Recruiting is Career Play

 

Having recently completed a successful assignment as the Interim Recruiting Manager at a financial services advisory firm, I’ve been thinking about the process of recruiting talent into an organization.  In close to 20 years of recruiting it is the rare organization that puts the human equation before all else when it comes to recruiting.   Ironic as it may seem (because it is), all too often recruiters, human resource leaders and hiring managers create a process that works best for them and for their organization, without much thought for the candidates they are seeking to hire.

Sadly, it is not unusual for an organization to have an arrogant posture throughout the interview and recruiting process.  The performance of the interview team is analogous to conversing with a person who is “all about me” — and we all know how difficult it can be to spend time in conversation with someone who disregards “the other”.  Some interviewers will keep a candidate waiting, then s/he will sneak a peek at their emails while interviewing, some interrupt the interview to take a call, or even step out of the room and leave the interviewee sitting there dumbfounded. Of course the underlying message that is being sent to the candidate is, “I have more important things to do.”

A smart organization is thinking about how to create a thoughtful and efficient interview process that allows the team to really get to know the candidate, while conveying a culture that values it’s employees. Not everyone has the capability to do this.  HR leaders and recruiting managers are in the best position to ensure, in every step of the recruiting process, that candidates feel welcomed.  Having the right talent in place is critical for a company’s success; a strong recruiting process will attract the best and the brightest.

Creating and training a strong interview team is key to good hiring.  Not only do interviewers have to know the right questions to ask, perhaps the more importantly, they have to develop  a welcoming performance during the interview.  Learning to perform actions like a strong handshake, making eye contact and a greeting candidates with a smile can make all the difference for the interviewee.  Using emotional intelligence and a willingness to create a conversation that goes somewhere unexpected, tells candidates that the organization has a serious investment in fostering development and growth for it’s people.  Perhaps the interviewer shares something from her/his work experience that didn’t go well as a way to ask about times the candidate has failed and what s/he learned from their failure.

When putting together an interview team some questions to ask might be: Does this interviewer have a high level of emotional intelligence? Will this interviewer make a candidate feel comfortable? Is this interviewer an active listener?  Can s/he create a conversation that might very well go somewhere unexpected? Can s/he frame questions that help the candidate do her/his best at conveying their unique qualities, experience, creativity and ability to add value to the organization?  How are we, as an organization, conveying our corporate culture in our interviewing process?

How can organizations create a better recruiting process?  By putting themselves in the shoes of their candidates.  As one of my recruiting mentors used to say, “It’s simple, treat people the way you want to be treated.”  Using the tools and language of improvisation and theatre, good interviewers focus on “the other.”  Be giving; a good performer always makes her/his fellow actor look good.  Make your candidates look good and see how that changes your recruiting process.

The Myth of Cultural Fit

five faces

The New York Times recently published a terrific opinion piece – Guess Who Doesn’t Fit in at Work – about “cultural fit.”  The writer, Lauren A. Rivera, is also the author of a book entitled “Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs” and her valuable insights made me think a lot about the value of working in groups of people who are very different from ourselves. Given our global economy and shifting demographics Americans, in particular, would do well to develop a greater capacity to find ways to build with people who “different.”  I agree with Rivera that the bias towards “cultural fit” might be a fetter to creativity and innovation:

Some may wonder, “Don’t similar people work better together?” Yes and no. For jobs involving complex decisions and creativity, more diverse teams outperform less diverse ones. Too much similarity can lead to teams that are overconfident, ignore vital information and make poor (or even unethical) decisions.

It’s not surprising that the lack of diverse teams made up of people from different economic, racial and gender groupings lead to dysfunction not efficiency. Perhaps this is why confidence in the U.S. Congress is at an all time low!

Rivera is correct that more and more interviews are conducted as “get to know each other” conversations rather than screening for skills and abilities.  “No one asked me a hard question” is a common (and disappointed) response that I hear from candidates when I debrief them about their interviews. The image that comes to mind is a scene from Mad Man, where co-workers hang out an drink together, rather than engaging in the rewarding activity of learning peoples’ differences and then figuring out how to use those differences to build something new together.

Another salient point that Rivera makes reminds me of why I have had a lifelong love affair with the theatre, an ensemble-based creative activity:

When it comes to creating a cohesive work force, managers often discount the power of shared experiences on the job, especially working interdependently on a high-stakes project. The more time we spend with co-workers, the more similar to them we tend to become.

Theatre and performance teach us that we can go beyond ourselves and play and perform with all kinds of people (children do this the best) regardless of whether we have anything “in common.” We get to know each other by working and co-creating together, it really doesn’t matter if we’ve attended the same school or have the same hobbies. The greatness of America lies in our diversity. Getting out of ourselves might just turn out to be more important than fitting in with others!

Grading Employees Fails Us All

BT-AB319_RATING_12U_20150420175718Every once in awhile my husband likes to tease me about the fact that I didn’t receive grades, and therefore had no grade point average, as a student at Sarah Lawrence College. Our professors wrote evaluations about our work and the progress we were making in our studies but we never received grades. One of the many things that I have come to value about my education was the privilege I was afforded in attending an alternative high school and a liberal arts college that were not grading students.

