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Recruiting or Cloning? – Building The Perfect Beast

clones

I have a number of fears. I suffer from Agoraphobia – fear of open spaces. (Not to be confused with Angoraphobia – irrational fear of expensive goats-wool sweaters.) I suffer from axiquixotyltlatamsgpixzaphobia – the fear of mispronouncing words. Most recently, I have been gripped by the debate on cloning and genetic engineering and the fears raised by that debate.

I have recently conducted an extensive and elaborate exercise with an awful lot of job descriptions (as opposed to a lot of awful job descriptions.) I sat with my colleagues and wistfully compared our practice of pulling bits of roles from here and there to build a composite role to the practice of Doctor Frankenstein. How often when looking at an almost equal group of candidates have you said something akin to “If only we had a candidate with the experience of person A and the communication skills of person B?” Hmmmm.

Is genetic engineering a good metaphor for the recruitment profession? If scientists can grow a human ear on the back of a rat, then the technology can’t be far off. A call centre operator with extra ears can only be positive for service levels. Parking wardens with thicker skin. Used (sorry pre-loved) car salesmen with a conscience.

Genetic engineering is a big worry for me. Peanut plants are very sturdy and resistant to bugs and diseases so it is very tempting to use peanut genes in other crops. I’m very allergic to nuts. If I eat them I could die. If I go out to eat, the subject of my nut allergy always comes up. If I mention it to the waiter they always look at you funny (well, funnier than waiters normally look at customers.) If I don’t mention it, I might eat nuts then die all over the table. Either way, it gets drawn to the attention of people and becomes part of the conversation. “Excuse me, I like the look of the Thai style prawn. Does it have nuts in it?” The waiter or waitress generally gives me a look at this point that says “Fussy.” Anticipating this from experience, I then respond “The reason I ask is not that I’m being fussy. It’s just that I’m allergic and I could die or at least make a scene which could make the restaurant look bad in the eyes of the other diners and will adversely affect your tip.”

The point of that story started out being about genetic engineers messing with nature and the potential for unexpected and unpleasant consequences. By the time I finished the paragraph, I got side-tracked onto waiting staff. That’s an occupation with which we are all familiar and probably one where we’ve experienced the complete spectrum of service. Why is that? It is supposed to be an entry-level role isn’t it, with basic easily learnt skills? Yet service varies wildly. Exceptionally skilled people with wonderful attitudes can be recruited until the cows come home but if they are not working in an environment that supports them, they are constrained and likely to move on. In my experience, organisations of whatever size or nature have a “way of doing things round here.” Bring in a star-clone by whatever magical recruitment methods and they encounter that “way of doing things round here.” In a restaurant they way things are done round there is the way the boss done things round there. I recently worked in a large organisation with five divisions. It was almost as if it was five different organisations who just happened to share the same corporate wardrobe. You know how sometimes owners start to look like their pets? It was like that with these divisions and their general managers. This organisation was investing time, money and commitment in a corporate-wide approach to recruitment with no parallel effort in ensuring a corporately consistent “way things are done around here.” Maybe I’m stretching the cloning metaphor but I went to a website containing the most frequently asked cloning questions. One question was about how feasible it would be to clone Russell Crowe. The scientist’s answer avoided the ethics but apparently even if they could get close enough to grab some DNA, the development of the clone is just as affected by its developmental environment as it is be the genetic factors. So the metaphor holds true, even for our recruitment clone it is the environmental factors that can mess with our star-clone recruit. Might be an idea not to look at recruitment in isolation, but as part of an ongoing process including job design, orientation, performance management etc. (Actually, I can’t imagine it being a problem getting Russell’s DNA. More of a problem avoiding it.)

Even if it were possible, ethical and desirable, I’m still not keen on being cloned personally. German mythology has the doppelganger. They reckon everyone has someone who is their exact duplicate and when you meet them, you die. How could you avoid your doppelganger? If you weren’t of Chinese descent and went to live in China, you could safely socialise with a billion and a half people. Of course there was that Seven Years In Tibet movie where Brad Pitt played a German living in Tibet which is now under Chinese rule, so I suppose there is a small risk, if you are the exact likeness of Brad Pitt. In this case, my advice is to take your chances and place a call to Jennifer Aniston this very minute.

