As Douglas Adams eloquently put it: So long, and thanks for all the fish!
This will most likely be the last post I post on this blog. I will start in a new (non HR) role at TOPdesk soon and decided to give up rambling about HR stuff for a while.
I do want to share 2 last updates with you guys before I leave. Firstly, I was interviewed by Raet for their HR benchmark 2018. The article turned out great and I received a lot of nice responses. You can request the benchmark document on their website. Reat even used my picture on their website and in their LinkedIn adds for a while. Check it out below.
The second and last update I want to share is my debut on the radio. The program People Power invited my to their show for a live interview. I quickly learned live radio can be challenging, as I didn’t expect all of the questions they asked. It did turn out OK in the end with a little help from the hosts. The interview is in Dutch and you can listen on their website.
Thanks for the feedback and encouragement I received through this blog and in person. I hope to see you all on another platform or in real life to discuss even more interesting topics!
Thinking of changing your recruitment strategy to target generation Y? Adjusting your culture to accommodate to generation Z? Please, don’t. Generation labels have no basis in science and using them can even be harmful for your organization.
The use of horoscopes
In our HR team, it’s been a fun start of the day for years now. One of my colleagues takes the newspaper and reads the rest of the team their horoscope for the day. This is especially fun when one of the horoscopes describes that you might quarrel with one of your colleagues today. After a few jokes, it’s business as usual and we forget what it was the stars wanted to tell us.
Very few organizations base their recruitment strategy on horoscopes. After all, what does it matter which month your candidate was born in? However, when we talk about what year a candidate was born in, this suddenly seems to matter a great deal. Some organizations base their entire recruitment strategy on targeting generation X, Y or Z.
I find that fascinating. When you think about it, what’s the real difference between horoscopes and generation labels?
Generation X, Y or Z?
Whereas most people don’t take horoscopes seriously, generation labels are often referred to in popular science. There are loads of books on generations X, Y and Z. There are scores of consultancy firms that are more than willing to explain at full length how to change your organization in order to recruit, manage or motivate a certain generation.
Apparently, I’m part of generation X. Or Y, depending on which book you read. According to theory, I’m balancing between Generation’s X’s ‘work hard, play hard’ motto, and generation Y’s tendency to go job hopping. Luckily I limit my internet usage, otherwise I would have also qualified for generation Z, whose motto is ‘always online’. Then I would really have an identity crisis.
This is exactly the problem with generation labels. Each generation’s motto can just as easily be applied to any other generation. There are tons of young people who enjoy hard work, and many retirees who spends hours a day on their iPads.
But what about all that scientific research? Doesn’t that prove there’s some sense in analyzing generations? Well, nope.
This is what science says about generation labels
Ok, sit back. Here’s a brief summary of the science behind generation labels.
Since the 19th century, generations have been the subject of research, especially in the field of sociology. In the beginning, there was much discussion on the use of characterizing various generations. It was Karl Mannheim (born in 1893) who first concluded that generation labels are an oversimplification of reality, and that they can be quite misleading. When you’re focusing too much on birth year when explaining the behavior of a certain social group, you’re likely to spend not enough time on the critical investigation of other, more important factors.
In the 20th century, sociologist Norman Ryder developed the ‘cohort’ as a method to study groups of people. He researched groups who are born around the same time and grew up in similar circumstances. In this research, he took into account all kinds of other factors, such as background, gender, job and location. Time and again, his research showed that all these factors had a huge influence on someone’s social behavior. Someone’s birth year, however, proved to have little to no influence. Since then, lots of similar research has been done into generation labels, and all research proves Ryder’s conclusion was right.
Why can generation labels be dangerous?
Back to the 21th century. Of course there are developments that influence certain generations, and you should not ignore those. You should keep up with what’s new, and use any innovations you think might help you reach your target audience. But the notion that these developments result into generations that are entirely different form the previous ones, is misleading. Generations don’t differ that much. In fact, looking at your target audience through a ‘generation lens’ might even be harmful to your organization.
If you focus too much on generation thinking, you risk ignoring a big part of your target audience. Or worse: you might ruin your organizational culture by trying to cater to the latest generation’s needs.
An example. Say you want to attract young employees, who are just out of college. You decide to leave your 70s office building and move to the city center. You switch to flexible workplaces, start working in agile teams and provide free public transport passes for everyone. You even hire a barista to brew soy skinny lattes. How will your current employees react when they hear they can no longer drive their car to work? When they no longer have any fixed place for their kids’ pictures? They’ll complain. Maybe they’ll even start looking for another job. This will negatively influence the work atmosphere, which will have an negative effect on the employees you just hired. Instead of the hip and inspiring organization they hoped to join, they see disgruntled employees complaining in the hallways.