Not having to worry about grades meant that we were was able to focus on learning instead of worrying about competing against each other. There was never any thought or concern about grade point average and whether or not we would make it to “the top of the class.” We were fortunate to have been participants in developmental learning environments where students were encouraged to be co-creators of our education. I began thinking about the positive impact that this had on my life when I read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal: The Trouble with Grading Employees.

For many professionals receiving a grade determines opportunities for promotion, raises in compensation and annual bonuses. As the article correctly points out, grading is a subjective activity that is often demoralizing. I was happy to read about the Gap’s approach to evaluating employees:

The Gap’s new approach dumps ratings in favor of monthly coaching sessions and frequent employee-manager conversations. But HR executives had to convince leaders that the move wasn’t “sacrilegious,” according to Eric Severson, the company’s co-head of human resources.

For as much as our culture values competition, when we are offered the chance to work (or study, or play) in a cooperative environment, people perform at a higher level.  Having monthly coaching sessions and ongoing conversations relates to employees as creators of their work environments. Relating to each other as co-creators frees us from some of the constraints of the roles we play in the workplace, i.e., employee, manager, over-worked boss, disgruntled worker, etc.

Being a co-creator is one of many things that I love about improvisation.  A well-trained improviser is always focused on making their partner look good.  It’s almost impossible to keep an improv scene going if you are competing to be the funniest, cleverest, scene-stealing person on stage.  Improvisers put their focus on “the other” as we listen and build with whatever our scene partner gives us to create with.

When I read the quote below my response was to say, “Really? I beg to differ!” –

 “We don’t want to be in a place where everyone’s an outstanding,” she said.

The fact of the matter is that we can transform the workplace by self-consciously creating the conditions for developmental learning environments where everyone is an outstanding!

For more about developmental learning environments check out the website and work of my colleague Dr. Lois Holzman, a leading proponent of cultural approaches to learning and development.

Recruiting? Make Your Candidates Look Good!

images I’ve been thinking about the process of recruiting talent into an organization.  In close to 20 years of recruiting it is the rare organization that puts the human equation before all else when it comes to recruiting.   Ironic as it may seem (because it is), the focus all too often for recruiters, human resource leaders and hiring managers is to create a process that works best for them and for their organization, without much thought for the candidates they are seeking to hire.

I was very glad to come across this article in the Wall Street Journal, “Building a Process for Recruiting the Best” by Scott Weiss.  Although he is describing a recruiting process for startups, I think Weiss’ suggestions apply to any organization that wants to create the conditions for successful recruiting of top talent.  http://blogs.wsj.com/accelerators/2014/01/24/scott-weiss-building-a-process-for-recruiting-the-best/

Too often organizations have an arrogant posture throughout the interview and recruiting process.  The performance of the interview team is analogous to conversing with a person who is “all about me” — and we all know how difficult it can be to spend time in conversation with someone who disregards “the other”.

It’s important to ensure that in every step of the recruiting process the candidate feels welcomed.  Too often I’ve seen hiring managers and other interviewers keep a candidate waiting beyond the scheduled time for the interview.  Of course the underlying message that is being sent to the candidate is, “I have more important things to do.”  Having the right talent in leadership roles is critical for a company’s success yet the process that is often put in place doesn’t conform to the need.

Recently a client told me about an interview he had with HR that consisted of what he experienced as “trick questions”.  Creating an interview process in which the goal is to trip up a candidate rather than bring out the best in her/him is an example of what I see as an “arrogant / all about us” recruiting process.

Here’s where using emotional intelligence and having the ability to create a space for  intimate conversation comes into play.  By intimate I mean creating a conversation that goes somewhere unexpected, perhaps the interviewer shares something from her/his work experience that didn’t go well as a way to ask about times the candidate has failed and what s/he learned from their failure.

A smart organization is thinking about which managers are in the best position to create a thoughtful and efficient interview process that allows the team to really get to know the candidate.  Not everyone has the capability to do this.  Some interviewers will sneak a peek at their emails while interviewing, will take a call or even step out of the room and leave the interviewee sitting there dumbfounded.  I’ve heard this kind of feedback from candidates more times than I’d like to think possible.

Creating and training a talented interview team is key to good hiring.  Not only do interviewers have to know the right questions to ask, perhaps the more importantly, they have to work on their performance during the interview.  Simple things like a strong handshake, eye contact and a smile can make all the difference for the candidate.

When putting together an interview team some questions to ask might be: Does this interviewer have a high level of emotional intelligence? Will this interviewer make a candidate feel comfortable? Is this interviewer an active listener?  Can s/he create a conversation that might very well go somewhere unexpected? Can s/he frame questions that help the candidate do her/his best at conveying their unique qualities, experience, creativity and ability to add value to the organization?

How can organizations create a better recruiting process?  By putting themselves in the shoes of their candidates.  As one of my recruiting mentors used to say, “It’s simple, treat people the way you want to be treated.”  Put your focus on “the other” — be giving.  A good performer always makes her/his fellow actor look good.  Make your candidates look good and see how that changes your recruiting process.