The Right Stuff - attraction, engagement, retention in a hyperconnected world | acidlabs Studios
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The Right Stuff – attraction, engagement, retention in a hyperconnected world

The Right Stuff – attraction, engagement, retention in a hyperconnected world

An interesting question popped up on one of my LinkedIn groups this morning:

“Anyone else finding it hard to recruit at the moment?”

I don’t often answer in LinkedIn groups, finding that I want to add infrequent value rather than be a chatterbox. But this question got me to thinking, particularly thinking back over a number of conversations, blog posts and media I’ve seen in the past couple of years. Nothing about what I’ve said here is new, but it’s probably coherent in one place for the fist time. Here’s where that thinking went.

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Despite the economic downturn across pretty much every sector, I’m of the opinion that most of the really good potential candidates are in jobs and holding on to them. Passive candidates are the only way any of us are going to find the stellar staff we’re going to want to ride the current upheaval out.

So, if you are recruiting at the moment, this raises several questions:

  • how do we find those candidates?
  • how do we identify that they have the right stuff?
  • how do we get them to come on board?
  • how do we keep them once they are here?
  • how do we make sure we leverage what’s in their heads and use their skills to best advantage?

I could answer each of these in turn, but that’s not my style. So let’s just jump in.

Finding the right person for the job, even in times of plenty, is always fraught with risk. What if you make the wrong hiring choice? What if the person doesn’t “fit”. Will they enhance the company’s reputation.

Why don’t you use the right tools?

In today’s hyperconnected world, it’s trivially easy to both locate the best people for the job you have on offer and do some prescreening on any candidate worth hiring. Here’s where my thinking goes on this subject:

  • if they are really passionate about what they do, they should have a blog where they talk about it. If not, why not?
  • is their work history and recommendations from others available online in some form? Are they on LinkedIn, for example? If not, why not?
  • have they published papers or presented at conferences that establish them as something of a leader in their field? If not, why not?
  • do they participate in one or more communities of interest around their subjects of expertise? In other words do they give something back to the community they are a part of? If not, why not?

I think these questions are valid for any industry and for any role (except perhaps the covert intelligence community, and even then, that barrier is breaking down).

I think it’s incumbent upon anyone recruiting at the moment to change their tactics. Most recruiting agencies are out; they rarely find the superstars as they are focussed on turnover and candidate placement rather than identification of great talent. That said, there’s at least one Australian agency that is a notable exception.

Turning again to hyperconnectedness, who do you know? We’re all profoundly interconnected today; we must know someone who’s lost their job, or who might be looking or who knows someone. Leverage your social networks and the whuffie I dearly hope you’re generating and handing out to find the right person. In the best possible way, use the networks, people and the tools you have at your disposal.

Here’s a concrete example. I have a client for whom sometime in the next few months, I need to recruit a high quality Community Manager to take on the management of their social media engagement inside and outside the wall. I know of several people who fit the bill (as I should – social media advice is my bread and butter) but they are all in steady permanent roles. I’ll be approaching them, but I expect a number of “no thanks” responses. Even with a “no thanks”, those responses might lead me to find others who could be the required rockstar. I could get just the right referral because I spend time amongst my community – online and in real life – and know them. Hopefully some of them even quite like me 😉

The notion of having The Right Stuff (an analogy to the Tom Wolfe book) is an interesting one. I’ve spent a lot of years working in and around the public sector and while many people there are very good at what they do, I’d say I met less than 20 people in my years who I considered real superstars. It’s not that the probably thousands of others weren’t latently capable of being such, but that their environment failed to capitalise on engaging them in fulfilling, meaningful work. This very factor is something I consider a core failing in many workplaces. Check out the video below, which I’ve linked to before.

Whether your organisation treats them like it or not, your people are by far your most important asset. Not your clients and customers. Not your shareholders. Not the Board of Directors. Your people. The ones who come in every day and give you their time.

Now there’s a radical thought. Your staff giving you their time. As opposed to the favor you’re doing them by employing them. Wrong.

We need to alter our focus to ensure we’re providing engaging, fulfilling places to work. Where the work done has real meaning and staff are empowered to make their own decisions and get on with the job. Presence-based work practices are the stuff of the Industrial Revolution. Eight hours a day is a demonstrably false measure of efficiency and effectiveness. We need to rethink our approach and revolutionise our businesses to focus on nothing but quality output. The reputations we generate as a consequence will help attract the right people – staff, clients, customers all.

Equally, we need to understand that our staff are on loan, particularly the good ones. We don’t own them or their personal brands. We only have them until we stop giving them engaging things to do. We should be prepared to let the reputations of our people and the new people we can attract act as a positive influence on the brands of our businesses. We should learn from our superstars and let them be free with how they do their jobs and get on.

