A man whose mission is recruiting for a research hospital with a mission seems like an ideal combination. John Leech would certainly agree.
He is Director of Talent Acquisition for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and his commitment to innovation and his job to assist in St. Jude's innovative support of its mission to find the cure, indeed are a perfect fit.
A Colorado-born athlete who attended Hastings College (Nebraska) on a track and field scholarship, Leech gained experience in agency staffing from Colorado-based national and international employers before joining the FedEx corporate structure in Collierville as Director of Recruitment. Seduced from his role by an interview with David Beckham, he joined Athletes' Performance in Boston, a trainer of professional athletes, and later served C&S Wholesale Grocers and then Comcast before agreeing with his wife's request to "go back home" to Memphis.
"Memphis, of all the places that we've lived, felt more like home," he said. He was immediately drawn to the St. Jude opportunity and identifies it as "a calling -- to take what I've learned in talent acquisition and to give back and make it something that can truly benefit the world."
How different is his St. Jude mission from his previous 20-plus years of experience in the human resources arena?
"Everything is different!" he says. "In previous positions you would say, 'Well, it's not like it's life or death.' Here, it really is life or death. We've got to be absolutely on our game, because the talent that we're bringing to St. Jude is not only going to find the cure, but they're going to administer that cure."
St. Jude was ranked No. 1 on a 2018 survey by the National Society of High School Scholars as a place where top students and young professionals want to work. It also was one of Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For." So one might expect St. Jude to have zero recruitment problems, but Leech points out that talent acquisition must succeed for the right reasons.
"If an individual is looking for their career to drive a higher paycheck and to make a fortune in the world, this might not be a great stop." The right candidate aligns with the mission, he stresses, not just the income.
He further notes that "with 3.8 percent unemployment, pretty much everybody that we're recruiting is very gainfully employed and probably fairly happy, because they have options. I have to present them with a very compelling case of why they would want to pack up their family and move to Memphis, and that doesn't happen with one phone call. That happens over a period of time and developing a relationship with that talent."
He admits that it's sometimes a challenge to maximize the use of every budget dollar and make sure St. Jude's hiring managers are presented with the best and brightest international talent. He wants to enable those managers to achieve an accepted offer and a new partner for St. Jude from candidates influenced by his team's content marketing efforts and employment branding -- which paint St. Jude as a phenomenal place to work.
Do you have to be a brain surgeon to recruit one? No, says Leech, although having two PhDs on the talent acquisition team, and being well versed in the research methodology of the targeted talent, is helpful. Technology helps, too. Video is recorded while phone interviews are in progress, allowing hiring managers to review the candidate's verbatim responses to technical questions.
An initial strategy session with the hiring manager enables Leech and his team to determine what a successful candidate will look like. From that information, they begin developing the content marketing strategies and attraction necessary to bring that kind of talent to St. Jude.
His crew of 15 consists of (1) a sourcing team dedicated to identifying desirable recruits -- by reading research papers, connecting at conferences, networking, and executing Boolean, X-ray and other arcane in-depth web searches to find ideal candidates; and (2) recruiters who then nurture the relationships over a long period of time, as needed. Other team members provide support with aspects of the candidate experience -- helping with logistics, coordinating travel, collecting required certifications, etc.
Innovation-- an arena wherein Leech won accolades from both FedEx and Comcast, and which he continues to pioneer at St. Jude -- appears to be the key to remaining competitive in a healthcare industry where everybody is looking for the same talent.
St. Jude Talent Acquisition has been asked to speak at large healthcare conferences because of their leadership in innovative HR practices such as the unique "Talent Talks" process, which connects small niche talent pools with top talent at St. Jude for an informal inside look at specialties from bioinformatics to neurobiology.
Other innovations (video interviews, out-of-system text messaging for candidate communications, automation) are in place, and they're looking at gamification principles to motivate candidates, says Leech, who also reports "a lot of buzz right now about A.I. . . . for candidate management."
He points out that inspiration for innovation is everywhere -- in unconventional applications of ideas used by other industries, e.g. using net promoter scores (NPS) (typically used to gauge customer loyalty) for candidate and hiring manager experiences, instead.
In his 25-year career, he is proudest of meeting the hiring goals of an aggressive five-year strategic plan already a year in progress when he arrived at St. Jude. "With phenomenal team support, we were able to fill all the critical positions in that plan, and we improved our overall NPS while reducing the cost per hire for every applicant. I'm very proud of the team for accomplishing it."
A barbecue maven who served in May for the seventh year as a certified judge at the World Championship Barbecue Contest, Leech is proud, too, of a family consisting of a son and five daughters ranging from tiny to 24, and a beautiful wife.
He passes on the treasured philosophy of a former boss in advising us to "reserve the right to get smarter" by challenging ourselves -- especially in healthcare -- to "learn from today what will make us smarter tomorrow."