Episode 21 – Lakia Elam, Magnificent Differences Consulting
Magnificent Differences Consulting stands out as a dynamic and innovative firm that redefines the landscape of HR consulting services with its unique approach and comprehensive offerings. Specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies, Magnificent Differences Consulting goes beyond traditional consulting models by recognizing and celebrating the diverse strengths and perspectives within organizations.
The firm is dedicated to fostering an inclusive environment where differences are not only acknowledged but leveraged for organizational success. Its services encompass tailored DEI training programs, cultural competence workshops, and strategic planning sessions aimed at creating workplaces that prioritize equity and belonging.
What sets Magnificent Differences Consulting apart is its commitment to holistic transformation, addressing both individual and systemic levels of change, ensuring a lasting impact on organizational culture. With a team of experienced consultants, Magnificent Differences Consulting is a trailblazer in promoting diversity and inclusion as integral components of corporate success.
This episode of The Speed to Hire Show features Lakia Elam, CEO and Principal of Magnificent Differences Consulting.
- [5:52] Evaluate career opportunities in HR and talent acquisition by ensuring alignment with leadership values – It is imperative to meticulously examine the compatibility of the roles with organizational leadership values, fostering a workplace environment where human resources strategies align seamlessly with the overarching vision and mission. This approach ensures that HR professionals contribute strategically to the company’s success while upholding core principles and beliefs.
- [7:28] Assess potential employers by probing into how core values manifest in daily operations – Evaluating the alignment of values with actual practices provides valuable insights into a company’s commitment to fostering a positive work environment and ensuring that its guiding principles are actively upheld at all levels of the organization.
- [13:50] Adapt hiring processes for remote environments by leveraging automation and communication – Incorporating automation tools can streamline administrative tasks, enhance efficiency, and ensure a consistent evaluation of candidates. Additionally, prioritizing clear and effective communication channels throughout the remote hiring process is essential, fostering transparency, engagement, and a seamless candidate experience.
- [20:38] Streamline operations by dissecting and refining processes for maximum efficiency and compliance – Achieving operational efficiency involves a meticulous examination and refinement of existing processes to eliminate bottlenecks and enhance productivity. By dissecting workflows, you can pinpoint areas for improvement, implement streamlined procedures, and foster a culture of continuous improvement, ultimately leading to more effective and compliant operations.
- [30:18] Master control to lay a strong foundation for organizational growth and innovation – Establishing mastery over organizational control is pivotal in laying a robust foundation for sustained growth and innovation. By implementing strategic control mechanisms, HR teams can efficiently navigate challenges, optimize resource allocation, and foster an environment conducive to innovation, thus positioning themselves for long-term hiring success and adaptability in a dynamic market landscape.
- [33:34] Transform HR overwhelm into empowerment by mastering systems of communication – By harnessing effective communication tools and strategies, HR professionals can not only manage their workload more efficiently but also empower employees through transparent and accessible channels, fostering a positive and collaborative work environment.
JOSH TOLAN: Alright. Well, let’s get started. Tell me a little bit about you, your company, you know, how you transitioned from HR into a consultant, and what that looks like for you today.
LAKIA ELAM: Certainly. So I’ve been in HR now for close to twenty-five years, which sometimes scares me when I think about it. The time, the time it’s flown.
I’ve worked, you know, in full-profit, nonprofit, construction, health care. I’ve worked the full gamut of roles.
And I, you know, this is something that I dreamed of doing. My whole goal has always been to advocate for people. Helping people in their professional spaces is just what I thrive in doing.
After, you know – so I was late – I went back to school later in life to earn my Bachelor’s and then subsequently my Master’s Degree.
And as my Master’s degree of my Master’s program was coming to an end, I just started feeling like there’s more. Right? So we were in the pandemic.
We were a year into the pandemic, and I was just watching, organizations you know, through social media, like, reading posts and hearing things about how much people were struggling – struggling to hire. Struggling to maintain, struggling to, reinvent the will if you would. Right?
Because they needed to do things differently So people who had been fully in person, now they’re having to go remote or hybrid in some cases, you know, my fellow HR colleagues around the world was just like, what do we do?
Where’s the help? And I was like, you know, you know, I helped the organization basically, in less than a week of about a hundred employees go fully remote. We had no issues. Right?
I helped to lead the charge, right, with the IT team. Some other executive leaders. And I was like, you know, I’m ready to take my skill set and scale it because people need help. How can I do this?
And I started to feel amiss. Right? And I was in a meeting with my manager one day we were having a conversation. And I don’t even know what a conversation was going at this point, but I got to a point when I was like, you know what?
Today is the day. Today is the day. And, at some point, at the end of the conversation, I was like, look, I’m gonna submit my resignation. So I’ve never been afraid to quit.
I’ve never been afraid to reason I’m from a job. Right? And so I was like, and she’s like, I felt it coming. I knew it was coming.
And they subsequently became my first client.
JOSH TOLAN: Oh, wow.
LAKIA ELAM: And so it was just one of those things. And the way that it happened, I knew it was meant to be – the way that so all of our a lot of our business to this point has been by referral, just because people know what we do and they like what we bring. And so here I am today. Here I am today.
