Art of HR: Forecasting Talent Trends

What will the workforce look like in ten years? 20th Century HR practices were designed for hierarchical companies in stable markets, and from a limited resources paradigm of view. 21st Century HR Departments must be designed for unstable markets, and from an unlimited resources point of view. Marketplaces have few geographical limits now, and companies require globally minded knowledge workers to capitalize on those markets, wherever they might be. One large organizations I studied in my Doctoral research has offices around the world and they maintain a high-potential list of their top performers. In 2009, 15% of the high-performers on this list spoke a second language or had significant international experience. In 2010, 38% did. In 2011, 51% did. This HR leader expected that number to continue to grow as his organization continued to expand into global markets, and he has adapted their recruitment initiatives to the information he obtains by studying their top performers.

Effective HR departments use all kinds of information to better their organizations. This information gathering is somewhat like intelligence operatives in far-off locations. They gather tidbits of information that when compiled with dozens or hundreds of other tidbits from other operatives, help to prevent catastrophes from happening. I am not advocating for Recruiters to become CIA agents, but they do need to understand their role in gathering information that will help the organization advance its mission. For example, while meeting with a candidate, they might learn that he or she has had ten different Recruiters call her in the past month about working in a different industry. That one tidbit may not tell the Recruiter anything, but if she hears a similar story from a few more candidates, it might be an indication that the industry mentioned is preparing to ramp up staffing for potential expansions. That in turn may mean that industry will begin actively headhunting certain professionals very soon. If this information is confirmed, the organization can then begin planning to head off these headhunters, perhaps by increasing compensation for the sought after professionals or by finding other ways to retain them. Rather than reacting to losing ten hard-to-find professionals, the HR Department can develop specific strategies to prevent losing those ten employees to bidding wars in the first place. The HR Department could also propose over-hiring those professionals now before a bidding war drives the market value of their salaries upwards.

Forecasting talent trends is complex, but it starts with gathering useful intelligence, something Recruiters are in the perfect place to do. I suspect this intelligence gathering, if used effectively, could also help the organization thrive in many other ways as well, as we adapt to the ever-changing environment global around us. And HR leaders who find a way to understand the mass of information around them, organize it, and turn it into something useful for the organization to benefit from…may be the most sought-after HR Professionals in the future.

This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, “The Art of HR”. For my final Doctoral project, I researched how Top Employers provide effective HR services to their organizations. I compiled my results into this book. Please email me directly if you would like a copy.

The Art of HR: Engaging Exceptional Talent

Developing and retaining the best employees is one of the top future challenges for HR departments. In 2006, I studied the integration of artists into churches in Western Canada, as part of my Master’s Major Project. I interviewed numerous artists and church leaders for this project and pondered how church leaders could bolster their relationships with artists. There are large pools of untapped artistic talent in most churches, and most church leaders struggle with what to do with that talent. I found that a utilitarian approach to artists in the church severely harmed this relationship, sometimes irreparably. When church leaders “used” artists for their own narrow agenda, the artists resisted or left. Most never returned. I called this a utilitarian view of the arts and artists, where the artist is only useful for his or her talent, not for who he or she is.

None of the artists I interviewed liked being pigeonholed into a single category (i.e. a painter, sculptor, graphic artist etc.). Those things were talents; not who they were. An artist is an artist, but may also be a father or mother, a student, a traveller, a lover, a questioner, or anything that any other human might be. A caring church community was much more attractive to these artists than a congregation that seemed to do a great job of using the arts. When church leaders took the time to get to know these artists as people first, and artists second, then the artists thrived in their church. Paradoxically, these artists then willingly embraced their art form as a form of service in the church.

I think many (most?) organizations treat their employees in a similar utilitarian manner. They “use” employees for their talents, and then discard them when their usefulness expires. An employee’s worth is measured by his or her utility, not on who they are. It is little wonder that loyalty is dropping while selfishness is increasing. What do we really expect as leaders? Why does it surprise us when our talent is not engaged, when we so easily treat them as a commodity? There is no easy solution to this issue, and I am not going to trivialize this issue by presenting a five-step process to doing so. Engaging exceptional talent starts with the heart of the leaders in the organization. It must include building a caring community that values the person for who he or she is, not merely for what he or she produces.

Engaging talent cannot be done from an off-site corporate headquarters where HR leaders rarely interact with operational leaders. It must be done through direct and personal contact with employees at all levels of the organization. This visibility is important, because it gives HR leaders opportunities to see what is actually happening in the organization. Surveys and reports are extremely useful, but sometimes a cup of coffee with a front-line employee can tell an HR leader just as much, and sometimes more, than an expensive research study. Useful intelligence is gathered through interaction, not just by third-hand reports. That intelligence is crucial to the long-term success of the organization. Are HR leaders ready to embrace that role?

This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, “The Art of HR”. For my final Doctoral project, I researched how Top Employers provide effective HR services to their organizations. I compiled my results into this book. Please email me directly if you would like a copy.

Book Review: You Can’t Fire Everyone

Hank Gilman is the Deputy Editor of Fortune, and You Can’t Fire Everyone is a meandering blend of thoughts on management, leadership, hiring and firing people.

Gilman has a witty and engaging prose style. I didn’t really learn anything from this book, but yet I happily read it cover to cover, wondering what crazy rant he would go on next. It is raw and honest, something most leadership books avoid. He describes management as it actually is, not how it should be according to someone who has never managed before. This is truly a practitioner’s book; it won’t be cited by any leadership scholars soon.

