Many of you were with us for an extraordinary 2012 Executive Forum in Las Vegas last week. But I know not everyone was able to make it and, of those that did, not all could make it through to the end of Tech Day.
That said, you may have missed “Tech Recruiting Tools: The Best and the Brightest,” one of the last sessions on Friday, ably moderated by recruitment process consultant (Kay Colson, President of Resource Business Services, Inc.). It was a fascinating and useful session, so I wanted to share some of my takeaways.
The session was set-up to talk about the many new recruiting (technology) tools appearing in the staffing world, featuring panel discussion and comments by:
- Karen Turner, VP, Strategic Talent Optimization, SourceRight Solutions
- Libby Dodge, VP Business Development, TalentRooster
- Cory Phillips, Principal/COO, Talent Reef
While Libby and Cory represented two of myriad new recruiting tools arriving in our space, Kay and Karen represented more the selectors, procurers, implementers, and users of those many tools. While the discussion did focus on the tools themselves, it also touched upon the selection and adoption of these tools and the process of innovation.
And this was what interested me most of all.
Staffing firms, on average, seem to have a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward technology, but have nonetheless been increasingly putting it to reasonably good use over the years. However, in the past, technology was something that came to staffing firms in relatively big chunks and within a fairly narrow set of alternatives: some ATS solutions (including those provided by a number of comprehensive staffing-firm-specific “enterprise solutions providers”), some job boards, and (for many firms) the fait accompli of VMS.
Now, particularly in the talent acquisition and recruiting areas, the situation is quite different: a vast expanding ecosystem of relatively economical and relatively easy-to-deploy technology tools and information services is taking shape, and staffing firms are faced with a conundrum: Which ones—from this vast and increasing population of options—should a firm try, evaluate, select, and adopt?
This is a question and set of issues that SIA will be analyzing in 2012. But the “Tech Recruiting Tools” session last week provided a very good jump-off point for this analysis by addressing, to some degree, the general approach to choice and adoption of new tech tools.
Karen Turner, for example, described how SourceRight has recently formed a team whose purpose is to test and pilot new tools to determine, not only which might fit and bring obvious direct benefits to the sourcing/recruiting organization, but also which might move the organization significantly along on an innovation path. Rather than simply being a traditional procurement function, it seemed to me that Karen was describing a team that tasked with solution R&D and achieving innovation goals.
Now, all well and good for a large-scale firm with large-scale resources, you might say. But what about for a staffing with less than hundreds of million dollars in revenue (even with just tens of millions of dollars)?
Ah, there’s the conundrum?
In fact, I think it could be argued that not only is some kind of similar approach possible for smaller staffing firms, but may also be imperative for success in the emerging world of competition, innovation, and differentiation based on a hot-house environment for new recruitment tech tools and information services.
One way to convince you of this is to advise you of the growing acceptance of a practice of something called “open innovation” across many businesses and industries. Henry Chesbrough (Open Innovation: The new imperative for creating and profiting from technology. Boston: Harvard Business School Press (2003)) kind of coined the term a decade ago: “Open innovation is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology.” In effect, open innovation entails structuring your firm to interact with outside entities in a relatively dynamic way, so that there is a flow of new ideas.
OK in theory. Right? But what about practice (especially for smaller staffing firms)?
Well, this question was posed in the session and some good comments and suggestions were articulated, largely by and through the moderator Kay Colson. There was a general consensus that staffing firm management needed to start with a pretty clear idea of what the business would be trying to achieve in terms of market segments and what might be needed to address customer and candidate needs. And beyond that, there were some other good suggestions, on how to figure out what new tools to adopt and assimilate into your organization. The following are my interpretations of what was discussed:
- Recognize that the technology world is now different from that past one. There are many more potential solutions which may or may not fit your organization and business plan. Rather than going through a long major analysis and a “big bang” procurement effort bit of trial and error should be necessary and desirable.
- New technology tool and information service providers might be expected to be more open, flexible, and consultative in small trials and pilots. Develop relationships with many providers, based on trialing, experimentation, and open communication. You are not looking to get married to a vendor, you are looking to form valuable relationships with the most useful partners, constituting your own unique, specialized enterprise-platform community-ecosystem.
- Do your best to see what seems to match your business aims or to offer you a good push ahead in what you are trying to achieve, draw upon some of the enthusiastic people in your business who are eager to try new things and new ways of achieving better results.
- Make your best judgments and try a little of what seems best as you proceed along this smorgasbord (just as with a smorgasbord, your goal is not to find the right single entre, your goal is put together the right combination of different elements that will please you and your digestive system!).
- Consider forming coops with other staffing firms with whom you do not compete directly. In addition to getting ideas and validating information from tech tool provider-partners, you can achieve the same with these other staffing firms (in addition to economies of scale in R&D and perhaps eventually in procurement).
No one said it was going to be easy. But in fact, it should be easier, since procuring new technology is now more like trying and subscribing to services. It will require a change in mindset about technology, how you figure out what’s right and how to procure it.
Think of technology more of a “flow” than a “stock.” With the right mindset and teaming and partnering relationships, you and your firm will gradually find its way—sensing and responding, and by some trial-and-error—to innovations that support your business plan, differentiating your business and allowing it to perform, to compete, and to service all your customers (buyers, candidates, and employees) at higher levels than you do today.