Thanksgiving, the Economy and Recruiting

Nov 26, 2008

As we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner (here in the United States), let us be thankful for the new era that is dawning.

This economic slowdown is not just about the failure of our banking system or of the credit markets. This failure is a symptom of the major changes that are occurring as we enter a new century. The Depression of the 1930s redefined the agriculturally based banking and finance world and made it competitive and efficient for an industrial age.

We are now in a similar period.

The nature of business and work is rapidly evolving. Organizational structure will become less hierarchical, more nimble, and flexible. Employees will begin to be treated with respect as investors — not assets or human capital. People are the most precious of success factors, and we each choose to invest our time and skills in an organization that respects and listens to us. When we are not respected, we move on. Entrepreneurship has grown rapidly in response to the lack of respect innovative employees have been given.

Look to see the finance system change to reward innovation. Look at small organizations with a global network or loosely allied suppliers and partners to dominate the economic climate of this century. It is the end of GM and other large, hierarchal organizations that were the model of efficiency in an industrial age.

Many of us will miss the familiarity and the rules of the past that gave us a sense of security and certainty. But surely this economic meltdown must signal to the most conservative of believers that times are changing.

Indeed, even our profession is changing fundamentally, although we are just beginning to see and understand those changes. The habits and skills we developed in a slower-moving, more certain 20th century no longer work so well. Our cheese has been moved, as the eponymous book says, and we will miss the familiar world of job boards, resumes, face-to-face recruiting, ringing telephones, cold calls, and classified ads. Technology and the Internet still feel unfamiliar and foreign to many recruiters, but we have entered a technology-dominated, virtual era.

But here are a few of the many things we have to look forward to:

  1. Personalization of the recruiting process. Today every candidate is treated pretty much the same. Recruiters call that being fair, but I call it lack of customer service and concern. We are all individuals, and want our uniqueness to be understood and evaluated. Retailers and product manufacturers understand this and provide hundreds of variations on products to meet our individual needs. We will need to use technology to communicate with candidates better and more frequently and at a deeper level than we do now. We will have to tailor jobs to meet candidates’ qualifications rather than to keep looking for the “right” person for our standardized job profile. The whole matching process will become more dynamic and offer the candidate more choices. Social media will become the “home base” of recruiting, and the hallmark of successful recruiting organizations will be their ability to use social media well.
  2. Development integrated with recruiting. When the supply of skilled and ready people is exhausted, which will be soon, we will have to look at developing people internally or hiring people without the skills we need and training them. Corporate resilience is marked by the ability to develop people with the skills they need to compete. Look at HP, IBM, and Procter & Gamble. Each of these firms has spent millions on employee development and each is successful — even in these dark times. I think there is a correlation. Integrated talent management will be a no-brainer for the HR people of this century. Being able to make solid decisions, based on data, as to whether a position should be filled with an external experienced person or an internal trainee will become a powerful skill.
  3. Selling and marketing as important skills for recruiters. Even though it is harder than ever to see because of the slow economy, being able to explain to a candidate why your organization is better than another one will be a vital ability for recruiters to have. The candidate pool is going to get smaller, smarter, and more discriminating — just as the consumer pool has. Why would you buy one video camera over another? Mainly because of the powerful marketing and communication campaigns of their manufacturers. Candidates will seek out firms with good reputations and financial track records, as they are already doing. That is why lists such as the “100 Best Companies to Work For” are so popular. Candidates are literally shopping for jobs not, for the most part, taking whatever comes along.

The entire recruiting profession will look different, be run differently, use different tools, and be based on different assumptions than it was in the 20th century. And that’s good — because we will need new tools for the new problems of talent shortages, rising free agency, smaller firms, and rapid change.

Let us give thanks this week for the plentiful ideas and creativity that have contributed so much to America’s leadership in human resources, in developing human potential, and in continuously exploring the limits of our capabilities.

And may all of you have a peaceful, bountiful, and happy Thanksgiving.

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