[Fastest Growing Staffing Firm Interview] iPlace CEO Hank Levine on Gamifying Growth, Training and Experimenting Constantly, and Communicating with Data

In Fastest Growing Staffing Firms by Caitlin Delohery0 Comments

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iPlace USA ties its success to more than just quick, quality placements. This international RPO, based in the US and India, has built a revolutionary employee growth system that values the entire individual. By gamifying growth, encouraging constant learning and experimentation, and nurturing the whole person, iPlace has seen tremendous dividends.

They’ve been honored by Inc. 5000 as a fastest-growing company and reaching a growth rate of 114% and $5.1 M in annual revenue. They expect to grow to 10,000 employees by 2025. We sat down with iPlace President and CEO Hank Levine to learn about the company’s unique take on staffing.

StaffingHub: What was the inspiration was for starting iPlace?

Levine: I founded iPlace in 2006, so we’ve been in business a little over 11 years. Around 2001, right after the tech bubble burst, I decided that I wanted to get out of telecom. I took a job with a company based in India as the VP of sales. I visited Bangalore several times. I learned about India, about how business runs there, and then in 2006, I got investors and we started iPlace.

Raising money wasn’t too scary for me. The hard part was looking for outstanding managers to join our new company in India before we even had an office and while I was in the U.S.

I was extremely fortunate that we found fantastic people who have been with us since the beginning. Our very first employee is still with us.

StaffingHub: You must be doing something right to keep the loyalty of these employees for a decade or so, especially long distance. What do you think are some of the main factors that drive your success?

Levine: We have been able to keep people for a long time, and we love our employees.

We do everything we can to create a win-win-win situation, where the employees, clients, and iPlace, as a company, all succeed.

To do this, first, we pay our people very well. We have great benefits and a terrific work culture. Our employees get continual training and a lot of opportunities for growth and advancement, which is key. If you keep people a long time, they need to keep growing, and they need to feel like they’re making a difference.

We have an amazing organizational structure, called LaunchPad, which was 100 percent invented by the team in India. It’s extremely innovative and it’s a great way to scale a staffing firm or any company in the service industry. Our company, with 450 employees in India, is organized into Clusters of between 30 and 60 employees. Each Cluster operates as an entrepreneurial business of its own, managed by a Head, who is responsible for understanding the factors that will ensure success for each of the Cluster’s clients.

The Head not only has to understand the client inside-out, they also must understand the strength and weakness of each employee in their Cluster.

The Heads meet with each recruiter weekly and determine what their individual strategies are for the week. The strategies are customized to meet the specific needs of clients and the strengths and weaknesses of each recruiter. So, for a client focused on quality, a recruiter gets quality-driven strategies. If a client is focused on speed or quantity, the recruiter will have speed-driven or quantity strategies.

When a recruiter successfully completes a strategy, she earns a star. We keep track of the performance of every recruiter on a scoreboard, which can be accessed at any time on iPlace’s intranet and is displayed on monitors throughout our offices. When a recruiter earns 40 stars, she automatically gets a pay hike, and when she gets 120 stars, she automatically gets a promotion.

We built LaunchPad into all aspects of the company, so it’s not only for recruiter’s account performance, but we also incentivize training, leadership development, and well-being.

Recruiters earn stars for successfully completing training programs every quarter. They can also earn stars for participating in our company-sponsored Corporate Social Responsibility program; playing on our sports teams called iPlay; achieving health and wellness goals such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or exercising; establishing a personal financial management plan; or even taking a vacation (for those recruiters who never seem to take time off).

We have a holistic approach to how we develop our people. We want them to strive for success, not just professionally but as individuals, too.

This is in stark contrast to a promotion model based on performance reviews and annual appraisals. Before LaunchPad, sometimes our employees were upset because they didn’t get the raises they felt they deserved. A few people quit after their appraisals. All those problems are gone. We no longer have annual appraisals; LaunchPad and earning stars puts pay and promotions in the employees’ hands.

Basing pay raises and promotions on earning stars also largely removes managers’ biases and subjectivity. No one wants to be in last place amongst their peers, so LaunchPad’s transparency drives recruiters to always do their best.

StaffingHub: IWhat would you say are some challenges that iPlace faces?

Levine: Since we’ve had a good amount of growth, every time a Cluster gets up to 60 people or so, we spin off another Cluster. So, we need to be continually developing Heads.

