MAX: Hello and welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers Podcast. I'm your host Max Armbruster and today, I'm delighted and honoured to welcome the VP of talent acquisition at Lowe's companies, one of the largest retailers in the world, certainly in the US but also big enough that we can say it's a worldwide leader and DIY. DIY equipment is how I would describe it as an outsider.
ROBERT: Yeah all home improvement but at this point it's anything for your home.
MAX: Anything for your home, that's ambitious. So I didn't yet introduce you, Robert. It's Robert
Daugherty, VP of TA for Lowe's, thanks for coming on Robert.
ROBERT: Happy to be here MAX. Thanks for having me.
MAX: Pleasure. Before we go into the Lowe's story, you've been there for a year and a half now so it must have been an unprecedented time.
ROBERT: Yes it is.
MAX: Tell us how you ended up in the field of high volume recruitments. I suppose that all began back a long time ago.
ROBERT: Yeah a long time ago. My hair was much darker at the time compared to the greys and the bit of weathering.
MAX: All those candidates have depigmented your hair.
ROBERT: Yes, that's right. So yeah I've been recruiting now for almost 25 years and I've yet to meet somebody in recruiting that intentionally went into recruiting right so I got my degree in finance and statistics. Started out in commercial banking for about eight months and realised I didn't like it, and met a guy and I'm like what do you do?, he said I am a headhunter, like what the heck's a headhunter, and ended up having lunch with the partner of the small boutique firm, and I've been in it ever since, moved over to the corporate side a little after 911 back in 2001, and here I am still surviving in this race of TA.
MAX: So after you jumped into recruitments I saw stints in the logistics space, health care, then the insurance base, and then more recently at American Airlines. I guess you jumped ship at a good time, American Airlines. You left just before the crisis. And, the bulk of the hiring there at American Airlines must have been a cabin crew?
ROBERT: Yeah it was, I had a little bit of everything. I wish I could say I was smart enough to have the insight or foresight to leave American Airlines in January and jump over to Lowe's but it was definitely some blind luck. But yeah at American Airlines, we had what I thought at the time was high volume with about 15,000 hires a year, both from cabin crew but certainly gate agents, our men and women that were on the ramp. So it was, it was across the board, but I truly found out what high volume was when I made that switch to Lowe's about a little less than a year and a half ago.
MAX: And American Airlines business has been around for such a long time, good year or bad year, the volumes don't fluctuate that much right.
ROBERT: Correct, yeah they went through a down phase obviously after 911 and then about almost 13 years before they started hiring again. And one of the things about my background is, I've somehow fallen into a niche that I tend to love which is going into transformational projects where it's either building something from scratch or Turner out. If somebody wanted me to go somewhere, it was like hey,everything's perfect to steer the ship straight, definitely wouldn't be the right role for me because I'd be pulling levers and breaking stuff so going into somewhere where things are broken or the rebuilding and that's why it wasn't they hadn't hired really since 911 until the merger with US Airways and then it was okay full steam ahead with two different RPOs, three different applicant tracking systems, none of them had been really touched in probably eight or nine years, no processes. So it was a fun kind of rebuilding
that organisation or you know post merger.
MAX: And the RPOs are probably gonna have a good year in 2021 as people are rebuilding as well. But,they can be a symptom of an organisation that has kind of given up on its core duties.
ROBERT: Yep, absolutely. Yeah, I think RPOs really play a strength right as anytime you've got that seasonality to your business, where you've got those fluctuations of kind of busy season and non busy season to where you can really be able to scale up, scale down. I think that's really critical to have that at least as a strategy in your back pocket versus kind of that static organisation that you're kind of tied to,where you're either almost always under worked or overworked and you very rarely get it perfectly right.
MAX: So you were talking about the seasonality of hiring and I suppose at Lowe's you have holiday season, and maybe the back to school.
ROBERT: Yeah. Actually our busiest season is the spring. So, we're recording this one day after
Memorial Day weekend is our Super Bowl. So, we think about all the honey-do lists spring cleaning, all the people have been cramped up all winter and want to get out and start doing their projects, focused on their yards flowers, plants, this is the busiest time of year for us so we've been in in full hiring mode really since the end of January.
MAX: And I think correct me if I'm wrong that your space has also had a record breaking year where everybody's home and spending more time at home and therefore, investing with the money they have into their home.
ROBERT: Yeah, that's correct. Yeah, so once COVID hit really back in, in March of 2020 and everything
started to shut down, right, those honey-do lists grew for a lot of people. Alright, it's time to repaint this room, all these little projects just to keep people busy, and Lowe's as a recognised an essential employer, our business took off. So we started seeing sales go through the roof, we had to hire a lot of people, and we hired 280,000 external people in 2020. So, in the first four months this year we're already over 120,000. So, our fiscal year starts February, but yeah about 120,000 our first four months, so we were well on pace to continue to hire a lot of people to make sure we can take care of our customers.
MAX: Okay, well, you must have a lucky star to have moved into such a high growth. I mean I don't know if it's a lucky star or not. You said you'd like to change so I suppose that kind of stress to the organisation should keep you entertained.
ROBERT: Definitely, yeah. There's always new problems to solve every day right and and going from 2020 was so interesting because nobody obviously planned for that as you start going into the pandemic and the availability of workers was a lot higher. Now fast forward to 2021 and between stimulus,enhanced unemployment, and all of these companies the demand for hourly workers. I don't know if it's ever been higher, right, and the supply has gotten a lot lower. So as your demand starts to really outpace that supply, it really creates some interesting dynamics around what companies are doing, how they're trying to attract candidates, focused on some of those, employee value propositions, leveraging dollar sign on bonuses. I mean there was a fast food company, I saw a sign the other day that it's basically come work here, we'll give you a free iPhone. So, I think everybody threw in there and everything but the kitchen sink, trying to entice workers to come up to them.
MAX: Okay, so that's interesting: the Battle of giants, we got the Burger King, McDonald's, Lowe's,Amazon, all fighting for that hourly worker. And so, in this war for talent. How do you stake your claim and what was the EVP that Lowe's is going to try to get ahead of the game, particularly I'm wondering, I mean I don't know if you can expand on demographics but I suppose you have a few candidate personas
that you're working around.
ROBERT: We do, yeah. And having been here for just over a year brought in the leader of talent
attraction at the beginning of this year who were starting to work on really building out what that EVP looks like, building out those different personas. So most of it we haven't quite rolled out yet, but we're starting to get a better idea of what we're looking for, or what makes successful workers and as I really start to think about what differentiates us, so much of it is really evolving around I think career opportunities. So we don't have a lot of limitations as it relates to, you have to be in a certain role, you have to be here for six months or here for a year. And so many of our most senior leaders started their careers as a retail associate, whether it be a cashier or a seasonal worker. We have people in our C-suite, right, or at our EVP levels or SVPs. Yeah they didn't go to college, they grew up in retail learning the operation, built strong leadership skills, and that's really valued, so I think as we really started to look at things like, bachelor's degree and master's degree and it's really challenging to know if that is something somebody truly needs or not. And if I've got somebody who's a good worker who's motivated,
who can learn, how do we develop them, train them to figure out where they want to go in their career.
MAX: Okay, so have you managed to do away with the resume entirely for some of these positions?
ROBERT: Not yet. We're working towards it so it is kind of a year into this transformation and really starting to get to the point we're starting to implement technology and look at that TA tech stack. We went through an HR transformation at least with moving to our core HR system, 2019, but we didn't touch any of the TA tech. So right now we're in the process of implementing an AI solution. We just finished an RFP for ATS, CRM. So we'll be continuing to look at those but everything is a plan right now by summer fall of 2022. Full new tech stack and then continue to build out from there but Lowe's has been great. We really value talent and to go and get a very large multimillion dollar investment from our leaders to go and really address the TA technology of moving us into modern day is really important. So they've been open to ideas and I think going through that moving past the resume will be something that
we've got on our radar in the future.
MAX: Yeah, so the traditional providers of talents and resumes, which are Indeed and ZipRecruiter perhaps and then of course your employee referral programme which I'm sure takes the lion's share, you don't have to confirm that. I imagine it's typically like 25-30% of hires.
ROBERT: Yeah, well so as of today we don't have an employee referral programme, so we don't have we don't have technology that can track it, so it was starting a little bit bare bones with some of the stuff that we're walking into.
MAX: It was going to be 100,000 hires.
ROBERT: Yeah it was a lot of grind I will tell you, so we did 280,000 hires with certainly not the greatest processes, we've got some opportunities that relate to a candidate experience for sure. And that's where moving down this path of being more mobile based, be more from an AI candidate engagement, just being more focused on what that experience looks like. We had three and a half million applicants last year, every one of those were a customer of ours, and on the vast majority of them we probably did a pretty poor job of being able to stay in contact with them. Just because of some of the limitations we had technology wise and that was something we walked in right away and said like we gotta go fix this.
MAX: So three million plus candidates, that sounds expensive but I suppose it doesn't have to be if you've managed to activate all your stores as sourcing channels, is that where a bulk of the applications were still coming through, like, people coming in and applying at the store?
