Improving productivity through a great candidate experience – the potential deliverables of talent acquisition

We’re in the middle of that strange and rather magical time of the year when talk about the four-day week becomes somewhat redundant. Easter and bank holidays mean that every week, right now, is indeed a four-day week. From a productivity lens, then, employees tend to do very well, particularly those taking holiday and minimising the amount of annual leave they are dipping into. Less ideal and productive is the situation for many employers, who will often experience below-target months, as they pay out the same salaries for less return to employers on Easter and bank holiday breaks.

And such working arrangements – and the impact they have on productivity – are very much to the fore right now. We’ve seen results from New Zealand and Perpetual Guardian, the financial services organisation which introduced the initiative of the four-day week last year and witnessed some impressive traction around work-life balance and stress. Conversely, Wellcome Trust, closer to home, scrapped similar plans due to apparently insurmountable operational and productivity challenges.

The issue of productivity and the relationship it has with engagement was a central tenet of Deloitte’s recent Global Human Capital Trends report this week. Featuring responses from 10,000 employers, many of the results feel damning. For example, half of all employees feel that their employers are not creating the right working environment. Just 20% feel their organisation is keeping pace with technological change. Perhaps most alarming was the impression, from two thirds of the study, that employees are given no incentive to learn new skills.

This is consistent too with a fascinating piece from the HBR and Peter Capelli, which I’d urge you to read. One of the many insightful thoughts to come out of this is that up until the 80s, around 90% of vacancies were filled internally through promotion. Today that figure is a third and often less. Meaning we spend a lot more on recruitment, a lot less on training and people feel much more of a need to move in order to grow.

In terms of the relationship between employee engagement and productivity, 84% of workers were clear that such a link existed. Sadly, 68% of employers within the survey did not have the metrics to measure this relationship.

It feels counter intuitive that, given that labour productivity in the UK remains depressed, far behind comparable figures from other major developed economies and, apparently, without an obvious solution, that measurement, engagement and training are not being rigorously applied to the problem.

If employees are not feeling engaged, not feeling invested in, not feeling as if they are growing, perhaps it’s no surprise that productivity levels feel stubbornly stuck.

And there are clearly other ways in which organisations can influence productivity – in either direction.

And Dangerfield’s recent research project into candidate experience touched on this. [Read here]

Fundamentally, a poor candidate experience, particularly amongst talent pools who are in demand, with plenty of choice and options, usually attracts the results they deserve. And if, after a lengthy candidate process, the applicant decides that the experience they have just encountered hasn’t really impressed them, what are the outcomes? For the recruiting organisation, it faces a major productivity blow.

The role remains unfilled, with all the workload pressures, the declining morale of co-workers and the missed opportunities this involves. Without the people it seeks to attract – as a result, at least partly, of a sub-optimal candidate experience, an organisation will not be as productive as it aspires to be. And just as the organisation in question is unlikely to grow in the absence of talent coming on-board, its existing people will also struggle to flourish and grow, given they will be running around covering the work of those people disinclined to join. (It should not be seen as too much of a surprise if such people ultimately see their own futures elsewhere).

Given too that if the talent who left your pipeline underwhelmed with the experience they came across is now set on joining other competitor organisations, again there will be a clear impact to both productivity and profitability.

However, it’s educational just how nuanced the productivity term is right now. Amazon has been much to the fore of late as a result of its lazer-like focus on such an attribute.

A story this month from the US source, The Verge, suggests that no fewer than 300 people have been made redundant from Amazon in the last year as a result of falling below required productivity figures. What has undoubtedly exacerbated the story is the fact that many of these fulfilment workers – employed in Amazon’s Baltimore location – have been left go not by human supervisors but by robots working to, and this feels particularly dystopian, Amazon’s ‘proprietary productivity metric’ – one apparently designed to monitor for too much employee downtime.

Returning to our research, there is perhaps a more fundamental relationship that candidate experience has with organisational productivity. There is perhaps no more tangible demonstration of an organisation’s employer brand than during the candidate experience – there is no place to hide, either this experience delivers on the brand and its value proposition or it fails to, and in failing, so weakens it. Having a strong, compelling and authentic employer brand facilitates the recruitment of a stronger talent pool. According to LinkedIn, organisations with a strong employer brand can access talent pools with candidates 50% more qualified than the norm. From the same piece of research comes the metric that organisations with an exemplary employer brand can hire candidates between 100% and 200% more speedily than the average.

Having a great employer brand means that organisations can get more highly qualified individuals on-board and delivering more quickly than the competition.

And what is the factor most likely to influence the employer brand at this stage? The candidate experience such people come across when they are contemplating joining.

Improving productivity is a massive challenge as well as a massive opportunity, particularly given the sclerotic growth across many UK organisations. It’s important that talent acquisition realises that they have the chance of playing a key role in improving organisational productivity by ensuring that candidate experience (and the employer brand it influences) is as positive and differentiated as it can be.

There’s more than a little irony that discussion of productivity comes in the week that the ONS announces that 31% of all graduate-level employees are over-educated for their jobs – either that they possess more education than is necessary for their role or that the full range of their skills and education are not being used.

In the search for productivity gains, both HR and talent acquisition can make real contributions. People within the organisation crave growth, development, training and investment.

However, it’s important that talent acquisition realise they have at their disposal both the full nature of the advantages of a market leading candidate experience, in terms of the real productivity gains they can contribute to (as well as the opposite). It should not be the case that areas such as talent acquisition throw up their arms, feeling that the responsibility for productivity gains lie elsewhere.  

The opportunity is real and significant.

Neil Harrison believes employer brands should be informed by authenticity. It's awfully hard to arrive at such authenticity without having a topical understanding of what your employer brand is challenged with, what it has to offer, how it's perceived and what it's up against.

Neil has been lucky enough to work alongside exceptional brands such as Sainsbury's, Transport for London, Pizza Hut, HS2, The AA, BA, Heathrow, Virgin Media, the University of Sheffield, Telefonica, Santander, Unilever, Prosafe and Subsea7.

Today, he works with both clients direct and via agencies and RPOs. Such work is increasingly used to drive both diversity and internal engagement initiatives. The ability of an organisation not only to retain but to get the most out of its people has never been so important. We are also doing some interesting work in the exit journey of potentially departing employees.

Neil is a key member of the DANGERFIELD team.