Of course you won’t change your organization as drastically as this. But keep in mind that even small organizational changes can have a huge effect on your current employees and on your company culture.
Base your policy on horoscopes?
I admit, analyzing generation labels may be slightly more insightful than reading horoscopes. But only slightly. Your own company culture should always the basis of your recruitment policy. You’ll find you’ll attract people from all kinds of generations. Sure, you should use the channels that best fit your target audience, be it newspaper ads or Instagram posts. But the core of your story should remain the same.
And horoscopes? Well, they might be more useful than you think. I can recommend everyone to start your day by reading horoscopes to your team members. For us, it’s a fun start of the day. Which may be worth more than all generation labels put together.
Want to keep your talent? Offer your ambitious employees the challenges they’re looking for? Facilitate internal transfers. It’s a relatively small investment, but offers a huge potential gain.
It happens all the time. One of your employees isn’t happy with his job. After a few years of doing the same job, performing the same tasks with the same colleagues, their challenge is gone. They’re bored and their personal development has come to a grinding halt. They start to look around for a new challenge. Before you know it, they’re sending out applications forms.
Is that a bad thing?
In some cases, it’s good when people leave your organization. They’ve had fun for a few years, learned all they could, but now there’s no more room for growth. You as an organization have nothing more to offer them. Then it’s better to just say goodbye and help your employee land a nice job at another organization.
But what if you’re happy with your employee? What if you know there are tons of organizational challenges that you’re sure would benefit from his contribution? Then of course you don’t let your employee go! You help him find another job. Within your organization.
Why would I care about facilitating internal transfers?
At TOPdesk, we actively promote our talent to switch jobs. This has two main reasons.
First, retaining your talent saves you an enormous amount of time and money. Money you would otherwise have to spend on recruiting and training someone new. Your colleague already knows your organization, so training him for his new job takes significantly less time than training a new employee.
An added bonus is that internal transfers stimulate the cooperation between your departments. Quite regularly, one of our Sales people transfers to Consultancy, and the other way around happens just as often. This very organically improves the integration between the two departments. And they learn from each other, too. Our Sales people get better at listening to our customer and analyzing what they truly need, while our consultants learn how to spot and exploit commercial opportunities.
Switching jobs should be a custom, not a coincidence
Some of our employees have transferred three or four times within our organization. One employee who’s been working here for fourteen years started out as a consultant, became Consultancy team lead, then Product owner at Development and is now initiator of an internal startup. For each transfer, the reason was she craved a new challenge. And I’m sure that when her current job becomes a drag, she’ll go look for a new challenge – and find one.
Sometimes, you have to encourage a transfer because your employee’s performance is poor. You’re enthusiastic about the person, but not about the role he’s in. Then we help him find a role where he can make far better use of his talents. This happens regularly in football, too. Is your striker not scoring enough goals, but great at providing assists? Maybe he’d be better off as a midfielder. Is your account manager not meeting his targets but has excellent product knowledge? Who knows, maybe he’ll flourish when transferred to Consultancy.
Whether your employee performs well or poorly: you help him find a job that makes him happier. Of course, this is easier said than done. How do you facilitate this at an organizational level?
1. Make it OK to transfer – up, down or sideways
Many people feel that a job transfer should be a step up – say, from project employee to project manager. Or that it at least should be a step ‘sideways’, to a job at another department. But a step down in the hierarchy, from team lead to project employee, is seen as a step back. As a loss of status. But it’s actually very healthy!
In our organization, almost every year one or more people decide to quit their job as manager and go back to consulting, developing or whatever it was they did a few years back. The reason is often that they miss their old job, or that the work of team lead was not what they hoped it would be. Or both. Almost every time somebody decided to transfer, they were visibly happier in their new-slash-old job.
Make it clear that in your organization, transferring jobs, be it up, sideways or down or, is OK. Especially down. When a team lead tells you he’s considering going back to his old job, give him all the praise and support you can. Preferably publicly. The more often you do that, the more likely it will be others will follow their example.
2. Keep your salary system simple
Make sure your salary system is not based on the job someone does for your organization. If there are significant differences between the departments’ salaries, your employees will be reluctant to make a move that throws them back in salary. Which is only logical. They too have a family to support, a mortgage to pay. It’s a shame though. Because it means your employees will remain trapped in jobs they may not like anymore.
When someone at TOPdesk changes jobs, his pay stays the same. However, the way his salary develops from then on might change. Maybe he’ll get a lower raise, or no raise at all, since he has fewer responsibilities in his new job. But at least he knows his pay won’t be cut.