The Heads need to have a lot of skill. They need to understand the clients, they need to understand their employees, and they have to be good at having difficult conversations. Not necessarily easy things to do.

StaffingHub: Your position at iPlace gives you a unique perspective on the staffing and recruiting industry. You’ve seen how things are done in another country. What would you say are some of the challenges that US staffing and recruiting industry faces right now?

Levine: I think that most of the challenges are around communication. Some recruiters do a poor job of communicating with candidates and giving feedback. Some hiring managers don’t give account managers feedback and some account managers do a poor job of communicating with their clients.

As things become more automated, they often become less personalized. At the end of the day, recruiting is a people business, and I think the industry would do well to work harder at developing people not only around their technical skills, but around their people skills, too.

StaffingHub: What are some ways that your recruiters shine in terms of communication? Or that you think recruiters could improve their communication skills?

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Levine: We try hard to intelligently use data so that we’re very well informed when we talk to our clients. We have a seven-person data analytics team in the company, and every day, we collect performance data on every sourcer and recruiter in the company. We compile this into weekly reports, and we have performance reports for every client.

If we are not achieving our performance targets, we refer to an internal document called our Explanation Report. It lists possible reasons why we may have missed the mark. We consider each possible reason, and then we create a plan to fix the root cause of the problem.

Once you have all this data, you can make a convincing case for where the problem is. But, if you don’t know how to talk to the client effectively, it won’t matter.

StaffingHub: Do you have any sort of training that helps your team develop these kinds of softer communication skills?

Levine: We have excellent internal training. We have what we believe is the best sourcing and recruiting training in India. It’s called iPlace Academy, and everyone who joins the company must graduate from the Academy before they begin working. Only about 60% of the people who enter the program graduate. We’ve been trying to get that number up to 80% without compromising our quality since day one, but we haven’t been able to yet.

The Academy teaches you everything you need to know to be a good recruiter. Then, once you get assigned to a Cluster, everyone gets additional training each quarter through our iLearn program. The iLearn courses cover the blocking and tackling, like rate and salary negotiations, leaving proper voicemails, and asking for a referral.

We also have exploratory learning. We have a Tools Assessment Team, and they assess about eight to ten new sourcing and recruiting tools every month. We have one training called Pick Your Tool Kit where you go into the knowledgebase on our intranet, try out two or three new tools, and demonstrate improved performance from implementing them.

StaffingHub: What kind of communication tools do you?

Levine: We love TextUs. We started using TextUs in Tools Assessment, and it got very good reviews. When trying to fill certain positions, it’s difficult to reach people by phone or email. We see this perhaps most of all in nurses.

Nurses work different shifts; they sometimes work shifts when our recruiters are not working. They cannot take calls in the hospital. As a result, you don’t know when to reach them. Plus, many don’t check their email very often.

The biggest challenge we’ve had in recruiting nurses was that we just couldn’t reach them. We couldn’t get them to return our voice and email messages, but TextUs really changed that because they would answer text. They all have their smartphone and they’ll get back to you and let you know a good time to call.

StaffingHub: How do you think the staffing and recruiting industry is going to change in the next few years?

Levine: I think you’re going to see a lot more emphasis on big data and data analytics. The good staffing companies are they’re already deep into that. You can’t manage a recruiting organization without data. Today, it’s much easier to collect. It’s much easier to manipulate and use to make good business decisions, so I think that’s going to be a big trend.

I think everyone in staffing should be very proactive in experimenting with and using different tools so you don’t get blind-sided by progress and new trends.

Artificial intelligence applications are coming in the next five to ten years – or perhaps even sooner, and we need to be ahead of the curve.

Online freelancer portals could continue to grow. As that industry grows and gets more sophisticated, freelance portals have the potential to displace certain elements of staffing firms. It’s not clear that they will, but I think that if you’re a staffing firm, you should be experimenting with freelancing and paying close attention to it.

StaffingHub: Any final thoughts on why iPlace has enjoyed such success?

Levine: It is one thing. It’s our people in India.

Our company is truly an Indian company. We’re a US corporation, but the action of our company is in India. The people who are innovating and producing all the value are there. I’m incredibly fortunate to get to work with all these smart people.

Looking for more staffing expert interviews? Check out our entire fastest-growing staffing firm interview series.

Caitlin Delohery is the Editor-in-Chief of StaffingHub.

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