Putting personality into personalisation…

One Size

This is how it should (Could) be:

The curious active applicant finds their way to your career site. They ‘register’ with your organisation in one click by connecting their social profiles. Three things then happen instantaneously:

  1. Their values, motivations, behaviours and subsequent “culture fit” to the organisation are profiled ‘frictionlessly’ using their social “footprint”.
  2. They are instantly matched (or not) to current and upcoming opportunities in the organisation. Note, there is no ATS ‘registration.”
  3. Their “experience” on your career site, including content, is tailored to reflect their personality profile

One theme that continues to feature heavily in the resourcing discussion is the “Candidate Experience”. It was a key theme at the recent HR Technology conference in Las Vegas and HR Tech conference in Amsterdam The Candidate Experience awards have even made it to Europe.

The subject creates an interesting debate but unfortunately, despite the rhetoric, the gulf between ambition and action is still huge. It’s why I lose the will to live when I hear statements like:

“We should treat our candidates like customers.”

Oh really?! One look at the online experience alone shows just how far we are away from that right now. Lets face it, if the online customer experience was anything remotely like the online candidate experience most organisations would be out of business in a fortnight.

In an attempt to distance the candidate from the hideous interface presented by the average enterprise applicant tracking system, some companies are investing heavily in their career site, building in new, interactive multimedia features in order to create an overall more engaging and superior user experience.

On the face of it this sounds promising – replace turgid job ads with realistic job previews, replace boring statements from the corporate brochure with cool video’s from “real” employees. Add in new features like “Other people who viewed this job, also viewed these other jobs.” And the ability to ‘personalise’ their career experience by picking and choosing career information by ‘channel’.

I met with several vendors at both conferences who offered solutions in this category and they all pitched their wares around this story of “personalisation” of content. However, I don’t think their definition of personalisation goes far enough. Personalisation, in my view, needs to go to the next level and in order to do that, we need to start taking into account an essential missing element – Personality.

It may be a great idea to upgrade the career site experience and include lots of images, video and personalised channels, but what if I don’t actually want to see that? What if that’s not how I process data and information? What if I’m largely high on Introversion, do I really want to be bombarded with rich media from all angles? Or what if I’m high on Detail? Do funky, smiley video’s and job summary’s give me what I need to decide if this is the organisation for me? Sometimes less is most definitely more.

What I do know is that when we talk about personalisation, even in the consumer space, we largely mean around content type, activity or habit. Few, if any, are personalising the “experience” to cater for the values, motivations and behaviour profile of the visitor.

The scenario I paint at the beginning of this post is there for a reason – it’s possible now, you just don’t know it yet. We are entering an era where technology and our understanding of the brain is delivering tremendous insight which in turn we can use to create a much richer overall experience for the potential hire. This may seem like fantasy, but its real.

Whilst it’s good to see that we are moving on, and we are at least thinking creatively, we are not going far enough. The opportunity exists to create a truly personalised experience yet we are still stuck in a “one size fits all” approach.

Management Innovation: It’s the new HR Technology…

WarningSo I’m starting my first blog from the #HRTechEurope conference by shooting straight to the end – or should I say the last session – Management 2.0: Business Strategy for the C21st Organisation by Gary Hammel.

I must admit, I’m a bit of a fanboy and I think he is right on the money when it comes to the state of Management and Leadership today. He’s an entertaining speaker too, although at times, with a good PA system, you need to hang on to your seat as he can literally kind of blow you way with his enthusiasm.

Having Gary, a management science guru, as the closing keynote may seem odd at an HR Tech conference but his message is very relevant:

“The kind of innovation that makes the biggest difference to business isn’t in technology or process. It’s in management.”

Hallelujah! This is the key message that all the vendors, especially, should have taken home from this conference. Watching the major players – Oracle, SAP and Workday – ‘eerm’ and ‘aah’ their way through justifying why you should buy their software on the Thursday afternoon panel – Talking Heads – chaired by Jason Averbook – was entertaining if not a little frustrating.

Much talk of “changing lives” and whilst I know they all have some great customer stories you’d be forgiven for thinking that software can cure cancer. It can’t. Well, ERP solutions, cloud or otherwise can’t! Thank God for Josh Bersin who kept bringing the group back on point:

“If you don’t have a business challenge to solve, don’t change the software.”

