Monday, 23 March 2015

Video - Hiring for Startups - My talk at Talent Leaders Connect

Recently I was asked to speak at The Job Post event, Talent Leaders Connect.  I talked about startups, a little psychology and a hypothetical kitten kicking factory... no really!


Back to regular blogging soon!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Why Job Adverts Suck and What You Can Do About It.

At the start of this year, and many years before it the pundits of HR and Recruitment (yes, they really exist) make predictions for the year ahead.  As well as borrowing heavily from the mantras of Silicon Valley startups promising to be social, mobile and local there is always one persistent prediction that never seems to go away.

The mists in the crystal ball clear and a vision of the future appears, with absolute certainty, our forecasters declare "The Job Description will cease to exist!".  Then, as if to mock that same prescient certainty, they don't.

Despite the flaws of the formats on both side of the job seeker chasm things seem to stay the same.  Whilst the prognosticators may lament that their visions haven't been proven right the world keeps turning, recruiters still want to see your CV and HR departments the world over keep posting banal job descriptions.  As much as recruiters may decry applicants for their terrible CVs or offer advice on how not make CV mistakes there doesn't seem to be quite the same amount of concern for the job descriptions and adverts that they themselves post supposedly to entice those looking for work.

The average job description is currently a mishmash of an older version of the original specification, some amendments from an enthusiastic new hiring manager and some sexier phrases stolen from various other company's career pages.  When you stop to consider the amount of work that marketers put into a banner or headline just to make a viewer click it's mind boggling to think that recruiters expect people to consider making such an enormous change to their lives on the basis of bland copy and trite cliché.

There must be a better way... and there is...

In 1943 Abraham Maslow published his paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" in the Psychological Review. He posited a series of human drivers that worked sequentially, the lowest order of which must be satisfied in order to achieve the next. For example when starving to death we're unlikely to be concerned with how our peer group thinks of us, until we meet that more basic need.

 Maslow used the terms "physiological", "safety", "belonging", "esteem", "self-actualization" to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through.  If we are using the format of a job advert as a means to motivating an action from a reader, could we borrow from the Maslow model to ensure that we are writing a well rounded and engaging advertisement?  Without too much of a mental stretch it's easy to see how these stages can be made applicable to pressing on the underlying motivations a person may have when wanting to apply or even moving from casual interest to intention and ultimately action.  At the very least we could use a model to broaden the appeal of a job advert and hit more of the motivational bases that Maslow identified.

The lowest order motivator for a job seeker has to be salary.  Whilst it is foundational and important it can quickly be satisfied and judged accordingly.  Try putting the actual salary range on your job postings and voilà the majority who apply will have some idea of how much you are prepared to pay for the role.  Assuming that your job is not unpaid or a front for slave labour stating a salary is a good idea.  Promising adequate or even fair pay for a candidate's toil should never be the best motivator you have to play.  Put simply, cash should never be your "ace in the hole",  if it is it's time to rethink the role.  Try talking to some other people who already do the job and ask them why they like it. Try to gain a deeper insight into the persona of those who enjoy the job - chances are that their reasons are probably inline with a potential employee's too.  It tends to be the third party recruiters who's job postings feature salary as the biggest incentive. "Java Developer $90,000" is a great indicator that the poster hasn't really understood the real differentiators or their target audience.

For a lot of job posts salary is where we stop. There may be other details given about the company doing the recruitment or a technology stack but these will be generic and explanatory e.g. "You will write code and fix bugs" these are statements which would be true of the same role in another organisation.  How can we make this a little more personal? Maslow's second step in the hierarchy is "Safety".  For job seekers this may take the form of permanent vs. contract or the security of your company as an entity.  These can be addressed early on, from startups referring to themselves as "VC funded" or larger corporates stating successes "Safety" should be accepted as quickly as the salary stage.  If you don't meet the needs of the job seeker here i.e. lower than expected salary and indeterminate contract length they will self select out of the process, and that's a good thing at this stage.  Remember a great job advert isn't about mass appeal it's about gaining the interest of the right people.  

