, we did it for two years. But I got so used to being able to come in and know exactly where we were at an organizational level, because part of the spread process is we also create cadence of meetings. So you know, for your, your average listener, who’s been in recruiting, who looks at, you know, their calendar, and they’ve got the dreaded weekly meeting, where we just go over updates, the fact that we don’t have updates, because all we’re doing is sitting in update meetings. Those are gone, we limit it to you have a biweekly retrospective. So you go over the previous sprint, and the recruiters and the hiring manager, talk about what worked and what didn’t. So whatever worked, we scale it, whatever it doesn’t, we fix it. That way, we’re not creating this insanity loop that is typical in traditional recruiting. And then, you know, for for a lot of the recruiters to come in and have prioritization to be able to move things along, it actually creates capacity for them to go in and get a jumpstart on those positions that don’t have points, and we were able to close more jobs as a result.
So if, if I’m looking at kind of where I am now, compared to where I’m used to be, I like to use the metaphor of pilots. You know, a lot of the most awful tragedies are a lot of times because something went out on the dashboard. And the pilots have to look out the window and fly. And it never works. They have to have a dashboard. I have it spread, I have a dashboard. I know everything is going on. And I don’t get client, get blindsided. So yes, I can. I can imagine the world, I’m living in it. But we’re going to fix this quick fast in a hurry. We’re slowly, I wasn’t going to do it for like 30 or 45 days, but two weeks, and I was like, Alright, we got to put a couple of these organizations on sprint to kind of calm down the noise. If I were a recruiter and said, Hey, this really sounds kind of cool. I will offer two different solutions for them. The first one, they can go to sprintrecruiting.com, which you know, I write a lot about, you know, Sprint and how we were able to implement it, some of the some of the challenges and kind of break it down in very high level quick reads, I try to keep it between three to five minute reads. So there’s a lot of material out there.
If you really want to dig into it, you can go out to Amazon and look for the book Sprint Recruiting. And read through the book, I go into detail of even conversations that I had with managers, and you know some of the bumps that we ran into and how we tested it so that way, as you’re implementing something like this, you can avoid it. Now, if I wanted to learn more about agile and Scrum, for Scrum, you can read the book by Jeff Sutherland, or do like I did and listen to it on Audible. It’s a fantastic book, he gives great examples of how that methodology has been implemented in things that all of us know about. Projects that all of us know about, that are incredibly successful. But I never knew that Scrum was the reason that they were able to deliver the market so quickly. And then you know, quite honestly, on LinkedIn and on YouTube, there’s so much material about Agile and how, how it works better than traditional management, Scrum. There’s a great thing. It’s about a five or 10 minute video out there is like a little cartoon, somebody drawing a cartoon that goes through Scrum that that’s pretty, pretty impressive. So the amount of information that’s out there, William, I mean, you don’t have to sit through a class, you don’t have to get certified. There’s enough information out there that someone who wants to know can really go up.
Awesome. So any cons so far as as you roll out any new system and approach sheet you can find some pitfalls or things to work around such you have to kind of kind of deal with his Have you seen in rolling out Scrum and agile in general? Have you seen anything that you’ve had to tweak to make it really work for TA?
Oh, yes, yes yes. When we first rolled it out. We only did the points, right, on what the client did. But then we started noticing that, you know, there were a couple of sprints where, you know, they said A, B and C are most important but then X Y, and Z in the middle of the sprint became a priority. And you know, we filled the role, but then we looked like we sucked, whenever we charted out, you know, the sprint progress. So we went in and we said, okay, let’s test this. If we fill a role that is not, we call it in sprint, meaning, you know, you as the hiring manager have assigned points if we feel some of the extras, we wanted to chart that because that’s measurable work and so we gave it extra credit points. And if you can imagine looking at kind of a bar and line, line chart, right, so the bar is the budget of points and this example 100 points, there is a blue line that charts how many points one. So how many positions that we get accepted offers during that sprint? So that’s a plot. That’s fantastic information. That shows you know how well did the recruiting team meet the needs of the client.
And it also gives us an opportunity to say, Okay, well, this one we kind of bombed. Clients, it was on you, because we’re sitting, out of your 45 jobs, 15 of them are sitting at whip limit. Meaning we’re waiting on your managers. So how do we move this faster? The key point that we were missing was that extra credit. So once we added that, we noticed I think it was like two Sprint’s later our, I think we hit like 40%, which was a very low amount for what we were running. But then when we looked at the number of points, extra credit points, it was almost double, if not triple what we were doing on the on the sprint. So I was able to sit down with our claim and saying the reason we weren’t successful against your definition of success is because you pulled a chicken little on us.
We during the sprint, you said go and chase all this over here. Do you understand prioritization? Do we need to have an elementary, you know, definition of it. And once we have that conversation, it never, what there was two or three times with COVID kind of. But for the most part William, we never had that problem again. And for a recruiter, what I love when I’m talking to other TA leaders, and I was on one about three or four weeks ago, and I asked him, What is your time to fill? Like, you don’t know what your time to fill is? As I said, I haven’t talked about time to fill in like 18 months. Yeah, the organization was what is your percent of the sprint, time to fill becomes irrelevant and what was really funny is, is when I was talking to the TA leader, I said, Well, why do you measure it? And well, we got to know how quickly we filled the position. So I get that. But let me ask you another question.
Do you measure how often your new hires quit within the first 90 180 or one year? She says, Yeah. I said, Okay, let’s just pick on the six months, on average, what’s your turnover rate for new hires, in the first six months. She goes 42% it’s something we’re working on. So let’s go back to your time to fill, you want to celebrate the fact that you got your time to fill from 45 days to 32 days by filling it 42% of the 42% of the time with the wrong person. That’s not a metric that I really want to have on the damn dashboard. Congratulations, you’re the biggest loser and you do it quicker than everybody else.
And oh, by the way, they don’t stay. So you, so quality of hire is down, retention is down everybody’s unhappy. Listen, we gotta we gotta run. Last thing on the way out, mention the book title again, and where people can get it?
It is Sprint Recruiting: Innovate, Iterate, and Accelerate your Recruiting Process.
I love it. Brother, thank you so much for carving out some time for us and the audience. And I love this topic we’re gonna have to, we’re probably gonna have to do four or five different shows on this just to give people more examples of how to implement. So thanks again for everyone who listens to the RecruitingDaily podcast and until next time. Thanks, Trent.
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.