Social Media is a tremendously valuable tool for recruiting talent, but most companies are terrible at it. Even so, that’s not a social media problem–it’s a culture problem.
Every company says they care about talent. Great organizations say this because they understand the issue deeply—in a globalizing world of constantly falling prices, the only thing that will make you distinctive (and give you pricing power or even a future) is having better talent than other people. Mediocre companies say they care about talent because they’ve heard that they are supposed to say they care about talent.
Great organizations hire people who make them feel slightly uncomfortable—they take risks in order to achieve great results. Mediocre organizations hire the same people they’ve always hired—people who won’t rock the boat.
Working with Saturday Night Live, it was clear that performance was everything. SNL doesn’t always succeed, but what’s ironclad is that it’s always trying to make you laugh. If you can’t contribute to that, there’s no room for you on the team. (You can pretend to be serious, but you can’t pretend to be funny.)
The bar for funny is always moving. SNL doesn’t hire from a training program or from comedy schools. They have to go out and beat the bushes until they find people they think can help them be funnier. Usually, the freshest and newest talent is not coming up the same way it used to—YouTube gives birth to more SNL talent than established standup clubs or improv troupes. They can’t keep looking in the same places, or they will become less funny.
The SNL talent search process is not easy, it doesn’t always work, and it can be deeply frustrating. But there’s a reason SNL has been on the air for almost 40 years. Broadly speaking, despite the ups and downs, they have stayed funny.
Equally, at McKinsey & Co., performance is everything. They hire brains to solve the hardest problems for the biggest organizations. And those brains used to be available just by vacuuming up the graduating class at Harvard Business School. But as time has gone on, that’s no longer a guarantee.
To get the best brains (and to convince enough of them to join McKinsey instead of Google or Facebook), McKinsey has had to look in very different places—law schools, Biochemistry PhDs, etc. Just like at SNL, the people performing the search are not looking in places where they’re comfortable. But that’s the price of getting great talent.
Great organizations know who they’re looking for and are tireless in searching for it. Mediocre organizations hire who makes them feel comfortable, and hire on “feel.” Sometimes, mediocre organizations can hire great talent, almost always by accident, but they can’t retain them. Erika Andersen from Forbes has a thought-provoking piece that explains why. Put simply, “Top talent leave an organization when they’re badly managed and the organization is confusing and uninspiring.
This is not surprising—bad management has driven away good people forever. However, social media has exacerbated that problem. It’s done that in a number of ways:
First, by allowing organizations to publish consistently to a global audience, candidates are able to get a much better idea of which organizations are serious about talent, and which are paying lip service. To be clear, most companies aren’t serious about attracting, developing, and retaining talent, because that takes a lot of work. But if you are serious about it, you can publish about it.
The best people will understand what good looks like. Mediocre companies may use the right buzzwords, but they won’t be consistent about it and keep it up. They will drop some keywords onto the front page of their website, but they won’t talk much about it because they don’t have much to say.
If you’re serious about talent, you can show it demonstrably in your blog—show how you offer a calling as much as a career, that you care about making an impact in your community, that you don’t offer one-size-fits-all benefits. The less serious people won’t bother. A talent blog may be the cheapest recruiting investment you can make.
Second, the radical transparency offered by social media means that if you lie to your people, it will be easily discovered. Everyone has access to publishing technology, and there is nowhere to hide. If you claim to be serious about talent and you’re not, the word will get out.
This is a symptom of a broader issue described very well by Micah Sifry in his e-book called Wikileaks and the Age of Transparency. In it, Sifry describes a generational and philosophical struggle between older, closed systems, and the new, open culture of the internet. If your company behaves in a hypocritical manner, you should expect one of your employees to be the one who brings it to light.
Our culture values the whistleblower—Edward Snowden and Wikileaks are creatures of the new transparent world. In most organizations, HR is a closed system; in contrast, your best new employees have been transparent (publishing everything about themselves on social media) for years. Which side are you betting on—the HR lifer or the idealistic twenty-five year old with 5,000 Twitter followers?
Third, social media has given talent a new platform. Personal websites, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn profiles, and the ability to comment on other people’s posts means that talented people can make themselves obvious.
Anybody recruiting has access to the public statements of millions of people. They can act as reference checks for people you have already found, or you can search hashtags to find candidates. A simple search for words in tweets within a certain radius of your city or a search of bios can do wonders for recruiting.
Twitter and your search engine of choice can be an x-ray into the available talent in your market. And while this process inevitably misses people who do not use Twitter, do you really want to favor people who are not using social media? In most cases, hiring someone who’s prominent on social media and has a strong personal brand is a good idea. Every industry is different (sales vs. divorce attorneys), but in most cases, a strong Twitter following is a real plus.
Talent is more important than ever. Social media is lubricating the talent market and separating markets into talent winners and talent losers. If you’re serious about talent, social media provides a great advantage. But if you’re not serious about talent, life for your organization is going to get a lot harder.
Image Credit: CC by Andreanna Moya Photography