The Carrot & Stick Podcast #1: Humanising Recruitment

In this episode, Donna Owen, VP of Revenue at Odro, talks about her recruitment journey, leadership styles, and having conversations with underperformers.

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The best lessons in recruitment are learned through hands-on experience or wise words from someone who has ‘been there and done it’. On that note, we’re delighted to share our new podcast: The Carrot and Stick – a podcast series interviewing high performers to help you OneUp all things management, motivation, and sales.


We will be speaking with high performers in the industry to hear their stories and best tips. And we’re kicking off in style, with Donna Owen – VP of Revenue at Odro.

Donna Owen was one of many who “fell” into recruitment. Her original goal was to become an accountant, which led her to a payroll job at a recruitment company. While it wasn’t the job for her, it led to a ‘lightbulb moment’ that changed her career…

After seeing her colleagues making stacks of money while having a kick-ass time doing it, Donna wanted in on the action! It looked more fun and lucrative than wrestling timesheets into the fax machine at 4 PM on a Friday. 

Donna became a recruiter and got stuck in – fast. She was always a top performer and has since gone on to achieve many great things in her career – and is still far from done. Today she resides in Scotland, on a mission to humanise recruitment with Odro. (We’ve tried it. It’s a great product – give it a try.)

Some of Donna’s achievements so far:
  • A consistent top performer in her recruitment days
  • Experienced working within recruitment companies of all sizes
  • Billed over 2 million a year in annual revenue (as an individual contributor) at Vincere
  • An instrumental contribution to Vincere, leading to its acquisition
  • Former Global Sales Leader at Vincere
  • Current VP of Revenue at Odro

Donna’s experience makes her the perfect guest to kick off The Carrot & Stick podcast. We asked her about her recruitment journey, leadership styles, having ‘the conversation’ with underperformers, and her take on the AI tools shaking up the industry. 

Listen to the episode below.

Starting a career in recruitment

Most recruiters didn’t plan on becoming one. But once they saw how much money they can make and how fun it is working in a buzzing environment with great people – they want in! It’s not for everyone as it’s a sink-or-swim industry. But for those that love it – they LOVE IT. 

Donna was made for it and said she owes a lot to the recruitment industry as she was making lots of money early, which gave her the financial foundation to take care of her family and move into new areas. When we asked her about her time in recruitment, she said ‘I was always a top biller – always making a lot of money. I was making much more when I was in my twenties than I do now!’

(We have a feeling Odro might change that soon…)

Recruitment is attractive to people who are fed up with their jobs as you don’t need to go to university to get started. And once you are a recruiter, you can start making lots of money very quickly. Even if you decide it isn’t for you, being able to sell is one of the most valuable skills out there. You can do a lot with it.

The downside of recruitment despite thriving in it? Technology.

The one thing that always really grinded my gears in recruitment was how rubbish the technology was.

We hear you, Donna.

High performers don’t need much motivation. They’re driven people who commit to achieving their goals and achieve them more times than not. Donna is not the first – and won’t be the last! – who was frustrated with the tools in the recruitment industry. It’s rarely the clients or managers that annoy top performers – it’s the tech.

Even some of the biggest companies use tools that make daily tasks like skimming through CVs a headache. Donna was so sick of dealing with rubbish tech that she decided to do something about it. Now she’s the VP at Odro, she’s back on the management side.

Management styles for sales managers

We wanted Donna as a guest because she has experience on the frontlines as a recruiter, as well as high-level management experience. She knows what it’s like when you’re crushing sales targets with a smile on your face. But she always knows what it’s like to have those low weeks where you can’t catch a break – despite doing everything right!

Recruiters often fear sales managers as they aren’t always the most approachable people. And they know turnover is high. When we asked Donna about her management style, she walked us back a step and said that her approachable style works because she hired the right people who she believed would thrive under it. 

“I spend a lot of time in the trenches, so I’m very visible. I’m there all the time; they know exactly where I am. Our sales team is a safe place, so I don’t feel the need to be scary or anything like that. And I feel for the wrong team, my leadership style might not be suited because it could be seen as weakness, and then maybe taken advantage of. But if I have the right people, my leadership style, I think, will be successful because we are a team. We win together. We lose together.”

Having ‘the conversation’ with underperforming team members

It’s no secret recruitment has a turnover problem: it’s not for everybody. So if you’re underperforming, you need to turn it around fast otherwise you’ll be shown the door. But even the top performers can have rough patches. So ‘the conversation’ needs to happen if someone’s having a rough time to see what can be done to fix it.

Sales managers can be ruthless and will let people go fast. Others wait too long to ‘have the chat’, which only makes it more charged when it happens. Donna’s approach is to “Eat the frog early”. (In case you haven’t heard that phrase before, it means tackle the unpleasant thing first thing in the morning. Don’t let it hang over you all day as that only makes it worse.)

Having the conversation early isn’t such a scary moment for Donna’s staff as they see her around the office all the time, so it’s not daunting when she asks for a quick chat. Addressing underperformance early is often what someone needs to adjust their style and turn things around.

But if it’s just not working for them and there’s no sign of improvement, letting people go is the right thing to do – for both sides. 

An underperforming sales team is not a good place to be.

Having let many people go, Donna said that nobody has ever held a grudge or sent a rude email/text her way afterwards. Being honest and open about these conversations early is better for people. Dragging the situation on while they continue to underperform isn’t good for them, so letting them go early is the best thing for them.

Humanising recruitment with AI entering the game

Recruiters are feeling the impact of AI: the tools are arriving thick and fast and companies are experimenting with them. While some are getting lost in the fear of what they could do, Donna isn’t one of them. She’s got a more optimistic view and she’s doubling down on the ‘humanizing recruitment’ mindset that she’s had since day one.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to amplify humans in the recruitment process.”

There’s a divide in recruitment when it comes to AI. Some view it as an augmenter while others see it as a way to become a leaner company (leaner meaning less staff). Donna’s take was refreshing as a big reason why recruitment and sales can be so rewarding is because you’re surrounded by great people all day. 

Using AI to reduce the mundane parts of their job while turning up the volume on the parts that makes recruitment enjoyable is what excites Donna about AI. 

Listen to the full episode below.

Image of Derry Holt
Derry Holt
I'm Derry, the CEO & co-founder of OneUp Sales (by day) and a professional video games commentator (by night). I have a background in software development, but if the last 7 years have shown me anything, it's that my passion truly lies in creating, building, and growing software companies.
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