Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 229. Today we’ll be talking to Lars Schmidt from Amplify Talent about Amplify Academy, and what led to the evolution from the Amplify Accelerator to the Amplify Academy.
Amplify Academy provides you with highly curated resources, exclusive content, courses and a community designed to help people leaders effectively support your organization and each other.
“Think kind of Netflix meets HR learning.”
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think. Thanks, William
Show length: 27 minutes
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Lars Schmidt is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker, podcaster, and advocate for modern HR & people practices.Follow Follow
Music: 00:02 Welcome to Recruiting Daily’s Use Case podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens or should happen when practitioners purchase technology.
Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better, as we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech, that’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup: 00:26 Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you are listening to the Use Case podcast. Today, we have a friend of ours on the show, Lars Schmidt and we’ll be talking about his Amplify Academy. So the Use Case for Amplify Academy, so Lars would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and the Amplify Academy?
Lars Schmidt: 00:44 Yeah. William, first off thanks for having me. It’s great-
William Tincup: 00:47 Sure.
Lars Schmidt: 00:47 … to be here and always great to catch up with you. So I’m Lars Schmidt, I am the founder of Amplify, I’ve spent about a little over 20 years in this space in a mix of corporate roles and then as an entrepreneur over the last eight plus years.
Also, like you host a podcast called Redefining HR. I’ve written a couple books, and I write for Fast Company on modern people practices, so essentially I’m just a big kind of want on modern HR and do what I can to find in spotlight progressive practices. The academy is kind of the evolution of all of that, so I started off writing and blogging, that became led to books and led to publications like Fast Company and Forbes, which led to the podcast, which led to my last book, and the book was really the genesis for the Amplify Academy.
So the Amplify Academy was really a platform kind of built from the ground up for these new kind of turbulent times that were in, to help connect HR and people practitioners with resources, with courses, with templates and with the community, that I think is needed to really survive and even thrive in this new world of work that we’re building, so it’s really entirely focused on resources and practices kind of oriented towards this new world of work that we’re building and supporting practitioners who are on that journey.
William Tincup: 02:17 So Lars is one of a very select group of people in the space, for me at least not doing with how he feels about me, about how I feel about him, that I totally respect and love what he does, everything he touches is gold, he’s got the Midas touch and I just love being around him, and every chance I wish we lived closer together, to one another so I could hang out with him more, but I want to go back to two things, two things that you… You went through those 20 years really quickly, obviously, and you needed to, but there’s two things that really kind of struck me.
One was you’re building with your partner, Ambrosia, the HRIS community at the beginning, I think it’s called something different now, but basically HR open source, the way that you approach that was beautiful because you basically said, “Okay, everyone’s got stuff that’s hidden somewhere, onboarding…” Something that everybody’s got some templates or process or they’ve… So why do we have to build all this stuff by ourselves or use a blank screen? Why don’t we share what we have, which I just thought was a wonderful way to approach it, and I don’t think anybody in the world had really ever approached recruiting in HR in that way, at the time. I might be wrong at that, but I loved it.
And then the second thing is at the beginning of COVID, you were one of the people trumpeting… Oh, I hate that word. The use of basically communication strategies, I remember on Twitter distinctly, you reaching out, talking to people, does anyone have a great employee communication plan? Does anybody have a template? Can anybody… Because that was chaos, madness and I remember you just basically stepping into that moment and going, “Okay, all right, calm down, somebody’s got a good employee communication strategy let’s figure out who does, and then let’s go from there.” But those are just two moments of hundreds, if not thousands of moments that I just, I love. So take us… First of all, correcting if I am wrong, in or of those examples.
Lars Schmidt: 04:41 Yeah, no you’re absolutely right especially in your kudos and accolades for me so I appreciate that. It’s a podcast, a blushing doesn’t matter, but I appreciate the kind words and you know how I feel about you, it’s definitely mutual brother.
I think with HR open source, I’ll hit that first. Really for us, I’d kind of come up through recruiting my co-founder Ambrosia Vertesi came up through HR and we were having beers and queso at South by Southwest, as one does back in 2015 and talking about how fortunate we were to be plugged into these robust kind of networks of people that are really operating at the vanguard of the field and the way that our learning and capabilities get accelerated because we have access to those ideas and those practices and those templates.