Genetic engineering seems like a great idea at first. Like my idea for a combination coffee thermos and cellphone. It seems like a great idea until the first solicitor’s letter arrives…

_____

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Robotic Recruitment

grass-lawn-green-wooden-6069

At the risk of taking a defence from racists, I’m not a recruiter myself but some of my best friends are recruiters. I dabble on the edges of a number of overlapping industries so my LinkedIn network is awash with recruity foks and they seem to be quite prolific on the posting front. Online and IRL, I’ve observed one particular trend with concern: automatic applicant filtering systems. I get it; I really do. And I know, for the most part, it’s not actual recruiters driving this approach. It’s bean counters or time poor execs who view people as interchangeable commodities. My recruiter buddies are actually pleading for some humanity to return to the hiring practices of the primarily large employers employing robot recruiters.

Applicant Tracking Systems is one term. There are others. (SkyNet is one I suspect). I’ve been an employer. I appreciate that time is money and it may seem a super low-value use of time to have a human or humans look at early-stage applications. Even the time-old tradition of farming out the early-stage grunt work to recruitment agencies is diminishing. The latter’s argument, often true, was that they added value by having an expertise and an appreciation borne of specialisation. But that ain’t free or as cheap as a robot. And what most of these systems do is not added-value triage or assessment or filtering – it’s culling.

I’m not a tree-hugger, bleeding-heart type. Time is money. Open vacancies are a cost and a burden. Online job ads have created an influx of highly unlikely applicants. The obvious, instant and superficial benefits of robots is clear. But, I’m not sure their users appreciate the costs and risks. Babies and bathwater.

It’s even gotten to a point where a mini industry has mushroomed coaching potential applicants on how to write CVs and letters and tick boxes in online forms so as to cheat the test. I bet there’s an automated system you can pay to do your automated application for you.

One filter might be 5 years relevant industry experience. Humans might have that filter too but they can see a CV from someone who is a superstar in every other respect but they only have 4 years experience in a relevant industry. A human might toss that CV on the yes or maybe pile. A mindless, soulless robot culls without hesitation or appreciation of the consequences. A talent is lost to the employer, plus that system rarely replies in any meaningful way to the culled applicant, if at all.

My view is that one of the major attractors of genuinely top level talent to an employer is that employer’s ’employment brand’. I know there’s a lot of consultant-speak and management gobblegook terms but this one I like. If you’re an employer, even if you don’t know what an employment brand is, and you haven’t done anything conscious or deliberate to create one or mantain one or change one, you’ve got one. If you advertise a vacancy and a couple of talented potential applicants discuss it as follows, you’ve got one type of employment brand:

Talent 1: “Have you seen that job ad for ABC Limited? Are you going to apply”?
Talent 2: “I’d rather stick rusty fish hooks into both my eyes”.
Talent 1: “Yeah they talk a big game and dangle money but we’ve got choices and I hear they treat people like crap”.

Or words to that effect. Or the opposite of that. Or somewhere inbetween.

Would any of your current employees recommend you as a place to work to anyone they cared about who wasn’t absolutely desperate for any job? On a scale of one to ten? You don’t need to hire a consultant. This is pretty lightweight DIY inhouse research. Just like you might do some net promoter score research for your products or your brand-brand, how do you do with your employer brand? And, if it’s less than a nine on that scale of one to ten, what can you do about it?

There’s lots you do or don’t do (or say) that can nudge you in either direction but one that hits early on and one that affects more people outside your business who’ll tell their networks about you is that application process, especially that automated one.

A lot of manufacturing processes are automated and for logical, obvious reasons – efficiency, cost, time, etc. But you know what, they don’t trust those factory robots entirely. They have human intervention and assessment and quality control. They can’t affod to have a messed up Toyota make it past the robots or a perfectly fine Toyota get rejected by the robots.

I’m not saying to cull the culling systems. They have obvious efficiencies. But within the system’s electronic pathway needs to be a human element to the applicant’s journey. That’s not hard. There’s probably an AI robot that can write the code and you can play chess with them afterwards.

