Being On The Cutting Edge Can Be Painful

It began with a conversation.  Perhaps more aptly, it began with two veteran recruiters dreaming about what might be possible.  We wondered—is it possible to leverage technology to put more of the human element back into the recruiting process.  We chose the Chinese word “Guanxi ([guan-shee]” as the metaphor for what we believed needed to be added back into recruiting—personal relationships.  So if you have been following the talent community development narrative about our work at Microsoft Entertainment & Devices, we have shared how these dreams are becoming reality.  And as we conclude the annual update to the recruiting and sourcing industry, I will describe how Being on the Cutting Edge Can Be Painful (Pun Intended).

To recap, we are discussing Microsoft’s approach building pipelines and talent communities in a three articles series.  The articles are entitled:

  1. Being on the Cutting Edge Can Be Rewarding
  2. Being on the Cutting Edge Can Be Challenging
  3. Being on the Cutting Edge Can Be Painful

In the first article of this “Being on the Cutting Edge” series, I discussed our success (rewards) from the standpoint of the recruiting industry accolades, but also from success enjoyed by Web 2.0 Recruitment Marketing Platform within our division at Microsoft (which is the most important).   And we identified an “SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Gap”—the inherit tendency of SEO Platforms to primarily attract active prospects because it uses search engine key word searches to put jobs in front of the target audience (and miss 75-80% of the potential target audience).

In the second article of the “Being on the Cutting Edge” series, I discussed some of the challenges our talent community development and social recruiting initiative experienced.   The article examined “the challenges”—from the process, the technology and finally, the human perspective.

In this article, the final installment—“Being on the Cutting Edge Can Be Painful”-I will explore what one Microsoft staffing leader called—creating under the corporate microscope.  A second area of pain is the introduction of “another change” into change-ridden staffing environment.

Creating Under the Corporate Microscope

The first years of this talent community development pilot project went unnoticed from a Microsoft perspective.  The initiative was funded by a business group at a divisional level with a handful of stakeholders.  Then we were discovered and our world changed.  (It wasn’t like we were really “in hiding” as I chronicled our story in Sourcecon and presented at Sourcecon 2008).  But somehow we were below the corporate radar.  And with discovery came visibility.   And with visibility came additional stakeholders.  And then the questions began.  Microsoft is successful because of a diversity of thought and perspective.  One tends to lose sight of that during periods of scrutiny, vetting, and review.  Let’s just say, the work on the pilot program slowed while internal conversations transpired.

On a personal note, it was difficult to share the work with others.  Intellectually, I understood that this was not “my project,” but releasing the workstream to people that did not have the same emotional investment was challenging. It is said, “What isn’t fatal, makes one stronger;” in that context, I am still standing.

The upshot of the “corporate microscope” was very positive.  My boss was promoted as a reward for his great work.  I have a new boss who is engaged and passionate about the social recruiting and talent communities.  I have a new teammate, who will focus on managing our target audiences for the communities we are building.  Our recruitment marketing platform vendor was selected to roll out the platform Microsoft-wide.  Some great minds at Microsoft will add valuable input to the workstream and the final version of the platform will reflect their influence.

“Another Change”

One of the initial concerns for the talent community workstream was the introduction of personal relationships into a recruiting process comprised of a series of transactions.  And Microsoft Staffing is very effective at those transactions.  I need to add that we reward recruiters on the basis of the quantity and the quality of those transactions.  But the obstacles to introducing a change doesn’t stop with transactional process, there are other significant barriers.

Microsoft Staffing is already in a state of change.  First, it was OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs) and a goal to be “best in class” of that process.  Second, Microsoft was migrating to a new ATS (applicant tracking systems) platform and rolling out a global solution.  And with the ATS came to a multitude of process changes.   Third, Microsoft downsizing was impacting the staffing organization, as we became a “do much more with a lot less” environment.   So you can imagine how welcoming any suggestion of a new process that enhanced personal relationships was in this bandwidth constrained atmosphere.  Our initiative was just seen as another change.

What is interesting about resistance to change is that it shifts from the analytical to the emotional very quickly.  Even the most well documented facts are discounted and we revert to the way things have always been done.  Please let me explain.

There are two major changes that impact talent identification and the success of a recruiting program.  The first change is that there is a trend for job seekers to use search engines (key word searches) to find new jobs and move away from job boards.  And the second is a shortage of top talent that is actively seeking a new job.  Simply from a qualitative and quantitative standpoint, there are not enough prospects to meet Microsoft’s demand.

