Sitting Still to Move Forward

A workplace often gives us an imagery of activity. Phones ringing, papers shuffling, a few voices here and there, everything and everyone contributing to an active atmosphere. Meetings happen every now and then, symbolising movement, progress, brainstorming, dynamism, innovation. The modern culture today values this movement and innovation. New ideas, new ideas, better ideas! And somewhere, the value of stillness and focus is forgotten.

For anything to move forward, for any idea to be implemented well, a moment of stillness and focus is needed. It is indeed paradoxical that this stillness is sometimes necessary to implement the idea and take it forward. Let us quickly delve into this!

Repetition-Perfection versus Innovation:

Stillness also means the need to sit with something, and looking at it from all the possible perspectives, and repeating that if needed.

There is a Taoist wisdom that goes along these lines. Sometimes, we become so occupied with creating and thinking about something new, we forget to look properly at what is in front of us. Think of it this way- is it better to read multiple books, one after the other, almost behaving like it’s a competition to see who reads the greatest number of books? Or is it better to read one book thoroughly, paying attention to the little details within it?

Is it better to read that book, as many times needed to get a complete understanding of it? Or is it better to skip from one book to another, without trying to understand it completely?

Sometimes, the situation demands that we pay attention to just one agenda so that it can be managed well. Sometimes the need is that we pay attention to preparing one decent pitch for that one investor, by studying their expectations, instead of trying to network relentlessly with everyone we meet. It is thus really important to understand the context and shift our focus accordingly. Correction- it is important that sometimes, the need is to not shift the focus.

Distractions + Innovation= Focus gone!

A recent survey of 1600 employees highlighted by the Harvard Business Review brought to attention that more than 60% of those employees admitted that they rarely are able to engage in deep focused work for even one or two hours without interruptions. There is always some distraction- whether it is emails, a meeting, a quick chat, and so on. The article goes on to give a scenario- an employee checks their long list of emails first thing in the morning. He responds to those emails one by one- most are small, manageable requests. Naturally, it would make him feel productive, as the inbox goes from unread to read emails.

But wait, there is this one big request that needs more time- it is a project proposal. He decides to work on the project proposal later during the day when he has more focus. Later, when he does sit down to work on it, a co-worker stops by to chat. And before we know it, it’s lunchtime. After lunch, there’s a meeting scheduled to brainstorm about the next project. Once the meeting is over, it’s almost the end of the day, and so on…

The scenario or similar ones may not be entirely unfamiliar to us. Distractions are there. And add to that, we are encouraged to constantly move from one task to another. Rarely, it is mentioned that one must sit and work on a task. Rarely, that stillness to be on a task is encouraged.

It is here that people in leadership positions can turn that around.

Carving out Time, to give Time:

It becomes imperative for leaders, managers and others in such positions to ensure that equal importance is given to ‘focused work time’ as well. As an article by Growth Partners Consulting mentions-it is not just meetings and such ‘dynamic’ tasks that should have a special place at work- the time to sit with it and to work on tasks should also be paid equal importance.

It sounds almost obvious, but when we think about, we can’t deny how much time is often gone in deciding the number of tasks to be done, and how little time to actually work on something remains. 

Simple measures like reducing the number of meetings, setting a time-limit on the duration of meetings, setting aside specific hours or days for focused work, encouraging and modelling that behaviour can go a long way.

The pandemic reminded us the power and importance of being here and now. In one of our earlier articles, we recognised the importance of some ‘slack time’. It is also about time we recognise the power and importance of sitting with the task. Slack time is when reinvention happens. And pausing everything else for a while to deeply work on a task is when the forward movement happens.

Employment trends in time of Mass Lay-offs

While we were busy talking about the importance of recruiting talent that stays, and how to ensure a good experience for the candidate, the world was hit by the news of mass lay-offs by big multinational tech companies. Through these events of layoffs, we can only reiterate more on the point that the job market is likely to see certain changes in the nature of candidates and their expectations. Continuing on the tangents of our previous two articles, let us quickly take a look at what are the implications of looking for jobs and recruiting amidst the layoffs.

Stability over fancy offers:

One look at many of the reels full of self-deprecating humour being shared on social media, and we will realise that many of the big companies that laid off their employees had quite ‘fancy’ packages. Lounging facilities with luxurious options, company merchandise, perks about flexibility and other present-day buzzwords, and the stamp of working for a major company- all of this worked well as long as one was working there.