_____

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How Many People Hold Themselves Back Professionally Because They’re All About Themselves?

E activity

If you’re an actual reader of LinkedIn posts, you may have noticed a recent trend. Clearly some social media guru made a pronouncement and folks are following suit. Have you noticed the deliberate extra line spacing and single sentence paragraphs? The hope must be that their first sentence is so intriguing and so compelling that readers simply must click the ‘see more’ and scroll and scroll. Here’s my opinion – the only time I’m into multiple scrolls is at Bakers Delight and it involves cinnamon icing. (Confession – I needed three attempts to spell ‘cinnamon’ correctly. I’m not better than you.)

I was intrigued by two recent posts in my LinkedIn timeline. Both were effectively on the same topic. One was an unsuccessful job applicant slamming the employer for not getting back to them with feedback on why they didn’t get the job. The other was a tech company director slamming a potential client they’d spent 10 hours preparing and pitching to, only to again never hear back after not getting the gig.

I’m not going to slam the two posters with a ‘Harden up and move on’ retort. I did actually comment on their post (in a non NZ Herald commentor kind of way, you know, positive and constructive) and they ‘liked’ my comments.

To both I said something like, look you’re right, that feedback would have been useful to you and they would have been great employers / people if they had given it you. And, sometimes, it’s a lazy and shortsighted move on their part if they don’t. The world’s an increasingly small place and ’employer brand’ is important to attract talent. If you got an interview and you came 2nd, then you clearly are talented and probably would’ve been great at the job but someone else was better or fit better or had something extra of value or it was political. In all those scenarios, you can’t do anything about it and while it may be interesting to you and you might get closure, it really isn’t performance-enhancing feedback. But it does give you closure and does leave you with a less bitter taste in your mouth and you’re more inclined to speak positively about that employer and not slam them on social media posts. That stuff adds up and sticks.

And, if it was an internal application then definitely they should have given specific feedback and had a conversation around the whys and the what nexts. If that was the case, and they didn’t do that, well that too is a kind of feedback – one that suggests maybe they’re not the best outfit you could be working for, so start researching where else might be.

The above situations are the top part of the pyramid. Sales pitches and job applications are a numbers game and most are instantly rejected. If you came 2nd, you deserve feedback and it’s in their interest to give it to you and become known as someone who does. If you came 214th, harden up and move on. Recruiting is a cost that is measured. Time is a big factor in that calculation. You either are or are not worth it. If you’re not sure, then the onus is on you to convince the employer / client that even if you’re not successful, you are worth the feedback on why you weren’t.

For the sales pitch people, they could have qualified the opportunity better to make sure they weren’t being used by tyre-kickers to squeeze an incumbent or just get free ideas. They could have stipulated early and formally in the process an expectation of feedback and a definitive mechanism for how it should occur. If you’re not confident enough to do that or they’re not willing to accept it, then you’re not worth it.

For the job applicants, they could play the sentiment card. Or, they could as a parting remark, make a specific request to the interviewer. making eye contact and acknowledging they know their time is valuable etc and they might (might) convince one person at a personal level to commit to calling them afterwards and sticking to that commitment. The key part is acknowledging their time is valuable. The upside benefit of the feedback is entirely to the applicant. The downside cost is entirely to the interviewer. There has to be something in it for them. What’s their WIIFM. (brainbasedboss.com) The applicant can’t offer much if anything tangible. The very least is acknowledging their time is valuable and you’d appreciate it and the difference it would make to you. My experience as an interviewer, employer and reader of Linkedin post comments indicates the vast majority of applicants don’t do this small, simple thing. They just expect it, don’t ask for it, and act surprised when it doesn’t arrive. I get it but it’s a self-centricity that will probably hold them back in their careers generally.

