EP34: Hotelbeds - Showcasing Company Culture (With Kesh Ladwa)

All-In Recruitment is a podcast by Manatal focusing on all things related to the recruitment industry’s missions and trends. Join us in our weekly conversations with leaders in the recruitment space and learn their best practices to transform the way you hire.


The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Lydia: Welcome to the All-In Recruitment podcast by Manatal, where we explore best practices, learnings, and trends with leaders in the recruitment space. If you have liked our content so far, please subscribe to our channels on YouTube and Spotify and stay tuned for weekly episodes.

My name is Lydia, and joining us today is Kesh Ladwa, the global head of talent acquisition at Hotelbeds.

Hello Kesh. Good to have you with us today.

Kesh: Thank you, Lydia.

Kesh’s Vast Experience In Talent Acquisition

Lydia: Kesh, you've built an impressive career in recruitment, serving both the public and the private sectors.

So, tell us a little bit about your background and how you've built your capabilities in talent acquisition over the years.

Kesh: I guess everyone falls into recruitment at some point, and so did I. I've been recruiting for about 29 years.

I started off in recruitment agencies where back in the day, we used to have yellow pages, and we used to be content organizations. So, a lot less sophisticated than what it is now.

Then I was working with agencies, and I had my own recruitment agency, consulting with agencies at some point. Then I decided to go in-house because I wanted to work with organizations to be able to help them create the strategy and the culture of the organization because I just felt that I could give to the candidates and also the business as well. I also helped them build that for the long term.

Then from that, I worked in public and private sector organizations, such as BBC News, where I was a global head of TA, and then recently with Hotelbeds as their global head of talent acquisition.

The Demand and Availability of Tech Talent

Lydia: So, what are some takeaways you might have had from your life in agencies that you've taken with you into the organizations?

Kesh: Being very client-centric and focused is probably the key. I mean, in the agency, the training is great, such as how to work with clients and make sure that we find the right solution for the clients using data and insight and building that relationship.

Because successful recruiters will be building that relationship as a partner with the organization and be an extension of the organization's talent acquisition.

That's what I did, and made sure that I was an unexpendable partner to the organizations I used to work with.

I’ve worked with various clients in the aerospace, engineering, and automotive industry where we really understood what their strategy was, giving them data and insight and being able to identify what roles or the current market and influence and helping them to make a more informed decision on the roles or the talent or the skills they're looking for, and if they're recruiting for short or long term. So, that helped.

Additionally, we then make sure that we deliver and make sure that we're working as partners, so we're giving any insights on what's happening in the market candidates, what they're looking for, what's not working, and then finding the right person, or right talents for the organization.

So there's definitely that whole partnership approach that we took in-house when I went into the organization because we've already built relationships with hiring managers, exco, and senior leaders. It was just taking that internally to be able to say, “Well, look, this is how we can work together." Also, working with the agencies when I was in-house more collaboratively and made sure we were working as a partnership. So, I understand how the agency works.

Lydia: So, you oversee talent acquisition in your current role globally for Hotelbeds. What are some observations you've made about the demand and availability of tech talent?

Are there any interesting insights that you'd like to share?

Kesh:  COVID impacted everyone, including the travel and hospitality industry, and a lot of organizations have had to adapt, grow to the challenge, and have been successful and come out the other end. That's the same with Hotelbeds as well.

Organizations that had digitalization on their plans, but weren't really there, is just accelerated the whole plan. So, they had to develop their capabilities and also adapt to remote working and rely on some technology a little bit more where they probably might not have been or definitely have a remote working mindset.

Because that time before COVID, a lot of organizations were not 100% sure whether they were going to be doing it remotely or whether there was some sort of training. But now it's the norm, and you can't really go away from it. Then organizations started to use technology more, which accelerated a lot of the uses of tech and implementation of tech and also reviewing of tech.

