CEOs are in love with speed! They are constantly ranting about the need for speed in new market entry, time-to-market, cycle-time reduction, and the resulting competitive advantage that speed can provide. Speed is so important in today’s hyper-competitive business world that if you were forced to come up with a single word that best describes the current climate, “speed” would have to appear among the top descriptors.

The business world is transforming at breakneck speed. Entire industries like print publishing, digital imaging, and entertainment are undergoing radical evolutions, displacing established leaders, and launching new ones. Even once-successful companies like MySpace are burning out just three years into their mature life, demonstrating that if you can’t keep up, you will be marginalized.

All around you new products are emerging that demonstrate the profound impact innovation can have in just a year. Mobile video has gone from a pipe dream to a reality, and smartphones just a year old lack the hardware to take full advantage; chips from Intel that are introduced in January are commodities by December. Telephones that used to be viable for years in the 1950s today are obsolete with two years. A phone capturing a premium upgrade price in January could not be sold a year later.

The increasing speed of change should not be a surprise; society has for centuries focused on accelerating nearly everything. That fact has long driven the efforts of business functions that directly touch the design, manufacture, sales, and distribution of products, but functions like HR haven’t always responded in kind.

HR can play a role in increasing speed throughout the organization and it’s time talent managers step up and acknowledge that.

Why You Need a Culture of Speed

If you take the “need for speed” seriously, you need to move beyond having isolated “pockets” of speed throughout the organization.  Due to the interdependency of all functions and processes, diverse organizational units need to work in unison. If IT or HR or Finance is out of phase, it can dramatically delay innovations coming from other mission-critical units. Supporting all mission-critical roles in an organization are key roles that can cause just as much damage if staffed inappropriately.  You can’t have the fastest organizational speed in your industry if a single process, silo, or function moves at a lower rate of speed, creating roadblocks and “speed bumps” for the faster moving elements of the organization.

What Is a “Speed Culture?”

The most effective solution for increasing speed across the organization is the development of “a culture of speed.” Just like any other type of corporate culture, a speed culture permeates every department and business process, including hiring, performance evaluation, finance, decision-making, communications, and rewards. In order to maintain speed in a speed culture, every new program, idea, product, process, etc. must be evaluated for its impact on speed, not just when first considered, but continuously post-adoption as well. Most organizations are full of policies and procedures that once made sense but today are nothing more than barriers to speed and productivity.

A “speed culture” is a variant of the more common “performance culture” or “innovation culture.” In a speed culture, you need to add processes, measures, incentives, and even people that have the capability of accelerating existing processes while maintaining the same or higher levels of performance and innovation. Ideally, a culture of speed is owned by the managers and employees but it is supported and developed through HR.

The Key Components of Speed

Once you accept the premise that speed is an essential characteristic in business, it is only logical to begin assessing which elements of an organization need to move significantly faster and precisely how each needs to improve. The following is a list of the key components that must be present in order to optimize speed.

  • Processes built for speed – all business processes must be continually assessed for speed. Those that fall behind must be redesigned and new processes must include the essential design components for speed.
  • Processes must be integrated interrelated processes that are dependent on each other must be either coordinated or completely integrated. This integration is necessary to ensure smooth and fast handoffs between functions and to ensure that roadblocks and barriers to speed are quickly identified and eliminated.
  • Technology is essential it is almost impossible to be global, low-cost, highly innovative, and fast without the extensive use of technology. Process and program leaders must constantly search for software and hardware that can enable fast speed and high quality.
  • Fast employees are needed – some individuals act, react, think, and learn faster than others. Leaders need to staff and train for speed because unfortunately, a single slow employee like “Homer Simpson” in a team can reduce speed faster than a Formula One disc brake.
  • Fast managers are needed not all managers and leaders are adept at making fast and accurate decisions. In addition “fast managers” understand the process of increasing speed and as a result they are familiar with the most effective tools and approaches for increasing speed in their processes and their employees.
  • You must identify barriers to speed — because even the best-designed processes (just like PCs) can slow down over time, there must be processes and tools available to managers to identify current “barriers to speed” and to find the best tools and technologies for increasing speed beyond current levels.
  • You must cut approvals – requiring excessive approvals not only hampers speed but it also frustrates innovators. Where approvals cannot be eliminated, dramatically reduce the time required for them.
  • You must measure speed — you can improve something that you don’t measure. As a result, there must be metrics for measuring the speed of each step in a process. Incidentally quality must also be measured because customers have learned to expect both speed and quality.
  • Provide benchmark numbers — there must be comparison numbers both from within and outside your firm, so that you can accurately assess and maintain your speed lead in your industry.
  • Distribute reports – ranked reports demonstrating the differentials in speed between different departments, managers, and processes must be widely distributed to spur competition and best practice sharing.

HR’s Role in Building a Culture of Speed

In most organizations there is no department or individual responsible for managing speed. However in many organizations, HR is directly or indirectly given responsibility for managing the corporate culture. So if a “culture of speed” is needed, it’s logical that HR take a leadership role. HR’s involvement is also important because the most impactful enabler of speed is people, which falls under HR’s expertise. While increasing organizational speed may be an unusual topic within the HR profession, it is a role that HR can grow into because we design many of the processes (hiring, promotion, training etc.) that directly affect the capability/capacity of the workforce. If you’re interested in accepting the role as the “manager of speed” you will not only need to encourage the implementation of the key “components of speed” listed above, but also:

  • Hire fast employees — change hiring standards to recruit only candidates with the proven capability of moving fast. The hiring and assessment process must be improved to better assess whether candidates can make fast but accurate decisions and if they learn fast and embrace change.
  • Increase hiring speed – vacancies in key positions can dramatically slow down fast-moving processes and projects. As a result, HR needs to develop faster hiring processes in order to fill high-impact vacancies fast with high-quality people.
  • Train employees to be fast – some employees are slow simply because they’ve never been trained on how to act fast. The training and development function must develop courses and materials to help employees and managers think and act faster. For example, most employees do their tasks in a linear way (i.e. one step is completed before the next step is executed). By teaching them how to take simultaneous or parallel actions, employees can do more high quality work in less time.
  • Develop fast leaders – clearly managers and leaders need to be selected based on their capability of moving fast. Once selected, there must be programs to further develop these leaders so that they can gather information more quickly, make fast decisions, and help their employees learn how to move faster.
  • Expand performance management — rather than merely focusing on weak performers, this function needs to also accurately assess speed and identify employees, managers, and people processes that reduce organizational speed.
  • Offer compensation and incentives – pay for performance and innovation must be supplemented with incentives for doing things “first.” In addition, there should be rewards for sharing “fast” approaches and tools that can be used by others to increase their speed.
  • Improve the speed of best-practice sharing by coordinating and speeding up the sharing of current best practices within the organization, HR can improve productivity and speed with only a small investment.

Who Has a Speed Culture?

It doesn’t take sophisticated measures or software to identify firms with a speed culture. Firms like Google are well known for their ability to move incredibly fast both within their industry (search) and into growth markets. Apple likes to be the first mover into new product categories and to dominates them from the start. In the game industry, firms like Zynga (Farmville) and Rovio Mobile (Angry Birds) have harnessed the capability to move fast into social media and mobile platforms to the detriment of long-time industry leaders like Electronic Arts.

Other notable “speed culture” firms include Facebook, Southwest Airlines, Amazon, Frito-Lay (PepsiCo), Samsung, Novartis, and Zappos. In addition to technology firms, entire industries including mobile devices, medicine, and green energy industries are learning to move at breakneck speed. Even firms like McDonald’s and Starbucks are learning to change rapidly.

Final Thoughts

You can’t be a hero in a “fast culture” unless you are recognized as being among the leaders in moving fast. Unfortunately, few (even within HR) would argue that HR processes are currently among “the fastest tools in the shed.” Part of our reluctance to move fast and to avoid risks is based on our traditional focus on compliance and legal issues.

The time has come for HR to shift focus away from compliance and towards directly impacting productivity, innovation, and speed. If you want to move beyond being a mere business partner and instead make a real strategic contribution to the firm, why not accept the role as the manager of your firm’s speed culture? Accepting that role means an improved status, increases resources, and a measurable business impact on the function. Don’t wait for someone to assign you to that role. Instead, seize the opportunity and of course, move fast.

Increasing productivity is one of the most critical goals in business. Unfortunately, it’s an activity seldom accepted by HR professionals as a legitimate mandate. While most HR professionals acknowledge that their job entails establishing policy, procedures, and programs governing people management, few attempt to connect such elements to increasing employee output (volume, speed, and quality) per each dollar spent on labor costs (or as an easier to measure alternative, revenue per employee).

Bonus programs are typically enacted that keep total compensation in line with market trends, regardless of the value of work warranting incentive comp. Training tools are often secured via the lowest-cost provider method with minimal consideration given to which provider would be most effective. Recruiting practices too are more often managed with the primary goal of minimizing cost, not enabling business capability/capacity. Regardless of the function you look at, in the typical organization, HR is more concerned with executing transactions instead of delivering productivity solutions.

If you believe as most should that the combined efforts of the human resource function should positively influence the performance capability of the workforce instead of hindering it, you should understand the factors that influence performance.

22 Factors That Influence Individual/Team Performance

Based on more than 30 years of observational research into what drives high performance organizations, I’ve identified the following 22 factors, broken into six categories that significantly influence (positive/negative) individual/team productivity.

Foundations of Productivity

  1. High-performing and innovative employees are the foundation of productivity — by far the most impactful factor in workforce and team productivity is hiring and retaining employees with exceptional capabilities and self-motivation. Working together, managers and HR can attract, hire, develop, and retain individual employees who are agile, high-performing continuous learners and innovators. Unfortunately, even the best employees cannot perform without great managers, proper direction, support, tools, and resources.
  2. Effective managers and leaders set direction and execute — a great manager/leader is the second-most important productivity factor. Leaders and managers play a critical role in defining the direction, purpose, priorities, goals, and roles of the workforce. The capability of the manager (with the support of HR) to develop plans, hire effectively, coach, motivate, and develop employees is crucial to success. Unfortunately, many managers are the weak link in the productivity chain, so HR must accept the role of developing great leaders/managers and identifying/removing the ineffective ones.

