Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

Experimentation Up Front

By Edna Pasher on June 8, 2022

We have given up on long and expensive recruiting processes. In our group we do it this way: we collaborate with all universities in our country and invite their graduate students to gain practice with us. We then offer the best ones - after a one day a week practice for a year - to join us.

When we interview the candidates for the trainee program, we do it up front in a team of two and if we like a candidate - we accept them right then and there, if the candidate is willing to make the decision up front too !

This way we take a risk - but we have found out that this risk is lower than the risk to lose a talent to a competitor ! We have practiced it for a few years now - and have found out that this is a great LEAN and happy recruiting process !

HR process being hacked:Talent Acquisition

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This has a really strong fit with a model I have been developing working with UK Universities. I look forward to sharing ideas to see how we can evolve strategies together.

Thanks Mike for joining us! It will be great to collaborate with you !

andy-lippok's picture

My experience of system thinking in thje practical sense that I understand Deming, Scholtes, Seddon and others espouse is fundamentally about continuous experimentation. Experiment with a small team doing the redesign of the work to deliver better service, improve things, and then when things are working well, begin to roll in (not roll out), roll in the other people and teams to the new way of working. The "experimenters" become the coaches to the new set of people. Brilliant! And where should HR people be in all this?
In my view HR and people practitioners should start to become the change it and they want the organisation to be, and I reckon the key area would be around the systems thinking as espoused and demonstrated both academically and eminently practically by Deming, John Seddon in Vanguard, Senge, Ackoff, Scholtes, and countless others.

All change beings at the thinking level and not the doing level, yet the result of the change in thinking then delivers change at the doing level. Great intentions, motivation and competencies underpinned by the wrong thinking changes little.

Managers need to recognise the organisation as a system, it’s their job to remove the obstacles within the organisation. They also need to understand human motivation (Dan Pink, Alfie Kohn, etc.). Design of the work from the outside in, and focus on what is the real purpose what matters to the customer. Then, analyse the demand, design measures for what matters, then when you understand the systems thinking that determines the current way of doing things, you simply get the people who do the work to re-design the work in order to achieve purpose and what really matters, and what happens is almost magical! Service improves, costs reduce, morale increases, and the culture change happens for free. At no time do we do anything to the people, we simply get the people to work on the work. That's the systems thinking at the practical and yet quite profound level that I believe HR could help to make organisations more adaptable and adept.
If you want to work more on the Systems Thinking hack, please join the team on page 2!

Thanks Andy. It is an option to explore with our teams - merging these two hacks. Dear team members, would you like it?

uduma-kalu-etea's picture

Hi Edna, I like the 'experimentation up front' methodology. It is actually akin to a scheme we have for students that attend Polytechnics in Nigeria. You have to do a mandatory 1 year 'industrial attachment' with an organisation in order for you to proceed to a Higher National Diploma. Usually this period affords organisations to 'sample' the students and hence on completion of their HND, the interview process is not 'stretched becuase the candidates had been 'tested' in the organisation. The concept of a friend brings a friend in my view is also similar to an 'employee referral' programme which is a tested and tried method. It doesn't guarantee good results always, but most of the time...especially where the employee making the referral is a good performer with good judgement.

Thank you Uduma for joining our team.
I look fwd to a great collaboration with you here.

nigel-cox's picture

is the focus of the hack on talent acquisition or on experimentation?

Hi Nigel,
The focus will be on experimenting for better, faster and cheaper talent acquisition. Yet it might change. We are an adaptable team!

nigel-cox's picture

ok - building on the adaptability theme I'll throw in my efforts on this too.

I had some interesting perspectives from HR professionals working in Saudi Arabia during a workshop I ran there last month.

Thanks! Welcome! I look fwd to co-creating a great hack together!

Thanks for joining this hack. Let's further explore it together:
1. What are the barriers to trying it?
2. What are the key success factors when trying it?
3. What are other issues for effective talent acquisition that might benefit from "experimenting up-front"?
4. More stories of experiments that succeeded or failed in recruiting processes?

andy-lippok's picture

I like the experimentation theme, and for me is related to the hack about learning from failure - actually there is no such thing as failure, it's about emergence and evolving, and learning how not to do something (as in Edison). We have to be more agile today and this is a good way to start.

Andy - Thanks. Yes! It is a good way to tell the story of the organization right at the beginning of a new relationship with a person joining it. I agree it has a lot to do with taking risks and allowing for failure up-front. Our experience is that when recruiting new people this way, we succeed more than with long expensive search processes.

john-mcgurk's picture

Edna. I think this is a great idea. Recruitment process belong in the age of the ledger rather than Lnked-in. The build for me would be to make sure it didn't become like some intern programmes, where to be blunt rich kids are recruited by connected people. CIPD is involved in a programme to help young people into jobs called Learning to work. Central to that is “How do we help young people without connections?” For me we could bring some randomness to mix up things and get a pool of people , use social networking going far and wide to build new friends of friends would really make this work and would build some much need inclusion and create a more diverse talent pool. Great thinking.