Or as Dave Buglass – Head of Organisational Capability and Development at Tesco Bank observed in a well timed tweet:

Dave Buglass Tweet

So the answer to sustained business improvement is Management Innovation, not technology, according to Gary. The problem is, management as we know it, says Gary, is broken. And I think he is right.

But there’s a problem, especially for people like me. You see, 10 years ago, Gary did an event for me at which he kicked off with the following memorable statement:

“Things are moving so fast, you will leave this room more stupid than when you came in.”

That was 10 years ago. Back then, if someone mentioned Social Media you thought they meant a communist newspaper. Watching Gary 10 years on I found myself feeling excited and energised on the one hand, yet frustrated on the other. Excited because his message is relevant and clear. He expertly points out the huge holes in the way we run organisations today and the damage we are doing by letting traditional management and leadership methods prevail.

One of the many examples he gave referred to the four biggest technology players in the market – Intel, Dell, Microsoft and HP – who ALL missed mobile. Arguably they had the best consultants advising them, the biggest R&D budgets and pole position in the ridiculous War For Talent. Yet it made no difference whatsoever – they never saw it coming.

And here’s why, for me, it’s also very frustrating to listen to Gary – because nothing changes. We are not learning. The evidence for change is compelling yet we do nothing, when there is actually a real alternative. After 20 years of thinking this way, hearing people like Gary champion the cause but seeing nothing change, I really really want to punch someone.

But I’m not a violent man ;) Instead I will continue to champion the alternative, to push for ways of running organisations that would scare the crap out of the existing C-Suite, but which are necessary to break the current calcification of organisational change. Here is Gary’s starter for ten:

  • Abolishing all job titles
  • Crowdsourcing corporate strategy amongst employees
  • Have employees elect/hire their leaders
  • Total, open and transparent remuneration data – all levels in the organisation
  • Eliminating budgets and letting anyone raise a purchase order
  • Setting salaries through peer review, (or better IMO, letting employees fix their own remuneration)
  • Managing with a minimum of 1:400 span of control

Any sceptics out there that think this list is some form of impossible, Koolaid inspired dream, I urge you to do some homework. There are a good number of organisations out there already befitting commercially from adopting these, and similar, practices.

If the message to vendors was to put the business problem before the sale, the message to the practitioners in the audience needs to be to stand up, grow some balls and challenge the existing status quo. If, according to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results, then ladies and gentlemen I give you Corporate Dementia.

I will leave you with a call to arms that Gary adapted from a quote by Pope Francis:

“Past CEOs have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their staffers. Bureaucracy is the leprosy of our organisation. The top down model ignores the world around it and I will do everything to change it.”

I intend to. Do you?

“Let’s unfuck the work” – Workplace Trends Conference Round Up

JOIN-A-HILARIOUS-ADVENTURE-OF-A-LIFE-TIME-WORK-BUY-CONCUME-DIEHistory was made on Wednesday the 15th of October 2014 at the @workplacetrends conference #wtrends14. Well, maybe thats stretching it a bit! But it’s certainly the first time I’ve ever seen or had the privilege to be involved in the initiative that was @workstock. Cue a “guerrilla presentation” if you can call it that, consisting of a motley crew of 11 random people with something to say on the matter of the workplace, all presenting Pecha Kucha stylee, back to back, time limited to 6 minutes and 40 seconds each, no breaks except an introductory story for each speaker written and narrated beautifully by the incredibly creative Cara Long.

And so it came to pass that this whirlwind of opinion, perspective, expletives and rants blasted into the face of what was largely a suited and booted audience of workplace professionals representing property developers, designers, facilities managers and even the odd HR pro. I am still not sure quite what they made of it, except it was a massive contrast to the format for the rest of the day. As one of the presenters of that crazy 90 minutes, I’m not going to cover our session here, i’ll leave that to others.