Direction and Guidance Factors

  1. A corporate strategy and plan that builds commitment — a competitive business strategy and strategic plan increases the chances that an organization will be successful and success builds commitment. In addition, if the plan and the strategy are clear and well communicated, not only will your employees be more motivated, but knowing the strategic direction will help them remain focused. Corporate values that are measured and rewarded can also align behavior and build commitment.
  2. A defined purpose for teams make roles clear — every business unit and team needs to understand its role. Managers and leaders need to develop a clear and communicated purpose that is both compelling and that makes members feel important. Understand that employees are more likely to be committed to the purpose of the unit or team if they are involved in creating it. An unclear mission will result in a lack of focus and a low level of “engagement” and commitment toward achieving it.
  3. Team and individual goals – having clear operational goals lets everyone know what is expected. If these goals are communicated and measurable, employees will understand precisely what is important and what is not. If stretch but reachable goals are set, employees are less likely to become complacent.
  4. Prioritization for impactful resource allocation — setting clear priorities helps to ensure that time and resources are allocated to the most important and impactful tasks. Employees must be made aware of both high- and low-priority goals, tasks, processes, and customers. Processes must be developed to ensure that resources are allocated disproportionately to high priority tasks.
  5. Performance metrics for continuous improvement – having effective metrics and reporting processes reinforces both team and individual goals.  Because whatever is measured and reported gets done, metrics provide focus, feedback and result in continuous improvement.
  6. Effective rewards drive performance — when monetary rewards are tied directly to performance and the metrics for each goal, you doubly reinforce the message about what is important. Individual and team monetary rewards, coupled with nonmonetary excitement factors, can play a major role in ensuring focus and consistent performance.

Support Factors

  1. Team member support increases individual performance — few tasks in this modern age can be completed by an individual employee working without support. Unless your employees are provided with complementary teammates, as well as the support of managers and employees outside the team, productivity is bound to suffer.
  2. Best-practice sharing and collaboration improve productivity — learning by trial and error slows progress and leads to mass duplication of effort and higher error rates. Productivity improves dramatically when others who are outside the team freely collaborate and proactively share best practices and ideas. It is HR’s role to develop formal methods to increase cross-function collaboration and sharing.
  3. Support for innovation can dramatically increase productivity – in most industries, the yearly increase in the level of productivity that is required to maintain a dominant position in the industry has increased dramatically. The new reality is that productivity increases of between 10 and 25% are now required each year. What is needed is a continuous level of innovation both in products and in business processes. Increased efficiency for continuous improvement processes are not sufficient to provide that level of double-digit gain, so HR must develop processes, training, measures. and incentives that result in continuous innovation workforce wide.
  4. Control and authority can enhance or hinder decision-making — a lack of control and excessive freedom can result in waste, duplication, and a lack of focus. In direct contrast, micromanagement and excessive rules can slow decision-making and employee development. Productivity is maximized when there is enough balance so that employees have enough control, authority, and permissions to make most operational decisions.
  5. Non-monetary factors can also excite employees — in addition to formal rewards, managers, leaders, and teammates can provide nonmonetary factors that increase employee excitement, energy, motivation, and loyalty. These factors can include praise, recognition, exposure, challenge, feedback, and learning opportunities. It is HR’s role to ensure that managers know how to effectively use these nonmonetary factors.
  6. Not having the appropriate inputs can hinder productivity – in most cases, team and employee work is dependent on the inputs provided from other processes. It is the manager’s role to ensure that these inputs are provided on time and of the right quality. Make sure that the team’s output meets the standards set by the team responsible for the next step in the production process.
  7. Barriers to productivity can limit success — often, even when every one of the positive productivity factors are present, productivity can be slowed or stopped by real or imagined barriers. These roadblocks can include individuals resistant to change, corporate politics, personal jealousies, corporate rivalries, as well as powerful people. In addition, there may be perceived or imaginative barriers that keep employees from even attempting any effort aimed at increasing productivity or innovation. In both cases, HR needs to work with managers in order to develop processes for identifying and eliminating any real or imagined barriers to productivity.

Skills, Communications, and Information Factors

  1. Employee skills and knowledge must be continually updated to maintain productivity — global competition has created a rapid pace of change which means that current skill sets must be continually updated. It is the manager’s job to identify employees with less than optimal skills. HR’s role is to develop processes to continually increase employee learning, knowledge, and skill development, while minimizing the amount of time that employees are away from their work.
  2. Effective communications and feedback reduce errors and frustration — a lack of communications can frustrate employees and make them feel unimportant. Failing to provide effective feedback can lead to wasted efforts, increased error rates, and lower productivity. Communications and feedback mechanisms need to be developed in conjunction with employees to ensure that they fit both the needs of the manager and the employees.
  3. Providing the right information improves decision-making – managers and employees need access to all relevant information and data in order to be productive and to make effective decisions.

Resourcing Factors

  1. Insufficient budget resources can hamper productivity — even a great team with a great manager will produce lower levels of productivity when with insufficient budget to complete the job.
  2. Technology, tools, and equipment can limit or bolster productivity — even highly trained, motivated, and engaged employees can’t be very productive when they are provided with insufficient tools and equipment to do their job. In an era where technology dominates almost every function, a failure to provide the technology, updates, or sufficient training can dramatically slow productivity.

Miscellaneous Factors

  1. Integration can increase productivity — when business processes operate independently and not in unison, it can inhibit the work flow and increase delays and error rates. Part of any productivity effort should include integrating interdependent processes, breaking down the silos and barriers, and making interconnected processes appear “seamless” to those involved.
  2. Outside-the-workplace factors — although most factors that impact productivity are internal to the organization, on occasion, employee productivity is negatively impacted by things that happen outside of the firm. These factors could include changes in employee’s personal life and external economic, social, political, and even weather-related factors. Excellent productivity processes need to be flexible so that they can adjust when these external factors begin to impact individual or team productivity.

Final Thoughts

Managing workforce productivity involves accepting responsibility for optimizing the ROI (return on investment) for labor expense, just as other functions do for their activities. While some in HR would argue that it’s the manager’s role to increase productivity, it’s safe to assume that managers are not experts, nor are they knowledgeable about how to do so.

If you work in HR or talent management and you are looking for an opportunity to have a major strategic impact, consider setting up an internal productivity consultant team that provides the same kind of high-quality expert advice that a McKinsey or BCG might provide (only with better knowledge of the company problems, opportunities, and culture).

No one in any organization has complete control over these 22 factors, but the HR function can use its well-known relationship-building and persuasive skills to “influence” those outside their direct span of control. Since no one in the organization currently “owns” productivity improvement, you won’t have a lot of competition for the role, at least until you start to make progress!

Recruiting, talent management, and HR professionals in general have been using metrics for many years now. More often than not, the story HR metrics tell is irrelevant or disappointing. Over the past three decades, I’ve compiled a long list of common metrics mistakes that you can use to assess your measurement efforts and improve your efforts to get the attention of your management and senior leadership.

25 Most Damaging Metric Errors

Following are 25 of the most damaging mistakes you can make when using metrics to assess or defend your performance presented in five categories.

If you want your efforts to be as effective as they can be, you cannot make a single one.

Factors That Make a Metric Less Compelling

Not tied to business goals — executives have a narrow agenda, so don’t forget to tie each reported HR metric directly to a business goal or problem (business problem not HR problem).

Not demonstrating revenue impact — no business goal is more “top of mind” with executives than increasing revenue. Although it is admittedly difficult, calculate the dollar business impact on revenue of the area covered by the metric (i.e. revenue decrease as a result of vacant positions). Work with the CFO’s office to ensure that the calculations are credible.

They don’t drive executive action — pretest each metric reported to executives to ensure that they are powerful enough to cause managers and executives to want to take action immediately. Non-compelling metrics get only a “so what” or “that’s interesting” reaction from executives.

Not forward-looking — almost all HR metrics are historical. Unfortunately, executives care more about the future, so focus on metrics that are forward-looking and that alert managers about upcoming problems and opportunities (e.g. key employee turnover will likely increase 8% next quarter).

Not tying rewards to metrics — merely collecting and reporting metrics can have a powerful impact on behavior. However, by failing to reward managers and HR professionals for producing superior metrics results, you are missing a powerful opportunity to further drive behavior and decision-making. Whatever you measure and reward gets done faster and better.

Errors in Selecting Metrics

Developing metrics independently — the CFO’s office is the undisputed king of metrics. So never begin a metric effort without directly involving the CFO to ensure upfront that each metric is useful, credible and relevant. You can avoid many metric selection errors by allowing senior executives to pick the metrics they want to see.

Voting on metrics — it is quite common but a major mistake to select your individual metrics based on a vote by the staff. Because everyone does not have equal knowledge or power, you need to weigh the inputs and the opinions of the individuals who provide advice.

Too many metrics — rather than developing metrics for every whim, limit metrics to one for every major HR goal and major people management problem or opportunity. Only report the handful that directly impact items on executives’ current agenda. That usually means the cost of poor hiring, weak retention, and a lack of leaders, and never cost per hire or training hours per employee. Mixing powerful metrics with low-impact ones can cause the best to be missed.

Focusing on tactical metrics — tactical or transactional metrics help you improve the operational aspects of a specific function or program. In contrast, strategic metrics highlight areas or opportunities that directly impact a major business goal. It’s a mistake not to use the 80/20 rule and spend 80% of your time and resources on the 20% of your metrics that are truly strategic.

Omitting quality measures — a common mistake in HR that does not occur in other business functions is the omission of metrics that cover quality. For example, listing the number of hires without a comparable statistic for the quality of those hires (i.e. on-the-job performance of new hires). Listing the number of training hours provided but failing to note the quality of training (i.e. the change in performance after training) is a common but serious omission.

Not supplementing with “why” metrics — most metrics serve a single purpose in that they tell you “what happened.” In order to fix a problem, you also need to know the causes or “why” something is happening. As a result, for critical strategic metrics you need to gather supplemental data that reveals the causes (i.e. turnover numbers can be supplemented with exit interview data on why people quit).

Metrics are too complicated — don’t provide metrics that are too complicated for the average executive to understand within a minute. If necessary, continually refine your metrics until they are easy to understand.

Follow-the-leader errors — a common error is to “over benchmark” to the point where the metrics that you select are merely a reflection of the metrics that every other firm is using. Unfortunately, because there is little connection between common metrics and effective metrics, copying can result in metrics that do not fit your organization and its problems.

