Welcome back to The RecruitingDaily Podcast! Today, have Andrew Bartlow of Series B Consulting on to talk about people priorities for high-growth organizations.
As co-founder and managing partner of Series B Consulting, Andrew helps companies create people management practices that foster success. He provides talent and organizational advisory services, as well as mentoring for HR leaders. This is fitting, as Andrew has over 25 years of experience in the human resources and talent acquisition fields, and he has served as a top HR leader for multiple high-growth organizations.
Series B Consulting helps organizations grow, transform and drive strategic priorities using a practical, science-based approach to build clarity and direction and achieve scaling goals. Series B Consulting utilizes professionals across a broad array of industries to give clients custom attention, as well as provide deep-process design and implementation expertise in performance management, compensation and incentives, talent acquisition, benefits, culture and M&A integration.
A few things we talk about today: What are the most common misconceptions about organizational growth? How do we determine what employee size a company will best thrive at? Is there a secret sauce for assessing people priorities and areas of change?
There’s more, of course! Listen in and make sure to drop your thoughts in the comments.
Listening Time: 31 minutes
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Andrew helps organizations design people management practices that support their success through providing talent & organizational advisory services and by mentoring HR leaders.Follow
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. Makes 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.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Andrew on, and his company’s name is Series B Consulting. And he’s written a book called Scaling For Success. And our title of our show today is people priorities for high growth organizations. So we’re going to be getting and unpacking a bunch of stuff. Him, his company, his book, but most importantly, the topic. So Andrew, welcome to the show. Would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Series B, give us a little overview of that? And then we’ll want to talk about the book as well.
Sure, sure. Thanks a lot. Thanks. Thanks for the underhand pitch there.
Yeah, no worries.
I’ll try to get it out of the infield. Yeah. So my name is Andrew Bartlow based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, 25-ish years of human resources experience at companies very large and very small. Fortune 50 to less than 50 total employees. Got lucky with a rocket ship ride, company went public, real estate tech enabled company a few years ago that I had a little tiny piece of. And after exiting there, hung my single shingle, wrote my bucket list book, that’s Scaling For Success, just got released last month from Columbia University Press. And I now consult and advise venture backed and private equity backed high growth companies. And I do a decent amount of one-on-one mentoring of other HR leaders early in their career. Let my mistakes help move you forward.
That’s the beauty of HR, is that it’s constantly, A, evolving, but it’s also you learn things along the way that you wish you could go back and tell yourself 20, 30 years ago and say, “You know what? You probably shouldn’t have done this.” Just on the Series B side, just as you’re talking to folks, especially in private equity and venture companies, do you find that you’re having to kind of undo things? Like things that are already kind of structured incorrectly, and you’re kind of undoing? Or is it more, “Okay, I can see what you’ve laid down here foundationally. Okay. Here’s what we need to do that’s next”?
I think, rather than unwinding infrastructure or tearing down programs, and there’s plenty of opportunity to do that, more so-
Yeah. More so I’m resetting some assumptions and expectations around-
Oh, smart. And I’m assuming that’s with the C-suite and the board?
Yep. Yep. That’s right. That’s right.
So they think one thing about talent acquisition, and you’re kind of coming behind that and going, “Hmm. Okay. Well, the reality is, or a reality is,” and kind of rightsizing that.
That’s right. That’s right. Lot of lifting and shifting of other people’s best practices that might not be a good fit for their company.
You want to be Zappos? Yep. Got it. Everybody wants to be Zappos. Totally understand.
It’s interesting, because on that side you’re consulting both with them, I can see it being a really interesting line of consulting with them and kind of making sure that they understand the whole people function, so talent acquisition all the way across, and getting them to kind of, I don’t know, rethink maybe some of the assumptions they might have had historically about recruiting or HR.
But you’re also working with practitioners, people like yourself, your peers, and helping them through situations that are either foreseen or unforeseen.
