How Talent Management Can Help Accelerate Growth

Learn how talent management can help accelerate growth with Jennifer Thornton.


0:00:01.9 S1: The Virtual CMO Podcast is sponsored by the Strategic Marketing Consulting Services of The Five Echelon Group. If you’d like to work directly with The Five Echelon Group and receive personal coaching and support to optimize your business, enhance your marketing effectiveness and grow your revenue visit to learn more and schedule a free consultation. Welcome to The Virtual CMO Podcast. I’m your host, Eric Hickman. In this podcast, we have conversations with marketing professionals who share the strategies, tactics and mindset you can use to improve the effectiveness of your marketing activities and grow your business. Today, I’m excited to welcome Jennifer Thornton to the program. Jen has developed her expertise in talent strategy and leadership professional development over her exciting 20-plus year career as an HR professional, she’s led international teams across Greater China, Mexico, the UK and the US, to expand into new markets, manage franchise retailers and develop key strategic partners all while exceeding business objectives and financial results. The rapid growth of her consulting firm, 304 Coaching, has been largely due to Jennifer’s unconventional approach to building innovative workforce development solutions for companies who are facing breakthrough growth and accelerated hiring patterns.

0:01:23.9 S1: Jen, welcome to the Virtual CMO Podcast. I’m so glad you could join us today.

0:01:28.1 S2: Thank you, I’m excited to be here with you.

0:01:30.2 S1: So I wanted to start out today a little bit because we both have interesting company names, so I’m The Five Echelon Group, and people ask me all the time, Where did you come up with that one? And you’ve got 304 Consulting, correct. Where did that come from?

0:01:43.5 S2: Yeah, so 304 Coaching actually came from a lucky number on the day I decided to go out on my own, I was like, What am I gonna call this? And how am I gonna help people understand what I do and… Nothing sounded right. And 304 is a mixture of dates that have always been important, so I’ve always looked at the number 304 is my lucky number. So I went with that.

0:02:07.1 S1: That’s great. And doing something unusual like that really helps when it comes to finding a domain, doesn’t it… It did, it definitely helped. And a great thing is it creates conversation just like as people ask, where did that come from? And so it’s a wonderful conversation starter, that’s right, you gotta have a story around your brand. I love that. So you have been in HR for a long time. I got some deep expertise there, and I just wanna dive right into it, because HR is one of these issues that I think is very confusing and troublesome for a lot of people, why are so many companies bad at the hiring process?

0:02:39.2 S2: So when you think about HR and you think about the history with HR, it was the police of the company, and that is not what we wanna look at as HR going into the 21st century and how we look at it. And so if you really look at HR as a talent strategy group, that is how you can drive your business, and when you look at why people are bad at hiring, there are several reasons, one, we don’t take the time to really understand what we’re hiring to, we don’t take the time to do the work around what work needs to be accomplished and how do we do that? So we set ourselves up for failure from day one because we don’t really know why we’re hiring someone and what we want them to do, and then once that kinda goes through and if we do figure out what we wanna hire, we start to get really emotionally attached to candidates and it’s difficult to ask questions and get honest responses, most people are not that self-aware, so when they give you an answer, often times it’s not the reality, it’s their perception of how they perform or the stories they say in their head, and there’s a lot of difficulties that go into hiring.

0:03:43.9 S1: So interesting that you say that because I regularly get job offers that come into my email box, and there was one that came through and it was for a very senior level executive, and one of the job requirements was, must be familiar with Microsoft Word and Excel, and I thought in a limited amount of space in a job posting, you’re hiring an executive, and that’s what you wanna put as one of the top things for them to know, it just… It stuck me is that they just don’t really know what they want.

0:04:10.3 S2: Yeah, you’re absolutely right, and it’s also somewhat insulting, you’re like If I’m a candidate for this high level position, and all you’re worried about is if I can use Microsoft Excel, then there’s an issue and there’s some connection issues to this job. The other thing I really work with clients around job descriptions as they are pieces of marketing, when someone reads that job description, it starts to set a tone to the culture, way of work expectations, how we play together within the work environment. And so we can’t look at the job description as a check box of things we might want you to do, we have to look at it as the building of a culture.

