Shooting yourself in the foot, the recruiter way

The term, “war for talent” is both divisive and massively open to interpretation. But I can tell you that, if there is one, a lot of recruiters are busy taking aim and shooting themselves in both feet.

Over the ten years I’ve been blogging, I’ve come back to this topic again and again, yet little seems to change. Now that could be a reflection of my lack of influence, or the inherent failings in the recruitment industry.

Most of us have started our working lives doing part time, temporary employment – maybe whilst at school, college or university. It’s our first experience of the world of work and the first experience of recruitment. When I was a teenager that might have been with an independent shop, pub or restaurant but with the changing face of the high street it’s increasingly likely that a young person now will experience this with a chain.

A chain that will hopefully have this young person not just as an employee, but as a consumer. Yet my observation of their collective recruitment practices is one of woeful inadequacies and systemic failure.

Let’s be clear, recruitment is not the same as bidding for an item on eBay, it is a deeply personal transaction. Rejection in recruitment is rejection of a human being, not a bid. It simply isn’t good enough to have an automated acknowledgement and then radio silence. It isn’t good enough to have a line saying, “unless you’ve heard from us within 14 days, assume you’ve been unsuccessful”. And to even think it is, suggests a deeply flawed understanding of the consumer/candidate interface.

Let’s flip it on it’s head. Can you imagine receiving an automated response from a candidate saying, “Thank you for your job offer, if you haven’t heard from me In two weeks assume I’ve rejected the offer.”? What would you make of them? Arrogant?

See where I’m going with this?

That’s before we unpick the detailed connection between the treatment of candidates and their relationship with your brand. You can talk all you like about candidate experience, but unless you define the experience you want to give and transform your processes to deliver it, you might as well be talking about the price of coal.

Recruiters, my ask of you is this. Treat candidates as you’d want a love one to be treated, regardless of their stature and status. Your summer or Christmas temp could one day be your CEO, that is if they haven’t started a new enterprise that will eventually put you and your company out of business.

Lead for the many (and not the few)

It is July 14th, 2015 and, despite the generally good weather, there has been a sudden and heavy downpour. I remember it well because I was on foot making my way to speak at a CIPD event at City Hall. Unfortunately I’d understood County Hall, which is in a completely different part of town and ended up arriving late, drenched and grumpy.

The result of this was a rather dark and pessimistic take on the impact of flexibility on the workplace. Speaking alongside Dave Coplin, who was ebullient with the opportunities, I saw a much more dangerous and divisive trend. At the end of the sessions, I left the venue and skulked off to, once again, be late for a drink with a friend.

Four years later, I am more convinced than ever that the way in which we approach flexibility in the workplace is an exemplar of the way in which we are building a two tier workforce, built by the haves for the haves, designed for the few and not the many (to bastardise the current phrase of a certain political party).

In 2014, when Virgin announced that they were allowing employees to take as much holiday as they wanted, an HR policy decision became front page news. They were following the approach taken by Netflix, amongst others. More recently we’ve seen organisations, include the Wellcome Trust, talk about the introduction of a four day week. When the Virgin story was unpicked, it became clear that it wasn’t actually applicable to all staff, as they said themselves, “[it] permits all salaried staff to take off whenever they want for as long as they want”.

What do Virgin, Netflix and Wellcome Trust all have in common? Simply, and I mean this with the deepest respect, if they didn’t exist no-one would notice. But perhaps more importantly, they have a certain workforce segmentation that more easily allows for the introduction of such policies. They don’t represent the workforce experience of the many.

We don’t have to go far to understand that the use of workforce “flexibility” can be a double edged sword – enforced part time hours, rotating shift patterns, annualised hours and of course, our dear friend, zero hours contracts. The point I was making back in 2015 was that whilst flexibility might be the emancipation of the few, it was potentially the shackles of the many. For every one tech wizard working on their laptop in the Bahamas, there are ten delivery drivers working on a “self employed” basis.

Which is why as a profession we have to be super vigilant of not drinking the Kool Aid. If you believe in good work, you believe in it for all. If you want to drive flexibility, then it starts with individual choice. Across western economies we’ve seen an increased polarisation in our economics, in our politics and in our workplaces. We’ve created inequality and now we are looking to reinforce it.

None of these policies are wrong per se, but the application of them, the thinking behind them and the championing of them is shaped by an unhealthy preference to consider only “knowledge workers” (yes I hate the term too) to be worthy of such freedom. Only when we start to design workplaces that treat workers of all types with equality of treatment will we create organisations which we can proud of. Let’s start with the many and not the few.

NB: The Wellcome Trust actually abandoned their plans after a three month trial describing it as too “operationally complex”. Interestingly, they were brave enough to try and do this for the entire workforce, regardless of role.

