Ask a stupid question….

Applying for jobs is hard work and particularly so if you’re graduating in the current environment. It is hard for other groups too, I know, but it isn’t that many years since I was coming out of University and trying to get my foot on the career ladder. So I have a lot of sympathy.

Job seeking is a pretty soulless process. Time consuming, expensive, depressing and often fruitless. But you have to keep going and you have to keep positive. Despite the stupid application forms you need to complete, the ridiculous processes that are created, despite the, oh so clever, questions you have to answer.

Because yes, that question that you wrote that you thought would sort the creative wheat from the non-creative chaff is being met at best with an eye-roll and at worst with utter contempt. As one job applicant said recently to me, “[it] makes me feel like I’m not being taken seriously as a hard-working student who wants to show my skills and talents”.

Seriously, have you looked at your recruitment process from the other side of the fence? Sure there may be more candidates than there are jobs, for now. But does that make the applicants less human? I’m not talking about candidate journey – there are recruitment bloggers out there who will cover the subject much better than me. I’m talking about common decency and respect.

If you ask a candidate to complete pages and pages of answers as part of their graduate application, don’t you think you should show them a little respect back? If you’re going to ask them question after question, then at least make them relevant to the applicants and respectful of the time, hard work and financial commitment that they have already put in just to be deemed worthy to complete your process.

We all need to make selection decisions, of course. But can the candidate see the relevance of it and do they feel that they are being judged on criteria that feel fair and transparent?

“Describe a unique experience you’ve had over the last year” (are you testing me on my descriptive abilities or the quality of my experiences?)

“Where would you like to be in 5 years time?” (geographically, existentially or financially?)

“Why do you want this job?” (because medical science rejected my body and a corporate career was all that was left open to me)

So yes, ask questions, pull your application processes together, design your assessment centres, do the do. But try to put yourself in the candidate’s position too. This probably won’t be the only job they’re applying for, they’ve seen hundreds of similar processes. Make it relevant, make it easy for them to shine and make it reflect well on you, both in the short-term and for your longer brand perception.

I still have all the rejection letters that I received, somewhere in a file….I’m not against grudge bearing….I know who you are…..

The HR sausage factory

Every company has a back and forth debate.  The sort of debate that, if you spend long enough in that company, you get to see various solutions attempted at either end of the scale, normally unsuccessfully, before swinging to the other end of the scale. Back and forth. I spent many years working in retail, our back and forth debate, was about customer service.

At one end of the argument was that customers just wanted to get in, get what they wanted and get out (an argument I had some sympathy with given the state of a lot of the stores). At the other end was the view that customers wanted to be given a bit more individual attention, advice and support. We went back and forth, back and forth. The reality was that they probably wanted the latter, but the financial model of the retailer wouldn’t properly allow for it, so they got the former and, well, you only have to read the news to see how that worked out…..

Moving from one end of the alphabet to the other, we arrive at Zappos. There isn’t much to write that hasn’t been written about the American retailer. One thing that amazes people on first reading about the company is their approach to the customer.  The customer is put at the heart of the organisation, even if it means finding a product for them in a competitor’s store.

Now let’s make one gigantic segue into the world of HR. The mainstream agenda over the last decade has been about standardisation, about systematization, about centralisation.  How can we get slick processes that are efficient and allow us to reduce the amount of resource we need to deploy? The answer is simple, you treat employees in the same way that my old company treated customers. You process them.

The thing is about processing rather than serving is that initially it looks like great value for money. It costs less, it moves quicker, it isn’t resource hungry.  So you feed the disease. Slicker and slicker you get, faster and faster, more streamlined, you start to measure, so that you can get even better. And then suddenly you realise…..you can’t remember why you’re doing this anymore.

In the same way the retailer forgets the customer, you’ve forgotten the employee. This is all about them fitting into your process, not you understanding their needs. In fact, their needs are an inconvenience that gets in the way of your process. Because they aren’t really a “need” in the first place are they?  They don’t REALLY need it, they’re just being difficult.

Humans want to feel like they are being treated as individuals, that they are being listened to and that their needs are being taken into account. Treating people as people isn’t an inconvenience; it is should be the foundation of every half decent company.

Engagement, motivation, retention? So why is it than In HR we talk a good talk, then put on the overalls and get back to the sausage factory?

Are you a hoop creator?

I’m not a fan of Holby City, I’ve spent enough time in hospitals to not need to watch pretend ones. But I am a fan of Luther (why psychopathic cops chasing sociopathic criminals should be more attractive to me than hospitals is anyone’s guess). And it was whilst waiting for the latter that I caught the end of the former and particularly this quote,

“We need to complete this for HR, they like to make us jump through these hoops”

I tweeted it and the rest of the evening was spent messing about with Emma Vernon, Mervyn Dinnen and David Kelham (amongst others) on the topic of #hoopcreation.

We laugh…..but hang on sec….isn’t that what people see as us? And isn’t that because a lot of what we do IS hoop creation?

“We need to create a process for that” – HOOP

“I think we need to review the form” – HOOP

“We need a sign off procedure” – HOOP

Do we REALLY need these things? Or do we need to communicate better, to build relationships and to trust people? Are we covering our inability to influence with a series of hoops?

I’m going to challenge myself….and I challenge you…..next time you’re talking in this way ask yourself this, “is there a legal, regulatory or business critical imperative for doing this? Or am I just indulging in hoopcreation?” And if you’re feeling really brave, go and find some of those hoops you’ve already created and work out ways to throw them away.

I’m telling you, not only will the business thank you, you might actually free up some time to do something that adds real value. How about that for a win win?