Solutions Driven

Why people strategy is business strategy with Weightwatcher’s Conor Sweeney

In this episode of The Hiring Enablement Podcast, join us as we talk to Conor Sweeney, Global Head of People Strategy / Interim Head of Global Corporate Real Estate at Weightwatchers to dig into all things people and business strategy – and alignment.  

With a background working in corporate real estate, talent development, and HR, Conor has seen it all in the business world. So, just weeks after we launched Hiring Enablement to help companies align their hiring strategies and improve their talent development, who better to have as a guest?  

According to Conor, business goals and transformations don’t exist in a vacuum. Transformation of any facet of business, from digital to HR, must align to the wider business goals.  

Listen as Conor sits down with Solutions Driven’s Chief Growth Officer, Nicki Paterson, to discuss:  

  • The importance of building a people roadmap to execute hiring and development goals  
  • How a people strategy is a business strategy and vice versa 
  • Why, sometimes, the key to getting stakeholders on the same page is just sitting down and having a candid conversation  
  • What “quality of hire” *actually* means  
  • And much much more  

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Nicki Paterson: welcome to episode 35 of the Hiring Enablement podcast by Solutions Driven. 

I’m your host, Nicki Paterson and today I’m joined by Conor Sweeney.

How are you? 

Conor Sweeney: I’m well. Thanks, Nicki.

How are you? 

Nicki Paterson: I’m very well. Thank you very well, Conor is the global head of People Strategy and Interim Head of Global Corporate Real Estate at Weightwatchers. 

So Conor, tell us exactly what, what is that? 

Conor Sweeney: No, it’s a great question and first off really appreciate you having me on the program. 

I’ve tracked this program pretty closely. You’ve had some pretty phenomenal guests that I respect greatly. So it’s an honor to now be a part of that, that rolodex, so to speak of, of really great forward thinking people, leaders that again, you’ve, you’ve had some great conversations with. 

So look, I’ve, I’ve been with Weight watchers for, gosh, 3 to 4 months now and have joined this organization in a really fascinating time. 

I think what initially attracted me to this company is just the legacy of the company. We’re a 60 year old brand that has been through a, a massive amount of change and transformation over the years in a space that of course, as we all know has been incredibly dynamic, the Wellness space and all of the things that kind of come with being a major player in the wellness space makes for a really interesting journey. 

But yeah, I joined back in March as Global Head of People strategy and then kind of soon took on the role of really taking a look at our global real estate portfolio and thinking through how that ties into really what our future of work strategy is as an organization. 

So key components of my role was really to come in, join our people leadership team, lock arms with our, our phenomenal chief people, Officer Tiffany Stevenson and really think through what the architecture of a forward looking people strategy can be and should be for a 60 year old wellness organization that’s going through arguably the largest digital transformation that it’s ever gone through. 

And so it has been a wild ride. It’s been a lot of fun. We’re up to a lot of really exciting things here. 

And, I’m, I’m thrilled to be a part of the team. 

Nicki Paterson: Well, listen, you’re definitely in the right company from the other guests we’ve had so far, been some amazing topics and I’m really excited to dive into, to some of the things we’ve discussed, today. 

I think your experience, I think Weighwatchers says it all right. 

I mean, I think there’s something I read in Weightwatchers Linkedin page for example, but looking for candidates to help change people’s lives. 

I mean, there is no bigger statement than that and, I think digital transformation also I feel is on the tip of everyone’s tongue in, in business at the moment and you need the best people to do that in the right way.  

Nicki Paterson: So, so really looking forward to this and I think it will be a super, super episode. 

So I guess, I guess, you’ve had an interesting journey to Weight Watchers. 

I think it’s always good to look back and I always get comments from listeners saying that was a slightly different journey here or that was a different journey to this role and, and I loved the challenges that person overcame.

But even if you give us a quick minute or so or a minute or two of just the journey so far. And I think the listeners would love to hear it. 

Conor Sweeney: Absolutely. 

I think one of the things that I find more and more fascinating, especially in the people space these days is I talked to more and more people leaders that similar to me have had fairly nonlinear paths into their now people leader roles. 

And so I think when I initially made the foray into this space, a few years back, I,  transparently was kind of self conscious, about the fact that I didn’t have what many would call a traditional hr background. 

I hadn’t spent decades as a people partner or leading people ops teams, right? 

