It is hard to believe that it has been nearly 10 years to the day since Free Agent Nation was published, and nearly 14 years since the article by Daniel Pink graced the cover of Fast Company magazine. Since that time, a lot has changed, but given the inflection point we are experiencing with regard to the economy, the job market, accelerating recruitment challenges, as well as changes in recruitment and candidate behaviors, it’s useful to revisit the free agent discussion in light of what has changed (and what has not).

As I work with companies and talk with HR and talent acquisition executives, it is surprising that even today there remain deeply rooted social and organizational norms within even progressive companies regarding a concept of talent ownership.” It has been one of the more surprising artifacts I’ve observed in consulting: even now, organizations maintain a substantial amount of outdated, sometimes-unconscious thinking with regard to a concept that is clearly been eclipsed. This despite the fact that more companies are moving to an HR model of ‘end to end’ talent management. Many do not address some of the underlying organizational principles that need to change in order to compete in today’s New Talent Economy. The concept of talent ownership is one such example: many companies still insist on supporting regulation and rules-based HR policies to control for internal movement. A common example is restricting internal talent from applying for internal opportunities until they have been in their current job for x months. This is completely incongruent with the free-agent economy that exists today.

I’ve said many times, “If you are not recruiting your own people, you are the only company that isn’t…”

That has never been truer than today as social media has created innumerable entry points for recruiters and non-recruiters to reach people in your company. Yet company after company maintains policies that erode the concept of a laissez-faire talent economy internally. They restrict their own employees from changing jobs even as the world around them has evolved to be a free agent nation.

I do understand the practical implications of policies to balance the needs of individuals versus the broader needs of an organization. Clearly things don’t work well if workers are changing jobs every three months. So here are some ways to create programs that work in today’s talent economy.

  • Create an internal talent marketplace: The talent marketplace outside of your company is becoming increasingly more efficient. For example, the “findability” of talent has never been easier. How is the talent marketplace inside of your firm? Many accounts suggest the process and approach to finding and landing a job inside of your company is more difficult than doing so outside of your company. If companies like Kayak are shortening their external recruiting process to seven days, how does your internal process stack up? Can internal talent sign up for new jobs to be delivered to their inbox? Is your process clearly communicated, concise, and have face-validity? If not, why not?
  • If you must have term limits, change the structure of term limits: I’m a large fan of laissez-faire talent principle, but in practice, inside of an organization where hierarchy and structure and policies help drive efficiency at scale, they can be useful. So instead of enforcing term limits based on tenure, enforce term limits on the number of times people can move in a given period. Most companies set policies that require people to remain in roles for ~1 year before they can move.   Which essentially suggests “we own you.” A smarter solution is to set guidelines that people can only move three times within an X year period. This provides flexibility while balancing the broader needs of the organization.
  • Use social media internally: It’s obvious that recruiters are gaining leverage from social media. How are you doing so within your organization? Creating groups and tranching internal employees into segments makes sense. Do you have an internal social media strategy? Are you using tools like LinkedIn and Facebook to drive engagement and syndicate information (and human connection) across your organization. If not, why not?

As usual, sound off in the comments.

We are in interesting times with regards to corporate recruiting. This is a Big Inflection Point in the business cycle (arguably the largest one many of us will experience in our lifetimes) and recruiting departments are really stretched.

Part of the challenge corporate recruiting departments face today are a result of not recognizing “False Economies.” A False Economy is when something seems like a great deal or a good idea, but the economics are not what they seem when viewed more holistically or from a different vantage point. This is usually a result of tension between short-term objectives and long-term objectives: value is typically traded between the two. Jack Welch famously remarked about two years ago that “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world …”

That is an interesting insight to reflect upon in light of managing a corporate recruiting operation.

There are a host of potential False Economies in corporate recruiting departments — things that seem like they save money or create value, but in reality the true net economic value is substantially less. Identifying and understanding these False Economies will be imperative for staffing leaders to navigate the rough waters ahead.

One timely example is recruiting team capacity … many organizations currently have an insufficient capacity model for the current demand plan. This typically results in overspending that is far greater than the cost of deploying a more sustainable resource model. At the center of the dilemma is the substantial difference between maximum capacity and optimal capacity. Many corporate recruiting departments have been cut so much that they would need to operate at maximum capacity to meet the needs of the business. This is unsustainable, like running your car at redline all the time: sure you can do it, but how long is it going to last?

Many companies over the last 3-4 years of the recession evaluated the benefits of cost-cutting and trimming corporate recruiting staff to the degree that it is a False Economy. The net impact of the actions is likely negative … because it was short-term thinking. Now they are suffering the consequences of doing so by experiencing dramatically increased spend on search firms, disillusioned recruiting staff, and higher team turnover.

So saving money in the short term is going to cost a lot in the long term. And that is not even considering the potential impact to the average net quality of hire as recruiting departments were gutted, selection and assessment best practices were abandoned, and process, tools, and other best practices were disrupted. If you add both the tangible and intangible impact, even using conservative assumptions, the impact is substantially negative. The short-term savings in cutting the recruiting department at many companies was a False Economy. Just a few weeks ago I was talking with senior staffing leaders at a global, Fortune 500 company and one of them remarked, “The hiring managers are all direct-dialing to search firms at this point, because we don’t have the capacity and can’t find enough recruiters to hire.”

Ineffective capacity modeling is just one example. There are many others.

There are some steps to take when thinking through changes to the operating model in corporate recruiting that will help you avoid the pitfalls of False Economies:

1. Scenario Planning Analysis: When considering making changes, scenario-plan what might happen if key inputs or outputs change. This will lead to more effective, well-rounded points of view, and therefore to improved decision quality. Before making changes, spend the time to conduct some “What If” analysis and compare the predictable cost models. Using the capacity model issue as an example, you might ask yourself the following types of questions:

  • What if the forecast hires is too little by 25% and my team is asked to deliver more?
  • What would we do to meet demand?
  • What would it cost to use alternative resources (search firms, contract staff, others)?
  • What’s the opportunity cost of unfilled positions and the impact on the business?
  • How do all of these tangible and intangible costs impact cost per hire in this scenario?

2. ROI Analysis: Much of the False Economies that crop up in corporate recruiting departments are due to a lack of transparency with regard to the ROI on investment dollars. Conduct an inventory of spending patterns and evaluate if they are the correct decisions for 2011. For example, there are often large opportunities to re-evaluate how budget dollars are allocated, and repurpose the spending to achieve a greater return. This may sound simplistic but it is one of the most common areas of waste I observe in corporate recruiting departments: spending dollars on things that have limited ROI. Indeed, whole industries have been built around this one area of corporate inefficiency (you know who you are). Some questions to ask might be:

  • What is the cost/benefit analysis of our sourcing team? How much yield do we achieve from this investment?
  • What is the yield from our spending on job boards and other advertising? 
  • What is the opportunity cost associated with other resources involved in the recruiting process? For example, if hiring managers are heavily involved in some aspects of the recruiting process, what is the opportunity cost (and benefits) of this model?