Then we got increased salaries where larger organizations were able to provide higher salaries, packages, and generous benefits, compared to the smaller organizations, who weren't probably ideal for providing that initially. So, they've had to kind of diversify on that as well.

When it comes to tech talent, they have a multitude of options available to them. They are attracted to strong brands, the technology they will be working with, and the culture of the organization they will be joining.

Many tech talents prioritize work-life balance and ensuring that the role they take on is a good fit for their lifestyle. This has resulted in organizations investing in their employment brand to make it more appealing to potential employees.

Employer brand has become a focus for many organizations, with some revisiting, enhancing, or redeveloping them to make them more competitive in the marketplace. This includes improving their career site, communication on their vision, values, and culture, as well as diversity and inclusion efforts.

Potential employees will often visit a company's career site to research the organization, making it important to have a strong employer brand.

As a result of this investment in employer brands, there has been a shift towards a candidate market. Tech talent now has more options and can be selective about the organizations they want to work for, the brands they want to be associated with, the technology they want to work on, and the culture they want to be a part of.

In recent times, both candidates and organizations have been investing a lot of time in ensuring consistency in what they are looking for. This has resulted in candidates being more clear about their requirements. But, there is still a scarcity of tech talent at the moment.

Lydia: There's all this convergence of factors, and it's all coming together and making talent acquisition a lot more competitive, or rather, it is in a competitive space.

So, how do you position Hotelbeds when you're trying to attract top talent? Especially when they've got plenty of different options, their expectations are changing, and they may, in fact, even look for a specific type of tech to grow into as a professional.

Kesh: When it comes to remote work, we offer this option to all our staff, and they can choose to work from any of our offices, which is a potential benefit that other organizations may not be able to provide. On the other hand, the culture of our organization is also important.

Our culture at Hotelbeds is open, transparent, and has a family feel. Everyone has a voice in the organization, which is an important aspect of our tech insight as well. As we work on exciting projects and expand our business, it's exciting for tech talent because they want to contribute and be a part of something that will grow and develop.

We also focus on the development of our staff, which is at the heart of everything we do. At Hotelbeds, we have what we call ‘Uni,’ in which staff can develop their skill sets. Once they've completed their training, they can also move across the business and relocate to other locations if they desire, even if they are currently based in the UK or Europe.

Lydia: Those are a lot of attractive perks, and a lot of attractive, not to say perks, but those are all good positioning for it constitutes good positioning for the company as well.

So, what do you look out for when you search for top talent in this particular vertical, and what constitutes a successful hire?

Kesh: Definitely the motivation or the drive for talent. Someone who wants to come into your organization and be motivated to make a difference to kind of drive success and also has the willingness to learn and share their ideas, knowledge, and skills with others and the business as well. Obviously, you're going to be within tech with any role, and you still got to look at the hard skills, which are all the knowledge, skills, and experience. If it's a DevOp position, you need the hard skills to be able to do that role.

And then you've got the soft skills that allow them to build relationships and input into the culture in the business, which just sets them up for success. So, assuming you need someone in tech, soft skills are equally important to make sure they can build relationships and help create a culture that they're trying to make.

Obviously, diversity also plays a role. So, in making sure we have diverse talent, we start attracting talent from all backgrounds and all locations. The good thing is that we're not wedded to a location. For example, TA will always work with the hiring managers closely. So there are certain talents in Spain and Parma or Milan, then if the talent is somewhere else, we will change the location based on where the talent is.

So, we'll find the right talent for the right role. And then we'll work with the business and the hiring managers to be able to align that as well because it's really important for that talent. And once you've found that talent that didn't find the fit new organization, whenever that might be, whether it's now or future, is what TA, what the team will be working on.

Best Practices Implementing DE&I

Lydia: In diversity, as you mentioned, is a critical topic.

So, what might be some best practices around implementing DE&I policies or processes, even in recruitment?