A growing number of companies are following in the footsteps of the larger technical organisations and offering a bewildering number of perks and free incentives to their employees.  These are the hyperbolic tales of free food, dogs in the workplace, on site masseuses and hot and cold running champagne.  Who wouldn't want those things? However a lot of job adverts fall at this hurdle.  Promising money and free things are are a great way to have someone make a small change. Switching a bank account or internet service provider maybe but surely not enough to change employers?  Job security should be implied in any job description and the benefits and perks are nice to haves - but don't be swayed into thinking they are enough.

Maslow's third tier was "belonging" or "love".  For a job advert how can we convey a sense of somewhere a candidate might want to belong?  This is where a lot of job adverts fear to tread. We stop at the inanimate perks and don't consider the social interactions that having a job will bring.  Belonging in job adverts is best conveyed through the people the candidate will be working with. Humans are (mostly) social creatures and benefit from interaction.  Who really wants to spend eight hours a day treading the same carpet as people you hate? At the other end of the spectrum who would want to work with an ex-colleague or former manager who was an inspirational leader? Who might want to join a team of renowned experts in their field?  If we make a job advert generic and impersonal e.g. "You will work with our team of developers" we risk becoming generic.  Talking about the team is an opportunity to sell successes to a candidate and gain engagement from selling the pedigree of a potential peer group.  In the world of startup it's normal to see adverts proclaiming founders who are ex-Google or ex-Facebook in this way an employer borrows some of the perceived quality bar of their previous employers.

Another consideration for the "Team" level of a job advert is how the team organise and work together.  A job may be more attractive for a reader if it explicitly states that the team don't like to hold lengthy meetings, or that they work closely with other parts of the business.  There are some great examples here that would make brilliant recruiting messages like Spotify's excellent Engineering Culture video. For those who are harbouring frustrations about their current employer's bureaucracy or lack of insight and innovation, referring to how the prospective employing company gets work done can be revealing and enlightening.  Moreover, talking candidly about these things can help convey authenticity and engender trust in the reader.

For his fourth level Maslow talked about "Esteem".  This is the need for appreciation and respect.  People need to sense that they are valued and by others and feel that they are making a contribution to the world. When employees become unhappy and disengaged they slowly start to stagnate.  If they feel under appreciated or second best to others this happens all the quicker.  It may seem obvious to mention that  people like to feel valued but in a job advertisement it is wholly appropriate to mention how the role they will play will be important to the rest of the team or company.  It's a certainty that some of the role you're advertising will be similar to other roles at other companies - in these cases it's important to differentiate at a personal level.  It's a rare candidate that wants to be a cog in machine but still I see companies loudly proclaiming they are hiring "one thousand software developers this year!" the intended message is clearly designed to be one of security, though it's hard to escape from a different "come and be one of a crowd" vibe.  Remember a good job advert spurs the correct audience into action and acts as a self selection point for those who are not right.  A job advert should not be generic enough to attract all comers - if it does you just ensure that someone will have to wade through the mire of terrible candidates and machine gun applicants that apply to everything.

Knowing that the role you are performing is worthwhile and needed is a far better motivator than the lower level "carrot and stick" incentives of salary and mock "benefits" of legally mandated holiday entitlements.  The better job adverts will mention those truly motivating factors - autonomous working, results driven environments without the reliance of rules and policies.  This further adds authenticity and can be a real differentiator for a reader.

So what's left?  You have an advert for a new job that tells a candidate they'll be adequately financially rewarded, they'll be given a great set of benefits and the company is secure so their job will be too.  You've told them about the great team they they get to work with and then you've gone on to tell them how they'll fit into that team and why the work they will do is important and needed.  If you said that was all a job could do it's still pretty compelling, but Maslow has a further tier on the road to fulfilment.  "Self- actualisation". This is the final level of psychological development that can be achieved when all basic and mental needs are essentially fulfilled and the "actualisation" of the full personal potential takes place. Research shows that when people live lives that are different from their true nature and capabilities, they are less likely to be happy than those whose goals and lives match.

In job advertising terms how can we then offer this form of greater fulfilment to a prospective candidate?  A majority of job descriptions fail in the balance of power they portray.  Despite the current market for hires becoming tighter, in far too many posts on job boards there is a weird "you should be thankful that we deign to allow you to read this" holier than thou language choice that only the most spirit crushed drone would find engaging.  However, this has become the accepted convention for weird mash-up of job description cum advert that employers post. Part internal HR document, part external facing "sexed-up" hyperbole.

