Are you a Rounder or a Flatlander?

What if everything you thought was true wasn’t? Here’s one point: The July 18, 2005, edition of Business Week has a study evaluating the impact of our investment in healthcare in the U.S. in comparison to other developed and undeveloped countries. One conclusion pretty much says it all: “The U.S. spends two and a half times as much as any other country per person on healthcare, but that doesn’t translate to better outcomes. Indeed, there is compelling evidence that more healthcare and more aggressive treatment are not necessarily better.” My Recruiting and Hiring Challenges 2005 Survey revealed some similar non-truths that hit closer to home. (I’ll be hosting a free online conference call to present and discuss these results on Thursday, August 4, 2005 at 11:00 a.m. PT. Email or call 888-878-1388 to sign up. For one thing, you’ll discover why the world is getting flatter.) Here’s a comparable hiring issue that’s worthy of discussion. Over the past 10 years, we’ve made a huge investment in improving the recruiting and hiring process in the U.S. But serious questions are now being raised on whether it has it paid off in improved candidate quality, reduced cost, and improved time to fill. More and more senior-level HR and recruiting executives are starting to think the answer is no. For some personal proof, just compare the recruiting performance of your overseas counterparts to headquarters. Our semi-scientific survey last quarter indicated that companies in Europe and Asia, with less technology and fewer hiring resources, seemed to do no better or worse than their U.S. counterparts. Maybe the reason for this lack of progress is because the world is flat. At least that’s what Tom Friedman thinks, and he’s the most balanced reporter/columnist on the planet. Friedman reports on business conditions, economics, and politics from a truly objective perspective with no hidden agenda or left/right bias. Here’s an edited Amazon summary of his new book, The World is Flat:

What Friedman means by “flat” is “connected”: the lowering of trade and political barriers and the exponential technical advances of the digital revolution have made it possible to do business, or almost anything else, instantaneously with billions of other people across the planet. Globalization 3.0, as he calls it, is driven not by major corporations or giant trade organizations like the World Bank, but by individuals: desktop freelancers and innovative startups all over the world (but especially in India and China) who can compete ó and win ó not just for low-wage manufacturing and information labor but, increasingly, for the highest-end research and design work as well. He wants to tell you how exciting this new world is, but he also wants you to know you’re going to be trampled if you don’t keep up with it. His book is an excellent place to begin.”

Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat should be required reading for all recruiters, their managers, and every executive. For one thing, once you’re done you’ll know why the world of hiring will never be the same. Here are some things to consider:

  • A National Science Board report indicated that the number of American 18-24 year olds receiving science degrees has fallen to 17th in the world. Three decades ago we ranked third.
  • The number of Americans who now graduate with just engineering degrees is 5%, as compared to 25% in Russia and 46% in China.
  • Some CEOs now believe that sending jobs abroad can result in a savings of as much as 75% in wages ó combined with a 100% improvement in productivity.

This is both enlightening and frightening. According to Friedman, you need to believe the world is flat in order to deal with it. If you believe the world of business is changing more rapidly than the ability of most corporate recruiting departments to respond, you’re ready to become a Flatlander. To get there, though, you’ll have to shed your Rounder ways. It starts by knowing where you stand in the round-to-flat spectrum. Rounders manage their businesses, departments, and daily activities assuming the world is as it was. This is comparable to driving a car using the rearview mirror. If you are more reactive than proactive, you’re probably a Rounder. If you still wait for a requisition to be opened before you start looking for people, you’re probably a Rounder. If you’re using technology just to manage an increased flow of resumes you’re probably a Rounder. If your metrics are used to report on last quarter’s performance, you’re probably a Rounder. If job branding hasn’t yet been incorporated into each of your online job descriptions, you’re probably a Rounder. If you’re still trying to solve last quarter’s problems and aren’t sure they’ll be solved by next quarter, you’re probably a Rounder. These are only clues, but you get the picture. Flatlanders see the world as rapidly changing, and they’re trying like heck to catch up ó and maybe even get ahead. If you have a comprehensive workforce plan in place and are now building pipelines of great future candidates, you’re a Flatlander. If you’re accelerating the use of proactive employee referral programs and aggressive networking, you’re a Flatlander. If your metrics are used for process control and include forward-looking diagnostics, you’re a Flatlander. If you’re using technology to become more productive and to increase candidate quality, you’re a Flatlander. If you’re now attempting to solve tomorrow’s problems rather than yesterday’s, you’re becoming a Flatlander. Consider this: Every other business function has improved dramatically in the past 10 to 20 years, but the recruiting challenges we’re facing today are no different than they were when I started out in recruiting over 25 years ago. In the world of recruiting, the merging of technology with great processes has not led to any significant productivity or quality improvements. If a company is an employer of choice, it can hire great people; if not, it struggles. And when demand exceeds supply, everyone struggles. According to the U.S. labor statistics noted above for science and technology positions ó the growth engine of our economy ó everyone will soon be struggling. Here are a few ideas you might want to consider on how to become a Flatlander.