Relying 100% on canned metrics — although many HR software packages, metrics providers, and consultants provide an excellent set of metrics, it is a mistake to rely 100% on them. It may be necessary to supplement them with a few high-value metrics and measures that fit your organizational needs and problems.

Errors in Reporting and Presenting Metrics

Not embedded in financial reports — strategic metrics can have no impact if they are never seen or read. Separate metrics reports are seldom read, so you must fight to have your most important strategic metrics embedded into standard financial reports that all managers receive. For example, having the costs of employee turnover read alongside the cost of inventory turnover can be very powerful.

No indication that action is required — including metrics that require no action with those that do can lead to a lack of focus. Labeling individual metrics with action colors can help executives focus on the metrics that require action. Also report your metrics so that the ones that demand executive attention or action appear first.

No comparison numbers — recording a single number by itself might have little meaning, while including a benchmark comparison number might instantly excite them (e.g. our turnover is 9% but it was 4% last year and the industry average is 2%). Include a “failure, passing, and excellent score” for each metric. Other powerful comparison numbers might include the percentage change and the best and the worst within the firm and industry.

Failing to provide “more information” options — electronic metric reports are far superior to paper reports because you can provide the user with more information options. If an individual manager needs more detailed information, localized information, a formula, or a definition, it can be provided easily using a drop-down menu. This makes metrics easily scannable while at the same time providing any level of detail or depth that the reader requires.

Data or calculations are not judged to be credible — many HR metrics are ignored, discounted, or disregarded by executives because they doubt the accuracy of the metric or the supporting data. This can be caused by an overall lack of credibility but it can be exacerbated if you fail to provide in your background materials the source and reliability statistics for the data. Providing key formulas and definitions can also help minimize confusion.

Reporting metrics that don’t change — routinely reporting metrics that don’t vary much over time, that represent no major change, or that don’t require action actually waste executive time. Either omit them until they show a change or put them last in your report.

Errors Related to Enhanced Decision-making

Not designed for decision-making — the primary purpose of metrics is to improve the quality of people management decision-making. However, when you provide only stand-alone, year-end historical metrics, you are not supporting better decision-making because the actual problem might not have occurred at the very end of the year. By supplementing this static year-end metric with an alert or “heads up” warning system, managers can be made aware of the problem when it is actually occurring.

Not providing action guidance — even when your metrics have the desired effect of causing managers to want to take action, they may still hesitate or even take the wrong action. In order to avoid this problem, you need to provide decision-makers with guidance as to the most and least impactful actions that are available to them.

Errors Related to Data Collection and Metric Calculations

Failing to use sampling techniques — gathering data on every employee or instance is expensive and time-consuming. It is a major error to not use scientific sampling to get almost as accurate results faster and cheaper by using scientific sampling techniques.

Failing to weigh high-priority items — is quite common for HR to consider every occurrence to be of equal importance. However in many cases, some occurrences simply have more of a business impact than others. For example, when calculating turnover, the loss of a top performer or someone in a leadership position has a much greater business impact than the loss of an average employee. As a result, it is a major error not to more heavily weigh the data or opinions from high-impact items (i.e. from top performers, mission-critical positions, revenue-generating positions, regrettable turnover, high-margin business units, etc.).

Outside data is not integrated — almost all HR metrics come from databases owned by HR. Unfortunately, HR metrics would become more powerful if they were supplemented with data and information from other business databases (i.e. performance, productivity, quality control, business plans and forecasts, etc.). In some cases, external data including economic databases (i.e. local growth and population shift statistics) and industry benchmarks could supplement HR metrics with dramatic results.

Final Thoughts

HR professionals commonly ask why the single highest variable cost item in most corporations (i.e. employee-related costs) seems to gain so little senior management attention. Even though we know that the language and currency of business is based on dollars, data, and metrics, HR still garners much less than its deserved share of credibility, respect, and resources. My research and experience indicates that HR’s failure to effectively use metrics is largely to blame. I challenge you to use this checklist to assess your current metrics and see if your process doesn’t fail on more than half of them. If you find that your current metrics have failed miserably, you’ll know what is needed to change the situation.

Technology is evolving at the fastest rate in recorded history, and tools relevant to recruiters are not exempt. Every day a new piece of hardware, software, or service is announced that could be used to better support world-class recruiting. Staying abreast of evolving technology is difficult but essential for any savvy recruiter hoping to stay on top of efficiency and effectiveness expectations.

Technology by itself is never a solution, but it often enables leading-edge solutions and approaches. When someone becomes aware of a new tool or service that makes an activity easier or cheaper or faster, they naturally see how that tool could work in other parts of their life even if that tool wasn’t created with those other purposes in mind. Hiring managers, candidates, and savvy recruiters forge such expectations, so failing to be aware of and address how emerging technologies could impact your recruiting operations is akin to saying “I am happy being a laggard.”

While there are numerous indicators that that you may be on your way to becoming a “technology dinosaur,” some of the more obvious are highlighted below.

If you don’t text, tweet, own a smartphone, or know what OMG means, it might be a good idea to take the self assessment and see where you stand on the dinosaur scale.

The Technology Dinosaur Scale

The following top 10 indicators provide you with some insight into how far you are behind the times. If you are falling behind on more than five of the factors, you need to consider yourself a potential technology dinosaur.

  1. You wear a watch – the first and most obvious indicator that someone is “old school” is a watch on the wrist. Most individuals under 25 have become accustomed to using their mobile phone to check the time. A wrist watch is a redundant “single tasker” that is often wrong.
  2. You carry a camera –– for anyone other than a photography enthusiast, owning a separate digital camera or — gasp, non-digital camera — is evidence of life in a bygone era. The cameras embedded in smartphones and tablets often shoot general purpose photos/video at quality levels akin to consumer cameras. In addition, embedded cameras are not likely to be forgotten and can share the captured memories with friends and family instantly. Even the national media have begun to use pictures and videos captured by mobile devices because of their quality and the fact that such devices are almost always present at the seen of a newsworthy event. If you need further proof that the stand-alone video camera is becoming obsolete, look no further than the recent announcement by Cisco Systems that it will shutter its Flip business unit which produces standalone high-definition camcorders, even though it just acquired the business two years ago for $590 million.
  3. You still use a fax machine – if you use a fax machine on a regular basis and have the fax number listed on your business card, you are sending an instant message that you live in the past. Desktop scanning solutions offer far better options for transmitting hard-copy documents electronically. The fax machine has joined the pager and the VCR in the technology antique shop.
  4. You use printers and file cabinets — typewriters, long ago headed toward extinction (there is only one producer left on the planet) should have been an indication that print in general was on its way out, but many missed that. Printed documents are expensive to produce, to duplicate, to store and to distribute. Digital documents are far superior because they can be stored, backed up, updated, and accessed more efficiently. As Internet access grows even more pervasive and digital document creation, collaboration, and sharing services evolve, print will disappear. The technology-savvy have already abandoned file cabinets and printers. Even books will fade away; Amazon now sells more e-books than hard copy books.
  5. You make telephone calls – communicating by a telephone is rapidly becoming passé. Today there are so many alternative/asynchronous communication channels including text messages, tweets, social network messaging, video conferencing, etc., each of which offer distinct advantages over the sometimes dreaded phone. You might still hold the notion that phone calls provide the “personal touch,” but the data is in, and fewer and fewer people are answering!
  6. You rely solely on e-mail — if you have an e-mail account with an old-school provider like AOL or Hotmail, most already know you are old-school. While e-mail itself is still alive, it has many faults that will soon doom it to the history books. Techno-savvy individuals are shifting to communication channels that restrict access, don’t transmit viruses, and offer 24/7 access.
  7. You carry a day planner – worse than wearing a watch, nothing sends a message that you are not techno-savvy more than a paper-based leather bound “Daytimer” or calendar. Few under 25 even know they once existed. The technology alternatives are loaded with capabilities the antiques simply can’t rival including electronic alerts and CRM integration. Losing a paper-based day planner can literally be a disaster; electronic alternatives on the other hand provide numerous safer and even encrypted backups.
  8. Your language — those that openly embrace technology realize that it brings with it its own language. For example, you can’t possibly text or tweet without knowing the latest acronyms like OMG, WTF, LOL, etc. But you should also know that this new language is gaining usage in all forms of communications and messaging. Even the length of typical messages is changing and becoming shorter to better fit the size limitations of tweets and the miniscule keyboards of smartphones.
  9. You listen to CDs — if you still buy or listen to CDs, the world has already passed you by. Most newer cars have switched to MP3 technology, but even carrying an MP3 player is an indication you are falling behind the times. That insane multi-tasker called the smartphone can not only play MP3 files, but also access audio streamed live over the Internet or by satellite radio stations.
  10. Miscellaneous factors – in addition to the previous factors, there are some indicators that are hard to categorize. For example, MySpace and Friendster might have been “cool” a few years ago, but today they are considered the domain of laggards. If you watch 100% of your TV shows on TV as opposed to TV.com, Hulu, Joost, or iTunes, you are lagging. If you play video games on a standalone home console versus on an Internet gaming network or even more recently on your mobile phone (i.e. Farmville and Angry Birds) you are also not “with it.” If you can’t walk fast while texting or if you participate in meetings without your mobile phone or laptop on the table, you may be falling behind the technology trend.