ROBERT: Yeah, when we started to look, we just had our big national hiring day about three weeks ago, and through that I think we ended up with about a little over 20,000 hires, the two biggest drivers from a source, Social was number one, and In-store signage was number two, right, so being able to make sure if people are shopping right they see the now hiring banners, we've we've got some things around the stores, there's still a lot more opportunity to get more consistent with that branding message but so much of it is just, people will see that and be like, oh, my son or daughter's coming out from college, they're i'm looking for a job or somebody who's retired and it's like, I'd like to pick up some hours on the weekend. I've always been interested in tools or gardening, whatever it is. And I think just having them see the signs and stores is really important.
MAX: And has the battle for the talent in the younger generation shifted the messaging, a little bit towards new. Are there other new demands in terms of employee value proposition from younger generations. You've never had to deal with these in your career, you were doing retail, maybe a long time ago. No? Not even this time? So this is a new audience for you?
ROBERT: Yeah. This was my first retail gig, you got it.
MAX: Yeah, and so, are you seeing some shifts and expectations from the hour resegment in particular,are their expectations higher or lower than 10 years ago?
ROBERT: Yeah I think one of the big differences especially in retailers right. We've got four different generations in the workplace right now, right from Baby Boomers to Gen X, millennials, Gen Z, Gen Y, I don't know what's coming next right, whatever that next wave is behind them. And, because at a company our size right I do believe there's something for everybody right. There are selling points for people who are retired and want to pick something else up and for the person who's it's their first job to come work, seasonal employees. So you know how you start to market and target specific audiences,right.
MAX: And that's where the concept of personas come in.
ROBERT: Yeah, you got it. Where do they hang out?
MAX: So, maybe a good chunk of your hires will end up being people in their 40s, or 50s, who are looking for something a little bit more permanent.
ROBERT: Yeah it's such a mix. We've got such a diversity not only from a demographic but when you just look at I think who we are, how we serve our communities, Lowe's has always been very big in serving our communities. Some of the best stories that I hear about are, when there's hurricanes right and what we call the 'blue bucket brigade' and the people who will drive for hours and hours and hours to go be on site to help these people that have literally just have their worlds torn apart and to help rebuild, to provide shelter, water, whatever that looks like, I'm amazed by it. And, it really just starts to look across from generations demographics, it's really, I think, a unique place where we value diversity and inclusion. But really that focus on belonging, and trying to find that larger purpose of somebody who wants to just come, like we talked about pickup jobs, but I think really one of the areas for us from a focus on is getting people to understand, you don't have to know about home improvement to come work at Lowe's, right, you don't have to know different kind of drills, you don't have to know about concrete or
drywall, you just have to want to come in and take care of people and work for what we're trying to build is the greatest retail company in the world. That's what our goal is, it's making sure that we provide right.Good talent is good talent, I can train you with product knowledge, it's harder to train you to seek out a customer because you want to help.
MAX: On things like seeking out customers' empathy, listening skills. How much of that do you think can be automated in the screening process and how much of that has to remain with a live recruiter interview?
ROBERT: Yeah, that's a great question. I think that's one right. I know there's several assessment companies out there they're trying to figure that out, whether that be around how their facial recognition as they answer questions and I can tell you at least as of right now our legal department, we're pretty conservative still as much as I want to sometimes be on the bleeding edge or Trailblazer sometimes they want to let somebody else kind of figure that out first, at least as it comes down to some of those things that are a little bit harder to validate. But I think for myself if you just start looking from a science and technology perspective on where things are going, the more that I can bring an objection into the interview process, the better right. We've got 1730 stores, in between each store there's probably five
people who are decision makers, between store managers and assistant store managers, so that's quick math right, 8500 probably different interview styles and different questions that can be asked and how they assess so if I can get down to the point where I'm leveraging technology and science to start to say hey, here are the characteristics, here are the behaviours, these are the people we should at least be talking to first. I think that really starts to get things a lot more consistent because if you think of companies, I always use Starbucks as an example, hopefully I can use a company as it doesn't matter where you go, you have the same experiences as a customer, right. So, whether you go to one here in North Carolina, or I go to a Starbucks here in Hong Kong where you're at, for the most part it's the same experience right. You've got the barista, they're gonna ask you what your order is, take your name, you step to the side, wait for your name to be called etc.
MAX: I finish my coffee and I walk out of the store. I get nervous and jittery, I start calling people, way too fast, same spirit.
ROBERT: Exactly. Yeah, so how do we kind of do the same thing where I can get that repeatable process because I'm hiring the same type of people with the same expectations so it doesn't matter what mode you go into, you're gonna get great service, and be able to find what you need.