0:04:47.8 S1: I’m so glad that you said that because I firmly believe that I have seen so many job descriptions over time that you read through them, and there are pain to read through, they’re boring to read through, they do nothing to make the position sound interesting or exciting or the company, a vibrant place to work, and I think the too many HR departments look at it as… It’s almost like an accounting document, it’s full of ones and zeros and comes, it’s not a marketing piece, but it should be…

0:05:15.4 S2: Absolutely, and I love that phrase that you use, it looks like an accounting and document and you’re corrected their checklist. One of the things that I think is important to put in your job description is your values, your company culture and mission, because at the end of the day, how we do the work is as important to what work we do. And so if you have things in your job description say your value is entrepreneurial spirits, then in your job description is to talk about that, you could say things around taking ownership of the business, having strong conversations with peers, when you see opportunity to drive business… That’s a job description. That’s what we actually do.

0:05:54.5 S1: And you brought up culture, which I think is such an important thing for many companies nowadays, so there’s this idea about hiring that maybe you should be hiring more for cultural fit rather than past experience or specific skills or expertise, how do you coach companies when it comes to hiring is cultural fit more important? Equally important. How do you look at it? I

0:06:17.6 S2: Think a lot of it depends on the job. Culture is always gonna be a key factor because job satisfaction and job purpose comes from the way in which we do the job, you could do the same job in three different companies and one and not the other, and it’s because of how you do the job. There are jobs that are incredibly technical, and there are a handful of experts in the world, and we do have to look at those a little differently, but for the majority of the jobs out there, we need to have a balance, we do have a balance between culture then we also need to take into experience in way of work, and then we also need to take in a natural job behavior traits, so as someone high detailed or low detail, naturally as someone highly assertive, are they highly creative in their decision-making, because all of that will play into the success of the job.

0:07:09.9 S1: So one of the things that I know you specialize in is this ad assessment, is that similar to like a DISC assessment, which I think some people are familiar with, is it three hours of sitting in front of a computer answering questions. What does that look like to a job candidate.

0:07:26.4 S2: So the ad is actually very quick, it takes a Canada on average, less than 10 minutes to complete, and you’re going to get a just array of information, you’re gonna find out their natural work traits around how a sure they are creative, if they’re methodical, less patient, their adaptability and how they approach problem-solving around creativity and emotional control, and we hire people all the time for their experience, but they fail because their traits don’t match the job, and so the ad helps us, one, select the traits that we need for a job at the time that we’re placing that job, then we’re able to look at our candidates in a more effective way and make sure that we’ve got culture experience and their eight job trades, then once that person’s on-boarded, you can have amazing conversations. This is your natural work style, this is a natural work style of your supervisor, they’re probably opposite ’cause they probably needed someone different, and so you can start to close in that conversation really early on about getting to know each other, and then we provide coaching reports and all types of tools that allow people to then use the ad survey as a life cycle journey, the entire journey of their career.

0:08:42.0 S1: How do you position that with the candidate, because I know it can be a bit off-putting, you talked about bad job descriptions before, but sometimes when you go and you have a barrage of interviews and then they say, Oh, we want you to take this personality test too, you’re like, Oh, come on, doesn’t my resume mean anything, how do you position it to be a win for the candidate? It really is a win for the candidate, and that’s what we have to make it clear to them.

0:09:04.2 S2: So if I’m interviewing for a job and I match everything, being able to be myself at work and not having an additional job stress of trying to fake my personality that’s a benefit. And so when we’re talking to candidates and we’re introducing the OAD, one of the things we talk about is we use this survey, there’s no right or wrong, ’cause there’s not… We need all types of people, there’s no right or wrong, but what we wanna ensure is that when you come on board, that we use as told to better communicate, to get you up to speed faster and that you can come to work and be truly consistent to who you naturally are, so that we’re putting you in the most successful role… And no candidate is gonna go, you know what? I don’t really wanna be successful, I don’t want people to know me, most people are gonna say, Fantastic, please let me come to work and be me. So

0:09:50.5 S1: Do you see companies that are implementing an OAD type assessment as being the type of companies that are very focused on improving their corporate culture? That they go hand in hand.