Falling Behind in Talent Management Technology

Technology designed specifically to support talent management or that is relevant to the things talent managers do is evolving just as fast as that for other domains. New software-as-a-service offerings, Internet applications, desktop software extensions, mobile applications and social media platforms, are making more advanced talent management solutions not only possible, but also economically feasible for even firms with the tightest financial controls in place. Some of the technological advances you as a recruiter should be knowledgeable on include:

  • Collaboration tools — if your company experimented with collaboration products in their early years, chances are you have grown to hate the category of collaboration software, but the offerings of today are easier to use, much more powerful, and in many cases integrated with the desktop applications you rely on. Basic services like Google Docs and Zoho and more advanced products like Microsoft Sharepoint allow talent managers to build technology-empowered processes that deliver exceptional internal and external customer (candidate) experience.
  • Social networks – while most in recruiting still look at social networks as a playground for sourcing, the capabilities of the major platforms themselves and the applications that extend them can be used to empower activities throughout all stages of the recruiting lifecycle. By incorporating document sharing and live chat, your careers fan page on Facebook could very easily become a real-time candidate support application.
  • Software-as-a-service offerings — the sheer volume of software-as-a-service solutions available today is overwhelming. While enterprise solutions can still be costly, pricetags often pale in comparison to licensed software.  Advanced CRM solutions, workforce planning tools, collaboration websites, and even full blown applicant tracking options abound. For companies really lagging behind the times, many service providers now offer free/low cost personal accounts that you as an individual could leverage.
  • Desktop plug-ins and services Plug-ins extend the functionality of the desktop applications you use every day. From plug-ins for your browser that let you organize your Internet research or automatically monitor websites for changes, to e-mail application plug-ins that let you send/receive messages to all of the major social networks, this category of technology is immense. If you can imagine it, chances are it exists. One of my favorite tools is Contact Capture from Broadlook Technologies; it parses the text of web pages extracting identifiable contact information and makes it available to a variety of contact databases, no more cutting and pasting.
  • Knowledge domains (ideagoras) first coined by author Don Tapscott in Wikinomics, ideagoras are online places where large numbers of people gather to exchange ideas and solutions. Like it or not, one of the key labor types that will dominate the workforce in the future if the contingent resource engaged through any one of several dozen engagement models. Great examples of ideagoras relevant to recruiters include Slideshare, Wikipedia, and InnoCentive.
  • Mobile applications – I have said it before and I will say it again, the smartphone is without a doubt the most powerful tool in the modern recruiter toolbox. Not only can the smartphones of today support unified messaging across all channels of communication, they can also run a bevy of applications aimed at making the modern recruiter more effective an efficient. Online document sharing applications, social networking applications, remote access to enterprise applications, mobile CRM tools, location-aware applications, and productivity tools let recruiters do almost everything that could be done in the office outside the office.

Final Thoughts

This quick assessment is meant merely to be a wake-up call to those that have been too busy to keep up with the latest technology. If you find yourself slipping behind, I recommend that you adopt the approach that Jack Welch used on his technology lagging executives at GE: acquire a technology mentor (probably a recent college grad) to guide you through your upgrading process. Set as a goal to learn one new technology each month until you become the technology leader within your department.

Talent managers are increasingly borrowing from the practices of casinos, which have a well-earned reputation for effectively attracting, engaging, retaining, and directing the behavior of their customers. Casino customers lose money, spend hours engaged, and in most cases leave satisfied and eager to return. The same design principles that keep casino patrons engaged are increasingly playing a role inside organizations.

Firms like Microsoft, Google, Starbucks, Facebook, and Pixar have successfully used physical layouts, food offerings, social settings, and perks similar to those found in casinos to attract, maintain, and manage their customers/employees. According to one study, the number of corporations that offer “outrageous perks” nearly doubled between 2006 and 2011. So before you reject the idea, learn more about it.

Understanding the Casino Approach to Talent Management

Time clocks, policies binders, and rigid work rules may have worked long ago with regard to keeping employees at their desks, but times have changed. The casino approach focuses on using positive factors and “productivity perks” to influence behavior, including:

  1. Enticing food — includes free, often gourmet food (DreamWorks, Skype, Netflix, Zynga, & LinkedIn) snacks and a large variety of drinks. Offering abundant coffee and caffeinated drinks both to provide a stimulant for productivity and to increase opportunities for co-worker interaction.
  2. Unique office designs and facilities — creative office designs and furniture provide perks and innovations that not only excite recruits, but that also make it comfortable for employees to put in lots of hours. Three Rings for example designed its office to look like the Jules Vern Nautilus submarine, including a 20-foot long squid tentacle cushion and giant portholes.
  3. Events — onsite events that are fun can proactively encourage creativity and cross-functional collaboration. Zappos holds both product design contests among employees (e.g. to design a new Adidas shoe) and toga/chug parties.
  4. Policies — the absence of silly policies allow employees to create wild workspaces and workstations (Pixar and Google). Some organizations allow employees to bring their pets and children, which further reinforces a message of freedom and creativity. Perks like free beer and wine demonstrate unambiguously that the firm treats employees like mature adults.

Impacts of the Casino Approach to Talent Management

If you think that offering perks like a dress-down day or support for childcare makes your firm appear “modern,” think again. Numerous large and small firms in almost every industry have evolved beyond dated 20th-century perks to offer those more akin to the casino-based talent management model. “Outrageous” perks are primarily recruiting tools, but they have a much broader impact on a wide variety of both candidate and employee behavior. Some common impact/goals for the casino approach are listed below:

  • Improving recruiting — although nearly every firm states in its recruiting and employer branding materials that they are “different,” the outrageous perks offered under the Casino approach are much more likely to be talked about. Offering free food/snacks, a relaxed physical environment (Zynga) or even letting employees bring their dogs to work (Google and Kimpton) send a clear initial message that you really are different from traditional firms like IBM, GM, and GE.
  • Getting them to come to work early — offering a free breakfast (Twitter, Netflix, & Digg) gets employees to come in early. Infusionsoft offers a cereal bar and Pixar is famous for its free “wall of cereal.” Free shuttles, ample bicycle storage (Three Rings) and onsite shower facilities (Springbox) can also encourage workers to come in early. Some firms have even offered valet parking (Microsoft and Google) to get their employees to their workstations faster.
  • Keeping them at work — by increasing the number of hours that an individual is physically at work, you increase the likelihood that they will actually work more hours and that they will interact with different employees. A free gourmet lunch (Facebook and Google) and ample snacks decrease the need to leave the facility for nourishment. Onsite facilities like car care (Cisco, SAS, and Google), allowing dogs, an onsite laundry (Google) and a huge swimming pool (Pixar) take away many excuses for leaving the facility. Adding frequent during- and after-work events like speakers (Google and Facebook), parties (Zappos) and movies (Pixar) keeps them at the facility longer. In perhaps the most outrageous illustration of the casino approach, Facebook during its first few years offered a $7,000/year bonus for employees who lived within a mile of their headquarters in order to encourage employees to come the work even during off hours.
  • Increase collaboration — increased cross-functional collaboration is a primary factor in increasing the speed of innovation. By using architectural features (Google, Sun, and Pixar) and even timing the food lines (Google), firms can increase the likelihood that this valuable collaboration will occur more frequently. Other features like free shuttle buses (Google, Microsoft, and Genentech), sports facilities, and free movies (Pixar) can directly increase collaboration. Companywide ski trips (Google & Odin Technology) can be used to provide additional chances to bond and collaborate.
  • Increase retention and decreased poaching — most talent management professionals realize that free food, gyms. etc. can directly impact employee retention because they offer desirable features that no other company can match. But perks like a free lunch (Skype, LinkedIn, and Zynga) also have another benefit in that by keeping employees at the facility, they minimize the chances that an external recruiter can take them to lunch and recruit them away.
  • Reinforce your message of freedom innovation and creativity — it’s quite common for corporate value statements and websites to extol the firm’s culture of freedom and creativity. However actions speak louder than words in this area. For example, providing free alcohol to employees causes most in HR to “lawyer up,” but for firms that want to be seen as “different,” it provides another opportunity to treat employees as mature adults. Numerous firms have joined this trend by either providing kegerators or refrigerators full of beer and wine (Twitter, Yelp, Door Number 3, Crowdflower, Bluespring Software, Barkley Advertising, Digitas Health, DPR Construction, and Three Rings). Google’s “martini blowout” party sent out a distinct message just by the name of the event. Conservative individuals within HR may disapprove the concept but nothing demonstrates that your firm is “different,” creative, trusting, and tolerant clearer than providing alcohol.
  • Improved health and productivity — in addition to keeping employees onsite longer, offerings like onsite gyms (Oracle, Chesapeake Energy, and Nike), providing organic food (Google and Facebook) and onsite healthcare facilities (SAS and American Pipe) can lead to better employee health, lower insurance rates, and reduced costs related to sick day usage.
  • Impressing customers — especially at startup firms, bold and outlandish office designs and furniture can also impress visiting customers and investors. They can show potential customers that creativity and innovation permeates the entire organization.

Final Thoughts

The goal of this article is not to provide a list of all the new and what many consider to be “outrageous” perks that firms are beginning to offer. Instead, the primary goal is to make you aware that these new adoptions are based on solid research and behavioral principles. To the untrained eye, the “outrageous” offerings that we have all heard about might appear to be simply extravagant employee perks, but nothing could be further from the truth. Firms like Google approach talent management as a science, not an art. The best firms that have adopted elements of this casino approach have conducted a thorough ROI analysis in order to demonstrate to skeptical executives that the benefits in productivity and innovation far outweigh the costs and the risks.

You should also note that although many of the firms listed are Silicon Valley firms, the practice has spread to many other geographic areas and industries. The final lesson for all in talent management to learn is that the 20th century model of work/life balance is gradually being replaced by a model that purposely blurs the line between work and life, to the benefit of both the employees and the shareholders.

Last week part one of this series introduced relatively rare talent management approaches aimed at improving workforce productivity, strategic execution, and successful innovation. This week the attention turns to improving workforce development, the business case for talent management, and using popular key business approaches within talent management. Please add additional approaches you are aware of using the comments section below.

