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You are here: Home > Rethinking Organizations > #talent #attraction and #retention within a #data - #centric #society

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Published on 2020-01-13 15:28:28 | words: 4278

One of the items I rarely highlight in my past activities is relating to recruitment, as, in my case, it was always part of the oher activities that delivered.

Anyway, for various reasons, in various domains, at various levels, in various countries and industries... ended up being not just on receiving end, but on the other side of the table.

Actually, until 2007, I was mainly at the other side of the table, as since 1986 was usually called for missions, with few exceptions, not really seeking them (except when activing on business development for others), called by either those who had worked with me, or knew somebody I had worked for/with.

Now, part of the title, until "within", probably resonates with those who read some of my previous posts, while the second half (joined with the first) is an underlying theme of my mini-book series called "Connecting the Dots", that started few years ago with #SynSpec - XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management.

I am a strong believer in contextualizing any assertion, and therefore I would like to share a couple of sections, on communication and recruitment, before getting back to the title.

Blending communication in/out the workplace

Since the beginning of the XXI century, we actually are transitioning toward a different relationship between individuals and work.

Why not since the introduction of PCs?

Because only between the late 1990s (instant messaging on mobiles, not anymore just SMS/text messages as since the introduction of GSM service in Europe earlier that decade) and the early 2000s (smartphones, not just mobile Internet) access to communication channels was widened.

New tools enabled real-time, unmediated communication between individuals and groups that didn't necessarily have the technical skills required to communicate via a PC.

Blogs? Required a specific effort, and, also if some platforms removed most of the technical skills needed, you still had to go out and make choices, blogs weren't really for "impulse writing".

Some social networks were actually called "microblogging platforms", e.g. Twitter, but only later became "impulse writing", the "Facebook status update" way.

At the same time, the same decade delivered on smartphones access to social networks, i.e. further lowering the skills required not just to communicate, but also to "publish".

With "publish", obviously I do not imply "magazines or books": I imply adopting potentially the same perennial impact of professional publishing accessible to any occasional user.

It is a matter of a democratization of access to communication channels- but, often, without a prior learning process on how to use the channel, and its "etiquette".

I still remember various "electronic communication etiquette" manifestos and books, such as a short article from Inc, and a long report from RAND (from 1985).

The mix of instant messaging and online social network blurred the picture.

And, actually, also in business communication, often I received messages delivered through one channel but with a format appropriate for a different one, or communications started on one channel, continued on others, and concluded in a different channel from the one used to start the conversation (albeit this happened initially mainly with "digital natives", over a decade ago).

The boundaries between business and personal communication are often equally fading away, and it wasn't unusual at the beginning of Facebook in Italy to read rants about specific issues at specific times shared as would be shared at the water cooler.

Over the last decade, more than once I had to explain why using access to online social networks to "check" on employees and collaborators wasn't exactly the best approach for the forthcoming working environment (and I disliket it also for the current one).

I actually shared concepts and materials in two mini-books written in the first half of the 2010s, that you can read online, one on social networking within a corporate environment, as a result of an ongoing research activity and a "shared publishing mission", and a second one on integrated political and advocacy marketing, on using traditional channels, event management, and new media as well as online social networks in those activities (in Italian, so far each section has been read by between 5000 and 7000 people), based upon my prior experiences.

Now, to avoid sounding as yet another "expert that never walked the walk", a little bit of what you will not find explicitly in my CV- how and what did I learn about recruitment and talent management, as this could actually be useful in later discussions.

Recruitment and talent management: a personal learning path

Probably, my first experience was actually in political activities while in high-school, for a European advocacy, only... I was on the receiving end, and I was 17.

When I became town secretary in Turin of the youth side of the advocacy, I was eventually told by the regional secretary that I was committed, hard-working, militant, but... I did not spend that much time on actually being a town secretary also inside the organization, i.e. attracting others and developing their abilities.

Management lesson number one: while you get the role for what you did before, to attract and motivate to remain is sometimes more important for the role that you are actually asked to cover (and I used that lesson first in the Army, then in business).

Management lesson number two: another time- let's just say that I resigned from the role as I was told that my campaigning for a political party that wasn't within the "arco costituzionale" was incompatible with my role.

I disagreed, but I toed the line, as that was part of the organizational culture- also if I did not change my mind.

First active recruitment role in a "business" environment? While in the Army- as for few months, in one of my roles, received about twenty new recruits on a monthly basis.

