Welcome to Crazy and the King!!
Dec. 30, 2021

The CATK Interview: Gina Alito

The CATK Interview: Gina Alito

Join us in wrapping up 2021 with CATK and Symphony Talent's Gina Alito.

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Join us in wrapping up 2021 with CATK and Symphony Talent's Gina Alito. 

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Production and Music: DJ Cellz


0:00:01.3 Announcer: We've been about this work: Diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging. Shared through the voices of a white woman and a black man. We bring lived experiences. We have pursued D&I progress for most of our professional lives. We use Crazy and the King to cover news, tips from colleagues and hosts, incredible guests. Listeners, count on Julie and I to transparently drive the conversation. We thank you for rocking with us, check it. Julie, kick off the show.

0:00:37.9 Julie: Welcome, welcome, welcome to Crazy and the King. Hello.

0:00:42.7 Torin: Last week of 2021. I actually probably should be doing a bit of office-keeping, you know how some folks say housekeeping, and I probably should be getting rid of some of the books on one of these shelves that I don't read anymore. I probably should be sitting somewhere writing a new manifesto or missive for what I want to accomplish in 2022, but I'm not doing any of that. I'm actually, at the time of recording, I don't know where I am, but I'm looking forward to next year. How about you?

0:01:26.4 Torin: Yeah, I'm looking forward to just relaxing over the holidays and really just reenergizing for 2022, it's gonna be a big year. I just see more and more growth happening and more and more great discussions, so I'm enjoying the time off, but ready to get back at it in just a few weeks.

0:01:49.0 Torin: Yeah, and we had some incredible guests in the month of December, like I really appreciate everyone for stopping by and feeling as if Crazy and the King was important enough to them to end the year, spending some time with us, spending some time with each and every one of you as listeners. We tried hard to give you some incredible voices, and we'll try even harder next year to bring even more incredible voices. If you remember a couple of episodes back, I said J, I want you to hold me accountable in 2022. I want to have more voices in education, more voices in healthcare, more voices around equity and compensation, and more voices... This was the fourth pillar in that Citibank report from last year, but housing. I don't know how I wanna incorporate housing, but when I think about the future of work, when I think about distributed teams, Agile teams, when I think about us doing more project-based assignments and not being stuck on the same journey, I don't know, I wanna see if we can incorporate folks from the housing space and maybe craft some conversations that complement what we are doing here around diversity and inclusion, the workplace and all of that. So I got a task ahead of me, but I want you to hold me accountable.

0:03:10.3 Julie: Okay, I'll do my best to hold you accountable.

0:03:12.3 Torin: I know you will, I know you will. So we got a guest today. We're gonna get right to Gina. Let me just say this, I think that what she is going to talk about is extremely important for each and every one of us, because transformation is a word that is thrown around often, but it's important, like we really do have to transition through some of the things, shed some of the things that we used to do, shed some of the processes, protocols that we've subscribed to for a very long time, I think transformation is absolutely necessary as it relates to diversity and inclusion, now that we are right around 18, 20 months or so, beyond George Floyd, post-George Floyd. And I think I said this before on the show, I'll know that we're making progress when we're not referring to George Floyd as the pivotal moment in D&I. So I'm looking forward to the conversation with Gina around transformation just after this break.

0:04:19.9 Julie: Alright, welcome back. So very excited to have our guest, Ms. Gina Alioto, who is the VP of Global Brand and Experience at Symphony Talent, a company and a person that Torin and I are both very familiar and very fond of. Welcome to Crazy and the King, Gina.

0:04:39.4 Gina: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.

0:04:42.8 Torin: Yeah, Gina, you actually, as I know it, you handle cross-functional and operational design and development and just driving that change inside of the organization within the brand, can you talk to our listeners for just a moment? Give them the quick version of how you got to where you are today, because you didn't start in our sandbox, you are, in some ways, I might getting trouble when I say this. You are in some ways an immigrant to the HR space.

