August 2013 S. Benjamins & Co Newsletter: Try Crazy Things in “The Village.”
Late last year, I met three incredible Recruiters at a learning forum we hosted in Seal Beach. We were training Recruiters to expand their consulting skills so that they were more proactive in helping their clients make great talent decisions.
Our three guests from Davita's Denver office brought so much passion to the group discussion, I had to learn more about this team, their culture and one of their leaders, Simone Bobolz. Simone is the Recruiting Director for the Davita Dialysis Division. “We call ourselves a village,” says Simone. Imagine a 46,000 employee organization seeing themselves as a village with a mayor (he is the CEO) who lives the values every day.
You may not know that Davita is a “Fortune Most Admired Company” now for eight years in a row. They enjoy impressive awards and recognition for their culture and innovation. They are committed to superior patient care and living their Core Values. Here is what Simone shared about this unique team and highly successful organization.
Sherry Benjamins: Tell me about your role at Davita.
Simone Bobolz: I’ve been at Davita for six and a half years. My current role is the Director of Recruiting, and my role has changed drastically over time. When I began here, talent acquisition was entirely different. We didn’t have an organized recruiting team so we focused on creating a recruiting model that would provide a clear operating structure, defined roles and consistency of process. Currently the matrixed talent acquisition department consists of about one hundred people including recruiters, talent branding and innovation.
Sherry: Your Recruiters shared such great stories about the Davita culture. What is it about this culture that captivates your employees?
Simone: Our culture is unique and intentional. We celebrate our history and honor traditions. We call ourselves a community, a Village, and not just a company. Our CEO is the mayor of the Village. Our culture’s structure is so un-traditional. Symbols play an important role in fostering our culture, for example, we use the Three Musketeers as a metaphor for collaboration and teamwork. You may hear the call, “One for all!” and “All for one!” from a team meeting. Our CEO wears his Musketeer uniform to corporate events. The culture spreads 100% from the top and is lived out at all levels. You can see that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. “Fun” is one of our key values. This turn around in organizational culture started twelve years ago. The top leaders collectively decided on our company values and “having fun” is not only a value it is part of the job.
Sherry: Tell us about initiatives that you’re tackling this year.
Simone: We’re deliberate about the work of developing strategic plans. Lately, we’ve been working towards a three-year plan, charged with building and strengthening our team capability and capacity. It’s incredibly important to our growth and commitment to patient service.
Our mantra is to focus on time and quality. These are two areas that we believe have the most impact on the business. We have some really smart people around here that crunch all the numbers and figure out the hard benefits of improvement initiatives. You could say we are exceptional in the measurement area.
Sherry: How many employees does Davita hire per year?
Simone: We hire around 14,000 employees per year and 10,000 of which are external.
Sherry: Can you tell me about facilitating 14,000 hires a year?
Simone: We developed clear recruiting roles from scratch so we didn’t have a lot of bad habits to overcome. Because we could outline roles and responsibilities, we were able to build a recruiting machine from the ground up. It is always an evolution, but we embrace continuous improvement and trying new things. It is okay to make mistakes here, we learn from them.We have things working now, and we are always tuning up. We are particularly proud of our new career site – it is the culmination of very creative and out of the box thinking, and focuses on the stories behind our culture.
Sherry: What were the challenges in starting a Recruiting function from scratch?
Simone: We tried a lot of things that didn’t work! We had lots of questions. Do we need to hire contractors? Outsource work? Hire entry level recruiters? Or do we invest in high level recruiters? We tried all these things in many combinations and it was pretty crazy for a while. We eventually arrived at the right formula through trial and error. What we found was because our culture was so strong, we created roles that could function as stepping stones for our recruiters coming in from other functions.
Sherry: How do you help your recruiters to understand Davita’s business?
Simone: We fully immerse them into the business. During their orientation they tour a clinic and shadow the roles they will recruit for. We also get them to attend meetings, and have them participate. We walk them through steps on how what we do changes the lives of our patients and influences our business outcomes. We strive for an open relationship between what our business does and how recruiters facilitate that. For example, we host “Voice of the Village” calls that begin with sharing clinical results. It’s not just about shadowing people, but fully understanding their impact in the business.
Sherry: What are you most proud of?
Simone: Because of the intensity of the work environment, we truly build off each other. We work really hard and get a lot done and it is the right things that get done. We’ve won industry recognition ( ERE and Taleo awards) and we love that reinforcement. We put investments into recruiters and recruiting leaders, not just to go out and do a job, but to share ideas, learn and be involved.
I am proud to be in an environment where trying new things is valued. Six months ago, we put together a history for our employees called, "The Heritage of Recruiting.” New hires then will know where we’ve come from or how we have been recognized for doing what we do. This history shares valuable information. It surprises me the amount of things that we’ve tried; initiatives and contests, scorecards for recruiters, and assessments. We’ve developed sales training for our recruiters with a program and certification process. We did one thing called “Secret Shopping” where we pretended to be a potential client for a recruiter so we could get a good idea of how our recruiters were working with a candidate.
Sherry: So as a company culture, are you risk takers?
Simone: Yes, we celebrate failures if they happen. It’s absolutely safe to do that because we support innovation and our value of continuous improvement. Sometimes innovative ideas just don't work out. We are resilient and learn from them and move on quickly. This is our Village culture. The leaders support this; they aren't above or embarrassed to share their won mistakes and what they learn from it.
Sherry: What do you suggest other talent acquisition leaders consider when building a team?
Simone: You have to roll with the punches. Try crazy things. It’d be unfortunate to try to do that in an environment that wouldn’t support you. You just have to keep trying. There’s a process to it. Think out of the box and look for likeminded people. You’ve got to have your innovators. These are the folks that drive the company to new and crazier ideas. You don’t need everyone to be like that, but at least some.
Our recruiters have technical knowledge and sales skills. We value having a sense of urgency. You have to be a continuous learner. Not just show up, but be active in wanting to learn. There’s got to be a passion for talent acquisition, recruiting and people. We measure everything. We can certainly identify where something isn’t working, so if our candidates are not driven by improvement opportunities, then it may not be the right choice for you.
Sherry: What do you love about this business, Simone?
Simone: It is all about the culture. We have incredibly strong leadership and we make investments in our people. The team that I work with is fantastic. I’m engaged here because of the pace and how it’s encouraged me to try new things. I love asking questions and for me, talent acquisition is about having an innate curiosity
Think about how curiosity shows up in your team. Are you supporting quick versions of innovations with the expectation that later success will require some early failure? Let us know your trial and error methods and ways to encourage wild ideas. Crazy can be fun, as we have seen in Simone's story.