Armed with this new paradigm shift, I can show numerically the trend over the past few years is that job seekers have moved from job boards to search engines to conduct their job searches.  Further, 95% of our jobs are on the first page of Google (the Holy Grail in SEO), so they are being seen by prospects.  In spite of the imperial evidence and persuasive research, a recruiter under pressure to fill a job will still request permission to use a job board posting instead of trying something new.

In the instance of the shortage of talent, I note the trend of the past 3 years of the millions of people flocking to online social networking sites and congregating in communities.  Based on the available research, the target audiences that we covet have congregated into online communities.  Seems simple and compelling-engage the target audience online and find the additional talent that is needed to meet Microsoft’s demand.  Again, a recruiter under pressure will revert back to a comfort zone of running ads (aka “posting and praying) and waiting for someone to appear.

Perhaps, there is a more complex underlying issue. Dan Pink in Drive writes:

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“Behavioral scientists often divide what we do on the job….into two categories: “algorithmic and heuristic.” An algorithmic task is one in which you follow a set of establish instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion.  That is, there’s an algorithm for solving it.   A heuristic task is just the opposite.  Precisely because no algorithm exists for it, you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution.”

So in Pink’s thinking, the algorithmic solution of a job board outweighs the more heuristic solution presented by a recruitment marketing platform where options are numerous and creativity is rewarded.  We are still working on a heuristic solution that appears algorithmic (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Perhaps, there is a third method of dealing with change the 21st Century—we just need to let go of the banana. The moral of the well know story of the monkey trap fits well into the dilemma that we face when accepting change.

It is said that when you want to catch a monkey one effective method is to anchor a bottle on the ground.  The neck of the bottle needs to be just large enough to a monkey’s hand to fit through.  Then, all you need is to put a small banana in the bottle and wait for a monkey to pass by.

When a passing monkey sees the banana reaches his hand into the bottle, and grabs the banana.  But then the monkey discovers that she cannot get her hand out of the bottle while holding the banana.

The person that set the monkey trap can walk up to the monkey, put a burlap sack over her head and capture the monkey.

Before getting caught, the monkey could release the banana and escape.  But most monkeys hang onto the banana until the sack goes over their heads.  Why?  It is because the banana has value to the monkeys and the monkey is unwilling to let go of that value.  Basically the banana is worth more than their freedom or their life.

I think people do the same thing.  People are much the same – we hold many “bananas” that keep us trapped – because we just won’t let go.  While the job boards held value in the past, their usefulness in attracting active job seekers has passed.  Instead of the banana, it appears engaging prospects in online communities would hold more value.

As we enter the third year of this talent community pilot, I am still more convinced than ever that our original thesis that a “technology touch” needed to be augmented by a “human touch” that is so valued by the target audiences has proved accurate.  Our recruitment marketing platform is doing its job—managing the distribution of jobs to a web of social networking and micro-segmented talent pools.  The final phase of the talent community rollout will focus on the “human touch.” The “human touch” will allow us to maintain contact and cultivate ambient relationships that will allow Microsoft to be part of a target prospect’s employment conversation when the time is right for them.

The “human touch” involves integrating talent community workstream into the lives of the recruiters that I support. At Sourcecon 2010, I am going to discuss how Microsoft is  Employing Talent Communities to Rehumanize the Recruiting Process. I hope to see you in San Diego.

Marvin Smith is veteran talent acquisition practitioner who focuses on strategic talent sourcing, talent community building, social recruiting, employment branding, and the use of technology to drive talent identification and engagement strategies. He has been on teams that were at the forefront of resurgence of talent sourcing as a strategic weapon in talent acquisition. These teams piloted groundbreaking programs (ERE-Media-award-winning) work that used business intelligence, data, and technology to segment the target talent audiences and build talent pipelines and communities. His current role is a strategic talent sourcing consultant with Lockheed Martin, where he is responsible for talent pipeline building for critical skills talent; project management of a RMP (recruitment marketing platform); and driving corporate-wide, talent community initiatives. Previously, he served as senior research recruiter on an internal executive recruiting team with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; a strategic sourcing program manager with Blackberry (Research In Motion); and a talent sourcer/program manager for Microsoft. He is a writer and speaker on the topics of talent communities, strategic talent sourcing, Moneyball sourcing, and talent acquisition strategies. You can follow his blog or join a community that he created on talent community development or follow him on Twitter.

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