Instead I’m going to share my thoughts on the conference itself, and my reflections on where we are with the workplace issues having seen the good and the great present in a more normal fashion before and after the @workstock ‘gig’. So, in no particular order:

1) The workplace “audience” still seems very conservative. I pitched up for the conference in regulation black T Shirt, black jeans and converse boots. I am, after all, a #MAMIB (Middle age man in black). The venue was superb – 155 Broadgate – very corporate and polished. And so were the audience. I felt somewhat adrift in a sea of suits and ties. Having spent a day in their company and listened to the variety of speakers, “conservative” is the word that sums it up for me. Don’t get me wrong, there was lots of ‘coolness’. You can’t discuss modern workplace design without lots of images showing state of the art facilities and this conference was no exception, with glimpses inside Jay-Z and Kylie Minoges ‘working’ environments, if you can call them that. But the visuals mask a predominantly conservative and, dare I say, male perspective.

2) We are still designing for the collective, not the individual. I have worked in depressing, cubical type work environments – open prisons in any other name – and yearned for something funkier, more collaborative and overall just a lot nicer to be in. But it seems our obsession with personalisation in every other area of business has yet to make it into the world of workplace design. We are still designing for a “one size fits all” approach. I didn’t see much psychology going on in the design either. Sure, there are quiet spaces and collaborative spaces in abundance, but this is less than a hat tip to personality which is a core driver of how we show up at work. Nowhere do I see any real work done or any reflection of personality differences being built or designed into workplaces. If it’s new, then its white, bright and funky. If it ain’t cool, it ain’t cool. Unfortunately, this makes them all seem depressingly similar.

3) We are squandering technology and social advances by not embracing more flexible working. We now have access to technology that I would have not thought possible only 15 – 20 years ago – super computers in our pockets, global connectivity in real time, internet connectivity pretty much everywhere you go, video and voice conferencing at the drop of a hat and for pennies. I can, literally, work comfortably from anywhere in the world. Everything I need is only a click away. Yet to an alien observer watching our workplace habits, they could be forgiven for thinking that very little has changed in the last 30 years. And it hasn’t really has it? Our obsession with “physical presence” means we are totally squandering the technology opportunity and personally, that makes me angry.

4) Re point 3, we keep coming up with new names for flex working eg. Agile, but doing nothing. Flexible working, Agile working, work life balance, work life integration. Every year we come up with a new and sexy name for it. Every year another 1000 metric tonnes of research is published on the subject. And every year the speaker circuit is jam packed with people telling us it’s the way forward. So what do we do? Fuck all it seems. Lets stop talking  and start doing. Lets stop dressing it up in yet another buzzword. Its not rocket science people. The tools are there. The workers by and large would welcome it. So why have we not done it?!

5) We are designing 21st c ideas/practices into 19th c infrastructure I.e. The central ‘office’. I applaud the introduction of these new, more collaborative office features I really do. Unfortunately the flaw in the plan is that we are building them into the same old office space. This usually means an office stick in the middle of a city somewhere, which, for many, lies at the end of a crappy, expensive and long commute. For cities like London and Manchester, thats over an hour every day – on average. For many it’s a lot longer. For five years I did a minimum of 3 hours a day, if it all went well.

This is a criminal waste of life. And yet we think modern workplace design is simply to rework the existing work infrastructure? Its not. To do so is to fail. It’s lipstick on a pig. Modern working can be done anywhere – how about building flexible and collaborative spaces in the suburbs where we live? How about we replace some of those charity shops, hairdressers or boarded up retail outlets with co working spaces for those who can’t travel?

6) Which all goes to tell me we are still fixated with inputs, not outputs. This is the crux of it. And it comes down to one word – trust. It was the unsaid word of the conference for me. We don’t want people to create their own workspace because we don’t trust them to do it right. We don’t want people to work remotely because we think they will slack off. We don’t want people to make their own decisions because they will go completely insane and buy a new car on the company stationary account. And of course the worst one of all, if I can’t see you, I can’t control you. It really is time we grew up. It’s time the workplace, and the work, grew up. From what I saw on Wednesday the workplace industry needs a kick in the face. It needs a pecha Kucka swat team to cleanse the world of corporate bollocks with extreme prejudice.

Perry Timms summed it up beautifully in what for me is the quote of the conference:

“Work is fucked. We need to unfuck the work.”

Amen to that.

 

The future of Leadership through the eyes of a visionary….