0:10:02.5 S2: Absolutely. I also find that companies who put a lot of work into the upfront process of hiring, they have a lot of heart in the way they hire because they understand that when they hire someone, we change the course of someone’s life. And when someone starts a new job, it impacts the course of their lives, it impacts their livelihood or financial, their happiness or purpose, that affects their family, and so companies with a lot of hard to understand how important it is when we hire someone. Those are the types of companies who I work with that bring OAD in so that we can ensure that people were placing or happy in their role, these… If we’re happy or we go home, we’re happier with our family there for our family is happier, and it really is a trickle-down way to positively affect your community.

0:10:50.4 S1: We’re living in this crazy world right now of the workplace just being completely shaken up because of covid, people are working remotely that never have before, companies have had to shift very quickly, education is a mess right now because of teachers having to do remote teaching and students were learning how are the systems really equipped to handle all that, do you think it requires a very different kind of interview process of onboarding process when you’re talking about dealing with remote workers?

0:11:22.0 S2: It is, and we do have to look at it. To my corporate career, before I started my own business, I was a remote leader, I led teams across the globe, I had teams in China and Hong Kong and London, and so I have led remotely for most of my career. And so when all of this started to change, it really made me pause and think, How did I do that? Because that is what was natural to me, now I can help others too… And so when you think about remotely leadership, you have to start getting really attached to results and not hours in the seats, and I think that’s one of the biggest switches for leaders at the end of the day, as long as the job gets done and they’ve gone above and beyond. I don’t think anyone’s gonna complain, but we have to get really attached to the end result…

0:12:09.4 S1: Such a big change, I talk about that often on this podcast, that you really need to focus on the results, and too many old school managers especially, they’d like to see people in those seats, I don’t think it’s really a difficult mindset shift for them.

0:12:23.0 S2: Absolutely, and hours and the seats does not equal… Productivity doesn’t equal success, and in fact, if we work enough hours, we actually are… Our productivity is going down. And so if we’re getting attached and people are getting recognition for how many hours they’re behind their desk, but they’re not getting recognized for results, then we start to see our work put deteriorate and are highly effective. People choose not to be effective because they’re not being rewarded for it.

0:12:53.4 S1: I know one of the concepts you talk about as well is this idea of a Talent Cliff, which brings to mind the old game of lemmings where one just went off the clip after another, so talk a little bit about what is this concept of a talent cliff and how can companies avoid it…

0:13:06.9 S2: Yeah, so I have seen it time and time again, in fact, been in companies who experienced this, and so what the talent cliffs, it happens with really aggressive companies that are on that fast track, the ones that are growing very quickly. And so what happens is when you launch your company, the skill set out arcs the actual cells, and so that’s what causes a fast growth because we are doing so well, we know what we’re doing and things start to really take off. But what happens is people get really focused on their business strategies and they don’t put a talent strategy that matches the business strategy together, so they stop taking care of their people, they get so busy, they’re not making good hiring decisions, they’re not focused on development, they’re not focused on great conversations. And so what happens is, as the business gets busier, our skills start to deteriorate because we are in crisis management, then the cells continue to escalate, and at some point your talent skills go off the cliff and then your cells will go right back behind it and you will see that your cells start to dive… Bomb down and no one wants that.

0:14:17.2 S2: And so many times when I see this happen, it’s because we just don’t have a talent strategy, and

0:14:22.4 S1: That’s your best people who leave first.

0:14:24.7 S2: You’re absolutely right, the best people want to be in an organization where they will be challenged where they’re going to learn where they get to work with the best of the best. And when you start to crisis manage because you’re looking at that Cliff, your top performers are gonna leave because top performers wanna use their mind, they wanna make their own decisions, and they do not want to be managed in a crisis situation where they’re being told what to do they wanna use their own mind, and those that you’re left with are going to probably do what they’re told, but the problem with that is then the leaders of the organization are frustrated because they’re doing all the telling of people and they’re staying around… Looking at each other going, Why aren’t people actually just doing their job, why are they making their own decisions, Why am I having to tell everyone what to do, what was our own actions it created that… It

