Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck
This recent article in the business section of the New Zealand Herald cites research conducted by a firm of recruitment consultants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they have a vested interest in interpreting the results in any particular way, but they interpret the results in a particular way… that says employers aren’t recruiting effectively. (If only there was someone around who could help them?)
Sarcastic and cynical as I am, I’m not disputing the results of the survey – just their narrow interpretation of the cause. There’s never ONE cause. Maybe poor recruitment contributes. I bet it does.
The Hudson survey “paints a bleak picture for employers”, saying: “Of every 10 employees: four are not good hires, eight aren’t engaged in their work and six are actively seeking other employment.” Ouch! This is born out by other research I’ve been reading over years and around the world. There’s a bit of variation, mostly by industry, but this survey isn’t that surprising and New Zealand isn’t that bad. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.
Apart from the recruitment tools being used which the recruitment company focuses on, the primary cause of the problem implied is that employers are recruiting almost entirely for skills – technical skills. It’s that old mindset of, “I’ve got a vacancy, I’d better fill it because it’s costing me money” without doing the correlating maths on how much it costs to fill that vacancy and get it wrong – to fill it with someone technically competent (and that’s even assuming they get that bit right) but quickly disengaged or a misfit in several other ways.
Bad luck? Like most games, you make your own luck in the recruiting game. I was meeting recently with a manager who hadn’t had a single instance of negative turnover for nine years. Yes, people had moved on but for the right reasons such as internal promotion. He used the usual suite of tools to find a pool of potential applicants, whittled them down through CV checking, interviews, reference checks and even the occasional behaviourial profile. But he added another step. Shortlisted applicants all got to sit in on some actual work with some people who, if their application was successful, would be their co-workers. Those co-workers got a right of veto. I used this myself in the past with some success in a call centre that wasn’t a typical call centre. It gave applicants a dose of what their potential working reality could be. Sometimes they got put off by us and our work; sometimes we got put off by them. Either way, it’s better for both parties that be known early and up front so neither employer or employee have to suffer the consequences of misfitting. And those are greater than the costs of vacancies.
Another means of increasing your odds is to encourage referral of potential applicants from existing employees. Some firms even offer a commission for this. BUT if you do that, ponder how this might affect behaviour and what exactly it is you’re wanting to incentify and provide commission on. Any commission should be for a successful applicant who is still there after a predetermined period and performing well. Not just for putting someone with a pulse into a vacancy. Rather than just advertising to the great untargetted masses for your specific vacancy, wouldn’t it increase the chances of success if you sought via an informed gene pool – the people who are already aware of what it takes to do the job and who is likely to prosper there?
Wringing the final life out of my luck metaphor, when it comes to those few shortlisted candidates who are demonstrably technically competent but you’re not absolutely certain that they’ll fit and be engaged, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Often it’s better to walk away and play another day. Cheaper in the long run even if baby needs a new pair of shoes.
There’s a cliche in business that, “The harder you work, the luckier you get,” implying that we make our own luck and that it isn’t random at all but simply a set of circumstances within our control that we choose to (or choose not to) control to varying degrees. (Much like I lost control of that opening sentence. Oh blogs with your laxness.)
This article from Psychology Today by Rebecca Webber outlines a few simple, easy, cheap and obvious things we COULD do to increase the odds of something ‘lucky’ happening to us. In short, the more things in total we allow or engineer to happen to us, the greater the number of good things that will occur, increasing our subconscious perception of being lucky. Get out there, meet people, do things, attempt stuff and, in relative terms, more good things will fall into your lap than if you stayed home to watch that solo Battlestar Gallactica DVD marathon you’d planned this weekend.
So, what does this have to do with engaging employees?
Webber cites one experiment by one of my favourite ‘making psychology fun guys’ – Richard Wiseman. In this study, participants were asked to count the number of photographs in a newspaper that he gave them. There were 43 photographs and the average participant only took a few minutes to get a usually accurate answer. It would’ve taken them 5 seconds if they read the bold headline of the newspaper which said, ‘There are 43 photographs in this newspaper’…
As with our search for luck, or our search at work to achieve narrowly focused goals, too often this overly lazerlike blinkedness prevents us from seeing fresh or different opportunities outside what it is we’re focused on at the time. I’m not trying to diminish the power of goal-setting and so forth, just identify the risks of sunk costs, missed chances and wrong paths taken. Today’s environments are unsuited for longterm and fixed goal-setting approaches. Flexibility, vigilance and adjustment are keys.
Wiseman’s experiment’s newspaper also had another headline that few participants saw, “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.”