Tools to Improve Development and Retention

  • Proactive internal placement (Intra-placement) – often external talent must be recruited partially due to weak proactive internal movement. Most transfer and promotion methodologies are poorly designed and fail because employees are afraid of internal retaliation if they try to move without being asked to, or they’re afraid of moving into a risky role where the chance of failure could derail their career. The best approach for improving internal movement is intra-placement.  Assigning one or more recruiters to proactively identify individuals that would benefit from a move and better benefit the company in a new role is key to strategic staffing. (Booz Allen, Cisco Systems, CACI, and Microsoft)
  • Offer short-term projects for development – in tight economic times, most firms find it difficult to provide enough development opportunities for their key people. A low-cost option that has proven to be effective is providing a “free time project” website. This website displays the available short-term projects and it gives employees a chance to “bid” on them. These part-time “job rotations” increase the amount of work that gets done but it also allows employees to take ownership of their career development, to grow and learn in new areas, as well as to increase their visibility. If the projects are exciting enough, employees will “find the time” in their busy schedule to work on them. (Google and Whirlpool)
  • A blocking strategy to limit poaching – most retention efforts focus on offering new benefits that are designed to keep key employees. However, the best retention approaches add a proactive element that limits an external recruiter’s ability to poach your employees. By attempting to identify what methods and approaches external recruiters are using to court your people, you can proactively counter by adjusting your employer experience. Simply offering a small reward to employees who take notes about the recruiters, approaches, and arguments used by external recruiters is a great way to inform your efforts. (FirstMerit bank)
  • Measure employee treatment — retention rates improve dramatically when managers deliver on the promises they have made to employees. It is not enough simply to promise effective communications, honest feedback, challenge, and growth; there must also be a mechanism for ensuring that these promises are being met. If you want to avoid formal processes and surveys, one of the most effective approaches for ensuring that a group of managers are delivering on their retention promises is to involve a senior leader. The senior leader simply agrees to randomly stop employees working in their business unit and ask if they are actually receiving (to their satisfaction) what has been promised them. The randomness of a senior manager asking any employee about how well they are being treated will by itself force individual managers to ask the same question on a regular basis to each of their employees. (Ameritech)

Improving the Business Case for Talent Management

  • Convert talent management impacts into revenue impacts – most current talent management metrics fail to excite senior executives who tend to be laser focused on business factors such as market share, revenue, and profit. Talent management efforts are often underfunded because the business cases are filled with HR terms like turnover, engagement, time to fill, etc. The best solution is quantify the secondary and tertiary impacts of talent management actions; in other words, identify how the action will influence key business metrics. The visibility of talent management will improve among senior managers when they see the tremendous dollar impact talent management can demonstrate. For example, reporting that your turnover rate is 14% to senior management will not get the same reaction as reporting that each percentage point of turnover costs the firm $1 million in operating cost.
  • Quantify “unintended consequences” to minimize talent-management budget cuts – the cost savings of cutting talent management programs are often understated, and as a result these programs are cut frequently. When evaluating programs you must calculate and report the costs of any tangential or unintended consequences of cutting a program. I call such consequences “other pocket” costs because most accounting approaches do not link the false savings of program cuts (one pocket) with the cost increases that unintentionally occur in other areas of the business (the other pocket). For example, reducing safety training in a refinery can initially reduce costs, but eventually the lack of training will result in increased errors, increased accident rates, and eventually higher insurance rates. In many cases once the “other pocket costs” are reported, the total costs to the business may actually surpass the initial savings by many times.

Adapting Effective Business Tools Into Talent Management

  • Alerts and smoke detectors – many in talent management are too busy fighting small fires to develop long-range plans. An alternative to long-range planning is modeling reoccurring problems to identify any precursors or red flags that may indicate that a serious problem will soon occur. The early identification of upcoming problems may allow talent management to proactively alert managers before a problem gets out of hand. This alert process may give the manager sufficient time to avoid or minimize the projected damage.
  • Prioritize jobs and individuals – it’s pretty common for business leaders to prioritize customers, vendors, and products and to treat the high-priority ones differently. In direct contrast, most in talent management try to treat everyone the same. A superior approach is to prioritize individuals, jobs, managers, and business units when it comes to offering talent management services. By focusing your resources on those individuals, jobs and business units with the highest business impact, you can focus your limited resources where they have the highest ROI.
  • Use a SWAT team for crisis situations — talent managers are often faced with unexpected crisis in areas that may not have the staff to handle it. A good approach is to develop a talent management fast-response team (i.e. SWAT team) that is made up of individuals who can come together quickly to handle unexpected major problems and emergencies. These individuals should be selected based on their ability to handle a broad range of complex problems under pressure and severe time constraints.
  • Conduct competitive analysis — no business function can successfully operate in a vacuum. It’s not sufficient in a competitive world to continually improve.  You must seek out a competitive advantage and maintain a lead over your talent competitors, something you cannot do if you do not know what they’re doing. The first step is to conduct a program by program competitive analysis and develop a process that responds to the talent management actions of major competitors. For example, when the chief competitor begins a large-scale recruiting effort that will likely target your employees, you must respond by ramping up your retention and blocking efforts in order to thwart its recruiting effort.
  • Applying the CRM model – customer relationship p management has proven to be an effective tool for increasing customer satisfaction and sales. Because much of what talent management does relies heavily on strong relationships with managers, employees, and candidates, a few firms have a ready adopted the CRM model for managing relationships internally.
  • Parallel benchmarking – talent management managers already know the value of benchmarking best practices within their function and industry. However, few have yet to realize the value of expanding their benchmarking to include other industries and functions. In many cases, successful business processes and practices from other industries or functions can be directly adopted for use within talent management. For example, the supply chain model from the business side was adapted and developed into the talent pipeline approach that is currently used in many recruiting functions (Southwest Airlines)
  • Applying LEAN principles – lean principles are designed to dramatically reduce costs, to help eliminate steps, and to foster continuous improvement, while simultaneously maintaining or improving customer value. Although it originated in the manufacturing and supply chain functions, other business units and functions have successfully adopted the LEAN methodology. Talent management should learn directly from these functions how LEAN can both increase value and help reduce costs, streamline processes, and increase efficiency within talent management. (Manpower)
  • Building agile management practices in a fast-changing world, agility and rapid learning may be the top success factors. Once again other business functions have taken the lead in developing a set of agility principles and practices that can be successfully adopted by professionals in talent management. This agile approach allows talent management programs and processes to rapidly shift as the economy, customer needs, and resources fluctuate.
  • Implement social media internally – most firms have already discovered the value of social media when it comes to engaging and servicing customers, but few are realizing the benefits of application inside the organization. Employees can inadvertently reveal corporate data and even secrets when using public facing tools, so many CIOs try to restrict access and offer up internal social networks and micro blogging tools as alternatives. Why developing internal communities that actually survive and thrive is very difficult, some early adopters have proven that it is possible. (Google and Cisco)
  • Risk Analysis – an increasingly important function throughout the business is risk analysis. Attempting to identify and quantify the risks (probability and costs) associated with potential problems is something few in talent management have tried despite the fact that workforce issues pose extremely high risk to both the operations and financial sustainability of the business. The best practice involves recruiting someone from the risk analysis group to conduct talent-management risk analysis, as they are more credible with managers. Talent management can then advise managers about the probability and the potential cost of people management risks they face. A secondary approach involves conducting a “failure analysis” after each major process error or failure. (Zappos)

Final Thoughts

Talent management professionals work hard, and as a result, they often cannot set aside time to identify new and emerging talent management practices. As the discipline becomes more global and technology driven the process of identifying new practices will become even more difficult. I hope that my observations save you some benchmarking time and have given you a few new ideas and insights into the next practices in talent management.

Talent management is a broad and contentiously defined discipline, so new approaches and tools are continually emerging. Staying on top of the latest definition or the newest enabling technologies can be overwhelming. As an evangelist of “next practices,” I’ve kept a running list of cool approaches that the average practitioner may never have heard of.

I’ve broken them out into six categories, but some of the approaches could easily belong in multiple categories. If you are using one of the approaches, please share your experiences, learning, and guidance using the commenting functionality below.

The Long List of “Unknown” or Barely Known Talent Management Approaches/Tools

Productivity Improvement Tools

  • “Free time” and Remote Work Flexibility — almost every firm needs to improve productivity, idea capture, and successful innovation. While many firms now offer flextime, a more effective mechanism is “free time” to think and innovate. Firms like Google and 3M are famous for offering “free time,” with Google offering up to 20%. A more common option is remote work or flexible scheduling options that allow employees to make their own decisions as to when and where they can that best produce. Flexibility is becoming increasingly important as next generation workers have come to expect the ability to work on the fly. When top-performing employees are allowed to control their own schedule, studies show productivity and innovation rates increase significantly. (Google, Genentech, 3M, and Best Buy)
  • Bad Manager Identification – managers oversee the single largest component of variable cost in most organizations –labor costs — which average 60% of variable expense. The actions of managers significantly impact the ROI of that spend by affecting innovation, productivity, and workforce development. Unfortunately, bad managers are not rare and they seldom hire “A” players or innovators. The best approach to mitigating bad manager risk is a bad manager identification program, a.k.a. leadership effectiveness or individual dignity entitlement surveys. Such surveys identify bad managers based on their actions and performance. Once-identified, organizations can act to fix, replace, or move troubled managers. (FedEx, Dell, GE, AT&T, and Monsanto)
  • Managing Factors that Effect Productivity — many managers simply do not understand how to effectively improve productivity. Most think improving productivity is about getting employees to work harder, longer, and more like them, but more often than not it’s about skills, motivation, and removing barriers. Educating managers on the top 20 factors that impact productivity and providing simple tools to address each can dramatically improve performance. The 20 factors that impact productivity include:
Managerial Skill Continuous Learning/Knowledge Sharing
Communicating Clear Goals Variable Motivation and Rewards
Employee Skill “Right Job” Placement
Unburdened Two-Way Communication Accepted Performance Metrics
Communicated Plans and Strategy Adequate Time to Perform
Cross-Functional Collaboration Resource Prioritization
Access to the Right Tools Quality of Inputs
Adequate Resources Degree of Process Integration
Handling Perceived Barriers Outside Work Factors
Data-based Decision Making Broader Team Capability
  • Removing Barrier to Productivity – identifying factors that limit productivity and eliminating them is one of the most impactful talent management actions an organization can undertake. Talent management professionals should begin by accepting their role as internal productivity consultants and develop a process that identifies true barriers to productivity. Through employee surveys and focus groups talent management professionals can uncover a vast array of conflicting process elements, antiquated policy, overlooked resource allocations, outdated organizational design, and routine system abuse. The premise is simple and highly effective; just ask: “if we had to scale up productivity tomorrow, what factors would prevent our current team from doing so?” Some political issues may emerge, but past experience demonstrates the vast majority of issues are extremely basic conflicts easy to address. (The State of North Carolina)
  • Leverage Non-Monetary Motivation – most would agree that employee motivation is a huge driver/barrier to productivity, and that all motivation isn’t compensation tied. Unfortunately, rarely does any department in the human resource function offer up non-monetary motivation solutions. Focusing solely on monetary incentives is both costly and ineffective long term. Progressive organizations are now leveraging systems to ensure delivery of non-monetary drivers such as recognition, praise, and feedback. Successful approaches rely on employees completing “how to manage me” profiles that can then be used by managers to deliver individualized treatment — i.e. adjusting the frequency of feedback, engaging socially, etc. Early stage adoption of CRM technologies to manage employee experience are demonstrating that the same systems use to ensure customer engagement (repeat conversion to buyer) and loyalty can work with employees. (Baptist Health Care)
  • Work-Challenge Based Promotions — if your engagement surveys capture perceptions about the fair awarding of promotions, you probably already know that it is a major issue in almost every organization. Most promotion processes are entirely subjective, and team members often feel that the wrong people get promoted, which has a dramatic negative effect on productivity, retention, and morale. One extremely effective solution is to promote employees based on their performance in a tournament, like series’ of challenges based on the duties of the job to be filled. Allowing team members from within and outside the department to participate if they desire the role. This allows individuals who feel they have not been given an adequate opportunity to demonstrate their abilities to do so. It also sends a clear message that ability to do the work the best is the only factor considered. The approach is proven to produce superior candidates, positively influence employer brand, and increase productivity. A second approach to consider is allowing employees to appeal when they consider a promotion to be unfair. (MGM Grand and IBM)
  • Support Best Practice Sharing  – Talent management does not need to create new tools or approaches in order to add value. In larger firms, many times there are already best practices in use, but hidden in a single function or business unit. Talent management can have an immediate impact if it simply develops a mechanism for identifying best and “next” practices and effectively spreading them rapidly throughout the organization. Internal wikis allow fast best-practice and information sharing using a model many are familiar with (Wikipedia). Communities of practice, consultant directories, and internal social networks can also aid in spreading practices and alerting others about upcoming problems. (Cisco Systems)