Kesh: Diversity and inclusion are really important. Obviously, within a group process, some of the quick wins that we can probably make is making sure you’re doing blind recruitment. So, you've got blind recruit, which is removing an unconscious bias, but as blind recruitment, any kind of results, the first bit, which is taken up to the interview process, it's not a quick win. It's a quick win per se if you haven't done it.

So, you help with identifying biases, but then you just kick the can down. Then, down the road to the interview point, you still have an issue. But to have a diverse workforce, make sure that we have the right adverts correct - we have the right language, the right tone, and it's clear and transparent.

We're making sure that we're advertising in the right places. When we have shortlisted candidates, we can implement blind CVs, so it then moves that unconscious bias initially up to the interview stage. Then having an interview panel that's diverse and representable of your organization.

And then making sure the interview itself is robust as well.

So evidence-based is your key, and exactly what questions are you going be asking? What skills and knowledge you're trying to pull out? Then you have the right evidence to be documented.

So you know that you're assessing the individual and the right aspects, and just make it a lot more human throughout the process.

You don't need to make it regimented, but just capturing and asking the right questions and making sure you have the right panel members is important.

Don’t Assess For The Sake Of Assessing - Make The Recruitment Process Simple

Lydia: So, how long do you take to hire someone in tech? What is an ideal duration, or do you have an ideal duration for the recruitment process? And what might be the approach towards assessments, especially in tech?

Kesh: Hiring can take days, depending on the hiring managers. It also can take days or weeks, depending on the role or seniority. If it is a senior role, it will take weeks because of the more stringent process, but generally, it could take days.

So, we can have a conversation hiring manager and say, "look, we've got these candidates who are instantly available, or they're not in their notice period." But the interview process and one of the initial making contact words spoken to, that's one thing, but as soon as we talk to them, having a discussion with the hiring manager to have the initial phone call, first interview, second interview, that can be done within a week.

So, with the manager's first interview, second interview, and offer, you could do it in a week. But then, obviously, you got the notice period after that. But in the initial candidate, experience-wise, you can move as quickly, adapts, and be agile as much as you need to.

Lydia: So, does that include the assessment you might necessarily need for these roles?

Kesh: Depends on what you need to assess for.

Sometimes you can over assessing. You can assess for the sake of assessing and extending the whole recruiting process unnecessarily.

So, if you're going to be assessing a DevOp, or SQL, then you exactly assess what you need to assess to make an informed decision about whether the person has the knowledge, skills, and experience for that position.

And not just extending those assessments for assessment's sake and making the whole process complex. It's just some of that mindset of what the candidate can do now and could do in the future with development with that. And that's what you're assessing.

Based on assessments and what you get back, you're assessing what they can do, and this is what you need right now.

There's a potential, or the individual can do this with a little bit of development in where we would want it to go because they've done 90% of it and then probably need to do the 10%. But, just assessing what's relevant and not just assessing for assessment's sake is the key takeaway on that.

Lydia: So, on that note, Kesh, what are some challenges that you faced in attracting and retaining tech talent, and how have you overcome them?

Kesh: Compensation packages are sometimes not competitive. Those are just not competitive in some roles, some organizations because some of the larger organizations will always be able to provide the fantastic package, fantastic salaries, and everything else, but it's the other bit with that, which is the work-life balance, the remote working, and the career development, and that's probably more of a small organization that also the big ones that need to focus in.

Also, some of the other challenges are showcasing. So showcasing yourself in a very competitive landscape. We need to be clear on the vision. So, in the tech industry, who are working on DE&I, which is really important because people will research that.

Then the areas of the organization that they're looking to develop. So they feel great just talking about successes. Then, there are also areas of development for the organizations and opportunities where these members of staff can come in and make a difference and import into the roles as well.

One of the other ones we just touched on was diversity recruitment because that's definitely challenging for ourselves and other organizations.

It’s within recruitment we are just making sure we have the right gender diversity, the ethnic diversity, which has been an issue for years, and it still is.

