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Recruiting practices affect reputation

Public relations and the people function (a.k.a human resources) have significant overlap, because both deal with the employee public.

Public relations is broader because employees constitute only one of the several relevant publics it deals with for the organization, whereas they represent the main and likely sole public that the people function deals with.

Recruiters are a primary point of contact with the organization, for prospective employees and the talent pool. Recruiting practices, and the philosophies that power them, can and do influence the way people perceive the organization.

The impact of recruiting practices on people is all the more relevant, considering that fresh recruits are more likely to be millennials and Generation Zers who share opinions liberally, indiscriminately, and compulsively on social media.

From a communication and reputation-building perspective, every employee of an organization is an unofficial (or official) bearer of its standard in their social networks, with the power to affect an employer’s reputation, even after they have left said employer.

This post details some grating practices favoured by certain unenlightened organizations.

The interviewing process

First, we must define the term “interview”.

It may be thought of as a view or an assessment of fit between two people or entities – where they “question, consult, or evaluate each other”. Despite what many recruiters believe, it is not a unilateral affair. The candidates are evaluating the organization (represented in this instance by the recruiter) as well.

It is tempting for the organization to purchase standardized interview questionnaires from an external vendor. HR managers (here we’ll use the term we dislike — “resources” — as it represents the viewpoint of the corporate cultures we are talking about) may feel this offers consistency in the information sought and recorded. It might even make it easier to mathematically rate interviewees using such a standard format (even though the math usually dissuades many “people-oriented” recruiters from doing such rating).

There are many issues with such standardized questionnaires.

For one, they are too rigid. A true interview must be flexible. Sometimes it must delve into certain aspects of a candidacy more deeply; at other times it must pass over paths of inquiry that are seemingly irrelevant. Certain responses may trigger greater interest and may necessitate deviations and ramifications that are not part of the standardized form.

For another, they can be cracked easily. A reasonable cranium with Internet access can access several standardized questionnaires and can prepare spiffy answers for them.

In our opinion, an organization does not need someone who can tell them exactly what they want to hear. They need someone who can do the job, open up new lines of thought and resultant action, and gels with the organizational culture. If the right fit is achieved, then there is a lesser chance of the employee leaving, and of the organization finding the employee unsuitable to its culture.

Most times, form questionnaires are ineffective in properly assessing a candidate.

We would recommend having two sets of questions:

  • Some standard such as the icebreaker and seeking some general background.
  • Others that are written specifically for that particular candidate, after the search committee has reviewed their résumé.

The greenhorn interviewer

One flabbergasting practice in some organizations is asking junior recruiters to shortlist executive level senior candidates. It is bad enough that the shortlisting for senior positions is relegated to newbies – because it risks the organization losing out on worthy candidates and on creating a stronger shortlist.

It is worse that junior recruiters are also asked to interview for senior positions.

Would it not show more respect to candidates, and also project a less-unhinged image of the corporation, if senior recruiters were charged with interviewing senior candidates?

It is humiliating and annoying when veterans of many wars and many achievements have to sit through interviews conducted by inexperienced junior recruiters with insufferable delusions of personal grandeur, reading robotically off standardized questionnaires without any consideration for the seniority and experience (not just in an organization but on the larger canvas of life) of such people. Said interviewers may not even have the ability or knowledge to appreciate the situations these veterans have braved.

There is nothing wrong with the junior-ness of recruiters or employees; most people (save privileged kids who parachute in on their parents’ personal connections into cushy managerial positions on their first visit to the office) start out as entry-level junior employees. It is the fact that they don’t have the experience or knowledge to screen and interview senior candidates. Also objectionable is the stench of arrogance radiated by some junior recruiters when interviewing people far more capable and competent than they are (at that point in time, because there is always the prospect of personal and professional improvement with time and experience).

A better practice would be to have a senior recruiter conduct the interview while the junior recruiter observes.

Outsourced interviewing and reference checking

Another peculiar trend is companies outsourcing the interviewing and reference checking process.

Reference checking involves a certain sixth sense, an intuition, to properly assess whether a candidate can be part of the organization in a manner that is beneficial and satisfactory to both parties.

This is best done by an insider, who knows the intricacies, power structures, cracks in the armour, and office politics as only an insider would. An insider is then best qualified to evaluate whether a candidate would be able to survive, thrive and contribute in the realities of the organizational culture.

We don’t deny that there is cost savings and value in outsourcing certain aspects of business operations. But interviewing and checking references should not be two of them.

