Lisa Kain of iRhythm speaks on top qualities of a talent acquisition leader

by Staff Writer


When Ernest Shackleton set off to explore the Antarctic, his quest was for fame. When disaster struck and his vessel was trapped in ice, he knew that if his team were to survive he had to adjust his thinking. To make his men feel they were part of group that could not fail, he employed a more human touch to his command. After supper each evening, for example, he walked around to his men's tents to tell stories or play cards. Once, when supplies and morale were equally running low, he ordered up double rations to raise his crew's spirits.

What distinguishes a great leader is how they respond in times of crisis. By embracing uncertainty, great leaders can leverage precarious environments to launch new ideas and try new approaches.

Big Fish in the Talent Pool Podcast

Hosted by PeopleResults’ Erin McDermott Peterson, "Big Fish in the Talent Pool" delivers entertaining interviews that are also packed with valuable, useful insights into what it means to be in talent acquisition (TA) today. Whether she’s covering recruitment technologies, RPO decisions, or drawing out a guest’s personal experiences, the former global head of TA and RPO general manager knows of what she speaks.

Lisa KainIn her latest episode, she talks with Lisa Kain, head of talent acquisition at iRhythm Technologies, who shares her words of wisdom on growth and resilience, being flexible, and the powerful role storytelling plays in developing leadership skills.

The Fine Art of Recruiting

Great recruiters are invaluable to the people they serve but defining what makes them great is often elusive. Listen to enough high-achieving TA professionals, though, and certain characteristics consistently appear. Top talent acquisition leaders:

  1. Understand the importance of nurturing workforce engagement and employee experience.
  2. Know it takes hard work to build a TA function from the ground up.
  3. Are flexible enough to know when outsourcing is a better option.
  4. Find opportunities in struggles and are willing to share their missteps to help others.

The above traits of a top talent acquisition leader are instrumental in the success of their organization. This is how these traits empowered Kain in serving and advancing her employers' talent acquisition function. 

Recommended: How to Get to the Human Behind the Job Candidate

Leading innovate workforce engagement and employee experience

Most people tend to think technology when they think about the innovative workplace (there’s an app for that!). But Kain believes true innovation starts with people. Figuring out which trends are worth keeping up with and which ones are just noise isn’t always easy, but a couple basic truths have found their way to the forefront:

  • Development, retention, and employee engagement don’t solely rely on skill sets. Today’s candidates “want to align themselves with organizations that are ‘doing good’” for the world at large, she says. Employees want to be a part of a community and they want to feel what they’re doing has worth and their work is valued.
  • The best candidate may not be the one who on paper is totally qualified. If they don’t share the passion and mission of the organization, it won’t be a good culture fit.

It’s a new world, one where most employees don’t see themselves working at the same company for life. Building a better employee experience means taking a holistic approach to hiring and embracing new ideas that focus on what employees want. Things like purpose, development, coaching, strength development, ongoing conversations, and tech tools that help them work more efficiently.

Building a talent acquisition function from the ground up

Reinventing talent strategies is critical if organizations want to become “destination companies” that attract top talent. To design a TA strategy that speaks to a modern workforce, Kain recommends a structured, but not routine approach that sees recruiting more like problem-solving. That means taking proactive steps like addressing what-ifs beforehand. Companies can start by defining an employee value proposition, a “secret sauce” if you will, that draws from what is important to job seekers.

Realizing the value of a strategic partner

Kain “has a personal affinity to outsourcing” and strongly believes it brings a lot of value to the table. She sees real benefit in RPO solutions she considers indispensable:

  • A strong network of candidates
  • Enhanced brand value
  • A partner in proactive planning

In her view, the right RPO (recruitment process outsourcing provider) acts as a true extension of an organization, bringing a positive and transformational impact to every stage of the TA process.

Want to learn about RPO? Download this ultimate guide: What the bleep is RPO?

Sharing stories of struggles that make for better recruiters

Storytelling isn’t just for marketers, content creators, or PR professionals and, as Kain sees it, it’s not just for external audiences. Being able to share a good story is the sign of great leader and a tool that should be constantly sharpened.

The stories leaders tell don’t need to be overly imaginative, either. Instead, they should clearly and simply relate what’s important for managers, TA teams, and RPO partners to know so they understand what’s involved in bringing in new talent.

Kain believes the best storytellers are not afraid to talk about the battle scars of leadership but are quick to point out the benefits of the struggles. They’ve learned from missteps yet are proud to recount their accomplishments. They know that shared wisdom makes for a stronger culture which, in turn, results in happier employees, satisfied customers, and a better bottom line.

Final words of wisdom

When asked for some parting thoughts on pursuing a TA leadership role, Kain’s quick response is “Go for it.” On a more practical note, she suggests learning to “go with the curveballs” and understanding that resilience is so important in the face of inevitable setbacks. Because the lessons learned in failure and hardship are the true path to success.

Shackleton's ability to foster collaboration and cohesion among his team succeeded because he hired for attitude and trained for skill. His is a compelling story of leadership during difficult times. His capacity to successfully respond to constantly changing circumstances is the hallmark of true leadership.

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