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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.

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Resource, capital, acquisition or human?

To the best of our observation, few people like being called names.

This article represents some questions and our bafflement at certain naming conventions in the corporate world. It also fulfills a pledge we made in our first post to touch on our distaste for a certain designation.

Employees are among the most important publics for an organization. They are its brand ambassadors.

How they talk about the organization in their personal and professional circles determines to a significant extent its reputation. This may be seen as the “informal” reputation which can be starkly different from what the organization portrays in its promotional material and on its websites which are often liberally littered with praise from all quarters; placement in the top 25, 50 or 100 employer of the year awards; and slick videos of deliriously happy employees.

Often, the informal reputation is what prospective employees would take heed of; because these are the stories that paint a truer picture of the corporate culture and working conditions.

Few are the people who would not run a prospective employer through glassdoor.com, ratemyemployer.ca, JobAdviser.com.au (in Australia), Kununu.com (for the German-speaking audience), or jobcrowd.com (in the U.K.)

If an organization wishes to attract and retain the right people who believe in what the organization is doing and who will stay with the organization for the long haul, would it not be in its best interest to keep employees happy and motivated?

It is surprising how – unintentionally and perhaps ignorantly – many organizations refer to their employees.

 

Just a ‘resource’

The expression most popularly used to describe the field of dealing with an organization’s employees is “human resources”.

Reportedly, economist John Commons used the term “human resource” in The Distribution of Wealth published in 1893. We wonder if it might perhaps have been a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution, when arguably human beings, the environment and the planet suffered the most.

It seems to have gained popularity in the early 20th century when workers came to be seen as a capital asset. It implies that human beings are commodities or inputs into a production process.

The usage has become so embedded in corporate culture that people have forgotten to question it and have acquiesced into edifying it as the standard, with professional associations, degrees and certificates sprouting around it.

Even the general system theory views an organization as a system, accepting and processing inputs into output, and fitted with a feedback loop for improvement. However it must not be forgotten that one of the four attributes of the system is the internal relationship among its objects. Another is the existence of the system in an interdependent environment where the elements of the system affect each other.

 

Even less than a resource

If a concept from the world of Hogwarts were to cross over into our Muggle world, then an unforgivable curse might be calling employees “capital”.

But for the benevolent concession of qualifying it with the prefix “human”, for which some gratitude is due, people would have been on the same standing as office space, copiers, machines and company vehicles.

Extending this naming convention to the wider world, one could refer to spouses as “capital resources” or “revenue generators” or “cash flow production engines”; and children as “long-term investments” or “old age security” or (depending on the outlook) as “bad debt”!

People are also sometimes called “acquisition” but redeemed somewhat by the addition of the word “talent”, which at least recognizes an individual’s special aptitude or natural ability. Still, if we were faced with a choice between “people recruiter” and “talent acquisition specialist”, we would fall in with the former in a quarter of a heartbeat. “Acquisition” reeks of inanimation and possession. We feel it is better suited to the purchase or procurement of companies, stocks, real estate and the like than it is to the hiring of an individual.  

Even the International Labour Organization has adopted the “labour is not a commodity” principle.

Some corporations may argue that such phraseology is the done thing. They believe that corporations are about making a profit, and in this process, employees are indeed a resource or a form of capital.

Granted it may be what many are doing. But does that necessarily make it the right thing to do – not legally (because as has been demonstrated time and again, there are more loopholes in law than oases of clarity) but using a sense of propriety that is inherent to all human beings?

 

Ignoring a gender

Another moniker that falls on ears as nails on a chalkboard is “manpower”.

We don’t mean to be overly picky or politically correct — as when George Carlin humorously wondered whether a he-man should be called an “it-person”, the man in the moon the “person in the moon”, and David Letterman “David Letterperson” (while wholeheartedly advocating the correctness of “spokesperson” in place of spokesman, “chairperson” in place of chairman, and “humankind” in place of mankind).

But from a realistic common-sense viewpoint, does this not willfully ignore the existence of an entire gender? Is it not then utterly obsolete since the Dark Ages?

Women have always performed critical functions for humanity. They may have been neither acknowledged nor recognized, but that speaks more to the powers-that-were than to the undeniable contributions of women to business and to life in general.

From our humble perspective, running a family itself is like managing a diverse multi-generational organization. Mothers, wives and partners are no less than CEOs of one of society’s most important basal units – the family. How then does “manpower” still rear its head? And how do companies flaunt this in their rubric to this day in so-called developed nations?

 

Among the wise

There are enlightened organizations that treat their employees as “creative and social beings in a productive enterprise” – something many traditionalist executives may derisively baulk at.

Such organizations call the function looking after its employees “human development” or simply and accurately “people”. And they have not done too shabbily by way of profits.

A certain company called Google comes to mind. It revolutionized Internet search as also organizational culture when it rebranded its HR department as “people operations”. They consider their people the champions of its colorful culture.

This lays out flat the argument that concerns about nomenclature are pointless group-hugging exercises with no effect on financial performance.

When common-sense trumps pretentious nonsense, the people of the “people” function would hire other people (who also happen to be skilled professionals); manage their needs ethically and humanly; and help them play their part in achieving organizational goals.

Fewer people would leave (reducing hiring and training costs). More people would be happy to stay and work for the organization. And on the way out (if they decide to leave for reasons that life throws up), they would feel obliged and impelled to interview, train and install a worthy successor so that work could continue in as uninterrupted a manner as possible.

They would leave on good terms, and they would continue to spread goodwill about their former employer in their circles.

 

The Verafluenti aperçu

This is not a commentary on the stellar and invaluable work that many friends and professionals perform in this people management function (whatever it may be called in different organizations). Professionals with integrity will try to perform according to their high personal standards wherever they go.

It is a question about the choice of terminology and the domino effect of subsequences: It influences the policies and approach to employees, which affects relations with them, which determines employee satisfaction and turnover, which impacts an organization’s reputation and thereby its ability to draw and keep good people, which in turn bears upon its efficiency, effectiveness and capacity to remain in business.

The way in which an organization addresses its employees makes a difference to internal relations.

Would individuals prefer to be called “resources”, “capital” or “people”?

From an organizational welfare point of view, how can management reasonably expect “resources” or “capital” – deemed as non-sentient objects — to serve as its champions?

Words, labels and titles are not insignificant. They serve as building blocks for good relations and for action. Why else would love poems incite passion and a fiery speech a revolution?

Could it be (and has it not been for decades) time to weed out “resources” and “capital” when referring to living, breathing, thinking individuals?

This post is certainly for the people, by the people, and of the people.

***

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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