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Beware Madison Avenue Group Think  
5/19/2009 3:51:47 PM

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Beware Madison Avenue Group Think
By Peter Weddle

The advertising mavens of Madison Avenue carefully track the habits and preferences of Gen Y. They watch how that group reacts to new consumer products and which brands it considers hot. Historically, they have found that a population’s youngest generation acts like a canary in a mine; it reflects a change in the environment long before that change is apparent to the rest of us. So, peering over the shoulder of Gen Y helps the ad experts shape the marketing and sales campaigns they create for their clients.

What does that have to do with recruiting?

As reliable as this group think approach may be for identifying the potential popularity of a new PDA or the cachet of open-toed shoes, it’s totally worthless when it comes to figuring out how best to sell to “A” level performers. Convincing a person to open their wallet to buy this gadget or that fashion item is not the same as selling a talented worker on an organization’s value proposition as an employer.

Why is that so? Because consumers act like herd animals; they follow trends in their purchasing decisions. Not everyone, of course, fixates on the fads, but enough people do to form a very, very large target for advertising. Top performers, on the other hand, are a subset of the general population, and some would say that it’s a distressing small one. They are alike, but what they share is a commitment to individual improvement and advancement.

You may be able to make assumptions about buyers in general by watching young early adopters, but you can’t divine what will turn on top talent by watching a segment of the population defined by age. There are “A” level performers and “C” level performers in each generation of the workforce, and those groups—defined as they are by talent—are very different from one another. So, if you are trying to reach “A” level prospects, don’t follow the footsteps of Gen Y workers, follow those of “A” level performers.

How do you figure out where those footprints are leading?

First, stick your fingers in your ears. Stop listening to the media and the pundocracy. Just because the blogosphere and the evening news are all atwitter with micro-blogging doesn’t mean it will connect you with the high performing talent you need. Just because our current conference presenters link recruiting success to social and professional networking sites doesn’t mean those sites will put you in touch with the high caliber prospects your organization wants to hire. In most cases, this commentary provides a lot of information about what the technology can do and precious little proof that it adds any real value to your job as a recruiter.

Second, pull your fingers out of your ears. Listen to the subset of your very own workforce that can steer you in the right direction. Pull together a focus group of your organization’s “A” level talent in each of the career fields for which you recruit and ask them three questions:

  • Where are the best places to reach others like them with a message they are likely to pay attention to?

  • What should be in that message so that it will persuade others like them to consider your organization as an employer?

  • What is the best way to convey that message so that others like them will hear or see it despite all of the noise out there?

    This last question is, of course, flies in the face of our profession’s very own version of consumer-like herd behavior. Right now, recruiters are apoplectic with fascination over Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook. We have been convinced that these technologies are the wave of the future in recruiting because Gen Y (and a growing number of Gen X and Baby Boomers) have adopted them. And, they may turn out to be just that. But it won’t be because the early adopters (or the experts) say so. It will be because the “A” level talent in the workforce decides to use them.

    Thanks for reading,
    Peter
    Follow me on Twitter @PeterWeddle


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