And we said, well, what if we can create a platform that can scale that for others, that may not have the privilege that we do of being connected to all those people, and all those groups and so that was really the origin of the story, and I think as it evolved, over the next couple of years, that it coincided with movements like Google’s re:Work movement and kind of the emergence of platforms like DisruptHR and Hacking HR and I think the movement away from our kind of legacy obsession with kind of black box, siloed practices and more open collaboration and sharing, and then kind of connecting that through to the early days of COVID, that was something that nobody in HR had experienced before, frankly, no humans had experienced before. Right?
William Tincup: 06:19 Right.
Lars Schmidt: 06:19 At that scale that the pandemic hit, and so in the… It was interesting even before, when COVID started moving from China to Italy in the early days, probably February 2020, I started seeing some chatter in some of my CPO networks around like, “Hey, this is spreading, this is becoming something that we need to be thinking about.” And that was a time when kind of coin based open sourced their pandemic response guide, and I knew that we needed to amplify that guide because I knew that we would need it and we were going to be caught flat footed at the speed of this thing.
And so I wrote a piece at Fast Company to amplify that guide and also include additional resources that I curated, and within two days it was moving so fast, that was all outdated. And so I think a lot of the lessons that I learned in building HR open source, I was able to apply to this and said, “Okay, well, everybody has a role to play. Everybody has a gift. Everybody has things that they can do.” And I’m not a practitioner in terms of somebody in that seat, writing those policies but where I can help the field is through my network and through the resources and the ideas and the people that I have access to.
I can create an open source platform and I can bring in all of those resources and then I can work to try to influence my friends, to share their resources back. Right? So it was such a magnificent case study in how open source should work, in terms of people were taking those published templates, using them to create their own templates and then contributing their own templates back to the shared collective and then that’s exactly how open source software works.
And so, to me that was probably one of the most amazing, real, tangible examples of textbook open source working in HR and everybody benefiting from it. And I remember that Google Doc, I originally created the resource in the Google Doc, and it was getting hundreds of thousands of hits a day and so I was getting locked out of it, as there was so much traffic so I literally had to set my alarm clock for three or four in the morning, so I could wake up and make the edits from that day when mostly Europe and Asia were using it and the US was still sleeping and that was the only way that I could keep it current and make updates.
So it was a really, it was an interesting moment, but it was a pivotal moment for our field and I just feel privileged that I had a role to play and that I could support the industry when we really needed it.
William Tincup: 08:57 I think both of those were building blocks, there’s just several others that we could go through, but there’s, both those were building blocks to the academy.
Lars Schmidt: 09:04 Yeah.
William Tincup: 09:04 So let’s go into the academy, take us through into kind of what you want to achieve, kind of the features and attributes of the community and the platform, et cetera.
Lars Schmidt: 09:14 Yeah. I mean, so the last year when I published Redefining HR, I got a lot of feedback from readers who… Redefining HR was really kind of written to be a blueprint for modern HR, loosely that sounds very grandstanding and I don’t mean to be that, but it really I wanted to kind of walk through like, “Here’s the compare and contrast between how legacy teams think about these things, and how modern teams think about these things.” And then including a lot of case studies within it so that it made those learnings kind of real for readers.
And so I got a lot of feedback from people saying, “Hey, I’m inspired to kind of go deeper in modern HR, where can I go next?” And I didn’t have anywhere to send them.
William Tincup: 09:51 Right.
Lars Schmidt: 09:52 Right? I didn’t have anywhere I was comfortable saying, “Oh yeah, it’s clearly this.” And so I just had one of those moments where I’m like, “Okay, that’s what I need to do, I need to build that.” And so it started last year as the Amplify Accelerator, which at the time was there’s three components.
It was a four week kind of pure learning cohort program around particularly aim at HR leaders, there was a community hosted in Slack and then there were courses, and I created one course that was designed to be like a workshop to accompany the book.
And fast forward to this year I’ve had five cohorts so far, I’ve had over 140 students go through those. Those have been tremendous, and I was beginning to think about the next series of courses I wanted to design, and as I did that, I thought, “You know? Yes, we do need courses, but what we really need is a lot more than that, we need courses, we need templates, we need resources, we need tools to help us find what we need. We need mechanisms to separate signal from noise because there’s so much content out there that it’s overwhelming for practitioners.” And so that’s really what led to the evolution from the Amplify Accelerator to the Amplify Academy.