Strategic Talent Management Tools

  • Measuring and Rewarding Great People Management – managers are the primary delivery channel for talent management processes, but too many fail to take their people-management responsibilities seriously, and managers rarely spend enough time on people management. An effective way to get a manager’s attention is to measure, report, and reward great people management results. Only 39% of firms currently reward managers for great people management even though HR “owns” all of the key components of the reward process (including performance management, performance appraisal, competency management, and the reward systems). “What is measured, reported and rewarded is … done first and done best.” Implementing and rewarding success via a quarterly people management scorecard can dramatically improve people-management results. (GE, PepsiCo, and FedEx)
  • Providing Integrated Talent Management Solutions Managers Expect – managers are faced with multifaceted problems that simultaneously require at least a partial solution from several different talent management functions. Unfortunately, the solutions that most talent management teams provide are fragmented and independent. Obviously managers would prefer a single integrated solution. Talent management must work to integrate the different talent management functions and to provide comprehensive rather than fragmented solutions.
  • Identifying “Headcount Fat” – quite often corporations are forced into conducting layoffs because they suddenly realize that they have a surplus of employees. A superior approach is to periodically assess the overall workforce and the workforce in each major business unit to identify areas that are overstaffed. Identifying labor surplus is usually done using predetermined ratios. The current ratio is compared to the ideal using revenue per employee ratios, labor costs-to-revenue ratios, and manager-to-employee ratios. The early identification of surplus gives talent management managers time to identify possible solutions that may minimize the need for layoffs.
  • Developing a Story Inventory — the emergence of social networks and peer-to-peer media make it much easier for employees to play a larger role in building employer brand and recruiting referrals. “Authentic stories” are the most powerful and credible way of spreading an organization’s brand, but most organizations have no way of identifying, cataloging, and sharing the powerful people stories that could influence talent populations. The best approach is to develop a process for gathering stories from employees and managers and building out a “wow” story inventory that is easily accessible. The inventory can then be used by employees, managers, and even the press when looking for cool stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. (Zappos)

Tools to Improve Successful Innovation

  • Measure, Report and Reward — the tremendous success of Apple in recent years demonstrates the financial impact of successful innovation. Unfortunately, innovation does not come easily in a large corporate environment. What you measure, report, and reward is more likely to be done well, so talent management needs to develop processes for effectively measuring, rewarding and widely reporting managers whose teams produce innovations that are successfully. Managers should also be measured and rewarded for coaching and sharing best practices among other managers on how to manage and improve innovation. (Google)
  • Increasing Collaboration – innovation is surpassing efficiency as the prime driver of corporate performance. Even with the increased emphasis, few in talent management accept responsibility for delivering something proven to increase successful innovation, cross functional collaboration. Higher rates of collaboration increase learning, drive best-practice sharing, and excite and energize employees. Collaboration can also reduce project roadblocks and resistance. Talent management must develop physical (i.e. increased cross-functional interactions and meetings) and online approaches (i.e. internal corporate social networks) that increase the chances of more frequent and in-depth collaboration. (Google)

Coming Up in Part Two…

Next week, I’ll introduce talent management approaches and tools aimed at workforce development, improving talent management functional positioning and budgets, and using key business processes and tools from other functions.

Recruiting leaders tend to be a pretty conservative group, sticking with tried-and-true approaches, tools, and methods. Because they are almost always managing from the weeds, there is little time invested in identifying, testing, and refining new solutions, but that doesn’t mean such solutions don’t emerge.

The inventory of available approaches is quite large, with many solutions existing under the radar.

The following list highlights the very best unknown and underutilized tools, some of which I have highlighted previously.

40+ “Unknown” Or Barely Known Recruiting Tools

I) Infrequently Used Sourcing and Candidate Identification Tools

The most commonly used tools include employee referrals, employment advertising, direct sourcing, agencies, and events, but there are many others to consider, including:

  • Proactive referrals — rather than waiting for key individuals to refer, go directly to your top performers and ask them for targeted referrals (target five a month). Ask them specifically to refer their mentees, best retirees they know, and former colleagues. (Google)
  • Reference referrals — on the anniversary date of new hires who turn out to be exceptional employees, call the references back, thank them, and ask “Who else do you know who is equally as good?”
  • Educational seminars on site — for larger firms, sponsor an educational seminar covering the field that you are recruiting for and hold it onsite. Offer attendees a tour and provide a mechanism for them to mingle with your current staff. This is an effective tool when the name of your firm isn’t that great, but your people, approaches, and facilities really are! (Microsoft)
  • Online contests — competitions are a great way to identify top performers and innovators. A compelling online contest covering a real problem can attract and allow you to effectively assess the very best from around the world. (Google)
  • Certification courses — for jobs that require professional certifications, ask attendees from your organization to look for top talent during certification courses. If you’re really serious, consider having your top people teach them.
  • Almost qualified — keep a tickler file of exceptional finalists who just needed a bit more experience; re-contact them 1-3 years later.
  • Turned us down — keep a tickler file of finalists who have turned down offers; monitor their situation and re-contact them when things change.
  • Interview referrals — challenge the industry knowledge of your best interviewees by asking them as part of the interview to list the names of other outstanding individuals they know. If you ask enough interviewees, you will get a pretty good list of top names in the function and industry.
  • New hire referrals — ask all new hires on their first day, “Who else is good at your previous firm or in the industry?” Ask them to help you recruit any targeted individuals who they know.
  • Referral cards — provide your highly visible employees with referral cards that sell your firm and that let the individual know that they are special. They can be similar to business cards or electronic. (Yahoo)
  • “Ask me” buttons — offer employees “Ask me about what it’s like working at XYZ” lapel buttons to wear at industry events. Train your employees on how to respond, and encourage them to refer only the best that approach them.
  • Target retirees — many retirees have second thoughts after they leave work. Consider them for permanent or “fill-in” roles. (Microsoft)
  • Talent communities — develop online talent communities where you build relationships over time with a group of prospects based on learning and professional issues. Only after the professional relationship is solidified do you pursue recruiting possibilities. (Microsoft)
  • Find-you-again profile — in order to identify the best sources, ask your current top employees “how would I find you again?” Ask them what industry and social events they attend, magazines and journals that they read, and what social media and Internet sites they frequent. Use this information to identify the sources where corporate branding or job announcements are the most likely to be seen and read.
  • When a competitor is in trouble — when a competing firm is undergoing cutbacks, staff reductions, or other turmoil, increase your recruiting efforts to target their best people. Individuals who said no in the past may have a change of heart almost overnight.
  • Search collaboration sites — sometimes the best way to identify top talent is a review of their work that is available online. Visit collaboration sites like SlideShare and technical forums to identify individuals with the best ideas and approaches.
  • Hiring freeze recruiting — when you are facing a talent competitor that you can never beat in head-to-head competition, target your recruiting to begin whenever the firm has instituted a hiring freeze or slow down. Off-cycle recruiting during an economic downturn or a period of layoffs is also almost always a good strategy for weaker or lesser-known firms.
  • Narrowcasting for skills — identify the organizations, websites, and social media channels where individuals with the desired skill “hang out.” For example if the skill you need is risk taking, the sourcing should focus on clubs, organizations, and social network sites that are populated by risk-takers (i.e. rock climbing or investment clubs).
  • Proximity location tools — there are many new social network tools (for example foursquare) that use smartphone technologies to allow you identify whenever any of your social network friends or prospects are physically located close to you. This is especially useful when a face-to-face meeting is required to sell a prospect.
  • Names research — outsource your name generation efforts to specialty firms, if finding names is your only recruiting weakness.

II) Little-known Convincing, Selling, and Candidate-Closing Tools

After identifying your recruiting targets, you need effective tools for convincing them to apply, to remain through the last interview and to accept your offer.