We were an artillery specialist group, and had to review the profile of each recruit, interview them to ask what they had studied (our group had a well-above-the-Italian-average quantity of university students, university graduates, or at least an high-school diploma), do some bureaucratic checks, check if all matched what they had been provisional assigned to, as a role, as otherwise there would be other roles (e.g. being the group with a relatively high number of students or graduates in medicine and biology, we actually provided personnel also for the barracks infirmary, serving also other groups- I was reprimanded once for sending more people to work there than our share, but we were the only ones with people with specific training).

The Italian Army at the time was based mainly on compulsory, 12-months service.

Therefore, we received people from all the walks of life (our group was actually divided in two "batterie", one focused on services, one on specialists- the former being mainly with limited or no formal education, the latter with just the opposite mix).

Recruitment started with interview and assignment, but continued with monitoring, and checking performance on services.

In my office role ("furiere"- i.e. administrative officer), beside the "recruitment" and "service management/scheduling" side, there were also preparation of other bureaucratic hurdles (e.g. procurement letters, answers to higher levels, letters and logistics to arrange for travel to reach field training sessions, training schedule), interfacing for "vacations" requests from soldiers, and... occasionally officers and NCOs coming to complain about the side-effects of recruitment.

In some roles, we had almost no say in re-reouting a recruit toward a different assignment, as the role had been assigned by the training unit (we had roughly one month of training before being sent forward to destination, e.g. our group).

Can you imagine what happens when some high-testosterone early 20s males are assigned to driving a huge truck or a personnel transportation vehicle (with wheels or tracks), having furthermore to test and develop their driving skills, and having no real security issue?

No war, except the alert at the end of my service when Libya sent "volleys" toward Sicily, April 1986, and the side-effects of Chernobyl, May 1986.

I will share maybe another time some funny episodes (not so funny for those who tried to manage vehicles as assets, "common good", not just bureaucratic hurdles).

For a while I had to prepare a daily schedule of the services, to ensure that, beside field training, and training sessions for the specialists, everybody got a fair share of services, consumed the available "vacations", etc.

You can imagine the side-effects: a yogi-like patience was required, as each day there was a procession of those pleading to have their service changed, obtain a "vacation", or even just a permit to return late or stay out overnight, plus assorted issues, as many in those twelve months in the Army had been for the first time in their life outside home... more than a few days.

Next experience was after working for a couple of years, when I had to actually help vet candidates for a specialist team on decision support systems (I was a "focal point" on a specific subset of technical skills, so I was eventually also to prepare them for the job), and deliver train-the-trainer and on-the-job coaching to colleagues.

In some cases it was funny: my past political and Army experience let me "rule out" some candidates on a character basis, despite being formally the one focused on the "technical" side, and obviously if there was a disagreement, I was overruled... and proved right later.

But, again, it is a matter of roles- and later on, on a consulting activity, and then on the job that followed it, when asked to help vet or profile internal and external candidates, I had a little bit more status (e.g. in 1990-1992 Head of Training and Methodologies, and before and after that management consultant or programme manager on cultural change, or partner to other consultancies, or supported founding start-ups) to actually have avoid some candidates, retain others, and share caveats to help anyway to manage the phase-in of candidates.

Then, of course, in activities around Europe between the 1990s and 2010s I had to meet and interview potential candidates, or people that had already been selected, but needed to see how to "fit them in", or work alongside more junior people that I had to coordinate or coach, including for various start-ups.

Actually, a decade ago also had a different kind of experience on that side- as there was no budget for travels (non-profit), all that I learned in political activities, the Army, business, with start-ups, etc... had to be used with people that I never met, I was never to meet, but had to interview, coach, and support- all via skype and email, and in two continents (different from my continent, so the activity covered in effect three continents).

Again, I was lucky, as first in 2012, then in 2015-2018 I had again to work first partially, then mainly remotely in PMO roles to help activities get on, resume, or complete.

To summarize: for over 35 years, my experience in talent attraction, selection, retaining worked across countries, cultures, languages, and communication means, as well as industries and types of involvement.

I was never a full-time recruiter: recruitment (and firing), coaching, management coaching, train-the-trainer were activities I did cover, but as part of my main activities.

Anyway, my personal experience is that unless you cover also most of what I listed within this section, delivering in cultural and organizational change isn't really a walk in the park: as cultural and organizational change, or, actually, any change or negotiation or sales activites are about people.

Moreover, sustainaible cultural and organizational change isn't focused on just one, or two, or few layers within an organization- should be across the whole organization, and also its "ecosystem".