It is likely that many of the now former employees of these companies would have learnt their lesson the hard way, and would be looking for things that actually matter as they search for a new job. In other words, these candidates would now be looking for stability over perks. They would be looking for companies that treat them respectfully and don’t just use expressions like ‘our company is like a big family’ for the sake of it. They would be looking for companies that actually give them a sense of job security. It might not be too far-fetched to assume that days of wanting to join a big name because they are a big name are numbered.

This takes us to the next point.

Doesn’t matter how big the name is:

As mentioned in our earlier article, gone are the days of the 70s Hindi film imagery of candidates crowding over one position at a big company. But perhaps gone also are the days of the decade of 2010s of candidates looking to join a big name.

This is an opportunity for start-ups, small and medium scale companies to show they are no less, or are perhaps even better than a big name. The ‘stamp’ may not be there yet, but the company -no matter how big or small- can offer things like:

  • Showing value to the candidate’s skills and competence
  • A sense of meaning to the candidate/employee in the job, by the nature of the service or product the company has to offer
  • A strong set of ethical and professional values

When it comes tech layoffs, it is crucial to know that these candidates would be aware of the value they bring to table. Tech jobs, as volatile as they are, are also always in demand. This brings us to the next point.

Different candidates, similar experiences:

Many of the laid off candidates, it is said, were not even a week into the job and they got the news. On the other hand, there were many candidates who had served the company for decades. The point is companies looking to hire might find candidates of varying experience and skill level even more than usual, and it would be necessary to find a way to assess them fairly.

As an article by Recruit CRM mentions, sticking rigidly to conventional benchmarks like those of experience, or having a degree from a top college may or may not always be fair to the candidate. The diverse background of candidates in general, and not just those of the laid off pool must be considered.

Keeping this in mind during selection and interview rounds would ensure that a team full of individuals with diverse competence- skill- and experience-levels would be created, with different strengths, instead of a homogenous mix.

And as mentioned earlier, it’s no longer just a matter of perks, stamps and big salaries.

Many of the big tech companies offer great salaries, and it is likely that many of the laid off employees had it going really well. A candidate might not be swayed by a big salary, great perks or a fancy designation anymore. Showing that companies value a candidate’s skills, competence, time and commitment is necessary and job postings, descriptions and the company itself must reflect this all.

Keys to Retaining Talent

Global trends  say ,when it comes to talent and hiring point that there is a shortage of talent. Correction: there is a shortage of talent that stays. As discussed in one of our earlier articles about candidate experience, the new generation of employees and job-seekers have their expectations set, and are not afraid to walk away from an offer they do not like. Companies and organisations are facing challenges in retaining talent.

One part of the challenge is to find skilful talent. Often ignored, the next part faced by employers, and by extension recruiters is to find talent that stays, as we already mentioned in the earlier article(link).

Let us quickly take a look at what one can do as employer, or ‘talent-finder’ to retain talent.

Combat Quiet-Quitting:

Late in 2022, this buzzword came about. It is a phenomenon where employees are becoming increasingly disengaged with their jobs, and are doing just the bare minimum.  The term thus refers to how employees are so disengaged that it feels like they are quietly drifting away, quietly quitting. Burnout, stress, low levels of motivation are often been attributed to it.

At some point, burnout and low motivation are bound to make the employee finally quit. At some point, the talent might walk away. Or a new talent hired might drift into these patterns. Low motivation doesn’t just mean a lack of motivation to work, it also means a lack of motivation to find ways to prevent stress and burnout.

To prevent this, the organisation and the employee need a little realignment to ensure the motivation levels remain optimal.

It is important companies take necessary steps. As an article by People Matters puts it:

‘…employers must shift with it and understand that if their employees’ goals align with company objectives, engagement and productivity will follow. If this isn’t accomplished, companies will have to get used to facing a low return on their investment when it comes to hiring staff. Retention levels will plateau or continue to fall, and collaboration and engagement will become something to strive for rather than a cultural baseline.’

So, what concrete steps can be taken to ensure these motivation levels remain high?

Make them feel heard:

The same article by People Matters continues how companies can be more ‘listening’ in their approach. Sometimes, employees might be going through events in their lives that demand that the company extends some flexibility to them. Having company policies is necessary but if a little tweaking can improve someone’s productivity, maybe it’s not a bad idea to consider it without changing entire policies.

