Change and Thanksgiving

This past year has been one of change, and a great deal of stress, for our profession, not to mention our economy and our political systems. As we sit down tomorrow (in the United States) for Thanksgiving dinner with our family and friends, I hope we find it within ourselves to be thankful for all that we do have, and that we vow to begin to accept the changes this century will bring to us in recruiting. We are now well into the second millennium and we can feel change everywhere. A door has opened and let out the comforts and habits of the 20th century. Many of us now miss its familiarity and rules that gave us a sense of security and certainty. The current economy is causing particular concern for recruiters, having slowed down the need for us to adopt new recruiting techniques and tools. Indeed, our profession has undergone wrenching changes. The habits and skills we developed in a slower moving, more certain 20th century no longer work so well. Our cheese has been moved, as the eponymous book says, and we miss the familiar world of paper resumes, face-to-face recruiting, ringing telephones, cold calls and classified ads. The Internet and all it has brought to us still feels unfamiliar and foreign. We are deeply into a change cycle that most of us are not even aware of. Change causes very definite behavioral patterns to emerge. Psychologists who have studied and documented the change process describe four distinctive phases involved in completing a change cycle.

  1. Denial. We are frequently faced with new ideas, new tools, or even new approaches to established routines. When this happens, most people try at first to deny that any change is occurring at all and then to dismiss its importance. Hence the words and behaviors of those who are early in their understanding of the changes underway in recruiting. These are the people who think the Internet will go away or that e-recruiting is a fad or that there really is no shortage of talent. While many of them know intellectually that they are probably wrong, they cannot accept the change for some time. The way to help people move through this phase is to supply them with evidence and information and work hard to convince them that the changes are real and permanent.
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  3. Resistance. Once we discover that the change is here to stay, we move to resisting the change. We fight back. We refuse to use the tools or we complain loudly about their shortfalls. We argue about what is happening and we dig in our heels and try to hang on to the past as hard as we can. Eventually, most of us will move on, but some will leave the profession or find new things to do because the process of moving is so painful. The way to accelerate the journey through this phase is to listen quietly and insist on forward movement. Pushing people too hard or forbidding the resistance will only lengthen the time for the change to happen. Ideally, leaders in this phase are open-minded and tolerant of dissent and anger.
  4. Exploration. People taking on a new idea or trying something for the first time characterizes the third phase. This is when, for example, the recruiting department signs up for the e-screening tool and starts experimenting with process improvements and policy changes. In this phase, we try things and slowly adopt those that we understand or those that accomplish some goal that we have. A wise manager rewards anyone who adopts a new tool or method, even if it isn’t the best, and encourages and reinforces the changes that happen. A positive approach is critical to success.
  5. Commitment. Eventually, we come to accept the changes that have occurred as normal and have a hard time even remembering the old days and the old ways. New tools become “old” tools and we feel comfortable with the processes, assumptions and ideas that have evolved over some period of time. This becomes the new norm.

I urge all recruiting managers to communicate this change model and to realize that understanding this model may help people move into the exploration and commitment phases sooner. You also need to know that groups of people do not move through this process as a unit. Any group will have people in different stages at different times and will have to understand and accept that this is a natural process. The entire recruiting profession will look different, be run differently, use different tools, and be based on different assumptions than it was in the 20th century. And that’s good – because we will need new tools for the new problems of talent shortages, rising free agency, smaller firms, and rapid change. Let us give thanks this week for the plentiful ideas and creativity that has contributed so much to America’s leadership in human resources, in developing human potential, and in continuously exploring the limits of our capabilities. And may all of you have a peaceful, bountiful, and happy Thanksgiving.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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