Tilting at Windmills, Part 3: Change Agents in Business

My last article ended with a question. To refresh your memory, this was the work exercise: Using the principles of SMEAC (described in a previous article of mine on ERE entitled Now For Something Completely Different: ‘SMEAC’), predict the issues you will face based on the four principles of change as outlined below:

  • You are the human resources manager, one of four managers reporting directly to the VP of HR, at a manufacturing company with 5,000 employees. You have responsibility for 2,500 employees in the manufacturing group. The other three HR managers oversee sales/marketing, IT/development, and accounting/finance/administration/HR. Each HR/Manager has a recruiting peer from the staffing organization.
  • The company is over 75 years old, publicly traded, and involved in heavy manufacturing. Twenty-seven percent of all business is federal, 32% state and local government, and the rest U.S. commercial. The shop is non-union.
  • Business is brisk, but staffing is maintaining a reasonable fill rate against attrition and an average annual growth of 4.3%.
  • In reviewing your employment stats, you realize that of the 2,500 employees under your care, only 123 are female and only 72 are persons of color. This is well below both your industry average and the demographic of the area your plant is located.
  • Management, although aware, is not sufficiently concerned to take action.

Your assignment:

  • What steps would you take?
  • What are the predicable issues you may face?
  • What actions would you plan to successfully implement a more diverse recruiting program?

Added issue:

  • It is 1972.

The hook in this question was obviously the date. It is easy to comprehend the role as a change agent in the area of diversity today, certainly easier than it was for the pioneers of diversity programs some 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Although it would be fair to say there are still issues to be resolved in creating a truly diverse and equal workplace, it would be equally true to say that there are far fewer obstacles than 10, 20, or 30 years ago. One of the important lessons change agents learn is that often they are able to make and effect change in their environments due to the fact they are standing on the shoulders of change agents that have come before them. In 1972:

  • Executive, director, senior and middle management was still comprised primarily of white males.
  • Although the civil rights and feminist movements came to the forefront in the 1960s, by the early 1970s the concepts were still not popular in the mainstream of daily life.
  • Most legislation regarding fair hiring practices still had not taken hold, nor had any of the rules developed truly effective enforcement “teeth.”

An effective change agent is not only a champion of causes, but also a student of the working world around them. The truly successful change agent recognizes the beginning of trends based on their ongoing research and study of the working world in which they dwell professionally. For example:

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  • A truly effective Change Agent would be aware that, by the early 1970s, fewer and fewer sons of the “blue collar” workforce wanted to be “just like dad.” Most middle income workers could afford to send their children to college, sons and daughters alike. In the preceding decades a significant percentage of employees were the sons of current employees: the result of ancestral recruiting.
  • Affirmative action programs, relatively unknown or ignored by private industry, were being implemented in federal and state service. Consequently, those companies doing business with federal or state government were finding themselves to be among the first who had to deal with the term “compliance.”

So, here is what the scenario looks like in an outline based on the principles of SMEAC: Situation: There is a growing trend that is eliminating a significant source of past employees. In addition, the federal and state governments are beginning to look at minority and female employment as a consideration to be eligible for contracts and purchasing. As federal and state agencies themselves continue to hire and promote persons of color or female employees, your own sales force has come in contact with larger percentage of decision-makers who are not of the “majority” profile. At present, your company has a poor track record for recruiting non-majority candidates ó or certainly has a poor track record of hiring non-majority candidates. The trend for minority and female issues has an upward curve. Mission: In order to maintain effective headcount in response to the decline in ancestral staffing ó and to prepare the company for new hiring criteria based on civil rights legislation and a growing feminist movement ó work out the strategy you would pursue to ensure success, success being defined as a larger percentage of employees from non-majority profiles. Execution: Execution of this mission could entail the following actions.

  • Arrange a meeting with your four counterparts in human resources and staffing to review your overall company profile and determine if this is a departmental issue or a common issue throughout the company. This also affords an opportunity to determine if you have allies from among your peers.
  • Arrange a meeting with the senior HR officer to enlist his or her support.
  • Based on the information gleaned from the above, meet with your hiring managers to determine if the imbalance in staffing is a result of insufficient candidates or a biased selection process.
  • Work with your recruitment ad agency to develop a recruitment advertising campaign that would increase your candidate base (print advertising ó it’s 1972, no web recruiting yet).
  • Develop a trend profile for your immediate superior to show the efforts being made throughout your industry in these areas, in order to enlist their support and the support of the senior management staff.
  • Meet with those employees from non-majority profiles and encourage them to refer friends and peers for employment. Determine from them what the advantages, from their perspective, are to working for your company.
  • Place emphasis on diversity recruiting for supervisory, managerial, director, and executive-level candidates, because nothing will change unless it occurs at all levels.
  • Research and investigate all media pertaining to this topic and develop informational briefings for all team and departmental meetings to keep the issue in the forefront.

Administration and support: The following administration and support tasks could also be required.

  • Develop a spreadsheet to track applicant flow based on diversity profile and develop a monthly report indicating percentages of those recruited, interviewed, or hired as compared to majority profile candidates.
  • Develop contacts and relationships with leaders in the non-majority communities and professional organizations.
  • Seek professional guidance through consultants who specialize in diversity employment to assist in your own training or the training of your peers and hiring managers.

Command and communication: With your own managers and your department peers, have a specific meeting on a routine basis to share information to support the diversity recruiting effort. The results of all these efforts should be communicated on a routine basis and included as an additional reference in all staffing and headcount reports. Obviously this is not rocket science. The role of change agent does not require the highest IQ in the room or the most degrees on the wall. It does, however, require courage. I chose a topic, diversity recruiting, that we all embrace and accept today, but that 30 years ago could have been a “career killer.” It is easy to see yourself as an enlightened person advocating all the right things, for all the right reasons, that are both fashionable and trendy. But the true change agent is the person who today is working towards the next important change, not yet commonly accepted or protected by Acts of Congress. Look around your work environment and see what it is that needs to be done. If it is merely sending memos about an existing policy, then you are a functionary. If you are recommending a concept that came to you from others in your professional research, then you are a change agent. But if your efforts have brought you to a new level not yet considered or advocated, they you have become a visionary. Be one or all of the above. But whatever you choose, choose to do it well. All three are needed in business. Everything good about where you work came as the result of the change agents who came before you and the visionaries they studied. What is it that you think needs changing? Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


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