Instead of using language straight out of the mouths of the mill owners of the Industrial Revolution why not let candidates know what they stand to gain from being an employee.  What are the experiences they will have that will let them grow as individuals.  Will they gain new skills or be trained in new areas?  Will they get to mentor or be mentored by other employees leading to more rewarding interactions? Will they have the scope and the freedom to be truly creative? Are they empowered to innovate? This is the future facing final tier of any great job advert and if you can hint at a brighter future for those who come and work for you it might just be the tipping point for them to hit that big red apply button.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Bidding War for Talent - When Motivation is More Than Money.

The war for talent is a term coined by Steven Hankin of McKinsey & Company in 1997.  It has since become a cliché. It's used as both a rallying cry and a cause for concern for HR and recruiting professionals everywhere.  Whilst the "war" metaphor is overused and without appreciation of the nuance of hiring it has become popular to look upon hiring people as either winning or losing.

In the current labour market certain skill-sets are at a premium.  The current demand for developers/programmers/software engineers, call them what you will, in both the tech giants and the smallest of startups has led to an increase in the cost and the style of hiring.  Scarcity or the perception of scarcity has meant that salaries have increased.  This is even happening to the point that certain programming languages become annually fashionable, "Ruby was so last year darling! It's all about Python now!".

In support of the notion of that scarcity a raft of tools have begun to appear and enabled a new breed of recruiting professionals - the Sourcers.  In the new paradigm more weight is given through the sifting of information and "finding" is the goal, occasionally it seems, at the expense of hiring.  The market seems to support this as more companies are created to solve the "problem" of talent discovery. In turn salaries rise and more tools appear.

I am in favour of developers being paid a fair wage for their work.  I'm even more in favour of the more skilled coders be paid better.  In my time as a recruiter so far I've personally hired developers on basic salaries as low as £25,000 to as high as £2,000,000 (really!).   However, there's a problem in how the industry is accessing this skill set.  Increasingly, recruiting departments facing the need for volume have dehumanised the very people they are seeking to attract to the point of commodification.  This seems to have affected developers even more so as the traditional HR departments demonstrated their lack of understanding of their technical staff.  In the climate of scarcity and increased demand the recruiting industry has responded by shifting the easiest lever to pull, money.

This seems to make sense at the surface level.  Surely people will be more motivated to apply for a new job if the salary is higher than their current remuneration?  The latest aberration of this mindset is the online auction for talent,  Here recruiters effectively bid for the opportunity to interview candidates. There's even urgency injected in the form of a time limit on the "auction".  Here's the real problem for me, any tool that changes the behaviours of an organisation it is being utilised by is also changing or at least reflecting a different culture.  For the candidate who is looking for a role having a rabid pack of companies compete for you may seem flattering but the truth is in this eBay of humans the "product" being sold is the very people Hired has ostensibly been set up to help.

Edward L. Deci is a Professor of Psychology and Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences at the University of Rochester, and director of its human motivation program.  Deci has conducted a multitude of experiments on human motivation and uncovering the "why" of why we do the things we do.  Far from agreeing with the prevailing thought that explicit financial reward was a motivator for increased performance he found the opposite "When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity".   The basic certainties we hold about labour and "work" haven't really been updated since the industrial revolution.  The initial boost of productivity offered in response to the external motivation of money soon wears off - to hold interest and that increased productivity there has to be something more.

Employers who base their attraction strategy solely on a financial driver are missing the opportunity to attract potentially better suited candidates to their roles.  Whilst is may be true that working in a larger organisation may offer a higher financial reward this may come at the cost of other areas of reward - the ability to make a personal impact on the product, recognition or even a sense of personal pride.  As an employer who competes only on price you always run the risk of being priced out of the market yourself.  A developer role at a games company may be fulfilling and a passion project for someone, a larger games studio can afford to pay more and cherry pick individuals, however when those skills suddenly become important to an investment bank with even deeper pockets individuals motivated by money can be further tempted away.

Corporate recruiters have blindly accepted that the way to engage the job seeking community is the price tag and minimal description of the role or why it matters to the larger organisation.  As recruiters we are taking away some of the best ammunition we have in this "War for Talent".  If you can communicate what a candidate will be doing, who they'll work with, why that's important and how they'll go on to contribute to the future of the company you might just see a greater engagement from those that see the ad.