If you’ve been to this blog before you might have noticed that I’m not averse to quoting individuals or articles/papers in my posts. But I don’t do it every time and I like to keep the quotes short in relation to the post. I’ve never been one for blog posts made up largely of other people’s words. My choice. I’m not being critical.

But on this occasion I’m going to make an exception. Having just read the Editors note – Remembering Warren Bennis – from the October issue of the Harvard Business Review I feel compelled to share the entire piece with you. I was going to tweet snippets of it out to the twitterverse but found myself thinking this piece is too good to broadcast in soundbite fashion!

What follows, is, in my opinion, a well written eulogy for what appears to be a great man. I have read some of Warren’s Harvard pieces and his words resonate strongly. But I confess, I don’t recall ever reading any of his books, and that leaves me feeling like I’ve missed out.

Even though you only really get a glimpse of the man and what he stands for in the piece that follows, it is enough to see that this guy was a visionary. Julia Kirby, Editor at Large for HBR sums up his presence beautifully at the end.

We should mark Warren’s words wisely for the future when considering not only what type of person we want to lead business, and life, but also the kind of ‘business” or life we really want.

I’m off to take a look back over the archives!

Enjoy…

Remembering Waren Bennis

How do you measure the impact of a man?

Warren Bennis, who died this summer at the age of 89, certainly ranks amongst the worlds most influential thinkers on the topic of leadership. He explored it in more than two dozen books and in countless articles – many of them for the Havard Business Review (HBR) It’s not s stretch to say that he bought the study of leadership from the fringes of academia to the mainstream, always arguing that leaders needed to be more democratic than autocratic. But his greatest and most enduring gift may have been his generosity of spirit. As David Wan, the CEO of Harvard Business Publishing (and a friend of Warrens) puts it: “Everyone viewed Warren as a mentor.”

The list of those who would agree is indeed long and impressive, ranging from Starbucks’s CEO, Howard Schultz, to the political commentator David Gergen, to the prominent psychologist Mark Goulston. Schultz, in his book “Pour Your Heart Into It”, describes how he came to depend on warrens advice, writing that he would call him up “late at night or early in the morning, whenever I reached a turning point and was lost for what to do.”

Bennis spent his final 35 years teaching at the University of Southern California, and he founded the school’s leadership Institute. He kept active nearly until the end, giddily learning the art of blogging for titles like HBR, Bloomberg Business Week, and others. In 2010 he published a final book, a memoir titled Still Surprised, that nicely sums up his life and ideas.

I interviewed Warren when the book came out. He talked about one unfinished project: “It may come that my next book will be called… Grace. I think that may be just the name for a book which is going to deal with issues of generosity, respect, redemption, and sacrifice – all of which sound vaguely spiritual, but all of which I think are going to be required for leadership.” As my my colleague Julia Kirby wrote in a touching remembrance on our website, “grace never made it to bookstore shelves. But the people who had the privilege of knowing and working with Warren got the content of that book in his presence.”

Copyright Harvard Business Publishing

Ends.

Note to those nice folks at HBR :) I hope you don’t mind me reproducing this piece. I have an online account but I cannot locate this piece in order to share a link. I have tweeted you to see if it’s ok to share a pic of the article but I have not heard back from you as yet. I think this way is cleaner anyway.

I am more the happy to: replace this text with a direct link, or, if the piece is contained within a for purchase pdf file I will happily link to that instead or any other link required or delete the entry from my blog. Just let me know! Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

A view from Las Vegas…

las vegaAs the week draws to a close and the last of the jet lag ebbs away, I’m compelled to put finger to key and share some initial thoughts from my trip last week to the HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas. I have more to say on some of these highlights but for now, this is my reflective round up, in no particular order.

