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January 16, 2019

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The Power of Purpose in a Candidate Relationship Management Strategy

Forbes contributor Amy Phillip posed an important question this month about candidate relationship management: Has neglect become the new normal? I know there are folks out there saying to themselves, “We hear this all the time.” I would respectfully suggest that while it’s one thing to hear, it’s another to listen. In this economy, where every company is being pushed toward automation and optimization to stay competitive, some things are bound to fall through the cracks. Relationships, in my humble opinion, should never be the elements of business we get comfortable sacrificing in our rush to the top. How we manage our relationships with candidates, through every stage of the hiring process, determines how engaged and passionate our talent will be -- how they in turn will create exceptional experiences for our customers. To grow and prevail, we must recognize that modern professionals seek a sense of mission, not just a position.

The Power of Purpose, the Meaningfulness of Mission

The old vendor-worker-client relationships really don’t exist any longer. Not in the same fashion, at least. Today, the lines have blurred, and most people function across roles. Clients are becoming employers and customers to their workers, who in turn start to look like vendors supporting internal and external clients. Everyone’s selling and everyone’s buying. It’s the nature of the hyper-socialized sharing economy. So how are the top-performing organizations attracting the best clients and talent? Brand. Genuine, proven, unmistakable brands. And at the heart of a powerful employment brand is purpose.

Anyone who touches the workforce, from CEOs to recruiters, should focus on addressing some essential questions. One of the most imperative involves a bit of honest soul-searching: Are we doing everything we can to find and entice the highest-caliber talent to drive the success of our companies, or are we just hoping to fill openings? Regardless of our intentions, a candidate’s perception of the talent acquisition process becomes the hard reality. Amy Phillip calls out a few compelling examples in her article, which illustrate the point.

After receiving an interview confirmation with the CEO of a multibillion-dollar global apparel company, [the candidate] arrived at the corporate headquarters only to be informed that there had been a mix-up: The CEO was traveling for business on the West Coast and would not be available. The SVP of HR met with him instead and -- for the next 60 minutes -- proceeded to bash the company’s internal communication practices. There was no follow-up from anyone at the company, including the CEO.

Six months later, the same SVP reached out to the same candidate asking to schedule an introductory call for a job opportunity. The SVP didn’t realize it was the same candidate and was mortified after he reminded her that they had already met.

“A simple Google search for ‘bad job interviews’ returns more than 15 million results,” Phillip adds. “Whether it is being stood up, being treated rudely, or receiving no feedback, poor candidate experiences appear to be on the rise.” As she notes, the longer-term consequences can wreak havoc on a company’s brand -- and even its productivity.

I was told about a candidate who went to a major computer company’s headquarters regarding a VP position in the procurement department. She was made to wait 70 minutes, then her interviewer barely looked up from her computer screen. Six months later she accepted a procurement position with a major state university. Guess which brand of computer the faculty no longer uses?

It’s hard to think of a company these days that hasn’t wrestled with recruiting challenges. Innovation is the 21st century’s commerce, and we need skilled artisans who can ply the trades that will lead to our next breakthroughs. Yet according to studies by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), white collar positions stay open for 68 business days on average. That’s an increase of 26 days from seven years ago. Vacancies don’t simply impact performance, they erode morale -- which ultimately creates more openings and hiring struggles.

“When a job sits open it damages team productivity,” Ben Fanning explains in his article for Inc. “Initially, the work gets redistributed to the manager and the rest of the team. This redistribution is often poorly managed if at all. It’s just left to whoever ‘steps up’ whether that’s the best idea or not.”

It’s Not a Problem of Automation, It’s Culture

Some analysts attribute the problem to the pitfalls of an overly automated society. In an opinion piece for the Guardian, David Boyle discusses the rise of the Absent Corporation, where the last vestiges of human support have been reduced to impersonal, detached, computerized solutions -- or replaced entirely by online ratings systems: “You can see it as corporate functions shrink down to finance, with everything else outsourced or replaced with algorithms. And as customer-facing staff are transformed into security personnel, whose task is to prevent customers messing with the machinery.”