I want to finish by getting back to the headline of this article – people holding themselves back because they’re all about themselves. I do a little interactivity with my audiences at my presentations. It’s short, fun, safe and makes a great point on this topic. It’s from a piece of research by Northwestern University / Columbia Business School led by Adam Galinsky. People stand and are paired. They click their fingers on their dominant hand 5 times. I ask them to imagine their index finger is a marker and to write on their own forehead the capital letter E 3 times. Whilst they do this, they observe their partner doing it on their forehead. Everyone sits and we debrief the activity. As you can see in the header picture of this article, there are two ways of doing it. Crudely oversimplified, and by itself it means nothing, but the general idea is that there are two types of people in this world and neither is right or wrong. It’s just useful to know which your natural default is – self-oriented or other-oriented. Many of those LinkedIn commentors certainly made theirs obvious.

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Recruitment: Gangnam Style!

psy-gangnam-style

What can employers learn about recruitment from the techniques of viral internet videos?

 

There’s a delightful parody floating around YouTube of the Gotye song ‘Somebody That I Used To Know.’ Actually there are about 17,000 of them ranging in delightfulness but the one I’m referring to is ‘Some Recruiter That I used To Know.’ If you’ve ever been on either end of a recruitment process, then it will ring familiar to you. Search for it or its kiwi creator Adam King. (“Always a pen… Always a pen…”)

As popular as the original Gotye song’s video was on YouTube, it cannot hold a candle (or luminous smartphone) to the billion views, or thereabouts, of PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style.’ My beef here is how YouTube counts the views. The moment you click PLAY, that counts. So, if you watch one second of it, refresh and start again and repeat, all those ‘views’ count. They shouldn’t but they do.

Too many employers treat recruitment like YouTube treats view counts. A recruitment process is just that – a process – and it shouldn’t count until it’s completely finished. And when’s that? I’m going to say that it isn’t finished even when the role is filled and a contract is signed. There’s a period, and it’ll vary from time to time and from organisation to organisation and from role to role, but there’s a period that the new hire needs to remain and be productive for the recruitment to have been considered a success. I reckon the recruitment process shouldn’t be considered over until that period is complete. Then tick all the boxes you want.

So recruitment would then include orientation, induction and maybe even the first period of performance management, up to and including a performance review.  That’s the equivalent of watching the YouTube video all the way to the end. And the best thing is that recruitment doesn’t involve Justin Bieber. Or, if it does involve Justin Bieber, I’m assuming you’re reading this article in 2015 and you’re hiring for McDonalds. I’d probably hire him. I imagine he’d be great at customer service but you’d have to insist on a hairnet. And this might be the first and best ever use of a hairnet for both improving food hygiene and fashion.

I’m assuming that mocking Justin Bieber is safe, as few Beliebers would read Employment Today, unless it’s 2040 by which time I’ll be holed up somewhere safely in a cave with my guns and Led Zep vinyl LPs.

So, how does a Gangnam video get so popular? How does PSY get a billion views instead of having to settle for half a billion? One theory is that his is the perfect music video, being derivative and paying homage to about twenty different classic music video scenes. Why wouldn’t you cut n paste from the timeless classics just like cutting n pasting from old position descriptions?

How else do these viral videos get so virulent and are there learnings from their approaches for recruiters? Dan and Chip Heath’s book ‘Made To Stick’ outlines the critical components of ideas that stick and get retold and retold, spreading out through inter-related professional and social networks, not just in today’s world of wires and wireless, but timeless principles of engagement dating back millennia.  The components are as relevant to gossip, mythology, urban myths and music videos as they are to the reputation of a workplace as a fantastic employer. There is simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. No one really believes job ads or the hype but they do give traction to stories. “Hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.” That’s the power of repetition and Gangnam Style is certainly testimony to that.

It doesn’t have to be stories about waking up in a Cambodian hotel bath full of ice minus a kidney. That’s probably not a better work story but it is one that starts their book. But as the Heath brothers write, that’s the kind of story that gets around because it has those features. It’s similar with Gangnam Style. I remember reading years ago an early edition of ‘What Colour Is My Parachute’. (It may have been on a tablet – a stone tablet.) It stressed that most jobs weren’t gained via CVs and answering job adverts in the newspaper. It was all about over-hearing about a vacancy or knowing someone who knew someone. Employers and recruiters need to get their message out there in story form. The Heaths sticky idea criteria spell out an acronym: SUCCES. It’s almost success but is missing that last S. I recommend adding Substance.