JOSH TOLA: That’s great. Yeah. Well, what what a time to make such a big change – and sounds like you were just called to a greater purpose. Obviously, you had been working in the same, you know, seat or role that a lot of your clients are sitting in now.
And so you could see all the real pains and struggles that everyone was dealing with at just a crazy time for change in the workplace. Like you said, everybody going, having to go pretty much remote overnight.
The market getting really bad, then getting really good. Then it was crazy competitive to hire anybody because it seemed like everybody was hiring everybody.
People were switching jobs, like, crazy. And it was, like, if you couldn’t hire somebody in a matter of days, you know, you were SOL. Right? You had to start that hiring process over again.
And so, yeah, it was just a crazy time. So I love that you took the opportunity. You were called by a greater purpose.
And you took that leap. Like you said, you weren’t afraid of taking that next step, and to me that, you know, shows me the confidence, obviously, that you have in yourself, but also the passion that you have in what you’re doing for your clients. So, love to hear that. Let’s let’s talk a little bit about your your clients.
What types of organizations do you typically work with?
LAKIA ELAM: Yeah. So we mostly service, or partner with nonprofits and associations.
You know, the mission doesn’t matter. I enjoy being around driven people, a group of people who are working toward the same thing. It’s something about that synergy that just keeps me going, right, that passion. Because I’m really passionate about what I do, that is, like, we’re all working together for the greater good of this thing.
Because there’s no, you know, there is no boundary if you will. It’s like, let’s just do it. Let’s go. Right?
And when one person’s feeling down, someone else jumps in, and they, like, got an idea, and then it reinvigorates everyone. And so that thing keeps – that’s what keeps me going. So we’re mostly non-profits and associations. It doesn’t matter whether they’re health care or a trade associate.
None of that matters. Right? It’s you know, we choose the funnest thing, I guess I’ll say about being in business, for myself has been, I get to pick and choose which organizations I wanna be with. And I’ll tell you what I mean by that.
If I meet with a CEO, or ahead of HR, and they’re trying to, you know, we’re trying to determine if this will be a good partnership.
If they are not about their people, if they’re – the way that they see people, isn’t an embracing spirit of all people, regardless of where they’re from, those are not our people. We don’t partner. We’ve turned business away based on that, that simple fact. If you’re a leader and you’re not about the whole team, not just the executive team, not just the tenure team, but the whole team, regardless of their background, again, we walk away from that business.
JOSH TOLAN: Yeah. That’s a really good point. And I think it’s a good lesson as well for, you know, people that are on the market and perhaps looking for a new HR talent acquisition job when they’re evaluating their next opportunity, they can take a similar process to what you do in evaluating which clients you work with.
Because whether you’re a consultant and you’re working with clients to help them overhaul their HR talent acquisition strategy or somebody that’s looking, to make a move in their career to do the same thing for the company they work for, important that you evaluate the leadership team and the values of the business.
And is that aligned with what you’re looking for? Because if it’s not and you join that company, are you really gonna be able to the change and impact that you’re hoping to make, and feel meaning in the work that you do each and every day.
LAKIA ELAM: Absolutely. Absolutely. If it’s not that, then what is it? Right? Like, people at every level within the organization, their goal is to the the you’re hiring them to help the organization achieve their goals.
However, there’s… I’m as an employee, I wanna be somewhere where I feel valued. I wanna know that my efforts regardless of my role is working toward the greater good and that they are appreciated that I belong and that I am appreciated too. Right? It doesn’t mean that every conversation is a good conversation.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t have some space to grow as an employee, but I am not – it’s not a punitive environment. It’s not an environment where it’s, though, again, only people from Harvard, you know, like, do well. Right? There’s nothing wrong with them, but – Hey, I’m from community college.
Can I, you know, my contributions count too? I’ve got something to say. So value me as a person regardless.
JOSH TOLAN: Yep. Yeah. And what advice would you give people that maybe are evaluating a new opportunity and trying to figure out if that company is right for them based on the leadership team and the values.
Like, when you’re evaluating partnering with the client, what are some of those signs you look for, maybe questions you ask or things you dig into to make sure that it is the right fit for you because I think our audience or people that are on the market could take something away from that.
LAKIA ELAM: Certainly. So the first thing I say is make it a conversation. So, yeah, they’re interviewing you for fit. But you are also interviewing them for fit.
Right? So it’s not enough to just be like, oh, these are our core values. Right? So talk to me about how those core values show up in your organization, right, that’s what I wanna know.
So I’m asking questions around those core values. Sometimes I ask it – I personally may ask it just like I said, talk to me about how those show up. Talk to me about your CEO.
If I’m not talking to the CEO, I’m gonna, you know, talk to me about your CEO. How is – How does he what is his philosophy around the people? Right? How often are we having or stay at meetings?
Is your CEO, like, in his office, you know, or does he walk around if, you know, you’re in person? What, you know, like, what types of employee, engagement activities do you do? Talk to me about what happened in the last year. What have you done to show support? How is their remote organization?
When was the last time the organization got together in person? Right? So I may I’m digging into the culture. Right?
What, you know, what are some of the things that are, you know, that we celebrate as an organization. What are some of the things we do for fun?
