Let me set the scene: you’re new to your role in the Talent team and maybe even your company. You have ideas for big initiatives, cutting-edge techniques and that new-hire zest for work. But as you dig into processes and systems and get to know your colleagues, you have a stunning realization: you have inherited a mess.
There are many types of Talent team messes you could face in your career. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your software doesn’t support the recruiting process, requiring work-arounds to track candidate feedback. Maybe the data doesn’t accurately capture recruiting activity, or there’s no data collected at all. Or possibly, interviewers haven’t been trained, and a peek at your Glassdoor page shows a negative interview experience rating.
No recruiting function can excel with these issues, but now that you’re aware of them, you’re in a position to turn things around. Many others have faced similar challenges - including me! I want to share the learnings (and tough lessons) from my own career to help you navigate the various types of Talent team messes you yourself may have inherited (or can look forward to inheriting some day).
In my decade of recruiting experience, I’ve worked for an organization that still used an entirely paper-based candidate tracking system (hello filing cabinets!). In another role, I joined a team that didn’t trust any of its recruiting data. When I first realized these challenges, I felt disappointed, overwhelmed, and even a little mad! But in hindsight, my experiences of turning tricky and ineffective situations into something great are some of the highlights of my career so far.
I’m sharing my step-by-step process here to help you navigate your own mess and hopefully set yourself up to create time and space to take on those big initiatives and cutting-edge techniques with that experienced-hire know-how.
Step One: Take Action Now
Barring some serious issue, most recruiting issues can be fixed while keeping the core process moving. Don’t be scared of the mess. Sometimes it’s helpful to keep a buggy process running while you dig into the core issues.
Early in my career, I worked for a recruiting team that hadn’t yet moved to an applicant tracking system (ATS) and managed everything through paper. This worked for them when hiring was low-volume and local, but as the business scaled we struggled to manage records and follow up with candidates quickly and seamlessly. When I discussed these issues with my manager, she agreed that it was time to move to a hiring platform. She agreed to launch a search for an ATS, and within six months we were implementing a new system.
In order to make this first step work, there are a few critical elements:
- Face the reality of the situation. What is the problem and how bad is it? Does it impact one area of organization or is it foundational to the entire recruiting process? Try to understand the reasoning behind the current set-up and if there are some benefits. If you are new to the organization, you have the benefit of approaching this like a curious observer, asking questions like, “Why is this configured this way?” and “How does this support recruiting goals?” In my case, the existing system worked fine until hiring picked up. It was easy to make a case for how technology would save hours of manually tracking and filing candidate information.
- Draft your view of the ideal state. Instead of just pointing out concerns, have a plan for what “better” looks like. It’s okay if this is not detailed - you’ll have time to build it out in the coming weeks with more stakeholders.
- Flag your concerns with leadership. It’s important that you communicate what you’re seeing, why it concerns you, along with possible approaches. Fixing a mess takes time, and you’ll need organizational buy-in. In my case, I spoke to my manager. She was aware of the constraints of our current system but needed approval from senior management to move to a technology platform.
- Get to know the existing infrastructure. Is there a reason things are the way they are? “We’ve always done it that way” is not often a great reason to continue something, but it can sometimes point to other challenges that may come up when making a change.
By taking immediate steps to address the issues you see, you’re saving valuable time as you take action to move to a better state.
Step Two: Get Back to Basics
You know what you want to see changed and you’ve voiced your concerns to management. Now it’s time to strip things all the way down so you can rebuild. Depending on what you’re fixing, this stage can take many forms. Sometimes it is part of an organization-wide transformation and sometimes, day-to-day users and outside partners may not realize anything is changing until the new version is up and running.
In a recent role, I knew I was moving into a team with significant reporting challenges. Though our ATS collected a lot of data, it wasn’t well-defined and recruiters struggled to share meaningful insights with their hiring managers. Once I had articulated what we were trying to achieve - more impactful and more streamlined recruiting reports - we paused on all reporting for a month while I worked with recruiting teams to capture the questions they were trying to answer with data.
- Communicate to your team, your managers, and anyone impacted by these changes. It’s common to see a mess and assume that everyone is similarly frustrated, but that hasn’t been my experience. Often people are used to existing processes and have built their own work around it. Change disrupts this. For instance, some recruiters and their hiring managers were happy with existing reports and upset to see it paused. By sharing our vision for better reporting, we were able to get their support.
- Set expectations. Define where you are trying to go and the timeline for achieving that. You may not have all the answers early on, and that’s completely fine. Make everyone comfortable with that uncertainty by addressing it. Share what you know and what you are working on. Buy-in happens when people feel heard and involved in the process from the get-go.
- Accept that some things may stop during this time. When things are really a mess, some pieces may temporarily go out the window. Data and metrics are an important part of any well-functioning recruiting organization, but when you’re dealing with messy or manual processes, you may need to suspend this while you reconfigure everything. In my previous role, we continued collecting data but halted reporting temporarily to focus resources on building something new.
- Identify mission-critical elements that must continue during this change. Some elements of the recruiting process need to continue, even through a large change. Consider things that have an impact on candidates or on critical open roles. For example, when addressing our reporting issues, we worked with the Legal team to make sure not to disrupt our annual EEOC reporting.
Getting back to basics kicks off a ripple effect of change. Some people may not be aware of any shifts at all and some folks may become frustrated that something they’re used to is going away. It’s important to communicate thoroughly and share and collaborate on the vision of what’s to come.
Step Three: Rebuild
You won’t always have an opportunity to restart from the ground floor, but one of the few positives of inheriting a mess is the opportunity to do significant rebuilding.
In both of my experiences, the rebuilding process was an exciting time. We were turning a vision into reality! It had taken a lot of effort to get to this point and I wanted to make sure we wouldn’t face a new mess based on what I was building.
- Make sure critical components of your recruiting process are supported in the new process or system. Consider what makes your organization unique - have you addressed that in your solution? When we implemented a new ATS, it was important that it worked across many different locations and needed minimal support day-to-day.
- Revisit how data is captured and shared. Remember I said to toss data aside when getting back to basics? In the rebuilding phase, bring it back. Where should data be captured? What is the cleanest way to do that? In my reporting project, once we had rebuilt new reports, we kicked off a new long-term project to better define data fields, so our reporting would continue to improve over time.
- Finally, get into maintenance mode. There’s a difference between what’s needed to get the operation running again and what’s needed to maintain it over time. Schedule quarterly check-ins on the new process to ensure that it’s running smoothly and continue to solicit feedback.
Inheriting a mess is painful, yet turning it around builds outstanding leadership experience. You’ll learn how to navigate different levels and teams in your new company, how to project manage efficiently and how to prioritize like a true expert.
Others have been there - you’re not the first to experience this! Take action, strip things down to their core elements, and rebuild in a way that supports the organization’s goals.
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