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HRTech Edge Interview with Lisa Shuster, Chief People Officer, iHire




 

Lisa Shuster, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is the Chief People Officer for iHire, an industry-specific recruitment platform. Shuster has more than 20 years of experience serving as a human resources leader. Previously, she served as Founder and President of PeopleWorks, an HR service delivery and consulting company. A SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), Shuster also heads up iHire’s HR Services & Consulting Practice.More about Lisa Shuster:

iHire is a leading career-oriented platform that powers a family of 57 industry-focused talent networks, including WorkInSports, iHireVeterinary, iHireDental, iHireConstruction, and iHireChefs. For more than 20 years, iHire has combined advanced job matching technology with our expertise in the talent acquisition space to connect job seekers with employers in their desired sector. With an industry-specific, candidate-centric, and data-driven approach to recruitment, iHire helps candidates find meaningful work and employers find unique, high-quality talent — faster, easier, and more effectively than a general job board.Learn more at: www.ihire.com

Hello, Lisa! Can you elaborate on your professional journey prior to joining iHire and how it led you to your current position as the Chief People Officer?

Working for a staffing firm early in my career ignited my passion for HR and recruitment. I went on to hold HR roles with increasingly more leadership responsibilities at both non-profit and for-profit organizations like iHire. After four years as the VP of HR at iHire, I sought a new challenge — starting my own business. I founded PeopleWorks, an HR consulting firm, and continued to work with iHire along with more than 80 other businesses as a trusted HR partner.

However, five years later, iHire needed an on-staff senior HR leader to guide them through a period of rapid growth, and I answered the call. As iHire’s Chief People Officer, I now lead our internal people operations functions as well as spearhead our HR services and consulting practice.

What are the daily obstacles that a Chief People Officer encounters? How do you address and transform these challenges into opportunities within your role?

In a post-COVID world, employee expectations have shifted. Navigating those expectations — including remote work and flexibility, DEI commitments, mental health support, pay transparency, and cost-of-living adjustments — is a key part of the job. If you cannot address and meet employees’ evolving needs, your associates will likely find an employer who can. Therefore, engaging and retaining staff is an everyday priority, as finding the right talent has become exceedingly difficult in this tight labor market.

Employee engagement and retention begin with cultivating a strong company culture and employer brand, which is another focus of my role. This is not a one-and-done exercise; HR leaders must continue to monitor and evolve their cultures. If you’re not intentional about the type of culture you wish to build and maintain, it will turn into one that may not serve you and the future needs of your business.

Some of the ways we address these challenges are through data and employee listening. One-on-one meetings between managers and associates, stay interviews, and anonymous pulse surveys are all mechanisms we use to understand the expectations of our staff members. But before making any changes, we evaluate the reasons for change, the risks of not changing, and the costs and benefits of changing.

While the last few years have been especially taxing for HR pros, honing your culture and exercising strategic work that can impact the success of your organization is important. It’s certainly a new and exciting challenge every day.

In what manners does iHire distinguish itself from other providers in terms of its job-matching technology?

One of our biggest differentiators is our industry focus. With 57 industry-specific talent communities, we connect employers with candidates with experience in their desired sector based on more than 110,000 variables. We often hear from employers that general job boards provide them with too many irrelevant or unqualified candidates. iHire’s platform solves that problem by helping them zero in on highly qualified, industry-focused, engaged candidates most efficiently.

Another differentiator is our personalized customer service and support, as we bring a human touch to the online recruitment space to complement our technology. For example, all employers receive a dedicated customer success manager to ensure they are getting the most out of our platform, whether that means improving their job postings or refining their ad targeting.

Employers can also partner with our HR services and consulting team for a fully customized experience — they can even outsource their entire recruitment operations to our experts. Our candidates, too, can take advantage of our personalized approach, as they can work with a certified career advisor to guide them through their job search.

How do you approach the development and implementation of policies in a way that accommodates employee needs while also contributing to business productivity?

The business landscape and employee needs are dynamic, so policy development and implementation must also be dynamic. When developing and implementing new policies, it’s important to evaluate the sentiment surrounding the issue and identify areas for improvement. Ask for feedback from employees who will be impacted by such policy, ensure managers have a clear understanding of business goals, and confirm alignment of new policies with those goals. In some cases, key stakeholders should review policy drafts and offer suggestions.

When rolling out the new policy, communication is critical. Share why the policy has been implemented and how it will benefit both the employees and the business. Finally, monitor to assess whether the policy is serving its intended purpose and how it’s impacting employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. Don’t be afraid to modify the policy if unforeseen issues arise or if you find that it’s not serving your business or your staff.