Discourtesy post-interview

Past the 2007 stock market crash and the consequent economic crisis, recruiters found themselves in a place of power – because legions of laid-off people were looking for new jobs.

The fires of crises reveal the true nature and character of people, just as fire revealed the truth in Sauron’s One Ring (sorry, we couldn’t resist the Lord of the Rings reference).

Recruiters could not be bothered to acknowledge inquiries, return phone calls, or send courtesy emails. They had a handy reason: they were too busy to be courteous to the large numbers.

Since automation is at an all-time high, it seems unreasonable that emails to candidates could not be programmed to go out at different stages in the recruitment process. Many companies send out notices of regret to unsuccessful candidates – and that is fine.

But the aura of self-importance appears to have persisted to date in many organizational recruiters, who fail to return calls from short-listed candidates for senior positions.

Several former colleagues and friends have been astonished that after having gone through four interviews, lunch and dinner meetings with the team to assess cultural fit, and doing a sample (and free) project for the employer, they wouldn’t hear from the recruiters for as long as three weeks. The candidates had to call repeatedly before an unapologetic recruiter would say nonchalantly that the company had selected another candidate.

The unbelievably good first day

On LinkedIn and other sites, people frequently post photos of the desk of a new employee – complete with a laptop, pens, pencils, branded plastic water bottle, post-its and the like. Comments abound praising the company and its human resources team; and lusting after such a utopian work culture. The current employer is sufficiently buttered up by the new recruit’s enthusiasm and loyalty as demonstrated by said LinkedIn post.

From experience, we can suggest it would be more revealing to look at what comes after this inviting (almost suspiciously sugary) picture of a workstation.

What if the employee is expected to sign over their personal life, privacy and other prospects to this one job? What if the company forces the employee to work 90-hour weeks with no weekends? What if one’s eyesight is assaulted and weakened by long hours in front of computer screens in cramped cubicles? What if health is sacrificed by such unnatural expectations of a human body, mind and spirit?

The old adage holds good: If something looks or sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

E-orientation

Many corporations now have new hire e-orientation and e-training. It is most attractive for the HR department. All they have to do is herd unsuspecting hires into a closed room, plonk them in front of computers with headsets, and leave them there for a few days to complete their e-orientation. The software tests them, reports the scores electronically to the HR team, who get to provide quantitative reports to the executive team. And they don’t even have to be in the same room as the abandoned and dazed fresh recruits.

Moving everything online is not the grand panacea to people management. By very definition, human resources requires interaction with humans.

It is convenient to outsource orientation to an external provider. If anything goes wrong, there is someone to point an accusatory finger at. Legal counsel would probably be satisfied.

Many people seem oblivious to the fact that orientation and new-hire onboarding process can influence an organization’s reputation. What does it say about an organization’s attitude toward its people when its HR representatives refuse to have contact with new hires during orientation?

By the way, some of the animation in these e-orientation modules is so ridiculous that early cartoons from the 1920s would be far better. Stick figures moving awkwardly like puppets with broken strings in simulated lunchroom conversations hardly does any favours for the perception of the HR department.

Here’s a radical thought: why not use human beings to talk to human beings? It seemed to have worked for most of human life on this planet, before the appearance of e-orientation over the last 15 odd years. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that maybe, just maybe, humanness still works?

Even in the world of online education, there is still human contact via video, voice, emails and online real-time discussions with the instructor.

We are not advocating against technology. We are railing against this self-congratulatory and misguided view that technology can completely replace human contact where humans are concerned, as also the complete detachment of the HR department from new-hire orientation.

The Verafluenti aperçu

Let recruiting and new hire orientation practices come from a place of compassion and decency. Huge profits and stashes of untold riches in bank vaults does not give organizations the right to discard kindness, courtesy and grace.

Every interaction with publics contributes to an organization’s reputation and character. In recessions and depressions, people may stomach such corporate callousness, out of a desperate need for a paycheck. But at the first sign of a stronger economy, talented people will leave such companies in droves.

Then again, perhaps some organizations simply do not care, because they feel there are enough needy fish in the workforce sea willing to enter the corporate net and become indentured zombies.

This post is for those organizations that have a conscience and appreciate the impact of every organizational practice on its reputation and more importantly on people, families and society.

* * *

This post was written by Raaj Chandran, executive director and chief consultant for Verafluenti Communication Inc.

We solicit your feedback to this post. Please use the “Leave a Reply” form at the end of this (or any other post) to make a public comment, in adherence to our blog etiquette. Or if you prefer, you can email us in private at contact@verafluenti.com.