That’s right. That’s right. Whether it’s TA, talent acquisition, TM, talent management, or people ops, the actual administration inside an organization. I find myself using an analogy really, really frequently to help people understand the potential here. You can be a great server and a great order taker, and imagine a restaurant where somebody brings you the hot burger and the delicious fries and you do a great job delivering customer service as you bring out somebody’s order. That’s one role of human resources is to take the order and do it really, really well with great customer experience. But the miss is often the opportunity. In human resources, it’s how does your organization function? How do you manage your people and your team? And so you could be advising on what should the menu be, designing the menu, designing the customer experience entirely. What does the customer flow look through look like? How much should things on the menu be priced? What should be on the menu? Not just delivering an order with a smile. So there’s a big opportunity for human resources leaders to elevate a bit and help orgs think about how they could operate differently.
I love that. And I think COVID has actually helped HR. I think two things that actually helped HR. I think COVID has actually given HR an opportunity to really shine and really kind of step up and show people how, A, complicated and sometimes even conflicting that HR can be. And also I think the recent SEC people analytics reporting, which is ultimately going to be a really good thing for HR, where you’ve got to report on your people analytics data. Which is great, because CEOs, when they do their earnings calls, they’re going to have to tell the truth about their people analytics data, which I think is fantastic. Or at least as an opportunity for HR.
Yeah. It’s a double edged sword though. Because I think it strengthens the gravitational pull into the black hole of administrivia and-
Good point. Good point.
And HR folks very often get pulled into the compliance emphasis and keep the trains running sort of thing. I can’t tell you how many CEOs I’ve spoken with that said, “Oh, HR, great. Hire people and keep me out of jail.” Yeah. And so many-
Yes. Yes. Partly.
That’s one spoke.
Right. Right. And there’s more to it. There can be more to it, anyway. And so resist that pull of the black hole of doing nothing but becoming the administrative expert. There’s also the business expert. Yeah.
It’s an opportunity, but if left unchecked then you’re in compliance land. Which is great because you’re already in compliance land, you’re trying to expand that. So when you wrote the book you obviously had a premise. You did research and you did all the things that a great author would do. Why did you want to write the book?
Well, it was my bucket list book, in part. Right? So I had a great exit from a company that did really, really well. I was in the top job in my function at the time, and pulled my parachute. And was a really terrible stay-at-home dad for about six months, and unfulfilled and all of that. Was thinking, “All right, what do I do with myself? I’m not going to be a professional tennis player, that’s for sure. So what do I do if I’m not going to go back to the 70 plus hour a week full time in-house job?” And I didn’t want to do that. And I think that’s what led me to the book and the consulting advising work that I do now. And it was, “Do something useful with the 20 something years of experience that you have.” And boy, I tell you, I’ve been embarrassed throughout at least points of my career to tell people that I work in human resources.
There are all these assumptions that come with it. “Oh, you’re the payroll and benefits. And you deal with people’s problems. And people must love you, or people must hate you.”
It’s like [inaudible 00:09:34]. So I-
Nothing good comes out of HR. It’s the no department. Well, both of us are relatively old enough to remember personnel.
And so you’ve even got some of the historic stuff of just like, “Okay. So yeah, you do payroll.” It’s like, “Hmm. Well, kind of.”
Right. Yeah. And at times I told people that I did internal management consulting.
And that’s accurate, right?
Yes it is. Of course it is.
That’s what the work is or can be. And so to get back to your question, why did I write the book, I wrote it to help other HR people see what the role could be. And I can’t say that I did it that way or the right way all the time-
… but again, let my pain help you move forward
100%. 100%. I mean, I think that some of the best stories is you tell people where you failed and how you failed and what you learned from it, and hopefully they don’t have to go through that exact same failure. They can see it and go, “Yeah, you know what? That’s happening at my job. And I think I now have a way to avoid that.” Let’s talk about the way that we framed up this particular discussion, the people priorities for high growth organizations. So let’s just kind of unpack this, the beginning of this. What should be, if you were starting brand new with a client or even with a friend, and they asked you about, “Okay, people priorities,” they talk about people, “We’re starting a business. How do we start the function of recruiting or HR instead of it being an afterthought?” How do you usually coach them?
Well first, I’ve never had a question that well positioned or that open. Usually somebody’s coming … Think of a doctor’s office. Somebody comes into the doctor’s office and says, “I want this particular drug in this quantity right now.”
