The Benefit of Insights from Industry Peers: TechServe Alliance Roundtables

There’s an old phrase ‘it’s lonely at the top’, and there’s a lot of truth in it. In fact, it can be lonely at every level of the staffing industry. Our staff, colleagues, and leaders support and encourage us, of course. But what if you had the opportunity to tap into the combined experience of a broader, more diverse group of colleagues? People who understand the challenges you’re dealing with in your work, but perhaps approach them in a different way?

That is the opportunity that’s exclusively available to TechServe Alliance members, through member roundtables. Several participants in these roundtables sat down recently to talk about their experiences, and why they see it as one of the most valuable benefits of their relationship with TechServe Alliance.

Relationships are key

For every one of the members who participate, the relationships they form with industry colleagues are paramount. “That’s the beauty of the roundtables,” says Monica Dominic, Chief Client Officer at PSI . Dominic has participated in the Sales roundtable, but says she is now ‘firmly footed’ in the Executive Women roundtable. “You create, foster, and develop true relationships. Those become friendships, which extend beyond the group meetings.” Dominic’s attachment to this group isn’t surprising, given her self- described passion for ‘helping women find their voice in the workplace’.

Nick Nordin, VP, Recruiting at BridgeView, is one of the facilitators for the Recruiter roundtable. He agrees that relationships with industry colleagues are at the heart of the roundtable experience. “The goal for our group is a sense of camaraderie among technology recruiters. It’s really about understanding that others are going through the same hardships you are. You’re not alone.”

Theresa Zandi, Principal of Centurion Consulting, is also a member of the Executive Women roundtable. She also has benefited from the moral support of her peers. “The market’s tough, and it gets to all of us. At one meeting, it had been a rough week, and I was feeling particularly down. Everyone just rallied, and I felt so much better by the end of the meeting.”

The Executive Women roundtable takes on some discussions that are very specific to the challenges that women face as leaders in the staffing sector. “I remember one meeting where we talked about the study that shows that women won’t put themselves forward for a position unless they believe they have almost all of the qualifications, whereas men will apply if they meet about 65%. Some people get ahead just by asking, and it was good to acknowledge that in the group. We raise each other up.”

It may seem strange to some to seek that kind of support from competitors, but not to members of the roundtables. While they all acknowledge that they don’t often share specific client names and other proprietary information, they are open with their challenges, and their triumphs.

Nordin puts it this way: “Everything you need to be a recruiter is open source; it’s all out there anyway. The difference is in the execution.”

Dan Reynolds, founder and CEO of Talon, is a facilitator with one of TechServe’s Executive roundtables, and he has a similar view. “Just because you have a playbook doesn’t mean you can execute it in the same way.”

In fact, some members find these open conversations refreshingly honest and real. Sioux Logan, founder and President at RedStream Technology and a facilitator of an Executive roundtable, laughs about the difference. “In New York, we’re the champions of ‘Everything’s great!’ The roundtable is so much more honest about the challenges we actually face in our work.”

Real-world experience

Roundtables offer more than the opportunity to form supportive relationships with industry colleagues, of course. Roundtable members tap into the tangible and tactical approaches of others who have ‘been there, done that’.

Gary Cavanaugh is Vice President, Enterprise Partners at Talent Group, and is a regular facilitator of the Sales roundtable. “The discussions help to validate a lot of what I’m seeing in the market. How our team is doing, and what we’re doing to support them.”

Maggie Wall is another regular facilitator of the Recruiter roundtable. The discussions there support her in her work as Director of Recruiting, Training & Development at Swoon. “One of the recent discussions that jumps out as being really valuable was about how everyone is measuring recruiter performance. The economy is challenging, and I got a ‘bird’s eye view’ of how other agencies are changing metrics to respond to that, and holding people accountable.”

Logan’s takeaways from the Executive roundtable have also been very people-focused. “Some of the members are deeply intentional about company culture. Learning from them has been pivotal to me in building a stronger company culture. That’s something that’s not talked about in most other forums.”

Even more tangibly, some of the roundtable discussions have saved members thousands of dollars. There are a wealth of technology solutions tailored to the staffing sector, and unsuccessful trials can be chaotic, and costly. “I love hearing about different kinds of technologies and resources,” Wall says. “Any kind of automation, CRMs, and ATSs. At the roundtable, we get honest feedback on what people like and don’t like. I’ve brought technologies back from the meetings to our IT director, and we’ve implemented some of those.”