3. Give your people the room to look around
When one of your Support team is considering transferring to IT, his thoughts are based on what he thinks it means to work in IT. Does he picture himself laying cables? Managing databases? Resetting passwords? Offer your employee the chance to discover what working in IT really means.
The best way to experience what transferring jobs would mean, is an internship. This happens all the time at TOPdesk. The Support specialist spends a week with his colleagues at IT and do the work they do. There’s not protocol required for this, it’s just something the Support team lead and IT manager arrange amongst each other.
After the internship, is your Support employee still interested in transferring to IT? Then we do a job interview. For this we apply the same criteria as for interviewing an external candidate. Is the IT manager not enthusiastic about the candidate? Or has the candidate changed his mind? No problem. At least the Support employee can cross one internal career option off his list. And he can continue his search for a job that really suits his talents.
Don’t you find it remarkable? Whenever Apple launches a new product, people all around the globe queue up, with cash or credit card in hand, to be one of the firsts to buy the phone, tablet or watch. Why is that?
Of course it helps that Apple products look nice. But do you know what’s even nicer? A challenging job with a decent pay. Yet how come there’s no line of applicants in sleeping bags in front of your office when you publish a new vacancy?
Are you still going door-to-door?
Recruitment and marketing are a very similar expertise, even more so than you might realize. We’re both looking for leads: new colleagues or new customers. We’re both working towards the moment someone signs a contract. And we both feel our competitors breathing down our necks, hunting for the same signature.
The difference between marketing and recruitment is how we hunt for those leads. Whereas marketing has matured much over the years, recruitment evolved relatively little. Many recruiters stick to old-fashioned methods to market their jobs: they put it on their own website or approach candidates personally. That’s the equivalent of a marketer who still limits himself to putting his product in the shop-window, or going door-to-door to sell his goods.
Your colleagues at Marketing use many, many more methods to reach their goal. And in that respect, recruiters have a lot to learn from marketers. There’s so much more you could be doing to find the right candidate.
Buyer’s Applicant journey
In Marketing, it’s become common practice to make a buyer’s journey. This is a map of the entire ‘journey’ of a potential customer, from his first investigation into his problems to the actual purchase of your product. You analyze every moment of contact, every moment of decision: these are called touchpoints. And you find ways to use those moments to your advantage.
It’s a valuable method for recruitment purposes, too. Only in that case we call it an applicant journey. For regular vacancies you make a profile of your ideal candidate. You analyze where you can find this person, both online and offline, and find out what he or she’s looking for in a job.
You then collect all the touchpoints and map them to your applicant journey. For each touchpoint you ask yourself: how can I help this person in his search for the ultimate job? Your goal is, of course, to get your ideal candidate to apply to one of your own vacancies.
There are more touchpoints than you think
It’s important to realize your applicant journey starts way before you publish your vacancy. There are dozens of these touchpoints from start to finish, from the first time your potential employee sees your organization’s name in his search results, until the moment he signed his employment contract.
To give you some idea of what touchpoints to include in your applicant journey, here are some examples – including some tips on how you can use each of these moment to capture your applicants attention.
Orientation: meet your applicants before they apply
Make sure you meet your target audience before they’re even thinking of looking for a job. Yes, this is possible. Marketers call this content marketing. They publish blogs, videos or eBooks featuring topics to help their potential customers with something, without trying to sell their product. Think of a travel agency that publishes a blog called ‘The top 10 cities in Spain should definitely visit’. The next time you want to book a trip to Spain, they hope you remember their name.
You could make this work for your recruitment goals, too. At TOPdesk, we have a tech blog where developers share their experiences on subjects like version control, continuous integration and automated testing with the rest of the world. We hope that other developers can learn from this. And that next time they’re looking a for a job, they will think of us and apply.
Vacancy: stop sending, start listening
When composing vacancies, many organizations adopt a send-and-demand strategy. They bombard you with bulleted lists containing job requirements, add some default ‘About us’-text and hit publish. Quick and easy, sure. But is it what their potential candidate wants to read?
Instead, talk to your colleagues to find out what your candidate really wants to know. Schedule a meeting with the colleagues you would like to clone and ask what do they like about their job. Notice which words they use when describing something they’re enthusiastic about. Use that information to create a vacancy text that resonates with your target audience.
Job applications: be the best applicant manager
Every applicant deserves a fast and proper response. I know some applications are better than others – in fact, some are outright crappy – but also bad applications can yield positive results. Even if you feel an applicant is not suited for the job, you still need to leave a good impression with them. Partly because word-of-mouth advertising is more essential than ever, and one pissed-off candidate can do quite some damage. But mainly because it’s the decent thing to do.