It would take few thousand words more to discuss the "retention" side of talent management, and that just considering only my direct experiences, but I can summarize the key points in few elements: it has to be adapted to the context, i.e. your own "ecosystem" (meaning: relationships and organizational culture within your own organization and between your organization and its members and other organizations and their members, including of course customers and suppliers).

Too long and too much mumbo-jumbo? Well, put down do just one element: mutual respect.

And yes, beside politics, in high school I also worked on business-to-consumer sales (computers, videogames, used books), before being trained for pre-sales in English in London (business-to-business), and then working on sales presentations and negotiations (in English, French, Italian- business sales to senior management): again, it is about people (and communication).

Overall, the key is: align your communication to your action.

Anything else, might be temporarily feasible, but also in the past eventually generated issues.

In the future (frankly, already now, in most cases), it will simply not possible (as some companies discovered over the last decade, when trying to adopt 1950s damage control communication approaches to 2010s interactions).

Communication and talent management: part 1- time

There are two elements embedded within the title of this section: time and structure.

In the 1980s we did not even have mobile phones- if you wanted to talk with somebody from your work, it was either in the office, or you had to arrange to meet, as it would impolite to call at home, and restricted to emergencies (provided that they even were at home- I remember few rounds of "leave a message", before in Italy it became common to have answering machines at home- then, the communication was... via answering machines).

Therefore, often "touching base" with somebody, e.g. for last minute changes before a presentation, wasn't really an intuitive or instantaneous process.

You had to do some contingency planning, remember to schedule activities, and... respect other people's time and private space, while building up "time buffers", to allow for delays, last minute glitches, etc.

The 1990s-2000s brought mobile phones, then emails, instant messaging, smartphones, social networks...

...eventually shifting to potentially always-on communication (and always-on open window on communication).

Gradually, instant messaging became mainly a way to waste time, reducing "attention span" down to few seconds.

Also abroad, in few countries I remember meetings where half those attending were actually focused more on their instant messaging (business or private, doesn't matter), than the meeting itself.

Which is a wonderful recipe for having follow-up meetings where actually you have to repeat, not to follow-up, as often those who weren't really following the previous time end up having a brilliant idea way after when it would be needed.

Having channels that enable affordable instantaneous communication does not imply that you should use them to replace ordinary channels.

Actually, the time-delay specific to each channel is a bonus, as you can spread communication according to needs.

While we had employees mostly working 9-to-5 within an office, mixing up channels (e.g. polling every few minutes your staff via instant messaging) at most created a detachment and slowed down activities.

Side-effect: nobody took any initiative, and, when taken, would not be the optimal choice, but based on second-guessing what could be the ensuing communication overload.

Add distance, e.g. employees working across timezones or shifts, and I will let you consider the consequences: most will be inclined to take no initiative, or take only initiatives that, by second-guessing, would not increase the communication overload.

But discussing the side-effects would require an article focused on just that.

In the future (but for many, it is already true today), we will all work if and when needed, and only few will have a "regular shift" (e.g. in emergency services), and most current office work will not need humans at all.

If business is to gradually shift toward shorter working hours, we will have more and more restructuring of the concepts of "work" and "non-work".

The risk is developing a continuum that overlaps (both ways) with private life, and negatively affects both.

The only way to make a completely flexible working schedule work is if it can seamlessly integrate both ways.

Some could have a "regular schedule" (say, four hours a day), others might have to work "on demand" (say, being called in to review what has been processed automatically by working two or three hours to double check what requires human brains).

But working hours are just one element of the new working environment picture.

Communication and talent management: part 2- structure

If you look at my CV, you can see that I worked across multiple countries, industries, activities, often spreading my week across space.

In a way, it was just sample of what is about to come in many organizations.

My customers did not need my skills full-time, but they needed usually "continuity".

So, neither a normal consultant working on a mission and leaving, nor somebody contributing skills but being "ignorant" to the organizational culture wasn't what was needed.

Or: I was a temporary resource, but part of the structure while I was there, also if often I started as the usual "consultant"- and, often, between missions or contacts, there was a perception of "continuity".

Often, this resulted in suppliers and customers of my customers assuming that I was what I wasn't: a full-time resource, employee, or manager within my customers' organization.

Now, if you reduce working hours, streamline activities and automate most processes and clerical work, redesigning the processes implies having a different organization.

Paraphrasing what I wrote few years ago within the SYNSPEC mini-book, the point is actually integrating knowledge, not building headcount.

You will need some skills that are integrated within your organizational structure, but available only when needed to ensure no solution of continuity within your own processes.