And so what the academy is now is, it’s built, the hub of the academy is the Amplify learning lab, which is built on a learning platform called Sana labs. Sana labs is an AI learning tool based at a Stockholm that essentially, think kind of Netflix meets HR learning. It uses machine learning to learn about each individual learner, and personalize learning recommendations to them based on their own individual content consumption habits.
And so the Amplify learning lab has over 350 pieces of content from courses, from templates, from benchmarking reports to… One of the things that I was able to do with the learning lab, which is something I’ve always wanted to do since I launched Redefining HR podcast, is go back through every episode and carve it into two to three minute masterclass style clips of, because these are all like CHROs and CPOs at the very top of the field. And they had so much wisdom and it’s hard to kind of go back and parse that out of a 30 minute conversation, especially as time goes by. Right?
And so I went back through and identified moments in each conversation that I wanted to spotlight as standalone wisdom, and so those are called Redefining HR leadership bites, and so that’s another component of the learning lab. And so you have the learning lab, which is built in Sana labs, you have the Amplify Academy community, which is built in Slack.
Those are both under a subscription setup, so you could do a monthly or annual subscription to get access to both because I believe deeply that learning and community go hand in hand. And then there’s the cohort programs, which again are the four week learning programs. Those will now be run through Sana labs, which is a really powerful live kind of video platform as well, and so those are kind of the three components of the new Amplify Academy.
William Tincup: 13:05 So one of the things you said earlier was, how do you separate the signal and noise and you’ve said, I think twice now that, “I’m not a practitioner.” But when you and I first became aware of each other, you were a TA, you were on the obviously you’re on the recruiting side as a practitioner.
You sat at a desk, several different places, but you also are an expert in employer branding. You’ve broadened that scope through the years, you’ve broadened that scope from town acquisition all the way across to, from hire to retire, which keep it simple for folks.
Lars Schmidt: 13:42 Yeah.
William Tincup: 13:42 And you become an expert in all of those things. So one thing is, how do you separate the signal and noise? So one of the things is just Lars, how does Lars separate kind of, “eh” one from another. And because you’re curating a large, you’re curating content, you’re also creating your own ideas.
And folks if you haven’t got Lars book, I’ve read it, it’s wonderful, it’s got a lot of great ideas. It is, I don’t, I never recommend books to people because I just, I hate people that recommend books to me, but I would recommend this book. So please go check it out, go buy it. How do you separate signal and noise?
Lars Schmidt: 14:29 Yeah. It’s interesting, I’ve been curating content for probably over 15 years now. The range of newsletters and other things that I’ve had, and so when you look at the learning lab, the kind of framing of it I have is creation, curation and community. Right? Those are the three C’s of the learning lab, and so there’s need-
William Tincup: 14:49 Say those again real quick.
Lars Schmidt: 14:50 Yeah. Creation.
William Tincup: 14:52 Uh-huh.
Lars Schmidt: 14:52 Curation.
William Tincup: 14:52 Curation. Got it.
Lars Schmidt: 14:54 And community.
William Tincup: 14:55 Oh, those are beautiful.
Lars Schmidt: 14:56 Yeah.
William Tincup: 14:56 Okay.
Lars Schmidt: 14:56 And so for me, I’ve been, because I’ve been curating content for so long, I have a pretty robust range of data inputs, both kind of direct inputs from sources that I trust, and direct inputs from people who I trust, who are sharing the kinds of things that I think we need to know more about in HR and so I have that on one side.
On the other side, I have a really deep, frankly, series of networks in the progressive HR leader space, through my own community, through other communities that I’m a part of, and so I’m deeply plugged into those conversations in real time, in terms of what CPOs are grappling with, what issues are impacting their world.
And so for me, the separation of signal from noise is the art of putting myself between those two worlds and using those conversations at the, on the CPO and kind of HR leader side to help inform what resources, content, templates, et cetera, are needed to help them in this moment in time now, through those different sources that I have access to.
And so, they help me, help inform the filter that I use to separate that signal from noise in the… It’s really kind of a fire hose of information that I have access to for me to be able to parse through that, to say, “Okay, here are the things that are worth your time. Here are the things that you need to know, based on the things that I know that you’re grappling with today, and that you’re planning to grapple with tomorrow.”