My toe hurts.
Well, and then ideally you would position it the way you just did, which is you come to the expert and you ask them, “How do I unpack this? How do I even think about it?” The difficulty in this world is that you have people that are in leadership roles that aren’t sure how to approach it. They’re doing a lot of self diagnosis. And so I end up more so with questions around, “Hey, how do I keep my culture the same? It’s starting to break down.” Or, “What’s the ratio of management employees that I should have to frontline staff, or technical to non-technical?” Things like that. And so most of what I end up doing ends up, number one, helping the organization to clarify what their goals and their priorities are.
And so, just so I understand, in your mind and as you’re experienced, there’s a relationship between the priorities, the people priorities, and growth?
Yeah. Well, there’s a relationship between-
Or there should be.
There should be a relationship between the company priorities and the people priorities.
Right. Good point.
And far too often neither one of those are well defined. And especially in a high growth org where everything’s important and it’s chaos and everything’s changing all the time.
Oh yeah. The product has to do this. We’ve got to grow by this by much.
Right. Just hire people.
Yeah, just hire people.
Just hire people. Pay them whatever. And then later we’ll figure out whether they should be paid properly or what they’re doing, or who they’re working for, or how to manage them.
So the watershed is identifying the people, excuse me, the business priorities.
And in drawing those out into a couple of initiatives that you can actually really attain. And then underneath that people priorities that watershed from that, that are in total alignment with those initiatives and priorities. And then underneath that, again, growth is going to be one of those for a lot of companies that you deal with of course. Growth is going to be one of those priorities.
Right? So how do you want to position growth for them? Like when you talk to them about growth? It’s like, “Okay.” So they tell you, “Hey Andrew, we want to hire 1000 engineers next year.” Okay.
That’s a lot of engineers.
That’s a lot of engineers. That’s a hard stop. Yes.
But they’ve got a reason. They’ve got a certain number of lines of code that need to be written for the product to be where it needs to be. Right. So okay, understandable. How do you map that back to them to then say, “Okay. So if I understand the business priority as you’ve stated it, you’ve given me an outcome that’s related to something that’s growth, that’s product related. Okay.” How do you then demystify HR and TA, and talent management as well, like with all of that? Okay. I can pull these things together, but now I’ve got to explain to them how we get from point A to point B.
Sure. There’s a talent partner that I’ve done some work with on the book, Peter Clarke, a talent partner for Accel. And he gave me a quote for the book that relates directly to this. He said there are a lot of founders, especially technical founders, that just don’t even know where to start in terms of approaching some of the people problems. And he frames it up, I love this approach, I’ve borrowed it freely, “It’s like any sort of engineering or product problem. Just identify what you’re trying to get to. Break the problem down into its component parts. And work backwards from your goal.” So it works exactly the same way. So, all right, you want 1000 engineers? Well, all right. What sort of timeframe are we working with? What sort of budget are we working with? What are our constraints? What are our resources today?
I love this. I love this.
Yeah. You just break it down. And you’ll probably have a blend of solutions. Or probably some vendors. There are probably some contractors, there’s probably some internal team that you could use. And there will be a variety of options. And you might want to get some input from additional sources as well. But don’t just jump to the conclusion that, because Zappos or Google or whoever hires X number per month or per quarter, that you’ll same rate. And what sort of candidate funnel are you going to have? What sort of selection process are you going to have? A lot of high growth organizations really stifle their growth by having an awkward selection process that strains candidates out of it.
Well, and it’s exacerbated now with candidates, or in general they’re faster than the TA teams. So the candidates, by the time we’ve made them go through the gauntlet of whatever, they’ve already landed somewhere else. They had five already offers, and they’ve already landed somewhere else by the time we get back to them. So we’ve got to get faster. I love the way that you’ve kind of reconstructed this for people really that are STEM oriented. So the folks that are science, technology, engineering, and math oriented founders. It’s like, “Okay, I could give you the answer, but why don’t we just break it down like you would break down a normal problem that you deal with. But we’re going to be doing it with people.” I love that. And now you can explain kind of getting into the funnel and talking to them about, “Okay, it’s price, quality, and speed. Right? So what is the budget?” When you ask a simple question like that, most of the people you’re interact with, they’re not even thinking about budget. That hasn’t even crossed their mind. Like, “What do you mean budget? We’ll put it on our website.”