How aware are you?

Let me ask you a simple question. How aware are you of what’s going on?

I mean, how really aware? What can you feel right now? What can you smell? Is it hot or cold? Can you recount everything that happened in the last five minutes? The people that went past you, the noises or changes in atmosphere? If I asked you where you were, how quickly would you be able to describe it?

Many of us will recognise the experience, whilst driving, of suddenly becoming aware of where we are and conscious that we cannot remember how we got there. Our hands are on the wheel, the road is in front of us, we are operating in the necessary way to perform the task at hand. But we aren’t present, we’re just following the flow.

Our workplaces are full of people doing the same, perhaps you’ve even experienced it yourself? Performing task but without being truly in the moment, getting the job done but without really understanding how or why. Getting from a to b, or 9 to 5. And when someone asks you what you’ve been up to, you have to pause and think.

When we talk about performance, it starts with consciousness.  Consciousness raises us beyond the completion of activity into contribution and delivery. It expands us beyond the immediate circumstances and unearths previously unseen opportunities. It unlocks in us the ability to connect on multiple levels and in multiple ways, even with the most seemingly mundane of task.

In turn, when we open ourselves to the possibilities that exist in people, in our organisations and in life, when we can experience our situation with simple curiosity and avoid the obfuscation of life’s unnecessary complexity. When we can find clarity and focus when we can process the multiple conflicting views and points of view. When we can see, hear, feel and allow our heart and head to inform us.

If we can do this then we can truly lead, ourselves, our teams and our organisations, not just follow the tracks.  And we can allow ourselves to enjoy the “right here, right now”, taking pleasure in the journey and not just the goal.

Cards on the table, this means more

A number of years ago I was helping an organisation through a significant change, the sort that goes from top to bottom. The leadership team thought through and worried about all of the changes that we made, how they’d be received and how we explained them. In everything that we went through, from changes in structures, commercial terms and locations, the most emotive topic was a change to the structure of email addresses – it caught us out. That’s just the way it goes.

If you’re in HR in the UK, you’ll be aware of the most emotive debate since Marks and Spencer made Percy Pigs vegan friendly and in the process removed all joy from eating one. I’m talking about the CIPD’s change to the membership card.

Since I qualified nearly twenty five years ago, I’ve received a traditional membership card each year in return for my membership fee. This year, like everyone else, I received a badly typeset, plasticised piece of paper.

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(now you know my middle name and my membership number…no impersonations please!)

The reaction to the change has been typically HR, over emotional and intellectually stunted, with an artificial outcry and rage. And in a balanced response Membership Director David D’Souza wrote this post on the CIPD website, whilst others on the same side of the argument say, “it’s just a card!”.

Which is of course true, but misses the point.

The CIPD have shot themselves in the foot with a decision that is naive and ill-thought through, even if it is in it’s essence correct. It is only a card, but for many it represents their membership. I have several other memberships to organisations that send a similar card (The Ramblers Association for example), the difference is that I decide on an annual basis whether to continue with my subscription and I don’t have to pass an assessment process or exam in order to get it.

For many, I imagine, this is seen as a representation of the value proposition of their membership. Indeed the card itself came in a big yellow envelope with the word, “VALUED” in big capital letters, dreamt up by someone who once read a Ladybird book on marketing, to make sure that members understand – they’re valued. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what you say, it matters how you feel, and in the same way that the email address caused disproportionate debate, this change has also led to a different conversation.

If the CIPD wants people to commit to membership for life, then a flimsy, disposable card (that I’m told rips on removal) doesn’t represent the messages that they’d intend. If they want people to see the institute as the, “internationally recognised gold standard for HR and people development”, then this feels symbolic of saying one thing and acting in a different way. If there is an opportunity for the institute to draw heart, it is that people clearly felt proud of receiving their previous card, even if they weren’t quick to declare it.

The environmental arguments that are put forward for the change don’t wash with me, I’m afraid. There are membership models out there that issue one card on joining and then only change it on upgrading or loss. With a bit of creativity, they could have launched a couple of different permanent cards each associated with a different management or workplace thinker for example. If you genuinely expect members to stay with you for life, then one card over a thirty or forty year career would be much more environmentally friendly than a plasticised paper one each year.

Let’s be clear, I don’t care about the card either way, reading about the debate made me go and find the lurid yellow envelope in a pile of catalogues and junk mail that I’d put to one side. What worries me more is that this seems to be the latest piece of evidence of the CIPD losing sight of the value proposition for their core membership. There are many organisations that have forgotten their core customer base as they’ve become distracted by peripheral activities and chasing revenue. Let’s hope the sensible and grounded voices at the institute can use this example as a warning sign to remind others of the risk of this happening to them.