In an enlightening interview with Workable, Nicole Madden, Human Resources Business Partner at PaneraTech, shed light on the dynamic and comprehensive human resources strategies employed at the company.
PaneraTech, known for its pioneering role in digitizing traditional manufacturing industries, has experienced rapid growth and change over the past several years, necessitating steep scaling of new hires. This meant a fourfold increase in employee numbers in less than a year and a half.
Nicole’s insights offer a window into how the company has navigated these changes, focusing on collaborative culture, innovative onboarding and mentorship programs, and leveraging technology in talent acquisition.
What is PaneraTech?
“We are pioneering the digital transformation for heavy manufacturing industries,” Nicole says of PaneraTech.
“So when you think of industries like glass, steel, aluminum – those are big, traditional industrial industries, and we are helping them digitalize, which can be a challenge because they’ve been around a long time.
“They’ve been doing things like this for centuries. And now we are introducing a better way to really manage your operations more efficiently with digital technology and solutions.”
That ‘better way’ is now in high demand in the manufacturing sector, which means Nicole’s talents in recruitment are in need.
Rapid company growth – and retention
First off, that growth has considerable. when Nicole joined the company in August 2022, PaneraTech had about 27 employees worldwide.
“We were expecting to grow … We always thought, we’re double in size and have about 50 employees at the end of the year. We have about 100 employees now.”
And what’s more, as of December 2023, PaneraTech has retained all those employees.
In order to meet those expectations of her role, Nicole spearheaded several initiatives. Among other things, she did the following.
1. Leverage technology for talent acquisition
When you work in a specialized industry, talent can be hard to come by.
“Sometimes like when we were finding field technicians, that was a big challenge because you want someone that has familiarity with furnaces, right? And unfortunately, they were working for our customers,” Nicole says, adding that she would have to be strategic about looking at past histories of potential candidates.
She’s quick to point out the benefits of technology especially in such a specialized sector where optimal talent is hard to find. For instance, she’ll actively seek out professionals on LinkedIn with outreach messaging.
Workable’s AI Recruiter feature also came into play here.
“Workable also identifies talent because they have … their own database too. You have candidates that might align that you can recommend. That’s very helpful as well,” Nicole says.
“And then when we open different jobs with candidates that have skills that might overlap from another one. We might not even be thinking about those candidates, but Workable always gives that reminder, like, ‘Hey, you want to check out some passive candidates?’, and it actually is helpful.”
Referrals also made a huge difference in essentially quadrupling her workforce in less than one and a half years.
“Workable Referrals was amazing because it’s digitalized. We have a lot of people making shares from Workable Referrals to share the jobs on their page on linkedin… We’ve had a third of our hires come from referrals.”
Nicole also was quick to point out some of the other things she liked about using Workable, including being able to customize each stage of the hiring process, keep notes in scorecards during interviews, and work across the hiring team.
2. Sustain a collaborative culture
When a company grows rapidly, there can often be challenges. But at PaneraTech, the outcome has been wholly positive.
“You have new leadership change management, all these different aspects occurring,” Nicole explains. “This is usually when people jump ship, right? They’re like, ‘it’s a little bit too crazy.’ Luckily, we have not had that occur.”
This is due to PaneraTech’s collaborative spirit.
“We’ve been able to focus on collaboration, collaborating with our existing team, helping them be involved with us – onboarding and bringing on our new team members so that everybody is working cohesively together and they’re familiar with one another.”
3. Establish a mentorship program
One method of collaboration was a ‘buddy system’ involving top talent in each of PaneraTech’s departments.
“When we onboarded a new hire, we would pair them with that individual,” Nicole explains.
“And then we would meet with that same buddy trainer… just make sure that they are covering the right aspects. Making sure that new hire really understands our culture that they can reach out and collaborate to whomever we have open doors.”
4. Ensure a smooth onboarding
Workable was also instrumental in onboarding new talent, Nicole says..
“The capabilities of being able to create the requisition so that you can manage each job, manage each hire, that just really helped us with the logistics of being successful with our onboarding,” she adds about the HR software.
“We were able to implement a new onboarding process and a new recruiting process – and having the recruiting process, the onboarding process in place helped us with being successful and bringing on so many people.”
5. Survey for continuous improvement
Employee surveys were crucial in ensuring a consistent loop of feedback that Nicole and her colleagues at PaneraTech could act on, including new hire experience.
“We asked: how was onboarding? How can we improve it? How were your connections with different team members? Were they helpful?
“And it just helps us give insight because if they say yes, then great. We know it works. But if they say no, then we can pinpoint and identify exactly what might have went wrong and see how we can improve it.”
6. Be flexible across time zones
Out of the 100-odd employees at PaneraTech, about 60 of them are in Turkey, Nicole tells us. There’s also 15 in the United States, plus team members in Germany, Italy,, Portugal, and India. There are plans in place to expand to Brazil.
So what does that mean for working across different time zones and cultures? Nicole responds that she loves the diversity of the company.
“I’ve always been a people person,” she says. “I love different people, diverse people, like I think mainly anybody that went to college, you deal with different backgrounds, diversity all the time. And I thrive in those types of environments.”
Overall, it’s been a positive learning experience.
“I like learning from other people,” she says. “This was my first time working at a global company, especially leading it as HR. So this was a big role for me and I feel like it’s been a great transition working with people in different cultures, understanding their thought process, seeing how they work differently because they are working heavy and hard.
“So it challenges you to be like, maybe I could do a few more hours. Feed off of each other, even though Turkey is like seven hours ahead of us.”
She adds that people might think collaboration would be by email in this situation, but it’s not like that at all.
“No, we make time,” she says. “When we have our company town halls, we have town halls every quarter. When we do that, it’s always at 8 in the morning, because we want to make sure that we’re not having them work super late and we can get up and start the meeting at 8.”
A digitized – and human – approach to hiring
Ultimately, Nicole’s strategies represent a modernized and proactive approach to hiring, particularly in a fast-evolving and technology-driven industry. The use of innovative methods like the buddy program and reliance on feedback through surveys demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement and employee well-being.
As PaneraTech continues to expand its global footprint, Madden’s HR strategies offer valuable lessons in managing change, fostering a collaborative culture, and embracing technology to meet the challenges of a dynamic workforce.
And, she shares, “Workable definitely played a vital role in us being successful in identifying the talent, managing the talent, and also onboarding the talent … I would be lying if I said we could do all this without our ATS.”