We’re talking about two things today that can change how you think about your employees.  The first is how to use gamification to create a culture where your employees love coming to work and have more fun than the average bear. The second is a potential solution for using recruiters at an affordable level in your company.

Hank Levine from Iplace USA is going to help us understand how they use gamification in every part of their company to get high-level performance from their staff.  Iplace USA is an executive recruiting firm with 450 employees in India who recruit middle-level jobs for US companies.

In this podcast, you’ll learn about how to solve two problems.  Gamification can help you engage your employees at a much higher level than normal.  Having a recruiting firm with their recruiters based in India can dramatically bring down the cost of getting A players on your team.

In today’s podcast you’ll learn:

  • What gamification is and how it can be used in the workplace.
  • How a company based in the US can have great recruiters based in India.
  • What Launch Pad is and how you can use it in your company.
  • How gamification has been the driver of growth in Iplace USA.
  • Learn how breaking down your company into smaller parts can pay big dividends.


Narrator:         Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.

Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.

Josh:                Hey, this is Josh Patrick and you’re at The Sustainable Business. My guest today is Hank Levine. Hank is the CEO and president of iPlace USA. It’s global sourcing and recruiting company with headquarters in McLean, Virginia, USA and an international recruiting center in Pune – well, I can’t even pronounce that. I’ll have Hank do that when he comes on in a minute. He’s got all sorts of degrees and very talented guy, doing some really interesting things with his company.

We’re going to be talking about their gamification program, and performance reviews, and a whole system for management for how they’re running the company which I have been finding really unique. I want to learn more about it. So instead of me talking about we’re going to learn, let’s bring Hank in and we’ll learn.

Hey, Hank. How are you today?

Hank:              I’m doing awesome, Josh. Thank you.

Josh:                Thanks a lot for joining us today. I mean, you are like doing so many interesting things in your company, where do you want to start?

Hank:              Well, we can talk about LaunchPad, as you just introduced.

Josh:                Okay. So let’s talk about LaunchPad. So what is LaunchPad?

Hank:              I’d say LaunchPad is a very innovative company operating system. And it’s been really the driver of our growth in our company. The underpinning of LaunchPad is gamification. So we have gamified every element of our company, every single employee. And each of our recruiters, they are assigned work strategies, receive training and professional development, get their pay raises and promotion. And even in health and wellness, it’s all tied back to LaunchPad and gamification.

Josh:                So just to help us all be clear, what exactly is gamification?

Hank:              Well, gamification is a way of building a game into every task that our employees do. So every week, our employees are all given goals for the week. We call them strategies. And based on how well they perform on those goals, it determines if they earn stars for the week. And when you earn 40 stars, you get an automatic pay raise. And 120 stars, you get an automatic promotion.

Josh:                So does this take away or does this limit the amount of supervision you guys have to do?

Hank:              It does a really great job of aligning employees’ personal goals, client goals and company’s goals. And it’s a very good way of scaling any services business.

Josh:                What makes this way better than other ways of scaling?

Hank:              Well, in general, it becomes very, very difficult to scale a services business. In fact, it’s much harder to scale a services business than a software company or a product company. If you have a software company and you have a hit product, it’s pretty easy to scale that. You just make copies of the software. You can generally just distribute it over the internet through downloads. Even a product that’s relatively easy to scale, you can run an extra shift, build another factory, outsource to a third-party manufacturing company.

But with a service business, services are much harder to scale. The service companies are founded by people who are usually subject matter experts in their industry and have a passion for what they do. And then this, to scale a service, you have to deliver through people. And I always use the term that ”people are messy.” Unlike machines, people are very unpredictable. You know, they’re not always engaged. They make mistakes.

And to scale a service company, you need to hire and develop people who can replicate the knowledge and the passion of the founding team. That’s not too hard to do when you have 10 or 20 people. But as the founders become more remote, it becomes more and more difficult to have that sort of passion and knowledge in the company.

Josh:                And it seems to me that once you get there, I’m assuming that your hiring process brings the gamification. And LaunchPad is part of your process to make sure the people you’re bringing on board are actually going to enjoy this.

Hank:              Yes. So let me explain how it works. And I think, then I can talk about our hiring process and how we train people.

Josh:                Sure.

Hank:              All right. So as I said, we have about 470 recruiters. And the company is broken down into clusters. So a cluster will have anywhere from 30 to 60 recruiters. And each cluster is managed by a head.

So for the head, it’s just like their own little business. And the head’s main job is they have to understand the needs of every client that we’re working with, inside out. And they have to understand the skills and even the weaknesses of each recruiter on their team.

