11 JunHire good people when you can not when you have to: HR easily overwhelmed

Downturn. There is an over supply of good people seeking a new job. There is though still what was once termed a “War for Talent”, not Talents as many grammatically challenged German speakers would have it, with their proclivity for putting an “s” where it does not belong. All of the following are wrong and need to to lose that “s”: datas, informations, learnings, feedbacks, collaterals. Lately I have been an observer of other people’s trying to be hired and a participant in several hiring discussions myself; this week and in the coming ones, I will offer a few observations on current trends and behaviour.

“You hire good people when you can and not when you have to!” Those words of wisdom date back to Goldman Sachs and to one of my mentors, the wise Ed Watts. We were back then in the nineties and we are now, for all the automation, in a people business. Goldman also had a very clear pecking order for figuring out the priorities in life; the clients, the Firm, you. If you are hiring, that is about the Firm, so the only thing that might delay your paying attention to people and the hiring process would be a client commitment.

The supply of talent is grater in quantity and in quality than it has been in a long while, at least in banking. It seems many HR departments asses the situation as one where the imbalance of supply over demand means they feel they should not be paying headhunters and search firms fees for finding talent. So, on that logic, they decide to do their own hiring, hanging out the shingle:”Big bank seeks expert in whatever, must have this that and  the other”. The this, that and the other have been defined as a set list of criteria for the skills the succcessful candidate needs to have. What happens next is entirely predictable. A three act tragedy.

Act I: The Flood. As soon as the shingle goes out with the bank’s name on it, there is a flood of applications. HR are overwhelmed. Normal good practice of acknowledging receipt and staying in touch with applicants is simply abandoned. Whether thru sheer ignorance on the part of those involved or failure to have an adequate process, the result is the same. The perception is one of poor performance.

Act II: The mis-appliance of science. Faced with a huge pile of resumes on the desk, a process akin to credit scoring takes place. The intrepid HR team plows thru every single applicant, scanning each CV to see how many ticks in the box they get versus their checklist of 10 or however many must have criteria. Some firms have software to do this. The result from either the human or system-aided process is the same. There will be enough candidates who based on this most scientific of processes get a score of 10 out 10 and pass to the next stage. The rest will be rejected; that is if the process can deal quickly and efficiently with that process. Even what I would term a very straightforward process is very often beyond the skill set and or the capacity of the HR team.

 Act III: A square peg for the square hole. After the science, there will be short list of some six candidates, perhaps even with some who ticked all the boxes being rejected too. HR will do all the organising for interviews and this will cause the process to drag out. In every single recent case I can think of where HR has been driving the train, either roles I have been directly interested in or indirectly involved in, there has been no speed or urgency. The junior oik in HR put in charge of appointments has taken the diary of the interviewer as a given and planned interviews either ages ahead, or simply said that the interviewer is busy. Somebody I know at a major Swiss bank is in the middle of an internal job change. One last interview to do, with an MD, who has been on holiday. The assistant left to do the planning offered one and only one time slot, in the middle of the morning to somebody who has a day job. “The MD is really busy. Just back from holidays.” I am sure the assistant is a nice, loyal, long timer. Sad that she (and it was a she) does not understand that this is a poor excuse. Just as sad is the line manager who wants to do the hiring. In this part of the process he was AWOL. He should be fighting like a man possessed to have his candidate interviewed asap.

As scientific as this process appears, it is at once too clinical and also error prone. The latter for sure, because in scanning for key words in a two or three page resume, there is a chance somebody who would be qualified uses a slightly different word. Those chances go up when the job is done by HR who will have little or no real understanding of the business and the terms used. The process is also too clinical, because the hiring manager will see only perfect square pegs for the square holes. Remember there is no search professional involved. There is no independent voice who is going to say to his client: “Had 100 applications, whittled it down to 12, met all of them and have a short list of 6. 4 are a 100% perfect fit with your criteria. There are 2 who are not “perfect”, but they are people you should meet. Person A is worth a look because .. and B because ..” Call A & B the mavericks, the oddballs.

Lessons Learned: The oversupply of talent is a potentially deceptive state and perhaps only an optically attractive one. I have been in the financial services business for 26 years; I would say I have met five great HR people in that time. Whilst several of my colleagues would confirm that run rate, I would say the standard is appalling and 80% of all HR departments should be shown the door and not replaced. My advice to any hiring manager is not to let HR lead anything. If the Big Place BS imposes them on you, then if they are allowed to hang out that shingle in public, then you the hiring manager have to drive the train. Tell them what you expect and have them report to you frequently; CV’s received, acknowledged within 24 hours, rejected within 48 hours etc.

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