3. A/B Testing: This is also called split-testing. At the core, A/B testing is exactly what it sounds like: you have two versions of a potential solution (A and B) and a metric that defines success. To determine which version is better, you subject both versions to experimentation simultaneously. In the end, you measure which version was more successful and select that version for deployment. I am a huge proponent of evidence-based decision making; the lack of evidence-based decisions is why False Economies exist in the first place! But in reality many organizations make investment decisions without properly evaluating the outcomes that each potential “solution” produces. In simple terms, they guess, and often they guess poorly.

I can hear the dissention already: “But we don’t have time to evaluate different options … we need to hire X many people THIS QUARTER…”

Well, one key to avoiding False Economies by using A/B testing is recognizing that the trade-off in time is worthwhile. It takes more time to test, but in the longer term, it’s a great investment because it minimizes the chance of False Economies. Here are some thought-starting scenarios where A/B testing might prove enlightening:

  • What if we eliminated the sourcing team support for Division A but kept it in Division B? What would happen to cost per hire and time to fill (and other metrics)?
  • What if we added recruiting administrative support to Recruiting Team A and compared it to Recruiting Team B (that does not have administrative support)? Would throughput really increase?
  • What if we stopped posting jobs to XYZ job board in Division A and kept posting them for Division B? What is the impact?
  • What if we automated pieces of our recruitment process (online assessments, scheduling, etc) for Division A but kept the process in Division B the same, how would our results compare?

False Economies are everywhere, and the way to avoid them, as much as possible, is to take a strategic approach to thinking through them. As usual, sound off in the comments and share your point of view.

I’ve been thinking a lot about speed.

Things are starting to loosen up in the talent marketplace. Candidates are now comfortable changing jobs. Jobless claims are dropping, as is the unemployment rate, but there are not a huge amount of new jobs being created (yet). So The Great Churn of 2011 has begun, as employees (including recruiters) start to change companies after having hunkered down for the last three years. And this is putting increased pressure on corporate recruiting departments, most of which have been cut in ways we haven’t before seen. My prediction is that 2011 will be a tough year for most corporate recruiting departments.

Which brings us back to speed.

Not the I ride fast motorcycles kind of speed, or the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, or other more illicit connotations.

I’ve been thinking a lot about speed as it relates to the overall performance of recruiting operations, and how in this economy, speed is a source of competitive advantage, and should strongly be considered as a strategy for 2011.

There are three primary interdependent variables when it comes to optimizing recruiting operations: Speed (or Time), Cost, and Quality. Generally speaking, corporate recruiting departments are only able to optimize for two of the three at any one time. There is almost always going to be one of these three components that gets traded away in favor of the other two. For example, if you want to hire high quality talent very quickly, it’s going to be very expensive.  Conversely, if you don’t care so much about quality, you can hire very quickly at very low cost. There are a never-ending series of trade-offs happening between speed, quality, and cost.

Most organizations would be well served to think through these tradeoffs as part of their longer-term talent strategy. Because in practice, organizations talk a lot about optimizing for quality, but in practice most organizations optimize for cost. Until they get behind in their staffing plan, and then they optimize for speed by hiring more search firms because the pain of unfilled vacancies becomes too great. We’ve seen this as recruiting departments across the world have been whittled to bits and are now being asked to deliver with insufficient capacity.

There is a strong argument for focusing on speed: speed, in many cases, breaks the tradeoff model described above. There are many ways to preserve cost and hiring quality and still improve speed. With operational discipline, recruiting organizations can (relatively) easily impact the speed of their process. And doing so will lead to improved recruiting yields. And reduce the average net workload per recruiter required per hire. Which preserves recruiting team capacity while increasing throughput. Indeed, increasing speed reduces cost per hire for these reasons… hiring faster is less expensive.  This is why speed should be an area of focus for 2011. Getting candidates through your recruiting process quickly is a great area of focus as we head into a more competitive talent marketplace, while recruiting departments are being rebuilt and are currently stretched.

Here’s a real example: Back in the late 1990s, I was in charge of recruiting for a technology integration consulting firm. We were relatively small (several hundred people) but frequently competed for talent with Oracle, Anderson Consulting, KPMG, and other large, multinational firms. We won far more than our fair share of the available talent, and mostly we did it with speed. We out-executed our competition by implementing a more efficient and speedy recruiting process. Our goal was to give recruits that we wanted to hire a job offer before they left our office on the day of the interviews. And we frequently did so. Of course the recruiters and I needed to prepare candidates for this, and handle objections, and complete other due diligence in order to make it happen.  To use speed as a competitive advantage, you just need to be materially faster than your competition. Which in some industries is not that hard to accomplish. Speed is always relative.

The other upside is that speed is generally required to hire the “best of the best” talent: the talent that doesn’t ever look for a job. The truly exceptional talent won’t settle for a slow, arduous process. For these candidates, speed is actually part of the selling process.

It takes organizational discipline and concerted focus, but most recruiting teams can, with little cost, and with zero impact on quality, improve the speed of their process.

Here are some ideas to help focus your thoughts on speed as a recruiting strategy:

  • Start making changes in recruiting process with jobs that are mission-critical to your business. This will pave the way for hiring teams to buy-in to potential changes, and also allows you to more clearly articulate and illustrate the improvements. So choose the recruiting processes related to the jobs that if left unfilled, would create the most negative impact on your  organization. Where there is pain you will find motivation.
  • Next, find advocates in the line business that will help with execution. This shouldn’t be a hard sell, particularly if you frame it as, “I am hoping to implement some changes so we can fill your jobs faster, without increasing costs or diminishing quality, and I am looking for a partner in the business who will help me.”
  • Once you have found an advocate in the business, task them with helping quantify the cost of vacancy for these key roles. This will help you frame up the “before” and “after” business impact.
  • Then, measure the duration of time it takes from candidate engagement to final selection decision. Don’t do this in aggregate with average time to fill or other broad-brush stroke metrics. Instead, follow a few actual candidates through the process, and put yourself in their shoes, so to speak, by considering the process from their vantage point. Pay particular attention to the duration of time between interactions between the candidate and your organization, and measure each of those time-segments carefully.
  • Finally, re-evaluate the business reasons that are creating the cycle time in each segment, and re-engineer the process in ways that reduce the wait time. For example, one easy way to shave days or weeks off most recruiting processes is to schedule interview days with hiring teams in advance of generating candidates, and then slot the candidates into predetermined interview days.

