The UAW, the Detroit Bailout, and Related Sourcing Issues

Dec 19, 2008

A top-down command-and-control structure leads to power grabbing, not power sharing. It prevents people from seeing the bigger picture as groups defend their turfs and fight off change at all costs. This sounds like Detroit, and until Detroit develops and implements a customer-driven strategy with a culture of success before self-interest, the bailout won’t work.

A comparable situation exists in how most corporations have designed their hiring processes.

In this analogy, this means the needs of top candidates must drive every aspect of a company’s hiring processes, not the ego of managers, nor the bureaucrats in legal and HR. Your company falls into this category if you worry more about preventing average people from applying instead of figuring out how to attract more top performers. You’re equally culpable if hiring managers won’t see someone without all of the skills listed on the job description, if these same managers think they’re great interviewers, if they won’t spend time discussing real job needs with their recruiting team, or if they expect candidates to be enthused during the first interview.

I neither like nor dislike unions, but I do believe that they can make companies uncompetitive if they restrict management’s hand in optimizing business performance. However, I also believe that employees, whether unionized or not, need to be given a certain set of rights to protect their collective interests. Too much power in the hands of anyone unlevels the playing field. As a result, some regulation is required to preserve an appropriate balance of power. Finding this equal balance is pretty tricky, and history doesn’t offer many good solutions.

Now what does this all have to do with sourcing and hiring more top performers?

The idea behind all of this is something called sub-optimization. Sub-optimization occurs when the rights of a sub-group override what’s best for the primary group. In essence, the sub-group can’t see beyond its own self-interests. I’d suggest lawyers, government regulators, corporate bureaucrats, and academicians prevent companies from hiring the best people because they don’t see the bigger picture. Include here untrained interviewers, managers who rely on the gut, and recruiters who act more like vendors and car salesmen, than consultants.

In sourcing, a top candidate perspective is necessary when designing hiring processes, not some power grabbing bureaucrat or unsophisticated neophyte. Some examples will help clarify this cynical viewpoint:

  1. Requiring candidates to complete an application before they can search for jobs or be seriously considered. This scares the best people off who early in a search for a new job are just comparison shopping and have little time to complete an application.
  2. Requiring excessive reporting because someone applied for a job. There are a number of better ways to ensure equal opportunity rather than adding burdensome reporting requirements to an already over-taxed system.
  3. Including skills and experience requirements in a job posting. By default, job ads really describe average people, not the best people. The best performers by definition always have less than the requirements listed. That’s what makes them all top performers. (Here’s an article on banning job descriptions you’ll find uplifting.)
  4. Using competency models to select candidates. Competencies are not transferrable to different jobs, so just because a person has them doesn’t mean the person will use them in a different job. For example, being an aggressive hunter doesn’t mean the person will be an aggressive farmer, even if the person is selling the exact same product.
  5. Not using the latest advertising and marketing ideas to find and attract top performers. Since the purpose of a job posting is to attract the attention of a top person and compel the person to apply, it seems odd that most companies write boring ads that no one can find. (Here are some ideas on how to test this idea out.)
  6. Managers who expect candidates to be excited about the job before they even know what it is. This is idiot-think. The only people who could be excited about a job without knowing much about it are those more interested in the paycheck than the work. (How to tame your hiring manager clients.)
  7. Setting up processes to prevent unqualified people from being seen or applying. I’m still dumbfounded when people say they don’t want to post creative ads because they’ll attract too many unqualified people. Commonsense and technology can separate the good from the bad. Every aspect of the hiring process from A to Z needs to be examined from the perspective of attracting more top performers as the primary objective. A subset of this is how to separate the good from the bad.
  8. The use of subjective data to screen candidates. When are skills, experiences, competencies, and behaviors objective? This is subjective data. The only objective data is a set of realistic performance objectives for the job with people being selected based on their demonstrated ability and desire to meet these objectives. As long as they can successfully do the work, this opens up the pool to anyone who is qualified regardless of their educational background, ethnicity, marital status, age, or physical capability.
  9. The idea of building processes to hire average people, and being surprised that top performers are not applying. Collectively, this is the biggest bureaucratic puzzle of them all. In an attempt to abide by every legal pronouncement, to appease every ego, and to not rock the boat, companies have created hiring processes that don’t work. To be effective a hiring process needs to be designed based on the needs of the target audience — in this case, top performers. Balance of power can then be shared as long as no one loses sight of this primary objective.

An optimal hiring decision involves the hiring manager, the recruiter, and the candidate being in agreement with respect to current job needs and performance expectations. Based on this, candidates need a good understanding of growth opportunities based on them successfully achieving these targets. This discussion initially needs to take place with few restraints and preconditions. Unfortunately too many promising hiring opportunities never get to this point for the reasons cited above.

A strong recruiter can offset some of these problems by acting as a go-between in these early stages, but this is not a sustainable model in an environment where bureaucracy and ego prevails. This is comparable to Detroit’s problem with the UAW. The obvious solution to the hiring problem is similar to Detroit’s as well — a declaration of bankruptcy and a complete restructuring. This means that every process, from writing an ad to making an offer, is based on the idea the best people are different than the rest. It’s the same as designing cars that people want and letting them look at them without requiring a credit app first.

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