  • Assigned referrals based on social network relationships — when a top candidate has already been identified, the recruiter uses software to identify which employee has the strongest social media relationship with the target. The employee (or employees) is then given the assignment of using their connections to contact and to build a recruiting relationship with the target. (Zynga)
  • Using CRM tools — it turns out that CRM software that is used by the customer service function at your firm can be easily adapted to recruiting. CRM practices have proven to be effective in building relationships and in improving the candidate experience.
  • Use the mobile platform — the smart phone is the most powerful communications medium, simply because prospects are constantly on it and carry it with them at all times. Make sure that your corporate website is compatible with smart phones, and use text, voice, and videos to communicate your message. (AT&T)
  • “Why did you say yes?” — you can dramatically improve your recruiting sales pitch, if you ask all new hires “which specific element of our recruiting and branding pitch” had a positive influence on their decision to apply and accept. Use this information to improve your marketing materials, interviews, and the offer process.
  • Job descriptions — if you have a hard time getting individuals to apply, a dull job description is a common reason. Rewrite your job descriptions to make them more like marketing pieces. (Sodexo)
  • Side-by-side sell sheets — provide your hiring managers with a single sheet that shows how your firm and its offer may be superior to likely offers from competing firms. This practice can help managers with weak selling skills.
  • Live Internet video interviews — it is quite difficult for currently employed or remotely located individuals to find the time to attend an in-person interview. An effective alternative that is much easier to schedule is using live Internet video interviews for at least the first round. Skype, new technologies, and vendors make it cost-effective. (Zappos)
  • Film festival — if a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a video must worth a million. Encourage employees and teams to make short videos revealing “the excitement” within your firm. (Deloitte)
  • CEO calls — if you want to close hard-to-hire top candidates, have your CEO or local facility head call the candidate directly and encourage them to sign on. Knowing that they have the CEO’s support is a powerful selling point if they effectively prepare for the conversation.
  • A story inventory — many great firms have difficulty selling candidates because they cannot communicate the employee experience are employees and managers struggle to convert potential referrals because they are not completely aware of best practices and powerful stories that make the firm a top place to work. Develop a story identification process and create a story inventory or Wiki to catalog your top success stories/examples. (Zappos)
  • Peer interviews — if your managers are having difficulty selling top candidates, you get a significantly higher acceptance rate if candidates are interviewed primarily by the individuals they will work directly with. Because peers know the job, they can be more convincing and at the same time, more believable than hiring managers.
  • Ask for their “job-switch criteria” — candidates who are in high demand must have their specific expectations met or they will accept other offers. If you ask candidate up front to identify their job-switch criteria (and any “deal breakers”) you can tailor the recruiting process, so that you end up providing information showing that you meet each of their criteria.
  • Contact them on the “right day” — individuals who say no initially may change their mind after they experience a negative “triggering” event such as the firing of a boss/friend, a merger announcement, or project proposal rejection.
  • Use a hiring team — sometimes when you are attempting to recruit top candidates, you find out that the hiring manager is not a great recruiter, interviewer, or deal closer. As an alternative, consider selecting a hiring team made up of exciting and interesting personalities to do your recruiting and selling (include both managers and employees).
  • Exploding offers — when competition for talent is intense, you need candidates to accept your offer quickly, before a better one comes along. Fast offer acceptances also restrict the ability of their current manager to make a successful counter offer. One of the best tools for getting fast acceptance is an “exploding offer,” i.e. an offer with a significant bonus for immediate acceptance.
  • Green and sustainable recruiting — because sustainability is such a hot topic among candidates, it pays to emphasize environmentally friendly actions, programs, and products both on your website and during interviews. (GE)

III) Under-the-Radar College Recruiting Tools

College recruiting is the most traditional among all types of corporate recruiting, so don’t be surprised if your college or routing group hasn’t tried any of these tools.

  • College referrals — it turns out that the most effective process for recruiting experienced hires works even better for attracting college students, who are even more well-connected.
  • Remote college recruiting — you can’t visit every college campus but it is now possible to identify and assess the very best college students remotely, using Internet and social media tools.
  • Interns as on campus reps — ask your college interns to serve as recruiting representatives or ambassadors when they return to campus. Ask them to visit the events held by professional clubs and to provide you with the names of the best to target.
  • Grad assistants — the grad or teaching assistants of top professors not only know the best students but they are very good at convincing them to accept your new opportunities. Officers of professional student organizations are also excellent talent scouts.
  • Two-years-out recruiting — there is a lot of competition for top students graduating right out of school. Save your resources and go after them after they have been out for two years. During those two years another company will have invested in training them; their expectations and their preferences will have likely changed, making them easier to sell.

Final Thoughts

Because many recruiters and their managers are overworked, it’s hard for them to keep up on trends and tools. Since there is no national database of recruiting tools, it’s not surprising that so many effective tools remain under the radar. I hope this list gives you some ideas and that you try at least one.

Talent acquisition functions spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars designing processes to hire top performers, innovators, and game changers. Unfortunately few of those dollars or hours are spent fixing the biggest roadblock in recruiting A-level talent: weak hiring managers. Everyone seems to intuitively know that managers are the weakest link in any hiring process but few have had the time to research the topic and to identify the specific reasons how weak managers hurt the overall hiring effort.

As part of a larger project I’m currently working on (developing a “bad manager identification” orBMI program), I have been able to compile a long list of how weak managers hurt both the speed and the quality of hire.

If you decide to initiate an effort to train managers on how to hire, these factors and their related negative impacts could be crucial in building the business case for training hiring managers and rewarding them for great hires.

The Costs of a Bad Hire

Most would agree that managers do an OK job when they are trying to fill the typical requisition. However, everything changes when you’re trying to recruit the most difficult and desirable candidates. When recruiting A-level talent, undertrained, low-skilled, egotistical, or disinterested managers can be a top factor in losing great candidates. In addition to losing top candidates, the resulting bad hires require more costly training, they take up more of their teammate’s time, make more errors, upset customers and are much more likely to require performance management. Some may accidentally be promoted into management positions, where they will repeat and perhaps exceed the recruiting mistakes made by their original hiring manager. Remember that if your company has high retention and low firing rates, the costly damage that a bad hire can do is likely to last over many years.

What Google Does to Limit the Damage of Weak Hiring Managers

“We do everything to minimize the authority and power of the manager in making a hiring decision.”

“Managers often want to hire people who seem just like them.” So… “hiring decisions are made by a group.”

–L. Bock, Google VP of People Operations

The Top 20 Reasons Why Managers Are Unlikely To Hire Great Candidates

The top ways that hiring managers can hurt or prevent great hiring are listed below. For easy scanning, I have bullet broken them into four categories, I) general factors, II) factors related to a manager’s hiring skills, III) factors related to weak management skills, and IV) factors related to a ego and inflexibility.

I) General Factors That Prevent Great Hiring

  • A-level talent will not work for weak managers — when weak managers try to hire superior talent, they cannot succeed because top candidates can spot and accurately assess a weak manager even before applying by using their extensive professional or social media networks. If a top candidate somehow gets to an interview, their ability to ask probing questions to the hiring manager will bring out answers that will cause them to immediately drop out of the hiring process.
  • Weak managers probably have weak teams — the very definition of a weak manager means that they are not capable of attracting and retaining top talent. As a result, when the top candidates meet and interact with their mediocre team during the interview process, there is a high likelihood that they will be immediately discouraged. Top candidates want to work alongside the very best teammates because they want to learn from them. A-level talent will also immediately realize that they won’t be able to achieve their goals while working with this mediocre team.
  • Weak managers have limited resources to offer — because of their poor performance, missed deadlines, and failed projects, weak managers are less likely to have large budgets. Top candidates will inquire about the available budget and resources in the department and they will be turned off when they learn that the resources available to them are below average.
  • Weak managers are likely to be assigned low-level recruiters — some recruiting managers have a policy to assign the best recruiters to the most important jobs and the best managers. The best recruiters themselves often lobby their recruiting manager for the opportunity to work with the best hiring managers who are likely to produce high-quality hires. Even though it’s not an official policy, it is not unusual for contract recruiters or the weakest and most inexperienced recruiters to be assigned to the worst hiring managers. This may occur either as a subtle form of punishment or because these recruiters are all that are left after more senior recruiters have their choice. No matter what the reason, without the support and coaching of top recruiters, the odds of a weak manager getting a great A-level hire are almost zero. Incidentally, is also true that external executive search and third-party recruiters are unlikely to put the most effort into a search that is unlikely to succeed as a result of the roadblocks put up by a bad hiring manager.

II) Factors related to a manager’s hiring skills and capabilities

  • Weak managers fail to do candidate research — many managers, in this case, both the good ones and the weak ones, fail to do adequate research into the background and the needs of top candidates. But weak managers sometimes don’t even bother to review the resume before an interview begins. This “no research” approach might be OK for most average or active candidates (because they have “easy to meet” job acceptance requirements), but A-level talent haas extremely high expectations and a detailed list of requirements that must be met (and deal-breakers that must be avoided) before they will accept the job. The very best managers proactively identify and then meet each of the major job acceptance criteria of A-level talent.
  • Weak managers are bad salespeople — a weak manager is certainly capable of selling an average active candidate. However, it takes a much stronger set of sales skills and knowledge of the current market to sell the currently employed, top performers, game-changers, and innovators. Weak managers fail to conduct research and are not up-to-date on the latest recruiting sales and closing approaches. As a result, it is unlikely that weak managers will be able to close most of the best candidates.
  • Weak managers are unlikely to innovate during recruiting, driving away innovators — weak managers simply don’t innovate very often. That is OK in most cases because the average hire doesn’t expect anything unusual during the hiring process. However, A-level talent and innovators will view the level of innovation and technology usage (e.g. live remote video interviews, simulations, real problem-solving contests) that they encounter during the recruiting process as an indication of the rate of innovation and technology usage in the job and the firm. In addition, if they aren’t offered the opportunity to innovate during the interview, their capabilities will be undiscovered and their frustration will likely cause them to drop out of the recruiting process.
  • Failing to do benchmarking and competitive analysis may result in noncompetitive jobs and offers — you cannot recruit in isolation, so hiring managers must be up-to-date regarding the benchmark standards for top candidates in the current recruiting market. Unfortunately, weak managers are frequently unwilling to spend the necessary time required to analyze what competitors are offering and to make adjustments to ensure that “their job” is compelling and clearly superior to what the competitors are offering. Weak managers are also unlikely to monitor a competitor’s hiring cycles, so that they can focus their recruiting during times when they can avoid direct head-to-head competition with competitors that possess a strong employer brand.
  • Weak managers don’t know how to manage competing offers — if the A-level candidate is currently employed, there is a high probability they will get a counteroffer from their existing boss. Even if they’re not employed, top candidates are likely to get one or more offers from other firms. Unfortunately, weak managers are often inflexible and are not willing to even make a counteroffer. Those that are willing to make one, often lack the skills necessary to successfully negotiate with the candidate and their own compensation department. The end result is that candidates who are in the highest demand will be lost.
  • Managers who are not up-to-date in their field frequently write poor position descriptions — weak managers are often behind the times in the latest tools, technologies, best practices, and approaches in their technical field. As a result, the job descriptions and the position announcements that these managers help to create or that they approve will signal immediately to exceptional candidates that this job will not be exciting or challenging. As a result they will not even apply for the position.
  • Weak technical skills may lead to poor candidate screening — weak managers who are behind in their technical field will also make errors during resume screening. When they are asked to screen through a stack of “finalists” resumes who are presented to them by the recruiter, they may make serious errors in the ranking of top candidates. As a result of their low knowledge level, some of the top candidates may never be invited in for interview. Obviously their weak technical skills and knowledge will also come through during the interview.