0:05:20.5 Gina: Absolutely, I actually have an extensive background in creating and building experiences for brands, in fact, I started out in that industry before it was even called what it is today, today it's called experiential marketing, but we were doing really early on before it was even called experiential marketing was designing experiences for brands and helping brands build an emotional connection with their audiences, where you are bringing a brand to life in a way where you're making these genuine connections with their audiences, where people feel like they're part of the brand and part of the experience ultimately resulting in sales. And before it was typically beer sales, I was working for large global alcohol brands or airlines. I did a lot of work with the Tribeca Film Festival. Now I've shifted to B2B brands, and in this world of talent acquisition, the ultimate customers, the candidate and people who are searching for jobs, and so it's really added a whole other level of meaningfulness and purpose to the work that I do, so I'm really happy that I'm now in this industry.

0:06:44.4 Torin: Yeah. I'm wondering what drew you here? When you think about some of the organizations that you supported in the past, why HR Tech and more specifically why Symphony Talent?

0:06:54.2 Gina: So, very very long story short, after working for many, many years in experiential marketing, typically for consumer brands, and I did some work in fashion, I suddenly got laid off, and it was actually the first time in my entire career that I've ever lost my job. The boutique agency that I was working for at the time closed, and I was right in the middle of closing on my house, so I actually was in a desperate position looking for a job. Because it was either get a job, get hired, or lose my house that we had searched for for about a year, it was a really competitive market at the time, and I said, "I'll do anything, as long as I can prove a certain salary." You know, just get hired. And that was my very first experience on what it was like to search for a job online, because all of my jobs prior to that had always been through referral.

0:07:52.6 Gina: I went from one job, got recommended to go somewhere else, and transitioned my job, to this I actually had to apply for a job online, and after applying for, I'd say hundreds of jobs, my application, what I now know got lost in the ATS, but before then I didn't know what was going on. I thought I'm not worthy, I'm not good enough. This is a rejection. Even though nobody was giving me any rejection, I wasn't getting answers at all. Now I know that I'm just part of the 93% of candidates who don't get any response from employers. So it's pretty funny to be on this side of the looking glass. So I came to Symphony Talent, actually, the CEO hired me using our own CRM, so I came then through Symphony Talent's own CRM, and he hired me there. And once I found out about this industry, I just fell in love with it, and all of the great people like you both and the talent acquisition leaders that work here. It's been six years and I'll never look back. So I'm really happy to be in this industry.

0:08:57.2 Torin: You know, I'm smiling Julie, because just a couple of weeks ago I asked you that question. I said, "Are you ready for the potential market collapse?" Seeing as though it comes in cycles, if you will, and although Gina's talking about losing the job and being in the process of purchasing a home and how important it was to maintain the revenue and keep that coming in on her personal economy, I'm smiling because we've talked about that. We know that calamity happens, we know that that challenge, it's the ebb and flow of life. And here's what's beautiful, she landed, and landed in the place where she absolutely has fallen in love, I like that.

0:09:39.2 Gina: And it wasn't pretty and it wasn't easy. So there was a lot that happened in between there, but now looking back, hindsight is 2020, and I'm very grateful for where I've landed, so I can completely empathize with anybody who's been in a tough situation like that, and transformation is very similar to that.

0:10:01.4 Julie: So how has your background in experiential marketing and as a job seeker then brought you to this place to be able to advise global brands on A, there should be an experience and it should not be terrible, and how do you do walk someone who is fundamentally TA or HR into something that feels very foreign to people when they're thinking about how to develop an employer brand?

0:10:36.2 Gina: It's a really great question, Julie. Experience and experiential marketing is all about putting the person at the core of your strategy. So if we take that principle and apply it to our industry, which in my case it's recruitment marketing technology, but you can take that principle and apply it pretty much to any industry. There's something to be said for bringing people to the core of your strategy. And I know that that is an overused statement, and it's also a loaded statement, but typically in our industry, particularly the conversation about technology adoption is pretty technical, it's strictly technical, and we talk about the implementation and about people adopting the tool. But in my experience now, and I did some primary and secondary research on this topic, we actually found that technology adoption has a lot more to do with people and putting people at the core of your strategy, and so I think that's one area where I'm excelling in, is applying that experiential lens to organizations' strategies.