And once we’ve managed to attract and engage these superstars. To give them meaningful work. What next?

What’s next is the revolution that some of us have known about for a few years now, but that others are only just getting to – Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0. Of course, the tools are not the answer in and of themselves, but they are potentially a huge benefit.

So, look around.

What problems that your organisation has might you be solving with the implmentation of some great collaboration tools that will make the jobs of your people easier. That will make them more productive. That could well save you real dollars in customer support, in knowledge management, in the discovery of unidentified talents and passion amongst your staff.

In the current market, the ability of any business to attract, engage and retain the best staff requires a significant change in recruiting tactics, workplace style and ongoing business approaches.

Are you ready for that change? Are you making it? Do you even know how?

Do you have The Right Stuff?

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Stephen Collins
  • Jodie Miners
    Posted at 09:38h, 07 January Reply

    Wow, where are these companies. I’m a committed, engaged and loyal employee who doesn’t have a fantastic company to work for right now… and all I’m seeing is the negatives – there are no jobs, you can’t get a job and you don’t have the right skillset for what we need (I’m over specialised).

    So from the other side of the fence employers need to think outside the square a bit and think that there may be fantastic candidates out there even if they don’t “tick all the boxes” on the job description. Yeah it’s easy to get someone that looks like they tick all the boxes on their resume, and have done the whole keyword matching thing, but there are other people out there who are fantastic employees who have the potential to learn your systems and pick them up very quickly.

    It is very hard to not be stuck in the negative when you are in the job hunting market at the moment. I feel that I’m doing all the right things as per your post, I have the “Right Stuff” but I’m just not breaking through.

    So there is a definite gap here – Employers are saying they can’t get the right people and the right people are saying they can’t find the right employers… Not sure how we get over this gap?

  • Michael Specht
    Posted at 12:28h, 07 January Reply

    Steve I could not agree with you more! The concept of not owning employees is one business’s still need to get their minds around.

  • Madhumalti
    Posted at 18:55h, 07 January Reply

    I completely agree. Being a consultant in the human capital management function of the consulting organization i work with, this is what we are telling our clients – to focus on identifying and getting their Top Talent rather than thinking of cutting jobs randomly…

  • Gary Barber
    Posted at 10:44h, 08 January Reply

    Totally agree.

    Not that I have been looking, but I don’t really know of any places that don’t use their staff to grind out mindless projects or treat them as old school employees, slaves to the man.

    Do these new age employers really exist?

    • Stephen Collins
      Posted at 11:33h, 08 January Reply

      I believe these types of employers do exist, but they aren’t yet the norm. There are major shifts in management practice and business approaches emerging from the leaders, but many are yet to follow.

  • Chris Hitchen
    Posted at 12:35h, 08 January Reply

    I’ve come around to this way of thinking, but it’s taken considerable time and has certainly not come naturally. I’m now constantly wondering how to engage my staff in more meaningful ways and, short of adopting the Ricardo Semler methodology – – am keen to encouraging discussion and dissent, provided it all keeps happening at a rapid pace.

    To paraphrase Google’s Eric Schmidt in an interview with McKinsey Quarterly; management by consensus is good (wisdom of crowds) and listening to customers is critical, however two things are needed to make this process work:

    – someone needs to enforce a deadline (otherwise you have a university!)
    – dissent is critical to the process

    • Stephen Collins
      Posted at 12:39h, 08 January Reply

      Chris, Ricardo Semler is definitely a crazy genius, but what he did with Semco is definitely not going to work everywhere. Maverick is a favorite book of mine.

      Some of the consulting I do talks to the ideas expressed here in the context of improving business productivity and work practices. I’d be more than happy to have a chat about it with you at any time.

  • Michael Specht
    Posted at 12:59h, 08 January Reply

    Interesting discussion. Let’s take this further.

    By general agreement somewhere around 20% of Australia’s workforce is actively disengage, meaning disruptive, unproductive, disloyal and unenthused. Costing the economy somewhere in excess of $A30 billion in lost productivity annually!

    Global HR consulting firm Watson Wyatt found that the top 4 drivers of workplace satisfaction are communication, pay & benefits, customer focused approaches, and strategic direction & leadership. Improved communication effectiveness is associated with a 15.7% increase in market value and research has shown organisations with effective communication had an employee engagement level 4 times that of others.

    Taking this further companies that are great places to work (ie care about their employees) perform at least twice as well as other organisations. While many people understand this, it was the basis of a research report by Professor Alex Edmans from Wharton School.

    Now these issue are not easy to solve BTW, and the approaches from the 90’s will not work. By 2020 over 40% of the workforce will have been born since 1985! So organisation that ignore these issues I doubt will be in business by 2020.

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