If winning isn't just ownership of the "resource" but winning the engagement of a person, the "hearts and minds" if you will how can we compete?  The answer is to know your true value proposition.  You might even want to consider talking to your current employees and asking what made them join. Tell your potential hires why they might like to work for you, not just that you have a spare desk and have priced their skills in relation to your competitors.  Venues like auction sites are not the answer for true long term engagement, for that we need to make sure we are creating roles that people would love to do - that they are paid fairly in relation to their peer group and rewarded for the value they add should be a given.

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” - Maya Angelou

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Mis-Match of Algorithmic Recruitment

It's the not so distant future.

A mobile app linked to a wrist mounted wearable wakes you, at precisely the right moment.  It monitors your sleep patterns and pulse rate and greets you each morning with a chipper "Go get 'em!".  You dress and get ready to leave the house, the fridge has emailed to remind you that you'll need to buy milk on your return.  You lock the door behind you with a swipe of your cell phone, keys are no more.  Outside, you step into a self driving car and take a different route to the usual commute - the car knew about the traffic before you did.  You arrive at work and boxes are moved into the previously vacant office next to yours.  You weren't aware of a new co-worker. There were no interviews. They were algorithmically selected from the passive talent pool.  Kept warm on a diet of Pinterest photos of the office and Youtube videos of kittens selected to be the most humanising for the Mega Corp you happen to work in...

As far as predictions of the future go the vision I offer above is hardly advanced.  The technology exists for the wearables, the Internet of Things and the self driving cars, it's just that last part that seems incongruent.

In the growing adoption of technology for HR departments seeking to differentiate their sourcing efforts, the idea of algorithmic matching is seen to be the magic bullet in the "War for Talent".  Beyond the clichéd war metaphors and gullibility of HR Tech buyers is the future of recruitment to be left to the robots?

Technology has made the discipline of talent acquisition better.  We've moved far beyond the data entry and green screen databases of a decade ago.  As a modern workforce migrates to online services so their digital footprint increases making them all the more easy for the new breed of sourcers to find.  Now the future, according to some, looks set to be the automated addition of new workers and a touted increase in the skill of selection.  I'm no Luddite but I can't help thinking this is a version of a technological utopianism whose primary supporters are those that seek to benefit financially from the adoption of the technology in question.

So many of the products available that claim to have solved matching are the same providers who don't recognise some of the fatal flaws that their products exacerbate. The primary example of this is the reliance on the quality of data on both sides necessary for a match.  The majority of matching systems are parsing CV's and then matching against a job description analysed in the same way.  This is exactly the limited key word matching that these systems say is so weak.  Even when other data are relied upon to beef up the input, suggestions of LinkedIn profiles and even LinkedIn endorsements are laughable. Especially in the case of unverifiable LinkedIn endorsements like mine for "Midwifery" and "Cheese Making".  Of course I'm totally brilliant at both of these things...

Even the more advanced of the matching algorithms that incorporate some elements of semantic search (context of search, location, intent, variation of words, synonyms, generalised and specialised queries, concept matching and natural language processing) are constrained both by the data the candidates provide and the job description or criteria the employer matches against.  Anyone who works in recruiting will be able to quickly see that both of these sources of data are flawed and subject to constant change.  Data in both these areas can be knowingly falsified, incomplete and always out of date.

This data is inherently flawed because people themselves are inherently flawed.  Candidates will always seek to portray themselves in the best light, hiring managers will always add some extra "nice to haves" or even make the work of two people into one mythical job description.  A matching algorithm is forced to make sense of too many moving parts and results will suffer.

In moving towards this style of recommendation the people in the processes are reduced to the status of commodities.  Subtle nuance is lost and the chance for innovation curtailed by inelastic parameters.  People are not a product.  When Amazon presents you with a book based on your buying preferences it has only to reckon with your fickle, transient tastes.  A book doesn't reject you because it feels it's too far to get to your house, or because the other books on the shelf don't feel your reputation is strong enough, a book doesn't want to work from is own home or have a counter offer from a series of rival readers...people do.