 In other words, companies can make sure that the individual needs of employees are being met so that family situations, life emergencies etc do not become the reason that an employee becomes demotivated, or can only manage to do the bare minimum.

So many times, good candidates might get away due to location issues, or/and employees might quit because of aforementioned reasons. So many women and new mothers might quit the jobs they loved because of lack of flexibility and options. Truly, a little flexibility can go a long way in retaining talent.

One-on-one meetings, time-to-time company-wide surveys, and just general wellness check-ins are some steps to gauge individual situations pertaining to company policies.

Of course, there’s only so much a company do about flexibility. What are some other ways companies can ensure motivation levels remain high and talent stays?

Combat stagnation, provide opportunities:

One of the major reasons companies are unable to retain talent is because at some point an employee can feel stagnated in their career. They might be looking for new challenges.

New candidates might be hesitant to apply if they think there won’t be much professional growth in future.

To combat both these scenarios, organisations can offer various upskilling and reskilling opportunities so their employees don’t have to look elsewhere unnecessarily. Options galore, based on the scale and capacity of the organisations. Right from sponsoring further education, to offering certificate courses, organising seminars, and other L&D workshops. Many large companies like have set up initiatives to sponsor college fees, and many apprenticeships have also been set up.

On a similar tangent, companies can also offer more opportunities for internal mobility.

As mentioned earlier, top talent sometimes cannot be retained for the simple reason that they jump ships for ‘better opportunities.’ It is the fear of stagnation. This fear can be combated when the employees know that there will be opportunities within the organisation to grow. Opportunities within the organisation means instead of jumping ships, the employee can continue to climb the ladder within. Isn’t that a great source of motivation?

In this era of the Great Resignation and Quiet-Quitting, companies and organisations need to look beyond the hiring process and think long-term. Thinking long-term means companies think how they can retain the talent they hire. Talent will be retained when their levels of motivation continue to remain as high as they were when they first joined. Long-term thinking ensuring opportunities for growth and a sense of being heard could be major leaps into retaining talent.

AI and We: Is Recruitment Losing its Human Touch?

It has been years since AI (artificial intelligence) has been the buzzword in the recruitment industry. From companies, to recruitment professionals, to candidates themselves wonder about the role of AI in recruitment. Many also wonder whether recruitment is losing its human touch. Without further ado, let us take a look at the role of AI in recruitment, the concerns regarding its use, as well as how we can have the best of both worlds of using AI and the wisdom of a specialising HR/recruitment professional.

The Advantages of Using AI in recruitment:

AI is often used for a quicker processing of information.

According to an article on BrixRecruiting, it is used for sourcing candidates, scanning keywords in the resume. Moreover, certain more advanced softwares are also used for the analysis of speech, facial expressions, and behaviour. In an age of talent crunch and competitive hiring, AI can take away the burden from the hiring department of a company as all these preliminary processes can be performed by the AI itself, increasing the speed of the larger process.

The Issues within AI recruitment:

With all its speed and efficiency, AI can lose out on the nuance and specialisation that conventional human recruitment offers by default. There’s just a different quality to face to face interactions, and first impressions gathered by non-verbal cues and experienced eye.   

Plus, almost paradoxically, AI recruiting tools are ultimately created by humans, and some biases and prejudices may leak into the software. An automated hiring system at Amazon, according to a Reuters report taught itself that male candidates are preferred over female ones because of certain deductions it made. Amazon’s experimental hiring tool gave scores to candidates from one to five stars by detecting certain commonalities and patterns in older, successful resumes.

It was created with an intention that one could filter out top five resumes from a hundred submitted.  But the issue was the older resumes based on which the pattern of a good resume was detected were mostly submitted by males. As a result, the present system thus filtered out good resumes of females as well because it didn’t detect certain keywords! The male dominance of the industry became a ‘pattern’ which the AI took as an example of a ‘good resume.’

Another example of the use of AI, although much simpler, is the use of chatbots in the initial screening stages. The chatbots schedule interviews, asks certain automated questions to pool the candidates.

But again, in such cases, how would one account for unforeseen events, emergencies, when the candidate has to reschedule something last minute? Or what if the candidate has a question that doesn’t generate an automated response?

