In this month’s interview, SteFan PremDas talks about the talent operations model he designed for the Talent Operations team at Postmates.
Recruiting Operations, or Talent Operations, is still a new function in many organizations, but SteFan PremDas has been in talent operations for a few years now, and is leveraging his talent acquisition experience and engineering background to scale the TA Operations function at Postmates. A local “anything” delivery company founded in 2011, Postmates pioneered the on-demand delivery movement in the US by offering delivery from restaurants and stores previously only available offline. The company now operates in 4,200 US cities and provides access to over 600,000 merchants.
This article is part of our Talent Operations Manager of the Month series. You can find last month’s interview here.
To get us started, tell me about the operations function at Postmates. How did you build your talent operations function?
This is actually one of my favorite questions because I think about it a bit differently from other people: I’ve set up our Talent Acquisition Operations function in a way that is derived from IT Service Management. The most important concept behind it is the “service value chain”, meaning a service originates from strategy and continues to be improved until it is no longer offered.
Service Management for our talent operations function is split into five pieces:
- Service strategy: understanding the business needs behind the service ask.
- Service design: ideating and developing what the service will look like, taking it from business need to concept.
- Service transition: taking the service from concept or wireframe, to a plan of action.
- Service operation: executing on the plan and providing the service in real-time.
- Continuous service improvement: revisiting the service to understand performance and provide better ways to do it.
Using this talent operations model we offer eight different services:
- Process: leveraging root cause analysis, Six Sigma methodology, and other problem-solving methods to identify and fix process inefficiencies in the TA organization
- Digital: enabling the TA function with the right tools and technology to achieve its goals, either by acquiring them or building them internally
- Insights: providing the analytics services necessary to understand the health of the Postmates hiring organization, and how it’s tracking towards goals
- Enablement: help facilitate the adoption of changes to new technology or processes through trainings, webinars, tutorials, as well as through a managed knowledge base
- Coordination: supporting talent teams with logistical aspects of the recruiting process, such as scheduling, or responding to candidate queries
- Talent brand: an intersection between employer brand and recruitment marketing, driven by the currently open or forecasted headcount.
- Programs: driving open-ended TA initiatives such as employee referrals, internship programs, etc.
- Experience: a service that runs across the whole TA function and focuses on the experience of every stakeholder of the recruitment process; from recruiters, interviewers, hiring managers, candidates and more.
This set up allows me to think of our organization not just as a function within TA, but as the types of services we can provide and how we provide them; thereby allowing for a more complete vision of what we do.
Compared to other talent operations organizations we’ve talked to, your scope of operations is on the wider side. How big is the talent operations team at Postmates?
When I joined Postmates, there were two individuals who had talent operations responsibilities — most of their work was reacting to requests from the business — and three team members who had coordinator responsibilities. So with this new team, we took a step back and looked at what we could achieve now and how we wanted to grow.
The Service Management talent ops model I have in place for our talent operations team allows me to focus on people’s skills and strengths instead of their predefined roles. I have a business analyst, for example, who is really good at getting to the bottom of what the business needs, so instead of having her focus just on technology requests, I have her define requirements for all types of services across our offering; this is especially valuable for recruiter coordinator roles. They are usually focused on scheduling interviews or other logistical aspects of recruiting, and this model allows them to lean into their strengths and build a career path.
The goal is to be able to build a team that utilizes the strengths of each individual without limiting them to their current role or experience. I was very direct about the fact that we want people to work on what they are passionate about. If you enjoy doing something, there is a good chance you’ll be pretty good at it. So that’s how I approached it—not by defining roles, but by exploring and understanding strengths, and deploying individuals across the different services according to those strengths.
I also use the various services as a checklist to suggest areas of growth for my team. So for instance, if we’re missing someone who can do systems architecture, it’s an open opportunity for whoever is interested in learning more about it. We treat the different services as menu options of different career opportunities. Some of those options will be perfectly aligned with people’s interests, and some will scare them away, but hopefully, we’ll end up with a team where everyone is leveraging their strengths or growing in directions that they enjoy.
How did you sell this new talent operations model, this new way of enabling the talent team, to the organization when you first started?
My first “sell” was to our VP of Talent, who is an incredibly supportive individual, but also a forward-looking one. He agreed that the talent operations function at the time was totally reactive and limited by the incoming requests from the business. What I was offering was a way to become proactive, to get ahead of incoming requests, and think strategically about the value added by talent operations.
From there, it was a matter of taking that vision to the People organization and other stakeholders. Because we had an overarching strategy and goals, it was easier to show the rest of the business where we would bring value beyond addressing requests in real-time.
We still support the business with consultative requests, of course, as it’s part of our offerings. We have partners come to us with a hypothesis as to why this program is not showing results or why those candidates are rejecting offers, and we dig into those issues to find the root cause and design a plan of action. However, we continue to aim for a place where we know what will be asked of us, and we start working on it even before it becomes an issue. That is something that requires having the right team in place—which I am very lucky to have.
A great example of that is integrating our talent acquisition stack with our HRIS to facilitate onboarding. This was something we decided early on that needed to be done, and so when the request came from the people operations team, we were in a position to have an immediate impact.
Compared to these aspects of your role that have been going exactly as planned, what has been hard for your function? What aspects of it have been frustrating, or lacked support or buy-in from the business?
I think every talent operations lead will agree with me that the most difficult part of the job is tied to change management. There is never a silver bullet for cementing the changes we set into motion. There is no process that will work for absolutely everyone, because processes impact people, and each person brings with them a different dynamic. You have to tease out those specificities and tailor your solution so it can be applied to as many different scenarios as possible. What worked in the past, in another situation or at another company, will not necessarily work now.
