Change Management for Recruiting and HR

Not long ago, you were hired as the director of recruiting for a Fortune 1000 firm. You were excited about your new job, because your first task was to select and roll out a new recruiting technology platform. By your estimates, your recruiters were going to save up to two hours a day with the introduction of new technology, primarily because they would no longer need to handle paper resumes ó all candidate submittals would be managed online through the corporate career site. Training has proceeded without a hitch, and your recruiters are loving the new system and all those great features. It even looks like you will be going live on time and under budget ó a true success story. During the last training session for field recruiters, you kick off the day with an overview of the project. You end your presentation with your favorite part of the new system: the fact that all applicants will be coming through the career site, directly into the database, and allowing recruiters to realize a 20% gain in productivity. “Any questions?” you ask. One of your recruiters raises her hand and asks whether hiring managers in the field will have access to the candidates in the system. You quickly explain that while the system could be configured for that, the project team did not feel it was appropriate to give them direct access, due to data privacy concerns and so forth. “But if all of the candidates will be coming directly into this system, and if my managers won’t have access to it,” she responds, “then my workload will double, because about 50% of the jobs that are posted on our website today are being filled by the managers directly. Does this mean we will be hiring more recruiters?” This little story is just to illustrate how big of an impact one tiny facet of your recruiting process can have on a major investment like the purchase of an applicant tracking system. Over the years, I have learned from observation that making an investment in recruiting technology does not automatically guarantee positive returns. While some corporations have managed the selection and implementation process well, countless other projects have ended in buyer’s remorse ó and most often the disaster is blamed on the software or vendor. If I had a nickel for every time a client asked me, “Did we pick the right system?” ó I probably wouldn’t need to be writing this article! While picking the “right system” (a solution that best meets your business requirements) is an important factor, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Implementations rarely fail due to a poor selection process. The culprit is more likely to be a failure on the part of the organization to anticipate and manage change. So what’s the solution? Change management. Change management is one of those buzzwords you hear everyone talking about. But what does it really mean? One thing is certain: change happens whether you like it or not, and people will react to it. So change management is really about how well you anticipate change and proactively manage the reactions to it. The most common reaction to change is resistance to it. This resistance can take on many forms: whining, complaining, or worse, people avoiding the change altogether and continuing to operate the way they always have. In some organizations, resistance to change can take the shape of a highly sophisticated political system where emails and voicemails are used to create subterfuge, cast and deflect blame, and generate more “CYA” material than one can possibly imagine. But no matter how sophisticated the resistance, there are also people who will embrace change and look for opportunities to capitalize on it and create positive outcomes. If these positive outcomes are identified early and if they are communicated effectively, this resistance can be significantly reduced. The scenario I described at the beginning of this article is based on a true story. The biggest issue here was the failure on the director of recruiting’s part to recognize that the positive change of capturing the candidates through a web portal created a gap in how candidates would be delivered to hiring managers in the field. Fortunately, in the case of the real life story, this gap was identified early in the process and the problem was avoided by executing on comprehensive change management strategy. So how do you develop a change management strategy? Here are a few practical change management tips for you to consider in your current or next recruiting technology initiative. 1. Ensure you have the authority to inflict change. The first thing you need to do is make sure you have the authority to make the policy and procedure changes that are necessary to achieve the expected outcomes. For example, many business cases justify the purchase of a recruiting system by the expected benefit of greatly reduced staffing agency costs. But if you don’t have the authority to make a policy change that will prevent hiring managers from using headhunters, you won’t be very successful in modifying that behavior. It’s equally important to be able to implement incentives and rewards to reinforce the desired behavior. As a project manager you will rarely be granted this type of authority, so you need to make sure you get close to the person who does and make them aware of the key issues where you will need their support. If you can’t get their support, run away. Run as fast as you can. 2. Create a change grid. The purpose of a change grid is to thoroughly document and track the change issues that are identified. The change grid is a very simple document, but it’s extremely useful in helping you identify and communicate change. It will become the foundation of your change and communication strategy. You can create this grid as a table in a Word document or a spreadsheet, whichever your preference. An example change grid would look like this:

Change Category Change Issue Impact/Concern Action/Communication Pending Decisions
Employee Referrals All employee referrals will be made online. 1. Employees will need soft copy of resume

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2. Businesses have different referral plans.

