A Time of Opportunity

Jan 15, 2009

I’m not sure how you are feeling these days, but I am tired of the laments about how bad things are. Certainly, this past year has been one of stress for our profession, our economy, and our political systems. Somewhere a window opened and let out the comforts and habits of the 20th century. Many of the things we took for granted – a steady economy, a rising stock market, lower prices, and a booming job market – have changed direction, at least for a while.

Compared to other times and places (for example Iraq, the Great Depression, World War I and II) things are actually pretty good. Most of us have jobs, food, careers, education, and many opportunities. For the unfortunate, there are safety nets and far more programs to assist them than ever before. There is a time for all things and this series of layoffs, downsizing, and recalibrating is as necessary a part of the cycle of life as are the seasons.

Change is a messy, painful, and tiring process but it almost always leads to something better. The changes that will follow this recessionary time will bring renewal and energy to our professional and personal lives. I cannot do much about how your organization is faring or how it deals with change, but I can offer you some tips about coping with your own change process.

Unwanted change causes very definite behavioral patterns to emerge.

Psychologists who have studied and documented the change process describe four distinctive phases we have to pass through to complete a change cycle.

Phase 1 is denial:

Many of us saw the recession coming but denied it. We saw job openings decrease and heard the rumors in our own organizations about how sales were down. The normal reaction is to discount those stories. In our professional lives, we have been barraged with new ideas, tools, and approaches to our established routines.

Again, most of us have had the tendency to discount their importance. Over my career, I have heard applicant tracking systems, the Internet, and social networking all dismissed as fads.

While many of us know intellectually that many of these tools and processes are useful, we cannot accept the change they bring. Whether thinking about our careers, jobs, or the tools we use there is no more denying that the changes have come and are real and permanent.

  • Get the facts, do some research, and make a decision based on data and facts about whether the things you are seeing are real, useful, and whether they need to be acted on.
  • Don’t hide in the sand or hope things will just get better by themselves. Your actions will make things better or worse – nothing else.

Phase 2 is resistance:

Even when we have the information we need, we still often push back. We refuse to use the tools or we complain loudly about their shortfalls. We argue about what is happening and we dig in our heels and try to hang on to the past as hard as we can. It is very difficult to accept change and overcome your own dislikes and lack of comfort with the new tools, processes, or even with the need to find a new job.

  • Take small steps and try one new tool or process and keep at it for a while. Network with others and see how they are using it. Check in with candidates and hiring managers about how they feel. Not everything is useful, but many can make a significant difference to how you do your job.
  • Some of these tools might help you cope with a smaller staff or with the loss of outside assistance.

Phase 3 is exploration:

Very few of us are able to just jump into new solutions without any concern or hesitation. Most of us tend to be overly cautious and adverse to any changes. You know you are entering this stage of the change process when you begin to make small changes. For example, you start experimenting with minor process improvements or decide to do without replacing a sourcer or you adopt a new technology you are unsure about.

Exploration is the step when you may try and discard many approaches – and that’s perfectly okay to do. In fact, it’s the right way to make change happen. Not everything is going to be successful or right for your situation.

  • Think of positive ways to incorporate new applications or tools into your routine on a regular basis. That makes the changes less dramatic and gives you time to learn how to use them well.
  • Establish some objective assessment criteria to be able to better judge whether or not the new approach is working.
  • Reward anyone on your team who tries a new approach, tool, idea.

Phase 4 is commitment:

Eventually you will come to see these new approaches as normal and you will have a hard time even remembering the old days and the old ways. New tools become “old” tools and we feel comfortable with the processes, assumptions and ideas that have evolved over some period of time. This becomes the new norm.

  • Don’t stop here. Continue to experiment and try new things – even when you have just adopted something.
  • Continuously scan the environment for changes, trends, new products and solutions.
  • Complacency is your biggest enemy!

The slow times will pass and recruiting will ramp up almost without warning. Use this time to learn, adopt, examine your own practices, and make the changes you think will make a difference. As we emerge from this recession, the entire recruiting profession will look different, be run differently, use different tools, and be based on different assumptions than it was.

There is nothing to be gained in crying about how bad things are. Grab the opportunities and profit from these changing times.

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