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China Gorman: Reflecting on HR and Recruiting

Do You Know China?

 China GormanChina Gorman

If you are a fan of this podcast, you probably know China Gorman. When we first met, she was COO of SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management). She has "lived all over the U.S.," and "been in and around HR for more than 30 years."

China started her career as an "HR newbie at the publisher of The Christian Science Monitor and then spent 20 years in the HR consulting world specializing in the career transition, executive coaching, and leadership development arena as a business leader at the local, regional, national, and global levels. Today, she is on the speaker circuit, through her company CMG Group, has a new blog, and recently joined RiseSmart strategic advisory council.

I'm very happy to have China back for a special Leadership Channel podcast here on TotalPicture Radio. Her enthusiasm is infectious. She understood the importance and relevance of social media to HR and talent acquisition way before many industry professionals began paying attention. Remember when Twitter was "silly" and Facebook was "just a fad?"


TotalPicture Radio: China Gorman Transcript

Hi this is Peter Clayton at TotalPicture Radio. If you're a fan of this podcast, you probably know China Gorman. When China and I first met she was the chief operating office of SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management). She has lived all over the United States and according to her blog,, has been in and around HR for more than 30 years.

China started her career as an HR newbie at the publisher of The Christian Science Monitor and then spent 20 years in the HR consulting world specializing in career transition, executive coaching, and leadership development arena. Today China is on the speaker circuit through her company CMG Group, and recently joined the RiseSmart Strategic Advisory Council.

I'm really happy to have China back for a special Leadership Channel podcast here on TotalPicture Radio. Her enthusiasm is infectious, she understood the importance and relevance of social media to HR and talent acquisition way before many industry professionals began paying attention. Remember when twitter was silly and Facebook was just a fad, about – what – 3 years ago?

China, thanks for taking time to speak with us here on TotalPicture Radio.

China: I'm glad to be back, Peter. Thanks for having me.

Peter: You've been on the HR and recruiting conference circuit this year. What's the buzz out there, China? What are recruiters and the folks in HR talking about in places like ERE and SHRM?

China: Interesting to me the recruiting world sees itself as kind of a separate world from HR, whereas HR sees recruiting as part of HR. Not a lot of recruiting folks see themselves that way and so what I'm hearing at recruiting things is a little different than what I'm hearing at the more general purpose HR conferences but in the recruiting world, social media the use of the social web for recruiting and culture branding is top of mind.

The use of technology and automating the creation of talent pools, the connection of candidates and the retention of a relationship with candidates over time is huge and the talent acquisition world relies a lot on technology and so some of the consolidation that's happening in the technology side of HR vendors is top of mind.

What I think the general HR world is looking at are the massive regulatory changes that are happening here in the United States whether it's NLRB issues, whether it's healthcare issues, whether it's immigration issues all of those kinds of thing are top of mind on more the compliant side of HR.

On the strategic and the people side of HR its retention. It's all about how do we keep the talent that we've got and then how do we engage them so that we're assured of having the kind of workforce that we need into the future and then looking ahead to where's the talent pool for the future going to come from as the tsunami of all of the demographics stuff and the pressures of globalization and the pressures of regulation, are pushing on business all the time.

So really, whether it's recruiting or whether its general sort of HR leadership in companies of 50 people or companies of 25,000 people or bigger, it's all about talent acquisition engagement and retention.

Peter: Do you think some of these regulatory issues that you discussed have impacted on hiring?

China: I think so, particularly medium and small size organizations where ironically most people believe the growth engine both for the larger economy and for hiring rest the small and medium size business leaders are filled with uncertainty about what the future is and particularly as it relates to regulatory issues and do we take on more cost, i.e. do we hire more people when we're not sure what we're going to be liable for and accountable for. And so I do think that these regulatory issues really are dampening down hiring, without question.

Peter: You've been on the speaker circuit; what are you talking about and what have your clients and the organizations that have asked you to come and give presentations asked you to be speaking about?

