To Believe It, You Need to See It

One of the interesting challenges that I have faced during my career is to persuade non-HR senior leaders the true value of HR and why it matters. This post is not about listing the many reasons why HR is invaluable to any organization. I already did that in a recent post titled, “HR is An After-Thought in the Tech Industry“. As a result of this challenge, I have devoted a significant portion of my time educating, having conversations, presenting business cases, delivering results, and so forth. Through all of these experiences during my career, I have learned one critical thing.

The One Critical Learning

I have learned that senior leaders need to see something in order to believe that it’s true. They need to touch it, experience it, feel it and observe with their own eyes before they truly believe what you’re saying. It took me a fairly long time to realize this and fully understand it. However, better late than never.

There’s a false misconception among leaders that because they “lead” people they know how HR works – this results in minimizing HR’s value, not bringing in the right HR talent to support their growing organization and opening their businesses up to significant risk (there are too many to list). But, the fact that leaders “will believe it if they see it” is prevalent and needs to be respected.

So What Can You Do?

As an senior HR leader I have a pretty keen understanding of human behaviour in organizations. Through experience, I have developed a unique understanding of how people will likely behave given circumstances that have, or may, take place throughout the course of a workday, workweek, month and year. This is not about “I told you so”. It’s about understanding the dynamics of natural human behaviour, specifically the preferences of senior leaders to see something before they believe something.

In anything that I do, whether implementing an employee engagement strategy, managing difficult employee performance, or negotiating a deal with an HR software vendor, for example, I make sure I incorporate time into the process for leadership to experience it.

Here’s an example. At a past organization where I led HR the CEO and COO were having a difficult time understanding and grasping the idea of building a talent pipeline and doing proactive recruiting. We were having difficulties attracting and recruiting talent in a specific tech-related job. Simply put, the talent supply that was available to us in Canada was rather sparse. Before I joined the organization the only recruiting tactics they used were posting jobs on the career site, sometimes on LinkedIn, and asking a few people in their networks for referrals. The result was a time-to-fill of close to 9 months. This was unacceptable and I needed to change this.

The problem was getting buy-in from senior leadership on my proposed strategy – i.e. doing things differently. Because of the challenge I decided to do a little experiment. We decided to roll-out 2 different recruiting strategies for 2 related but different hard-to-fill roles. For the first role, we did what the company had been doing all along — post the job on the careers site, post on Indeed and ask the leaders’ networks for referrals. For the second job, I took a direct sourcing approach — I built a talent pipeline of prospects, connected with each and started having conversations with them. I also asked the employees in my organization to help with referrals. I gamified it a little bit by offering incentives for making the referral, helping with the recruitment process and ultimately the final hiring decision. I also posted the job to our career site and attended a handful of events over the following 2-3 weeks. I also created a short social media campaign using LinkedIn and Twitter to build brand awareness around the organization, specifically call to actions relating to the specific position.

The Final Result?

The traditional method resulted in absolutely nothing. In fact, I think we only received a couple of inbound resumes, and none of them was qualified. The more creative method resulted in identifying several high potential prospects, and from that group, we made 2 hires within 2.5 months. We also built up our following and engagement activity on social media, our traffic to our career site spiked 40% and we started receiving a higher volume of inbound applications for other positions. We also possessed a talent pipeline with at least 50 warm leads; prospects that were interested and engaged and were having real conversations with us. This was fantastic as we were going to be hiring down the road, and the primary source of hire would be from this pipeline.

The leadership group was a bit astounded by this result. It didn’t surprise me one bit but this group needed to see it to believe it. It was all part of the process to build up the credibility of the HR function, and heighten the value HR was providing. I learned that people won’t always listen to my suggestions, and this is not about me being right or wrong. It’s about understanding the nuances of human behaviour, and making decisions that will help the organization progress and realize more success. Win-win all around.

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