0:15:14.1 S1: Seemed so many organizations that I know I’ve been a part of and friends as well, that what seems to happen is that hiring is always an after-thought, you wait until a problem starts to occur. People have left the organization. The team is too small. It seems like very few organizations really hire for growth where they anticipate where they’re gonna be, they have confidence that they’re gonna get there. And so they start to bring people on board before that clear for… Before that crisis point, so that people can be trained and fully productive by the time they get there. Why do you think that is? And do you see that often when you’re consulting with your clients…

0:15:50.8 S2: I do, I see it all of the time, and I think there’s a couple of reasons, there are obviously financial reasons on that, but there’s so many interesting strategies that you can use to approach that, to say The work starting to get difficult in one department, but you’re not quite ready for a full salary, bring in a contractor part-time, then groom that person, so when you’re ready for full-time, that person is ready to come on full-time. The other thing that we don’t do, naturally, I see this all the time in companies, is we don’t project the work and project the skills, and so if we have a business projection that our business is gonna increase 30% in three years, that means our team needs to be 30% more efficient, their capabilities need to go up 30%, so what do they need to learn today, so that in three years they have the experience to lead a company that’s doing 30% more… So not only do we hire to it, we don’t project the development that our teams need, and if we project it and did a better job developing, we probably would actually not need to hire as many people, and that would solve the financial issue so…

0:16:57.5 S1: True, because I think, especially from any publicly traded companies, there’s always this push for increased earnings and profitability, and at the same time expense reduction, so they’re looking to cut costs at the same time, they’re looking to grow, and oftentimes one of the easiest places, especially for new executives that come in is they just slash head count, and so what ends up happening is it puts more work on fewer people…

0:17:21.8 S2: Yeah, and the work isn’t reorganized, so often times we do have to make difficult decisions around head count, but what we don’t do is sit down and say What work has to be done. And one of the exercises I like to do with individuals when we’re looking at work is when you look at the 50 things you need this job to do, how many of the 50 is a must do, how many is a nice to do and how much is actually, vanity work, and when we stop and look at what we do every day in the workplace, there’s a lot of vanity work, is that work that doesn’t drive the business that we’re just doing because someone likes it, someone likes to see a report that way, someone just thinks we’re supposed to… And what happens when we get caught up in vanity work, we are losing productivity ’cause the person doing, it’s like, Why am I doing this? It doesn’t make a difference. We’ve lost their purpose and we are creating extra headcount that we actually don’t need, and when I work with organizations… That’s one of the first things we do is, what is required? What is nice to do? What are we doing? ’cause it’s not a habit, and let’s get honest about what’s vanity work.

0:18:24.2 S1: Hey, it’s Eric here, and we’ll be right back to the podcast, but first, are you ready to grow scale and take your marketing to the next level? If so, The Five Echelon Groups, virtual CMO consulting service may be a great fit for you. We can help build a strategic marketing plan for your business and manage its execution step-by-step in we’ll focus on areas like how to attract more leads, how to create compelling messaging that resonates with your ideal customers, how to strategically package and position your products and services how to increase lead conversion, improve your margins and scale your business to find out more about our consulting offerings and schedule a consultation, go to five echelon dot com and click on services. Now, back to the podcast. You’ve mentioned training a couple of times on our conversation today, and I know from my own experience in the past that a lot of corporate training just isn’t that good, it’s not really teaching some of those soft skills that people need, for example, in all my years in the corporate world, I don’t think I ever went through a training on how to interview someone, and I think we’ve all seen this when we’ve been job candidates, as you go and you talk to four or five people, they all ask you the same questions, and so nobody is really exposing anything new, they’re just hearing the same answers over and over again, why do you think this is, that companies spend so little effort really giving leaders and managers that kind of skills that they need, especially when it comes to dealing with people.