It’s like, “Well, no. Not for the 1000 engineers that you want to hire. You’re going to have to actually do these other things.” So first of all, I love … and I know that you’ve obviously modified this, but I think that this is really great for those types of founders. Have you run into founders on your journey so far that are really people-centric. That really get it immediately?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Well …
Or more receptive early on?
Yeah. I’m pausing because I’ve come across, with a surprisingly high level of frequency, founders that are so people-centric that they overshoot it.
That are so people-centric that they’re throwing bread and circuses at the masses. And it’s the next program and the next pay raise.
That was a Roman reference for the audience. Nice.
That’s right. Yeah. Thanks.
Very well done.
Yeah. So like missing the point of what really helps your organization tick. And happiness is not necessarily productivity, and happiness is not necessarily predicated on giving somebody everything that they’re asking for.
Are these the same folks that kind of overthink or overshoot culture?
Yeah. So it’s iconoclast, they’ve created what they believe is … Not cult. That’s not the right word, because that has a negative connotation. But they create culture, and they think that that’s what people will be both attracted to, but also that’ll retain talent.
I’ll share what hopefully isn’t an offensive analogy, or not intended to be demeaning.
Right. No, no.
I’m a parent of small kids. And in parenting, if your kids are asking for candy or they refuse to eat the whatever, and you give your kid everything that they want or they’ll throw a tantrum, you’re probably going to raise spoiled kids and have a really chaotic, messy household. And so part of the role of the parent is to decide what’s best for them, and gently coach them and direct them. There are some strong correlations to how you can and probably should run a well-functioning organization.
Right. The guardrails are there. Whether or not we pay attention to the guardrails and then becomes an us thing.
With people and growth, if we just strip those two things out, through your storied career, what have you seen as the barriers for people to understand the relationship between people and growth?
Oh and I just saw your-
Tell me more about that.
I just saw your book in the background. Very nice. Well positioned. I like that.
[crosstalk 00:21:23] right here over my shoulder. Yeah. Well, I don’t think you have video for the podcast.
No, I don’t.
But it keeps me [crosstalk 00:21:28].
I do love that, because it’s like, “Here’s the Amazon number. By the way, just to …” No I’m just kidding. I love that actually. I’m shocked when authors don’t have their book out. I’m like, “This is an opportunity.” So the relationship between people and growth, and really I’m trying to think of the misconceptions and the misfires that people have with the two. So we talked on the positive side of about alignment and how do we get to alignment? And then how do we explain the infrastructural things that have to happen? I love the way that you positioned and broke down problem solving and getting their mindset over to kind of a spot where they would understand probably people on a level that would make more sense for them. But when you run in, and historically you’ve run into folks that want growth but they don’t understand the relationship between people and growth, what have been those misconceptions?
Yeah. Here’s a situation that happens so often, where there’s a successful organization through a certain stage, or series of stages. And because they’ve grown, because they’ve added staff and added layers and added geographic dispersion or new business lines or whatever, they’ve added complexity. And things have to change. Things have to evolve. Trust and communication and the dirty word of process.
Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
And structure. You can’t manage an organization of 125 people the same way that you did 25 people. It won’t work. And likewise again at 1,250 people. Yeah. So those layers, that complexity, the distance from the top and the decision makers, there is necessary evolution to your culture and to your systems and processes, which originally probably didn’t exist at all, that needs to happen. And I find very frequently that there’s resistance to those big company processes. And that holds companies back.
It’s interesting that you say that. Because first of all, I agree with you. And I’ve seen it on the CEO side, especially in our space, is that there’s very few CEOs in our space on the technology side that have taken a garage or idea all the way to public. Right? And they usually tap out at a certain point, 5 million, 20 million, 100 million, 250 million, whatever the bid is, they tap out. So the question is, in your experience, is there HR folks that thrive at those certain levels? So we’ve focused on the growth side and the business side, but because of your experience the question is, is there TA folks that thrive at the 1000 person versus the 100 person firm?