William Tincup: 16:43 It’s also to some degree you’ve curated this network of innovators?
Lars Schmidt: 16:52 Yeah.
William Tincup: 16:53 There’s a bunch of people there, have millions of practitioners and everybody needs help. But within that, you’ve kind of gotten gathered a bunch of like minds, birds of a feather type stuff, and you’ve brought these people together, so you’ve curated people to some degree to where I believe that helps you, really sift through, kind of the things that are evolutionary, which is cool.
You got to go from step A to step B, that’s cool. And also some revolutionary, like some people that are really doing things that are completely different, so I love that.
How do you, with the academy in particular, how do you foresee kind of keeping things up to date? Keeping things fresh, because it’s one of those things, that’s, it’s going to be content, that’s going to be on a platform people are going to look at it and there’s always going to be the recommendation engine and they’re going to be interacting with the community on Slack. And what’s your perception of how do I keep this fresh? Or how does the community keep it fresh? Broaden it out.
Lars Schmidt: 18:00 Yeah. It’s interesting. I think about that on a couple levels. One, I plan on adding more content every month. Right? So the platform will be, will continue to be dynamic and those will be again, be a mix of external curated resources, articles, reports, et cetera and then also stuff that I’ll be creating.
What’s interesting though, is I will be creating with the community and what I mean by that is, so many times… Especially on these volatile times we’re in right now, what we often need from a support standpoint, a resource standpoint are real time resources, I mean we’re recording this several days after the Supreme Court issued their ruling on Dobbs, overturning Roe versus Wade.
And HR practitioners are going to be on the front lines of that, and so what they need right now are resources to help support them in that work, and they’re not getting that from a lot of the existing, kind of HR resource or whatever bodies that are out there and so that’s an area where, again, even from an open source standpoint, both creating and amplifying work, that’s being done to supply HR leaders with tools, resources, communications, et cetera, in real time as they’re navigating this and so that’s another component.
And then I think in terms of the longer form courses that I’ll be building, that’s another area where I’ll be building that with the community. Right? I had a list of 12 ideas that I thought these are all courses, because I want to design the courses around areas where we’re often not trained in HR.
So not about compliance or just some of the things that are part of quote, unquote, “HR acumen.” But you move into a head of people role for the first time. What do you need to know that you’ve never experienced before? Right? That’s my first course. That course will be in the academy where the launch is actually literally finished that course yesterday.
And… But I arrived on that course as the first one by engaging the community and saying, “Hey, look, here are a list of courses that are on my radar to build what do you need most.” Right? And that was the course, everybody’s like, “Oh, we really need that. Something like that doesn’t exist and we really need it.”
And so that’s kind of the, and again I mentioned kind of the community and learning, go hand in hand. It’s both for the students, but it’s also for me, being able to help tap into the community and have them inform the content strategy and steer me in the directions that I know will best serve them, as opposed to purely kind of my view in isolation of what they need.
William Tincup: 20:43 What I love about that, and this is where we get with software in particular we get wrong, is we typically get engineers to build software for recruiters and HR professionals. And then the off part of that is they’ve never experienced those things other than being a user, so what I love about this is you’re tapping the community and say, “What should I build next?” Which is it’s not ego driven.
You could easily make this ego driven and it could be all about Lars, but what you’re doing is you’re saying, “What do you need? Here’s 10 things.” And you’ll continue to do that bit. “Here’s 10 things. Here’s five things.” Et cetera, “What’s the most important?” You’ll also look at analytics on the back end and see what’s being consumed.
Lars Schmidt: 21:25 Yeah.
William Tincup: 21:27 Let’s talk a little bit about success. What do you think success looks like from a user perspective? What’s the perception of success from the people that go, that are a part of the academy, members of the academy, if you will. And then what do you define as success for the academy?
Lars Schmidt: 21:45 Yeah. I mean, I’ll start with the users first. Right? I think, what I hope to build with the academy is kind of that indispensable resource that every HR practitioner wants to have access to because they know it’s going to help them do their job more effectively. It’s going to help them connect with the templates, and the resources, and the knowledge, and the inspiration that they need to do this work.