And so you’re asking questions, you know, and it all depend on the, obviously, how the conversation is going, but you just you should have a tool bag full of questions that you wanna dig into the culture once you’re talking to the manager.
You know, how do you, you know, we’re asking questions about how they like to engage with their employees? I would ask, you know, so say I made a mistake on a big project.
Right? And I didn’t catch it and you caught it. Talk to me about how you would respond to me and what process you would take to help me to write so that I don’t do it again. And then we’re watching how they respond.
Right. And then so another thing that I like to tell people is especially if you’re going through panel interviews. Have a question or two that you’re asking everyone about the culture. Right? Because now you’re seeing if you’re seeing trending you’re getting trending themes. And so how do we take that information? Because now we gotta put it together at the end, but it’s really important to dig into those non-tangible things.
Because they’ll tell you, oh, we got this award, this award. That’s all great because we’re doing good work. But how am I feeling as an employee getting to that work? Is it a nonstop grind? Are you calling me when I’m on vacation?
So you gotta figure out a way to get to some of those things. I would even ask the potential manager, when was the last time you took a vacation? And we laughed about it, but I wanted to know. Cause if you’re working twenty-four seven, then you expect me to work twenty-four seven.
JOSH TOLAN: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And I think that’s really good advice because a lot whether it’s a talent acquisition leader for a new role or anybody looking for any type of role.
I think you see a lot of content out there about interviewing is a two-way street and make sure you ask the company questions too, but nobody really offers much by way of, okay. So how do you do that? What questions do you ask? How do you go about asking those questions?
Just like we see all this advice around how to interview candidates and make sure you’re incorporating you know, behavioral interview questions and make sure, you’re using structured interviews and you’re asking people the same questions interview to interview. Those are some of the things that you just mentioned.
But not a lot of people factor that into their preparation for an interview and what they’re gonna go in and ask the employer. And so I, you know, I like that you touch on some behavioral questions, open-ended questions, just not your typical. Do you do this, or do you do that? Yes, no type of stuff. And that I think helps people, you know, really gather some great intel on the organization that they’re considering. So, that’s awesome. Appreciate that advice.
So let’s, like, going back to your clients, you know, I guess just generally maybe high=-level overview, what types of services are you typically offering? Is it, you know, everything HR under the sun? Is it highly focused on talent acquisition? Where do you seem to be spending most of your time?
LAKIA ELAM: So we call ourselves the acquisition-to-exit talent partners. Right? So we can take a person from, you know, first touch point to their exit. But it and, obviously, when we first started the business, we wanted to do it all because we wanted to say, hey, we’re here. Like, come see us. But where we have spent most of our time since starting is in employee relations.
So as you can imagine, with a lot of professionals coming in or even tenured professionals now being, their first time working fully remote. Even in a hybrid situation, a lot of employee relations issues are coming up that people are dealing with recruitment, so talent acquisition, the whole Kit and Kaboodle.
So again, from start to, really, to onboarding, and then helping organizations enhance their processes.
So, you know, so how do we, what what should an onboarding program look like? And then helping them to realize that new hire orientation and onboarding the two separate things.
And so really helping them to make their processes efficient for this hybrid or this fully remote workspace.
And even those that are in person, right? So some people haven’t changed their process in a long time because the work gets in the way. Not, you know, it’s the work. It’s the maintenance of doing.
It’s like we’re doing. We’re doing. We’re constantly chasing that BA. That big hairy audacious goal.
Right? We’re constantly doing that. We’re constantly trying to keep the people that we have, the, you know, engaged and making sure that all of those things are running. So we haven’t touched this onboard in a new hire recruitment process in, I don’t know, five, ten, fifteen, twenty years.
And so we gotta modernize that so that then we aren’t able to attract and retain the new people. And so again, those three buckets would set would be what we are spending most of our time.
JOSH TOLAN: Yep. And you mentioned that, you know, you’re working with clients that have transitioned from being in-person remote or hybrid, what are some of the biggest challenges that you see for those types of organizations when they go to that type of environment? Specifically, as it relates to hiring? Like, what are they struggling with and how are you helping them?
LAKIA ELAM: Yeah. So the biggest struggle has been trying to keep the process that was in person the same at, like, with minimal, very minimal tweaks, the same as it was in-person now that it’s remote. So whether it be too many touch points, not giving the right information, not being, automated enough, or using the tools just at your disposal.
Those would be the biggest three, and then forgetting things. Right? And it’s not intentional because it’s not intentional. It’s because we don’t have a written process.
Now we’re because we’ve been doing this in this role for, you know, several years. So we know what it should be. And so we don’t have something that we are following. To and then to transition over into this remote space.
So employees, for example, they aren’t getting the benefit summary upfront. They don’t know what the benefits I’ve seen people go through the whole process. And then after they’ve been offered the role and accepted the role, And then the candidate is getting is understanding what those benefits are. And now they’re not happy with them.
JOSH TOLAN: Yep. And the team needs to have all that information readily available for candidates, you know, I’ve seen it in the past where to your point, we’ll use the benefits example. Candidates late in the process, and you’re close to giving them an offer, maybe you are giving them an offer, but they’re considering several other things as well. And we know the importance of, you know, time to hire because they’re considering other companies too.