All of this to say that speed is a great area of focus for 2011. There is more reading, and five more operational tactics and recommendations related to speed here.

As usual, sound off in the comments.

This is the final piece in a 3-part series exploring the negative impacts that social media is having on recruiting departments across the world, and offering strategies and tactics to mitigate this downside exposure for corporate recruiting departments. As always, reading the first two articles is recommended before diving into this one.

In Part I, we explore the Social Gap … the gap in expectations created by the intersection of social media with what is a highly transactional process designed to be reasonably efficient and effective and scalable, at least at most companies. This is primarily a gap of expectations, because most corporate recruiting practices are currently incongruent with supporting the social graph. In part II, we discuss the issues related to Social Proof, and how social media is fueling the reputation economy which places far more pressure on organizations to create candidate marketing impressions that are true.

The third problem that social media creates for recruiting is The Back Door Problem: The social graph has plumbed new conduits for communication, and these create material operational inefficiencies for departments operating at substantial scale. Part 1 and Part 2 of this series allude to this issue: candidates are reaching out to contacts in their social network to learn more about companies. But it goes beyond simply validating the value proposition or finding out more information; this uber-networking phenomenon has created a large breach of (admittedly candidate-unfriendly) processes as modern-day candidates are forgoing traditional application mechanisms (e.g. applying through the career website) and instead networking their way into companies. The problem with this is that it does not scale: corporate recruiters are responding to referrals from inside their company in numbers never before seen. This is one reason why corporate recruiting departments are so busy and feel overwhelmed.

The second facet of the Back Door Problem works in reverse of the first: hiring teams are now using their social network to conduct unauthorized references on candidates in numbers never before seen. Now, we all know that these ‘back door references’ happen at all companies and in many different ways and that this is not a new development. But never before have we seen this back door reference’ mechanism be executed so efficiently. Now, it’s simple for hiring managers to find references in their social network and invite them to chime in on candidate viability. Because social media brings such efficiency to managing relationships, it also proliferates the number of backdoor references.

The problem with this practice is that these backdoor references negatively impact recruiting yields with little substantiated correlation to quality of hire. This makes sense: the more backdoor references that one obtains, the more likely one is to find “evidence” (unsubstantiated as it may be) that the candidate should not be hired. For example, at Google, the company’s evaluation of the Google hiring process using multivariate regression analysis is widely documented … but what is far less often discussed is a simple analysis that was done to correlate number of interviews to quality to hire. As you might suspect, it turns out that there is a ‘tipping point’ for interviews after which the quality of hire does not improve, but recruiting yields decrease. In simple terms, if one puts a candidate through enough interviews, eventually one is going to find someone on the interview team who torpedoes the candidate. So more interviews past this tipping point simply erode yields with no lift in quality of hire.

The same is true for references, and with social media accelerating the rate at which unauthorized, unsubstantiated references are being conducted, recruiting yields are suffering. This is again one of the reasons why corporate recruiting departments are underwater.

To recap, there are two facets to the Back Door Problem created by social media. The first is that candidates are inadvertently redrawing the recruiting process by networking their way into your company. The second is that hiring teams are using their social graph to execute ‘back door’ references in ways that are unprecedented.

There are tactics that smart recruiting leaders are deploying to mitigate The Back Door Problem:

  • If ever there was a time to invest in a scalable, automated, employee referral program, now is the time. If your company doesn’t have one (many companies do not), make it a priority for 2011. If your company does have an employee referral program, spend time in 2011 evaluating the effectiveness and scalability of its operation.
  • Invest more in job spec creation and validating success criteria for key jobs for which you recruit; train your recruiters in conducting effective launch meetings.
  • Educate hiring teams at the launch meeting on the value of references and protocols for using them effectively.
  • Control the number of interviews. Above eight or so interviews, most organizations see little increase in quality, but recruiting yields start to deteriorate. If you are still letting hiring teams put candidates through 12 or more interviews, you are simply wasting resources and saying “no” to candidates who may actually be a fit.
  • Train hiring managers and recruiting staff on authenticated selection and assessment methodologies. This goes beyond interviewing skills, and includes validated job performance analysis, competency model development, and related job specification refinement skills.

Social media clearly provides significant utility to recruiting, but it also bring substantial negative consequences. As has been the case before Social Media, the key to driving effective recruiting strategy is leveraging the upside while mitigating the downside and related risks. Social media is clearly changing the landscape of recruiting, but by scrutinizing both the positive and the negative impacts, recruiting leaders will produce the greatest levels of success.

As always, sound off in the comments.

In Part 1 of this series, I introduce the argument that in addition to the obvious upsides, substantial negative consequences are also created through social media’s impact on recruiting. Social media is creating problems for recruiting, but few people are talking about this topic.

If you haven’t read Part 1, I recommend you read it before this article. I explore the idea of the Social Gap –the gap that is created as a result of social media. This is primarily a gap of expectations … because most corporate recruiting practices are currently incongruent with supporting the social graph.

I originally thought this would be a 2-part series, but after continued reflection and writing this latest portion of the article, the topic is best served by a 3-part series.

Now, contrary to some, the goal of this series was not to be sensationalist, but rather to point out something that I’ve not heard others discuss: that with all of the benefits provided by social media, there also exist some substantial adverse effects. Smart recruiting departments can (and should) respond to mitigate those negative consequences. So it is in that spirit that I offer two other issues (and some solutions) that social media creates for recruiting departments:

  • The Social Proof Problem
  • The Backdoor Problem

The first problem, the Social Proof Problem, is related to a fundamental shift in how people (this includes candidates) view the efficacy of online information, and also how they use social media for validation. This is closely tied to the concept of Radical Transparency and Social Proof. There’s a great book by Cialdini that discussed in depth the dynamics of Social Proof.

There are three primary macro-level trends that have happened over the past 10 years to fuel The Social Proof problem. It’s easy to forget that Internet usage has doubled in the last decade, and that in 2000 fewer than half of Americans had Internet access. Similarly, broadband access increased from less than 10% market penetration to 60% in the same time frame. This access to the web then combined with the phenomenon of blogging, which we now also take for granted. But remember, until the advent of mass-market blogging circa 2002-2003, the relative volume of online information was low and widely dispersed. It is interesting to look back and review the famous Technorati State of the Blogosphere reports to remind us of the huge shift that has happened. Now we have social media which is pouring gas on the fire of this huge information availability shift.