China: I'm writing and thinking and speaking about the intersection between leadership, organization leadership, culture, the creation of culture and engagement and how those three really are inextricably linked. If you want to have a workforce that is engaged, giving discretionary effort and that is committed to the success of the enterprise, it starts at the top with leadership and the creation of a culture that engages the right set of employees and the right set of skills to both acquire and retain customers whether you're in a customer service business, service business, product business whether you're a large business, tech business, whatever.

And so the way those two things rely on each other to create success for an organization is really where I've been spending my time with, with clients and in speaking and on my blog.

Peter: You recently joined the RiseSmart Strategic Advisory Council and I had Sanjay Sathe, the founder and CEO of RiseSmart on TotalPicture Radio a couple of months ago and we were talking about companies being more concerned about their employment branding this year and the increase need for outplacement services vis-à-vis a lot of M and A activity and acquisitions. What exactly will you be doing in this new role at RiseSmart?

China: In tech startups in particular it's useful to have, besides your board which is usually your investors; it's helpful to have a board or a council of other industry experts to help you with strategy to share knowledge. I spent 25 years of my career as an executive leader in the outplacement business at DBM for many years nationally, lead Lee Hecht Harrison globally for many years so I'm really wide and deep in the outplacement business. Many years ago was a partner in a startup and then along the way lead local businesses, regional businesses, and national businesses and global businesses in the outplacement and career transition world and so have a perspective around and have been out of it now for five years. So I have a perspective now of what works, what doesn't work and really what organizations, what employers are looking for when they go to the market to look for outplacement support in this really different world than the seventies and the eighties and the nineties when outplacement was kind of getting a toehold in the, as a management tool.

Peter: Well let's talk about Drake Beam and Lee Hecht.

China: Yeah.

Peter: Yeah, because Lee Hecht Harrison is now owned by Adecco which acquired DBM last month.

China: Truly it's about 8 years late. There was a period of time in 2003 when almost, when the 3 – 2 of the 3 large players, the three global players which are Lee Hecht Harrison, DBM and Right. When two of those three were for sale and the market was ripe for consolidation at that point and really should have consolidated, they should have gone from 3 to 2 and through a whole series of misadventures and frankly I think corporate egos, that didn't happen and so this was a deal that is not surprising to anybody who watches that industry and I'm sure all parties concerned are saying, "Well, you know it's really about time." And I think what's interesting about it is that it, well it takes one of the competitors out of the market so that's probably good for the remaining two but what's interesting to me is that Adecco didn't, in its quest for a larger footprint, didn't go after an organization like RiseSmart which I think will be the global winner shortly which is one of the reasons that I agreed to sign on with Sanjay because the merger of, the acquisition of DBM by Adecco to merge into Lee Hecht Harrison. I know Sanjay has used the metaphor of it's like putting the horse and the buggy together. I agree, and I see it more like bringing 2 horses and 2 buggies together, still relying on a buggy whip and we are so beyond buggy whips in this business.

So yes, I think there's some great synergies there and they'll be able to take a lot of cost out of the business which they are both traditional businesses fraught with real estate cost, fraught with other kinds of sort of legacy cost and a traditional bricks and mortar business whereas RiseSmart, which is a technology based business not a bricks and mortar based business with technology sort of bolted on. It's a technology business with the people part seamlessly integrated in and so it's really how outplacement should have been done for many years and even as I was a leader of one of those businesses, fought to integrate and have as a foundation the technology piece more and more, but it's hard when you're a bricks and mortar business to abandon that even though you can see the upside of the cost savings when a whole business is predicated on people and geography as opposed to global service and connectivity and that's why I really am excited to be part of RiseSmart, because I really think Sanjay has broken the code of what employers are really looking for when they're having to lay people off.

In the early days of the outplacement business, it was a moral play. In the seventies and the early eighties, it was about we'd feel bad if an organization, through no fault of their own these people are losing their jobs and so let's give them counseling and well let's give them a place to go so that they can pretend that they're still going to work every day and along the way we don't want to like give them a fish, we want to teach them how to fish so that if something like this happens again, they'll be trained and ready to go and it was a very. It was wonderful, frankly, that corporations were feeling this personal about employees that were leaving their employ. And so the outplacement business was really a local business, location by location. If a plant was downsizing out in East Wahoo someplace, we created a career center onsite so that there was a place, it was very place oriented.