III) Factors related to weak management skills and capabilities

  • Weak managers are poor decision-makers — managers who make numerous poor decisions would have to be labeled as weak managers. It’s highly likely that a manager that uses a poor decision-making process for business decisions will also use a flawed approach to make hiring decisions. The net result will be that the best candidates may be screened out early or they will not be selected as the finalist.
  • Weak managers are slow decision-makers — weak managers are often indecisive. Even if a manager uses a good decision-making process, if they are slow at making the final decision in hiring, it won’t matter because the best candidates will be gone weeks before they can make a final decision.
  • A poorly managed interview processes signals weak management — weak managers often develop and execute weak interview processes. Unfortunately, top candidates will project your ability to manage them based on how well you manage their interview process. If the interview starts late, include weak interviewers, are disorganized, or they include inappropriate, illogical, or illegal questions, the candidate will likely assume that the manager who owned the process is a weak manager.
  • Poor feedback during the hiring process indicates poor feedback on the job — if a manager is weak at communicating and providing feedback during the hiring process, most top candidates will assume that those weaknesses will also exist after they accept the job. Therefore you are likely to lose any candidates who receive mixed messages and slow or no feedback.
  • Weak managers are more likely to be biased and to generalize – in some cases, managers produce poor business results because they use their own biases and generalizations to make judgments. Weak managers are less likely to understand the value of diversity and in all too many cases, they end up hiring people that look and act “just like them.” This may result in candidate slates with low diversity and below average diversity hires.

IV) Factors related to a ego or inflexibility

  • “C” level managers won’t attempt to hire “A” level talent — Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, is a supporter of the premise that weak managers seldom hire A-level talent. They often don’t even try to hire superior talent out of fear that the new talent might challenge them or even take their job. Hiring talent with skill levels below them may increase their sense of security.
  • Weak managers may overreach in their job requirements — weak managers are often unwilling or incapable of training and developing new hires. So in the cases where a hiring manager is willing to seek out superior talent, they often set the minimum job requirements or specs (skills, education, and experience) unreasonably high so that they will not need to train, coach, or mentor the new hire. Unfortunately, setting unreasonable job requirements will reduce the available talent pool, so few qualified candidates may be available at the salary the company can offer. At the very least this “overreaching so that they will need to coach” will make the recruiter have to look much further, and that alone will delay hiring. These unreasonable job specs may also result in an unfilled position.
  • Weak managers may insist that the job remain unchanged — weak managers are often inflexible, unwilling to change, or to make an exception for any individual. This can be a problem because top performers, game-changers, and innovators already know that they are in high demand. And as a result, it is not unusual for this type of candidate to begin the interviewing process with an expectation that the job duties and the assignments will be negotiable. And as a result, they expect the job will be at least partially be tailored to their specific interests and needs. The arrogance of the hiring manager may cause them to refuse to even consider a change in the job. They might also refuse to even consider a change because they fear the possibility of having to explain to their current workers why this individual received something that they did not get.
  • Weak managers may be incapable of making high salary offers — currently employed top performers, game-changers, and innovators almost always demand top salaries. Some weak managers are insecure and they certainly don’t want any team member making close to what they get paid. Others are simply not capable of successfully negotiating with compensation, so they never even try to get the highest salary offer. Even if they are capable, they often make no attempt to get the highest offer because once again they fear having to explain to current team members why this new hire is starting at such a high rate of pay. As a result, a level talent will frequently refuse to even consider what they view as a lowball offer.

Final Thoughts

Once you get over the shock of learning how much damage weak managers can do to hiring, you need to take action. The most logical first step is to provide every new hiring manager with hiring training and support information. That training would also be offered to the hiring managers with the weakest track record in recruiting.

As a second step, recruiting management should also consider implementing a service level agreement that spells out the specific expectations for both the recruiting function and the hiring manager. Hiring managers that don’t meet their SLA requirements would be provided no corporate help and they would be required to cough up the money to pay for a third-party recruiter.

A third action step, if you have the courage, is to prioritize your hiring managers based on their track record. Those hiring managers who earned the lowest priority would go to the bottom of the requisition queue and they would get the lowest priority in resources and recruiter assignments. Taken together, the shock of receiving slow service, having the least-experienced recruiters, or having to pay for third-party help may be enough shock to get these weak managers to follow the rules and to repeat the course covering great hiring.

One last thought: Why not take a trip over to HR and demand that it implements a “bad manager identification program.” If a weak manager is destroying your chances for recruiting A-level talent, imagine what damage they are also doing in the areas of productivity, retention, and innovation!

Consider this scenario: you’re trying to recruit a star in your industry, but you’re having difficulty because they are treated extremely well at their current firm. You try everything in your recruiting toolkit, but the target still won’t budge. Because this is an exceptional individual that is slotted for a key position, you decide to use the “CEO option” that works every time.

You tell recruit that the CEO is personally aware of their work and would really like a one-on-one meeting to discuss them joining the team. Sound outrageous? It might be if your recruiting leaders have failed to make the business case to your CEO on the value of recruiting top candidates, but not if your function truly delivers strategic recruiting.

The CEO option is an approach that has been used by many famous companies to land highly in-demand, non-executive talent for years. Some might recall the story of cell phones distributed by Microsoft to top students with Bill Gates’ personal extension stored in memory. Other CEOs who have accepted the challenge of chief recruiter include Jack Welch (ex-GE) and Jim Donald (Starbucks). The approach is currently proving wildly successful for Zynga, the gaming company undergoing phenomenal growth. Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, recently donned the hat to recruit away a key leader from Amazon.com.

Why a CEO’s Involvement Works

If you’ve ever eaten at a high-end restaurant you know that it isn’t uncommon for the executive chef to visit the tables of VIP customers in hopes that he can influence them to refer their friends and return. Using the CEO in recruiting efforts is very similar. The act has been encouraged for years, but doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should. Some of the reasons why this approach is so powerful include:

  • CEOs are great salespeople (usually) — it’s hard to ascend to the role of CEO without being able to sell a vision and market your organization’s ability to attain that vision. When effectively briefed about a candidate’s “job acceptance criteria” and “deal breaking” factors, most CEOs can close the deal. In the rare cases where the candidate doesn’t accept, they often come back month later.
  • The feeling of a partnership and an impact — when I advise firms on this practice, I recommend that the CEO use a phrase similar to “I need your help. I know that with you and I working closely together, we can build an exciting future for this company.” The goal is to build the feeling of a partnership and a close working relationship that will directly impact the future of the company for many years.
  • Straight from the horse’s mouth — talking directly to the CEO means that the candidate will receive direct unfiltered messages. That alone can be reassuring when they might not trust the word of a recruiter oblivious to the inside story.
  • High probability of execution — the candidate knows that any promises that are made have a high probability of coming true because they are backed by the power, resources, and integrity of the CEO.
  • Future access — the fact that the CEO will meet with a candidate now should leave the impression that they will have continuous access as an employee.
  • Power by association — because everyone at the firm knows that the candidate met with the CEO, they’re likely at least initially to listen to them.
  • Bragging rights — talking directly to the CEO is something notable that the candidate can tell their friends, even if they never accept a job. It’s an honor merely to be invited.
  • Consorting with the enemy — once a candidate has met with your CEO they may be viewed as “damaged goods” or as a traitor by their current firm. Not wanting to face potential criticism as a result is another reason that the candidate might accept the new job.

What the CEO Can Do to Help

Once a CEO or senior executive agrees to help in a recruiting effort, there are a variety of roles and approaches that they can take. In addition to the initial one-on-one meeting other options include:

  • Pre-recruiting calls — a call to the candidate commenting on their work or congratulating them for an accomplishment can set the stage for future recruiting.
  • Meet me at a conference — a request to meet informally but discreetly at a conference they are both attending is a good way to start a relationship.
  • I am flying in to meet you — telling a candidate that the CEO is willing to fly into their city and make a special trip to meet them is extremely powerful. An alternative approach is stating that the CEO will already be in the city on business, so maybe they could find time to meet.
  • CEO invitation call — having the CEO call and invite them to the one-on-one meeting is even more powerful.
  • Informal coffee — as an alternative to the formal interview in the CEO’s office, consider an informal talk over coffee.
  • A handwritten note — sometimes a personal note in the CEO’s handwriting can make the difference. In some cases, a note to the spouse or partner can also be powerful.
  • Drop in on the interview — something that takes less time but can impact the closing of a deal is for the CEO to stop by and merely introduce themselves during a standard on-site interview.
  • Close the deal CEO call — after the offer has been made, having a CEO call in order to encourage them to say yes can be very powerful and hard to turn down.
  • Come to my office on the first day — a final approach for “enforcing the deal” is to request that the new hire come by for a follow-up visit on their first day at work.
  • Retention calls/visits — the same logic that works for recruiting also works on current employees who are at risk of leaving.

How to Convince Your CEO to Play a Role

Some CEOs are smart and automatically assume the role as “the chief recruiter” for the firm. In other cases it takes some convincing and building the business case. Some approaches to consider include:

  • Others do it — demonstrate to her/him what other CEOs who they admire are successfully using this tool.
  • Consider a pilot — offer to run a small-scale pilot program for a month in order to judge the results and the ROI.
  • Show the impact on recruiting — show them the percentage increase in the number of difficult candidates who 1) accepted an interview and 2) accept the job as a result of the CEO being involved. Also, during onboarding, ask new hires with CEO involvement to rank the factors that influenced their decision to say yes. Report the importance of their involvement back to the CEO.
  • Show the impact on performance — periodically report the superior business results, bonus percentage, and innovations produced by individuals who were recruited using this approach.
  • Place limits — show them that you respect their time by setting a limit on the number they are requested to do each month. Also limit it to high-impact jobs and hard-to-recruit candidates for those jobs.

Final Thoughts

Most recruiting leaders have little or no contact with the CEO, so their initial reaction to such a program is often that it’s not realistic. However, in my experience the most resistance comes from within HR. CEOs are routinely called upon to influence key customers, key vendors and strategic partners, so it’s only logical that they play a role in recruiting too. While time management is a major concern, most CEOs actually enjoy and learn from the process of meeting with top professionals. A side benefit, they may learn that not everyone is dying to work at their firm and that the role of the recruiter is both challenging and important.