The impact of these trends on recruiting departments is that people and candidates now seek more easily accessed Social Proof to validate and codify the information they believe to be true. Social Proof has widely been studied in the field of social psychology, and is tied to the human condition that results in the Fundamental Attribution Error. In short, given limited time and motivation, people will often evaluate people, products, companies, jobs (and most other things) based on how surrounding people behave toward them.

The application of Social Proof has been used widely for years, but is rarely talked about. The classic examples are using good-looking celebrities to sell products. The underlying marketing message is that the product must be worth purchasing if a good-looking celebrity is making the endorsement. Or the laugh tracks that play on sitcoms: our brain is wired to think the show is funnier if we hear others (even canned pre-recorded tracks) laughing along with us.

Social Media accelerates the Social Proof dynamic of the human condition. This is why Facebook will prove to be so powerful as a marketing channel and why websites like Honestly.com exist. The impact on recruiting departments is related to the shifts I described earlier: it used to be that company employment brands were shaped primarily by company-generated points of view. For example, getting on the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work would shape candidate perceptions. Or employment brand statements, images, and related collateral would mold candidate perceptions of the value proposition offered. Indeed, this has not changed. But what has changed is that now candidates seek to validate the claims by seeking Social Proof: “who do I know in my network that can substantiate these claims?” As humans, we overweight the efficacy of information received through people we know as being truer than other sources. It makes us feel safer to do so.

The impact on recruiting organizations is that this reputation economy places far more pressure on organizations to create marketing impressions that are true. These marketing impressions include every touch point with candidates through the steps in the recruiting process, as well as those impressions that are made outside of the recruiting chain of events. As a company, the claims made related to employment will be scrutinized and validated in ways we have not seen before.

It is no longer sufficient to make claims about employment at your company, even if you believe them to be true. Instead, they have to be true. Reflect on that statement for a moment. I see many organizations with tremendous incongruence between the true value proposition offered compared to their beliefs about the value proposition. What they think they offer isn’t really what they offer.

Smart organizations are already changing their game in response to these trends. You can, and should, too. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • The first step is to Get Real: If your beliefs about your value proposition as an employer aren’t steeped in data, you need to start measuring more effectively. Conduct a survey of employees, but recognize that you also need to obtain outside data. So survey people outside of your organization to gauge perceptions about the employment value proposition, and marry the two findings into a comprehensive model. Recognize that Social Proof and the fundamental attribution error shape your perceptions also: “my company must be a great place to work because I work here and all these great people work here …”
  • Evaluate all candidate marketing impressions (and test them for truth): Systematically review the marketing impressions you make on potential applicants, and evaluate whether they are true. It is sometimes useful to have a colleague or other person or consulting company do a ‘secret shopper’ evaluation of the recruiting process. Send a few unbiased observers through your recruiting process and have them take notes on all of the marketing impressions that are made. See what you learn, and then make adjustments, either by changing the impressions for candidates, or making changes within your organization to further substantiate the claim. For example, if part of your marketed value proposition is that you support families and the idea of work/life balance, substantiate that claim by asking your employees if they feel it’s true. If it isn’t highly substantiated by truth, either make changes to policies and your approach, or stop making the impressions on candidates. Importantly, it’s incumbent on you to get to the truth; a great litmus test for truth is whether you are able to provide valid data that substantiates the claim; if you can’t, all you have likely formed is an opinion. At worst, do this for your most important jobs — the ones that if left unfilled will most negatively impact company performance.
  • Recognize Realistic Job Previews are happening and respond correctly: RJPs have been widely studied, and the general consensus is that effective job previews improve job survival ratings by 3-10%. New hires who realistically understand the truth about the highs and lows of a job at a company have a better probability of remaining engaged and productive in their new jobs. Social Media is now giving people an impression of what it’s really like to work at your company. Since candidates are asking your employees to provide them with an RJP already, smart companies are taking the time to more deeply understand the components of a realistic RJP, validating with employees, and then producing collateral that can be shared with employees for reinforcement, but also equipping employees with the collateral to share across their social graph. Of course those same tools are used in the recruiting department.

There are many more tactics that can be deployed to respond to the Social Proof problem that social media has created for recruiting departments. As usual, sound off in the comments and join the discussion.

The Backdoor Problem is also substantial and tied to the first two problems we discussed. We will explore it in detail in Part III of this series.

part 1 of 2

Everyone is talking about Social Media and the utility it brings to talent acquisition. However, I don’t often hear dialogue about how social media negatively impacts recruiting. But it is creating (sometimes big) problems that warrant discussion, so I am going to talk about those problems here, and hope that you join in the discussion by commenting. I will also provide some solutions and action steps that smart recruiters and recruiting leaders should consider as we proceed along what is clearly a substantial inflection point in the talent marketplace.

When discussing social media and recruiting it is useful to do so in light of the components of the talent supply chain. Social media clearly helps with some aspects of recruiting, but wrecks havoc with others.

I expect we all agree that social media certainly creates efficiency and is more effective in key areas of the supply chain.

As a channel for branding, it’s great. Building talent communities and aggregating people with like interests or backgrounds? Check.  Finding people will abstruse skill sets or experiences (or finding people with particular skills sets that aren’t even that rare)? Yes — the “findability” of talent has arguably never been easier. Marketing jobs and extending the reach of job marketing efforts? Absolutely.  Learning what people really think of your company or department (or even you or your peers)?  All becoming more efficient due to social media.

I’m not saying that social media isn’t helping. It certainly is helping in many areas. But the buzz about social media and recruiting today reminds me a little of the buzz that happened in the mid to late 1990s around “Internet Recruiting.” I was a recruiting manager then, and in Seattle, one of the ancillary epicenters of the dot-com boom, when everyone was looking at the Internet as something of a Holy Grail of Recruiting. Take a look at this article if you’d like a walk down memory lane. Or these stats. My point is that organizations that win with social media recruiting will take a balanced approach to creating utility from the tools available.

There are three key problems that social media creates for organizations who have talent acquisition efforts at a modicum of scale (smaller companies have fewer issues):

  1. The Social Gap Problem
  2. The Social Proof Problem
  3. The Backdoor Problem

Problem One: The Social Gap. One of the problems created with social media as it relates to recruiting is rooted in the overall efficiency of the tools available to both potential candidates and the overall efficiency of the tools available to corporate recruiters. One side is efficient and the other side is inefficient, creating the gap. On the candidate side of the equation, social tools are very efficient. For example, you never will have to remember someone’s contact information, as LinkedIn will hold it and users will update those details in real time.  Facebook allows you to scale ‘relationship maintenance’ to at least up to 5,000 of your closest friends — never before have the nodes on your social graph been more efficiently maintained.

