Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Applicants Bill of Rights - should this be published?

Dr. John Sullivan, writing is yesterday's ERE, discusses what he describes as an 'applicants bill or rights' - here in Europe we would probably call this an 'applicants charter'. However you describe it I'm not sure it really adds much value in the majority of cases to publish this, and is a great opportunity to disappoint.

It's not that I disagree with any of the themes Dr. Sullivan suggests - we seem to be on exactly the same wavelength on 99.9% of things and seem to have reached the same conclusions through our experiences however many thousands of miles apart. I'm not coming to his writing through aspiration, but as one who has implemented much of it and who reads it with a smile of confirmation - a sort of 'I've done that, and yes, that worked and that doesn't'.

Back to the article, he makes a great case for engineering the recruitment process from a candidate's perspective. This is rarely done, just in the same way as customers aren't really central to many customer facing process designs.

Back in the heady days of BPR I worked in a management consultancy and we spent a huge amount of time looking at process redesign, mostly in customer facing parts of retail financial services firms. We modeled lots of this stuff using electronic process modeling tools and then could run simulations showing where the bottle necks were going to be, how moving one part of the process to stage 5 instead of stage 2 could save hundreds of thousands of pounds. It was all great stuff but was almost always done from the perspective of increasing efficiency not improving customer service.

The problem with this approach is that it only looks at one stakeholder - usually the finance director. This is great in the short term but to have something really sustainable you need to consider all stakeholders. I used to frustrate some of my colleagues because I used to want to build in organisational learning into the processes. "How will Sue in level 1 support learn from passing all her difficult calls to level 2?" Great processes are ones that deliver to all stakeholders.

For a better look at this have a look at the Strategy Dynamics approach. (Wikipedia has a good summary, I am a big fan of Kim Warren's work in this area, much of it which can be found from his strategydynamics website) This stuff is probably for experienced business strategy readers.

Designing your process from a candidate perspective ensures that you are focussing on what I believe is the most critical stakeholder. If you do this you are likely to come up with a list of deliverables that look like those Dr. Sullivan notes. So what is the problem with the article? Well my belief derives from one paragraph:
However, if you are really bold, the best approach — which I recommend — is to promise them a high level of courtesy, respect, and treatment in what is known as an Applicant's "Bill of Rights."

It is all about whether you want to make the promise explicit. He says 'do' I say 'don't' (We both agree on what is to be delivered).

I spent last year coaching a manager of a very big bank about many of these issues. He thought a 'candidate charter' was a good idea. We discussed this on several occasions and he eventually decided not to do this. Why?

Every candidate starts their relationship with your firm with a set of expectations. For some those expectations are high, for others they are low. The distribution is probably normal. You can't do anything about these expectations.

A candidates charter enables you to articulate where you want to deliver. You're putting your flag in the ground. You have to be very confident that is where you are going to deliver (though exceeding your promises won't do you any harm). Let's consider the possibilities:

Your promise exceeds their expectations
. For some you will raise their expectations. For some they will reject it with a 'we'll see this when it happens' sort of thought. Few will approach you because of a promise with no evidence.

Your promise equals their expectations.
No effect

Your promise is lower than their expectations
. I doubt that this really happens. Candidates have such poor expectations because as an industry we've treated them so badly for so long. Anyway, if this is the case you'll probably put some people off.

So let's consider you're in the tiny group of firms who are confident that they can constantly exceed expectations. Is a charter good for these? Well I'm not sure it is. Will people read your charter as 'fact' or 'marketing blurb'. Will they actually believe what you say? How can you prove it to them? Today's consumer is increasingly good at rejecting marketing messages.

What can you do if you are in this tiny group? Well you could be more transparent. Instead of publishing a charter or bill of rights how about publishing performance data? How about explaining why you do things? Candidates, given how they behave as consumers, might see this as more authentic.

You could get people to blog about their experiences. Probably the easiest group would be new hires. Blogs are wonderfully search engine friendly so use the words 'recruitment' and 'yourcompanyname' in a blog title and it will find it's way to the upper parts of a search pretty quickly. Independent blogs are likely to be seen as more authentic. Other bloggers might pick up the story.

Work with your external recruitment firms to ensure that the 'we provide a great candidate experience' is part of their message. They will be far more effective at communicating the message, especially if you can provide performance data. You will probably encourage any contingency recruiter to work harder for you.

The aim of the exercise is to get a reputation for providing great a candidate experience. Where I disagree with Dr. Sullivan is that I believe that a bill of rights is not a effective way of doing this. Explicit promises will give you a great opportunity to build up expectations only for one small hiccup to ruin it. A strong 'independent' reputation will probably get them thinking 'I was a bit unlucky' if something goes wrong.

Final word: measure who is being treated below your reputation and delight them. All processes under-deliver to some people. The trick is to turn these occurrences into an opportunity to delight. A bank might send a bunch of flowers to a customer it lets down. Could you do this? How many people would that person then tell?