As you might have noticed, my posting rate has been substantially reduced over the past few weeks (not that it was acceptably frequent before), and one of the primary reasons is that I've made the difficult decision to leave Starbucks and have accepted a position as the leader of recruiting for Google's Global Online Sales and Operations group, which is led by Sheryl Sandberg. She will be my primary internal customer.
AdSense, AdWords, future revenue-generating product offering "X", you get it. In foundational form, it is the business unit where lots and lots of revenue flows from people outside of Google to people inside of Google, in exchange for the best advertising solution in the world. I am pretty sure talent acquisition fits into that equation somehow.
Google's recruiting department has taken a few knocks, as recently reported in the Wall Street Journal. Too many interviews, too much process, lack of a competency-based model for selection, attitudinal issues as they engage in the talent marketplace and similar concerns. It's refreshing that Google has chosen to be transparent about it. It seems like the organization is ready for change. The most interesting descriptor I found was the reference to the Google recruiting process as 'glacial'. I'm not an MBA, but that can't be good for business. Despite all the criticisms, I would suggest that in recruiting they are still winning.
While I was working out in the gym this week, I discovered a new term in an article in Newsweek magazine that really resonants with me, and is applicable to my new job at Google: Radical Transparency. I've been talking about this theme and for a long time in previous posts. There's a great post on this topic by Chris Anderson of The Long Tail fame on his blog from last month.
Recruiting departments that leverage radical transparency will win more than their fair share of talent. As a leader of recruiting departments at some of the world's most well-known companies, I should point out that I am really in the business of telling people "no". Unfortunately, most people who want to work at Starbucks don't get hired. I'm sure this is the same at Google, and other well-branded companies with reasonably solid employee value propositions and certainly for those that are market-leading. It is a supply and demand equation, and companies with particularly high bars (like Google is notorious for having) but also huge talent requirements due to growth tell people 'no' on a grand scale.
Given this, one strategy is to tell candidates "no" and do it in a way that is better than your competition: more authentic, with more sincerity and respect, and in a way that inspires them. Yes, inspires them. It is a wortwhile value proposition in a 'radically transparent' world to inspire the innumerable numbers of candidates who aren't selected for a job at your company. The chasm of technology and process that has been created between organizations (ie, groups of human beings) and their potential future workforce (ie, other groups of human beings) can be bridged by simply exceeding people's expectations through the interview process: making every impression (in the marketing sense of the word) through the recruitment process uphold and strengthen the brand and the promise represented by the employment value proposition.
This is true because people make decisions to join companies based on the value proposition that is offered (salary, culture, stock options, brand, job) but also because they make decisions based on how the process made them feel, and the connection and engagement it creates between themselves and the people they interact with during the interview process.
If organizations do this well, the talent market becomes inundated with talent who did not 'get into' your company, but still greatly aspire to. This is smart business.
Under my leadership, we were able to do this well at Starbucks: recruiters wrote hand-written thank-yous to candidates who were not selected, sent them Starbucks Cards preloaded with a few dollars, and made the interview process unique by doing things like coffee-tastings with candidates, which incidentally most of our competitors couldn't really do. But really, it came down to what kind of an organization did we want to be.
This is a particularly useful strategy if talent becomes scarce. It is also a useful strategy given the real potential that the desirability of your offering (employment brand, general company brand, etc) may fall out of favor with the free-agency-minded workforce of today. And make no mistake, there is always this potential - this is a risk that all companies face, and now more than ever.
Lest we forget that company success is not an entitlement, historically there are very few companies who remain in the top spot, by any measure (whether financial, market share, or 'best place to work'), for very long. Success is tenuous at best, and recruiting strategies related to this topic should plan for the long run with regards to how you engage with talent. Reputations are hard (and expensive) to change.
This is not to be confused with the difference between available talent and qualified talent and the issues with scarcity. There still may be issues with relative shortages of qualified people to meet business requirements. The point is that even the unqualified people have a voice and impact perception, brand, and the perspective of qualified talent.
In the case of Starbucks or Google, most everyone that wants to work at the company is also a customer. Or a future customer. Or in the case of a radically transparent world, will inform a customer or a thousand customers or a million customers depending on how well they are able to extend their reach. To change the game, an organization needs to, each and every time, exceed candidate/applicant expectations (which are at an all time low anyway) in a way that inspires them. As I've said in other posts, the big things matter, but the little things (like how you treat people, whether they be inside or outside of your company) are also critically important in a radically transparent world.
An illustrative anecdote: Years ago, before the Lexus LS400 automobile was introduced by Toyota, they developed a mantra towards customer service that went something like this: "We will treat customers who walk into our showroom as if we had invited them into our home". At the time and in many cases still to this day, this approach was and is exceedingly divergent from the norm of a car sales or service experience.
Lexus has since gone on to lead the car industry in customer service satisfaction scores (which of course have been proven to positively correlate with profitability and revenue... um...yeah). It is inarguable that this mantra helped shape their entire company and played a huge role in their overall company success.
Smart companies that want to win in the new game of talent, in a radically transparent world, will need to adopt a similar philosophy and talent market strategy. It is smart to be rigorous and have a high bar in recruiting, but the key is to do so with graciousness and humanity.
And that is smart business.
On a personal note, I will be moving from Seattle to the Silicon Valley sometime around February/March and am looking forward to the changes this will bring. Given the weather that we've had in Seattle recently, I must say the whole earthquake thing is beginning to seem a little mundane. Falling trees, frozen roads, downed power lines, massive flooding... those have real entertainment value.
My first day with Google is January 22nd.