0:19:56.6 S2: Yeah, that is a really great question. And there are a lot of different reasons. The most common thing I see as people like… That’s expensive. We don’t have time. If you don’t make the time. We know what the end result of that is. And one of the things that when you think about financials, there’s more than one way to make a doll or you can save a dollar, you can make a dollar, and the cost of turnover is actually one and a half time someone’s salary. So if you look at a 100000 salary, if you lose that person, that’s 150000 hit to your bottom line across multiple of places, so it’s lost revenue, it’s other people picking up the job, and so you lose revenue from them, it’s training, onboarding, interview, it’s all that stuff. But if I said, Hey, you’ve got this 100000 employee, do you wanna invest 10000 on them across the next two years to make them amazing or like… Oh, that’s just way too expensive. Okay, losing 150000 is also expensive. Which do you wanna choose? You got ARB, you get to choose, but people just don’t really understand the financial impact of saving money and not educating people…

0:21:05.4 S1: It’s so funny because we’ve got this whole concept of people who are addicted to being right all the time, and I’m sure you’ve worked for a few of those… I know I’ve worked for a few, and those are exactly the kinds of people who tend to think that everybody else needs the training, but they don’t, and so what happens is sometimes the trouble makers within the organization, some of the leadership are actually the people who could stand to benefit the most from some of these learnings yet they’re the ones who are too busy don’t have time, but training is important for everybody else.

0:21:35.8 S2: Yeah, I’m so glad you brought that up. It’s one of the things that I work so often when I work with the executive teams, we actually can get addicted to being right, and what happens is when we are right, we get a dopamine head that feels good. We’re pretty excited about that. Who doesn’t want that? But it’s the same dopamine hit we would get if we were addicted to sugar or an alcohol or a substance, and as we all know, the more dopamine you get, the more you need to have that feeling of happiness, and so what happens over time is if you have a really strong player, and as he or she is starting to work up the ladder and they get to be right and right, and they’re getting that hit and they need to be more right every time… By the time they get to an executive chair, they’re addicted to that open, and so they have to be right, they will fight with you and say the sky is purple today just to win, and when we are in that place, and that is our addiction, we can’t hear the truth, so we can’t hear the customer feedback, we can’t hear why our company might be struggling, and because we have to know the truth, we will push falsehoods down into our company and tell the company…

0:22:45.3 S2: Believe them, make sure that they are true. And that is really the first sign of a company going into a failure mode because the leaders can’t see the truth, it sounds like the underpinning of what could become a toxic work environment. Absolutely, and when you have leaders that are addicted to being right, so things like you’ll go into a meeting and the supervisor, the executive will say, I need to know what’s wrong, why are we not doing well with product X, and the room falls silent. And the reason why is because they know they can’t tell the truth, they cannot tell that executive why, they’re waiting for the executive to say, This is why it’s failing, and then they all know their heads and they say Yes. Even when they know it’s not true.

0:23:28.0 S1: Yeah, the last thing you want in a company is a bunch of, yes, men and women, because you’re not really getting the right kind of feedback from them, and it’s demoralizing. It

0:23:37.8 S2: Is, and when you leave that same meeting and you go back to your desk, you’re like, That’s what they think, so that’s what I’m gonna work on, but man, I wish they’d hear me, I wish I could tell the truth because I know I could save this product, I know I could get this product back on track, but they will choose not to, because they’ll get in trouble for telling the truth and that it’s a difficult place to put your team in, and more than likely, they’re not gonna wanna work with you and you will lose those talented people because again, they wanna use their mind, they wanna use their voices, and they wanna make a difference for the organization.

0:24:10.1 S1: So speaking of demoralizing, I can’t let this interview go without talking about the topic of compensation, because compensation certainly is meant to incentivize people, but sometimes the way it’s rolled out can be a disincentive, I think about the fact that many companies are still on annual performance cycles, so there’s an expectation that once a year I’m gonna be reviewed and that review is gonna lead to some sort of a salary increase, and if it doesn’t, then I’m demoralized. Some people are very tied to quarterly bonuses or annual bonuses, and then the year comes when that doesn’t happen, maybe because the company wasn’t working well, but maybe that was a year where they were a stellar performer, what are companies really doing wrong when it comes to their compensation policy.