What employers want now is not so much the assuaging of guilt and making my people feel better, they want them to get a job and how you get jobs today is different, how you connect to opportunities today is different than how you connected before and certainly you need résumé and certainly you need to know how to interview and certainly you need to know how to market yourself and certainly you need to know how to negotiate for salary. But for the vast majority of people, it's also about leveraging the social web, leveraging job boards, really letting technology, letting search engines do the work for you in terms of connecting live to jobs and that's the foundation that RiseSmart has got is a semantic search engine that learns and is augmented by people that delivers matching jobs to the folks in transition based on their preferences, based on their skills. And instead of focusing on, well let's teach people how to write their résumés so that they can have this as a life skill, not a bad idea but employers don't have the budgets to pay for that kind of interaction.

Sanjay's team at RiseSmart, he's got experts all over the world who write the résumé for the client. That's, none of the outplacement firms do that. None and it's, I think a key differentiator along with the semantic search engine that brings jobs right to the person's mailbox on a weekly and sometimes on a daily basis. It's a technology based process augmented by consultants who are with the clients step by step, just as they are on the other firms but the leveraging of technology I think is a huge difference and so the leveraging of technology and the lack of having to pay rent on bricks and mortar means that it's also a very, very cost effective solution. What we're seeing in terms of effectiveness is they're beating the national averages of job placement by 54%. BLS says in Q2 of this year, the average duration of unemployment was 265 days – that's 8½ months. RiseSmart clients average duration of unemployment is only 117 days or just under 4 months, 54% faster. That's not nothing. That's four months less unemployment insurance that the organizations are paying and in some cases it's less severance. Some organization ties severance to the length of your job search. The cost savings alone are pretty attractive, I think, from an employer perspective.

Peter: To your point China, how many employees today really want to go to some office somewhere and have an access to a fax machine.

China: Yeah, none of them. And if they don't have computer and connectivity at home, the library is probably closer. There are lots of public places where for free you can get online and do the job search kind of thing. What hasn't changed and what's really interesting I think is we're using different terms but one of the reasons 30 40 years ago that organizations were providing outplacement was they wanted to be seen as an employer of choice and how you treat people on the way out impacts not only are you attractive to candidates on the way in but how much you have to pay for them. If you have the reputation of chewing employees up and spitting them out in a fairly brutal way, you won't have not as much access to talent but if you do have access to it, you're going to have to pay more for it. I mean that's just sort of common sense. Those kind of issues are still at play today and now we call it employment branding, right?

Peter: Right.

China: And in some ways it's even more important because as we look forward and we see baby boomers starting to make other plans and look at the fewer numbers that are coming in to the workforce, we begin to see a real, the term, war for talent is highly overused but we will really begin to project forward and see a war for talent.

So the reputation that organizations have that matches or doesn't match what their employer brand is becomes very important today certainly but even more important next year and the year after and the year after and we look at the unemployment situation particularly in the United States and we see unemployment over 9% which is just unthinkable, still employers have to be very, very concerned about what their employer brand is, what people are saying about their culture, about their business practices and in particular, the social media has changed the world. It only takes a few tweets to point out an organization's disconnect between the employee, what they're saying their employer brand is and what the actual employee experience really is or what the employment brand is and what the candidate experience really is.

Being concerned about your culture and what the world is saying to social media and in another, and in traditional media about your culture, there's a huge impact on how you're going to be able to attract talent in the future, how you're going to be able to retain it and what you're going to have to pay for it.

It all comes back to the employee experience how you treat people on the way in and how you treat them on the way out.

Peter: To the point of the unemployment rate, yes folks with less than a high school degree, that's 15%. If you have a high school diploma, chances are it's around 9% but if you have an engineering degree or a computer science degree, that employment rate is about 2%.

China: Right, and from my perspective, anytime in a segment or of a whole population, anytime unemployment is less than 4% that means there are people working who don't even want to work. And so these issues become really important for the most needed skill sets out there. And so you may only have to hire 10 or 15 engineers a year; there are organizations who are hiring thousands of them but how you're able to attract them impacts how you're able to attract everybody else as well.