But I think again, the good news is fast forward as I spend more and more time at industry events and talking with, with other people leaders is this kind of nonlinear career path that I’ve been on is actually becoming more and more common. 

So I’ve made some pretty significant pivots as far as focus areas and just parts of the business that I’ve touched over the last decade of my career. 

I spent the first almost five years of the earlier parts of my career really operating across finance and business operations functions at Hewlett Packard during a significantly historical time where the company was going through this massive corporate split that ultimately has netted out today with kind of two separate publicly traded companies HP Inc and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. 

And, I think starting my career in an environment that was enthralled with change and transformation, I do think set the tone for the, the rest of my journey and, and what I like to refer to as me chasing chaos, so to speak, if there is change or transformation or major pivots in strategy, I wanna be involved. 

Nicki Paterson: Absolutely right. 

Conor Sweeney: So, yeah, I had a had a great start and kick off to my career at NP again. 

My background is more on the finance and space, after five years, I went on to actually join Walmart for a short period of time, really during the period of time where their e-commerce business was truly at an inflection point and significant investments were being made to kind of take on the likes of Amazon and other major e-commerce platforms. 

I was working primarily on and the communications and people experience integration side of the house as they were going through a number of M and a transactions during the year and a half that I was there, which was a really kind of fascinating project or set of projects to be a part of what’s interesting is I’m seeing a lot of growth by acquisition right now. 

People are maybe quite hesitant to just keep going after the, the full time equivalent or a little bit more cautious in approach, let’s say the last few months and sometimes acquiring that plug in plug and play aspect of it. 

But from a business and a people leadership point of view, you’re merging all those different cultures and people and environments together. 

Nicki Paterson: So that probably was a really good grounding for, for the future as well. 

It really was, it was a really fascinating thing to, to watch. 

And I think the evolution right, of just M and A strategy and M and A integration strategy has certainly evolved partly because of this broader macroeconomic shift that I think many organizations have been facing over the last couple of years. 

But I think seeing it at that scale was a really phenomenal thing to be a part of. 

And I think where the the journey took a turn where I think I became much more enthralled in the people space was I left Walmart to join an organization or a company called Box. 

And Box is a, is a big cloud content management player. 

And I had the opportunity to serve as chief of staff to the co-founder and CFO of the company. 

And this is truly where I believe I caught the people bug, so to speak. 

Those couple of years were instrumental to kind of where I am today as I was maniacally focused in that role on all things, human capital and culture and location, strategy. 

And once I wrapped up my tour of duty in that capacity, I didn’t want to stop doing those things, right? So, I had a very significant decision to make. 

Whereas do I follow the traditional path of this role into a more focused finance role or programs role or do I keep on my people journey and ultimately fast forward, I’ve, I’ve kept on that people journey. 

So, between then and now I spent some time in hr leadership roles at a couple of different startups more recently before joining WW I was the head of people for a fairly prominent CC people tech company. 

And then of course, today coming to you live as as people leader at, at Weight Walkers.So it’s been a journey. 

Nicki Paterson: Yeah. So, I guess Box was the one place where we both know two or three of of, of, of different individuals and we probably ended up on this particular call together as well. 

But you’ve been at a lot of exciting companies? 

Some big companies, start ups, you’ve almost experienced it from, from every angle and I think like you say, there are, there are people that take that linear path recruiter, hr, hr manager hr director VP of hr, et cetera, et cetera. 

And again, not to downplay that in any way. 

But it’s like the sales person. 

They’re not the engineer, right? 

And, and it maybe take some, the engineer wants to start to become commercial or the, the business person wants to become people. 

It’s, it’s very difficult to acquire sets of skills when you’ve been down a path for years and years and years and years, you’ve almost got all of those different experiences, then went into the people’s side as you say, caught the bug or fell into it or however you want, you want to call it that and then almost used that position of, of power or position of strength, I suppose to, to then go and make a big impact where, where you’ve been and clearly doing so right now. 

So again, we’ll get into that a bit more in a, in a second, I guess, going into that and being in that business brain and moving into the people’s side. 

Nicki Paterson: Was there any biggest challenge you’ve found or, or any biggest challenge you’ve overcome as part of that? 

Conor Sweeney: Yeah, plenty. 

There’s been plenty of challenges.  

And I, and I think it’s go back and do it all over again a lot different. Then we, I think, I think we all went to some capacity. 