Recruiting is a constant stream of edge cases.  Whilst a matching engine might work for less complex roles at large numbers, it won't help you compete in winning that all important "War for Talent" you were so desperately spending your way out of.  The current level of technology is no match for the ability of a good recruiter.  This is not an indictment of the technology, it's an acknowledgement of the greater problem that exists in the institutionally flawed HR departments and Recruiting processes the world over.  Using a tool like this to gain another datapoint to inform decision making is a valid use - it's the shame of HR Tech that every new tool is paraded as "the answer".  If the industry could wean itself off it's obsession with the novel and shiny we might be able to tackle some of these issues at the root cause and realise that the skills we learnt whilst toiling at our green screens might not be entirely redundant.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

"They'll buy anything" - 10 steps to selling terrible software to Human Resources Departments

There's so much investment in HR and Recruiting tech at the moment there's never been a better time to monezite your confirmation bias, join the chorus of "Recruitment is broken!" and release a tool that ignores the "human" in Human Resources!  

Now all that stands in your way are the shadowy, purse-string wrangling HR directors.  How can we get past them?  Here are ten things you can do right now to start up, cash in, sell out and bro down!

STEP ONE - Say "It has an algorithm".

First of don't worry if you don't know what an algorithm is, neither do the majority of buyers of HR software.  What they will know is that the internet services and companies they have heard of all have algorithms.  They all use Google and the more savvy amongst them might use terms like "matching" or "ranking", in these cases it's best to just keep saying that your new tool has an algorithm and to look knowingly at them.  Remember it's always good practice to use the strength of your algorithm to cover up horrific design choices.  If a prospective customer is thinking about buying another tool be sure to belittle it and claim that the ugly, clunky interface you preside over is "hardcore computer science".

STEP TWO - Hold them to a lengthy "implementation period".

Remember the good old days when we all sold databases and they had to buy hardware and software to make it (sort of) work? Sadly the wealth of better software in other areas has made HR buyers expect more before signing those contracts.  Help indemnify your company against any expected or promised service levels by insisting on a lengthy "implementation period".  In almost every other discipline software is now sold as a service, like a utility with data stored on servers in the cloud.  Tell your buyers this is insecure and "a risk". The mention of "risk" is the kryptonite of the HR department.

STEP THREE - Don't have a API - Make them pay extra if they want to use their existing data or integrate with another tool!

After you've held your buyer to the customary length implementation period it's time to deliver half of the functionality they originally requested.  Be sure to leave out any particular features that they liked when they saw the software as these can be added later as "modules" and priced accordingly. Similarly if they'd like to import their existing candidate or employee database make sure that you charge for this.  Remember - Compatibility is for wimps! Why would you want to let them use another tool that's better than yours? Make exporting that data just as difficult as importing it was!

STEP FOUR - They'll want "analytics" - Add a graph!

If you've been to any of the conferences you'll have heard that "Big Data" is the next cool thing to have.  You should start by dropping into conversation that your tool/app/rebranded ATS has a "Big Data approach".  Don't worry about getting called out on this, like "algorithm" it's one of the #HRTech magic words.  You will however have to ensure that you provide some "analytics" to your users.  It's important to either not measure anything that will encourage the user to ask more questions or to make generating a report on the data so impregnable and counter intuitive that the user will rely on the templates included and not be encouraged to expect anything that is of real use.

STEP FIVE - Advertise it as "White-labelled" - Allow them to upload a low resolution jpeg of their logo.

"Culture" is so hot right now. When selling to HR and Recruitment buyers tell them that your software can help them "differentiate" themselves and "level the playing field".  For most of your buyers "culture" will probably boil down to them uploading a photo of their office and a logo.  Let them do this and maybe even let them link to their Pinterest page.  If your buyer talks a lot about their unique culture remember to always refer to candidates and applicants as a "talent pool" they'll love it.

STEP SIX - Copy a competitor's tool.

There are so many products available for recruiters and HR professionals out there at the moment that there will undoubtedly be a tool that does the same thing as the software you're selling, probably better too.  It's not enough just to rely on buyer ignorance or indifference.  In some cases it will be prudent and ensure the sale, to implement a "sort of" feature that does "almost" the same thing.  Don't worry that it's not as good as the original tool you've copied you'll still hit the requirement on the buyer's checklist and there won't be any comeback as they are invariably not the ones who'll have to use it!