Peter: Absolutely. China, what do you see influencing talent acquisition over the next 6 to 12 months?

China: I think certainly the social web, the social experience is huge for organizations and big employers are thinking do we go mobile? They're beyond, do we have 'what does our website look like and how do we engage those and track and stay connected to those folks who visit our website.' Now the question is how much of all of these process do we put mobile because that's sort of the next frontier and it's coming a lot faster than anybody expected to mobile technology and how it connects candidates and employees into the organization I think is big.

The whole issue of culture and hiring for fit is getting a lot of conversation these days and I think will get a lot more. Social media is way out in front of regulations and way out in front of laws and so there's still question about is it legal to look at someone's Facebook profile as you are building a candidate pool for a specific opening. We've got a lot of legal challenges coming that have to work through how we interact with talent inside and outside an organization using social tools.

So that, I think, is going to be big in the next six months nothings probably going to happen definitively but given the regulatory environment that's emanating from Washington, you can certainly assume that there will be activity in that regard. I really believe that business leaders, to the best of their abilities and to the best that they can, they really do want to put people to work and how do we do that in a way that helps an organization reach its goals and in a cost effective way I think is top of mind for everybody and are we going to be hiring people into full time positions, into 1099 kinds of positions, into temporary positions… as the nature of work changes, the talent acquisition folks are right smack in the middle both of sort of philosophy and practice there with everybody nipping around the edges.

So I think those are some of the things that are going to be very top of mind and top of experience in organization for HR and for recruiting in the next 6 to 12 months.

Peter: And bringing up something you mentioned earlier in our conversation, in the conferences I've gone to this year, when you mentioned employee retention, there's a look of fear on the faces of many HR professionals. Is that your experience as well?

China: Yes, the statistics are really rather remarkable whether you're looking at conference sports statistics that show job satisfaction continues to plummet, I think the last time they did their job satisfaction survey, less than 46% of Americans report that they experienced job satisfaction. More American workers are dissatisfied with their job experience than are satisfied. That's sort of data point number 1.

When you look at BLS data that comes out monthly in sort of 3 or 4 months in arrears, more people are quitting than are being laid off and that started in about I think the September – October conference. So even though the job market is tough, unemployment is at 9.2% the percentage of workers who are quitting as opposed to being laid off is higher and growing and that's both in the public and the private sectors. So, and then you can read any kind of bubble gum kind of survey that's out there that says anywhere between 50-95% of the American workers are actively looking for a new opportunity.

And so, you take those three data points and sort of put them in a blender and what it says is the actual engagement and retention of our workforce is pretty tenuous. It seems like an oxymoron with 9.2% unemployment and the state of our sort of lagging economy that so many people will be actively or even passively thinking about leaving their current situation means big trouble for organizations workforce development plans going forward makes it even more important that the way an organization treats it's people on the way out and it's not just, are we nice to them and do we have a good severance, it's are we helping them really find the next job, because everything else is just blubber, right? It's not just about, we don't you to hate us and we don't want you to say bad things about us; it's about let's help you get a job.

It's an interesting time to see all of this dynamics swirling with the demographic change, with plummeting job satisfaction, with so many workers reporting that they've got, give me a job offer someplace else and I'm out of here. It makes talent management, it makes talent planning very difficult and very challenging whether you're a 50 person employer or you're a 50,000 person employer. The only difference is you got a lot more moving parts in a 50,000 employee organization and perhaps you've got a little bit of bench strength than a 50 person or a 150 person or even 1,000 person employer; you're playing everybody, there probably isn't anybody sitting on the bench and so every loss is a regretted loss in many cases. It makes the whole – to get back to the RiseSmart topic, it makes the whole value proposition for providing outplacement even more important, budgets being what they are, the economy being what it is, you have to be able to provide a solution that's really cost effective and really, really effective to get people new jobs particularly in this economy and I think that's why RiseSmart is taking so much traction so quickly as a new solution provider.