And if a candidate asks you a question or they ask for information and you aren’t, you know, not that you have to be able to present it on the phone, but it’s, like, if you can’t send it to them quickly, right after you get off the call, provide that to them. If it’s, hey, I gotta go yeah. Let me request that for you. Let me get that somebody here’s got it, and it takes you a couple days to get to them.
It’s like you might have already now, lost that candidate. And not only that, even if you haven’t lost them yet, you’re probably not giving them the best impression about how you’re running your day-to-day operations.
If it’s like, you know, let me go talk to this person. Let me talk to that person and let me get back to you.
So a lot of it, like you said, comes down to documenting things upfront.
And really just bringing a lot of structure to the process, but also thinking about upfront, what are all the things that our candidates are gonna need? Throughout the process. And let’s make sure before we even start that process that we have those things. So A, we’re either proactive about putting those in front of the candidates.
So we give them before they even ask the question because we know our candidates so well and we know what’s gonna be important to them, or, B, know, we’re ready to deliver anytime the candidate asks for things. And so I think it’s, yeah, it’s really about that structure really leaning into this, you know, this candidate-led type of hiring process, where you just gotta put yourself on the mind of the candidate, what do they need? What questions are they gonna ask? What resources they’re gonna need access to?
What information isn’t readily available. Let me think of all those things so I can be, you know, Johnny on the spot. Like I said, either when they when they ask for it, or even better, you know, I’m showing I know my candidate so well that I’m giving them this information before they even ask for it. And to me, that’s like the ultimate place where you want to be is that level of proactiveness, which really I think speaks volumes about the organization, especially in such a competitive market you know, and especially for smaller organizations.
LAKIA ELAM: Absolutely. Because so here’s the thing.
You, as the talent acquisition manager, the HR particle, in that talent acquisition role, you are the introduction to the organization. Right. So you are the introduction to candidates what will be their employment experience. We really have to start thinking about, our employees as a customer.
The candidates as a customer. You know, years ago, I would – I had this mindset. I used to tell my team, like, they are all customers. They are all customers.
Not even realizing that it was just thing that now that’s now, becoming more and more relevant, the, you know, the customer experience, the customer experience. Right? And so I had a manager who used to always say, we wanna answer the questions before they’re asked. Give them all of the information upfront.
Give them with, you know, so the questions that they don’t know that they should be asking. Let’s give them that upfront. Right? The whole picture, not to overwhelm them.
But to, arm them with the knowledge necessary so that then they can make the decisions, that they need to make. And so, yes, we should be thinking about providing an excellent candidate experience that fits our budget – that fits our organization, but to show the candidates that we do – We value your time.
We care about you as a person. And so we’re going to create the best experience we can at this moment so that then you can walk away as a fan. Even if you didn’t get the job.
JOSH TOLAN: Yep. Yeah. And I love the analogy, you use with the customer experience and how we think about you know, as businesses and organizations, how do we think about our customers or maybe in the, you know, in the sense of an association, it’s how they think about their members. Right?
And that’s no different than the approach that you should apply to your candidates. You know, people talk all the time, know your customers, know your customers, interview your customers, your customers will give you the answers to the test. Right? If you just talk to them, they’ll tell you everything they need.
It’s no different from your candidates. And so I think A, you need to be proactive about that. But, B, if you know that the importance of learning more about your candidates and what’s important to them, you know, what do they care about? What information do they need? What questions are they gonna have?
You’re mindful of that as you go through the hiring process. And so for the next time as well, or as you recap one hiring process you ran, you could think about all those things of here are new things they learned about our candidate base. Here’s what’s coming up. Here’s what’s important to them.
These are new questions we’ve never gotten before. Let’s make sure the next time that we go and hire, we have information or we have the answers to these questions, and we’re putting that proactively in front of them. And that’s how you create this, you know, tight feedback loop with everybody on the hiring team to ultimately improve the hiring process, and the candidate experience.
Now you mentioned something about you know, building a candidate experience that, you know, is aligned with who we are and also our budget. And budget was the keyword that stood out to me because I think that’s of mind for so many organizations, whether they’re a nonprofit, or they’re a private company. It doesn’t matter. Everybody’s talking about doing more with less.
Becoming more efficient. So as you’re consulting with your clients, you know, where do you start with that? Right? Like, if a company just an organization comes to you and they say, hey, we need to be doing more with less, you know, is that less people? Is that less tools? Is it all of the above? Less money to spend on advertising? It’s probably a combination of all those things.
So where do you start and helping them break all that down because it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a one-person HR team and your CEO is telling you, we gotta be more efficient. She’s like, okay. Cool. Cool.
Where do we start with that? Right? So how would you break that down with a client?
LAKIA ELAM: Certainly. So first, I wanna see what you’re currently doing for say a problem. Like, let’s show me the documentation, and then I’m gonna shadow you through something. Right?
Especially if something is on the horizon and it’s coming up. Not if just don’t have anything right now. I wanna see it. I wanna feel it.
I just wanna sit back. You know, I’m a fly on the wall. I wanna feel what that thing looks like because I put myself in the candidate’s shoes. And then, obviously, I’ve been that one-person show.