So, in addition to the head, each cluster has two managers. So each week, the head or a manager meets with every single recruiter. And they assign them four strategies. Strategies are activities that you need to do to have a success for a specific client. So if you have a client that is very focused on quality, the strategies will all be based on submitting high-quality candidates. But we have other clients where they’re much more volume oriented, or they might be much more oriented on speed, so the strategies would all be adjusted based on that.

We also have strategies that have to do with the professional development of each recruiter. So each week, the head will meet. About 15- to 20-minute meeting with each recruiter. They’ll review the strategies for the previous week. They get immediate feedback for how they did on them. If they did well on the strategy, they get a star. If they didn’t do well, they don’t get a star. And they set the goals for the following week.

When a recruiter earns 40 stars, he automatically gets a pay raise. 120 stars, you automatically get a promotion. So this really aligns the recruiter’s activities with what the client needs. And the recruiters love it because everything’s in their hands. They determine their pay basically.

Josh:                So it seems to me that your management team has a really wide span of people who have working for them. You know, management theory basically says 5:1 is the supervisor to supervisee ratio. And it sounds to me like you’re pretty much at 15:1 or 30:1.

Hank:              Yeah, well, you have a head and two managers that could manage up to 60 people.

Josh:                Right. Well, that’d be 1:20 at best, your biggest.

Hank:              It’s undoubtably the most important skill that our heads and managers have to have. They have to be able to work with all the recruiters. And they get a lot of training to do that. We have a leadership development program and also a specific course called Master Mentoring. And they all not only pass that but they get continual training to make sure that they’re following the procedures. So yes, that’s critical.

Josh:                So is there anything that your managers do besides managing people?

Hank:              Well, sure. They are always working with our clients. So they’re also essentially account managers.

Josh:                I mean, unless they’re working 80 hours a week, how do they have time to do all this stuff?

Hank:              Well, that’s one of the things about LaunchPad. All right, so when you’re having a continual conversation and developing a shared understanding with all of the recruiters, very quickly, they become much more focused. They understand the clients better. And these meetings can go pretty fast. They become more and more able to manage themselves.

Josh:                It still seems to me that recruiting the right type of person to come to work for your company would be absolutely key with your success.

Hank:              We do have a very good talent acquisition process. And I don’t mean this to sound like we’re bragging but we are—and to say that we’re in India – in Pune, Maharashtra, India. We are the big recruiting brand and people very much want to work for us.

Josh:                I understand that but I’m assuming it’s similar to the US where people might want to go to work for Apple but be a terrible fit. I’m assuming that you have the same challenges in India.

Hank:              Absolutely. So we take about 1 out of 12 people who properly applied to the company gets hired.

Josh:                Okay. And how do you help screen to make sure you’re getting the right people? Well, let me ask you this in a different way. What percentage of your hires are successful in the job once they get hired?

Hank:              All right. So let’s talk about how we do this. So we have something called iPlace Academy. We believe it’s the best recruiter training in India where up to— we’re running, I think, something like 130 of iPlace Academy classes now. So we’ve done this over and over and we’re getting pretty good at it. It’s a 9-week program. And not everyone graduates. So, only the first week is in a classroom. After two days, we teach the people in iPlace Academy about LaunchPad and gamification and they get gamified right in the academy. So they’re getting scores. If they don’t get a score of 60 after the nine weeks, they’re asked to leave the company. So in the first nine weeks with the company, we do have pretty high turnover. Most of that is because we let people go. But after nine weeks, our turnover is incredibly low.

Josh:                What would incredibly low be?

Hank:              All right. So if you look at NASSCOM which is the main IT trade association in India. And they do a lot of research into employees who work in technical jobs like recruiting, in the night shift.

Josh:                Yup.

Hank:              The average tenure of one of those employees is a little over five months. Our average tenure is over two and a half years. So we’re about five and a half times the average of a company in India.

Josh:                So what would that be as a percentage?

Hank:              It’s about 4% per month.

Josh:                Okay, so that’s about 48% a year. So if you have a hundred people working for you, how many of that hundred people would be with you the year after that?

Hank:              I’d have to do the math but probably about 70.

Josh:                So you have about 30% of the people who make it through your training program will successfully be with the company in the second year?

Hank:              Right. So you have to remember, they’re working a hard night shift.

Josh:                No, I understand. I’m not saying good or bad. I’m just trying to get the numbers so I can ask you my next question which is how many of those people decide to leave? And how many of those people do you ask to leave?