Furthermore, as you will optimize the use of those skills, and gradually convert most of the lower-level ancillary skills into something that does not require human intervention, those "optimized skills" will need to be of higher quality, covering less of the rota learning, and more of the "connecting the dots".

Therefore, as also some industrialist said recently, it will be in your own organizational interest to have people who keep or develop their skills elsewhere.

Which organizational structure? I will focus a forthcoming video presentation on my YouTube channel on change on that.

Instead, I would like to discuss here, as a closing section, another critical element.

Talent and the agency issue

What is "agency"? To summarize, from wikipedia: "agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, structure is those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and their decisions" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agency_(sociology)).

Personally, I associate "agency" with "agents of change", or "catalysts", and therefore my perception is probably biased.

Anyway, in most environments, when talking about agency, my experience is that "agency" is to be contextualized within "structure", i.e. both formal and informal organization where that capacity is exercised.

Like it or not, but even the most "modern" cultures create their own "factors of influence", under the shape of "acceptable behaviors"- and that is a selective process that eventually develops via interactions, not just with a "mission statement".

Now, if you introduce the flexibility discussed in the previous section, talent that will be probably shared with other organizations will become even more critical to your own business continuity- and this will affect your corporate culture.

If your critical staff is shared with other organizations (e.g. because you could not possibly use their skills often enough to keep them at their prime), attracting is a first step, integrating into your organization is a massive investment, and retaining is a third equally critical step.

A quixotic practice that I observed often is creating fake profiles to snoop on potential candidates or monitor acquired talent as "friends": frankly, just because it is feasible, should not be done, as I said over a decade ago to colleagues.

It is better to explicitly ask employees to share the (public) side of their profiles, by giving links to each.

In the end, if it is true that private life is private life, if you post something "public", is your choice to share with anybody bothering to watch.

As for private profiles and private posts: I consider them akin to private conversations- again, pretending that you are who you aren't just to access somebody else's profile is stalking (corporate and private), and mobbing if you then use that access to do trolling, play the "agent provocateur" role, and the like.

As I said often while living in Brussels: if you think that those are ways to test a candidate, you are either looking to hire those dumb enough not to understand what's going on, or devious enough to pretend not to, and then use that as a reference parameter of what is the "real" culture.

Moreover, it is a naive, early-2000s way to use online social networks, as nowadays "scraping" social media is becoming increasingly accessible.

Soon anybody will be able to cross-check automatically if those "friends" are those who they claim to be, or if their real profile is something else.

Personally, I already identified and, sometimes, dropped few in the past, starting while I was still in Brussels, 2008- it isn't that difficult, if you are used to analyze documents and negotiate contracts or review "audit trails" to find patterns.

I do not necessarily consider that something out-of-line posted publicly by a potential candidate is an issue, unless it is a routine: we are all humans and have our "likes" and "dislikes".

Instead, a continuous stream of potentially liability-generating (harassment, racial crimes, etc) could be an issue, if that candidate is then inserted within a corporate environment.

But, anyway, it works both ways: while many cultural anthropologists working e.g. with tribes would like to claim something akin to the "Star Trek" protocoll for dealing with cultures "not yet spacefaring" (e.g. being invisible to them), unfortunately they are closer to what happens in an episode- the "cloak" fails, and suddenly a sci-fi infrastructure and people dressed as white flies appear in the midst of them.

So, observe and be observed.

In the XXI century, there will be criteria for accepting employees, and for discarding employers, as soon as it will become common practice for "permanent" employees to actually be "spread across employers".

It will not be universal- as some roles, even after reducing the working hours to, say, 4 hours a day for 4 days a week, will still be within the same office or location, and for just one employer.

Sites such as Glassdoor.com are sometimes useful, also if sometimes frankly commentary sounds as gossip or personal grudges turned into assessments.

But it is useful to both sides of the picture (companies and potential candidates), as it is expected that those developing skills that will make them "permanent-shared" employees will have also to develop "critical thinking" skills.

As, otherwise, they would be unable to work across multiple organizations and, you guessed it, "contextualize" their skills to each specific "corporate ecosystem".

In that case, they will just be "traditional" temp or "experts-on-hire", not the model I am referring to.

As I wrote recently, we have to get used to more transparency, and probably part of the time released from those reduced hours will eventually turn into "common good" activities.

Albeit, in the latter case, hopefully developing into a parallel expertise- I think that non-profit should be done in an area where you can contribute, not just to "feel good"...