Contrasting this efficiency are corporate recruiting tools, that because of scale and volume requirements are generally transactional in nature, and as we all know, are sometimes downright anti-social in their abilities to help manage relationships with candidates and prospects.

So at the root of this gap is the fact that candidate expectations and behaviors have changed (and fast) … but the toolsets in corporate recruiting generally have not. Part of the reason this has occurred is because Facebook and LinkedIn (and all the other social tools) have experienced skyrocketing growth during the worst economic downturn that we are likely to see in our lifetime. So corporate recruiting departments haven’t changed much, except for getting smaller with fewer resources (that was kind of a joke except for the fact that nobody is laughing), but social tools for candidates have changed dramatically during that same time frame. The “front doors” to companies are still the same, but candidate behaviors have changed: candidates now use their social networks to learn about companies and find people who work there. When they want to learn more or get introduced, they don’t pore over corporate career sites or apply for jobs online; they find people who work there to learn the truth and get connected.

But at most companies, once connected with their network inside of the company, candidates are at some point forced back through the same funnel that has existed for 10-15 years. That is completely incongruent with the social expectations candidates have related to their candidate experience. This results in missed expectations, increased complaints, and reduced recruiting yields. The key takeaway is that most existing corporate recruiting practices are incongruent with supporting the social graph.

Here are some action steps to respond to this gap in expectations:

If you work for a small company, rejoice! Because of reduced scale and volumetric simplicities, smaller companies actually are handed an advantage over larger companies. It is much easier for a smaller company to use social tools and meet or exceed the relationship expectations across the candidate pools they draw from. Take advantage of the nimbleness of your smaller organization to leverage the social graph that extends from your company, and build your recruiting process in ways that will scale.

Focus on the candidate experience by both personalizing it and customizing it. What’s going to happen when a candidate talks to four “friends” at your company and then gets thrown into a poorly executed, unfriendly, depersonalized interview process? I don’t know either, but it’s not going to help your recruiting yields.

  • Personalize the experience by dramatically increasing communications from the people inside of your company to the candidates you are interviewing. Personalize it more by recognizing the hobbies, goals, or “nuanced attributes” of candidates and responding appropriately. For example, eight or nine years ago I learned that a recruiting manager candidate I was interviewing for a role on my team was big into cycling. So I sent him a Starbucks Cycling jersey. He still remembers it to this day.
  • Customize the candidate experience by adapting the less-rigid portions of your process to candidate requirements. Adjust the scheduling by inviting the employees who referred the candidate to lunch (or breakfast) with the candidate. Have them send thank-you messages. Leverage the social graph to improve the experience.

Conduct an entry point analysis and measure it over time Find out if greater or fewer candidates are coming through your referral program. Measure recruiting yields from each source.

Invite candidates’ friends into the recruiting process to be conduits for information. Equip your non-recruiting staff with customized recruiting schwag that they can send to their referrals. Turn them all into recruiters by arming them with tools.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll talk about The Social Proof Problem, and The Backdoor Problem that Social Media creates for recruiting, and how to respond.

As usual, sound off in the comments section and join the discussion.

I read a lot, and one of my favorite books that I read in 2010 is Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. I have no relationship to the authors, and no vested interest in whether you buy the book or not, but I recommend that staffing leaders and recruiters read it as part of their New Year’s Resolution. This is one of those books that will make you smarter. It’s actually a few years old, but has become quite a phenomena, being translated into over 40 languages and winning a huge amount of accolades. Like being voted as one of the 40 most influential books in the history of the People’s Republic of China.

It’s worth reading.

The basic premise of the book is that many companies that win in the marketplace do so in ways that make their competition irrelevant. The name of the book comes from two concepts describing the competitive landscape in nearly all industries: Red Oceans represent the fiercely competitive arena where most companies compete. Blue Oceans are open and not filled with competitors — uncontested market space in other words, which help drive margins and market share while receding competitors remain in Red Oceans competing on price, value, and other replicable product or service traits.

The concept is the result of a decade-long study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than 30 industries over 100 years (1880-2000). In simple terms, the goal of Blue Ocean strategy is to not outperform your competition in a particular industry, but to create a new market:  a Blue Ocean.

There are a lot of predictions flying around about what will come in 2011 as it relates to recruitment. And I recommend that we all heed the probable changes that are likely to arrive as 2011 will surely mark an inflection point on what has been a relatively stagnant period in terms of human capital management and recruitment. But it’s not just ‘getting ready to do more of the same that will allow your company to win in the marketplace for talent. The truly game-changing strategies are the ones that will lead your company out of the spaces where most companies compete for talent and into the Blue Ocean of less (or un) contested market spaces for talent.

Here are some thoughts on how smart companies will arrive at a Blue Ocean with regard to the talent for which they compete.

I use a fictitious, software development startup company called XOX Software as the example, but you can substitute any talent acquisition effort in any industry in a similar manner.

Which Factors Do Recruiters in Your Industry Take for Granted that Should Be Eliminated? In our example, XOX Software is competing for software developers, just like every other technology company. Traditional strategy would suggest that it go head to head with Google and Amazon and Microsoft and all of the others, posting jobs on Dice.com and showing Facebook ads to people who work at those places, trying to entice them away. In other words, traditional recruitment competes in the same spaces for the same talent, applying traditional recruitment practices but trying to do them faster, more effectively, more broadly in order to get the talent that it needs. Blue Ocean Recruitment competes in ways that makes the competition irrelevant.

So in pursuit of Blue Oceans, XOX Software instead took a different tack: it thought through the recruiting efforts in its industry that everyone takes for granted, like posting to “the same job boards that everyone else post to” and using “the same standardized job descriptions that everyone else uses” and it stopped doing those too. And then it made a list of all the other recruiting tactics and approaches that the competition did (the things everyone took for granted in recruiting), and mapped them out and discussed the tradeoffs (both positive and negative) of discontinuing those efforts. And it started to run experiments, eliminating some of the de facto recruiter tactics, and gauging the impact. It was surprised at the results: as it began to eliminate the recruiting activities that most people took for granted, it found that it was actually eliminating waste in the system, and the game it was playing to compete for talent began to change.

The net result is that when it stopped posting to the job boards, the recruiters were freed up to do other things to generate candidates in non-traditional ways. And with that extra time it was able to find its way into other Blue Ocean activities beyond just candidate generation.