Could you share some instances of successful employee engagement initiatives you’ve implemented at iHire?

Some of the most impactful employee engagement initiatives at iHire involve providing professional growth and development opportunities. People are motivated by knowing how they can advance and grow in their careers, and if their employer does not provide a roadmap for how to get there, they will seek employment elsewhere.

A few examples of our professional development initiatives include covering expenses for employees’ tuition, courses, conferences, memberships to professional or technical organizations, and other costs related to their expanding their skillsets; holding workshops that empower associates to use their strengths; and bringing in guest speakers on a variety of topics (mental health, financial wellness, DEI, memory training, etc.).

Most importantly, we share career paths (or career latices — one’s career journey is not always a straight line) with our associates to show them how they can grow and advance; this is a key driver of engagement, as people want to know what lies ahead. Then, to help them reach the next step on their career paths, managers provide ongoing performance feedback instead of the often-undesirable annual review. We’ve found this approach to be more effective in keeping employees engaged and productive, as well as maintaining open lines of communication, transparency, and trust across the company.

Other successful employee engagement initiatives at iHire involve soliciting honest feedback from associates that we can turn into actionable efforts. For example, we send out bi-weekly anonymous pulse surveys to gather employee input on everything from company culture to workloads or to simply ask employees what’s on their minds. However, anonymous feedback alone isn’t how change happens at iHire.

We also conduct fresh-eye interviews with new hires to gain unique perspectives on our company and hold stay interviews to find out why employees choose to remain with iHire (which hopefully reduces the need for an exit interview).

Social events and team-building activities — like our monthly virtual “coffee talks,” summer picnics, happy hours, and holiday parties — are also important to maintaining employee engagement, especially with a distributed workforce.

Lastly, another successful engagement initiative is our “buddy” program, where new hires are paired with a colleague to help them get acclimated with their new role, answer questions, and make them feel welcome.

What is the role of technology in designing people management policies and strategies?

Like other disciplines, technology plays a major role in the modern workplace when managing a company’s most valuable asset: its people. For example, in recruiting and hiring, an applicant tracking system (ATS) can help you identify the best candidates based on certain criteria, video interviewing software allows you to meet with candidates from anywhere fast, and AI-powered content generation tools can help create compelling job descriptions and other HR documentation.

Technologies to automate or simplify performance management, employee recognition, onboarding, and compliance (to name a few) are beneficial, while data analytics tools can support your decision-making processes. The efficiencies of using technologies to design and maintain people management policies and strategies can help save time, cut costs, and even enhance collaboration — but with benefits come risks.

It’s important to be mindful that the number of digital tools we rely on can result in technology overload, fatigue, and productivity loss if they are not well-managed. Upfront costs, data security & privacy, and bias are just a few other risks technologies carry.

Ultimately, technology is a net positive for HR, but some risks should be managed to ensure that employees are not left behind in this automation revolution.

How do you envision the evolution of the talent acquisition landscape in the coming years? How will iHire position itself at the forefront of this transformation?

The talent shortages we’ve been experiencing will likely continue for years to come due to an aging workforce, lower birth rates, and decreased immigration. To attract and retain the right talent in the wake of these ongoing challenges, employers will need to evaluate their total compensation packages, offer more flexible arrangements (part-time work, four-day work weeks, remote options), and provide more opportunities for upskilling and developing staff, including manager training.

I also foresee the gig economy continuing to expand, meaning businesses will need to revisit their definition of “employee” and consider how gig work can help them deploy strategies and meet their goals faster. Additionally, unionizationwhich had been on the decline for many years, is seeing an increasing number of works covered by a CBA, and the passage of recent laws is likely to make this trend persist.

All of these trends point to a need for employers to evaluate the employee experience they provide to their workers. Employers with a people-first philosophy will fare much better than their counterparts who are simply focused on the bottom line. Not only are we practicing this at iHire, but we are also on a mission to educate employers on creating people-first work cultures through consulting, webinars, training, employer branding opportunities on our platform, and much more.

What is your take on the perception that “AI will replace humans in jobs”? How do you interpret and address this concern?

While some jobs may be displaced, they will be replaced by others requiring higher levels of complexity and creativity. That said, we will see many new jobs emerge requiring skills to develop, implement, and maintain AI systems, as well as skills in machine learning, data science, and ethics. Therefore, reskilling and upskilling workers will be key to organizational competitiveness and perhaps even U.S. competitiveness.

Employers should also focus employee training and education on skills that can’t be automated, such as emotional intelligence, creativity, and problem-solving. By allowing AI to perform more mundane or manual tasks, workers will be able to focus on the more strategic aspects of their jobs.