Talent Acquisition: How To Build High-Performance Teams Through Human First Leadership – With Amit Bhatia

14 min read
Headshots of Amit Bhatia and Patrick Ewers for a discussion on fair and efficient talent acquisition.

When discussing how to optimize your talent acquisition, there’s no one better to turn to for pragmatic insights than Amit Bhatia. Amit is the co-founder and CEO of Datapeople, a pioneering SaaS platform redefining recruitment by helping businesses predict ideal hires.

Since 2015, Datapeople has been on a mission to revolutionize talent acquisition. Affording candidates a more human hiring experience and empowering recruiters with increased effectiveness. 

In this article, we share an exclusive interview with Amit, led by our Mindmaven founder, Patrick Ewers. Together, they spearhead one of the most important topics in modern leadership, Human First Leadership, and what that means for the future of talent acquisition. 

Read on to gain pragmatic insights on how Human First Leadership is cultivating high-performance teams and could help propel your business toward robust success.

Why the World Needs Human First Leadership 

Diving straight into the anchor of our discussion, Patrick asks Amit what Human First Leadership means to him and its manifestations in his professional journey.

Amit shares: “Through my experiences in lots of different geographies and companies and careers … 

I’ve realized everything in the corporate world is designed to treat people like they’re infants.

The Monday to Friday, the nine to five, stem from a very early industrial age, and it hasn’t ever evolved since then.

All the structures, the bureaucracy, the red tape, the meetings, the petty politics. They’re all designed to treat us like we’re less than adults as if we’re not trusting. 

And so to me, Human First Leadership when I started a company was really, ‘How do I build a company of grown-ups?’  

We spend and give so much of our lives to working, to our careers, to our jobs. How do we actually get the best out of people by giving them the autonomy, the freedom, the flexibility, and often the mandate and responsibility to really feel like the grown ups that they are.”

Remote Work vs. Office Work 

When discussing the idea of trusting employees, there’s no more relevant topic than the ongoing debate between remote work vs. office work. 

While some firmly believe in the importance of the office, there’s a strong case for the many benefits of remote work for both companies and their employees.

Amit offers his perspective: “For a long time, we took this idea that productivity, learning, apprenticeship, creativity can only occur in the confines of an office. 

But, we didn’t just stop and say we must work collaboratively or co-work together. We enforced on people that their productive juices must start at nine o’clock and they must finish at five, and they must have lunchtime at prescribed hours. 

As a society, we took this for granted for years and years. It took the awfulness of a pandemic for us to say, ‘Hang on a second, could we work differently?’

Even now, there’s still turmoil in our society about which way we are going to eventually go. 

To me, those radical points of infantilization are when you force people to be in a certain area, in a certain space, in a certain geography arbitrarily without considering that they’re full humans with responsibilities, with caregiving, with different schedules, with different ways of working.

We are basically asking everyone to almost be treated like kindergartners … And that feels wrong.”

Why Are Companies Really Forcing Employees Back to Office?

Taking a closer look at the reasoning behind the reluctance to provide greater work-from-home flexibility, Patrick questions Amit on the root causes driving this behavior in the corporate world and it’s impact on talent acquisition. 

Patrick: “We’re seeing large organizations, very powerful organizations, are actually really trying every way possible to force people back into the office.

Why is that the standard mode of operating, for the organization to treat humans, not as that person can do their work on their own?” 

Amit: “The power structures of most companies are not designed towards innovation, and that’s by design. 

Most companies find a product; they find an area that is enormously profitable for them. After that, their incentive structures and their entire organizations are sort of designed to prevent that golden egg from being destroyed. 

We end up with a very sort of top-down military organization. It takes a critical mass of companies, of leaders, to start to say, hang on a second …

What could you do if you thought of the world differently? 

What could you achieve if you thought of the world with creativity?

But you have to sort of really devote yourself to that sort of idea. You have to really experiment with it. There’s got to be vanguards in our society that are trying it – and there have been …

Even before the pandemic, there were very, very successful, fully remote companies all over, from Shopify to whatever else. But it takes a critical mass of them before people say, ‘Hang on, this is the way to go.’

Is Remote Work Good for Productivity? 

Having founded Mindmaven as a fully remote company back in 2008, Patrick is no stranger to hearing skepticism surrounding allowing employees to work from home. 