It’s interesting because I, I was actually recently asked kind of a version of this question more erring on the side of what you just mentioned Nikki about like if you were to go back and do it all over again, would you do it any differently? Believe it or not? 

The answer is absolutely not because I think there were times in that journey where I felt that I was struggling to make a decision around where I wanted to land from a business discipline perspective. 

But there were so many adjacent C and all those stops along the way that actually in some bizarre way makes sense to getting me from kind of point A to point B I think, you know, two challenges that come to mind that are a bit more broad strokes in nature. 

I think one is really learning the power of empathy and my ability to learn the power of empathy came in a, in a really unique way. 

And it was actually during those years working at box where I was, I was working in a kind of high caliber challenging chief of staff capacity for a founder and someone who is really passionate about the business. 

But Nikki, this was an individual that to this day models, empathy better than any other leader that I’ve ever worked with or worked for. 

I mean, it’s a great, a great quality to have as a leader. 

Not every leader has that. 

So I mean, it’s, that’s correct. 

And leaders that I have the utmost respect for, I can confidently say you still have a lot to learn in this, in this category and, and a lot would probably openly admit to this also, right? 

I mean, part of the leadership is the directness and the, the drive and the innovation and the ideas and the why can everyone not do what I do type approach? 

Nicki Paterson: So I totally, totally get that. 

Conor Sweeney: That’s right. 

So, I learned at an important time in my career, the power of empathy, showing empathy, reinforcing, empathy and how that becomes a significant strategic lever in your ability to drive business impact. 

And so again, it’s a huge shout out to, to Dylan Smith who’s still at Box today as their own co-founder and was just really blown away by his ability to, to, to balance that exceptionally well. 

And look, I think the, the second piece that was a really prominent challenge for me and I think is for many is just the, what I felt was lack of preparedness earlier on in my career to be an effective people leader. 

So actually managing teams. 


And what’s interesting is pretty early on in my career, I had expressed interest in wanting to manage people. 

And I’m cognizant that there are many, many people who are incredibly talented who drive significant impact that have no interest in managing teams whatsoever. 

Conor Sweeney: And so I know it is constantly a significant challenge for organizations to think through when the right time is to kind of deliver that enablement of how to get folks earlier in their career ready for that first opportunity to step into people leader roles. 

But I felt that for me, the first time I stepped into a people leader role, I personally felt wildly unprepared and it actually kind of ties to the empathy thing.  

There was a lot of soft skills that I really hadn’t been effectively coached on at a time where I dramatically needed to be coached on those things because I was this new manager with a really large team and a really chaotic environment. 

And so, I attribute the evolution of what I think to be progress on these things all these years later to really just phenomenal mentorship and working in environments that allowed me to trip up and course correct. 

I think regardless of how large the organization was or how small the organization was. 

I seemingly always found myself in environments that really rewarded, take risks. 

Sometimes you may fail, but just make sure that you fail fast and you course correct in the way that you can and I think, had I not come up the ranks, so to speak, in environments that reinforce that I would be a, a very different kind of people leader today. 

And, and I guess in today’s current environment, people will probably get away with less risks. 

Nicki Paterson: So, I think, I feel like in, in the years past I’ve been given a lot of autonomy to go and do that and, and, and take those risks. 

And I feel a lot of the leaders I’ve had on here have had companies that have failed and I’ve blown millions and then got it right. 

And I guess that’s not what the private equity companies want to hear nowadays.  

But, but again, it’s the, the, the part that rings true for me is that mentorship piece surround yourself with successful people, understand why they’re successful. 

Don’t be afraid to put your hand up and say I need help with this. 

You’re never going to figure it all out, right? I made loads of mistakes in the people management world. 

I’m still making them probably, you know, ask the team, don’t ask the team actually. 

But, but for sure, I definitely feel that mentorship pieces is, and of course, correct. 

Totally, totally agree. 

Nicki Paterson: What’s the proudest moment of your career so far? 

Conor Sweeney: Oh, that’s a great question. 

And again, what if you had asked me that question two years ago? I think I would have had a wildly different answer for you that was really focused on it more than once. 

So that’s good. 

Well, but I think, you know, a couple of years ago I would have answered with here is a list of all these hyper business critical programs that I’ve helped to lead or been a part of that have ultimately yielded great success for the business.Coming at that question today. 

I think the proudest moment of my career was the first time that I was able to recognize that an environment was not right for me and feeling empowered by that recognition, to walk away from something that I knew wasn’t right for me is a moment in my career that sticks out as being a really proud one. 