0:24:55.9 S2: So I think the old way, the old 20th century of looking at compensation is a flat budget, everyone’s gonna get 3% and you might get a tiny bit more, you might get a teeny tiny bit less, the other thing… And that’s the old way, I think when you look at the 21st century, you have to look at compensation packages, because salary is important and bonuses are important, we all have bills, but it’s actually one of the lower things on why people say at a company, it’s not one of the top reasons people stay at a company, and so if you look at how you wanna spend your dollars, you can once a year or however you wanna look at some compensation and reward, but what if you also looked at training programs and said, If you are you complete your goals this year and that puts you into that next league, those people were looking at, that next level of management, and if you get there and you do that this year, the next year, we’re gonna put you in our Leadership Academy, and so you’re going to get 30000 worth of training dedicated to you, That’s compensation, that helps people…

0:26:01.3 S2: We also need to look at access and experiences if the top level people, they get to do monthly round tables with the CEO, where they get to use their voice and talk about new innovative ideas they have, there are so many ways to compensate people outside of the dollars that we need to get really creative that will actually drive the business results, drive purpose and really maintain your retention.

0:26:27.2 S1: Do you think in that kind of a model, that consistency is the most important, or does consistency build expectation, which then is very easy to disappoint, do you think it’s better to reward people almost randomly when certain things happen. They finished a project, they did an excellent job, here’s a bonus, rather than saying every December 31st, we’re going to give everybody their performance review…

0:26:51.9 S2: Yeah, I think it’s part of the equation. So those are spot bonuses, so if a company has a budget every year and someone goes above and beyond and maybe takes on an extra project and really does something for the company and impacts, then out of that spot bonus budget, then reward them and say, Hey, we appreciate the fact that you figure this project out, we landed this 2 million dollar contract because of your hard work, so here is X dollars in a spot bonus. We wanna say thank you for your hard work. And on top of that, we’ve also given you… Given you 2000 and continuous education budget, find a conference you wanna go to, we want you to work on yourself and have that personal development too, so that you can come back and do even more work to really land even bigger projects.

0:27:40.7 S1: No, I love that. Do you think that the performance review is going by the wayside?

0:27:46.9 S2: I think that it is on its way out, but people are not ready to give it up yet. I think that there are some big changes that have to happen, and we’re in some of those big changes, we are working in different ways, and so we have to reward in a different way right now, but I’ve worked with several companies, in fact this year alone about how they’re gonna handle performance reviews and changing the mind and looking at it differently, it hasn’t been easy, some companies have chosen to do it, some have not, and I think time will tell on how each type of company lands and how they reward their employees and what does that mean long term for them?

0:28:26.6 S1: They’re such a dreaded thing in the corporate world, managers hate to do them because they’re sometimes complicated to fill out, you wanna be fair, employees look at them with a bit of dread, right. Because they look at every word and what do they mean by that, or if they’re not rated a five or a 10 or whatever the scale was, what did I do wrong? There’s a lot of stress that goes along with both completing them and receiving them…

0:28:50.6 S2: Yeah, and I tell people all the time when I talk about performance reviews and we look at how are we going to reward performance, I always say it’s about the conversation, it’s not about the score, and so really the education, and again, it goes back to developing leaders we don’t want leaders that can’t interview and put off candidates in the beginning, say we do get the candidate, we also don’t want to end our relationship with them because we don’t know how to have great performance management conversations. And so that’s a piece of the puzzle that leaders have to understand, they have to understand how to have great reward conversations, how to consistently apply accountability, how to look at… Consistently applying jobs and projects and those types of things, it’s a big conversation, and I think companies who have true talent strategies, understanding how to teach their leaders to apply these techniques so that we’re not setting in are these archaic mindsets and these archaic performance review processes.

0:29:52.1 S1: Jen this whole idea of talent strategy really rings true with me, and I think it’s something that’s so important for companies because as the old saying goes, people are your most important resource, how can people find out more about your coaching services and where to find you on the web.

0:30:09.1 S2: So our website is, you can check it out and even sign up and have a free consultation with myself, I’d love to hear you and get to know what your needs are. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.

0:30:27.8 S1: That’s terrific. I will make sure we link all of that up in the show notes so that people can find you, this has been a fascinating conversation, and I think it’s a great topic that isn’t discussed as much as it needs to be, and so I really appreciate your insights. Thank you for having me. It was a joy… Thank you. Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Virtual CEO Podcast. For more episodes, go to to subscribe through your podcast player of choice, and if you’d like to develop consistently flow in a highly effective marketing strategy. Visit to learn more about our virtual CMO consulting services.

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