Oh, sure. Whether it’s TA folks or HR folks, or the CEO founder, there’s generally some preferences in style, some preferences in interaction, how fast and loose versus structured and disciplined you want to be. And that roughly correlates to organization size. Right? If you really like the immediate gratification and that just do it now and-
Oh yeah, startup.
… a small team in a small room sort of thing, that’s a style preference. And there’s the possibility of being successful at multiple stages, but it’s just not super common that you both enjoy it and you’re successful at it.
That’s right. That’s right. So the complexity that you got, the people have to love that complexity, or fall in love with the change in themselves, and say, “We’re at 100 employees. We went from 10 to 100. Now we’re at 100. And things are going to change.” And they want to change. They’re happy about the change. And they can change. They have the capacity to change. How do you assess for that? What’s been your secret way of knowing who works where? And again, that’s both on the C-suite side, but also on the HR side.
Yeah. There’s not a lot of hard science around it. Although I am a industrial organizational psychologist by Master’s degree training, I can apply all these-
Oh, we could talk about selection tools. [crosstalk 00:26:23].
You are propeller head. I didn’t know this.
All right. I got you.
Giant nerd. But that sort of thing, it’s not super useful at scale. I’ll use it for very senior level executive assessments when I can talk an investor group or board into doing it. Otherwise it’s more about talking to people, and asking them how it’s going and what is working for them and what’s not, and why. And people will tell you, usually. The larger issue is that the whole problem, I think, is often framed in a difficult way in people’s minds. In that it’s viewed as success or failure if you don’t love all stages. There’s this false belief that you’re failing somehow if you were super successful taking a company from 25 to 500, and now a different leader who’s taken an organization from 500 to 5,000 is brought in on top of you. And that’s not healthy for anybody. Right? It’s not failure. It’s like, “Hey, have the gold watch moment. You helped get us here. That’s fantastic. We’d love to have you stay in a different capacity.” Or not-
Or go do it again.
Yeah. Or go do it again in a different way.
But it’s not failure.
I see a lot of people trying to hold on past what they really enjoy doing because they view it as failure.
Oh, wow. That’s emotionally freeing, is to let people, “You know what? It’s okay.” The person, you can either learn from them, stay and try and figure out the mechanics of going from 500 to 5,000. Or, if you just really loved going from 50 to 500, there’s a ton of companies out there that would love to have you.
As we roll out, you’ve dealt with people through your career that just refuse to get it. Right? You’re talking to them and you’re saying all the things that you would say to kind of get them emotionally and intellectually over to this place where they understand, and they just don’t understand what you’re saying. What’s your knockout? Do you have a knockout question? Like I when I owned an ad agency and I was working with prospects, if I heard the words fast, easy, or cheap I’d automatically stop the conversation.
Like just hard stop. Like, “Hey, love you, and love this conversation. But you just said one of my key words. And if you think that anything we do fits into any of those categories, we can’t work together.” And I knew underneath what was going on psychologically. Do you have anything like that? Like you’ve dealt with the naysayers or someone that just doesn’t get it. How do you know? And again, how do you walk away from something like that?
Yeah. Well, I think you’re prompting me to have a clearer knockout along the way. You definitely uncover through conversation whether somebody’s aligned with your view of the work and the approach or not. Maybe the closest thing to that would be the perceived ownership.
Ooh, that’s good.
So in the HR world, if the business leader wants you as the TA or HR person to own it and drive it and decide it, and they want to delegate it to you-
Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re an order taker.
Yeah. Well, it’s just doomed to fail, because the business leader needs to own most of the approach around how their people processes work.
I love that. I love that. And then again, there’s just co-ownership as well. You actually then say, “Hey, we can do this together.” And again, now getting back to what we’ve set up to do, you’re aligning those business priorities to the people priorities, and again, to growth, et cetera. So Andrew, thank you so much. We went a little bit long. I apologize. But I could keep talking to you because you’re just dripping of wisdom. So thank you so much for the time today, and thanks for coming on the podcast.
I appreciate it. Thank you.
Absolutely. Have a wonderful day. 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.