The best thing about these MSF's (minimum saleable features) is that with enough of them you can call the resultant Frankenstein's monster a "platform" and make even loftier claims.  Whilst the most prudent recruiters will use the right tool for the right job it will pay you to remember that the buyers aren't the users here and if you can sell them the dream of seamless interaction they'll be nice and blinkered later on when the reality is a cobbled together hotchpotch of "almost tools".

STEP SEVEN - Say it's "Social".

The "social" bandwagon is still trundling along nicely and whilst the forerunners have already realised it takes time and a personality to be truly social, there's still money to be made from those wanting a shortcut.  A link to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn should be enough, remember the best thing is that "social" can't be owned by a service provider, instead it relies on the user investing time and authenticity - if it fails it's never the tools fault! Brilliant!

It's important as a vendor to only talk about "social" in very broad terms, HR departments are a flighty bunch and it was only last week they had all banned the use of any social media at all now the other extreme is true and all their current "social tools" spit out and reiterate their job postings to the few that follow them.

STEP EIGHT - Reinvent the wheel - take a free tool they are already using and make them pay for it!

When adding features it's important to monetize tools that HR and Recruitment currently use for free. Skype and Google Hangouts are both free and been in wide usage for years by interviewers all over the world, cost benefits abound and these are saleable.  Of course you'll have to argue that Skype and Hangouts are of inferior quality or use value to your shiny new tool, you can do this by adding weird functionality like recorded responses. Video interviewing is great because is allows a human connection, let's get rid of that and have people record their answers to posed questions! Thus robbing the emotional interaction and reducing the tool to some voyeur's delight and reducing the recruiter to a passive couch potato condemned to watching the worst reality TV show ever imagined...

STEP NINE - Force the customer into your workflow.

Despite their protestations that they all want to be unique and different, it's never stopped a vast number of companies forcing their candidates into redundant form filling and duplication of effort.  As the software provider you should only care about the buyer, candidates should be made to apply in triplicate if it so pleases the bill payer.  Remember you'll only actually reveal the absurd workflow or user interaction after the buyer has signed, users may end up doing insane things like emailing resumes to themselves but after you've got your money that's their lookout.  Regardless that the client will be wanting to differentiate themselves to prospective employees it's less time and hassle to make them all leap through the same hoops.  If your tool does include candidate contact feel free to include some email templates - it's best to make these non-editable and send at random points just for fun...

STEP TEN - DO NOT talk to anyone who will actually use the tool during requirements capture.

This is the most important step.  Before you sell anything to anyone, before you even start to build any software, don't under any circumstances talk to a user from HR or Recruitment.  Most people who will eventually use your tool will actually want to be saved from repetitive tasks or data entry, they'll want a tool that enhances their abilities, they'll have a list of workarounds that they currently endure with existing tools and they might even have ideas of their own.

Whilst these would result in a more useable tool they won't necessarily be attractive to the buyers in HR (who won't be using the tool you're building), the potential investors who will want to buy your tool or even confirm your own bias as to why "Recruitment is broken". It's best to completely disregard potential users of your software and applicants/those who will be used by the software.

Armed with this sage advice you'll be well prepared to produce a tool that will garner a lot of attention and sizeable investment whilst adding almost nothing to an organisations ability to hire or retain people.  Remember there's no individual or human interaction that can't be successfully repressed or ignored by a well implemented process or tool!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Job Titles and Perception - Ninjas, Gurus and Rockstars?

Somewhat unfairly, I tweeted this comparison recently.

The photo compares the titles afforded to two luminaries of the technical world.  One is Sir Tim Berners-Lee, he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet and is often credited as being the "Inventor of the World Wide Web".  The other is David Shing, a speaker and futurologist for AOL, the American mass media organisation.  I offered the comparison, as unfair as it is, flippantly and the seeming disparity for Berners-Lee's humility and Shing's presumption seemed to hit a nerve with the twitter audience.

As a recruiter it makes me think.  If we can all see a disparity so huge in this example that is becomes absurd why do we still see people using titles that seem at odds with an individual's function in an organisation?