And we don't have enough women in tech, which we already know, and it's been there for years. Something has to change, and we just need to stop relying on what we have had before. Because if we do them more same off, then we're just going to shorten the talent before. It doesn't help to solve the problem either.

So that bias in recruitment as well, but organizations are working on that. They are developing it. But there needs to be a more conscious approach to that. Gauging passive candidates. So, tapping into passive candidates would not just look at candidates who are looking for a new job or opportunity right now but also in the future.

You're looking at about 75% of the global workforce, roughly, I think. So that's a big talent pool that we're not tapping into.

That proactive talent pool in nurturing, talking to people building relationships, and pushing your employer brand, your culture, and your vision. By the time the candidate sees these, passive candidates have already made a decision that if they were looking, you would be on the list, so half of the hurdles have already been completed.

When the right opportunity comes up, that's when they need to make a decision because they've already made the decision they'll join your organization.

Changing the skills landscape is making sure the skills are relevant today and then changing for tomorrow as the business grows.

And then you've got the insight into the talent shortage. There's always less talent, more roles, but upskilling internal staff,  repurposing internal staff as well developing because that might take a little bit shorter time then and then also investing in as talent is by impulsion revision anyway. So definitely invest.

Definitely look at upskilling because they've already committed. You've already got done with a way to work in the organization. And it might cost you less to actually do that because you're investing in your staff.

And then, the right fit for the organization is to work with hiring managers to create and write personas on what you are looking for, which will help reduce time and increase efficiencies. So, using ATS and CRMs, working with hiring managers, and getting right exactly what they're looking for.

Then, finally, I'll just say, streamline the process and make it simple because you've already spent a lot of time on everything, and you don't want to waste all that hard work that you've done in nurturing that talent and building it to then ruin it. When a talent goes into your complex, cryptic escape room recruitment process, which is not necessary. Just keep it simple. You've done the hard work, and then you'll get the talent through the door.

Being A Data-Driven Talent Acquisition Specialist

Lydia: And talent acquisition as a responsibility or as a department or as a function on its own has evolved, like you said, right?

So, how would you describe the role of a talent acquisition partner in today's context? What does a TA Specialist need to be or have in terms of tech or in terms of being data-driven?

Kesh: They've got to be consultants and not order takers, as I always say to my team and any team I've had. They are consulting their partners and not order takers. Be confident in what you have to share with the managers. Because they're listening, and you've got valuable insight. Communication is key in making it two-way, where you can get to a place managers feel they know what you would like and what approach works with a collaborative approach and find the right talent.

And to be able to just challenge kindly, I would say, because managers are listening for reasons. This is a good thing because they're giving you the space, the time to listen to you what you've got to say. You've got the information, and you've got the advice they need to help them make informed decisions. So, don't be afraid to do that.

Know your data, and make sure it's all facts, not fiction. And data without insight, or commentaries, is a waste of time because it doesn't tell the story you need to tell to the hiring managers. This is because managers will just be looking at loads of data and get confused.

They'll just say, "Look, just tell me what you want me to do?" So, tell the story in the way that you want to and then tell the ending the way you want to, and if there are any options they need and or decisions you need them to make, then ask them to do that. Because data is great, but you need the data with a commentary, you need the insights to go with that, which will help the managers to build trust and also get to a conclusion and outcome that both parties are happy afterward.

Future Proofing Recruitment With Data

Lydia: Being data-driven also enhances your approach toward your talent strategies, right? You look at the data and what needs to be done. You see where you need to tweak them, etc.

So, how does data play a role in your team, and how do you use it in terms of fulfilling business needs such as today and also in the future?

Kesh: We review salary and packages according to market insight. So, you've got to review skills you may need in about three to six to 12 months because the market changes for the better or the worst.