They’re going to trust that it’s oriented around both progressive HR practices, but also real time environmental situations where they know that those types of things are really hard typically for them to get support, and they know they’ll find it there.
And then coupled with that is the communities. There’s so many communities out there as you know and I’ve built, some that have worked well, I’ve built some that haven’t, I’ve been a part of some that work great, I’ve been to some that aren’t. The sheer volume can be overwhelming, and I think for me if I get this right, what I hope to build with the academy community, is a place of belonging not just a place where like it’s a Q and A forum and you go to ask questions, but a place where people care about you and you meet friends and they’re there to support you beyond, just like, “Here’s an article that might be helpful.”
And I’ve seen this happen before. Right? The community existed for over a year now, and we’ve already had scenarios where somebody had to lay off their whole team, and they were in a very kind of emotionally fragile place, and they posted and everybody came out of the woodworks to support them and like, “Hey, can I call you? What do you need?” And so, to see that happen, was so meaningful so I think that’s important.
I think from the business side. On my side, I want to build… My personal mission has always been accelerating innovation in HR. Right? That’s kind of the litmus test I use for every project I get involved in. It’s well, this helped me do that and I think this… I’ve been doing that through, again like Fast Company articles or podcasts or talks at conferences and that’s, I think that’s helpful and it’s meaningful, but it doesn’t, it’s not as directly influencing that outcome as this.
And so seeing the impact that the cohorts have had, being able to be in a position of teacher. Right? That’s kind of a new thing to me. I haven’t really been in that role since I was in corporate and leading teams, so that ability to kind of teach and mentor has really kind of ignited me.
And I think if I’m able to build something that is kind of viewed, as like, “This is the thing you need in HR to be able to do this work.” Thoughtfully, intentionally, equitably, that to me would be a huge success. So we’ll see, obviously it’s a new platform, there’s lots of other kind of learning resources out there, but that would be my aspiration, my goal, if I could do that I think I’ll have done it right.
William Tincup: 24:45 So community because you’ve interacted with community for as long as I’ve known you. Self policing, rules of engagement do you… Whenever you bring community together, there’s always that one guy. So do you foresee having to lay down rules or you just kind of let that develop over time? What’s your bit there?
Lars Schmidt: 25:10 Yeah. I mean, there, we have high level ground rules in the community today, I mean it can be boiled down and don’t be a dick.
William Tincup: 25:19 Yeah. [crosstalk 00:25:20]
Lars Schmidt: 25:19 Right? But I mean, treat people kindly, have debates with good intentions, those sorts of things keep confidential matters, confidential. It’ll be interesting because I think that the community up until now has been comprised of either alumni from the cohorts or there was a paid subscription for a while for the community as well, so people who are paying members.
I expect the member since I will be bundling the community access with the learning lab access, the community will scale and grow and so, today literally I’ve had zero of those issues, in the year plus the community has been around. I expect I’ll encounter some of them as the community grows but I will-
William Tincup: 26:03 100%.
Lars Schmidt: 26:03 … address it and again those general guardrails around being polite, being respectful, being… There’s certain things that flat out, won’t be tolerated like trolling, that kind of thing. But if those things don’t exist, then my aim is to kind of trust the community to self police, be here to obviously, if there’s any kind of egregious behaviors, nip that in the bud immediately. But beyond that, I think the community has been incredibly supportive and respectful and I hope it continues to be as it grows.
William Tincup: 26:41 So what’s our go live? What’s, when, is it live now? Do you have a plan for the launch and-
Lars Schmidt: 26:49 You know that I do. Yeah, it’s going to go, it’ll go live on Wednesday, July 20th.
William Tincup: 26:56 July 20th. Okay. [crosstalk 00:26:58]
Lars Schmidt: 26:57 July 20th. So were about three weeks out but the academy will be live and people can learn more at amplifytalent.com/academy and it has all the details, including launch dates, pricing, everything located there.
William Tincup: 27:11 Awesome! Lars this has been wonderful, thank you so much for coming on the Use Case podcast.
Lars Schmidt: 27:16 Thanks for having me William, it’s been a pleasure.
William Tincup: 27:17 Absolutely, and thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case podcast, until next time.
Music: 27:23 You’ve been listening to Recruiting Daily’s Use Case podcast, be sure to subscribe on your favorite platform and hit us up at recruitingdaily.com.
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.