The Dark Side of Recruitment – Too Much Data

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In the last few weeks we’ve heard a lot about the dark side of technology. From hackers launching high profile cyber-attacks on brands like Talk Talk to suggestions that internet dating sites might be about to spark a major public health issue.

So why is this an issue for HR?

My view is simply this: technology (and the data it spawns) applied badly can have a seriously negative effect on the relationship between people and organisations. We’ve heard some real horror stories in recent times – like sacking people by text and email. While these incidents make for great headlines they also detract from bigger and more widespread trends.

Let’s take recruitment as a starting point. I am sure (or at least hope) that every Applicant Tracking System (ATS) vendor set out with the ambition to make recruitment a smoother, simpler, faster and more enjoyable experience for all. In reality too often it becomes an anonymous de-personalised wall behind which HR Departments can hide. Right down to “computer says no” scenarios.

Every now and again I organise a “mystery shopper” exercise to test this theory out. It’s something that every brand conscious CEO should do. After all – and especially if you are in sectors like retail, fmcg and hospitality – a lot of candidates are probably existing or potential customers too. You ignore the overlap between employer and consumer brand at your peril. Disgruntled candidates can and do switch their buying habits.

For those who have been following a long-running strand on the CIPD LinkedIn group none of this will be a surprise. In 2015 it seems 75% of on-line applications still don’t get the courtesy of even an acknowledgement.

I am also worried by the way technology is driving a trend towards “big data” as the panacea for HR. You see I think that, unmanaged, this panders to the worst side of business leaders.

Earlier this year I blogged about my own experience of working with several groups of high fliers and high potentials on leadership programmes. It provided clear evidence that when CEOs and MDs are asked to identify what a good manager looks like they inevitably describe what in MBTI terms would be an ESTJ. In part, people who love data and apply it in a logical “cause and effect” way to make decisions. The ST trend in particular is alarmingly high.

What that highlights is how “F”s – people who care about things like relationships and benevolence (which are critical to trust and therefore engagement) – are in the minority on leadership teams. They make up less than 15% of those I’ve done MBTI with in a leadership development context this year.

My analogy is this: why would you give even more of something to someone who already likes it too much?

The answer of course is no. So why then does HR want to give more and more data to leadership teams who are already over-focused on data and logic? Should it not instead be:-

• Coaching leaders to see organisations as living organisms that have feelings and emotions not as machines driven by logic and lean process.
• Winning the argument that trust is critical to engagement and that is only ever achieved by leaders who put people not data or metrics at the centre of what they do.
• Proving that they can use data when appropriate but applying it selectively and intelligently to decision making .
• Encouraging leaders to be authentic and vulnerable – admitting they aren’t perfect.

Where could all this data be leading? I fear back to the world of Frederick Winslow Taylor and “work study”. We’ve already heard stories about organisations starting to use wearable technology to monitor their people every hour of every working day. No doubt so somebody somewhere can calculate how walking around the workplace in a different way would save a few seconds. It all sounds more 1984 than 2015. Did we really learn nothing from the work of the likes of Blauner and Goldthorpe?

In today’s complex, fast changing and increasingly globalised economy you can’t any longer manage people by tasks and process. You need to manage them by outcomes and through trust, empowerment and behaviours. None of which has anything to do with data or technology. Try reading “Lead & Influence” by Mark Fritz which is summed up neatly in this short video.

Of course all this ignores another big question. Are there are far, far too many F’s in HR? That sounds like a story for another day…

Ian Gooden

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