And, and I think there, the world has been a really chaotic place for the last few years. 

But if there’s one positive that’s come from the chaos, it’s more and more professionals recognizing that they have a seat at their own table to make decisions based on what’s right for them. 

And I think again, going back to a partial part of my last answer is it, it took working with and for some really inspiring leaders in environments that perhaps we all knew weren’t right for us and us being able to collectively work through that challenge. 

Conor Sweeney: And so, going back about a year and a half, two years ago, I was operating in a, a fairly senior role in an organization that I have a great amount of respect for, that has phenomenal leaders and capabilities that I have a great amount of respect for. 

But environmentally, I knew fairly early on that this was just not going to be the right fit for me. 

And I probably sat on that decision for a little longer than I should have as most people do. 

Yeah, but I felt tremendously proud of myself to be able to come to the recognition and take action on that recognition. 

So I think that that’s what I’m most proud of. 

And, and I think because that has now set the tone for the way that I look at my future career growth now, which again, a couple of years ago was not even top of mind for me at the time. 

Nicki Paterson: We, we talk a lot about fulfillment and someone’s work or, or, or job or role and, and we talk a lot about family fit freedom, fulfillment, future fortune, you know, what’s in it for the candidate, what’s in it for the, the employee is you enjoying what you do? 

Who do you work with? 

Are you proud of what you do? 

And if you are and you might not tick all those boxes all the time. 

But almost top talent is never going to join your organization, if you don’t tick most of them and I think you empowering yourself will allow you to empower and enable others. 

Conor Sweeney: And I, and I think that’s a huge point in anyone’s life where they feel I’m a little bit in control of this. 

Because most of the time we’re not in control of it, of anything. 

Nicki Paterson: And that probably carries on to the, to the next topic or question quite, quite well, you know, I think your role is really about enabling both people in business. 

How do you, you know, and, and there’s often very misaligned goals between the two, leadership is driving business hr and people and talent acquisition are driving the, the, the people strategy. 

How did you know, what’s your opinion on that misalignment, I suppose? 

And, and how do you, of course, correct that. 

Conor Sweeney: Yeah, and I think I’ll, I’ll start by addressing a comment you made that I think is really important to double down on which is empowering yourself, enables you to empower others. 

Because again, there have been moments now, fast forward over the last couple of years where I’ve been able to recognize when team members of mine are feeling a certain way about the environment. 

And instead of ignoring that and remaining hyper focused on business outcomes, because I myself as a leader have been able to recognize when it’s time to step away from something I, I feel it’s very important as a people leader to empower others to feel the same way. 

So, I think that it’s almost like how do you pass this along to the next generation? 

How do you pass this along to just anybody? 

It’s, it’s really, really important. 

So, I think that’s a, a great point and statement you made I think, look as I think about creating and reinforcing high performing environments, marrying the business strategy and the people strategy. 

First off, I think it was the founder and CEO of Lattice that said somewhat recently in an interview that people strategy is business strategy and business strategy is people strategy. 

And realistically, you can’t have one without the other and it sounds a little bit like an oxymoron. 

But I think for a long time, and I’ve worked in organizations where the people strategy is this independent entity that is showcasing some adjacent to the business strategy.  

Whether it’s like, well, we know we need to hire these critical roles. 

We, we know that we need to make a certain percentage of cuts in the organization aligned to certain business metrics. 

But again, what we’re seeing more and more of now, right is organizations recognizing that one is an overlay for the next. 

And so I do think in organizations that I’ve worked in that I’ve done this the best. 

It all boils down to planning and that strategic planning and annual planning process at a, at a corporate level. 

So as long as it, it ensures a sense of embedded this, if you will, of the critical nature of how a people strategy is going to help to deploy that business strategy, that’s, that’s really the difference. 

That’s where you see the two come together really successfully. 

think Ithere’s also a, a kind of an expression that I started to use a couple of years ago, excuse me. And that’s the importance of building with and not for. 

Conor Sweeney: And I learned this working in smaller startup environments where there’s a lot more transparency and a and a lot more focus on partnership as far as how certain business functions deploy programs. I think in really, really large corporate environments of hundreds of thousands of people, it’s easy to develop and deploy a program in a vacuum in hopes that it’ll just kind of naturally catch because look how big the organization is and how do you get buy in from 100,000 people? 

