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1:1 With Williams-Sonoma, Inc. Talent VP

1patticlaus2Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Patti Clauss, Vice President, Global Talent Acquisition, for Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (WSI). She shared her inspiration, insights and best practices for all organizations looking to hire and retain great employees. Clauss has been with the company for more than 13 years and has her hands in every part of the organization, working to be up-to-speed on the goals and needs of each role she seeks to fill.

What are the key challenges you grapple with in your position as VP of Global Talent Acquisition?

The biggest challenges for me are around identifying talent with the drive, stamina, and aptitude to keep up with the rapidly evolving retail landscape of our culture. As quick as retail moves, we need people who are agile.

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We are a specialty retailer and are highly vertically integrated. We have small, high-performing teams that are challenged to roll up their sleeves. There will be days you’re doing some of the same things you did 10 years ago and other days you’re working on something completely new. We have a very entrepreneurial culture, which is self-directed.

What are the backgrounds of the people you hire at WSI?

While the majority come from other retail companies, we’re exploring new talent with more diverse backgrounds from a variety of industries. With the technology and design changes taking place today, there are so many different types of people to look at, from a product innovation standpoint. I like to focus on: What’s next? What will take us through the next five to seven years?

Have you adopted roles with new titles, such as Omnichannel at WSI?

We really haven’t changed titles. I feel like the longevity of titles such as “Omnichannel” could be in question. But we have been looking at new job descriptions when replacing an executive. I always ask: Is the role the same? How could it be done in a different way? What could we add that we’ve never had before?

What talent acquisition strategies would you say differentiate WSI from other retailers?

I would say the collaboration we have when looking at talent differentiates us. We’re really making sure we bring in people who are brighter, from whom we can learn and who are also a great fit with our culture. Before we start a search, we’ll also talk about different industries doing the job well.

Do you collaborate with other business leaders within the WSI organization?

For me, this is critical. I think the future is trending out of silos and will be more collaborative. You have to get away from your desk and go talk to people. When I am in the middle of a search I have daily conversations with key executives. We’ll talk about what the landscape looks like and how we look from a competitive standpoint. That type of relationship is something I’ve believed in during my entire recruiting career. Part of my success is building relationships and building trust.

Can you describe a typical interview process?

We have an extensive interview process in place that is highly collaborative. Candidates interview within their business group as well as cross-functionally. We want to know how candidates are going to collaborate and assess their executive presence. We bring in all cross-functional partners, HR partners, and service partners, because candidates will work with all these people.

Once you’re part of the company roles are self-directed and we do not micro-manage. We give our employees the tools to succeed, broaden their responsibilities and develop their careers. We make sure you understand your roles and responsibilities and run with that. You have the opportunity to expand your position, to create the career you envision for yourself. This approach results in a rewarding opportunity for our associates and we believe it has contributed to strong retention.

How do you use social media/social channels to improve the success of talent acquisition?

Different social channels work for different brands in the organization. I search and make connections on sites such as Etsy and Pinterest for more creative positions and LinkedIn and Twitter for technical or analytical positions. Social has opened up a whole new avenue of connections and relationships for my position, but you have to give to get. I will help my peers in the industry in any way I can.

What are the key characteristics/qualities that a successful talent acquisition executive must possess?

Building relationships is paramount. You’ve got to look up from your phone. Another critical piece is follow-up — whether internally or with an external client. I make it a point to follow up with everyone, including all job applicants, to let them know where we are in the process and what the challenges are. I’ll always be transparent.

To be a great talent acquisition executive, your professional network is crucial, as well as how you handle yourself internally and externally. Your reputation as a talent acquisition executive will get out there very quickly.

Also, you always have to be learning. I read at least eight different news resources on a daily basis about the industry. It helps broaden my sense of what to ask. I’m learning from all different types of venues, including social channels. I am passionate about continuous refinement and improvement. You need to continue to learn not only in your industry but outside of it.

What advice do you have for other retail organizations that are struggling to succeed in talent acquisition?

The success of a talent acquisition executive is directly reflective of the brand you represent. It’s also about engagement — how do you make the candidates feel? We have a family culture and we want candidates and employees to experience that. So don’t make them feel like an outsider.

To succeed, stay on top of the industry and the trends in talent. Spend time with other retailers sharing best practices. Remain true to your brand and have really strong engagement — internally and externally.

Who are your mentors?

Inside the company, there are a couple people, including Linda Lewis, our EVP Chief Talent Officer, who hired me. We have a partnership built on trust, honesty, and direct communication. I admire our RVP’s; they have given me a better understanding of how to be a strong leader of remote teams.

Otherwise, my father is one of my greatest mentors. He was a college president. He taught me to work hard, be honest, and generous (among many other things). And he’s still smart as a whip!

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