You need to look at your workforce strategy. Build, buy, borrow, aligning that in your workforce strategy. We've also got location reviews with remote working and also being result focused. And then you've got employer branding. So, tell your story on the culture to allow talent to be followers before they actually are applicants as well.

Lydia: That's interesting. Followers before applicants.

Kesh: That's really important to keep nurturing the talent. As I said, they've already made decisions. They are followers of the organization, watching what you do and listening to what you've got to say. And then when the vacancy comes up, they're applicants, so half of your journey is completed.

Benefits of AI Tools For Talent Acquisition Professionals

Lydia: Let's discuss Artificial Intelligence. So, there's been widespread adoption of AI. I mean, we've seen ChatGPT. We've seen what it's capable of, and we see how it makes things easier for us.

So, how do you think TA professionals can benefit from AI tools such as ChatGPT?

Kesh: It was really good. I got loads of brownie points on that. So, there's stuff that you can do, which is going to reduce in time. You can get more quality candidates if you're using AI because you're already assessing against certain criteria, which you've identified and you're following. And it's based on evidence, and it's based on facts, not fiction.

Then I think there needs to be a balance between tech and humans. So the human touch points are really important. We can reduce administration and repetition by using AI, but make sure that you have the human touch points to push your culture. How do you push your culture and vision and humanize the whole process? And could we slowly be reliant on AI through the whole process? Probably not.

But it’s definitely got a role to play, and definitely helping TA to use it helps them with interview questions and job adverts.

However, you've got tech-savvy candidates prepping what interview questions you might have, what to do when you do an interview, or what to say when someone asks you about what salary you are looking for. What's the best answer to that? They're using that as well.

So you've got candidates, and TAs use it. So it does play a purpose. But eventually, I guess at some point, where does it falter? We’re probably getting the same information, but we're not.

It's got a role to play at the moment, and people are using it. But it's facilitated, and it can't solely be that because, at some point, you'll get every candidate to answer the same questions.

Lydia: I was going to pick up on that because if that's a trend, or at least that's the sort of science that we see very early in this trend, then what might be the edge for a recruiter who's interviewing? How should they approach interviews, and what should they be thinking about?

Kesh: The TA is the one doing the interviews, asking those probing questions to drill into those pieces of work or finding the detail behind that whole process. Because obviously, you can get the same answers. But not everyone's done the same work. You'll give them guidance, but they weren't given the full, complete answer to say, "Well, this is what you need to say because everyone's individual and everyone has different roles and experiences."

But TA has that human touch point. So, managers need to be using that to humanize the recruitment process and also asking key questions, probing questions to be able to drill in a bit deeper and directing the conversation to identify the right skills, hard and soft skills, that they need to pull out from from the candidate in the recruiting process.

Employer's Role In Fostering A High-Performance Culture

Lydia: As we often see, employers today are trying to strike a balance between being productive, being high-performance, and also making sure that their workforce has the right sense of well-being.

So, what would you say is the role of the employer in fostering a high-performance culture?

Kesh: To create culture, you need to clarify and communicate your value because there are so many times I've seen where they haven't communicated well or translated it well to the people. And it's just statements. So, make sure you clarify exactly what the values are. And then communicate in the right method - not just posting on the internet and hoping everyone's going to see it. Send it to your staff and your networks.

And then, we reinforce the value with positive behaviors because the culture is all generated by individuals. And if there are positive behaviors, then reinforce them, and make sure people know that it is a positive behavior. This is what the organization's culture, the values actually promote and encourage everyone to do. So, definitely promote and reinforce positive behavior. And then you've got coverage, open communication.

But make sure you encourage open communication with your employees is productive, not just for your employees but the organization, because feedback is so powerful.

So, where your staff was seeing problems, and the grassroots, if they're open and communication is encouraged, it will be highlighted that you can identify those issues and resolve them before they turn into an issue. By the time it gets to the board level, it's too late.