I think it was operating in much smaller hyper growth startup environments where I recognized the the power of especially on the people side of the house building the strategy with the business, not for the business, you need to kind of collaborate and, and, and, and influence and inspire a smaller level. 

When if you know, if you’re at 100,000 person company and, and all of a sudden 1000 people are talking about another 1000 another and it just kind of a multiplies. 

Conor Sweeney: I definitely feel the same thing and, and, and see that quite often, I think Solution Driven are probably the most transparent company in the world, my CEO shares everything, but also then the team know we’re in this together, and I think that’s super important, super important and where, where I’ve seen this model kind of break down and then what’s become inspiring to then infuse a better sense of process later on is I think on the people side, it’s oftentimes like the centers of excellence leaders that the talent development leaders the specialized talent management leaders who without even knowing it sometimes will build programs based off of a hypothesis of the business and then just roll the program out to the business. 

I think a great example of that is performance management.  

I’ve worked in organizations as a non people leader where the performance management or performance enablement process has been rolled out with this one size fits all type mentality where there was perhaps some buy-in at the senior leader level of the process. 

And now now it becomes a challenge for people, partner teams or generalist teams to then say, OK, I have to now figure out a way to convince the rest of the business that this is a tried and true method and this is why we’re doing almost as soon as you think that as well. 

You know, it’s not a good idea. 

And so for sure. 

Conor Sweeney: And so, I, I can recall many years ago working for a smaller startup environment where I mistakenly had taken that approach on a couple of things and was called out by senior leadership and the founders of the company around the like, wait a minute, like you built this thing, but you built this thing based on what? 

And I said, well, I built this thing based on my fundamental understanding of the organization. 

But most importantly, my expertise as a people leader and they said your expertise as a people leader doesn’t really matter.  

Do you fundamentally understand the culture of our business? 

Yeah, how the scale culture and has that at all informed this solution that you’ve essentially recommended to deploy out to the whole company. 

And the answer was no. 

And so that was a really pivotal time in my career where I said, moving forward the secret to advocacy and empowerment from the C SUITE to roll out significant impactful people programs is to build those programs with the business, not for the business. 

So, I know this was a long winded answer for you, but I love it. 

It’s, it’s a really critical piece from a behavior perspective of really ensuring that, that people, strategy and business strategy is intact, is really collaboration and building with the not for it. 

Nicki Paterson: Like I also think it as a testament to you as well here.  

I mean, you talked about a lot of it being a little self-conscious and, but you also then talked about course correct being called out on something like that can as a sink or swim moment for some people, right? 

And again, testament to you for then saying, OK, you know, how do I be better here? 

How do I take this on board? 

How do I course correct change, challenge myself to be better in this area and then learn from it and, and I think some people throw they’re in the heart once and then that didn’t work. I’ll, I’ll back away. 

So, so fair play to you for, for that, I guess, I think often times the largest, most complex challenges that we face as people, leaders, well, just leaders in general.  

Conor Sweeney: What so sometimes are fixed by the simplest things. And I think based on one of the previous examples I gave using that same organization as an example. 

There were moments and times for me in that journey where I just felt like I couldn’t get anywhere in the organization around the programs. 

I was trying to roll out, getting the advocacy and support that I needed to have the influence to get future programs out. 

And I’ll tell you in a moment of desperation, I, I recall sending a slack message to the founder and CEO and I said any chance that you want to just go back to the patio and have a cup of coffee at the picnic table and just like, have a candid conversation around what it is that we can do to further build this partnership. 

And, the immediate response was absolutely yes, let’s do that thing with. 

We had that conversation. 

45 minutes later, we discovered that so much of the lack of alignment was solvable earlier on than we thought it was. 

But we had just never taken the time to have that really transparent candid conversation around the importance of partnership, the importance of fundamentally understanding a culture that is scaling in a hyper growth environment. 

Yeah, and also just understanding the founder journey. 

And I think that’s also something where when I was kind of newer to the startup world, when you’re coming from really large organizations where leaders are kind of selected and placed versus in startup environments where leaders are far more emotionally attached to the product that they’ve created. 

How you operate as a people leader in those environments is night and day, totally different. 

And I didn’t understand that and, and very quickly did understand that and that changed the course, I think for the better in the long term, I mean, I could probably ask a million questions off of that because we’ve done it as a leadership team as well. 

A bit of a swot analysis. 

Where do you go? 

And, and, and at one point or other in our journey, socially driven and not skilled, some like some of the companies you have but doubled in size. 

