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The Proof of Human Bonds


11/28/2006 6:11:21 PM

By Peter Weddle -- I think we in recruiting should adopt a suggestion made by the columnist David Brooks. Earlier this year, he opined, with tongue firmly in cheek, that organizations would be more productive and individuals more effective if someone would invent an Oxytocin Meter. In a profession that espouses the importance of relationships, hanging such a device around our collective necks would be a reality check for all to see, a kind of walk-the-talk gauge for one of the principles we hold dear—the importance of building relationships with candidates.

Why oxytocin? This hormone is produced when people and animals relate to one another. For example, female rats injected with oxytocin will nurture newborn rats from another mother when the “normal” reaction would be to attack them. In humans, oxytocin levels rise when good things happen; events such as childbirth and interacting with loved ones pour oxytocin into our systems, providing a measurable indication of just how well we are bonding with those around us.

So, let’s all pretend that we have an Oxytocin Meter hanging around our necks and embark on an imaginary jaunt through our workplace. First, let’s walk into the training room. There, we’ll find a lead recruiter or professional trainer teaching the Best Practices of our profession. Chief among them, of course, will be building relationships; recruiting, they will explain, is a contact sport, and the more personal the contacts, the better your yield. That’s why we recruiters put so much stock in employee referral programs, right? And networking? Both of those sourcing techniques are essentially an exercise in leveraging relationships. The lesson is right on point. Everyone’s Oxytocin Meter is way up in the good-to-go range.

Next, let’s stroll out into the bull pen or recruiter work area. As we wander by the desks and watch all of the activity, what do we see?

Observation #1. New requirements are continuously dumped on recruiters without any warning. In many cases, the hiring managers responsible for these openings had them identified in their annual budget submission months ago. But, hey, they were busy doing really, really important things, so, they didn’t get around to telling anyone in recruiting about them. The net result? Spur-of-the-moment recruiting. Everyone focuses on the 16% of the workforce that is actively seeking a job because there simply isn’t the time to reach out and build relationships with the people who aren’t. The Oxytocin Meter around our necks begins to slip.

Observation #2. Each recruiter is juggling 20, 30, even 40 open requisitions, all at one time. Recruiting, after all, is an overhead function, so we need to be really, really productive. Unfortunately, all of that pressure to do more with less forces recruiters to focus on finding the first qualified person with a pulse, not the best person there is. There’s simply no time for networking or for getting to know candidates well enough to ensure a good fit. Our job is to optimize the supply chain: yee haw, rack ‘em, stack ‘em and pack ‘em in the door. We give it our best shot, but the dial on our Oxytocin Meter falls into the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me range.

Observation #3. Recruiters are clicking like crazy with their resume management system, but the resume database it creates has cobwebs on it. Sure, everyone routinely checks the database for candidates who might be qualified for their openings, but other than the 5% or so they contact, no one in the database has heard from anyone in the company since their resume was submitted. The company seems to see the database as a collection of documents about people, not as a platform for nurturing relationships with the people those documents describe. But even if that potential were recognized, relationships are hard work, and the staffing team has neither the time nor the corporate support for that. The Oxytocin Meter around our necks plummets into the danger zone.

Observation #4. The Career area on the corporate Web-site has the personality of a brick. There are no separate channels for the vastly different interests of the various workforce segments the company recruits—sales people are lumped together with research scientists—so every visitor gets welcomed as a “generic candidate.” Even worse, the staffing team is, itself, not staffed to answer questions and develop a dialogue with those visitors, so relationships never form, and visitors feel as if they are nothing more than commodities in a corporate store for candidates.

The dial on our Oxytocin Meter now looks like a scarlet letter. If there’s any human bonding going on in the staffing team, it’s all but invisible. Despite our best intentions, we find ourselves acting not as recruiters, but as purchasing agents for carbon-based widgets.

Why is that so? Let’s take a walk down the carpeted corridors of today’s corporate decision-makers. As we pass by the office doors, we hear snippets of conversation. In the first office, an executive is on the telephone talking with someone outside the company, and through the crack in the door, we hear him utter those immortal words: “Our people are our most important asset.” Hope rebounds, and on we walk. At the next office, another executive is talking with a group of his direct reports. There’s a frown on his face as he looks around the conference table: “Our numbers are down for the quarter. We’ve got to cut costs. I’m recommending to the boss that we pare down overhead by 25% and slash the headcount in staffing. We’re not hiring much, so why do we need all those recruiters? What could they be doing?”

Sadly, neither executive is wearing an Oxytocin Meter. It’s not required for executives because they get it … or at least they think they do. To them (or at least many of them), the human bonds we work with are composed of happy talk and numbers and nothing else. Hormones are for sissies, and relationships don’t count at the bottom line. Until you have to lead, that is, and that’s when executives discover that the company behind them is hollow.

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