So I know. So then I’m just feeling what they’re doing and then they’re going through. So once we get there, So my thought is the first of all, process is king and queen. It’s a one-stop.
Like, once we see that, we’re gonna start to look at your process. I wanna know when you, like, what is your training program? So how are new managers in the organization trained? We’re looking – literally going step by step.
So we wanna see I’ll take a step back for a second. We wanna see what are your touch points with the candidate. How are you training managers? What does that interview process look like for the people?
Are they meeting with ten people? Are they meet are they meeting with only the key stakeholders that will integrate with that job or interact with that job? And we start to take it apart, which is sometimes the hardest piece because sometimes I’m taking the process apart with the person who created it. And so we started to take it apart.
So we like, alright. Let’s get the process – we’re gonna remove waste from the process. What is waste like here?
Waste are those unnecessary touch points. So, again, you know, why do we need five phone screens with five different people? And let’s even go back. Do we have the right position description?
So before we do anything, let’s make sure that this is the role that we intend… that we’re hiring for. Let’s make sure that we are aligned because we always want the two hundred thousand dollar candidate with the fifty thousand dollar budget.
Why do we need somebody to do all one hundred of these things? That’s gonna be great two years down the road, but the person who is highly qualified and can take the program from step ten to step fifty, is not the same person that we wanna hire when we’re only at the design phases of said implementation for the organization.
That person is already there and has been there and done it. They’re not gonna wanna roll their sleeves up and do this. They wanna lead a team. They wanna think about strategy. So we gotta get that position right. Right? Once we get that right, we wanna make sure that when we’re interviewing the managers know what they can or what they should and should not ask.
That anybody that’s on that panel knows what to ask and what not to ask. Right? We wanna make sure that everyone is getting the same experience.
It doesn’t matter. So now, you may take a staff-level role and then an executive role, and that executive role obviously, they’re gonna meet with more people and they’re gonna meet. But at a baseline level, everyone is receiving the same experience, even if it’s for the role type position, or level within the organization. Right?
So the touch points are the same. The, you know, the overall, interview process kinda looks the same, but it may be more, again, more interviews than not. And so we are we really rebuild the whole thing. We rebuild the process from scratch to remove the waste to ensure, that there is a process that process is documented.
It’s being followed. We don’t want a process to stifle us. We wanna keep some creativity there, but it has to be thoughtful. It has to be meaningful.
And most certainly, it has to be compliant. Right? And so we just tear away and then rebuild. So I’m a gonna pause for a second. Am I answering your question?
JOSH TOLAN: That was that was really great insight. And I – you know, at the end of the day, it comes down to finding friction in the process. You know, and like you said, it starts with you shadowing the organization. It’s like, alright.
We got a boat. Let’s fill it up with water and see where the holes are. Right? See where this – see where this ship starts sinking. And so, you know, I think you bring up a good point too with – it starts all the way in the front end of this process. You know, using the job description or the job ad that ends up getting created as an example.
If you’re mismanaging expectations from that standpoint, and you’re getting people applying for the job, but they’re not gonna be the people that you end up hiring, but still taking those folks through the process – that’s a lot of wasted time and energy.
And it also makes you think that you need more applicants and you need to spend more money and do more things to get the job out there because you’re not getting the candidates, that you want and your conversion ratios from stages, stage are horrible. But at the end of the day, might just be in the very front end of the process that you’re not managing the expectations for the people that are coming to apply until you’re attracting too broad of a crowd. And that then doesn’t allow you to be, efficient downstream.
So like you said, it’s just evaluate the process find the friction, find the holes, plug those things up. And then once you’ve got everybody running, you know, more or less the same process across these different roles. That’s then what allows you to make changes and see what’s working and not working. But if you don’t have a consistent process and you’ve got, you know, a leaky boat. You know, you’re never gonna know which changes you’re making are actually moving the needle one way or the other.
And so I like that you start with the process first, and I think that’s good advice for any organization that’s looking to become, you know, more efficient a lot of organizations will immediately look at people on the team or tools they’re using or money they’re spending ads on and things like that. But at the end of the day, there’s probably most of the inefficiencies lay within the process itself.
LAKIA ELAM: Absolutely. And you know what I would add to that? And the way we’re using the tools. So a lot of times, organizations we’ve we’ve talked about organizations, you know, don’t work with less. But, you know, when you think about organizations with money, They throw money at the problems, and they throw people at the problems.
But truly, it’s not always money, it is not always people. It’s the process. You can tell as many people as you want.
If the process is awful, they’re just gonna convolute it even more. It’s gonna be even more sticky. And so for me, you know, one of my favorite sayings is making a dollar out of fifteen cents. Right?
And that means doing the best that you can with the tools and what you have. So some people see a dead end. I see a highway with endless possibilities. So I don’t see roadblocks.
I’m like, we’re gonna get through this, and that’s one of the most valuable things that I bring to my clients is finding that way out of no way. Making a dollar out of fifteen cents. Some people, when they see that quote, when they see that thing that I write, they think it’s about money. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Right? It’s really about being creative. It’s truly about, having perseverance. It’s like, how do we get out of this?
Okay. There is a way of recognizing that you can’t be the only voice at the table.