The next question that XOX answered was Which Factors Should Be Reduced Well Below the Industry Standards? So XOX Software looked at its talent acquisition efforts with the critical lens of reducing parts of traditional recruitment efforts in ways that would drive them below the standards in its industry. So it made a list of all the factors that, if reduced, would have a positive impact on recruiting outcomes. And it prioritized the list and began to focus on creating reductions in those areas. One obvious one was recruitment cycle time: It realized that Microsoft and Google and Amazon had arduously long interview cycle times when viewed through the lens of the candidate. So it cut theirs from 41 days to 14 days as measured from candidate contact to final decision. And it also reduced the process so that candidates only needed to make one onsite visit. It took some time and a lot of effort, but in the end it found it could interview, make a decision, and extend an offer before competitors could even get many of the candidates scheduled. The net impact was that for many candidates, XOX wasn’t even competing anymore. It was closing candidates it wanted before the competition could even decide they wanted to pursue the candidate.

And then XOX reviewed its remaining list of factors, that if reduced well below industry standards, would create better outcomes. Those included reducing the communication breakdowns related to its employee referral program to avoid the ‘Black Hole Issue’ (referrals went up by 39% within six months of doing so), eliminating steps required in the application process, and a host of others factors.

And after a short while, its recruiting yields improved. Hiring managers were doing fewer interviews but getting better results.

The next question that XOX Software asked was Which Factors Should Be Raised Well Above the Industry Standards? Things were then really starting to change in terms of talent acquisition, and by this juncture this list was both easy to generate but also to execute.

The first thing it identified was that the candidate experience should be improved to well beyond industry standards. So it created a Candidate Bill of Rights and had everyone in the company sign it. The recruiting process quickly became culture-defining because it treated candidates in ways that were so far above the industry standards. It even focused on small things,  like having the receptionist greet the candidate by name (“Good morning Mr. Johnston, we are excited to have you interview with us today … here’s my direct number, and should you need anything at all today just give me a ring …”) and making sure every hiring manager related the value proposition of working for XOX Software but did so in their own words, and also having each member of the interview team send a note to the candidate thanking them for interviewing and offering assistance if the candidate had more questions. It made a list of seven other things beyond these three examples that would create a remarkably different candidate experience, and began to execute on each one of them.

Beyond improving the candidate experience, it focused on other factors, including improving work life balance (ridiculously long work hours were pretty standard fare for software developers), and increasing professional development in a customized way for each employee based on their preferences.

And the key was that very few of the changes cost substantial amounts of money, but paid huge dividends, because it created Blue Ocean space in the War for Talent. XOX was not competing for the same talent in the same way … much of the competition for talent was becoming far less relevant.

The final step in the XOX Recruitment Strategy was coming up with the list of Which Factors Should be Created that Don’t Exist Today? This was a little harder, because it required really good listening skills and some brainstorming.

It started by surveying candidates to find out what things they wished they had in their careers but didn’t. And it surveyed employees.

And then it got really smart and surveyed employee family members to find out what spouses and children wished were different about the career dynamics that were created in the Software Industry. And it turned out that XOX Software learned some really interesting things, which led them further into a Blue Ocean because many of the changes were things that it hadn’t thought of, but could be implemented without huge expenses.

So as 2011 looms, there indeed will be changes, some predictable, some not. Most talent acquisition strategies  will focus on doing the same things faster, in more volume, sooner, and with greater reach.

But the standout recruiting results will come from Blue Ocean Recruiting: systematically working through the factors described above to change the game and compete for talent in a way that makes the competition irrelevant.

Norman Kent's photo for NASA; skydivers over FloridaI was talking last week with Melissa Mounce, the senior vice president of talent acquisition at PNC who I’m interviewing for a session at the Spring ERE conference, and it reminded me of a topic that is worth revisiting: The Law of Compensating Behavior and how it has changed talent acquisition. I will get to Melissa’s insights in a moment.

Now, most don’t refer to compensating behavior as “a law,” but since it’s rooted in human behavior related to incentives, and incentive drives behavior, I submit it’s far more of a truth than a theory and plays out in broad-based ways in many areas of life (including recruiting) beyond just those that have been studied or measured.

Regardless, it is far more useful to consider it a law than a theory when making decisions. That aside, in simple terms the theory goes like this: when variables are changed, human beings often unconsciously alter their behavior in order to compensate for the change. Hiring managers have done this as a result of changes in the way most companies recruit.

There are litanies of examples that have been studied, many related to compensating behavior related to risk:

  • Smoking Cessation: In an effort to reduce smoking, some states in the late 1970s and 1980s raised taxes on cigarettes. The premise was, make smoking more expensive, less people will smoke. But in fact what happened was that smokers traded to cigarettes that had more nicotine … and actual nicotine and tar consumption remained static. Smokers compensated for the tax by changing their behaviors.
  • Anti-lock brakes: This has been widely studied, with strong supporting evidence: Anti-lock brakes do not correlate to safer drivers … drivers simply drive faster, follow more closely, and brake later than before they ‘safety’ aides were built into cars. Same for airbags. And Seatbelts.
  • Bicycle Helmets: This one is particularly interesting, because a 2007 study in the journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention suggests that car drivers are much more likely to drive more closely to bicyclists wearing helmets than they are to non-helmeted riders. So more cyclists get hit by motorists because motorists perceive them as less vulnerable.
  • Skydiving: Deaths per 1,000 jumps have remained relatively static since the 1980s, despite significant improvements in technology. That’s because the new technology related to canopies allow for faster speeds and maneuvers. Jumpers take more risks at higher speed, which erases the value of the improved technology.

The list actually is quite long: ski and snowboard helmets don’t reduce deaths on the mountain. Speed limits don’t reduce accident frequency. Safety equipment for children doesn’t help reduce injuries (kids take more risks). So do Nascar Drivers. Human beings inadvertently and subconsciously change their behaviors to compensate for the change in system input. Which is why I consider it a law.

Which brings us back to the conversation I was having with Melissa Mounce, who said, “One of the challenges we face at PNC, after greatly expanding our abilities to source passive candidates, is that hiring managers aren’t as familiar with engaging non-active job seekers. We recognize the need for increased training in this area in order to optimize our yields.”

Over the past 15 years, PNC hiring managers have become more accustomed to active candidates, since that’s how many large companies “recruit.” In turn, they are less familiar with executing a process related to non-active job seekers.

Indeed, I was discussing this topic with a long-time contingent staffing agency counterpart, and he said, “I’ve actually learned that I have to educate my clients that I’m not just taking the job order, and then going back to my office and posting it on Monster.com. I realized a few years ago that’s what a lot of my customers think recruiting is … posting and filtering on their behalf…”

This commentary is reflective of a change in hiring manager behavior that has come as a result of changes in the mechanics of the job market and recruiting: technology has reduced the economic cost of marketing jobs and submitting resumes;  company recruiting departments have moved away from “hunting and farming” — traditional narrow-casting candidate generation strategies — for attracting talent, to gathering largely active applicants and filtering the results.