Article Continues Below
  1. At your next staff meeting, why not discuss this question: “What would happen if our company didn’t use job boards at all?” In a flat world, job boards are the problem, not the solution. However, you can probably make them flatter if you spend an hour or two on the problem.
  2. In a flat world, recruiters, candidates and hiring managers are all on the same page, all considered equal, and all critical members of a cross-functional team, and all trading information instantaneously. In a round world, candidates are treated more like vendors, certainly not customers, and recruiters are seen as support staff, not as subject matter experts. What would you have to do to flatten this playing field?
  3. In a flat world, everyone would have access to the real job, highlighting career opportunities ó not listing skills, requirements, and other barriers to entry. This would entice the best, and not prevent the worst from considering the opportunity. In a flat world, technology would allow for a Google-like find-and-apply process with information transmitted and updated by just a mouse click. In a flat world, you wouldn’t even need to ponder who to refer: a list of potential leads would be self-generated once you clicked the referral button on your contact list. Is your technology helping you become flatter? For a glimpse at the answer, find out what the top five changes are planned for in your next system update (i.e., ask your vendor). Then determine if these changes will help you become more productive or if they’ll make it easier for good candidates to find and apply for jobs. If not, you’re not getting flatter.

From my perspective, technology and recruiting processes are not improving at a rapid enough pace to catch up with the dramatic changes now underway around the world. The only hope to catch up will be a business slowdown. Of course, when this happens the recruiting budget will be slashed proportionately, so the net affect will be zero. My sense is that the path most U.S. companies are on is not the right one. Everyone is just fighting for a bigger slice of a smaller U.S. labor pie. Something must give in this scenario. Going global is a key part of this. Being more aggressive and more innovative and more technologically savvy here at home is also part of this. There are no easy answers, so you better get started and begin rethinking everything you’re now doing. What you thought was true isn’t. The world is getting flatter.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


5 Comments on “Are you a Rounder or a Flatlander?

  1. Thanks for this Lou. A real thought provoking article. I’m off to buy the book lunchtime.

    In the last 5 years, we have carried out assignments in 16 different countries across Europe and in the last 12 months, we have added 4 from Eastern Europe.

    Most of our Clients in Europe are US companies that are expanding and we compete with the big named Headhunters that have offices, it seems, in every country. Guess what? We have one office just outside of London and do everything from there and it is 100% search. No advertising, no database. Our philosophy is pick up the phone and ‘Just Do It’.

    It works for us.

    We placed a person in Romania with the help of a very good Headhunter in NY, so I know it can be done. He knew the person, we had the Client.

    So if anyone has clients that recruit over in Europe and you want to help them, lets talk. It could be your first step to being a Flatlander.

  2. I am so glad to see HR professionals reaching out of the typical ‘HR Library’ to learn. Too many times we look at the SHRM bookstore for knowledge when the knowledge is with the true thought leaders.

    If you have not read Tom Friedman’s book ‘The World is Flat’ then you must. As HR professionals we must get our heads out of the sand and start paying attention to the world around us.

  3. An eye opening article. Technology and processes are tools – they are not substitutes for drive and determination.

    I see too many ‘recruiters’ that are unwilling to pick up the phone and track a promising candidate down.

    Perhaps the ease of getting a flood of ‘resumes’ from paid job boards has caused HR people to forget what ‘recruiting’ is all about.

  4. Great food for thought and imperative that we think outside the lines and ahead of the curve to make a difference.
    I have a question about item #3. In the last paragraphs Lou says talks about changes/ updates in our technology systems and that the changes should help us become more productive and allow good candidates to find and apply for our jobs. ‘If not we are getting ‘flatter’.’ If I am to understand his flat/round theory shouldn’t I be understanding that lack of updates and barriers to good candidates will make us ’rounder’ not flatter?
    Just want to make sure I am following the full thought.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *