The Touch-Tech Balance

On a blue background, you read the title of the blog ni white text. On the right hand side is a photo of three people wearing headsets and speaking into microphones.

AI and Tech are evolving faster than experts predicted. While we know that over a quarter of Canadian jobs will be heavily disrupted by automation in the next decade (thanks to RBC’s Humans Wanted Report), we feel strongly that our sense of humanity at work isn’t going anywhere. In fact, at P4G we believe it will elevate. 

Recently, Matt Thomson, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Placemaking 4G joined Digital Nova Scotia and All Hands on Tech podcast hosts Ashley Field and Claire Quirion. They discussed striking the right balance between tech and touch and what this means to organizations who prioritize human connection in their services. 

You can listen to the entire podcast here, or keep reading for summarized snippets and insights.

Q: Tell us how P4G came to be?

Matt: The origin story with P4G was really about recognizing there was an opportunity to take something that wasn’t working well in Atlantic Canada and turn it on its head. We wanted to change the landscape of recruiting. My co-founders and I have all had experiences within the recruitment process that have felt rather commodified. If we come back to the Ivany Report from 2015 they said “Nova Scotia is at a crossroads and the status quo is not an option.” that hit home for us. So we decided to launch Placemaking 4g to humanize the candidate process in hiring.

Rapid fire questions!

Q: Apple music or Spotify?

Matt: Spotify. Music is the soundtrack to my life. I almost took musical therapy in university, that’s for another episode.

Q: Guilty pleasure TV show?

Matt: Well Ted Lasso is the first show to come to mind, but I am not guilty about it. I just love it. 

Q: Your initial thoughts when you won small business of the year, Halifax Chamber award?

Matt: No. *shock /disbelief* I was humbled to share that moment with our whole team.
My sparkly suit will go down in history.

Q: What exactly do you do?

I would boil it down to, we create a really humanized approach to working with employers and candidates. We connect one on one with folks within client organizations to understand the environments in which they are working. We use this information to go out to the market and interact with candidates and have informed conversations about the opportunity. Our goal is to make candidates feel seen and heard in the process. And it’s not just recruiting that happens here. We recognized early on that the majority of successful candidates we’ve worked with have identified with equity-deserving groups. So it’s crucial we understand what environments they are walking into. We’ve branched out in terms of our services and have created opportunities for organizations to foster cultures of belonging, whether it’s through training or workshops or strategic support.

Q: Do you have only certain companies that you will work with?

Values alignment is what we prioritize. That and cultural contribution. We try to avoid the idea of ‘fit’, or hiring for ‘fit’. The hiring process can traditionally be very influenced by bias and so we choose to focus on cultural contribution. [You can read more about what we mean by this in our blog ‘Let’s Stop Hiring People Who Fit In. We’ve liked working with organizations who are further along in their diversity, equity and inclusion journeys. But we’ve realized that it’s the organizations that are in the earlier stages of this work, that need us the most. So we’ve had the privilege of working with employers at a variety of stages on their journeys, and supporting them by building their teams, and partnering with them as they strive to create spaces of belonging.

Q: The idea of culture fit has come up a lot recently, but I think if you are looking for a particular person, what you’re looking for can be exclusive, right?

If you are looking for a fit, you will find exactly what you are looking for. I challenge organizations to shift their perspective and think, what does their organization need? What does their team need? Facebook for example, in recent years dis-allowed ‘culture fit’ when it came to middle managers deciding why they weren’t hiring certain candidates. They had to use descriptive language to say why this person wasn’t able to contribute to the team. Just that practice alone, embedded within them a shift in their mindset that saw every notable representation category increase by 200%, in leadership levels as well. Once the context of fit was removed and replaced with contribution, representation shifted dramatically.

Q: Let’s get a little bit more techy. We are hearing headlines everyday about AI and Chat GPT. How do you go about centering the human in a workforce that is quickly embracing automation?

Matt: I will start this with the asterisks that I have not personally gone in and used Chat GPT. It’s undeniable that AI is here. RBC Human’s Wanted Report tells us that 25% of roles across Canada will be heavily disrupted by tech. There’s a difference between heavily disrupted and eliminated. AI will never be able to have your thoughts, feelings and perspectives brought to the table. The best way to future-proof your career is to not try to be a robot or ‘fit’. One of my colleagues, Marge, is really into creative writing. She felt some fear around Chat GPT so she went through a process to uncover what Chat GPT can and cannot do. What it can do is be efficient and create more time for other tasks, but what it can’t do is read underlying themes, and have emotions or provide that more ‘human’ look behind the curtain.

At P4G we talk about managing the balance between tech and touch. This means Patrick Adeyemi created our own Applicant Tracking System (ATS) which removes a lot of the mundane tasks when it comes to the efficiency of our day to day. This gives us more time to humanize our process. Every resume and cover letter we receive is read by human eyes. Some will say it doesn’t matter what’s in your resume you’ve just gotta have the keywords that a screening tool will pick up. But we know there is more to it than what a cover letter says. The use of the ATS gives us more time to have touch points with clients and the people in their organizations.

Q: Can you explain what you mean by belonging?

Matt: Our Communications and Strategy Lead, Kaylee Hake says it best. When we talk about what we do at P4G it’s really about ‘build’ and ‘belong’. The ‘build’ is the recruitment component. The ‘belong’ is everything else – the focus of creating that culture within organizations to feel like individuals can thrive. The concept of belonging is best felt and not explained.

Q: Has your team always been fully remote?

Matt: We’ve shifted. We used to work out of a co-working space. Pre-pandemic we were a full-time team of three and we are thirteen now. A large evolution happened for us over the time of the pandemic while we were fully remote. We’ve normalized virtual high-fives, head heart check-ins, recognition and feedback in our day to day. They are not just reserved for performance reviews. It’s easier to have these moments happen in an in-person environment, so translating these into a remote work environment takes effort but it’s necessary.

Q: Last question, the floor is yours. Anything exciting coming up at P4G that you’d like to share?

Matt: The first thing I’ll say, is we have an incredible tech team at P4G, and we’ve been able to help pioneer a really cool job search platform that allows for job developers in the Ontario Market to match job candidates living with disabilities with employers in the region. We have built and grown a project called MyJob Match with Community Living Toronto. Stay tuned!

We are continuing to build out the belonging side of our business. Our clients that work with us from a recruiting process are looking to be very intentional about the environments they are creating for candidates, so we continue to build and grow on that front.

We are also excited to launch a new online training program with the Nova Scotia Career Development Association called Foundations of Belonging, which organizations can embed into their own learning management systems to help propel their teams on their diversity, equity and inclusion journeys.

It’s crazy we’ve gotten this far in a podcast and not mentioned we are a social enterprise. We are a community interest company, which means we re-invest 60% of profits back into our mandate. It might be small, but we are growing. I hope in the next couple of years we are able to come back and say we have hundreds of thousands of dollars to have impact with.

To hear the full podcast, visit Digital Nova Scotia’s All Hands on Tech podcast here. Interested in learning more? Read our blog The Now of Work is Human and follow along at the P4G blog page for more insights and perspectives from P4G contributors. 

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