I read an article the other day about how the race to win in business is all about access.
It’s a simple idea, one that makes so much sense on the surface. Think about the companies that have grown the most in the last decade and where they’re most dominant. Whether it’s Amazon, Walmart, Apple, Google, or Facebook, these companies are all racing to make everything available the second a consumer wants it.
Which got me thinking: Why hasn’t recruiting mirrored this strategy?
We’ve talked about it for years. The industry publishes reports annually about consumerizing the candidate experience. Modern technologies have emerged that make immediacy and access to information possible. And yet, many organizations today still do things the way they’ve always been done: One-size-fits-all experiences and processes that force everyone down the same path — on the employer’s timeline, not the candidate’s or employees.
This was true when I came into the trucking industry last year. Historically the trucking industry faces 100% turnover rates each year. Companies chase after candidates with massive sign-on bonuses, which has created a cyclical problem. Despite massive driver shortages, incredible competition for talent, and really ugly employee retention rates, the industry was still operating with somewhat archaic technology.
It did the job, sure. But it was by no means driver centric. It fit an old process for a different era. And in a race to win that’s all about access — in this case, access to qualified, experienced drivers — it felt like a losing strategy.
The Importance of “Being the Villain”
There’s a quote I love by PT Barnum: “Comfort is the enemy of progress.”
The trucking industry — and recruiting generally, I’d argue — has been largely comfortable with the way it’s always done things for decades. We’ve made some progress, but it’s been incremental, not transformational. We’ve tried to align technology or process changes with how we’ve always done things, rather than asking whether the way we’ve always done things, even makes sense at all anymore.
Of course, the challenge with asking those kinds of disruptive questions is simple: No one wants to be the villain — the person questioning status quo, shaking up normative practices, and making people uncomfortable. It’s easier, frankly, to just go with the flow and accept “we’ve always done it this way” as an acceptable answer.
But if you truly believe that the status quo is the primary roadblock in the way of progress, then you need to make a mental shift, turning away from trying to make everyone comfortable and happy and toward embracing your role as a leader of meaningful change. And sometimes, that means you’re not going to be the most popular person in the room.
Then again, if you know me, you know that I’m not afraid of playing that role.
Breaking the Mold
Imagine going to your boss and telling them that your goal was to create a recruiting and HR department that would give candidates or employees instant access to the information they need, through a simple mobile interface, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
You’d pique their interest. But they’d also immediately think: “How much is it going to cost me?”
Frankly, I think that’s the wrong question to ask. The better one is: How much value is it going to create for the business and the bottom line? After all, for our business there’s a cost associated with not having a driver to drive our trucks. Without people, we don’t have a service to sell. And without a better people strategy, our business suffers.
Yes, transformation can be expensive and hard, but it doesn’t have to be an expense. If you do it right and have clear goals going in, it can save the business money and help you redistribute your recruiting budget to other initiatives. We’re a clear case study for this. 2019 vs 2020, we decreased our cost-per-hire by 12% while still moving through our ongoing talent acquisition transformation.
How’d we do it? We started with the end in mind by asking a handful of important questions:
- Where are we experiencing the most pain and inefficiencies in HR and driver recruiting?
- How do our candidates and employees feel about the experiences we created for them? And what do they truly want from an employer?
- How could we use technology to alleviate those issues — and where would technology not make sense, because the human touch is still important?
- And how could we use data to track the impact of our transformation and make the business case for further transformation easier in the future?
We quickly found a few key issues with how we were managing driver recruiting and employee engagement. For instance, the application process was long, cumbersome, and only available on a browser. And if candidates had a question after normal business hours, as drivers often do, they were out of luck.
Additionally, if someone was interested in — and qualified for — a job with US Xpress, they had to wait hours (and sometimes days) to hear back from a recruiter. And by the time we got back to them, it was sometimes too late. Never mind that even when great candidates made it through our process, they often had multiple offers waiting for them — and so our only mode of differentiation among multiple offers was to offer a bigger signing bonus.
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Those challenges were big enough. But when we got drivers through the door and into one of our trucks, we had a host of other post-hire challenges.
Most experienced drivers — the hardest cohort to recruit and retain, and the ones in shortest supply — want to feel taken care of and supported by their employers. They want stability and predictability, and don’t like being stuck on the road. Unfortunately, our process to support them was a little fragmented and certainly not real-time.
Leveraging Automation, AI, and Smart People Changes
Once we identified what was broken, we started to map out a plan to fix our biggest issues. And we started with technology.
Through experience at a previous employer, I understood the impact that conversational AI and recruiting automation could have on the recruiting process, including our ability to respond in real-time, any time, to any candidate or employee question. It also would automate back-end steps in the process that historically slowed everything down — screening, scheduling, etc.
But I also knew that automation and AI alone wouldn’t solve all our problems. We had to look at our people and processes, too. Specifically, we faced one big obstacle: Truck drivers are skeptical about AI.
They weren’t going to suddenly embrace it unless it made a meaningful impact on their experience. We had to convince them that this wasn’t about automating so much as creating experiences designed to make things faster, easier, and more accessible for them. Just like buying something online from Walmart or Amazon.
So, outside of looking at how technology could help us automate administrative stuff for our recruiters and provide real-time experiences to interested drivers, we made big changes to how we structured our team internally. If drivers needed help on the road, we made sure they could get it 24/7/365 by shifting our internal teams and partnering with an external RPO to augment our availability.
The Impact on Business
All this sounds great, right? It is. But like I mentioned, transformation can’t be only about experience. It also must drive real results. In less than 12 months, here are just a few of the immediate benefits from our continued recruiting transformation:
- Experienced driver leads are up 17%, because we’ve made the application process simpler, faster, mobile, and convenient to the driver’s timeline.
- Experienced team inquiries are up 197% vs the prior year. Team drivers are the unicorn candidates in trucking — this is significant.
- We decreased our cost-per-hire by 12% from 2019 to 2020.
- We’ve leveraged the technology to support the scaling of a brand-new division. This profile of a driver is technology savvy and directly matches our key driver criteria.
That’s real impact — especially in an industry with massive recruiting challenges. And it’s a recruiting story that will get almost any CEO or board of directors bought into the idea of transformation.
Were there bumps along the way? Of course. No major transformation is without pain. But if you’re committed to the process, you’ve asked the right questions, you know what you want to accomplish, and you invest the time into getting everyone aligned on the end state, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.
I hear a lot of talk about the future of recruiting or the future of work. There are lots of great ideas and predictions out there. But the question I think any recruiting or HR leader needs to ask is whether they’re going to sit back and let the future happen to them, or whether they’re going to happen to it.