So you gotta partner with some people. You gotta throw this idea out at people inside and outside of your organization to understand some better ways and then to utilize again, the tools that you have because if you don’t have the budget, the money is not there. That’s fine. Okay.
Let’s see how we can make this work. I’ll tell you one time, I took a very manual paper-heavy recruitment process at an organization of about ninety-five, close to a hundred people. And I turned that thing into a well-oiled machine. I could’ve sat back and been like, I need money for an ATS.
I mean, we had what we had, and this is all we could do. And so then how do we make this work? Oh, and by the way, I was a department of one.
And – but it made life much easier. Because we were also experiencing the highest levels of recruitment that this organization had ever had. And turning it into a process, following that process, and creating an experience for the candidates and the managers, helped things in setting expectations internally helped it to run much smoother.
So this is how we make I tell people out here, take this from if you don’t take anything else from me, learn how to make a dollar out of fifteen cents, learn how to use the tools that you have and don’t see any roadblock and figure out, even if it’s just for the meantime.
How to make this thing work because it reduces the internal stress on you…
And then it’s also like a strengthening. Like, I get excited behind it and I feel powerful almost like this is something that could have stopped me. And now here, we are six months, twelve months later with this working like a well-oiled machine. If you start to utilize that mindset, that thought, it actually it develops, and then you start seeing more things as opportunities as opposed to challenge.
JOSH TOLAN: Yep. Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, I love the saying, you know, and to your point, it’s not about money. It’s about being creative.
And ultimately, it’s about control the controllables. You’ve got what you’ve got in front of you. So you’ve gotta figure out a way to work with it. That doesn’t mean you can’t add on new things later on or try new things or buy new things.
But the reality is what most organizations do is to your point, they throw whether it’s money or some other big grand idea at a problem. But at the end of the day, you’ve gotta dig in and really fix that problem and control what you can control about it. Otherwise, you’re just gonna compound the when you add more things to the mix.
And like we said earlier, if you don’t have a really well-defined process and you’ve smoothed it out, you remove bottlenecks and friction, you’re never gonna know what’s working or what’s not working.
So even if you do the new thing, it’s like, you’re just gonna compound the issues that you already have. So it’s almost you know, almost like when in doubt, just control the controllables and, you know, it will completely change the way you perceive what’s in front of you, like you said, from a dead end to an open highway.
And it gives you a lot of room to run. And then when you’ve done all that. Now as you’ve mentioned earlier in this call, you’ve set a really strong baseline, and it’s a place now from which you can grow from.
Versus if you just try and throw things at the issue without addressing the actual root of the issue, you’re just building on top of a shaky foundation. Feel like I’m using a lot of analogies here, but I think it I think it works.
I think it could be.
LAKIA ELAM: It does. And you’re speaking my language. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said it at a baseline level. We gotta, you know, pay it shore at the foundation and solve it.
We gotta shore up the foundation because if it’s an organization that’s been around for a really long time, the foundation is the foundation. So now we gotta go back and we gotta shore it up. You can even, you know, you own a house and you had some old house, like, mind and you’ve had some foundation issues, you know what that means. Right?
Like, and so, you know, we gotta get it right so that then we can have another fifty or sixty years on top of this. But the next fifty or sixty, they’re modern, they are attracting the people and they’re helping us to get to these goals that we have ahead.
Not to say that what we did in the past was wrong. It was great for that time, but what we did back then is not gonna get us, you know, where we’re trying to go.
JOSH TOLAN: Yep. And this is a challenge, and this is a challenge for a lot of, you know, small teams and small organizations, as you mentioned it earlier, is every wants to do the work, do the work, do the next thing, put one front in front of the other. We got so many things on our plate, and nobody wants to take a step back and say, What are we actually doing here? Right?
Let’s break it down. And if we can really stabilize the foundation, it gives us a much plat better platform, to go from Now, before, you know, we hopped on the podcast, you mentioned to me that prior to starting your consulting work, you were an organization. That was about a hundred or so people.
And I think you said, you were either the running HR and talent acquisition solo, maybe there was another person, but regardless, very, tiny function, but you were supporting a lot of people, a lot of open roles. So maybe you could speak a little bit about that experience because I know in our audience, there’s a lot of folks that are in a similar position.
So from your perspective, like, being a really, really lean team – like, what are the challenges that come with that? But also, what are the opportunities? You know, where do you start to really break out of this feeling of maybe feeling overwhelmed to really feeling, like you said, like, a, an HR superhero, right, where you’ve got everything, you know, humming like a well-oil machine.
LAKIA ELAM: Oh, you just took me back. I gotta take a second to get into this because that was a tie.
So I think the first thing is just understanding that this is a thing, this is my thing, and I gotta get through it. Right? Like, it was a time. It was a time to be had. You know, I was. I was solely running the day-to-day operations of this hundred-person organization, all functions of HR.
So – and nothing stopped. Right? It was always one. So it was the recruitment. It was the employee relations. It was the new hire onboarding. I was in every interview.
I was part of every interview panel, every one. Oh, I had payroll. You know, we let’s go we can go on and on and on. Oh, and then we were implementing a new HRIS system.