In addition to these brand-specific insights, more general conversations about technology are useful as well. Both Cavanaugh and Nordin report having found tremendous value in recent meetings where there were presentations on use-cases for ChatGPT and other AI technologies in staffing.

The geographic reach of the roundtables is intentional; it’s one of the considerations in assembling the groups. It’s also one of the things the members find especially valuable.

“I get to see market trends that otherwise I wouldn’t,” Nordin says. “We’re a midsized company, and it’s really helpful to see how larger companies are dealing with the same challenges we are.”

“From a regulatory perspective, the mid-Atlantic is very different from California, for example, and some other regions,” Zandi says. “The roundtables give me a useful perspective on those differences.”

Reynolds underscores the point. “At our roundtable, we get regional perspectives from people we wouldn’t normally have access to. It’s a nationwide collaboration.” This was particularly valuable in the unprecedented challenges brought by COVID. “During the pandemic, none of us had ever seen anything like it. We had a sounding board for the challenges, but we also had direct insight into regional disparities in lockdowns and other policies, and how others were navigating it.”

Geography isn’t the only way that roundtables offer a broader view of the market. “It’s really good to see different agencies and what they support,” Wall says. “Direct hire, contract recruiting, VMS and MSP based, they all attack business differently, and I get to understand that better.”

Nordin agrees. “It’s really helpful to see the way other companies are organized. Bridgeview is direct only; we don’t do VMS. I get insight into other companies that do.”

Although the roundtable meetings take place monthly, the conversations don’t end there. All roundtable participants talk about calls, emails, and text messages with other members of the group. “The groups evolve into smaller groups for some specific problems and questions, between meetings,” Dominic says. “It’s almost like a personal board of directors. If I’m contemplating a change in my business, I can get a 360-degree review of that change.”

For the participants, the discussions provide immense return on the investment of time and focus.

Dominic sums it up this way: “The roundtables make me more knowledgeable. That makes me more valuable, to my team and to my clients.”

“For me, it’s about being able to share the experiences, processes, and issues of multiple people,” Reynolds says. “In a vacuum you might make one decision. Involving others leads to better decisions.”

What to expect

The prospect of joining a roundtable may be daunting to some. Clicking to join a first meeting, a group of unfamiliar faces on the screen, where everyone knows everyone except you. This shouldn’t be a concern; the facilitators – and the rest of the members – ensure that every new member feels welcome.

“Roundtables are incredibly welcoming,” Zandi says. “It’s incumbent on current members to welcome everyone and set the stage. You never have to worry that you’re going to say the ‘wrong’ thing.”

Speaking about the experience of joining a first roundtable meeting, Nordin agrees. “Be prepared. Think about the topic, and how things work at your company. And speak up at least once, even in the first meeting.”

For Cavanaugh, the value comes from reciprocation. “In these groups, you give to get. Plan on participating, answering questions, and speaking up. Even the most junior, the newest people to the group have something to add.”

Commitment, however, is key. Each of the roundtable participants were very clear about being prepared to make a commitment to being part of the group – both in time, and in presence. “Come in ready to listen, ready to be vulnerable and open, and transparent,” says Logan. “It takes three or four meetings to really develop the relationships online. You really need to carve out the time and commit to being present and engaged.”

Is a roundtable right for you?

“Who should consider being part of a roundtable? Pretty much anybody working in staffing,” Dominic says.

“There’s no such thing as too little experience,” according to Zandi. “Younger people around the table bring different perspectives. I’ve learned a lot from some of the less experienced members about the different generations in the workplace, and what’s important to them.”

Cavanaugh echoes that sentiment. “There’s no such thing as too little, or too much, experience. If you’re new, you might be a bit over your head but it’s a great learning opportunity. If you’ve got a wealth of experience, this is an opportunity to give back.”

All TechServe Alliance members have the opportunity to participate in roundtables, and to Cavanaugh, it’s a mystery why some members aren’t. “I often wonder why some of my colleagues in the industry aren’t there. They’re missing out.”

Reynolds is very direct in his assessment of the value members receive from roundtables. “Both for current members and potential new members, roundtables might just be the number one value that TechServe Alliance offers.”

If you’re currently a TechServe Alliance member, and would be interested in joining a roundtable – or if you’re not a member, but would like to be – get in touch with Lori Fitzsimon, Managing Director of Membership with TechServe Alliance.

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