The book made me wonder again about the gap between scholarly and practitioner leadership literature. Leadership theory is important, but it tells you nothing about what to do when your star employee walks in and demands a raise. It does nothing to help a new manager fumble through firing a dysfunctional employee. It does nothing to help a manager “manage performance” (really, does anyone do that effectively?). Gilman doesn’t tell you exactly how to do it, but he does reassure you managing is tough, and that you are not the only one who has no idea what to do next. Few are cut out to lead, and few are really good at it. Gilman strikes me as someone who is very good at it, and if he struggled at times with “what” and “How” to manage, I am sure all leaders will at some point in their careers.

This is a great book for someone looking for an entertaining and humorous read, and for someone who is sick of all the bland business/leadership/management books out there. You will be entertained and reassured, but not necessarily informed. Read it on your next vacation or trip, but understand it will not be on the book-list of your next MBA class (although I am sure Gilman would be amused if it was). I enjoyed it, and it was a happy break from the stack of other leadership books I intend to read.

Recruiters use Social Networking sites, but Should They?

Social networking’s vast usage has encouraged organizations to explore strategies to harness or use its power. 75% of major U.S. companies have a policy in place requiring their recruiters to check online reputational data. The most common online research involved search engines (78% of recruiters), social networking sites (63%) and photo and video sharing sites (59%). 70% of U.S. recruiters have rejected a candidate based on data found online, while only 7% of U.S. consumers believe online data has affected their job search (Cross-Tab, 2010).

The question I have is: Should we be using social networking sites in our recruitment efforts. If so, then are there any ethical parameters for recruiters in using them?

Laura Nash proposes four basic values (honesty, reliability, fairness and pragmatism) that drive our society’s definitions of business integrity. Nash calls these the ‘hallmarks of business integrity.’ They give us a framework to understand whether recruiters “should” use social networking sites in their recruitment efforts.

Is the Recruitment Honest?
Social networking offers opportunities for recruiters to solicit honest depictions of candidates. No one is perfect, but can the recruiter handle the imperfections? As well, if a candidate asked the recruiter if he checked out her social networking sites, would he answer truthfully or hide the truth? Are organizations upfront with candidates about their practices? Covert searching may actually turnoff great candidates in the process, especially if the candidates feel the recruiters were being dishonest about their techniques.

Is the Recruitment Reliable?
Are the sites visited, and the information obtained from those sites, reliable? The source of the information must be considered. If a candidate’s third-cousin twice removed posts a derogatory comment on his Facebook page, should that reflect badly on him, or is it just irrelevant babble? Another major consideration is whether the information obtained is about the right person? There are more than 2.37Million people in the U.S. with the surname Smith. How will recruiters determine the reliability of the information they find?

Is the Recruitment Fair?
How will recruiters determine what is valid and not valid about a person? People use social networking for various reasons, but those reasons are not consistent. Some access Facebook everyday; some once a month. Are all candidates being treated fairly? Is one candidate held to a different standard because his security settings allow more public access than other candidates? Is the person who accesses Facebook each day and has 1000 friends more social than the person who accesses it once per week and has 50 friends? Would a different recruiter come to a different conclusion about a candidate, simply because of each recruiter’s perspective on social networking?

Is the Recruitment Pragmatic?
Does the time spent researching these sites actually contribute something useful to the recruitment effort, or does it muddy the background search with a plethora of useless information? Sometimes we jump into using the next form of media, without asking ourselves why we are doing so. A recruiter who focuses too much on the means, may miss out on the whole point of the background search: the person. Social networking is most powerful when it accents and strengthens our in-person relationships; not when it replaces them. Would a recruiter’s time be better spent actually getting to know the candidate in person, as opposed to via social networking?

We all want to connect with others and feel valued. Whether that’s over a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or through a game of Farmville, we all crave some form of community. Recruiters need to understand that desire, and use severe discretion in ambivalently looking at a few status updates and calling that research. Social networking can be used as an effective way to screen candidates, but the four questions mentioned above need to be intentionally thought through in order to truly use social networking effectively and ethically in recruitment efforts.

Cross-Tab Marketing Services. (2010, January). Online reputation in a connected world. Published by Cross-Tab Marketing Services. Accessed from

Nash, L.L. (1993). Good intensions aside: A manager’s guide to resolving ethical problems. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

The Paradox of Commitment

Is employee retention overrated? It almost sounds heretical for an HR guy to write that, but do we sometimes worry too much about retaining our employees in organizations?

Hall et al (2001) describe the paradox of commitment where “people are most able to develop internal commitments and attachments when they have the free choice to leave and choose to stay. To paraphrase the late Fritz Perls: If you love someone, let them go. If they truly love you, they will return. And if they do not, it was not meant to be” (p. 344). So if this is true, do we sometimes disadvantage both our employees and our organizations by gripping too tight to our employees?

The difficulty of having world-class talent in your organization is that top talent will be recruited by other organizations. It is only a matter of time before that talent is wooed by other organizations. But just imagine the liberating feeling of being an employee who gets a job offer every couple months, but who chooses to stay at an organization? She isn’t there because she has to be; she is there because she wants to be. What an amazing employee to have working under you. She will not operate out of fear of losing her job and may actually tell her boss he is wrong when he is wrong. If his fragile ego can’t handle it, oh well. She can take another job offer anytime.

As leaders, we invest a lot in the people who follow us (if we don’t, that’s another issue). It can be disheartening to consider losing that investment to another organization, and so we consciously (and sometimes unconsciously) do everything possible to keep our followers. In doing so, we sometimes smother them, constrain them, and become a little paranoid of them leaving. Paradoxically, trying too hard to keep them will drive them away. Encouraging our top talent to pursue other options may actually keep them. No one said talent management was easy or logical, but leaders who understand this will keep their talent around them.

Hall, D.T., Zhu, G. & Yan, A. (2001). Developing global leaders: Hold on to them, let them go. In William Mobley & Morgan McCall (Eds.). Advances in global leadership. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.