Peter: I had someone say to me that recruiting is really marketing and sales without a budget.

China: Yeah, that's interesting, although what we're seeing is the budget conversation is really getting started. As I talk to large organization talent acquisition leaders, they are constrained budgetarily and they are turning to the social web and they're turning to technology to drive cost out of their budgets and if they can do more with less people and less money, even better which is why I think we're seeing consolidation in that space and now I see we're, I think we're seeing the acceleration of solutions and every day there's a new talent acquisition, talent management technology based solution provider out there and what's very interesting in this economy is how investment capital is available to those organizations.

Peter: Yeah, it sure is.

China: Yeah, it's really interesting.

Peter: What would you recommend to someone who perhaps is interested in a career in either human resources or recruiting?

China: That message hasn't changed for 30 years for me and that's be a business person first. HR is a really interesting spot. The nature of HR and the nature of recruiting is really bifurcated. Half of it or some large portion of it is compliance related. You got to get the regulatory stuff right or you or your boss or somebody is going to go to jail, right? So there's built in, almost nefarious compliance piece. It has to be done and it has to be done perfectly.

The other part, the strategic part, the people part is absolutely linked to the business and you have to have mastery over the body now. You have to understand what talent acquisition is, you have to understand what engagement is, you have to understand what leadership development and succession planning and all of those kinds of things are and you have to be able to lead in those ways but if you're going to be a strategic leader in the business, you have to be a business person first. You have to understand the business; you have to communicate to the CFO and the CEO in the language in which they speak, which is the language of finance. And so HR people really have to be business people first and HR experts second and it's frankly not a difficult thing to do but it is a complex thing to do.

My guidance, particularly the young people who are still in school who really see a path forward for themselves in people strategies and people leadership, I tell them you want to get an advance degree in business, have a sub specialty in HR but be a business degree because unless you can communicate with your stakeholders and your peers and your senior people, unless you can speak their language, it's probably not going to go anywhere and the interesting to me is as much as HR laments the fact that they're not taken seriously and they're not part of the strategic business discussion, I don't know any HR leaders who don't know the business they're in, who really can't tell you how the business makes money, who can't tell you what the metrics, the financial and business metrics are and yet they don't act that way and yet they don't talk that way. They've got it, we just have to step up and start swinging like they're on that team, and I think that will happen and I think it's happening more and more. It's a constant battle because the compliance stuff, the regulatory environment is so pervasive that it's easy to get off track and just be focusing 100% there and then you are left off out of the strategy.

Peter: Right, absolutely.

China: Absolutely.

Peter: China, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us again here on TotalPicture Radio. So what are you going to be up to this fall and winter, where are you going to be?

China: You're welcome. Thanks for letting me tell you. In a couple of weeks, August 22nd and 23rd I'll be in the Chicago suburbs for the Illinois SHRM Conference, I'll be speaking on the 23rd there. On September 21-23rd at the Ohio SHRM Conference, I'll be speaking on the 23rd of September that's in Sandusky.

October 1st here home in Vegas, I don't have to travel for HR Evolution that's being done in conjunction this year with the HR Tech Conference. That's going to be a new feature for the HR Tech Conference and that's going to be a lot of fun.

In October the 21-23rd I'll be at the non-profit HR conference and speaking on the 23rd there in Washington DC.

I get to be with lots and lots of fabulous HR people over the next several months and learn what's happening and what their issues are and perhaps provide some support for them to go forward.

Peter: Great. Again, thank you so much for speaking with us today on TotalPicture Radio.

China: My pleasure Peter, thank you.

We've been speaking with China Gorman. You can connect with her on her blog, We welcome your comments on our interview today. You'll find this podcast in the Leadership Channel of TotalPicture Radio. That's While there, please sign up for our newsletter and remember you can subscribe to our program on iTunes. Just do a keyword search for TotalPicture Radio and join me on twitter @peterclayton. Our interviews can link your company with your clients, prospects, employees and passive candidates. Contact us for sponsorship opportunities at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Thanks for tuning in to TotalPicture Radio, the voice of career and leadership acceleration.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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