And getting back to that Gotye parody ‘Some Recruiter That I Used To Know’, there’s a recurring line in there that I particularly liked:

“But you treat me like an accountant and that feels so rough.”

 

###END###

 

 

How Can You Make Your Own Luck When It Comes To Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees?

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

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.

***

Re-blog from Nov 2011 & my most read post ever

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Employee Screening – Not Just For The Unsexy

screening

I don’t know what responses we’d get if we asked one hundred people to tell us the first thing they thought of when we mentioned the term ‘screening.’ They might think of screening as in airport security or preventative health check-ups – keeping the dangerous out. They might think of screening as in letting your phone go to voicemail or checking caller ID and answering for only for the sexy callers – keeping the timewasters and unsexy out. Screening is also a gold mining process – keeping the valuable in. They might think of a movie screening. The difference between a movie screening going badly and employee screening going badly is that the movie screening will just spoil one night. Poor employee screening could mess you up for years. Employee screening is probably a combination of all these different perceptions of screening – except for keeping the unsexy out. That’s illegal and also clearly not working. Where would the unsexy end up working – in any department of a radio station other than sales?

My uncle, now in his 80s, and my son, now in his 18s, were talking about getting their first jobs. My son’s first job was with a supermarket in the seafood section. He made a written application and went through several written interviews and assessments before winning his role. My uncle spoke of showing up on an Aussie building site, saying he was from New Zealand, demonstrating which end of a hammer was up and that was it. (He got the job.) Times have changed. I’m not sure they still use hammers, I think the internet does that now? And now, no one in their right mind would screen an employee so poorly and perfunctorily. Actually, applicants are often screened to make sure they’re in their right mind. Even leaving aside things like skills and attitude, there was no screening for previous work injuries, criminal records, financial shenanigans, child-molesting, non-child molesting, drug use, bringing employers into disrepute in well-light Christchurch offices across from pubs, being a jerk on social media and all the other things you need to screen for now.

I should probably call it pre-employment screening. It might be the smallest part of the phrase but that ‘pre’ is awfully important. Anything you find out ‘post’ is too late – someone’s potential problem has now become your actual problem. Pre-employment is to employment as dating is to marriage.

There’s forensic CV analysis too. That’s a thing now. That exists. In an age where there is software to compare a student’s essay via a search engine that compares it to anything else written ever for familiarity without accreditation, there would have to be forensic CV analysis. I see ‘forensic’, I think CSI. First there was CSI Las Vegas, then CSI Miami, then CSI New York. Now we have CSI HR. Which song by The Who should be the theme song to that show? I think all the good ones are gone.

I found one New Zealand company online offering polygraph testing as part of their pre screening process. I’ve seen too many movies with the cliché lie detector scene to take that process seriously (cue sound effect of heightened heart beat.) In fairness, it was quite an impactful marketing technique to list a series of headlines beneath that offer highlighting the dangers of not taking up their services. Examples of these headlines included: ‘Former insane mass killer unknowingly hired by Wellington school’ and ‘Convicted arsonist gains job as fire fighter.’ Although, in fairness, the latter could actually be a really good news story – a story of redemption about which movies are made (movies like ‘Backdraft,’) I checked the mass killer one. He’d killed six people, described as “friends, family, neighbours and complete strangers.” No teachers or students, so it’s questionable as to whether it’s relevant to his role working in a school but their point is still a powerful one. Frankly they shouldn’t limit their services just to employers. Remember my previous “Pre-employment is to employment as dating is to marriage” remark? I’ll take someone on their word that they like long walks on the beach but I’d sleep a little easier with greater certainty on the non-former insane mas killer front.

There are few risks and many benefits in conducting a systematic and thorough pre employment screening process. You reduce risk, increase certainty, lower costs, enhance productivity and profitability and minimise your chances of being murdered.

Obviously in this modern age of internet hammering and privacy legislation, you need the permission of the applicant to conduct any screening. Although a quick Google could be legal, illuminating and disappointing very quickly. A refusal to provide permission is the easiest and cheapest screening of all.

[Originally published in the May issue of Employment Today magazine.]