The last couple of years, you become a slightly different business, the culture, evolves and aligning, we are always trying to innovate, we just launched Enablement yesterday, for example, but the team being aligned on why we done that, why we’ve been working towards that. 

If someone asks, how can we answer that? 

That that’s key for me and, and I think exactly what you just said there, the answer to some of the biggest problems sometimes is a very quick conversation. 

Nicki Paterson: You know, it really as we see it in, in the hiring the talent world all the time, hr is one goal, the hiring manager is another the executive person that’s involved is a slightly different view as well. 

And how do you quickly get them all aligned? 

Let’s just bang our heads together and sit in the room for 30 minutes and you always end up in a better place thereafter. 

Nicki Paterson: How would you define the ideal hr transformation strategy? 

Conor Sweeney: That is the million dollar question in 2023. 

Look, I mean, by definition, kind of hr transformation is really the evolution of an hr function to create greater value for an organization. 

But what I feel that a lot of what a lot of folks fail to accept is that an hr transformation. 

And we briefly talked about this before, should be exclusively tied to an overarching business transformation. 

And I think that’s what we’re seeing more and more of.  

And I think certainly something that we’re embodying at Weight Watchers is as the business is transforming and the business is evolving naturally our capabilities as people in communities function is also transforming and evolving in service of the business strategy. 

And again, I go back to this quote from, from Jack over at LA, right in saying that people strategy is business strategy, business strategy is people strategy. 

And so, you know, I think the ideal hr transformation is one that aligns to and follows the transformation of the business, not one that kind of independently is evolving for the sake of evolving. 

And I don’t think it’s just people teams that fall into this.  

I mean, I’ve worked in other parts of the business that have gone through restructurings and organizational design activities that are happening in service of the organization versus in service of the business. 

Look, sometimes you have to do what you have to do as far as talent strategy and making sure you have the right people and the right roles to serve the business strategy. 

But again, it’s super critical when you’re thinking about designing and implementing an HR transformation strategy, that it is almost solely predicated on the evolution of the business strategy. 

And I think that totally organizations are recognizing that a lot more. 

But I think that has been something that many organizations have not been good at, you know, up until up until recently. 

So that’s how I see it. 

That’s how, I’ve built it in my, in my career to put on some and, and I think you’ve been a huge advocate for the future of work. 

Nicki Paterson: I know you’ve been invited on to, to many panels, many webinars, et cetera around this, this topic. 

And it’s a topic we could, we could probably talk about for, for hours but there’s a younger generation coming through there’s been a lot of, like you say, craziness. 

The last, the last couple of years, we’ve had remote working flexibility, get your butt back to work in the office skill shortages bank crashes, you name it. 

I mean, I think, what do you see, I guess is the one or two biggest challenges ahead when it comes to the future of work and again, with your course correct mentality, I guess. 

Nicki Paterson: Do you see any huge opportunities for, I guess that transformation strategy, people in business alignment. 

Nicki Paterson: So, a couple of different questions there, but I guess what do you see as, as one or two of the bigger challenges when it comes to, to the future of work? 

Conor Sweeney: yeah. 

And I think leveraging those, those two populations the employer and the employee and the employee from the angle of a younger generation coming into the workforce with very different expectations at times than some of the other generations that are, that are in the workforce. 

I think the biggest challenge that both sides of the fence face are balance and managing expectations. 

Organizations need to drive impact and their desire to provide a safe space for people to do their best work within the parameters of driving impact is a really tough equation to solve, especially in 2023 and beyond where thankfully, we are as a world more maniacally focused on mental health in the workplace and reinforcing the importance of balance and providing that safe space for the employer and the employee to do what’s best for them. 

Yeah, that, that is a huge challenge and it’s not that that hasn’t been a challenge in years past, I think I talked a lot about a lot more now than, than ever before. 

I mean, I think in, in the past, people had these balancing issues but would never mention them. 

I just need to get through this I just need to get to the end of the week. 

You know, I’ll just deal with that. 

Nicki Paterson: And I think people are being more vocal now and I think COVID forced us all to work very remotely for a while and, and with that came positives and, and negatives. 

And I think things have been very heightened and highlighted a lot over the last few years. Maybe more so. 

And, and I guess from that we’re seeing the opportunity and challenge. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge right now? 

What are you seeing in them? 

How do you turn hypothesis into action? 