Furthermore, many AI-based platform companies provide recruiting but with no specialisation– the recruitment process becomes more generalised which again could result in losing out on candidates who may have been spotted by an experienced eye.

The Road Ahead:

The ideal would be the use of AI in a way that human recruiters still have a total control of the process. For example, an article on Crosschq mentions how pre-hiring checks might be performed by the AI, eliminating some repetitive tasks. The recruiters can then participate in the one-on-one interviews and interactions to gauge the candidate with all their nuances of socio-cultural factors.

From time to time, recruiters should update the various parameters fed to the AI software, so that the changing times and work culture remain up to date and the automation doesn’t filter out the good candidates because of random algorithms.

Further, the recruiters should from time-to-time check who the candidates are that have been filtered out by the AI. The recruiters can rely on their instinct of experience– if a candidate seems to be good, but the AI filters them out, the control should ultimately lie in the hands of the recruiter. It is also a good idea to ensure that the candidates know how and whom to reach out in case they wish to clarify certain things, which the impersonal AI might not be able to ‘understand’.

It is as simple as updating the AI with changing times, and checking on its ‘intelligence’ from time-to-time, because after all, it is artificial intelligence. It is about adding the human touch to that artificial intelligence.

The New Generation of Candidates: Why and How to Ensure a Good Candidate Interview Experience

We often talk about interviews and how the candidate can make the best of such opportunities. Candidates are repeatedly told to make a good impression in front of the companies but what about the reverse? Companies also need to ensure they have a good ‘brand’ and that candidates are willing to apply.

‘Employer brand’ is one of the buzzwords being used right now. But essentially, a good experience for the candidate itself is a stepping- stone towards creating a good employer brand. Jargon aside, let us take a look at a few pointers about the why’s and how’s of a good candidate experience.

Why should companies worry about the candidate experience?

It all starts with hiring:

As has been hinted, a good experience for the candidate with the company means brownie points for the employer brand. With the ongoing talent crunch, the effects of Great Resignation, and changing needs as per the new generations of workforce, companies are in a rush to attract talent. As author and LinkedIn change-maker Andrew MacAskill puts it, the candidate experience starts with the hiring process and hiring process is the opportunity to sell your company.

Whether a candidate has been hired or not, being treated well and respectfully by the company will create a positive word of mouth. Contrast the negative publicity a company might get when candidates have been treated disrespectfully.

In our earlier article about ‘silver medal candidates’, we mentioned how reaching out to candidates who were on the ‘second place’ would create a similar positive word of mouth because it shows that the company remembers them and did fulfil the promise of these words: ‘We will get in touch with you if an opportunity arises.’

Thus, the hiring process: right from the job posting, the correspondence, the interview process and the post-interview formalities needs to be done right to ensure the company attracts and keeps attracting good candidates

The new generation of candidates:

Movies between the time period of 70s and 90s show a common imagery- a huge line of candidates sitting outside the interviewer’s/boss’s cabin waiting for their turn, nervously, hoping that they would get the job. The present imagery, or rather set of imageries, is somewhat like this:

  • A candidate applies for jobs at multiple places that they find interesting
  • A candidate applies for a job and comes to the interview just to get the ‘experience’ of the interview to understand the contemporary trends
  • A candidate has plan Bs and plan Cs in place, and is going to make a decision based on which company gives them a better ‘vibe’.

Almost recklessly applying for jobs, and even more recklessly jumping through jobs and the problems within some of the newfound habits of the new generations is a topic for another day. But nevertheless, the point is that many candidates now are aware about their needs. They are aware about the competition within the job market. They are clear about what they want, and what they do not want.

And they are not afraid to take risks. They are not afraid to leave a job they do not like, and not afraid to walk out on an offer they do not find attractive.

Hence, it becomes necessary that companies ensure a good candidate experience. It is not so because companies need to shrink in the face of the ‘demands’ of the candidates. It is so because companies need to ensure they find talent that stays.

And talent stays when their experience has been up to the standard which they hold valuable.

How should companies ensure these standards are met?

Or in other words, how do the companies ensure that they are offering a good candidate experience?

The answer is simple. Andrew MacAskill tells how the candidates mostly want transparency, clear assessment, pace and authenticity from the company. Again, it is all about the process that respects the candidate and their time and efforts. Respectful treatment of the candidates naturally leads to a respectful reputation of the company- it is really that simple.