Conduct a series of focus groups w/employees to review the new referral process. Will all business units be willing to pay the same referral fee?
  • Change category. You can use this column to organize your change issues. The values that you use will vary based on your unique circumstances, but there are a few common categories that we see often in the recruitment technology space, such as employee referral, candidate submissions, job posting, internal mobility, legal compliance, etc. You can create new change categories as necessary.
  • Change issue. This is the area where you describe the change itself. For example: “All employee referrals will now be made online.” You will want to task everyone on the project to be responsible for identifying and submitting any perceived change so that it can be recorded here.
  • Impact/concern. In this column you will identify who is being affected by the change (is it the recruiter? the candidate? the hiring manager?) and describe the specific impact or concern to that group of people. Keep in mind that change issues don’t always have to be concerns. You should document positive impacts as well.
  • Action/communication. This is where you document what actions you will take to address the issue or how the information will be communicated. For example: “Conduct focus group of employees to review the new referral process.”
  • Pending decisions. Change issues often require decisions from key stakeholders before a definitive action can be planned or taken. For example: “Will all business units be willing to pay the same referral fee?”

The change grid is a working document that will be continue to evolve as new issues are identified and solutions are defined. You may also want to add some columns as needed, such as “issue owner,” “departments affected,” etc. This document becomes a very effective tool for communicating to the project sponsors the key issues that may require top-down influence. 3. Don’t oversell the change. Often times, change management initiatives focus too heavily on selling the new changes to the organization. While it’s appropriate to highlight the benefits of the change, you don’t want to go overboard here. With any change initiative there will always be gaps or perceived drawbacks within the organization. It’s easy to get caught up in the process of designing elaborate workarounds to solve these problems and then trying to craft a message to make it sound like a benefit. This type of overselling will set expectations too high and usually create even bigger resistance in the long run. After all, you can put a lot of shoe polish on a sneaker, but at the end of the day it’s still a sneaker! A better approach is to acknowledge the shortcomings the change will create and provide information about how the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks. You should also provide any plans or a timeline as to when you expect to close the gaps. 4. Look in your own backyard. One thing to always be mindful of is that it’s everyone’s natural tendency to resist change. Yes, that’s right ó even HR professionals and recruiters! That’s why you need to be sure that the people who are designing the change plan and the solutions are not in fact resisting change themselves. In the real story described at the beginning of this article, it was the overworked recruiters who decided to prevent hiring managers from accessing candidates. There were many reasons for making this decision and they all seemed to make business sense. Most of the rationale had to do with recruiters wanting to add value to the process and not have managers burdened with the initial screening. Little did they know that they were potentially doubling or tripling their workload. What’s even more interesting is what happened after the gap was identified. For starters, once the decision was reversed and hiring managers were granted access to the candidates directly through the system, the two hours per day savings for recruiters became achievable. But the story doesn’t end here. One of the benefits of this time savings for recruiters was that it allowed them to spend their time on more valuable activities, such as direct sourcing. The only problem was, many of them did not know how to direct source. By documenting all of the change issues and decisions in the change grid, not only was the gap identified with respect to hiring managers’ access to candidates, but a course of action was also defined to provide additional training to recruiters in the area of research and direct sourcing techniques. This is the type of follow through that you need to ensure that you meet your stated business objectives. Change management has become a well-defined discipline and you can find many articles and resources on the Internet. The Change Management Resource Library is a good place to start. Hopefully you will find the above suggestions useful. No matter how sophisticated you make your change management approach, just make sure your recruiters don’t learn about the changes during user training!

Ed Newman, chief evangelist at Phenom People, is a well-known thought leader in the HR field. With more than 25 years of experience in the talent acquisition and management industry, Newman has worked with many Fortune 500 companies in the design, development, and implementation of highly effective talent strategies, processes, operating models and technology infrastructure. Newman previously founded The Newman Group, a consulting firm specializing in the delivery of talent management solutions.

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1 Comment on “Change Management for Recruiting and HR

  1. Ed is on the money. Change is the only constant. Any system, regardless of price, that is seen as the be all end all with no flexibility are destined to fail long term. Those who are not flexible are destined to fail long term as well. Those organizations that do not change are destined to fail as well as destined to hire over priced consultants to tell them that.

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