0:12:01.0 Torin: I want you to back up for a moment, because you just said something, you actually said you did some research, and I want you to spend a bit of time there on the research piece, because what you said is that, I can't remember exactly how you said it, but there was some benefit, it was more advantageous, it was a better adoption or implementation if we centered people in the technical considerations. I'm always amazed when people say that we should go back and be focused on the people, because I always wonder, who to hell stopped focusing on the people? Why would we stop focusing on the people in the interview or the apply process, the prospect process, the onboarding process? When was it ever okay to not focus on the people?

0:12:57.5 Gina: I know Torin, and in our HR tech presentation, we actually opened with a problem statement, and this is from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is, they're always putting out really great research, and they shared that 82% of organizations struggle with HR technology adoption. So this is about the HR institutions struggling with their own technology adoption. So employers are investing in large pieces of technology, but then when it comes time to motivating their teams to actually use the technology, most of them, 82% of them are struggling, and we conducted our own research basically at the same time as this research came out, so it's a great validation for us, but we dug into why organizations either have successful adoption initiatives, or unsuccessful adoption initiatives. What are some of the things that are causing this? And it turns out that all of the most important themes planning, socializing, training, leadership, support and buy-in, all of the themes had to do with people, and so I think that it's obviously a complex situation and there's many moving parts, but when we look at it from that lens that it is revolving around people. I think that it'll help us address the challenge at hand.

0:14:39.2 Torin: So real quick, J, before you jump in, so I wanna just hit this real quick, I wanna make sure we got it right. For those that are listening, when you are thinking about adopting or implementing new technology inside of your HR technology stack, some place inside of your organization, when you are thinking about trying to roll out a brand new D&I strategy, what Gina is saying is that we should be focused absolutely on the people. What you said, if I heard you correctly, planning socializing, training, leadership support and buy-in, that modeling, that role modeling is critically important. Did I get that right?

0:15:18.5 Gina: Exactly, so even though we're talking about, and the research that I conducted is focused on technology adoption, we can take these same four principles and apply it to your adoption of your DEI program and your initiatives because there are so many parallels that could be drawn.

0:15:41.1 Julie: Yeah, and I think it's a buy-in thing, right? So everyone sees the technology, everyone sees the DEI program and they go, "Oh yes, we want that." But then they forget that work has to be done on the other side to make it work, to actually get it to a place where it's functional, and it has to be an ongoing part of a strategy. It's not a set it and forget it. Now, DEI works, now our technology is adopted, and it's all functioning properly.

0:16:14.4 Gina: You hit it on the head, and if I could summarize everything into one statement, and it's pretty much a thought that I had after conducting this research, is imagine if we watched a DEI program with the same strategy, energy, and hype as Apple launches its next iPhone.

0:16:37.2 Julie: I'm just gonna sit and think about that for a minute.

0:16:41.5 Torin: Gina, what would that look like? Because you caught me with that one, I was actually typing and had to stop. Because that means we have the CEO of said brand on stage, we have some big monitors behind them, and even if we can't be on stage and have monitors behind them, we make it an announcement in an all-hands meeting, we have some giveaways, we show that we are absolutely making an investment. You absolutely said a mouthful if we just simply made D&I as important as the next Apple product launch.

0:17:22.1 Gina: And if you were able to do that inside of your organization and create the same type of emotional connection with your audience, and build that excitement for it as a new iPhone launch, and it's the same thing that I asked about organizations introducing a new piece of technology, into their organization. Because that's what my research is about. That's what the HR tech presentation was about. And then, I knew that I was coming on your podcast and thinking about your audience, and you both know that I'm a champion of DE&I in my own organization, and something that I'm very passionate about. I just had this lightbulb moment at 3:00 AM when I wasn't sleeping, and I was just thinking about, "Well, what if this is what we also applied to our DEI programs," all of the same principles that I was talking about at HR Tech, but bringing it to our DE&I strategies?

0:18:19.4 Torin: So what else did you talk about at HR Tech when you think about the work that you were doing? When you think about the folks that were sitting in front of you out in Vegas, in that room, what were you trying to get across to some of them that you could share with our audience?

