We’ve zoomed up to lunchtime on the first day of HR Tech World Amsterdam, and attitudes towards who you recruit are already popping out for me as a beautifully sharp theme. Examples of this cropped up both at Bill Boorman’s fireside Rebel Alliance chat with Anna Ott and Tasha Cluskey, all speaking their truth about trying new moves without hanging around to ask for permission. Then the message was emotionally supported by Sarah Wood’s powerful plea to seek out people who might otherwise have been overlooked, because that’s what injects the fun every organization needs to accelerate their business success.
In and among the talks, I took some time to catch up with Jerome Ternynck about what’s flying in the recruitment and how, as a CEO, he rolls:
The common recruitment methods out there in the world, do you think they’re emotional enough?
No, they’re not. I think through our applicant tracking systems we’ve actually taken the emotions and the human element out of recruiting. A human being who applies for a job becomes an applicant who needs to be tracked in a machine, which really has nothing to do with recruiting, because recruiting is about people – it’s about a bunch of people from outside coming to meet a bunch of people inside your company to figure out if they all want to work together. And I think that part is gone, so it’s time to make recruiting human again, it’s time to make it collaborative and stop tracking applicants and start hiring people.
What’s your advice to hiring managers who require applicants to prove that they’ve previously done every part of the job before?
I think hiring based on past experience is a short-sighted view. The usual saying is that you hire for attitude and fire for attitude. The world is a lot more complex than have you done this before therefore you can do it again. Unfortunately in recruiting some hiring managers go back to that because it’s the only tangible asset they have to evaluate your potential ability to do the job. So I like to replace that with a collaborative evaluation process because I think the only way you achieve proper evaluation is to set up criteria for the job. At SmartRecruiters, we do it through a pre-hire performance assessment. For example, I assess you at the pre-hire stage based on the performance criteria I’d be assessing you on six months into the job. Therefore that first step is to set up a good scorecard. Secondly, you need a good hiring team, not just the manager and HR; we involve peers and other departments in interviews and consolidate this against the scorecard. Each assessor submits their reviews without seeing the scores given by the others on the hiring team. Then the aggregated scores that come out make it obvious who you should hire and why. Peer interviews are amazingly powerful because they communicate to your employee that I trust you and value your judgment, so I want you to help me hire people in the team. Also, peer interviewers are so good at interviewing, because as a boss you just say to the candidate, have you done this before? But as a peer you say things like, do you know the office is twenty minutes walk from the tube station, are you going to be on time every morning? The level of questions they ask is very different, and their opinion is also, crucially, different. Peer interviewers ask better questions, using them motivates your existing employees and, once the team has said collectively that this is the person they want to hire, then when that person arrives on their first day they have a warm welcome and the entire team is behind them. That’s my advice to hiring managers: a collaborative hiring process.
As a CEO, how do you best unlock people’s potential?
By putting them in a magic triangle of purpose, autonomy, and mastery. Purpose, meaning I know why I’m here. If you lack purpose and don’t understand why you’re here then you should move on. At SmartRecruiters we keep a strong sense of purpose, our guiding light is connecting people to jobs. Autonomy is critical in every job – that everyone’s the CEO of their own job, which is one of our values. Mastery, meaning helping people get really good at what they do, and to recognise how good they are at what they do. If you have somebody who’s really good at what they do, who’s empowered to do what they need to do, and knows why they’re here, then they are in the magic triangle, and the performance of that person is amazing – the sky is the limit.
If you could live inside any novel, which would it be?
I don’t know that I want to live inside a novel; I tend to look at the world how it is and improve it how I can. So I wouldn’t live inside a novel.
A voice that’s ready for the future, what does it say?
You are who you hire. I think many people still see hiring as a workflow; it’s not. It’s a sales and marketing function. And hiring success begets business success, and the companies who are able hire the best talent are going to win and those who don’t are going to lose, as evidenced by Google, Facebook and the others in the last decade.
Are there sections of the HR industry that you see as undervalued right now?
Recruiting is definitely undervalued. The importance of having amazing recruiters for an organization is very interesting. Every CEO says hiring top talent is their number one priority. But then they pass this to HR and they try to minimize costs and risk, and treat it as a workflow even though it’s not. So I think that level of partnership between HR and leadership to land the best talent is one of the areas of the HR industry that’s now being fixed, we’re now seeing a lot of that.
Do you think natural fun has a place in corporate environments?
I think fun is an essential part of life, and therefore an essential part of corporate life. And if you don’t have fun in your job, you don’t have fun in your organisation either, so then probably your company is doing something wrong, or you are doing something wrong if you are the leader. It is compatible; fun doesn’t mean messy, it’s not incompatible with being really good at what you do, charging forward, being ambitious, and changing things. Doing those things in a more light-hearted way allows you to be authentic, be yourself, and to build relationships with your peers and with your management. I think fun is a very very strong attribute of high performing organizations.
When you’re having the most fun in your work, what are you doing?
I love speaking with our engineers, they’re amazing. Together we’re geeks and artists at the same time. What they make is beautiful so I enjoy talking with them so much. We also have regular lunches in our office where we get together as a team. We celebrate together when new customers join us, cheer each other on and ring the bell in our office. I also love speaking on stage at events like HR Tech World and Hiring Success, I really look forward to doing that, because the people there believe in what you do, you create an emotional connection with your customers.
What do you do in moments when you doubt yourself?
I go sailing. I go for walks. I doubt myself all the time. People say only the paranoid survive, and if you’re an entrepreneur it’s very true. That’s what I do for a living: doubting, challenging my assumptions, challenging what we do, pushing our boundaries, helping people get better, opening people’s eyes to new ideas. As a CEO and an entrepreneur you’re the backbone of the organization, you represent the purpose and values, and you’re there to anticipate what might go wrong.
In your view, what are the upcoming challenges recruiters will face?
I think it’s very clear that recruiting is turning very fast, more than ever, into a marketing game. The world is going to divide between those A organizations who are investing in proper marketing tech and proper marketing behaviours (and who are going to take the best talent), and those B organizations who don’t, who still wait for candidates to apply for jobs and never hear back from them. And this is going to become a struggle. I think the market is really dividing between A and B. Large organizations that have always relied on the assumption that everyone wants to work for them are actually in for a surprise. Recruiters themselves are exactly where digital marketers were a decade ago – they see the opportunity but it hasn’t really fully materialised. So the challenge recruiters face is the opportunity they have – that they’re suddenly going to have to become one of the most important and strategic functions in an organization, and they have to be ready for this. It’s time for recruiters to talk about the value they deliver. You measure the value recruiters give by asking whether they’re hiring amazing people, on a scale of one to ten. Recruiters who can make business cases to convince organizations to invest more in recruiting to gain better candidates – through building recruiting infrastructure, campaigns, and the behaviours to win in the talent economy – those recruiters are going to enjoy amazing careers. I’ve never seen a better time to be a recruiter actually.
Will people ever stop applying for jobs?
Yes, there’s a little bit of fantasy that the best candidates don’t apply for jobs and that you need to outbound call them. I say yes and no. It’s like a pendulum. You’re looking for a marketing mix of inbound and outbound candidates, just like finding new customers. Depending on the job type, you apply a different marketing mix. Recruitment is marketing. If people decide to go out and work for themselves I don’t see that as a threat to organizations. It means individuals have to sharpen up their skills to provide for themselves. That’s good.