 

 

Never Go Shopping When You’re Hungry: The Perils Of ‘Impulse Buying’ When Recruiting

hungry

Here’s a recent newspaper article about impulse buying. They say you should never go shopping when you’re hungry. You get too much of the wrong stuff that you don’t need that does you harm and that you’ll regret. It’s the same with recruitment. I mean metaphorically hungry though, of course. Mind you, it’s probably not good to recruit when literally hungry either. Who knows what lowered blood sugar levels will do to your concentration as you stare at, and steer through, the dross, irrelevance and incomprehensibility on many applicants’ CVs?

The inherent problem is that many bosses recruit precisely when they have a vacancy. Of course, duh! BUT that is when they’re experiencing all the downside of having that vacancy – extra workload, inconvenience, lowered morale of those who remain and are doing that extra work, the ramifications if there were negative circumstances surrounding the departure of the previous incumbent, etc. So often, too often, there is a disproportionate drive to ‘get the vacancy filled.’ That’s totally natural, totally understandable and definitely something a brain-based boss would be mindful to manage. Clearly if the maths says that there should be more people to do the work, you need to recruit, but that is quite different from simply filling a vacancy via automatic replacement. Vacancies are always going to arise and workplace leaders should always have a part of their time allocated to thinking about the ‘what-ifs.’

Vacancies present a chance to re-evaluate the team’s set-up. Does it need to be filled at all? Should / can that role be changed? Should / can other roles be changed? Could others step up and a lesser role be back-filled? Yes, there is a cost to being a person down, but there is a greater and longer-term cost in recruiting with reckless pace and haste and getting it wrong or missing out on team enhancement opportunities.

If you do go shopping when you’re hungry, remember, beggars can’t be choosers. (Thank you ‘2-for-1 cliche sale!’)

How Can You Make Your Own Luck When It Comes To Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees?

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn't be a matter of luck

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.

Best Friends At Work?

Best Friends

I read this New York Times’ article about how it is supposed to be harder to make friends once you pass the age of 30 and it reminded me of some old Gallup surveys I saw on employee engagement citing “having a best friend at work” as an indicator of employee engagement.

The article itself is quite interesting as someone myself who recently nudged over the line of [SPOILER ALERT] being closer to 60 than 30. Just. Recently.

“Gallup also observed that employees who report having a best friend at work were:

  • 43% more likely to report having received praise or recognition for their work in the last seven days.
  • 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development.
  • 35% more likely to report coworker commitment to quality.
  • 28% more likely to report that in the last six months, someone at work has talked to them about their progress.
  • 27% more likely to report that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important.
  • 27% more likely to report that their opinions seem to count at work.
  • 21% more likely to report that at work, they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day.”

I don’t know if ‘having a best friend at work’ really is a major driver of employee engagement. It stirs up conversations for sure whenever I bring it up in workshops. Even Gallup referred to it as “controversial” but they stuck by it. I guess I can see it as symptomatic of a workplace culture that allows trust, belonging, contribution, support and all those good things that do definitely drive engagement. Certainly, on the flipside, those without employment at any time also lose a massive chunk of chance to interact socially which us humans definitely need. Losing a job isn’t just losing a pay-cheque.

So, what does work provide that potentially generates and builds friendships?

“As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other…”

Where these days (or ever) do those conditions occur? Schools and workplaces. And if you’re over 30, you’re probably not at school anymore. (Maybe we all should be?) Unless you’re a teacher. But then, that also counts a workplace. Teachers must have lots of friends.

What To Wear To A Job Interview?

This audio summary report from Peggy McKee on recent research is deadly serious but it’s also both amusing and scary. In hiring, do you judge books by their covers, or heel length, or facial hair? Assuming this research is accurate, there seems to be, in the U.S. at least, a hardcore fifth of employers with some dyed-in-the-wool, old school mental models that may be filtering out talent from their subjective hiring process. Why reject a guy just because his skirt is out of date? That stuff is fixable if they’re good enough. Are they so spoiled for choice?

Given I’m blogging at 6AM, I wouldn’t want to be judged on what I’m wearing right now!!

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