Print-ready versions of several blog posts are available in our store for a small fee.

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‘More with less’: Cute, crazy and cruel

“In these challenging times, we must do more with less and demonstrate the true spirit of our corporation. We will continue to be guided by our core values of integrity, teamwork, leadership, community involvement and our commitment to the well-being of our staff…”

So might ring a familiar message from the top echelons of a corporation when the economy is in the doldrums and pink slips haunt the waking and sleeping hours of employees.

It is clichéd. It can be cut and pasted across corporations. It is self-contradictory.

As this article will attempt to demonstrate, a call to do more with less is inconsistent with the health and wellbeing of people. Simply placing two contradictory statements side by side in one message does not make them congruous.

This incantation serves a dual purpose – as a purported rationale for the people whose jobs have been terminated; and as a tacit warning to people who have escaped the axe (at least this time around) to work to the bone if they hope to remain with the organization in question.

When the economy is in a blue funk, jobs are difficult to come by. With mortgage and bill payments flying incessantly in their faces, people will make sacrifices to keep a source of income. Yet, how many executives actually comprehend the impact of their “do more with less” slogan on the average employee’s life?

Mothers yell at toddlers riddled with high fever because they are unable to concentrate on the work overload they have brought home and are tackling late into the night. Fathers miss maiden recitals and special moments in their children’s lives. Men forget birthdays and anniversaries (more than usual) and land into trouble with their partners. Women are overwrought with balancing personal lives, families and work. 

How can management put a price on such affliction?

 

Only so much

An individual can at any time only take on a load that his or her limits would permit. Forcing one to carry a heavier load will result in breakage of mental health, physical health, wellbeing and ultimately (of immense interest to corporations) productivity. But of course, in an economic recession, companies have a pool of ready and willing individuals to subject to the same dolour till they break. Human beings then truly become the detestable “human capital” – objects that are replaceable when broken.

The rule of breakage beyond maximum load is easy enough to understand in the case of inanimate machines. But for some inexplicable reason, many in corporate management cannot see — or refuse to see – this holds good for human beings as well.

You cannot make someone do the work normally handled by, say three people, without causing mental and physical damage to that person. 

 

Efficiency is laudable, duress is not

We are not against the idea of minimizing the effort to produce the same output. This is of course the definition of efficiency. And the principle may be worthily applied to processes that people have to handle – so that people can produce superior results with lesser effort. In the equation below, the effort is to enhance the process – perhaps by using technology, alleviating wastage, or reducing bureaucracy — toward this end.

Output/input = Efficiency

But in the case of the “do more with less” slogan, the motivation is hardly altruistic. It is trying to reduce the number of people doing the input to produce — not just the same level of output as was earlier done with a larger number of people but – a higher volume of output. Each employee (or producer of talent and effort) has to be squeezed harder to do the work that was handled by more people.

If this argument holds water, then the slogan in question represents gross inefficiency that is purposely engineered.

 

Needs must … sometimes

Of course, there are times in life, when any individual has to reach into one’s reserves and pull off a superhuman effort. Powered by adrenaline, this is possible … sporadically.

This happens in an organizational context as well. Startups and entrepreneurial ventures require much hard work day after day till the point of breakthrough is achieved. But even in startups (at least the intelligent ones), the chaos is organized and there is a recognition of the need to decompress and unwind. Besides they also have the strong motivation of working for themselves and for something they believe in.

But to expect this day after day – with no break in sight – is unhealthy and inhuman.

There is a trend in many corporations under pressure from a leaden economy. If an employee delivers a heavy task that normally would have been done by more than one person (and sometimes three or four), management sends an email of appreciation, and then promptly dumps more of the same on that person. Purportedly, the logic is that if an employee can do it once, clearly they can do it again, and therefore must be given a larger quantity of the same.

This is a path to a nervous breakdown or a meltdown – you might as well suffuse the background with The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it black”.

 

Affront to intelligence

Continuing to use (and abuse) the “more with less” concept communicates a blatant disrespect for employees’ intelligence (and the intelligence of any fellow human being because no one is so foolish as to buy into this balderdash).

On the one hand, a company declares that it only recruits the most capable and brilliant people. On the other, it is communicating with its words and actions that they think just the opposite of their employees – they are gullible nitwits who will believe any message put out by management.

One would do well to realize that people are not morons. They know what goes on behind the gloss and veneer. The truth has that uncomfortable quality of being present and of surfacing eventually.

“The truth has that uncomfortable quality of being present and of surfacing eventually.”