Your job title communicates a lot more than you might realise.  Regardless of what an employer calls you most are pretty indifferent to you presenting yourself differently online.  The titles people self identify with can have a larger affect on the perception of the individual than you might expect.  Particularly in technical organisations there are a wealth of titles that are used to describe the same role - so how does the onlooker separate the Ninjas, Rockstars and Gurus from the Craftsmen, the Programmers and the plain old (like Sir Tim) Web Developers?  In making a choice and opting for a "wacky" title you make a statement that will shape the perception of others.  In most of these cases, for most of the people I've spoken to, they see a correlation with self claimed Ninja, Rockstars and an overestimation of their own skills and abilities.  For most of the people I've spoken to there is a connotation to brogrammer culture and the identification as the "Ninja" in question seeking to portray themselves as the hero in their own particular story...

All of this might be fine.  If the employer you want to work for has this culture you'll fit in well and probably be successful.  I don't think it's helpful for potential candidates to seek to be seen in this light.  The best technologists I've worked with, "best" here being the feedback from peers and the community, were also the most humble.  These were the people who had created tools and languages the world over, known in their fields as leaders and yet they let their achievements speak for themselves.

What then of a company that advertises to hire a "Rockstar Developer"? If a company advertises for Ninjas, Gurus and Rockstars does the reader infer that they are a fun place to work with little hierarchy or that the environment will be competitive and celebrate the individual over the team as a whole? For me that distinction is too great of a risk, I wouldn't want the advert to put people off applying for a job they might be otherwise perfect for, at the very least I'd prefer a part of the process to determine their fit rather than their reaction to a joke job title.  Whilst this might be true for me and the companies I recruit for if might not be the same for your organisations.  For example this video, recruiting developers for Kixeye, might illustrate they'd love some Ninjas to apply.  A company advertising might want to take the time to reflect on what their job title means for attraction.  Remember that whilst you might love the fact your business card proudly states you're a "Ruby Ninja", a "Marketing Badass" or even the "Chief Instigation Officer" (yes really!) the communication of these ideas is a two way street and your true meaning will always be affected by the listener's own values, attitudes and beliefs.

Whatever your job title and however you want to portray yourself, awareness is key.  The next time you have to respond to this type of job title this site might help.  For employers who might be using these job titles just for the shock value, I'm afraid that time has already passed, perhaps you could consider becoming a not for "Prophets" organisation?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Abusive Relationship between HR Technology and its Users

A green screen flickers in the corner of the office.  It is "The System". Management don't understand "The System".  It's a confusing, alien world.  The bright horizons of technological advance leave those that guard the old ways of working squinting in the glow.  As time moves on the piles of paper and files are replaced with computers and newer instances of the same system.  Functionality moves forward, no longer the electronic filing system, now the system has snaked it's way into all aspects of the HR world.  The system knows when you arrived, you tell it when you're going on holiday, it knows you got married, it knows about your children, it will will auto-generate your P45 and alert security to escort you our of the door.

Whenever I happen across an organisation that uses one of the "traditional" HR systems it's never long before the discussion turns a little Orwellian.  I never hear these complaints from the management tier of the organisations - just those that are forced to interact with an outdated system that has been imposed upon them.  As Human Resources became more computerised, efficiencies were created at the expense of those very same resources it wished to aid - the humans.

The biggest offenders of the dehumanisation of HR Tech are those systems that started life in the minds of the suppliers of manufacturing technology.  If an HR system is has at it's heart the basic stuff of a supply chain management system is it any wonder that your employees will feel used by the system as opposed to valued or better in control of it.  Of course this doesn't just extend as far as the end user.  Limitations of a poorly implemented HR system can shape or even change HR policies themselves.  You wanted to give that amazing maternity leave deal? Sorry, the system doesn't support it.  Wanted to award industry beating compensation tracking? Computer says "no".

Technology in the human resources department became an ivory tower.  The situation worsened as technology advanced in the outside world.  Far from the gaining efficiency technology in human resources forces people to retain knowledge of arcane systems, to manage decaying programming languages and become beholden to dead data structures.  Locked into vendor licensing agreements and having to deal with clunky technology everyday Stockholm Syndrome sets in.  Gradually HR departments began to become more and more like the broken systems they used.  How many HR departments administer to the people they used to represent solely through a system. How many of us have tried to talk directly to someone who works in HR only to be referred to a different part of system.  In building the one-stop shop for everything HR would need, solution providers didn't stop to consider the the knock-on effects - the people processed by the new breed of catch-all technologies are left feeling empty and embittered.  How many employees have come to resent their colleagues in HR because of the way they are forced to interact by poor software?

