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How many mi££ions does it take?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008   

It has happened again.  Another managing director has opened a meeting with the importal words: "All of our objectives rely on us hiring and retaining good people; what can you tell me that I don't already know?"

With me wearing my employer brand consultant hat, the meeting had been set up by an exasperated HR director, trying valiantly to resource an organisation against a tide of institutionalised apathy towards best hiring practice, which needed top-down support to turn it.

Missing out on key new hires, and the knock-on effect this had in terms of losing a number of top performers already within the business, has cost this organisation around £30 million worth of lost business within the past 18 months.  The lack of hiring metrics and a culture of burying bad news has kept these issues off the MD's agenda.

Writing this now, it almost has the feel of a Christmas panto script which sees us shouting "it's behind you!!", only for the character to spin on his or her heels, seeming to turn in any direction other than in the one where the subject is standing. 

In much the same way as regular readers will remember with the case of the law firm CEO, my first response to this statement from the managing director was to enquire whether or not senior managers received bonus payments?  (response: "Of course they do!").  I then asked whether those bonuses were reliant in any way on senior managers hiring or retaining good people?.  You probably already know his answer was 'no'.

So here we go again: the critical issue upon which ALL of the organisational objectives rely, is not in any way measured or rewarded  - yet you're asking me what I can tell you that you don't already know?


Obviously, that's not how I responded verbatim.  But, you know, I might as well have done for the indignant response I received:-

 "Well, if there was any substance to what you are saying, I'm sure our HR people would already be doing it"

Really - you're that confident - I mean £30million worth of confident?  That department you've routinely ignored when it suits you, all of a sudden now becomes the font of all wisdom, despite talent gaps appearing all over the organisation and the HR leader herself saying: "boss, we've got a problem here  - we need to do something different".

As the post title asks: how many more millions does this company have to lose before the managing director gets involved in hiring and retention issues and accepts some outside help in resolving them?


These are new problems that organisations are facing, requiring new thinking to resolve them


There's a natural defensiveness that surrounds hiring practice which has companies taking the stance of  'as if  WE don't know how to do something as basic as hiring the right people!'.   The point is, though, hiring and retention issues here in 2008 require anything BUT basic thinking or procedures.

When people stopped having as many babies in the 1960's, they weren't thinking about labour shortages in the 00's.  Likewise, when finance directors in the 1970's thought it would be a good idea to recruit the staff that other firms had trained, rather than having an apprenticeship scheme, they didn't figure on every other firm doing the same thing and that they'd buy themselves a skills crisis with the 'savings'.

When organisational re-engineering in the 80's and 90's stripped out vast swathes of middle management and dumped their careers on the scrap heap, nobody was considering the knock-on effect on employees attitudes towards employment; especially when their children began entering the labour market with their parents' traumas ingrained into the psyche.

I could go on here, but the point, I hope, is already made: new input is needed  - and from a different point of view than those who created the problems in the first place!

When the facts change, change your mind - just don't pretend there isn't a problem!


The natural human condition when we feel like we're being criticised is to come out fighting.  But I'm afraid company bosses, HR directors, whoever is setting policy or getting in the way of progress in terms of hiring and retention, just need to be bigger than that and rise above the primeval instincts and recognise when someone is genuinely trying to help. 

Those responsible for hiring practice have a responsibility to the organisation's employees, shareholders, customers and, indeed, to their own careers, to try something different in terms of hiring practice if what they're currently doing isn't working.

Pretending there isn't a problem with current practice, or burying the impacts by refusing to measure them, is tantamount to negligence.  On that basis, company bosses shouldn't be surprised if frustrated employees whistle-blow on bad practices when alternatives get routinely ignored.

Hiring practice is the new retention issue 


Look at the top ten reasons why people leave companies chart in the right margin on this post.  Number One for 2007 was under-staffing.  Some of this is due to some companies being stupid enough to carry on with the so-called re-engineering projects that have destroyed organisations for the past two decades already.  The majority, however, are firms that are just not doing the right things to hire and retain the best people.

This campaign isn't an attack, rather a call to arms in the War for Talent in which too many organisations are making themselves sitting targets, thereby damaging their own performance and that of the wider economy. especially calls on those who recognise this to share the message, bring others into the debate, starting with sending a link to this post to someone who you think will use it in a postive way.


Footnote: have you successfully implemented hiring metrics?   Click the Ivy restaurant logo in the margin for a challenge...


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