Conor Sweeney: I was recently talking with AAA group of other people leaders in, at an event a couple of weeks ago. 

And we were on the topic of specifically mental health in the workplace and what organizations are doing to really push boundaries in a positive way and really start to move the needle on that particular topic. 

But I think if you up level that and you, you touched upon it, we’ve been doing a lot of hypothesizing, yeah, across all industries over the last 2.5 or three years. 

We, we know that there are challenges that we have to solve around managing expectations from a global benefits and perks perspective, managing expectations from a diversity, equity inclusion and belonging perspective, reinforcing the importance of feedback, culture, providing the right balance of flexibility as far as what it means to work from a versus work from an office versus work in a region. 

And so, I think where many organizations are now is those organizations are on the hook for turning many years of hypothesizing into action. 

So, a lot of people, leaders that I talked to are now saying, OK, our plan that we’ve essentially been developing for the last few years is a, here are the 3 to 5 things that we’re gonna do to hopefully move the needle. 

And I think there are some organizations that have been far better at this and more open about how great they are at it over the last few years. 

And that’s great for them. 

And it’s created a lot of really phenomenal data for other organizations to say, OK, like would, would that work in our organization or not? 

But I think the biggest challenge, that, that every it’s not just people, team but just business in general faces right now is how to take groupings of general thoughts and themes that to your point, we’ve talked extensively until we’re blue in the face over the last three years. 

And what are the actions that we’re now gonna put into place to move the needle on these things that for years employees have been telling us are important. 

So I think that is the biggest challenge right now. 

I think as well. You get the, you get the CEOs vision.  Here’s the road map, here’s how the product’s gonna evolve. 

Conor Sweeney: Here’s what we’re gonna do for customers and very rarely do you see the people road map in a, in a similar fashion, you know, that we want to promote 40% of our staff within two years who, who talks about things like that for, for example, and I don’t know where that came from just a sudden thought, but I think it’s so true, you know, I think move the needle is the main thing, right? 

I think there’s a lot of talking speculating, hypothesizing, and, and loads of ideas, there’s nothing worse than hearing of an idea and then nothing happens thereafter. 

Or there’s nothing worse than that. 

Nicki Paterson: I love what you said there around feedback culture. 

But you ask for all this feedback and then you don’t do anything about it. 

The people say, well, why did you bother asking? 

You must, you must see that yourself quite a lot and, and, and working and I know you’re an advisor and, and things like that as well. 

Conor Sweeney: That’s super difficult, I think for a startup where the road to profitability is, is, is paramount so it’s very easy for these huge companies with millions and billions in the bank to say we can do Xy and Z to make this a better environment. 

Nicki Paterson: Again, I think that’s something we could talk about. 

Maybe we need another episode for that, I guess. 

Let me ask you maybe one last question Hiring Enablement for us is, is not just a bum on a seat, it’s not just filling a role. 

Yes, we’re a recruitment partner, right? 

But partner being the key word, where do we add value? 

How do we be an extension of your brand to put in quality of people, you know, to then go and do good work. 

You know, it’s how do we understand your business, the type of person you’re looking for? 

How do we then understand the people motivations? 

Because if you don’t get that bit right in the early phase, if you don’t define it as a company, you don’t align with the partner or the T A team. If you don’t align it with the candidate, they’re never going to go and do amazing work. 

You’re changing at it. 

So, I guess how would you measure quality of hire and, and do you see the quality of higher being a more important metric in years to come? 

Conor Sweeney: Yeah, I absolutely do. 

And I think, you know, going back to earlier parts of our conversation we were talking at a higher level around just some of the broader challenges organizations are facing. 

I think this is and I know we’ve actually talked about this offline. 

How, how challenging this is for many is. 

I think this is a great example of being in a moment where we have across the board been hypothesizing on what we feel, quality of higher means and now what we have to do to implement it within our organizations, I think I, I certainly don’t have an overly quantitative answer for you, but I think that there are things that talent organizations in partnership with the broader business scheme of an organization can be doing to better connect the dots on business impact outputs of quality hires. 

I think one is there is a significant need when you are scoping the needs of talent for an organization based on certain business goals to really double down on making sure that there is clarity between, what is it that the T A team is hiring for and like, does it actually check the boxes of what the business needs? 

I think this is a, a particularly a larger challenge for startup organizations where there is so much evolving in such a short period of time startup environments that I’ve been in often battle with the OK. 