The provider of the solutions and those that buy the solutions are in a race to the bottom.  They seem to go to great lengths to alienate both those who try to use the software and those who receive a service via it.  In the ongoing dance between supplier and buyer of HR Technology the dance floor is left all but empty for the minority, whilst the majority stake holders, the users and those that are used, are left un-consulted.  The problem here is a "perfect storm" of wrongheaded software production with a manufacturing bent meeting a buying audience that seem to be wilfully technologically un-savvy.  The buyers of software in human resources are always looking for the new and the shiny, this trend is particularly pronounced in the sphere of recruitment where the improvement is always incremental yet the added value sold to the buyer is always exponential. Is there ever a new recruitment tool that promises an "edge" rather than a magical world changing experience. The naivety of the buying audience allows sub-rate suppliers to peddle hyperbole driven claims like arms dealers of solve-all magic bullets.

How many of the HR buying audience have decided on purchases for less than optimal reasons.  How many of those would candidly admit to having wasted their budgets afterwards?  In my career to date I have used some terrible software that I've had to use because of weird purchasing decisions and I've heard some terrible reasons for it's purchase.  "The salesperson used to work here", "The HR Director knows X from the supplier", "We held a review and they presented better..." - all lousy reasons, and in all of these cases the person who made the buying decision had very little interaction with the system after the purchase.  The self fulfilling prophecy of imperfect software being purchased for suboptimal reasons continues, locked in, hostages for the term of the next license agreement.

In striving to produce ever more sparkly baubles for HR Directors to purchase in their quest to appear relevant, software producers increasingly look towards other domains and piggyback on their "buzz".  How many solutions in the HR world are now sporting the reflected glory of "mobile", "video" or "social" as a reason they will offer increased benefits?  Recently we've seen a spate of Tinder clones for recruitment. "Machine learning" solutions who's matching algorithms seem to be attempting to solve the problem of having hired bad recruiters. Even video interviewing platforms,  because video is the next "big thing"...after all it worked so well for all those cat videos on YouTube.  As Jeff Goldblum's character said in Jurassic Park "...your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should" - we're at a stage where any technological advance is seen as something for recruiters to exploit.  Want to know if a recruiter understands "social"? If they show you all the wonderful work they've done with Pinterest and Instagram, they don't get it.

There is some light at the end of this dark and scary tunnel.  A handful of suppliers are producing software that is not only good for recruitment and HR but good for the users too.  Software at it's best in HR is responsible for the removal of a lot of the pain of processes, procedures and regulation that would normally cause friction.  A great software solution removes the burden of repetition, it gives momentum and doesn't detract from HR doing what they used to best connecting with and advocating for the people they work with.  There are some suppliers that understand that HR Technology doesn't have to be ugly. Using it doesn't have to leave you feeling miserable and depressed, there are even some suppliers who are making their users lives easier.  There's the frictionless importing of candidates into the Workable ATS using a Chrome plugin, there are an increasing number of beautiful calendar apps incorporating to do lists that scale to support entire companies and there's even the easy way to do expenses using apps like Concur or Expensify. The difference is that there's a great tool for each stage not a mediocre tool for all stages.

The growing fragmentation in the marketplace has allowed for smaller suppliers to enter and give us some true innovation.  I can only hope this also means that the clunky mega solutions of HR history don't have to be inflicted on many more employee populaces before buyers see the light.  HR departments should realise that whilst technology is the great enabler, when it's old and outdated it's a great alienator.  Employees have access to better hardware and software than their employers in many cases and this isn't tide going to reverse any time soon.  The technically savvy HR managers will win the respect of their organisations or be doomed to lose employees to those that do.  The days of "hired to retired" cradle to grave style bloated solutions are over.  Using the right tool at the right time and having the courage to change that tool if necessary is becoming more and more important.

In October I'll be attending the HR Tech Europe 2014 European Conference in Amsterdam and I'm looking forward to hearing about the future of an industry which is at a turning point.  The old vendors will be there no doubt, but I'll be looking for the innovators and the upstarts.