Try to respond quickly to incoming job applications. Keep the applicant informed about the procedure and open yourself up to questions. Is the applicant no match for your organization? Or is there someone else who’s a better fit? Provide your applicant with honest and personal feedback. Explain why you did not choose him, and give him a tip for his future applications.
Job offers: make it an offer they can’t refuse
Many employers choose to send the employment contract by mail and hope their applicant signs it. Don’t! Do as a good salesperson does. A salesperson knows that in order to win someone over, personal attention, a good atmosphere and trust are key. A good candidate probably has other job offers lined up, so the way you handle a job offer can determine whether your candidate accepts your job or not.
That’s why we always invite our candidates over for a personal conversation. We explain the job offer, highlight all the perks of the job that are not mentioned in the contract and ask what else they need to know in order to make a decision. After the talk, we walk by the department where his future colleagues work, who generally welcome him with great enthusiasm. For us, this works wonders: almost every candidates we offer a job, ends up signing the contract.
Tip: Use the goldmine you’re sitting on
Time to make your applicant journey! But where to start? You could of course start from scratch and start brainstorming with your fellow recruiters. But you shouldn’t. Instead, make a head start and use the goldmine you’re sitting on: your colleagues!
At TOPdesk we use that goldmine in various ways. For each applicant, we keep track of how he found us. We analyze which channels turn out to be effective and adjust our investments accordingly. After their first month of employment, we send our colleagues a survey with questions such as ‘What research did you do when you were looking for a job? What did you think of the application procedure? Does your experience in the first month match the expectations you had before you started?’ This kind of feedback from your colleagues helps you to quickly map your first customer journey and determine your touchpoints.
Good luck! Did you already make an applicant journey? I’m curious to see what it looks like. Post your applicant journey in the comments, or send me an email.
Sometimes, people leave your organization. How do you respond? Are you happy for them? Or disappointed? How you respond makes all the difference for your success in talent management.
A nasty surprise
We’ve all been through it. You managed to assemble a great team, have exciting projects lined up and everybody’s ready to perform. This is the moment to reap the rewards. At that moment, one of your most talented people asks whether you have a minute. ‘I accepted another job offer,’ he says. Ouch. He was the one you had great plans for. The one who could outshine all your other team members.
How do you respond? Are you angry? Frustrated? Or are you happy for them?
Positive talent management
At TOPdesk, we’re happy for that person. Sincerely happy. Your employee’s probably leaving because he’s making a step in his career that’s important to him. He’s seizing an opportunity, one you would probably seize as well, if you were in his shoes.
You have every reason to be happy for your employee. This way, you make him feel you support him in this important decision. This will have a positive effect on how he will fulfill the last weeks with you. And since your employee leaves with a positive feeling, he will be more likely to recommend your organization, whether as an employer or supplier, to someone else.
In addition, your other team members will notice you respond positive and mature to your employee’s decision to leave and will appreciate you more for it. If one your team member ever consider switching jobs, it’s more likely they will discuss this openly with.
A blow for your organization?
Of course, in the short term your employee leaving is highly inconvenient. Your team will have to do a bit more work, and will have to postpone or cancel some plans you made. Which sucks. But in the long run, it’s not so bad that top employees leave every now and then. At least, it’s proof that you know how to recognize, recruit and develop talent. You’ve helped your talented employee flourish, advance his career and move on to the next challenge at another organization. That’s something to be proud of.
In the meantime, you managed to recruit other talented people. Who are still in your team. Sure, they may be less experienced that your employee who just left. But you know they’re good. And some of those will be ready to take on responsibilities that your now ex-employee had. They will learn, they will become better at their work or move on to a new role. And they will be happy for the opportunity you gave them to do so. Since your company keeps evolving too, your team members will have more room to grow than your previous employee had. That way, your organization pushes the growth of your talent – and the other way around.
There’s another thought I would like to share with you. Your employee who left, you probably liked him because he was always searching for new opportunities. Because he’s ambitious, restless, never satisfied with the status quo.
Do you work for an organization where no one ever leaves? Then there are two possibilities. You either work for the greatest organization on earth, and there’s nowhere else to go from there. If so: congratulations, well done. If that’s not the case, here’s a wake-up call.
If no one ever leaves your organization, it’s very likely you’ve employed people are really not that good. People who’re content to come to the office every day, perform reasonably well and get paid to do so. People who don’t live up to their potential. People who don’t really like the work they do, or deep down know they’re not very good at it.
What do you prefer? An organization where every now and then talented employees leave, creating room for other employees to grow and push the organization further? Or an organization where everyone stays glued to their office chairs without really excelling. Ask yourself this question the next time a talented employee comes to your desk and asks a minute of your time.