So empower your employees because you've brought them into your organization. Empower your employees to be the best they can be in the organization and the culture that they helped to create and empower your employees to be the best they can be and just do their job. Then all the way through the whole process, I would say just get feedback. You can get feedback from your employees, suppliers, from everyone, and that helps you to develop your strategies and identify challenges and weaknesses.

Creating an Authentic and Fulfilling Candidate Experience

Lydia: That leads me to my next question, which is about an authentic employee experience. Because very often, through employer branding, there's a projected image of the company and culture, and that's what a candidate or potential candidate might see. Then they move into the hiring process, and eventually, they become an employee.

So there could be, in some cases, some riff between what they see outside and what they actually experience in sight.

What role can talent acquisition professionals play to ensure that positive candidate experience translates to an authentic or even fulfilling employee experience?

Kesh:  By just being authentic is so important because it's no point in selling a dream where someone comes in and then realizes actually they've been sold something totally different. So, just translating all the vision and values and what the role they were doing. For example, if it's TAs and then we're talking about the team, they'll be working with the manager, and they will work in the culture within the business and communication.

If we're talking about empowering staff, then all of that is what they're going to do. They will be coming in and have autonomy and a voice. They will be asked to think outside of the box and then put that into the recruiting process, making sure that the TA team and making sure that they're communicating that and providing that clarity, spoke about which is a clarify and communicate our value.

So they will translate that into real-time. You will do this on your first day. You will have this equipment. You will have this flexibility. You will have everything. They will do so whatever they've been heard, wherever they've seen, or what has been spoken to you about is exactly what they're going to do when they come in on the first day.

It's not my hour. They've come in and have me forget about the whole journey experience, or employee experience is an extension of talent acquisition. So all we're doing, and to be honest, the acquisition is taking what the internally, the culture internally or the employee experience, and pulling out and sharing that with the external market.

So, we're promoting exactly what the organization does - what its values are, what the process is, everything that is all good about the organization -  we're pushing that to the external market and potential talent and say, "Come and join us this is why we're a good employee, and why we have a great employee experience."

Lydia: Thank you so much, Kesh. You've given us a whole breadth of insights, and so many different actionable points, in fact, especially for our viewers out there, who are probably looking into how to manage the different challenges around tech talent, and also the candidate market as we're seeing it today.

So, what advice would you give someone starting up in talent acquisition today, Kesh?

Kesh: Be authentic, and don't change who you are and where you're from. You're there for a reason. So, just be authentic. Don't use all the knowledge, skills, and experience that you have to bring to the organization, and share it with your organization the best you can.

Then know your numbers based on fact, not fiction. Definitely know your numbers. And I mentioned being consultative. As I say, we don't work in a fast food place. So, don't take orders because you're not an order taker. Be consultive and be a partner to the business. Give your share insights and be that person that the manager can't live without because they know as soon as they think about talent acquisition or recruitment, they know they've got the insight.

You've got to be that person, be consulted, be that partner, and be confident in your abilities. Because you have a lot of knowledge and experience, so use it. Plus, don't be afraid to be confident speaking to managers, partners, and colleagues because you've got a lot of knowledge and experience. So definitely use it, and don't be afraid to develop those abilities as well. Then just communicate because you have a lot to say, and managers want to hear.

Definitely communicate as much as you can, in the right way, with hiring managers and also with the business and colleagues as well.

Lydia: You've given us some good sound bites this evening Kesh. There was challenge kindly and clarifying communication, both of which I love very much.

I think there'll be quite a number of takeaways from this session. So, thank you so much for your time and your insights, Kesh.

But anyone who's listening in might want to connect with you. So, where can they find you?

Kesh: You can find me on LinkedIn - Kesh Ladwa. It's been a pleasure to share these insights.

Lydia: And we have been in conversation with Kesh Ladwa, global head of talent acquisition at Hotelbeds.

Thank you so much for joining us, and stay tuned for more weekly episodes from All-In Recruitment.

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