Posting and filtering, for many stakeholders, is their definition of recruiting. Hence the question that so often derails the interview process with passive candidates, “Why do you want to work at XYZ corporation?” to which the passive candidate replies, “I’m not sure I do … you guys called me, remember?” Much awkwardness ensues.

In order to break this cycle with hiring teams, here are four strategies that recruiters or recruiting leaders should use to mitigate this dynamic and optimize yields. They are worth implementing in part because passive candidates are more expensive to generate, and almost always more difficult to close.

Implement a communication strategy: Generally, one needs to communicate a lot in order to influence a change in perception across a stakeholder group. Devise an “education calendar” for hiring team stakeholders in order to send the message multiple times and at a useful frequency. Tell the stories when you lose great passive candidates because you didn’t effectively sell them. Send them articles on changing marketplace dynamics on a monthly basis. Highlight the wins when key members of the hiring teams demonstrate successful candidate selling techniques. You’ll need to send the message more times than you think. Use your executive team to reinforce the messaging but also get them involved in the process. For example, at Starbucks, I used to call CEO Jim Donald on a few occasions, and ask him to help close particular candidates that were critical. Not only did he enjoy being asked, it sent a signal to him as the CEO that “not everyone wants to work at Starbucks …”

Orchestrate the interview process: Make sure you are defining the mechanics of the interview day in a way that differentiates the process for non-active job seekers. It’s often useful to change the process substantially for each member of the hiring committee, in order to get their attention and make sure they know that The Process Is Different for This Candidate. For example, you might schedule a team lunch in the middle of the interview day and invite the candidate. Participants will quickly grasp that this candidate is different if you do. Have the hiring manager, who should know the candidate is passive, reinforce the need to sell candidates with the selection committee. Divide up the candidate objections and sales points, and distribute them to interview teams to cover.

Train your hiring teams: Most interview teams don’t interview a lot in their career, at least compared to a recruiter. And many are not good at selling the opportunity, or articulating the value proposition. Both of these can combine to create a very uncomfortable situation for passive candidates. Training on how to handle awkward conversations, how to uncover and handle objections, sales skills … all should be considered if passive candidates are being introduced into the candidate pool.

Record and measure the right data: To further help your organization improve, measure data that is congruent with your strategy of generating and closing passive candidates. So measure and report on the trend related to offer-decline rates. Survey new hire feedback on interview processes to understand how the process made them feel, whether they as candidates were sold the value proposition. It’s easy to think of other metrics that would help tell the story and enforce the need for passive candidate engagement strategies.

In closing, there are a host of other compensating behaviors that have developed as a result of the Internet, technology, and a change in social economics related to how candidate interact with companies. Smart companies respond by recognizing these changes and crafting a response to optimize the outcomes.

Part 3 of a series related to optimizing recruiting team results

In Part One and Part Two of this series, I discussed the importance of taking a systems approach to developing a recruiting team through training initiatives in order to avoid suboptimal training results. I reviewed the five key areas that staffing leaders should evaluate and consider before implementing training initiatives:

  • Evaluating Recruiting Department Capacity
  • Implementing Effective Incentives
  • Understanding Motivational Factors
  • Optimizing Feedback and Communication Systems
  • Evaluating Environmental Factors

These factors underpin the theory most commonly associated with Human Performance Technology; taking a systems approach to organizational performance is always required if the business outputs are likely to be materially changed. Yet very few recruiting organizations approach training this way … most often training is delivered as a “we have to do something to develop the team” without a lot of thought or true understanding of how to engage the system that is the recruiting supply chain to create improved outputs such as faster cycle time, lower cost, or improved quality. Every recruiting leader should read Lean Thinking by Womack to challenge what is widespread conventional wisdom on batch processing and workflows as further evidence supporting the need for a systems-based solution.

So, assuming that the five factors described above are duly evaluated and are optimized at least to a modest degree, here are some considerations related to delivering training and developing a recruiting team to improve results.

Define and Measure the Behaviors That Need to Change

Effective training changes behaviors, and most recruiting results, can be traced back to a set of behaviors performed by human beings working in the recruiting department. Arguably, training can affect two things:  knowledge or behaviors. For the most part, that is all training can accomplish. Indeed, most training is knowledge-based. It’s a transfer of knowledge and doesn’t build much skill. And if training does build skill, skill is just a demonstration of key behaviors. This sounds simplistic, but most staffing leaders haven’t deciphered the behaviors they are trying to change. The typical error is considering results, not behaviors: “I want the recruiters to hire more people faster,” or “I want them to stop posting jobs and filtering results and develop passive candidate pools,” or “I want them to drive results with hiring managers.” None of these are behaviors.

The true litmus test of whether you’ve defined the behaviors is this: Can you observe it by watching someone do the job? If you can observe it, and describe what you’ve observed, you’ve distilled the objective into a behavior. And then you can train on how best to perform that behavior.

Examples of this might teaching recruiters how to more effectively make decisions about how to manage email, which would increase productivity. Another example would be teaching recruiters how to develop sourcing strategies that lead to the shortest path to a slate of candidates with the leanest burden of administration required; weighing through the pros and cons of posting a job versus soliciting referrals or networking.

Event Driven Training Is Highly Inefficient at Changing Behaviors

If the solution for training is a one-time event, and doesn’t include ongoing reinforcement, feedback, and or job aids, it might not be worth doing. Unfortunately, most training is delivered in this way. Typical trainings are one-time only, instructor-led training events with little opportunity to revisit, practice, and receive feedback on the behaviors that are expected to change, with little (if any) support (such as follow on reminders or proficiency tests or related job aids) on an ongoing basis post training.

A better solution is to invent a way to train people over time, in little bites, to build on skills and behaviors, as opposed to a one-time event. Now would be a great time to read back through the five factors discussed in Parts One and Part Two of this series, and to really consider how they relate to delivering a training event.

Optimize the Delivery Method
This is one of the most (if not The Most) common training errors I observe, and it typically involves delivering knowledge-based learning (the things you need to know to improve performance in role) through instructor-led training. We all have sat through a training like this and wondered why we couldn’t just have read the material instead of listening to the instructor tell us it was important.

If it’s knowledge that needs to be imparted to improve performance, there’s no need for instructor led training … align the incentives, provide for the capacity and environmental factors, and give your recruiters the ability to assimilate the content in a way that is self-paced and asynchronous.