End to end is coming to and end – I recently sat listening to a panel of investors who had been posed the following question by an audience of HR Tech start up hopefuls: “What do you look for in a potential HR tech start up? Their answer was “an end to end solution, a one stop shop.” That may be true, but from where I’m standing, the HR tech landscape is awash with enterprise “end to end” solutions and they are failing to deliver on the promise, especially when you look through a lens of usability and innovation.  The major ERP vendors built their position in the legacy client server market and they struggle to meet the increasing demand for agile, simple and intuitive solutions that will ultimately win the usability war. I see a tipping point coming…

Personalisation: Where’s the personality? – Personalisation has been one of the biggest drivers of the web for the last decade or more. On the consumer side, things are becoming very advanced; you cant tread anywhere online these days without the algorithms second guessing your next potential purchase, trying to guess if you are pregnant/suffering from herpes/about to commit a murder* (*Delete as appropriate!) Whilst this is getting ever more sophisticated, it’s largely personalisation around habit, history, similarity or preferences. In a conversation with TMP, they talked about their goal to breathe new life into career sites by “personalising” content. “Career sites should deliver a ‘personal experience’ said Fred Pratt, Vice Resident, Digital Platform Sales of TMP. True, delivering relevant content to the candidate is a good idea. But who decides what this relevant content is? Not the candidate it seems. We are becoming so obsessed with serving up something more interesting than the life sapping generic career content that we are in danger of assuming that “rich multimedia approach” is a panacea. It isn’t. I don’t see anyone in this space tailoring or personalising content to reflect the users ‘personality profile’. This, in my view, is far more relevant.

Software with soul – over the course of the Conference I met with many vendors. Most I knew, some I didn’t. And along the way there were some interesting propositions. In a very small number of cases there was a glimpse of something really interesting – more on those later. But one stood out. They stood out not because they had some ground breaking functionality or killer app. They stood out because they had ‘soul’. They had vision. Real vision. The strangest thing is I’d never heard of them – www.Haufe.us. I met their rather charismatic CEO Kelly Max. Just diggin’ that LinkedIn photo dude ;). He didn’t talk to me about software, he talked to me about the potential of human beings. He talked culture, not technology. There’s no doubting his passion. He was the only person I met who asked me more questions than I could ask him. I’ve had a brief look at their tech when I visited the stand. I need to look deeper. It might be no better than anyone else’s of course. But with that kind of vision, i doubt it.

The ERP integration wars – Despite several attempts to track her down, the only way I could catch up with my stateside friend Trish McFarlane, VP HR Practice and Principal Analyst at Brandon Hall Group and author of the HR Ringleader Blog was to attend her session entitled “How HR Leaders can prepare for Technology Solution Implementations.”  Sounds painful already right? What is going on with our attitude to implementing technology? One guy I met was taking a “career break” after completing a workday implementation in Australia! We talk about these implementations like they are some form of internal war of attrition. Those experienced in delivery sound like veterans. This has got to change. Things are moving so fast, that 6,9 or 12+ month lead times for implementation are just too slow and the complexity of the projects way too high. “Yes, but…” I hear you cry. No but’s. Im sorry. We are not trying hard enough to drive for simplicity – complexity is too easy. And we wear this complexity like a badge of honour.

“We are really a big data play” – There’s no doubt about it, the theme of the conference this year was data. Anyone who is anyone is making a ‘big data’ play. Even some of the most run of the mill solutions are pitching it – “We may look like a time and attendance system but really we are a big data company”! Oh really?! Despite the hype, this focus is a good thing and for the first time I can see the HR function getting with the data program. Of course, we are a long way away yet, but with a serious shift towards predictive analytics and evidence of new solutions blending much wider and previously inaccessible data sources to challenge existing ways of, for example, predicting behaviour or identifying potential, things are starting to look interesting. Unfortunately There are still a significant number of doubting Thomas’s in the HR profession, even at senior level. My advice to them is to look outside of the profession, into the consumer world. One of the best sessions of the conference was from Andrew McAfee from MIT (Smart guy) who talked about the Second Machine Age. New sources of data and processing power on a massive scale, combined with machine learning are creating mind blowing new insights. It might take time, but these approaches will eventually make it into the world of the human at work.

The startups move in –  A welcome sight this year was the introduction of the ‘start up pavilion’, a dedicated space for up and coming start ups in the HR technology space. Against the backdrop of the of the established market leaders, they did feel a bit like a bunch of traveler’s moving onto a well manicured country park. Nonetheless it was good to see them there. I realise “Enterprise” is the core market for an event such as this, but given where the market is going and the speed at which it is travelling, there is a compelling need to put start ups front and centre. Next year it would be good to go further; let’s have them in the centre of the expo, in a collaborative space that rocks, not a collection of high tables that would look more at home in an airport Starbucks. It’s important that the HR buying community is aware of these new technologies and that real alternatives to the existing “one stop shop” enterprise players exists.