0:18:35.0 Gina: So everyone was there because they're part of the 82% that are struggling with technology adoption, and so I'd also imagine that we could probably use that same statistic for people who, or probably it's even higher, of people who are struggling with their DE&I initiative adoption in their organization. And I think back about my experiential background, and one of my favorite definitions, and I've modified this based on my own experiences, but one of my favorite definitions of, "What is an experience?" Because when the Apple iPhone is being launched, the next iteration of it, that's an experience. So what is an experience? And it is really a human-centered approach, and it's intended to grasp people's needs and desires, and you're really creating a moment that matters, and it's something that is going to be with them in their day, but then also in the long term. And an experience is only achieved by delivering on how those moments provide you unexpected delight. And so that's one of my favorite definitions of experience, like I said, I've modified it, but you can't achieve that without components of DE&I, so you can't achieve an experience without inclusion, for example, without inviting people in.

0:20:10.3 Gina: When I think back to any of the experiential activations that I produced over the years, it was all about making your audience feel included in what's going on, otherwise you're just talking at people. So how can we not just make it an inclusive experience, but the real magic happens when it's an interactive experience, when it's two-way, so I'm not just an organization introducing a piece of technology and forcing it on people, but actually creating an avenue for feedback, soliciting feedback from people. What we said at HR Tech is, if people don't understand how to use the technology or the platform, they probably are not going to tell you that they're not using it, they just won't get to see the value and they will probably have frustrations and find work arounds not to use it. So if we think about that parallel to DE&I programs, we can apply that same way about making it an interactive experience.

0:21:10.4 Torin: Gina and J, I gotta tell you, funny. I'm listening to you that unexpected outcome, so I'm actually going back in my mind to the very first time I gave a key note, 2018 ERE Orlando at the Gaylord Hotel, very first keynote. Like, before 2018, I'd always been placed in some little side room, little small room, first time on the main stage, 2018 Gaylord Hotel. One of the things that I said to them was, I would've hoped that you all would've treated me as an attendee, the way that you treated me during the online and registration process. Like when I got to the conference, I put my hand in this bowl of candy that you all are giving to us as attendees, and all of the candy is stuck together. So I said now, when we were registering and you were taking our money, everything was beautiful, you know, you hand us these great bags and all of this other stuff, but then you go to the registration desk to get your badge, and you got candy there that's stuck together, like that was my experience. And of course, the room laughed and we talked about it, but I so appreciate your centering the effort around the people, that unexpected outcome, powerful phrase.

0:22:31.9 Julie: And here's the thing, by applying for a job is a lot like your experience when you got to the conference, right? They may be really exceptional companies that are hiring, that have great cultures, that have great experiences, but applying to that job is like sticking your hand in the candy where it's all stuck together, it's terrible, you have to go, you have to walk away, and you leave feeling gross about the company because the experience is so bad. And so it's almost like just the opposite for job seekers, and I think the big thing now, or at least I hope the big thing now as we go into 2022, is that companies are gonna start understanding that that balance of power has shifted back to, let's hope a bit more of a medium, and there has to be that experience, that marketing that says, "Why choose me versus choosing an Android," and it is more of a consumer experience. How do you see Gina in 2022, that experience evolving? Or maybe I'm just really hopeful and it won't. [chuckle]

0:23:44.4 Gina: So I agree with you completely. And those things, where Torin, you just described, and Julie, you just described, they don't just happen, they're actually strategic, you have to plan for it and strategically craft the experience that you want to deliver. And I think especially going into 2022, I believe the trends will continue, and I also think we need to deliver on what we started to, or attempted to change in 2021 and 2020 even, I think that we are finally starting to have the right conversations, and maybe in some places the vision is there, but it's where you have to deliver on the vision, that's where the real tough work begins, and I think that most organizations haven't even scratched the surface with actually delivering on the vision.

0:24:41.7 Torin: You know, while we were planning, you raised a phrase, you talked about the definite game versus the infinite game. Can you elaborate a bit on that? Because you mentioned a name that I was unfamiliar with. I am familiar with the definite game and the infinite game, our listeners, some maybe some maybe not, but talk about that a little bit and maybe how and why it might apply in the work that we are all trying to do.