Similarly, if you are trying to build skill, recognize that sitting in a classroom is a bad way to build skill. One of my hobbies is riding (fast) motorcycles, and as a hobby I used to teach people how to ride motorcycles as a certified instructor for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. If you were to take my class you could sit in the classroom, and I would demonstrate how to operate a motorcycle, I would talk about the theory of cornering, and the physics of threshold braking, and demonstrate both with pictures and videos and real-world examples to demonstrate the point. But none were effective at teaching students the skills of riding motorcycles; for that, we spent time on actual motorcycles, building skills operating the controls, navigating a corner, and effectively stopping the bike. And recruiting is no less complex than riding a motorcycle.

Invest In the Value of Coaching
If there was ever a time to coach your team, it’s when you are trying to change behaviors. Effective staffing leaders create “Coaching Events” in order to observe behaviors and give feedback. Coaching is effective because most of us are ineffective at self-diagnosing our own behaviors — many times we aren’t even conscious of our own behaviors. If this weren’t true, everyone would be a rock star.

Observe your team performing the behaviors you are attempting to change and give them feedback in the moment. Even Michael Jordan, one of the all-time greatest basketball players, benefited from the feedback provided by his coach, because without feedback, it’s nearly impossible for us to become our own best selves.

Training is and will continue to be imminently valuable to develop recruiting staff and ultimately improve results. With careful planning, a thoughtful approach, and the right strategy, staffing leaders will reap the benefits of effective leadership and truly move forward in their mandate to do more with less.

Part 2 in a series related to optimizing recruiting team results

Given the demands to do more with less that are prevalent in HR and recruiting departments, in Part 1 I discuss how imperative it is to take a systems approach when implementing changes to improve recruiting team yields or other key performance indicators, and discussed two recommendations related to investing recruiter training initiatives: Evaluating both capacity and also incentives, before pulling the trigger on a training initiative.

A common problem is that many organizations make the decision to train their recruiters (and other staff) without evaluating other components that correlate to optimized outcomes. This is a common training error: “we aren’t getting the results we need … therefore let’s train the staff … (and fast).”

There are three more areas that should be considered before implementing recruiter training initiatives:Understanding Motivational Factors, Optimizing Feedback and Communication Systems, and Evaluating Environmental Factors.

Understanding Motivational Factors

This is strongly related to incentives, but different. The primary difference is that although you can adjust incentives, which certainly have the potential to impact motivation, you can’t motivate your staff … they can only motivate themselves! Think about that for a moment. You can provide a reward or other negative incentives, but it won’t necessarily motivate your staff. The classic example is that some people simply aren’t motivated by money or (insert potential motivator here). Indeed, it has been proven that although money is often a motivator, more money doesn’t often improve performance or work output.

The overarching point is that delivering training to an unmotivated staff is a bad strategy. A better solution is to understand individual motivational factors, make an assessment, and address motivation gaps or opportunities before delivering training. There are some key steps to doing so:

  1. Understand that motivations are individualized: Not everyone is motivated by the same things. It’s worth understanding motivations for each member of the team as an individual. This will take some time and investment. Make a list of four or five things that motivate each of your employees. Review the list before each of your 1:1 meetings. On a weekly basis, provide reinforcement related to each employee’s motivating factors.
  2. Motivating a team is a process, not an event: Organizational dynamics are constantly changing, and with that, so are employee motivations. Ongoing recognition is important, but so is ongoing acknowledgment of the portfolio of motivating factors for each employee on your team. Make motivating your team part of the way of doing business.
  3. Support recruiter motivation by using systems (for example, policies and procedures); don’t count on good intentions. You may be surprised to reveal the gaps between intent and actual performance once you implement systems that create transparency around expectations.

Optimizing Feedback and Communication Systems

Most employees say that they don’t get enough feedback on their performance. This is nearly always the case in recruiting teams I observe …people just don’t “know how they are doing.” The reasons for this typically fall into two distinct buckets: One, there are not clear objectives and expectations set for members of their recruiting staff for each step in the staffing process. Therefore, recruiters perform the role to the best of their understanding of what the role should be, with no way to self-assess whether they are doing the job correctly. This is one of the most common errors I find when evaluating recruiting departments: all the recruiters are performing the role differently than their peers, because there are no clear expectations attached to how each step in the process should be performed. Indeed, I have observed recruiters in the same department doing completely different jobs in terms of tasks, behaviors, and results. By default, performance standards and levels are driven toward the mean when this happens.

The second reason recruiting staff do not get enough feedback is because the staffing leader does not invest enough time in evaluating performance at each step in the staffing process. Often they only measure end results such as time to fill or total number of hires per period. This is an error, as most staffing processes are metaphorically similar to an obstacle course … with different segments requiring different subject-matter expertise, skills, and competencies in order to optimize. Therefore, to optimize the results systemically, one needs to evaluate performance at each step in the staffing process to produce the optimal results.

Both of these underpin the argument for why training often doesn’t produce results — trainees do not understand the expectations for each step in the recruitment process, and staffing leaders often deliver training that doesn’t really address the gaps in performance (because they don’t know the true gaps in performance). A common, real-world example I frequently observe is when staffing leaders train their recruiters on sourcing skills, when in fact the ability to source candidates is not the gating factor at all.

So before delivering training, leaders should answer yes to the following questions:

  • Is each step of the recruiting process well documented and communicated to each stakeholder?
  • Are the competencies, behaviors, and subject-matter expertise required to be demonstrated in each step of the staffing process well-communicated to everyone on the staffing team?
  • Are the business outcomes for each step in the recruiting process understood and measured?
  • Has the performance of each member of the staffing team been evaluated against the previously described objectives for each step in the staffing process?

Once these questions are answered, then training may be developed and delivered in an effective manner.

Evaluating Environmental Factors

The final impediments that sometimes gets in the way of recruiter training effectiveness are the host of environmental factors that, if left unchecked, can render training useless.

What are the time constraints impacting recruiter performance? What are the tools constraints? What is the stress level? How distracting is the work environment? Are cubicles better than offices? The list goes on and on.

An effective exercise is to survey the recruiting staff and ask: “What are the obstacles that get in the way of you doing excellent work?” and “What tools do you wish you had in order to be more effective?”

I’ve been amazed at how many recruiting departments don’t provide mobile phones to their recruiting staff. Or laptops. Or business cards (really). Effective staffing leaders evaluate the environment, work to reasonably optimize it, and then train their staff.

Now that we’ve evaluated some of the reasons training recruiters doesn’t work, in the next installment we’ll examine the top strategies and tactics to deliver high-quality training that really makes a difference.