Hank:              All right, so in the first nine weeks—

Josh:                It’s high. We know the first nine weeks are high.

Hank:              And that’s about 60% asked by us.

Josh:                Yup.

Hank:              And after that, it’s probably about 20% asked by us.

Josh:                So 80% of the people decide, this is not for them and they don’t want to work the night shift anymore?

Hank:              Well, yeah, there are some interesting things in India. One of the main things, the number one reason we lose people over the night shift is through arranged marriages. So that fascinates people.

Josh:                Ah, interesting.

Hank:              And India, in many cases, there’s more and more people getting married through love marriages but even love marriages today, the families still, you know, like to present them as an arranged marriage. And in these arranged marriages, everything gets negotiated. And sometimes parents will not allow you to marry someone if you work in a night shift job.

Josh:                Ah [laughs]. That’s an interesting cultural experience that we don’t have in this country.

Hank:              It’s very interesting. In fact, we always joke, we know when someone’s soon to get married. For lack of a better term, they’re somewhat [inaudible 00:12:16] and we’ll joke that they’re on the marriage job board.

Josh:                Ah [laughs]. So when you recruit, do you attempt to recruit people who are married or do you don’t care?

Hank:              No. We’re about 50/50 male and female. And most of the people who come to work for us are young. Our typical new hire is maybe 23 years old. They’re generally not married. But at the age, when they will get married, it’d be extremely impractical for us to just hire married people because they would typically be in their late-20s or 30s and settled down and they wouldn’t come work on a night shift job.

Josh:                Oh, okay. So you know that when you hire somebody, there’s a relatively short lifespan that they’re going to be with your company? When I say relatively short, what I’m referring to is five, six or seven years instead of 20 to 40 years.

Hank:              That is true. Although I think you would see that the longevity of our management team is pretty amazing. Most of them have been with us seven, eight, nine or ten years.

Josh:                Ah. How long has your company been in existence?

Hank:              We’ve been in business 12 years.

Josh:                Okay. So how did you come up with LaunchPad and gamification? I mean, it’s a pretty unique way of running a business. And it would seem to me that that somebody – probably you, is pretty inventive when it comes to this sort of stuff.

Hank:              Yeah. Well, I’ll mention one other thing about LaunchPad. We’ll talk about how we invented it.

So we talked about what we do with our weekly games. But we also have quarterly games. So the weekly games are really all about recruiting performance. The quarterly games are all about our employees. So they’re mostly based on health and well-being. And we have individual plans for each of our employees in ways that they can improve themselves.

So, for example, if you have a lot of credit card debt, we’ll set up a plan for them to pay down their credit card debt. If they successfully stay on plan, they earn stars. If you’re overweight, you can get stars for losing weight, going to the gym, eating healthier. Even some of our employees who don’t take vacations, we’ll give them stars for taking a vacation. So the employees think that’s absolutely fantastic that they can get pay raises for doing things that are good for them.

You know, we even have sports teams and stuff. We participate in sports teams or participate in our corporate social responsibility program, you can get stars for that. So that’s one of the reasons that we have such good longevity because our whole system is set up to really take care of our big three stakeholder groups – that would be our employees, our clients and the company itself.

Josh:                Aha, so now you can tell me how you came up with gamifying your company because that’s probably a pretty interesting story.

Hank:              Well, it’s actually an amazing story. So I would say, for about the first seven years of the company, and I don’t mean this to sound like I’m bragging, but there was a lot of innovation in the company. My fingerprints were probably all over it.

LaunchPad was 100% [inaudible 00:15:06] by our management in India. And they started working on it. And they didn’t even tell me about it. And then they came out with this idea and I thought it was spectacular.

So one of our senior managers, he started doing this for one of our largest clients. And it wasn’t full-blown LaunchPad but he had what, in today’s LaunchPad, we would call a captain. And they started assigning weekly strategies to people. And the performance shot up. And from that, you know, they’ve developed a lot more roles. Now, we have a 40-page role book for all the roles of LaunchPad. And we have even roles about how you can roll out new roles. So we only do it twice a year – January 1 and July 1, where all the changes that we learn in six months we incorporate into one – you can almost think of it like a new software release.

Josh:                I don’t know if you’re aware of the process called SCRUM which is part of Agile Technologies.

Hank:              Yeah.

Josh:                It’d be interesting to SCRUM-ify your development process for new rules. That will be an experiment I would like to try but that’s just me [laughs].

Hank:              Yeah. So there’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scene.

Josh:                Yeah.

