Speed Kills

There is no longer a hidden job market. The line between active and passive candidates is blurring. Turnover is on the rise. Workforce mobility is increasing. It’s easy to look for a new job, apply, and be interviewed from your desktop. The barriers to entry and exit are falling.

The cost of looking for a new job (taking time off, making a physical presence, time investment, etc.) is dropping. Candidates are shopping offers with abandon. Counter-offers are commonplace. No one has to make a commitment. Offers are nothing more than inflated currency.

Have we created a monster that will affect our economic competitiveness? How will our future executives be trained, groomed, and tested in this environment? My sense is that we are going through a cultural shift of significant short- and long-term proportions.

While the short-term affects are now being felt, the long-term negative impact could be far more significant. We might be moving too fast, and it seems like we’re accelerating. Consider this:

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  • Don Imus got fired a few days after his infamous remarks. Two weeks later, 62% of the population thought it was not justified. (Go to www.supportimus.org to register your opinion and see how emotions still affect business decisions.)
  • I was just with a major aerospace company that considered the ability to offer someone a job on the same day as the interview a major coup.
  • Managers make long-term decisions about whether to hire or reject a candidate within minutes, and then use the balance of the interview to justify it.
  • Managers are too busy to give their recruiters enough time to understand real job needs.
  • Blink is used to justify our hasty decision-making, and in fact perpetuates it. (Yet even in his book, Gladwell cautions about making hasty decisions without all of the facts. But somehow people read the book too fast and miss this critical point. (Here’s a Blink-like three minute article you might want to read for more on this.)
  • One of my clients was ready to make an offer to a COO candidate from another search firm after a 90-minute interview. They asked me to confirm their judgment. (I couldn’t after a 60-minute fact-finding interview.)

As many of you know, I started my pre-MBA career as a systems engineer in the aerospace industry largely to stay out of Vietnam, and not surprisingly, the decision to accept the initial offer was made within five minutes without an interview.

I started my post-MBA career as a financial analyst at the corporate offices of a Fortune 50 company. After a few years, I was running a 300-person manufacturing division where going from one sigma to two sigma was considered a major accomplishment. Here are some of the things I learned that stand out from those halcyon days:

  1. Don’t borrow short for long-term needs (think about the subprime blowup for proof).
  2. Don’t use tactics to drive strategy.
  3. Don’t make long-term decisions using short-term data.
  4. Don’t make serious business decisions based on emotions and biases.
  5. Gather as much information as you can in whatever time is available to make major decisions.

With this need for speed competing with the need for time and information, here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Buy time. There is no way you can be efficient and meet the need for speed without great planning in place. Part of this is a comprehensive workforce planning process. There are at least two ways to do this: bottoms-up or statistical. Authoria has a great tool where managers can forecast their hiring needs over the next year. Just add the numbers up and you have the makings of a bottoms-up workforce plan. HRSmart has a forecasting tool that is statistically based and predicts hiring needs based on past trends. Using these concepts together might be the best of both worlds.
  2. Maximize time. In the 1980s, a design process called concurrent engineering was introduced to reduce the time to launch products. Instead of moving the product-development process in stepwise fashion from R&D to design to manufacturing to marketing and to sales, all of the functions were brought in at the beginning. This minimized design changes and reduced the time to get products to market. This same principle might be used in hiring by bringing managers, recruiters, and the sourcing team together to develop unique ways to eliminate bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
  3. Leverage time. Driving candidates to individual job requisitions might be the biggest time-waster and inefficiency creator in the whole process. A better idea might be to group individual jobs together in a talent hub. From this talent hub, you could then offer various options. Some candidates might want to apply for a specific job, others might just want to explore opportunities and talk with a recruiter. What a great way to develop a network. Some might want to just hear about future opportunities. A talent hub like this in combination with a strong customer relationship management (CRM) program would then be the ideal way to build a pipeline of strong candidates available when you need them.
  4. Create time. A recruiting strategy based on a company’s business strategy should be the first step in getting out from under a warp-speed mentality. Just about every company over $100 million in annual revenue has a strategic plan that ties to the annual plan and to the monthly budget. If you’re in charge of recruiting, read this plan and create a comparable hiring and recruiting plan. At a minimum, it should consist of a series of sourcing approaches and channels meeting your company’s short- and long-term hiring needs. At the top of the list put an aggressive internal mobility and employee referral program in place. Next, add talent hubs with CRM functionality. Follow this up with creative consumer marketing programs and job board advertising to meet short-term needs. Use external recruiters for those few positions where this multi-tiered sourcing program fails to deliver.
  5. Find time. The best candidates need time to ponder. Good career decisions are based on balancing short-term tactical issues with the long-term career growth prospects. If you sell on speed, you’re forcing yourself to emphasize the tactical (money, location, compensation, title) instead of the strategic issues (job scope, career growth, cultural fit). You’re also setting yourself up for a counter-offer or competitive offer as the candidate shops your offer around to the highest bidder. You might want to consider a formal offer-making strategy that involves sitting down with the candidate and comparing your offer on multiple fronts against other offers, potential offers, a counter-offer, and the person’s current position. I’ll be happy to send you a 10-factor decision form we use to simplify this. If you make conditional offers with a proviso that your company’s offer-making process is much more involved than just sending a mere letter outlining terms, you might find more time than ever imagined.

Sure you need to move fast, but you don’t need to feel like a pinball wizard in the process. Making long-term decisions like hiring shouldn’t be made under frenetic conditions. By rethinking your hiring process from beginning to end, you might discover you have just enough of the time you need to do it right.

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).


2 Comments on “Speed Kills

  1. I think it dovetails nicely with the ‘Developing a Sourcing Strategy to Hire Top Talent’ phone seminar that you presented back on April 12th.

  2. I think I have to disagree with some of the things that Mr. Adler said. I was an engineer for over thirty years, before coming over to the dark side of recruiting, so my perspective may be different than his.

    !. I disagree that we are creating a monster. For way to many years, engineers have been a disposable commodity. If you don’t believe that, look at the massive layoffs of engineers by companies like Boeing, GM, and many others, in the recent past (remeber the early ’90’s?). The new reality is that any company that doesn’t treat its engineers with respect and pay them a decent wage, will be out of engineers. Why, because people like me will come in and help the engineers improve thier lives.

    2. Speed, come on. First of all, if Mr. Adler presented the candiadte for COO why did he not vet him properly first. Second, DOD contractors move with the speed of a glacier in the dead of winter. They better get faster or lose candidates.

    3. Engineering talent makes up less than 10% of most companies overhead budgets. The average mechanical engineer with 10 years of experince in the mid west makes less than $80K. His accounting counterpart makes over $100K, and the HR guy trying to hire him makes more than that.

    I could rant a lot more, but this is to long already.

    Jay Lowry

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