So, we, we think we need this. 

But now that I’ve talked to this candidate, like, they may not have all the things, but like I, there’s, I just have a good feeling about this. 


And so, let’s get them in, let’s get them in and let’s figure out then how to best utilize them after they’re in. 

And look, there are always going to be one-off scenarios where that needs to happen. 

But I think that happens far too often. 

I’ve actually worked in organizations where so much of them is predicated on. 

Well, we feel because they have awesome skills that they’d be a really valuable asset to the organization. 

So, we’re gonna hire them and then hopefully we’ll figure out once they get here how to best utilize them, that’s not a very inspiring journey from a candidate perspective where you think you’re signing up for one thing and then you end up with another. 

And so, I think like you end up with very vague goals and very vague objectives and then either don’t meet them or they do not have any impact at all. 

And then I’ve seen it then where the organization then blames the caliber of the talent of the person they’ve hired for while we’re just not getting the business results we need. 

Well, of course, you’re not getting the business results you need because you haven’t set proper expectations for what this role needs to do. 

So, I think kind of long story short, you know, influencing a healthier environment of what quality of hire is, is really making sure that expectations are being set around the needs of the business, how the potential of a candidate coming in can fulfill those needs of the business. 

And, and making sure that there is as much adjacency and alignment as possible to like what that journey looks like once the person is in the door, I think secondly, and this is not anything earth shattering as far as innovation goes. 

But I do think that NPS and like understanding the actual journey over time of how people are feeling in an organization also can net out really significant results of. 

Well, gee it’s, you know, it seems that we are experiencing massive amounts of attrition right now. 

And again, I’ve worked in environments where I’ve asked the question, OK, have we asked them how they’re feeling along the way in their journey? 

And the answer has been like, well, like they’ve had conversations with their manager and, you know, no, nothing. 

Take the box and move on. 

Yeah, nothing was flagged as being, you know, significantly out of whack. 

And it’s like, OK, but that’s not right. 

We talk about the need for doubling down on data. 

And there’s all this pressure right now on people teams to deliver a more quantitative view of data when they’re getting asked to do more with less resource as it is? 

Nicki Paterson: For sure. 

OK, I’m very, very conscious of your time. 

I’m gonna ask you for one last question with a one word answer and I think I know what your answer is going to be. 

But but let’s see, I’ve wrote it down. 

It is very, very clear, you are passionate about people, you know, improving yourself for sure, but improving everyone and enabling and empowering everyone around you. 

8And I think one of the clear things you said is, setting the right expectation being key, I took that away if there was one skill for leaders of the future to be successful when it comes to business and being a business and people leader, what would that skill be? 

Conor Sweeney: Communications? 

Well, I wait, I wait for empathy but communication. 

Nicki Paterson: Ok.  

Conor Sweeney: No communications, I think, I mean, and being a really close second. 

But as you know, because you have a lot of these conversations, A I and the future of A I is a really hot topic right now. 

How that influences people, teams and processes and all the things right is, is a really hot topic right now. 

But I think the ability for technology to streamline and automate processes does not take away from the importance of being able to come in, especially in a people role where your, your business is people and interacting with people and coaching and advising people is your ability to clearly and articulately and efficiently and effectively communicate concepts and ideas and, and advisory. 

And I think that’s especially true for people leaders because fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, people leaders are often dealing with really messy challenging scenarios tied to all the things that, that all the listeners already know about. 

And so, your ability to communicate advisory and, and recommendations based on really challenging situations is so critically important. 

And I don’t think this is just a people related thing, right? 

I think I was told very early on in my career, you know, hey, you may not be the most technically sound professional, but your ability to distill complex information and communicate it back to said stakeholders in a way that drives alignment and drives partnership that is invaluable. 

And so that’s the skill that I have overly invested in in my career and a skill that as I’m mentoring folks now and talking with, with early careers, something that I strongly recommend that they get more involved in, right? 

And so, whether it be toast masters or doubling down on your ability to present in front of people as a project leader yourself. 

Nicki Paterson: Definitely, absolutely. 

So, I think communications for sure, look Conor absolute excellent episode. 

I love having you on here. I look forward to continuing talking around three or four of these subjects with you in the coming months and years as the world gets crazier. 

Thank you so much for your time today and, and all the very best. 

Conor Sweeney: Yeah, thank you so much, Nikki. 

It’s been great. 

Thanks for having me anytime. 

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