Success doesn’t come from some perfectly applied formula, but from understanding how to drive the right change in behavior to adopt that new process and to bring everyone along. That’s an inherently difficult task because of our nature as human beings; it takes time. I have to sit down with my recruiters and understand how they think, what motivates them, what will annoy them or get them incredibly irritated with me. You have to be patient, and keep driving the operations agenda forward.
It’s become even more difficult now, particularly during the pandemic, because a big part of change is training, and online training is not nearly as engaging. It’s difficult enough to keep people interested when you have a captive audience in the room, but when they have to pay attention to your content while managing kids or keeping a distracted eye on pets… that’s something else entirely. So we are now shifting focus to this new setting, and trying to figure out how to engage this population of recruiters remotely. We haven’t cracked that code yet, but we’ll keep working on it, as it’s something we absolutely want to get right.
Another challenge I've faced in the past and that was a tough situation to figure out, was getting a final signoff on a project so I could ship it. There was a situation where I needed to get approval from a certain set of people so I would demonstrate what the project would achieve, but then some of those people would leave the organization or change roles, and I would have to bring a new set of stakeholders on board. They would then have their own input on the strategy and direction, and this would cause a delay.
In situations like these, the concept of an “MVP” or Minimum Viable Product, really becomes a TA Ops person’s lifeline. It’s really important to communicate to your stakeholders that whatever you deliver will be iterated on and improved continuously, and it really matters that we draw a line in the sand and ship it, so we can start seeing results.
Has the Covid-19 pandemic, and the restrictions associated with it, affected other areas of your work with the talent team?
Definitely. We obviously had to support the move to remote, with all the technical challenges it entails, and that was already a challenge in itself. Luckily we were already headed in that direction as a team; we just would have loved another month to get it done. The other aspect of it was that we had to adapt how we interact with the rest of the TA organization. As I mentioned before, there is a lot of emotional intelligence involved in the work we do day-to-day, since a lot of it involves getting to the bottom of people’s motivations and needs. But picking up on those human cues when you’re not talking to them in person is much harder.
We also had to manage our energy as a team differently. I’ve found that our burnout rate has started to increase, so I’m trying to pull us back in a little. I’m still flabbergasted by how much we’ve accomplished in the past nine months, but right now, we’re trying to remember that, maybe, we don’t need to get everything done right this minute.
So moving to a fully digital recruiting process, with all your recruiting data managed online, and all that it entails, was always the plan?
Yes, moving to digital was always the plan. Again, I would have loved to have started at Postmates maybe a month earlier than I did, to give me now time before the pandemic hit, but we managed to make that shift happen, and I am confident in our ability to continue to operate 100% digitally if we choose to. We don’t have to, but now we have the option.
We weren’t doing it to prepare specifically for a pandemic, or for recruiting remotely, but the original idea was to prepare us for change, any change. We went through a number of technical implementations, and deployed some new processes, with the goal being able to keep operations running no matter what happens. One of the first things we changed was automating interview scheduling. That reduced the amount of time that coordinators spent on it by about 60%, which freed up the rest of their week for other types of work.
We brought in new behavioral and technical assessment technologies to collect more standardized information about candidates, we implemented a CRM to allow us to manage our entire candidate pool and recruit proactively, and about 80% of those changes were already implemented before we went on lockdown.
The initial drive was that we wanted all our data to be centrally managed and more accessible. There was a clear benefit to the business because that shift improves the ability to diagnose issues and propose solutions based on stronger hypotheses. For example, we could report more granularly on why certain candidates were rejecting offers, or why a certain group was not applying at the same rates as others. Being able to access all that data enabled us to answer almost all questions quicker and more confidently, and that was an easy win for the wider business and a great way to get buy-in.
So on that thought, what are your next big initiatives? What are you trying to prepare for when it comes to the next two years?
We are considering a couple of major changes. The first one is removing bias from our application process. I would love to see us get to a point where we have limited the amount of unconscious bias in the hiring process, maybe by using more candidate matching algorithms or AI-based technology. The technology is available to do this, so I don’t think employers have any excuse for not addressing this issue.
On the flip side of this idea, we’ve just launched a job site, that allows you to upload your resume and see what skills we think you have, either because they are explicitly stated, or because we inferred them from your background. The tool then also shows you open positions that might be a match for you. This has already shown huge improvements in allowing Postmates to be more inclusive in their hiring practices.
The second major project I have my eye on is revamping how we think about analytics. When we have a vaccine for Covid-19, will the world simply snap back into place, or will we move to a more hybrid model of work? Does the way we measure recruiting activity today work for this new model? Is the data from the past 6 months going to be just a blip on the radar, to be ignored after we’re “back to normal”? These are the questions I'm looking to answer.
Beyond that, there are still some programs where I would like to automate some processes and help recruiters be more efficient and engaged. Employee Referral is one of those programs—I’d like us to gamify it, make it more interesting for employees.
There is also a lot to be done around talent branding, and sharing more about Postmates to encourage more applications. There is so much more we can do to share who we are as a company with prospective candidates in a much more functional way. Our current recruiting operations textbook is in a good place, and I’m very proud of it, but there’s always more to be improved on. On the flip side, we always have to mitigate risk where possible, which is one of the strongest considerations of my everyday work. I’m lucky in the fact that Postmates is an edgy brand, and that the business is comfortable taking bold bets and trying what hasn’t been tried before.