There is a conspiracy preventing companies from hiring top people. The bureaucrats are behind it. We’ve been fighting the war for talent for a long time and nobody has won. Odd. Despite all the talk about “Hiring is #1” and the desire to win the war for talent, from what I can see it’s just lip service. The bureaucrats are the enemy, and they have won. If you want to hire top people and win the talent war, the bureaucrats must be defeated at all costs. To start, a face needs to be put on the enemy. Look in the mirror first. It could be you. If not… Here is my top 10 list of the bureaucrats and bureaucratic things preventing companies from hiring top people:
- Most lawyers. Lawyers aren’t too creative. If they’re honest, they try to keep their clients out of trouble by telling them how to best follow the rules. If they’re not so honest, they do things to increase their billings. If they’re very good, they understand their clients’ business objectives and make sure that they don’t just follow the rules without considering every possible alternative. Some lawyers are crooks, too ó but that’s not what we’re discussing here.
- The people in comp and benefits and related corporate bureaucrats. Too many corporate bureaucrats enforce the rules blindly because they don’t know any better. Some do it to maintain their power or to increase their influence and control. Even if rigid job descriptions and inflexible pay scales can seem like the right thing to do, they can be counterproductive when the bigger goal is to hire top people. This lack of higher-level thinking is called sub-optimization. It’s very common in most overhead and administrative functions.
- All PhDs except for John Sullivan. I’ve seen and read a lot of nonsense put out by the so-called experts. Don’t listen to their bureaucratic mumble jumble. If they have not been in the trenches, either as a line manager or a successful recruiter, treat their advice as suspect. If they live in the ivory towers, ignore or avoid their advice altogether. John Sullivan has at least seen the trenches and has smelled the taste of war, so his instincts are right on. For all others, make them prove their advice before following it.
- The government. In many ways, the government acts like the not-so-honest lawyer who wants to maximize his or her billings. Those who govern do whatever it takes to stay in government, not doing what’s right. Even the honest ones get caught up in the vicious cycle of lots of activity with little progress. I guess that’s the definition of bureaucracy.
- The OFCCP and related labor laws. These laws are important to prevent discrimination, so I applaud their intent. The problem I have is how they’re implemented. Actually, the OFCCP ruling on defining an Internet applicant is pretty good if you don’t follow your corporate lawyer’s advice. Since you only need to report on legitimate applicants, make sure your lawyers help you define legitimate applicants. Rob Bekken suggests you set up programs to eliminate the unqualified people before they become legitimate applicants. It’s these unqualified people who become legitimate but unqualified applicants who represent potential lawsuits. Minimizing unnecessary reporting and preventing frivolous lawsuits seems like a better strategy than reporting on everyone and being good at trials (see point 1, above.)
- Company policy, standard operating procedure, and culture. As companies get bigger, they become more conservative and risk averse. Thinking becomes stale; fitting in the culture becomes the goal; and a “we’ve always done it that way” mentality dominates the decision-making process. A recent MSNBC article based on an Emory University study on political bias offers much insight into how hiring decisions are made. “We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
- Technology vendors (except for the few who get it). In general, most applicant tracking system and related technology vendors have not made their products easier to use. They certainly have not made it easier for top people to evaluate opportunities before applying. Nor have recruiters become more productive or better recruiters as a result of using this technology. Instead, these vendors have simply automated their clients’ existing bureaucracy. Worse, as these tech vendors have become bigger, they have become bureaucratic and inflexible themselves. I’ve been tracking hiring technology since the mid 1990s, and have not seen companies making better hiring decisions as a result of using technology. At best, technology can now better handle high volumes of data more efficiently ó but I’m not sure this was the primary problem that needed solving.
- The corporate police. These are the enforcers of the bad rules, strutting about terrorizing their victims and wearing their ill-gotten “Can’t Do It!” badges for all to see. Sometimes they’re the enforcers of the corporate image who tell you that you can’t write creative ads. Sometimes they’re the compensation and benefits team who say you must post boring jobs descriptions. Sometimes they’re the organizational department that says you must use some half-baked competency model that drives away the best. Don’t worry about getting a few tickets. They’ll be waived if you hire some top people.
- Bureaucratic thinking. It’s also known as non-thinking. It’s practiced by all of those people in your company who just follow the rules because it’s safe, PC, they won’t get in trouble, or some bureaucrat says it’s company policy or that we’ve always done it that way. Don’t fall into this trap. It prevents progress. I suspect if a brain scan could be conducted on your corporate bureaucracy comparable to the Emory study it would show little activity.
- Hiring managers who think they know how to hire top people. In my book Hire With Your Head (Wiley, 2002) I included this quote: “It ain’t so much the things you don’t know that get you in trouble. It’s the things you know that just ain’t so” (Artimus Ward, 1834-1867.) Worse, not only do most managers think they know how to hire good people ó they all do it differently. Not only is consensus impossible to achieve this way, it forces companies to waste time and valuable resources seeking the perfect candidate. It never happens, so we compromise our standards when desperation becomes more important than talent. I refer to this condition as bureaucratic anarchy or the hidden bureaucracy.
Here are some strategies and tactics you can use to defeat the enemies within. (More will come in future “Don’t Let the Bureaucrats Win” articles.)
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- Ally yourself with your hiring manager clients. Recruiters and hiring managers must unite to fight the bureaucrats. Collectively, line managers have the power to change things. Of course, you’ll need to get them to agree on some logical hiring decision-making process before moving forward.
- Implement a sound hiring decision-making process. Classical behavioral interviewing is not it. This is for bureaucrats who want more control and more bureaucracy, not for recruiters who want to hire more top talent. Consider performance-based hiring instead.
- Get evidence. Get creative. Get proof. The only way you’ll be able to change bureaucracy and biased thinking is with proof that there are better ways to hire top talent.
- Become market-driven. Reverse engineer the way top people look for work. Start by conducting focus groups and interviewing those who you have recently hired. Next, design your processes to map to their process — not to some bureaucrat’s idea of how it should be done. Compare the differences to what you’re doing today. This is your gap analysis.
- Get executive commitment. Functional VPs and C-level officers can make things happen. Don’t let some administrative bureaucrat get in your way. Get some allies and proof before you make your pitch. Proving the ROI is easy. Hiring a few outstanding people is all it takes to justify a new strategy.
Don’t let the bureaucrats win. They have inertia, human nature and the status quo on their side. So the battle is not easily won. Start the change process one search at a time. Get hiring manager allies along the way. Don’t take no for an answer. Prove and improve your processes. This takes leadership, persistence and courage. Hiring top people is tough work, but it’s worth it. You can’t let the bureaucrats win, or the war for talent will never end.