Trials reveal character

Tough economic phases are opportunities for an organization to show its true colours and sinew of character.

If a company has a choice, why not communicate a decent considerate image instead of that of a ruthless profit-lusting oppressor? If it honestly wishes the latter, then it might as well fire all its ethical communication and public relations professionals, because the company’s actions alone will be able to build that simulacrum.

 

The Verafluenti aperçu

We would like to offer some thoughts on how to get work done in a recession while being kind to employees. Some of these suggestions may require the consideration of pertinent legal implications – such as the minimum wage and corporate law.

Get enough people for the job

Hire or retain enough people at a lower rate. The organization would then have the requisite number of people to get the job done, without being pernicious to life, limb and wellbeing. From the financial angle, the cost outlay remains the same with a lower pay per person. If nothing else, the organization would be spreading a limited income across a greater number of people (and resultantly their dependents). 

Another possible route is to hire interns (paid or unpaid) and volunteers to help discharge some of the more routine and labour-intensive work. In many nations, a pool of highly-qualified and talented immigrants is ready to take on any work to break into the local job market. This may not be an ideal solution but is something that could be considered in the short term while riding out the recession. The organization would also be offering valuable work experience for interns, volunteers and new immigrants, while easing the load on existing employees.

 

Roll up your sleeves

A rough economic patch presents an ideal window for senior managers and executives to remove their fine threads and feathers and step into the frontlines to work shoulder-to-shoulder with junior employees. It would provide another mind and body for the task at hand. It would demonstrate to employees that senior managers are capable of working on the ground. Managers would then learn the real problems and issues people face while discharging their duties. They could also teach and share their experiences with junior employees.

 

Take a cut at the top

This is far more controversial: let the top executives each take a percentage cut to their income. This would allow the retention of a healthy number of people to perform the job at hand.

It would be a rare show of unequivocal commitment to share in the good and bad fortunes of the enterprise with the average employee. From a PR perspective, how much greater would the stature of such an organization be?

 

Settle for less

Settle for less profit in favour of human wellbeing. The company may show less net profit in its income statement, and offer lower dividends for its shareholders; but it will reap untold benefits in the long term by way of reputation, earned loyalty and less damage to homes, families and society.

Not to mention the reputation such a company would acquire when it decides to accept a smaller profit in order to keep more people in jobs.

Most merciless actions are justified by holding up the need to appease shareholders. As any business analyst and most laypersons know, the economy moves cyclically through highs, lows and highs again. If the investors have done their research and placed their money in a business they have long-term confidence in, then they will get their returns eventually – it is just a question of waiting for a bit in the interest of the welfare of their fellow human beings.

 

Help people re-establish

Terminations are sometimes necessary. Unexpected external factors can wreak havoc on a business enterprise to the extent that it is unable to make enough revenue to keep all its original staff. People understand this, particularly in volatile industries.

Once the axe has fallen, many companies outsource career advisory and placement services for terminated employees. This is legal. The companies then have no pending obligation to the terminated employee. But what is legal is not always ethical or human.

So what if…just what if…companies decided to do it (if not in whole at least in part) in-house? Could not senior management use their network of contacts to at least put in a good word to find full-time, part-time or contract work for at least some of their laid off employees. While the human nature of such an action is paramount, the organization may also consider the image that is being communicated to its own employees and its laid off employees, as well as to the community. People would recognize the existence of a company with real character and a true human face instead of a stuck-on smiley-face mask.

 

One must appreciate that where human beings (and by extension nature) are concerned, it is only possible to “do more with more”, or to “do less with less”. The former is palatable enough for management in boom periods. It is the latter which is a bitter pill to swallow and the reaction to which is turning a blind eye and pretending it is untrue. Trying to force the “do more with less” illogic on human beings is a recipe for pain and suffering.

Some of the genuine and human facets of life are being decimated with this campaign of fear and covert intimidation. In a sense, it has indeed done more with less: it has caused more harm while expending comparatively less effort.

So ye managers of the world,

Be compassionate,

Be human,

Be genuine,

Be worthy of the half a chromosome

That separates you (and us)

From being chimpanzees.

* * *

This post was written by Raaj Chandran, executive director and chief consultant for Verafluenti Communication Inc.

We solicit your feedback to this post. Please use the “Leave a Reply” form at the end of this (or any other post) to make a public comment, in adherence to our blog etiquette. Or if you prefer, you can email us in private at contact@verafluenti.com.

Print-ready versions of several blog posts are available in our store for a small fee.

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