A Unique Coincidence — When Conformity Prevails an Agile in Hiring
I coached a former colleague that was looking for a new job so he was approaching companies. In this way, I had an opportunity to observe the situation in a manufacturing company that also has its in-house product development and R&D.
The colleague prepared an interesting mail. He described some relevant experience, one or two cross-cutting projects, added a couple of attractive companies he had worked with, and added web links with details so that the recipient wouldn’t have to read a long message. He then emailed the HR manager for advice on who to contact when he does such valuable things and wanted to offer his know-how to the company. After a week, when no reply came he sent an urgent message. And another one again a few days later. And because there was still nothing happening, he called the recruitment manager on the phone.
She responded a little irritably and had no idea about the emails, but she tracked them down in her mailbox. She said she forward them to someone. Before she could hang up, a colleague started spying on whom she was going forward it to. He found out that the lady had no idea who to forward it to and had chosen an irrelevant person. So he sensitively explained to her what his domain was all about. Who he typically worked with in companies and how it could help them. The lady thanked him and promised to forward it “over there” then, and “if they’re interested, they’ll get back to you”. This is such a universal incantation aimed at getting rid of intrusive people.
By assumption, nothing happened. So he tried reaching out to top executives directly. Surprisingly, the response came from the technical department. A meeting was agreed upon. Several people from the company’s side came to it at once. They planned it for 45min. And very interesting technical discussion stretched to over 2 hours. As part of the conversation, a colleague verified that the managers had never heard of the original email. He further learned that the company has quite a few problems that they need help with. Therefore, the manager will ask HR what is the procedure for possible admission to the company. The colleague, being an expert in his domain, asked test questions during the talk. He was figuring out whether certain problems were occurring and how severe they were. The problems were pretty classic — departments not collaborating one with another, zero response from managers to finance, talent development, or modern product management practices. In some areas, managers had no idea that they fell within their job description, too.
Another observation was body language and its mismatch with the content of the discussion. The technicians nodded in agreement and acknowledged that problems do occur and often, entering into the discussion and giving examples as well. In parallel, the responses of the presiding manager were often dismissive, and the named problems did not “occur” with them.
A colleague sent the company a proposal for collaboration and a description of how to get started. The response was quite positive, but the managers want to wait four months for a “more appropriate time”. After 4 months, the colleague recalled. “It’s still not a good time”. Again a discussion ensued, which made it clear that the company representative wanted “free training”, but the discussion did not converge toward any agreement. A colleague reminded them that by postponing for 4 months now, the company had already lost perhaps 40.000 euros. They are aware of this in the company, but it is still not possible to begin because they need to “wait” for five more months. They do not have enough staff and that is their priority now. “What are you doing about it?” asked a colleague. He learned they “can’t do anything more” because no one wants to apply, they approached the university, but no one came.
Before the next meeting, we did a recon. We found an advertisement on the company’s website that the company was looking for a specific R&D position. They request technical background + experience, but additionally knowledge of an exotic language and ideally practical experience in an area where that language is spoken. My colleague is fluent in that exotic language. He has lived in the area, where people use that language for some time. He made for living there working in the exact same technical field as the company is now looking for. A unique coincidence! The likes will hardly be three in the country. In the original email, his experience was mentioned. In the discussion on site, it was mentioned too.
So we did an analysis of the firm, and what employees are saying about it in the media space. We learned that satisfaction with the employer is at about 70%, people value colleagues at 83%, and supervisors and management at 70%. Employees’ comments confirmed what we learned from the meetings and also gave additional examples of problems.
How to interpret the percentages:
- more than 95% — uniquely managed company, co-workers are enthusiastic, you beg to work there
- more than 90% — outstandingly managed company, colleagues are motivated and proactive
- more than 85% — well-managed firm, one can work with employees
- more than 80% — the people can’t do anything on their own, but if someone stands over them things will move
- more than 70% — below average, perhaps a large corporation
- more than 60% — desperation, a place where you definitely don’t want to be
We also looked at marketing communications and job descriptions of vacancies. We didn’t find any marketing communications. And the job descriptions were plain: come join us because we are looking for ABC, you get meal vouchers, we are a great company. It wasn’t anything interesting. If someone already has a similar job, such a description could hardly motivate them to change companies. We have compiled our findings into a short report. In it, we summarized our observations and showed how they related to the topics discussed in the meetings. We sent the report to the manager and explicitly mentioned the unique match.
Five months later, a colleague recalled. He asked for an opinion on the report and the next course of action. Now “is not a good time”, he learned from the manager. “If there is a need, we will remind you in about six months”. There was no opinion on our report. Some things were “interesting” but irrelevant from the manager’s point of view, as he believes they do not “concern” him. Additionally, he mentioned that a colleague was received negatively at HR. Therefore, there is not that much need to cooperate. No further response came from the company.
Questions to think about:
- Do you indeed observe a shortage of people in the market?
- Was the work of the HR department okay? What problems did you find?
- Could it have been done differently?
- Is the candidate proactive enough in searching for a new job or assignment?
- How would you change the work of HR in such an organization?
Write your opinions in the comments below.
This article is part of “A Unique Coincidence!” case study, which I use in the course Agile Recruiter, where we discuss with people from HR and managers how to avoid common traps in approach to hiring and recruitment.
About the author: Michal Vallo dedicates to building human learning organizations as a precondition for Agile adoption. He shares his experience with HR departments and managers who are in desperate need of radical innovation. He has experience from both sides, which led him to create better recruitment practices and the course Agile Recruiter. Michal helps managers to understand agile techniques, benefit from their adoption and consequently radically improve organizational performance. Feel free to contact him if you need help with your HR department or agilization of your organization.