Hank:              We have an eight-person data analytics team. We collect performance data every single day. It all goes back to the data analytics team. Everything that we’re doing in LaunchPad gets posted on our internet and monitored throughout the company, so it’s a completely transparent process. You can see any employee in the company, and know how many stars they’ve earned, and how they’re doing, and how many pay raises they’ve got, how many more starts they need to get to another pay raise. So it really takes the subjectivity out of this.

Josh:                So what is the responsibility for the success of subordinates for your management team? Meaning, do they get stars if their people are successful at doing their stuff?

Hank:              Yes. So those can be built into strategies. And if you remember, we said the weekly strategies are usually around performance. And also, some on professional development. Professional development is usually developing other people on your team. So you absolutely can earn stars for developing people on your team. Or if your client grows, you can get stars for that too.

Josh:                Cool.

Hank:              So one of the really cool things about our company, there’s no limits on promotion. If everyone on your team’s performing, they’ll all get promoted.

Josh:                Oh, nice. Nice.

So you’re a recruiting firm, what type of people do you recruit? At what level?

Hank:              It would be professional staffing. So about half of what we do is IT. We do engineering. We do finance and accounting. Sales positions. We do quite a bit of work in healthcare. So you wouldn’t really retain us to hire your receptionist. And you probably– when you go into real senior positions, you probably wouldn’t hire us to hire your CFO or your Chief Technology Officer. I would say our sweet spot would be positions that would have a salary of anywhere from like $50,000 to $200,000 in the US.

Josh:                Which can save US companies a boat load of money on their recruiting cost?

Hank:              Absolutely. The neat thing about our company is by lowering our cost of hiring, results in more Americans getting hired for jobs.

Josh:                Yeah, that’s great. I think what you guys are doing is really, really, really interesting.

And I will say that the person who contacted me from your company spoke absolutely perfect English. You know, I would’ve not known. Well, I actually would’ve know she was Indian but it wasn’t like I was trying to struggle to figure out what she was saying.

Hank:              Yeah. So we talked about our internal interview process. And the first thing that you do before you come in is you do a phone interview with our talent acquisition department. And if you don’t speak clearly that’s the end of the game.

Josh:                Yeah. Well, I have to compliment you on that because my big frustration with working with Indian virtual assistants or Indian employees is I often have to struggle way too hard to understand what they’re saying. And granted I am 65 and probably older and have less patience than many. But I’m the sort of guy that hires people so [laughs] probably an important thing.

Hank:              Understood. And we’ve all had that experience. So if we have a new client and they’re concerned about communication skills. It’s kind of an empty promise for me to tell them that our people speak clearly.

Josh:                Right.

Hank:              We just say, “You can interview any recruiter that will be assigned to you. If you don’t think they speak clearly, you tell us you don’t want that person. We’ll present someone else.”

Josh:                If you ever did recruiting for call center, United Airlines would be most appreciative [laughs].

Hank:              We actually have recruiters at our company who’ve come from United Call Centers.

Josh:                [laughs] Often a frustration. It’s just for my minor frustration.

Hey, Hank, we are unfortunately out of time for our podcast. And I’m going to bet there are some people listening who say, “Well, gee, I recruit that area. I need people to come to work from that area.” How would they find your company? And how would they get started with you if they wanted to?

Hank:              So our URL is iplaceusa.com. That’s I-P-L-A-C-E-USA.COM. And that’s the easiest way to find us.

Josh:                Cool.

So I also have an offer for you. And if you happen to be watching on Facebook Live, you can see my book because here it is. Sustainable: A Fable About Creating a Personally and Economically Sustainable Business. Easy to get. All you have to do is you need to go to Amazon and some soft cover on Kindle.

But if you want soft cover and you want some bonuses with it, you go to my website which is www.sustainablethebook.com. There’ll be a big orange button. You press the button. And you can buy the book. If you do so, you get a free 20-minute conversation with me about a problem you’re having or an opportunity you’re not taking advantage of. And I can promise you you’ll get some sort of a solution on that. And the second thing is, since this is a parable, I wrote a 30-some-odd page how-to guide that will help you through all the stuff that John Aardvark goes through and gives you processes for creating an economically and personally sustainable business.

This is Josh Patrick. You’ve been at the Sustainable Business. Thanks so much for stopping by today. I hope to see you back here really soon.

Narrator:         You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an email at jpatrick@askjoshpatrick.com.

Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.

Topics: Creating Value, executive recruiters, sustainable business podcast, gamification, recruiting, Hiring, employee engagement

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