Network and backchannel – If you still don’t get social media as an HR pro then my advice would be to resign and go get a job as a chef. The food industry probably moves at a better pace for you… However, if you do get it then hopefully you would have explored and exploited the “backchannel” and resulting face to face network, which I have to say was smoking this year. For those who are relatively tech savvy, it is the physical networking and insight that comes from the twitter/blogger spheres that add the biggest value. The sessions themselves, by definition, have to be aimed at the most common denominator in terms of knowledge and understanding, hence if you are an early adopter of any sorts, some of the sessions will be of little value to you. However this is actually good news as it means you can devote more time to exploiting the value of the network.

Special mention – has to go to an amazing guy by the name of Broc Edwards. I met Broc via twitter some 3 or so years ago but like so many of my non UK online contacts, we had never met. In the run up to the Conference, Broc announced that he wasn’t planning on attending the conference, but would “drive down to Vegas” for the chance to meet in person. This, ladies and gentlemen, was a journey of 7 hours! Even by US standards, I’m led to believe this is an unusual trip to make, just to say hi! But do it he did and I’m so glad, and a little bit humbled, that he did. If you don’t know Broc, connect with him via twitter and his excellent blog Fool With a Plan. He’s a great guy, an unassuming strategic thinker. A conscientious objector in the war of corporate pointlessness. A great guy. We had dinner, put the world to rights and sealed our friendship. Job done.

Thats it! Thanks for reading my round up. I will be expaning on a couple of these themes on future blog posts over the next week so look out for them. And finally, the usual disclaimer – I don’t get paid by anyone to think or write anything so the thoughts and mentions are entirely personal.

Marketing is the new HR: No it’s not…

barking up the wrong treeDrawing parallels between HR and Marketing is not new. David Fairhurst recognised this when he ran resourcing for GlaxoSmithKline back in the late 90’s and was one of the first people in the HR profession to acknowledge and put into practice the beneifts of learning from your marketing colleagues when developing the employer value proposition.

In reality, little has changed in those 15 years since although the focus on talent and the emergence of social media especially, since the late 00’s has pushed the subject back onto the features list of journalist and bloggers alike.

One of the more recent examples comes from Jason Averbook, consultant, commentator and future thinker on HR and technology. I like Jason, he is an entertaining speaker and he is on the money in terms of the future of HR. Alongside Josh Bersin, he is one of the few industry spokespeople I follow and respect.

Like me, In his latest piece on the subject, he thinks it’s a bit radical to say that the role of the HR Director will disappear by 2015! It needs to change for sure, but given where we are still with people strategies in organisations, HRD’s can rest easy in their beds for a while ;)

I also agree when he says that the role definitely needs to change, because it does. However, what needs to change and how, is where we differ. In my view, whilst I fully agree that the way we market a business needs to be consistent across customers and employees, I see the current proposals around how it should be done as fundamentally flawed.

There is no doubt that the roles and skills that Jason talks about are needed within the HR function. However, to embed roles and skills into the function to address the issues around the employer brand and value proposition by ‘upskilling’ the HR function is simply adopting an approach that has its roots 90’s marketing. “New initiative, new channel, add a person to do it.”

This approach ignores the one key driver that is forcing this change from the outside – the reality of social business. The bottom line is that the HR function (or the marketing function for that matter) doesn’t need a social media manager. It needs an HR team that is social. It needs a leadership team that is social. And it needs an organisation that is social.

The employer brand can no longer be credibly crafted by “branding experts” either inside or outside the organisation and unleashed on an unsuspecting population. Organisations need to be social because every employee is a potential recruiter. Every employee is a potential brand ambassador and evangelist (or not). Employees are already crafting your EVP, you just don’t know it yet. It is enabling the social organisation that will revolutionise talent management, not hot swapping skills around the organisation which we have been doing for decades.

This piece from December last year from the Wall Street Journal blog hits the nail on the head, albeit when talking about managing customer expectations via social channels. Whilst the author calls for socially skilled customer service teams to avoid the reputational damage on social channels, he goes further and says that the best strategy is to make sure that every employee is socially customer aware. Organisations need to encourage and empower everyone in the organisation to champion customer care.

