Don’t Mistake Activity for Results

Recently I’ve noticed companies are taking advantage of the lull in their hiring efforts to do something useful. I’ve talked to companies who are evaluating procedures, drafting workforce plans, and selecting and implementing staffing technology solutions ó all in anticipation of more hiring to be done down the road. I applaud these efforts and think that this is the perfect time to be accomplishing such projects. But if there is one piece of advice I would give any staffing or HR department embarking on such a project, it would be this: don’t mistake your good intentions for actual progress! To avoid getting caught in a quagmire of indecision (which ultimately results in no decisions at all, only wasted time and frustration), be sure to track your progress and set goals for yourself and your team. You need to create a roadmap that has tangible results along the way. This will prove to be your greatest tool in confronting any roadblocks that may pop up. When your focus is on better planning for the future, then you will get better processes, better candidates, and better business results.

Below are a few hints that could help you and your company be sure to have something to show for your efforts:

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  1. Sell the vision (by understanding your business). Most attempts to improve processes tend to get halted based on a lack of understanding of what you’re trying to achieve. Change has to be sold. If I am the CEO and you’re telling me about all the great changes your want to make in staffing right now, I may look at you and say, “I don’t need great changes in staffing right now.” However, if you come to me and say, “Better workforce planning and process changes implemented right now will give us insight into future needs of the company, and will also give us the information we will need to make more informed business decisions, get better business results, be quicker to market, and save money,” I would then say, “Okay, share your vision with me!”
  2. Be a project manager (create a roadmap). Project management is a specialized skill. It involves setting goals, following milestones, setting timelines, managing a team, and producing results. It also involves a fair amount of initial preparation that must be done even before you launch into the project itself. However, it is time well spent. It’s like mapping a route before a long trip ó beware the consequences if you choose to embark on your journey without knowing where you’re going, how to get there, who’s going to drive, and how long it should take. There are also people who can help you do this. I am talking about people who spend their entire days evaluating technology, and more importantly, “implemented systems.” I’m not just talking about those who are paid to talk about staffing improvements ó there is a wealth of information out there. Every staffing person I talk to can tell you things they wish they would have known or done differently if they could do it all over again.
  3. Make sure one person (not a whole committee) has decision-making power. There are many ways to work this. Sometimes the department head likes to have final veto power while others actually do the legwork (hopefully they understand the day-to-day operations). Sometimes, the senior-most team member is given the authority to make decisions after being part of the team that does the work. Any way you cut it, there needs to be someone who has the ability to make the tough decisions in order to keep the whole project on track. Don’t underestimate people’s reluctance to change! Who can actually kill your efforts? Figure out whom your project is going to impact, influence, bother, etc., and be sure to sell them on your vision.
  4. Take the time to discover where you’re hurting the most. The goals of your project should be based on fixing actual problems. Take the time to understand where you’re feeling the most pain (and the origin of that pain), and base your goals on solving these real problems. Make sure they are specific with tangible results ó don’t try to boil the ocean.
  5. Set evaluation criteria based on clearly defined goals. This is true for evaluating vendors, procedures, and even yourself (ask yourself: what does success look like?). Base your goals on the evaluation you’ve done to discover where your processes are broken, define what you want to accomplish, and then work backwards. Otherwise you’ll waste unnecessary time and effort getting caught in details that don’t really matter.
  6. Make sure your plan is flexible, but not too flexible. Unforeseen circumstances will come up. Make sure your project has enough give to allow you to make changes, bring a new vendor in, or accommodate an industry or economic change. However, the same flexibility that enables your team to change with the times can also bog you down indefinitely. It is instances like these where hint #2 above really becomes a saving grace.
  7. Don’t try to solve every problem you’ve ever had or ever will have. It can’t be done. I’m not saying you shouldn’t plan for them or settle for a weak workforce plan or sub-par technology. But, you do need to set a stake in the ground. If you have too many things you think you need to accomplish, do it in stages. In fact, it’s always a good idea to implement any plan in stages. This allows you to test and get used to new procedures or technology.

True project management requires a lot of homework and work up front. It may seem like wasted time initially ó but it will save you from many headaches down the road. Give yourself focus and stick to your plan as much as possible. If you are the ultimate decision maker, you may not always be the most popular person, but in the end you will get more accomplished and have something tangible to show for your hard-earned efforts. Every strategy should have an execution plan, and every vision a clear roadmap.

Michael McNeal (michael@purecarbon.com) is the Chief Industry Evangelist and co-founder of PureCarbon. Michael McNeal has been involved in fast-paced, high-volume staffing within the high-tech industry for the past 16 years. He became senior director of corporate employment worldwide for Cisco Systems in June 1996, where he developed a recruitment strategy modeled after successful business and marketing strategies. McNeal often speaks at national conferences about non-traditional recruitment methods and how the Internet can be used to remain competitive, and was recognized with Fast Company magazine?s "Who?s Fast ?99" award (issue 20). PureCarbon is the creator of JobPlanet, which was recognized as a "Top Ten Human Resource Product" of 2000 by Human Resource Executive magazine. More information about PureCarbon and JobPlanet can be found at www.purecarbon.com.

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