Seduced by Shiny Objects

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May 8, 2020

We all are attracted to shiny objects. You know them: Items that attract a great deal of attention because of their superficial characteristics. Every CEO I have ever worked for has been attracted to them. 

Right now, as we work through the worst economic scenario since the 1930s, leaders are grasping at anything shiny that they can use to reboot their organizations. As talent leaders, we need to take a clinical approach. (Think Dr. Burke or Faucci. Because when the CEO of the country has a new shiny object, the best response is with courage and factual data.)

In talent acquisition, we are subject to being challenged on whatever is the latest and sometimes greatest idea or brain fart of consultants or so-called subject matter experts. But titles do not correlate to expertise. Their title and authority may give them the right to suggest an action, but your expertise gives you the right to say no. 

Sometimes TA professionals are lured by the newest software, be it AI, text messaging, or scraping the internet for the next great candidate. But we know that most of the companies selling you fool’s gold do not make it out of the second round of VC funding. Otherwise, we would all be using the same products. 

Shiny objects are constantly being dangled in front of us, and they are often attractive especially to senior management folks who lack direct expertise in relevant areas. Consequently, TA is often at the receiving end of these flash-in-the-pan ideas and concepts. In such cases, having a backbone is important. Having data to support your position is critical. You need to have both: data and the backbone.

Real-Life Examples From My Own Work Experiences 

In one instance, my CEO, at a global manufacturing firm, brought me an article he read on an inflight magazine. He asked why we were not doing the same as the article suggested. 

My response: Because it is a fad. And just because it worked at one organization does not mean it will work here given our dynamics. I explained, “You do not put a Ferrari engine in a Chevy.”

OK, I didn’t actually say that, but I thought it. What I did was a delicate dance of data analyses to show why the idea was ridiculous. I do not have a high level of hubris, so I always investigate before responding. As a result, my CEO backed off quickly.

At a different organization, my CEO wanted us to consider only candidates with GPAs of at least 3.5 for certain roles because a high GPA supposedly showed diligence in studying and fortitude. He also believed that we should hire from only Tier 1 (top 30) universities. Meanwhile, we had to hire over 600 such individuals. 

The genesis of this was a couple of very shiny research articles. It was not a bad idea on its surface, but our data showed that high GPA did not correlate to success or retention. In fact, I had dealt with the same ideas at another organization and already knew that GPA was not always an indicator of success, contrary to many folk’s belief.

At my previous organization, we found that the highest level of success was found in people from upper-level Tier 2 schools. Additionally, there was more success among employees with GPAs between 3 and 3.5. There were lots of theories on why this was true, and I will let you surmise reasons relating to juggling work and schools — most of these slightly lower GPA students had more robust schedules of work, sports, clubs, activities, and other obligations. Can you say “well-rounded” or “battle-tested”? 

We did our data diligence, and yes, the results were similar to my other organization: 3.0 to 3.5 GPA was the sweet spot and people from Tier 2 schools were associated with significantly higher retention and success. We went back to the CEO with the information, and we were able to put the shiny object on a shelf.

What to Do When Confronted With a Shiny Object

First, listen and do not agree. Just take it in and state you will investigate it.

Then get data and information relating to the request. More times than not, the idea sounds good but has holes in it. Shoot bullets through the holes. Do it with data. Opinions get destroyed in these conversations. Data is respected.

Once you have done your diligence, it is time to respond. Be assertive. Good TA is cooperative. Great TA does not back down. State the facts. Smile. And get back to business. Oh, and maybe get some sunglasses to avoid the glare!

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