John - thanks. In our connected age it is easier to make new friends from diverse backgrounds than it was in the past. We are making new friends right here in this shared space too! I am happy to share with you that I got some private e-mails from some of the participants here. It is delightful! Some told me that their family is planning a trip to my country. Of course we will be delighted to meet them face to face and then help them find a job if they need it sometime in the future. Isn`t it lovely? I love this serendipity! We are so happy when we get new clients through friends we do business with abroad. It is becoming a true GLOBAL VILLAGE just as Marshal McLuhan coined it in the 60s and we should open up and enjoy it!

Sylvana - our experience is not only with university. It seems that the strategy of a "friend brings a friend" works well all over. Especially where there is shortage of talent it is much faster than HR centrally driven processes. HR can help define the profile of people needed. There are organizations who practice bonus for people who bring their friends on-board - of course for those who stay for a minimum amount of time.

sylvana-storey's picture

Edna, your recruitment practice is a recipe for securing good retention and provides the employee with an insight into your companies organizational culture which is not always apparent during an interview. I wonder if your practice enables attraction from diverse candidates and those who are not at university?

Edna, in order to do your due diligence for executive hiring, one would hope that you have checked them out extensively before they arrive at your offices. My partner and I made some unfortunate instant hiring mistakes by going with our guts.

Of course - only we have found out that the strategy of a "friend brings a friend", which I have already mentioned here, is a LEAN strategy to do it.
BTW, we prefer promoting from within, when looking for candidates for senior roles. Only when we have nobody from within, we start searching with friends.

Joyce - Thanks. You say "instant hiring does require more upfront work" - why?

Edna, you are absolutely right! With increasing shortages in skill sets, companies seeking top talent simply cannot afford the luxury of taking the time they used to have to make up their minds. That top talent will be gone with the wind. This concept of instant hiring does require more upfront work, however, I join you in believing it is well worth it.

julian-birkinshaw's picture

Hi Edna,

I think this is a terrific idea. I am reminded of Henry Stewart, CEO of Happy Ltd in London which is an IT training company. He refuses to look at CVs when hiring - he just asks candidates to run a brief training activity for a panel, so he can see what they are like doing the job they are being hired for. Often he finds the best trainers are NOT the ones with the fancy CVs. I would love to see how far this principle of "trying people out in the job itself" rather than a painful screening and interviewing process can be taken. Julian

Thanks Julian. I like it very much and I am going to try it myself too ASAP !

jon-ingham's picture

Heidi, that's just poor strategy, it's not a problem with strategy itself. And actually I think Edna's hack is a strategy, it's just a strategy to experiment.

Jon - thanks! Yes! It is my strategy to experiment fast and learn from doing. Life is short and we have small windows of opportunities and we should not waste them - we just go for them and if we find that we have made a mistake - we fast admit it too and cut our loss ASAP. The older I get - the more I love this strategy!

bruce-lewin's picture

I think this is a good idea, although does it work for more senior roles, over and above trainees? I've always been struck by the fact that even the lengthiest selection processes are typically dwarfed by a new employee's first week in the role, never mind their first month and this doesn't even get close to the famed first 90/first 100 days that are often talked about...

Bruce - our experience has been that it is a MUST for senior roles! Senior leaders are talent in high shortage and if you are fortunate to bump into a good one - grab them!
We check and double check risks in doing and forget the often higher risk of NOT doing...
Maybe we should start calculating the costs of not doing and we will get more courage for more experimentation at work and beyond.

bruce-lewin's picture

Hi Edna, so have you done similar things when hiring senior managers/executives, or are you just saying that it should also be done too in this context?

Hi Bruce - yes, we have and so have some of our clients. If a senior candidate is recommended to us by a common friend, who knows both parties and what both parties are looking for - it becomes an even greater opportunity not to be missed! We sometimes lower the price of a potential failure by experimenting this relationship in a specific project so that if the experiment works - the person is hired for the top position, if not - we have created an opportunity to learn from...

heidi-de-wolf's picture

I think this principle should be adopted through HR practices. Act first, strategise later! Writing a strategy before taking action suggests that everything has to be perfect before we make a start and needs to be signed off. It totally paralyses innovation.

I hadn't considered the principle in relation to recruitment of young people into an organisation, so thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Heidi - Yes! I agree! Yet I do believe in emerging strategies - and it seems we have an emerging strategy here and we have been following it and will go on following it as long as it works - and we will experiment with new opportunities to recruit talent.
Here is another type of experiment that has worked for us up front - "a friend brings a friend" !