And who was the need for that? Me too. Right? I had a I had a person working for me at the time, and she was more committed. She was committed to me. So HR wasn’t her thing. She wasn’t really interested in it, but she was so dedicated to me. So she was there to help, but there was some limitations in which she could touch, what she could do, not just from a training and development standpoint.
Right? And so but that was it. So I was it. And the challenges, it was that.
It was being everything to everyone at all times. Yep. It was the people who I was supporting, not extending grace. My thing is important, and it’s important.
So where is this? Where where where is this? So it was like, okay. Hold up.
You just sent this over, you know, just here’s the SLA, you know, the service level agreement, give me forty-eight hours to back to you forty-eight hours was too long. Why can’t you get back to me in the same day? Right? Is this idea of, again, having clear expectations.
I was trying to implement some of those SLAs. Right? Like, because I needed to do things to slow me down. So the challenges was always ensuring the integrity in the work because you’re touching too many things.
Everything is urgent. At all levels within the organization, so ensuring integrity, making sure that we aren’t cutting corners because compliance is real, whether it’s at the state level or federal level, and then just like, what are your own measures of success in doing things? Right? Like, I have to make sure that I can sleep well at night.
So doing anything wrong and cutting corners, it doesn’t work for me personally.
Ensuring that I was managing up, managing across, and managing down. So communicating and all that was not forgetting something. And so the same things, again, that was problems, they ended up being opportunities because I am an open communicator. I was making sure that I’m taking notes and that I’m giving the right information to the right people at the right time.
I started to, you know, once the HRS system got, up to date. We didn’t try to do it all. So I’m famous for helping people to learn how to pump the brakes. I’m like, alright. We gotta slow down here.
But we got we put in place the systems that would help us most obviously payroll. But then the next thing was, like, the employee self-service. So we got some of the things, automated that would give employees the answers. And so they weren’t weren’t coming to me directly to change their taxes to update their 401k contribution.
And then I created kind of a long-term plan, and then I communicated that to not just my manager, but to, the the CEO, the CEO, to to the to the the stakeholders. Right? And what that did –this is the scary part – this can be scary for a lot of people.
You know that your leader or the leaders want to see this thing, and they see it tomorrow, if not today at 6 PM, and then telling them that we gotta hold that we got to rearrange the way that we’re thinking about this when they’ve come home.
But the thing is not just saying, I can’t do this because it’s too much. Why is this – let’s make it tangible for them. If we try to do all of these things, what do we lose in the process, then what else is not happening as a result of doing this?
And then what does that do to the employees? What does that do to the candidates? How could that negatively impact payroll? Right?
So it’s having those conversations with the right people, no matter how hard they are at the right time.
JOSH TOLAN: Yep. And it sounds like you were doing a good job with communication, but also you mentioned in SLA. You were managing expectations, you know, whether or not people still adhered to those expectations is a whole different thing.
I think it’s important to do that. Right? It’s to set up these processes, and these commitments to different team members knowing what time you have available and knowing what you’ll be able to give to everybody.
You know, and that creates accountability on your side to make sure you can stay within those timelines. But then for others, it, you know, lets them know what they can expect, which is really what people want. They want clarity.
And like you just mentioned with explaining you know, if we do this, then this will happen or if we do that, then that will happen. You know, it’s it’s all about managing expectations explaining the why, providing clarity, you know, that goes a long way in building trust throughout the organization.
And I think this is one of the things that, you know, maybe a lot of people outside of HR talent acquisition don’t necessarily see is that when you’re a lean HR or talent acquisition team, you’ve got all these processes. You’ve got open roles. You’ve got different hiring managers for those open roles. You’ve got different hiring processes for all of these roles.
And not only do you have all these things going on, but they’re all happening at different points and different timelines. You’re here in this hiring process for role. You’re here in this hiring process for this other role. Oh, by the way, you’re also in the middle of open enrollment.
And next month, you’re starting the onboarding for the new HRAS. So it’s like, you’ve got all these things and these competing priorities. And so, A, that’s why process is so important, B, that’s why managing expectations and communication is so important. But, C, and this is what I’m curious about with your approach, is it’s so important to actively engage those around you that are outside of HR and talent acquisition.
So let’s say it’s related to hiring actively engage the hiring managers, to play an active role in the hiring process. Not that they have to own the process. You can still be the steward of the process. But their involvement is key for the success of the process because as a lean team, you need to be working together. Right?
And that’s the only way you’re gonna, A, deliver the best candidate experience, and then, B, get to the best result at the end of the hiring process as you need their involvement.
So with that, I’d be curious on what your approach is in building trust with those managers and thinking about, you know, how do you get them bought into the process? How do you get them working with you so they can become an extension of you throughout the hiring process?
LAKIA ELAM: You know, my approach has always been, first of all, not to be the scary age of a person. Right? Sometimes people say I feel like I’m coming to the principal’s office.
It’s like, no. Oh, no. No. No. You’re not coming to the principal’s office, but again, it’s all about and I can’t I cannot say this enough.
It’s all about conversation. It’s all about helping them. First of all, not first of all, not assuming that they know because they’ve been a manager for x y z amount of years. Right?
It’s helping them to understand what recruitment is gonna look like here in this organization.