0:25:09.7 Gina: Absolutely. So, the finite game and infinite game comes from James Carse, and it's someone that I've been studying at least for the past several years, especially when I think about my experiential background and in transformation, and he says it much better, so you should Google James Carse and hear it from him, but he talks about how there's the finite game where you play to win, and then you know that you're playing a finite game because there are very definite and unchangeable rules, simply because you have to have a way of knowing who's won the game, and then there's the infinite game where you just play to keep on playing. So in the finite game, there's a winner and a loser, but in the infinite game, you're just keeping the other players in play. An infinite game doesn't have known players, the rules are changeable, and the objective is not to win but to keep playing, keep perpetuating the game. And I think about this in context of experiential and creating experiences where there's not a winner and a loser, but rather, you want everyone to have the best possible experience. You want to build an emotional connection with your audience. You can also consider this in context of DE&I. It can't be a finite game, because the players aren't known and there are no set rules, so it must be an infinite game. So I really like what James Carse has to say about that, and it's something that's constantly top-of-mind for me.

0:26:51.9 Torin: Yeah J, I'll make sure we put this in the show notes, but just for our listeners, it's James Carse, C-A-R-S-E, title of his book is, "Finite and Infinite Games," and it actually came out, I believe back in 2013, so it's not, again, it's not a new concept, but it certainly is one where we can relate and I related to, there's no finish line in DE&I. Like I say it all the time, been saying it all the time, we operate that there's no finish line. Just because you stood up at training, don't clap your hands together as if there's a finish line, we got work to do.

0:27:28.0 Julie: Yep. It's a lifetime's worth of work. So, before we get into Her Segment, tell the people how they can find you.

0:27:38.6 Gina: Connect with me on LinkedIn. I'm always chatting. Folks message me all the time, I love meeting new people, so definitely look me up on LinkedIn.

0:27:48.5 Torin: Well you know what? And before we do a Her Segment, I actually wanna ask you about one thing that I think Symphony Talent should absolutely promote more, I want people to know about it. Let's talk about the Joy Pipeline.

0:28:01.2 Gina: Sure. So as you probably or your listeners probably already know, Symphony Talent is a recruitment marketing technology company. And I'd say a couple of years ago, or early last year, we started this initiative called the Joy Pipeline, which is where we are bringing to talent acquisition leaders, strategies and best practices for how they can bring joy back to the recruiting process through their technology and through their strategies, and this is a highly successful campaign for us. We asked our audience, "What brings you joy in your job?" And the responses were overwhelmingly inspiring, to say the least, and we started a Joy Podcast, and we feature talent acquisition leaders from global brands and thought leaders like you and Julie, so it's just been an incredible journey, and we can't see what it does next.

0:29:07.9 Torin: Alright, so we have our Her Voice Segment, and again, we've turned them over every single week in the month of December to our guests, and we really wanna amplify women that are making a difference, but if it's not a person who's currently making a difference, it can be someone who's lit a spark in your life. And so Gina, who would you highlight in our Her Voice Segment?

0:29:33.3 Gina: I would love to highlight someone who I've always found inspiring from a very young age, which I learned about her in elementary school, and that is Rosa Parks. I've always been inspired by her so much so that when I was in elementary school, I wrote a poem about Rosa Parks and I won a nationwide competition. I've got to find the poem so I could share it with you, I'd actually like to read it myself after all of these years.

0:30:03.1 Torin: I love that. I absolutely think that that's beautiful, and what we're gonna do is make sure that we close kind of amplifying, not kind of, but attempting to amplify something that you've talked about throughout this segment. Gina, we absolutely appreciate you for joining us here on Crazy and The King. In the words of LaFawn Davis, she's the group vice president of ESG at Indeed. LaFawn Davis says, "Job seekers are demanding you do good in the world. They are demanding you have an inclusive environment, and they are demanding you have a flexible schedule. As each and every one of you are planning for 2022, I hope that this pod doesn't hit you too late in that planning process. That you are willing to iterate, you are willing to maybe shift some of the things that you said you wanted to do, some of the processes that you felt are important, we want you, each and every one of you to have an incredible Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4." And for the very last show of 2021, I'm going to actually do it a little bit differently, and I'm gonna turn it over to my podcast partner to end this out.

0:31:17.7 Julie: I close, reminding each and every one of you to share the pod with your digital tribe and to find your voice. Be a better human, let's focus on creating better culture, teams and workplaces in 2022 and beyond. For now, Torin and I are ghost.

0:31:36.2 Torin: See you.