A decision that Patrick now considers “a living testament that it can work and that you can be very productive.” 

Patrick added: “There seems to be a fundamental general distrust that organizations have towards their people. They are fearing that loss of control and over the use of the time because ‘I bought your time.’ 

It’s a very immature way of thinking because you just can’t get the max amount of people when you operate like that.” 

Amit concluded: “It’s the way you thought when you had people on a shop floor. Their time was directly translated to productivity. But today, we puzzle over problems that aren’t correlated with time.”

How To Implement a Culture of Trust and Empowerment 

Discussing their shared beliefs on the importance of trusting employees, Patrick asks Amit how he implements this culture in his business day-to-day.

Amit shared his recommendations: “Netflix put this really well when they said, so much of our vocabulary around how we operate in our society is ‘We are a family.’

Companies like Netflix came about and said, we’re not a family. We’re a professional sports team … 

We are a group of highly qualified individuals who are going to achieve a great outcome together, and we’re going to treat people like they’re star players. 

Firstly, you reframed the equation to say, ‘We are here because we choose to be here. And we are here because we choose to work on a problem together that we’re interested in, that we’re motivated by.’

The second degree of that is, ‘I don’t care how long people take or how long they work, as long as they get the job done.’ 

I think there’s a third degree of evolution, which is ‘I want people to achieve the mission of the organization and align themselves to the mission of the organization and do whatever much it takes or little it takes to achieve that.’”

How Do Meetings Impact Productivity? 

As remote work during the pandemic eliminated opportunities for cross-cubicle collaboration, we saw a steady rise in the number of meetings booked in our calendars

It’s widely viewed that inefficient and too-frequent meetings have taken a huge hit to productivity, meaning companies are in greater need than ever to find the right balance.  

Amit adds: “Nothing infantilizes people as much as having pointless meetings. Especially having status meetings. You’re inevitably saying that somebody who is receiving the status update is more important than somebody who is delivering the status update. 

I think every meeting should be ultimately about learning or decision, and the symmetry of preparation for a meeting should have nothing to do with the hierarchy. 

I, as the CEO, must be just as prepared.”

Whether it’s a one-on-one, group meeting, the CEO, or a junior, Patrick and Amit conclude that everyone needs to prepare for meetings for it to be a truly productive use of time

What Is the Meaning of Whitespace? And Why Is It So Important …

When discussing the impact of meetings on productivity, it’s important to consider the real opportunity cost of meeting fatigue. Here, Patrick and Amit share their pragmatic examples of regaining time for strategic and creative wins …  

Patrick suggests: “To make your organization more Human First is to make it not just accepted, but almost mandated, that the balance of your use of time has a certain percentage, be it 10, 50, maybe even 20% of proactive thinking time. 

Amit expands: “I say 50%. The other mistake companies make is the more senior you are, the more meetings you have – and I’d actually think it’s almost the opposite. 

The more senior you are, the more important decisions you have, and you should be very, very deliberate about them.

I try to strive for no more than half my calendars filled with meetings, and I get very annoyed if the people who work with me are so jam-packed in meetings that they don’t have the ability to sort of do deep thinking.”

Whitespace Time is a strategic practice that helps you own your time, reduce mental stress, and prioritize proactivity – ensuring you always have time to focus on tasks that move the needle most. 

Patrick endorses this intentional approach to work: “You need to have a certain amount of Whitespace Time that is just there to do deep thinking. And by the way, doing deep thinking requires you to actually take a little bit of a step to reconfigure your brain to be ready for it. 

Because if you’ve been in meetings all day long and then you do deep thinking, your brain is conditioned to be reactive. When you’re doing deep thinking, you need to be proactive.”

Whitespace time is not something only senior team members can benefit from, but this opportunity for deep thinking can be valuable to almost every member of your organization.

Does your organization budget for Whitespace Time? 

If not, you may consider what’s going wrong to create that scenario. Whether it be a lack of resourcing or creeping priorities – becoming a Human First Leader means identifying why your team doesn’t have space for deep, creative thinking so that you can give them this time back. 

To learn more about how you can incorporate proactive thinking into your schedule, click here to access our free Whitespace Time eBook. 

