Hiring talent : 2 wrongs don’t make a right

Or as my mother-in-law, who is from a rather different era, infamously said rather too loudly on a plane where an announcement had just gone out for a Mr and Mrs Wong to make themselves known to crew – “two Wong’s don’t make a right”. OK, so not overly sensitive, and undoubtedly a bit of a joke, which is probably a pretty accurate description of the recruitment process in most big corporates.

Of course, this is not entirely the fault of the HR departments. Perish the very thought. They do the best that they can to identify and attract the “right” talent without getting too distracted by anything and everything that gets regurgitated at their weekly brainstorms. Indeed they now have a veritable industry of data enabled external experts to help them on this core role. The recruitment industry is certainly one whose mushrooming growth shows no sign of abating. And in many organisations the external growth is almost matched by the growth in scale and scope of the very internal HR function which they are meant to serve. I find it an interesting dichotomy that in an area where big data and predictive analytics are ideal to be unleashed first to drive efficiency by heading us down the path to an automated and human free future, mostly, what I see happening is the exact opposite.

The growth of this talent and recruitment market is puzzling. The very best candidates are now being identified before reaching puberty, and are being relentlessly chased into the ground by a hungry pack of brand-wolves including some of world leading companies, some pretty second rate copycat companies who are over believing of the hype they are creating about themselves, and a plethora of self proclaimed boutique consultant firms. It’s starting to give off scarily similar fumes to the race to identify and nurture future sporting stars. And it’s wrong. Because even more so than in sport, the recruitment game is at its core, what it always has been – a glorified lottery.

So what are the big wrongs of recruitment, and more importantly how can you do your bit as a clean living hard working functional executive to help avoid them? Well, firstly keep your HR team focused on what is really important. Lack of focus or drift is an HR disease. Sure, there needs to be a pipeline of future talent coming into the organisation, and hook ups with local universities, colleges and even schools is certainly no bad thing and worthy of committing both your and the organisations time to. But, keep it in perspective. For the HR team this needs to be the 20, not the 80. The lions share of recruitment work still needs to be on good old fashioned hard work to get the right people / leaders into the existing and potential holes that any organisation has. And the best way to do this? It’s through people and graft. In a world that has currently gone data mad, an organisation that is worth its salt will recognise this over reliance is a temporary madness, and ensure there is a balance. The most critical part of the recruitment process should still be humans considering humans – looking at CVs, resumes and profiles, and then most importantly talking to a wide variety of candidates. In an era when we talk about the obvious benefits of diversity, we need to ensure that an over reliance on pre ordained buzz word driven laziness, doesn’t provide us with the exact opposite.

Now I’m not saying that the sift and search method is perfect. And far less the interview process. I’m sure all executives can all regale many instances where someone has interviewed really well and gone on to be a massive letdown and a mistake. Sounds familiar? And just imagine the number of times a great candidate has slipped through the net because they had an off day or answered a particular question wrongly and yet they would have been perfect for the team. My own career may never have got off the ground if it wasn’t for the inadequacies of the interview process. As previously mentioned – https://strangefishbigpond.wordpress.com/2017/03/13/tales-from-the-vault-1/ – I got my first “serious” gig by basically embarrassing my interviewer who did not realise I had sat in that same seat a year earlier, and got scared that I might turn up again if rejected a second time. I then proudly got my very first post training scheme job by old fashioned interview, which I thought had gone pretty well. My feedback from my erstwhile boss however was somewhat different – along the lines of, “your interview was shit, but you were the only applicant, so well done, you got the job.”

The point is if mistakes are to be made, isn’t it be better for them to be human ones not machine driven ones? At least the learning that the humans will get from making the mistakes will help build experience to make them better leaders – and I know that machines learn too, but so what? People still need to lead or else we may as well all give up and hand over the keys.

Of course one of the biggest positive changes the big data generation brings to the recruitment table is pace. And given the ease to replicate, or more accurately steal, these days, pace is everything. The biggest criticism I’ve heard of HR teams over the course of my career (and yes it is quite a long list to choose from) is lack of pace and urgency when it comes to recruitment. Fixing this, by using data sensibly and in a controlled manner, is a must.

So if the two wrongs are firstly being too reliant on data / automation, and secondly slowing the process down to a crawl by spending too much time on manual searching for the perfect solution, then what’s the answer? Pretty obvious really, and as is very often the case. It’s a fusion of both methods – using data smarts AND old fashioned graft to search, sift and spiel, but with clear, fast and fixed deadlines. As a functional executive, challenge your HR partners to work hard to bring you a variety of options and to think outside the data driven box. Clones with savvy social media profiles will not provide any fun at the Christmas party. Nor will they likely provide the diverse robustness that gives an organisation the edginess it needs to succeed. And given half a chance and left to their own devices, this is exactly what your HR team will provide unless you manage them closely and truly partner with them, but with you, a human, firmly in the driving seat.

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