Boyle has a point to make, especially in context of the emergency call box that directed him to a recorded message stating that no police were available to assist -- then disconnected. I’m sure we’ve all had encounters with organizations that place a low premium on old-fashioned interaction. Maybe for some, the pressures to automate have influenced that apathy. However, this seems a little like killing the messenger to me. Automation, when done correctly, enables human processes to be more human. Advances in digital intelligence are actually paving the way for enhanced employee experiences, which we explored in March. I don’t think automation is the culprit here -- it comes down to culture and the decisions made within that culture.

Over the past few years, an increasing number of employment surveys have emphasized the critical role that a company’s mission plays in acquiring and retaining top talent. According to Harvard Business Review, a report by Calling Brands revealed that: “Working for an organization with a clearly defined purpose is second only to pay and benefits in importance for employees, and ranks ahead of promotion opportunities, job responsibilities, and work culture. Two-thirds said a higher purpose would motivate them to go the extra mile in their jobs. A similar study by Net Impact showed that almost half of today’s workforce would take a 15% pay cut to work for an organization with an inspiring purpose.”

This is precisely why relationships matter. Being unresponsive, dismissive or just plain absent will not sell candidates on an employment brand, no matter how popular a company seems. Some of the gig economy’s brightest stars have faded recently due to employees exposing troublesome work cultures. It’s our responsibility as stewards of the businesses we champion to help talent find their callings -- not just careers.

Talent who have found their calling in a position are deeply invested in the mission of the enterprise. They see their work as a form of self-fulfillment and personal expression. They don’t distinguish between their professional and personal aims. They view the office as an extension of their relationships and their communities. The job gives meaning to their ambitions and compels them to grow. And KPMG demonstrates an easily replicated yet powerful way to accomplish this.

Helping Talent Find Their Calling

KPMG, one of the world’s largest accounting firms, embarked on an initiative to motivate its workforce with a sense of greater purpose. Its message to talent was, simply, “you can change the world.” In fact, KPMG convinced its workers that they were doing just that. After launching the inspirational program, the organization enjoyed one of its most lucrative years in history.

KPMG created a video that showed how the company had worked to “shape history” throughout its evolution. It explained KPMG’s role in managing the Lend-Lease Act in World War II to defeat the Nazis, how it resolved financial claims that paved the way for the release of U.S. hostages in Iran during the 1980s, and how it certified the 1994 election of South African President Nelson Mandela. KPMG then encouraged its talent to create posters and campaigns that demonstrated their involvement in company objectives that made profound contributions to the world at large. KPMG amassed an impressive collection of 42,000 stories. The results?

  • An overwhelming majority of talent, 90 percent, said the initiative increased their pride in KPMG.
  • After six months of the initiative, 85 percent of workers said KPMG was a fantastic place to work. That figure shot up to 89 percent after a year.
  • And the same survey revealed that 76 percent of KPMG’s talent viewed their jobs as important and filled with meaning.

No roles were changed, no jobs redefined, no additional benefits or perks were offered. KPMG’s workers continued performing the same duties they had prior to the campaign. Yet with a heightened sense of purpose and mission, the organization saw a measurable rise in employee engagement, performance, commitment and morale.

This sentiment is also echoed by Wharton Professor Adam Grant: “Ask people what they want in a job, and meaningfulness looms large.” He cited nearly 40 years of research that showcased the struggle of talent to find meaning “when they lack autonomy, variety, challenge, performance feedback, and the chance to work on a whole product or service from start to finish.”

The jobs with the highest recorded levels of engagement and satisfaction are those where workers feel they’re making a difference. When we help our talent uncover a sense of purpose, we allow them to tap into the secret formula that instills motivation, meaning and aspiration. It doesn’t require a lot of effort, just a commitment to cultivating and nurturing relationships. Be attentive. Be present. Be a reflection of the same passion that fuels your belief in the company’s mission. Be the voice that tells your talent they belong.

Casey Enstrom
Casey Enstrom
I am passionate about helping business leaders adopt crowd-based hiring solutions to hire the best talent. Through a comprehensive workforce and staffing programs assessment, I help identify areas of opportunity where having a hiring marketplace with a curated network of staffing agencies & independent recruiters​ could dramatically impact results.
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