Talent Acquisition: How Fair Hiring Practices Lead to Higher Qualified Candidates

At Mindmaven, we help people find amazing Executive Assistants (EAs) that we then help turn into rockstar Engagement Managers (EMs). Over the years, we’ve developed a structured approach to pairing up incredible partnerships built on trust and compatibility.

Amit offers his own experience in talent acquisition and recruiting the right person for the role. Explaining: “What Datapeople does is we have tools from a job writing tool to analytics tools that help you interrogate your heuristics, biases, and bottlenecks across your hiring process and make them better.

One of the classic things that companies do when they use our platform for the first time is they’ll do what they always do. They’ll write a job title that is internal instead of external facing. 

They’ll over-qualify the job, and then they’ll wonder why they’re not getting a representation of talent, why they’re not getting great talent.

It’s actually counterintuitive when you look at the data … 

When you over-qualify a job, you don’t get more qualified candidates. You actually get less qualified candidates, and you actually get 50% fewer women and underrepresented candidates applying. 

I want to live in a world where anyone who applies for a job cold has the same chances of getting that job as somebody who came in through a referral or through a privileged network. 

Because the truth is talent is everywhere, and you’ll be surprised at the incredible amount of talent that’s applying for jobs. 

Too often, we privilege sources, we privilege referrals, we privilege certain types of backgrounds in sourcing for no good reason than our own bias that we think that that talent pool is better – and it isn’t.

What we want to make sure is by interrogating our own biases and replacing them with data, can we build highly performing hiring processes that actually get candidates through the funnel much faster, and get more qualified candidates.”

Patrick adds his thoughts on successful talent acquisition: “If you end up hiring the right person, and that person is really thrilled about this role because it is a really good fit. That person onboards faster and probably develops a much longer lasting sense of loyalty or has an inverse impact on attrition.”

Amit: “We’ve seen lots and lots and lots of studies that say diverse populations build better products. They build better systems.” 

“When you have a diverse organization, it’s almost antifragile.”

Is Having a Referral Good? 

Amit shares his thoughts on how referrals impact talent acquisition: “One of the things we studied was when people do referrals, they’re much more likely to refer in groups. So men are twice as likely to refer other men than they’re likely to refer other women. 

Now, if you imagine that you’re an organization that’s 80% men, they all want to diversify, they want to get more women engineers, they wanna get more women talent across the organization because they understand the long-term societal and economic benefits of building diverse organizations.

But if they’re hiring in a privileged way, then you’re just creating a self-fulfilling loop where you hire in a way that ultimately privileges referrals. You start to kinda build more of that “in” network.”

We believe you never achieve your fullest potential without the help of others. It’s clear that if you want to hire and recruit great teams, this change in talent acquisition is both inevitable and unavoidable to succeed. 

Amit adds: “We’re often stymied by backward looking systems and processes that reinforce the old ways. For recruiting processes to be truly Human First, as a society, we’ve learned a lot about the candidate experience being important. 

We must be empathetic to candidates, but for Human First recruiting to happen, we also have to worry about the hiring manager’s experience. A lot of the tools in our industry … are actively user-hostile. They’re not designed for collaboration. They’re not designed for teamwork and hiring.

If there’s one thing about hiring, the one thing it is, it’s teamwork.

That’s where we found that actually the hearts and minds are evolving a lot faster than the tooling seems to be evolving in our space.”

Continue Your Human First Leadership Journey in The Toolbox  

Thanks for joining us for this illuminating conversation with Datapeople’s Amit Bhatia and our own Mindmaven founder, Patrick Ewers. We hope you’ve found this dialogue extremely helpful in offering a fresh perspective and pragmatic insights on the importance of trust and fairness for both successful talent acquisition and employee culture.  

This interview suggests exciting times ahead for talent acquisition and building teams that are both diverse and robust. By implementing these talent acquisition insights, we believe it will not just help you become a Human First Leader but also one of the most profound, performant, successful leaders out there.

If you wish to learn more about becoming a Human First Leader by building your Leverage, Intent, and Fellowship Superpowers, head over to The Toolbox. 

The Toolbox is where you will find powerful tools and resources developed to help you free up to 12+ hours each week, foster deep and meaningful relationships, and live a more fulfilling life. 

Click here to access The Toolbox for free now and explore our actionable guides, pragmatic advice, and time-saving techniques to supercharge your journey toward True Greatness. 

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