What success would look like in this organization? And how this is the process again, this is the overarching process, and here’s your role clearly defining that role for them. Clearly given them your expectations. So one of my biggest expectations for hiring managers was you have to – I need you to respect the process, is one. But two, I need you to make this a priority.
This is your hire. I can’t send you resumes on Monday, and then you don’t get back to me until two weeks later on a Friday, and then expect me to turn back around to fall on Monday. Like, you have to make this a priority.
And so what does that mean, the key? Right? So, like, reviewing the resumes, communicating back to me if what you’re getting is not matching you know, the expectations. Right?
Like, you have to be an active participant in this. Not just sitting back waiting for things to just be handed to you. But again, before we can do that, we have to have the process documented. We have to ensure we can get all of the managers in the room at the same time, really, and say, so that so that the beauty about that. Right?
See, I get so excited about this.
The beauty about getting everybody in the room at the same time. And putting it on a power point and saying, here’s our new process. Here’s what the manager’s role is. Here’s what they charge rollies. Right?
You know that everybody got the same message at the same time. You can even record it. So then there’s something I didn’t hear that. Well, here is let me show you the Zoom.
Here it is again. But documenting that and just ensuring that everyone is following this process and that you’re giving frequent reminders. Right? So communicating it.
And then when we run into the bumps on the road, and we’re tweaking the process, then we sending out updates. But we’re getting everyone on the same on the same page, okay, on the starting line at the same time. Communicating that information. And then we are reassuring them or, you know, getting it back.
I’ll be like, nope. This is it. We’re rightsizing it when they start to veer, right? Right?
Nope. Come back over here in the middle.
That is extremely helpful. Again, you cannot communicate enough. You cannot – there’s no such thing as too many processes because that’s the – when you’re that one-person department having a process for everything is what keeps you together. It’s what keeps you organized because – Then I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had too many balls in the air, and I go to my process document.
It doesn’t make me look weak. It doesn’t make me look like I don’t know. What it does, it shows you that I am committed to this. I’m committed to you getting out of this, what you need to get out of it.
If you’re – as the end user where whatever it is. Right? Like – so I think that would be the biggest I think those are my biggest pains.
JOSH TOLAN: Yeah. And to your point, I think, the processes would ground you. Right? So when things get chaotic, it’s just, like, trust the process, right, get back to the process. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that the process you have in place today is gonna be the best process for tomorrow.
But that’s the whole point of having the process in the first place is you can measure, you can adapt, and you can work with managers on saying, hey, this is the process that, you know, we’ve built together. This is how we’re gonna run this hiring process. Here are the expectations.
But that doesn’t mean this is a closed dialogue because if you have feedback, if there are things that are not working, we want to be able to update our process, then update our process documentation, then update training, then release that update to all of the hiring managers who are doing things consistently across the board. If we find something that works better, why would we not do it if it works better?
But it becomes a lot easier to integrate that into your process and to get buy-in when you have a process in the first place. So, Yeah. It was awesome. This was just really, really good stuff. It’s been great learning about the work that you’re doing with your clients, great learning, and digging into the past a little bit from your previous experience, you know, being on a lean HR team, and this has just been really insightful for me, and I know our audience is gonna love it. So thank you so much for your time.
LAKIA ELAM: You’re welcome. This has been such a great conversation, such a great conversation. Funny. You said analogy.
So I’m speaking. So I keep my stuff. I want everybody to understand at all points. Right?
Like, so we keep at, you know, when people come the way I talk to you today is the way I talk to my people, and it’s really showing my foundational level. It’s me at a foundational level. Personally and professionally. Right?
And so I do I hope your audience enjoys it. I hope there are not too many analogies. I hope I just gave it on a way that’s real.
In a way that’s real, that’s actionable, right, that every, you know, it’s like, we don’t have to be so at ten at all times.
JOSH TOLAN: Yes.
LAKIA ELAM: Right. Let’s bring it down a little bit because we’re up here. Sometimes we’re, you know, the way that I say it with some of my, professional colleagues, if you’re always on – You’re always thinking about, am I saying the right thing? Did I say a double negative? No. How about we just take two steps back and talk to me, like, I’m your, you know, your, your friend.
JOSH TOLAN: Yep.
LAKIA ELAM: Not your full friend, but, you know, a friend that you keep it halfway together with.
JOSH TOLAN: Yeah.
LAKIA ELAM: But it helps us it helps. It helps.
JOSH TOLAN: Totally. And that’s how we operate as the best versions of ourself as well. That’s how we help others do the same as if we’re relatable.
It helps build trust. If we’re vulnerable, it helps build trust. And if we’re just at the end of the day, I mean, that’s one of our core values here far care as YOU BE YOU. If we’re just our authentic selves and everybody on the team, are also acting as their authentic selves It allows us to just work a lot better because we can cut through all of this stuff about, like you said, like, you know, trying to say things perfect or being worried about this, or what did this person think about that.
It’s like, at the end of the day, I just want you to be you, and I want you to bring your best ideas to the table, and we’re gonna work together to make it happen. And so, You know, I appreciate the analogies, and I appreciate the relatable communication style. I think it makes, makes making progress a lot easier because you don’t have to worry about to use your phrase from earlier, you don’t have to worry about all that other waste in communication or in thought. Right?
You can just focus on the task at hand. So this has been great.