MAX: So you didn't quite answer my question on screening for empathy or listening skills, customer centricity, what I gathered from your answer is that you're trying to do a first level filter, but afterwards you still need those 8500 decision makers to be involved and to be included.
ROBERT: Yeah, as of today, I would say, yes. So we're trying to actually centralise at least that high volume recruiting of really starting to take that off of the hiring manager's responsibility. So having a centralised team that's making those hiring decisions internal within TA to bring that consistency. And I think one of the big benefits from the business is, it gives those 8500 people time back to go take care of our customers, take care of our associates, and to focus on running the business, and let us take some of those hirings. So I'm anxious, I'm looking forward to at some point being able to leverage some of the science to focus on empathy and some of those things but I think as of today, having a good well educated talented recruiter can probably pull that out a little bit safer and better.
MAX: Yeah, and then you've got it, yeah. I am always wondering how the hiring managers at the store, some location managers would resent being told who to hire, of course, and there could be some pushback there. But, ultimately it's a decision that a company would have to make based on output.
ROBERT: Yeah that's exactly right, but some of them are like, heck yeah, take it, you go do it, I'll focus on the other stuff. And then others don't want to give that up but it all comes down to being able to have the right data and then being able to tell the story, right. To be able to say and do it in a way that even though I would like to say at least better than well into the high 90% that my team can do it better because this is what they're trained to do. There's always going to be some that think they can do it better.
MAX: And maybe they are right in some cases.
ROBERT: Yeah, they're probably great at it but to what level right, and is there time more valuable spent on doing other things. And when you look at a company our size, right you just kind of have to go off the economies and scale and say okay hit 95% of the time this is going to be a better situation and we'll live with the other 5% based off of what we're doing or what we're getting.
MAX: Yeah, the rate of coverage of your stores has such a big impact on sales right.
MAX: It's not negotiable. It's like you have the ultimate power to say, now we've got to fill this position at
all costs, or at very high cost if necessary.
ROBERT: Yeah, I can tell you exactly how much every time we've got openings, what that cost our store in sales.
MAX: Okay, that's huge. So one question that I love to ask, and we'll make the last one Robert, is a question around hiring mistakes, and if you could go back in time, travel through your 25 plus years of recruitment history, and think back about a regretful hire that you made directly for yourself, for your team, or potentially for one of your stakeholders. What was the mistake there and what did you learn from it?
ROBERT: Yeah, there's two that come to mind. I think one of my first ones and this was, I would say probably earlier in my career. And I went through and I wanted to go one direction from a hiring perspective, my boss thought I should go in another, I followed his path instead of trusting my gut and it turned out poorly, so I'd bring that one up because that was one of the most painful so there's a little bit of a lesson of trusting your gut, going in right if especially if it's something you think you do well.
MAX: Unanimous decision on recruiting is something that I think is generally a good practice like if there's five people who interviewed somebody and one person doesn't like him or her. Usually that should be the end of the debate but it rarely is.
ROBERT: True, very true. Well, and again sometimes it's hard to get, if you and I and three other people trying to figure out where we're going to go grab lunch, it's tough to get consensus on where you're going to go eat so I think that was one of the learning experiences for me is listen to all the feedback but still kind of trust my gut. And the other one was just not digging hard enough into some questions right, the person was incredibly engaging, it was a fun conversate like this is the type person I'd love to go out, let's go to happy hour sometime or you know just a great engaging person, and at that time in my career just
didn't have probably enough experience on my side to be able to really dig into, okay can this person really do the job that I need them to do, really likeable but can they actually do the execution piece of what I need to, and yeah, turns out it didn't. So we definitely can't get them all right.
MAX: Right, and if anybody's listening and wondering, how do I remove the location manager from carrying the load of course these kinds of anecdotes will come back to support the case that everybody can make mistakes, everybody can hire someone based on, and it's funny how your two examples are like, one is where you were with your gut and the other one you didn't go with your gut and your gut was right, half the time.
ROBERT: That's right, that's right.
MAX: So, yeah, we'll have to figure out maybe we'll do a special show or conference around the role of the gut.
ROBERT: That's right.
MAX: And we'll invite some gut specialists, and so on. Well, Robert it has been great to get to hear your success stories at Lowe's, and in a time when a lot of people are still waiting for the lockdowns to be lifted and for retail to come back, wonderful success story for your organization over the last year, which will get people excited for other industries, perhaps what's to come over the rest of the year. Thanks
again for joining.
ROBERT: I appreciate it Max. Thanks so much.