In my view it is no different for any other corporate functional activity, including HR.

Grafting marketing skills – even new areas like social and data/analytics – onto the HR function will not work long term. It’s a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. It’s faster horses, not a new form of transport altogether.

Social recruiting technology grows up…

keywordsBack in November I blogged about the biggest language and personality study ever undertaken and the fact that researchers confirmed they were able to assess your personality by scanning your Facebook likes and status updates. At the time, the research findings got very little coverage and those that did hear about it were very sceptical. I said I would follow this theme on my blog and so, a little later than originally planned, an update!

Last summer, Marc Mapes, updated me on his latest adventure – eiTalent which is, co-incidentally a values based applicant screening technology start up that used very similar natural language based assessment techniques to improve applicant screening accuracy, based purely on the contents of the CV. Yep, thats right. Simply scanning the text included on the CV was, he said, good enough to be able to identify candidates who would be a good ‘fit’ for the organisation and with highest potential to succeed in role.

Now this was news. My day job sees me explore the notion of predicting potential. It’s our bread and butter at Chemistry. In doing so we use traditional and proven assessment techniques yet here, hot on the heels of the PLOS research, was another organisation using non structured language techniques in assessment. I caught up with  Marc recently to see how they were doing and he ran me through the case study that put them on the map:

“We worked with a major retailer and as a starting point identified 10 key values across the business. The retail resourcing team gave us 200 anonymised CV’s, broken into 4 groups:

  • 50 high performers who had been promoted within the first 12 months of being hired,
  • 50 poor performers who had been fired,
  • 50 CV’s of individuals who were interviewed but not hired due to cultural fit
  • 50 random CV’s of candidates that were not hired

The CV’s were not identified to us in any way. In our first analysis we were able to identify 37 of the 50 high performers. Not bad, but not great. Further analysis showed that the CV’s that we missed contained only names of employers and dates. The narrative was missing which is a key element. The exercise was monitored by an independent psychologist and our technology was scrutinised by the clients own data science team. We won the deal. In our next client, a major law firm, we were able to improve our first pass strike rate to 87%. We won that deal too.

Since our first conversation last summer, Marc and his crew have already extended functionality to include LinkedIn profiles and will soon be adding… yep you got it, social profiles including Facebook and Twitter. They also plan to include video interview transcripts and email.

This has huge implications for the resourcing technology industry. Over the last 15 – 20 years the recruitment software industry has poured £m’s into developing tools that can scrape CV’s and LinkedIn profiles to identify individuals with the most relevant ‘key skills and experience’. Whether it be the ATS providers, specialists like the ill fated “iProfile” or pure plays like Daxtra, these guys try to outdo each other by making their technology ever more sophisticated, identifying key words and phrases and contextualising them against dates and job titles, all in an attempt to convince you that this tech is so smart, it will deliver you the perfect candidate from the volume of crap that resides in your ATS.

Turns out they have got it all wrong. The problem is that no matter how many coding geniuses you throw at this approach, its never gonna work and thats because fundamentally they are measuring the wrong thing. Previous Experience – the very focus of the programming effort – is the least reliable predictor of potential and performance in a role. What makes technology plays like eiTalent so interesting is that they focus on the language that traditional technology works so hard to eliminate from the parsing process – non work or skills related dialogue. Words and phrases that say more about who you are than what you have done. What’s important here is that these words say a lot about your personality or more specifically, give and insight into your values, motivations and likely behaviours – they key predictors of potential.

I firmly believe this kind of analysis will dictate how we assess in the future. It’s no co-incidence that a public form of the work based on the original PLOS research has emerged – see www.labs.five.com. They are going offline temporarily on the 20th of July but watch out for more from them later in the year.

In the meantime, if you are in the resourcing technology arena take a tip from me and start looking at the potential of unstructured social content before its too late. Mark my words, the days of sifting candidates by skills and experience are numbered.

*Disclaimer – Just to be clear I do not accept brown envelopes full of cash, cuddly toys, free massages or any other form of bribe or incentive to write about technology or specific technology companies so my thoughts and views are completely my own ;)