Monthly Archives: November 2013

The one with the quality job

I’m not sure who first said “better, faster, cheaper – pick any two” but it does seem to be enduringly true.

I was recently invited to be part of a judging panel on the “In-House Recruitment Awards” (thanks Mark & Simon) and was assigned a few categories to do the initial judging prior to a bun fight round table with my fellow judges. There was a great deal of enthusiasm evident in most of the submissions but I must confess having read through the 9 or so entries I was disappointed at what seemed to be the focus for those entering as the best…

I first worked in recruitment as a consultant and then in the 2000s moved in-house at a time when recruitment was a burgeoning speciality and the role was still mostly completed by generalists. At the time, from my perspective the focus seemed to be on process (HR professionals to focus on process?! NO!) and not enough on either of the key stakeholders in the relationship – the hiring manager and the candidate.

I was encouraged as my career developed in recruitment to see some of the great facets of agency recruiters – proactivity, service focus, relationship management, were becoming evident in those who were taking in-house roles but for the fight was always about getting the right person in the right role at the right cost/time (in that order). The budget was something to be managed not something that managed me and line manager expectations were to be soothed as me/my team beavered away to try to find the right person.

What made me slightly nervous in reading the award entries that success (and the subsequent definition of best) was largely driven by time and cost – faster and cheaper with little or no attention paid to the quality of the candidate. There didn’t seem to be any mention of any post induction measurement, performance, retention or in its broadest sense talent.

If you ask the board of an organisation what they need from their recruitment function I imagine (and I have asked) their focus will be about increasing the capability of the organisation, about hiring people with potential and about the future prospects of the business. Whilst compliance with budget and efficiency of hire are of course important (especially to the line manager and the finance director) they do not in the true sense add value to the organisation past the day the new employee starts.

I think the recruitment profession as it now seems to want to distinguish itself from the remainder of the HR, needs to take a step back and think about what represents true value to the business, what it really wants to be known for and if in the list of better, faster, cheaper it may be about choosing the first and one other…

Just as a small post script I received an in-mail on Linkedin this afternoon from a recruiter working for one organisation but on site and in the name of another. The ‘host’ organisation is one that likely has a tough retention challenge and who’s wider brand has taken a hammering in the last few years. This was her missive:

Dear Rob,

Hope you are well.

I am currently recruiting for a Senior OE Specialist. I came across your cv. Pleae could you let me know your current situation? Are you available. Alternatively please pass my contact details to anyone you know that may be interested in this role.

Better? Faster? Cheaper?



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The one without the battenberg tattoo

When you read about change it mostly seems to be at either the organisational level (steering the tanker etc) or a group level (we need to get “them” to change) but let’s face it change fails because of people and people are individuals. All of them…even when there’s lots of them. There’s a great quote from ‘The West Wing’ which goes something like “a person is smart, people are stupid” and maybe when it comes to change we need to start thinking about a person and stop thinking about people.

Which brings me on to the Battenberg tattoo…last weekend I watched stand up delivered by the ever compelling (and mostly angry) Rhod Gilbert. The show is entitled “The Man with the Battenberg Tattoo” and tells the story of the end of a relationship, his experiences with anger management and the title relates to his constant pettiness and a tattoo that would demonstrate how pointless tattoos are.

In the course of telling a 2 hour story he, with some passion, rails against a gift he was given by his then girlfriend – an electric toothbrush. Like Mr Gilbert I have never really seen the point of an electric toothbrush – like cars, I am happy with manual. These days with the marketeers let loose on features and (supposed) benefits it’s getting out of control. I’ll let him explain…

My sad confession is that I as sat there laughing away at the comedy the dark side of my brain was thinking about how what seems the obvious and amazing to one person can seem completely pointless and a waste of time to others. So whilst a person may believe that a toothbrush with a timer or a detector that beeps if you are brushing too hard may appear worth an investment to others they may think this is innovation for innovation sake. Am I stretching the analogy too far? Probably.

That said sometimes giving people what they don’t know they yet need (think Henry Ford quote about faster horses) is worth the time, effort, disruption, risk  and leadership required to steer the tanker and maybe just maybe the resistance is nothing to do with the expected outcome and more about the fear of change that a person inevitably feels.

Does your organisation need an electric toothbrush? Thankfully for all of us – that’s your call!

I am speaking at the CIPD conference later today and fortunately for those attending I am only the warm up for our CEO who is there to talk about leading an organisation through change. Relax – there is no talk of Battenberg or tattoos but an interesting perspective from someone with the significant change to manage but I will leave you with one image which also doesn’t appear in the slide deck but one I think embodies the risk of allowing people to talk you out of change – it may not be broken but surely this isn’t fit for purpose?

Horse in Car
Photo credit: Nigel Clarke @learnedlion who actually took the picture in Hungary last year.

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The one with the code red

If you look at some of the best film monologues for all time there are many, but those that stick in my mind mostly feature Al Pacino…with two notable exceptions: Robert Shaw’s USS Indianapolis speech from “Jaws” and Jack Nicholson’s courtroom rant in “A Few Good Men”. Apart from the fact the writing is very good (future Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin) Nicholson’s performance as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup is compelling.

The final crescendo of his rebuttal to Cruise’s courtroom attempts to get an admission of ordering a disciplinary process known as a code red is this:

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you”, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!”

The last line always made me think, the challenging comparison of standards and his dissmissal of the lawyers sense of entitlement. It strikes me even now as a bold admission of what really matters and although Cruise et al. eventually win out the whole exchange often leaves me think that Jessup/Nicholson’s line “All you did was weaken a country today” is maybe far closer to the reality of leadership.

I recently spent a week in Kenya doing work with an organisation I am involved with outside of my day job. With recent events at the Westgate centre it was an interesting time to visit the country for the first time and as part of my trip I got to visit a flower farm and see real people doing real work. The day spent on the farm, seeing people working to fill our (the UK’s) supply chain and to strive for our standards really made me think about a number of things but the thought that has stayed with me is we have NO idea how good we’ve got it. We really don’t.

As HR professionals we spend hours, meetings, days and in some cases whole careers obsessing over both people’s entitlements (both actual and percieved), seconding guessing expectations and striving for that elusive goal of best practice. I can’t help thinking that sometimes ‘we’ both the we in HR and the we in the UK  need to get a sense of perspective on entitlements and expectations.

Let’s be clear at work you are entitled to respect and dignity, you are entitled to work, you are entitled to a duty of care from your employer, you are entitled to the protection of your employment contract, you are entitled to protection under the law (and that’s a lot in the UK), you are entitled to the reasonable protection under the policies of your organisation and you are entitled to be paid for that work as negotiated with your employer. Whilst this list is not exhaustive it is meant to be representative of the range of things you are ENTITLED to.

You *may* expect: better conditions, more interesting work, better tools to do your job, investment in reasonable resources,  career development, performance management, performance feedback, information on company performance, understanding (both of your work and your broader life), whizz bang inductions, town hall meetings, leadership visibility, bonuses, company cars etc, etc. This list also not exhaustive but hopefully illustrative.

Can we (both we in HR and we in the UK) please please please stop treating things that exceed expectations as though they were entitlements and to paraphrase Colonel Jessup, when someone or something exceeds your expectations, ‘just say thank you and go on your way’ because although I do give a damn what you are entitled to sometimes a little thank you wouldn’t hurt.


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