Is It Really That Hard To Hire Good People?

Liz Ryan , CONTRIBUTOR
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

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If you Google the term “talent shortage” you’ll get one point nine million results back. We hear it every day: “It’s hard to find good people!”

If you think about it for three seconds, this constantly-repeated sentiment makes no sense. Why would it be hard to find people to perform work for your company?

If you design jobs sensibly, pay your employees competitively and maintain a healthy working atmosphere, it should be easy to recruit all the talent you need — right?

Every organization purchases supplies or raw materials to use in its business.

We hold our Purchasing folks responsible for finding the raw materials we need, at the best price and quality levels. They have to know the market. They have to know which suppliers produce the best parts and materials.

If a Purchasing Manager came to a staff meeting and said “It’s too bad about the parts we need for that new product. They’re not available. They’re just not around,” we’d have a big problem. Nobody on your team would be satisfied with the excuse “We tried to find the parts we need, but we couldn’t find them.”

Either the people who designed the product did so with imaginary parts baked into the design, or the Purchasing Manager is asleep at the wheel.

Your Purchasing Manager is going to be quick to tell you if somebody has designed a product with nonexistent parts in it. In that case, you’ll change the design.

HR and recruiting are no different from Purchasing, except that in recruiting you’re hunting for people, rather than for raw materials.

If hiring managers spec imaginary people, it’s up to HR to tell them that.

 

Too many HR people wring their hands and say “I can’t find these people you’re asking me to find — especially not at these salary levels!” They shouldn’t have accepted the job spec in the first place. A strong HR person is the first line of defense against delusional thinking on the part of a hiring manager.

I was raised by wolves in HR. I never had a boss who was an HR person. I told hiring managers when their job specs were delusional. I told them that they could get rid of half the fanciful bullets (Essential Requirements, in HR-speak) on the job spec, or else I would do it for them. That’s only sensible.

We don’t allow our teammates to waste time on other fruitless activities, but for some reason we don’t see a problem with job ads that no right-thinking person would respond to.

We don’t see a problem with a job ad that asks for fifteen ridiculous Essential Requirements from a candidate. We don’t get alarmed when a manager defines a $100K job and attaches a $50K price tag to it. We should be up in arms!

If your company’s job specs and salary levels don’t square with reality, your job as an HR person is to fix what’s broken in your recruiting operation.

There is no talent shortage. The idea of a talent shortage itself makes no sense. Business people are supposed to be smart. They’re supposed to deal in real things, not imaginary things. Anybody who complains about a talent shortage only needs to look in the mirror.

If the people we want aren’t available because we aren’t paying enough or because people simply don’t come equipped with all the skill sets we believe we need, then somebody on your team has to name the elephant in the room and get reality back into the equation.

Not enough people are doing that right now, and that’s why you can find one point nine million references to talent shortages in one Google search.

The ridiculous, reality-denying way job specs are written is the number one reason recruiting is harder than it should be. The second reason is that we’ve allowed technology to take over what should be a human process.

The ATS systems adopted by so many medium-sized and large employers make it nearly impossible to attract and close good candidates. They do just the opposite — they push talented people away.

If you want to hire great people, it’s not hard to do. You only have to humanize your recruiting process, starting with the way you define a job and the way you write a job ad. You have to make the job appealing to a person who has other options — the only kind of employee you want to hire!

Then you have to simplify and speed up your recruiting process, and take the tedious task of filling out online forms out of it. Why should your job applicants populate your database for you — and worst of all, by typing their information into your nineteen-nineties-era database?

I hope you don’t make your customers and prospects create their own records in Salesforce! You value your customers too much to make them unpaid clerical help, and you need to value job applicants that much or more.

ATS technology may be history’s worst-ever example of technology badly deployed. In the typical online job application, we ask applicants where they worked before and for how long — the least relevant facts for us to know. Who cares where someone worked before, or for how long?

We need to know how their brain works. That’s the part that is left completely out of the ATS process — an unforgivable lapse on the part of all those programmers and product people who designed and built ATS technology twenty years ago.

Remember when every business process was being automated, a couple of decades ago?

Back then everybody walked around saying “Garbage in, garbage out!” That’s why ATS technology is garbage — because we took ancient, paper application forms from factories, the same forms people were using to recruit assembly-line workers in the ninteen-twenties, and we put them into an automated form.

We didn’t ask the question “Why do we care where these job applicants worked before, and for how long, and at what tasks? Are those really the most important things for us to know?” We didn’t look at the process at all, in our haste to get it online and start selling it as the latest, greatest thing in recruiting.

It’s shameful, really.

What we should ask job-seekers is how they view the assignment we’ve got available, and how they’d approach it if they were to take the job.

That’s what we ask consultants we are considering engaging to help us. We ask them “How would you approach this project?”

Job-seekers are consultants who get paid via a regular paycheck rather than by invoicing us. That’s the only difference. Why is the process for hiring consultants an adult and civilized process in most organizations, while the recruiting process is slow and insulting to job-seekers?

It’s because we’ve grown up with the notion that employees are a lower class of person than consultants are. We can treat employees like commodities, and we can treat job-seekers like something even lower! The unequal power relationship between employers and employees is baked into our culture, but that inequality hurts us in productivity, innovation and sustainability.

In the Knowledge Economy, your company’s culture is its greatest competitive advantage.

That’s why we launched the Human Workplace movement three years ago.

There is nothing inherent in the employer-employee relationship that makes job-seekers subservient to employers, but we have convinced two or three generations of job-seekers to go begging for a job, even while employers say “It’s hard to find good people!”

The last reason companies struggle to hire great people is because their busted corporate cultures are well-known, and the most marketable candidates therefore stay away from them.

Glassdoor has done a great job of warning talented people away from organizations where their talents would go to waste.

Denial is an incredibly strong force. I was reminded of that when I went to speak at an event and met a guy who is a Senior VP in the company Glassdoor called the worst place to work in the United States that year.

The guy knew about the Glassdoor ranking, and he brought it up when he introduced himself to me.

“We have a special culture in our company,” he said, “and it’s not for everybody!”

“Does that concern you?” I asked.

“Not at all!” he said. “We don’t want just anybody working for us.”

The guy was in deep denial. His company’s Glassdoor page was stuffed with scathing reviews from current and past employees.

Those reviewers wrote about the emotional distress and ethical lapses in the company, and about the fact that the CEO himself would thunder and rail at anybody he didn’t think was pulling their weight.

“None of that stuff bothers us on the leadership team,” said the SVP. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”

Your culture is a huge factor in your ability to recruit good people.

When your culture is healthy, talented candidates will flock to you. When your culture is bad, you’ll run job ad after job ad and get a disappointing response every time.

You can do what the SVP did and pretend that nothing’s wrong.

You can tell yourself that good people are hard to find, but they aren’t — not if you spec your jobs realistically and pay the market rate.

What’s hard about that? Only changing your perspective — which for some folks is the hardest thing of all to do.