An inter­est­ing ques­tion popped up on one of my LinkedIn groups this morning:

“Any­one else find­ing it hard to recruit at the moment?”

I don’t often answer in LinkedIn groups, find­ing that I want to add infre­quent value rather than be a chat­ter­box. But this ques­tion got me to think­ing, par­tic­u­larly think­ing back over a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions, blog posts and media I’ve seen in the past cou­ple of years. Noth­ing about what I’ve said here is new, but it’s prob­a­bly coher­ent in one place for the fist time. Here’s where that think­ing went.

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Despite the eco­nomic down­turn across pretty much every sec­tor, I’m of the opin­ion that most of the really good poten­tial can­di­dates are in jobs and hold­ing on to them. Pas­sive can­di­dates are the only way any of us are going to find the stel­lar staff we’re going to want to ride the cur­rent upheaval out.

So, if you are recruit­ing at the moment, this raises sev­eral questions:

  • how do we find those candidates?
  • how do we iden­tify that they have the right stuff?
  • how do we get them to come on board?
  • how do we keep them once they are here?
  • how do we make sure we lever­age what’s in their heads and use their skills to best advantage?

I could answer each of these in turn, but that’s not my style. So let’s just jump in.

Find­ing the right per­son for the job, even in times of plenty, is always fraught with risk. What if you make the wrong hir­ing choice? What if the per­son doesn’t “fit”. Will they enhance the company’s reputation.

Why don’t you use the right tools?

In today’s hyper­con­nected world, it’s triv­ially easy to both locate the best peo­ple for the job you have on offer and do some pre­screen­ing on any can­di­date worth hir­ing. Here’s where my think­ing goes on this subject:

  • if they are really pas­sion­ate about what they do, they should have a blog where they talk about it. If not, why not?
  • is their work his­tory and rec­om­men­da­tions from oth­ers avail­able online in some form? Are they on LinkedIn, for exam­ple? If not, why not?
  • have they pub­lished papers or pre­sented at con­fer­ences that estab­lish them as some­thing of a leader in their field? If not, why not?
  • do they par­tic­i­pate in one or more com­mu­ni­ties of inter­est around their sub­jects of exper­tise? In other words do they give some­thing back to the com­mu­nity they are a part of? If not, why not?

I think these ques­tions are valid for any indus­try and for any role (except per­haps the covert intel­li­gence com­mu­nity, and even then, that bar­rier is break­ing down).

I think it’s incum­bent upon any­one recruit­ing at the moment to change their tac­tics. Most recruit­ing agen­cies are out; they rarely find the super­stars as they are focussed on turnover and can­di­date place­ment rather than iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of great tal­ent. That said, there’s at least one Aus­tralian agency that is a notable exception.

Turn­ing again to hyper­con­nect­ed­ness, who do you know? We’re all pro­foundly inter­con­nected today; we must know some­one who’s lost their job, or who might be look­ing or who knows some­one. Lever­age your social net­works and the whuffie I dearly hope you’re gen­er­at­ing and hand­ing out to find the right per­son. In the best pos­si­ble way, use the net­works, peo­ple and the tools you have at your disposal.

Here’s a con­crete exam­ple. I have a client for whom some­time in the next few months, I need to recruit a high qual­ity Com­mu­nity Man­ager to take on the man­age­ment of their social media engage­ment inside and out­side the wall. I know of sev­eral peo­ple who fit the bill (as I should — social media advice is my bread and but­ter) but they are all in steady per­ma­nent roles. I’ll be approach­ing them, but I expect a num­ber of “no thanks” responses. Even with a “no thanks”, those responses might lead me to find oth­ers who could be the required rock­star. I could get just the right refer­ral because I spend time amongst my com­mu­nity — online and in real life — and know them. Hope­fully some of them even quite like me ;)

The notion of hav­ing The Right Stuff (an anal­ogy to the Tom Wolfe book) is an inter­est­ing one. I’ve spent a lot of years work­ing in and around the pub­lic sec­tor and while many peo­ple there are very good at what they do, I’d say I met less than 20 peo­ple in my years who I con­sid­ered real super­stars. It’s not that the prob­a­bly thou­sands of oth­ers weren’t latently capa­ble of being such, but that their envi­ron­ment failed to cap­i­talise on engag­ing them in ful­fill­ing, mean­ing­ful work. This very fac­tor is some­thing I con­sider a core fail­ing in many work­places. Check out the video below, which I’ve linked to before.

Whether your organ­i­sa­tion treats them like it or not, your peo­ple are by far your most impor­tant asset. Not your clients and cus­tomers. Not your share­hold­ers. Not the Board of Direc­tors. Your peo­ple. The ones who come in every day and give you their time.

Now there’s a rad­i­cal thought. Your staff giv­ing you their time. As opposed to the favor you’re doing them by employ­ing them. Wrong.

We need to alter our focus to ensure we’re pro­vid­ing engag­ing, ful­fill­ing places to work. Where the work done has real mean­ing and staff are empow­ered to make their own deci­sions and get on with the job. Presence-​​based work prac­tices are the stuff of the Indus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion. Eight hours a day is a demon­stra­bly false mea­sure of effi­ciency and effec­tive­ness. We need to rethink our approach and rev­o­lu­tionise our busi­nesses to focus on noth­ing but qual­ity out­put. The rep­u­ta­tions we gen­er­ate as a con­se­quence will help attract the right peo­ple — staff, clients, cus­tomers all.

Equally, we need to under­stand that our staff are on loan, par­tic­u­larly the good ones. We don’t own them or their per­sonal brands. We only have them until we stop giv­ing them engag­ing things to do. We should be pre­pared to let the rep­u­ta­tions of our peo­ple and the new peo­ple we can attract act as a pos­i­tive influ­ence on the brands of our busi­nesses. We should learn from our super­stars and let them be free with how they do their jobs and get on.

And once we’ve man­aged to attract and engage these super­stars. To give them mean­ing­ful work. What next?

What’s next is the rev­o­lu­tion that some of us have known about for a few years now, but that oth­ers are only just get­ting to — Web 2.0 and Enter­prise 2.0. Of course, the tools are not the answer in and of them­selves, but they are poten­tially a huge benefit.

So, look around.

What prob­lems that your organ­i­sa­tion has might you be solv­ing with the impl­men­ta­tion of some great col­lab­o­ra­tion tools that will make the jobs of your peo­ple eas­ier. That will make them more pro­duc­tive. That could well save you real dol­lars in cus­tomer sup­port, in knowl­edge man­age­ment, in the dis­cov­ery of uniden­ti­fied tal­ents and pas­sion amongst your staff.

In the cur­rent mar­ket, the abil­ity of any busi­ness to attract, engage and retain the best staff requires a sig­nif­i­cant change in recruit­ing tac­tics, work­place style and ongo­ing busi­ness approaches.

Are you ready for that change? Are you mak­ing it? Do you even know how?

Do you have The Right Stuff?

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