A I, as it is known, is just starting to invade (and I use that word deliberately) all areas of our lives. And nowhere is this more true than in recruitment. You may not be aware, but systems out there, despite the advent of GDPR, are being developed that will look at your LinkedIn profile and make a decision about you.

But, and here is the scary part, it won’t just look at your LinkedIn information, though it is capable of making a decision about you on just that. It will also trawl your connections, your Facebook profile, your Twitter feed, and there it even talking about your Netflix, your Amazon and your Spotify histories. And in these days of open banking, your bank account and your credit history.

Imagine your application being turned down because the computer says you’re not linked to the right person, or because you listen to George Michael? Or you jumping straight to the top of the list because candidates who reviewed holidays in Bali on TripAdvisor are more likely to be creative?

I’m not saying that any of these are not relevant, what I do worry about for the future is how people will game this information, just like they have done on review sites. I am sure, because it is artificial intelligence, the systems will be developed to outwit the gamers, just like Google has developed systems to outwit search engine optimisation specialists.

The future is looking scary, isn’t it? Fans of Black Mirror (watch “Nosedive” but make sure it is not on your history!) will recognise the ethical dilemmas posed by making sure you get enough likes on your social profile to be viewed as valuable to society. If we are obsessed about it now, imagine what it will be like in the future.

Happy days.

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It will be fascinating to see whether automatic systems and technology, of the sort that has become rife in some parts of the recruiting sector, survive after the introduction of GDPR. The new act gives the right for candidates to challenge supposedly “objective” decisions made by automated systems. That could tie recruiters up in more knots than the supposed time it saves them.

I have always found it strange, as often it is difficult to prepare rules that preclude or include automatically candidates from any recruitment process. Sure, there are obvious ones such as franchise experience for technicians, even automotive experience for managers, or degree qualifications where this is a graduate role.

But many automated systems go way beyond that, looking at the sorts of words candidates use in their CVs, what they say in their personal statements, what their job title is. And there are so many inconsistencies and variables in this type of approach I fail to see its use. Not because the technology cannot handle it, but because the person setting the parameters in the first place normally uses unconscious bias to set them. “We must have someone who is dynamic and forthright”, “Literacy and numeracy are essential for this role”, “They must have at least 10 years motor industry experience”.

If you are using such arbitrary, inconsistent benchmarks then you are likely to get challenged. “Dynamic” is often used as a synonym for young – age related discrimination is illegal and can be challenged. “Numeracy” or even “Literacy” might well discriminate against those who are dyslexic. “10 years experience in the automotive industry” automatically discriminates against anybody below the age of 26.

Automated systems are only as good as the person setting them up. But they are nowhere near sophisticated enough yet to be any substitute for an experienced, knowledgeable professional who knows exactly what they’re looking for. And so long as that person is sensible, open-minded and disciplined their decisions are much less open to challenge than an automated system that has been set up badly in the first place.

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One of the most annoying habits recruitment consultants see is after organising a meeting or two between a candidate and a client and then just as we get to the point of negotiation, one or other party goes quiet on this.

Not only does it infuriate us, it makes us look stupid to the other party, who probably think we are not following up and trying to find out what is happening. Let me let you into a little secret. While we earn our money from successfully placing people with our clients, the outcome of a single introduction is not crucial to us. We make our money and our profit from continually trying to put the right people in front of the right clients.

As a result, we will not try to persuade people they are making the biggest mistake of their lives if they turn a job down. We will not try and steer you into a job that is not right for you, nor we will we try and persuade a client that the candidate is the best thing since sliced bread.

So if you phone us up and say no, we are not going to be offended. We might be disappointed, but we will quickly get over it. But what will get up our noses is if you just refuse to answer the phone. Because then you make us look bad and that’s what we cannot stand.

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It’s a big Yes and a big No from me.

It undoubtedly works, but is it good for recruitment? In other words, it can tell you exactly the sort of character you are recruiting (if the candidate has answered the test honestly) but is that information of any use to you at all?

I have often heard that you can produce the ideal profile for a role by examining your own workforce and seeing what works best. You then design a test that will only allow through those who most closely match this profile. And you really can do that, but the big leap is whether that logic is valid.

Let me explain. Supposing I sold you a system that said we can measure every single candidate, find out the profile of the most successful candidates in your organisation and then only recruit people who match or come close to that average profile, then I think you would agree that this sounds promising. I might explain that there is a slight difference between the genders that we can allow for.  So I get the contract, and charging £2000 for every recruitment process that you use.

So far so good, but then I turn up to do my assessment and all I have is a tape measure. Because I can positively demonstrate to you that your most successful candidates in a sales role are between 5 ft 11 and 6 ft 1 . And I could probably decide that the candidates need to be within an inch of those boundaries, maybe 5 ft 10 to 6 ft 2. Females perhaps 5 ft 4 to 5 ft 10. I’ve got something to measure, I have robust data. I can produce a profile and an average around that measure and I can apply it to your most successful people. But I’m not certain any of you would think that that was an effective recruitment tool.

If you did, give me a call. Only £2000 a process, I can probably subcontract the measuring of the candidates to somebody else.

Things are changing, not just because of technology.

Recruitment has become far more scientific, but if you study the figures, it has become far less successful. That is because personality tests, assessment centres, numeracy and literacy tests are all very well, but if you don’t use a bit of common sense, if you don’t follow your own instincts as well as the science you’ll make bad decisions.

And if you don’t understand that it is just as important match the cultures that employees and employers are comfortable with then much recruitment will fail, and some of the rest will be ineffective.

The employment relationship is becoming much more than a one way relationship. The top talent is looking for a real career. And they are simply not gullible enough to buy all the hot air that comes out in advertising and at interview. They want to know that you see things the way they do, and that you will give them the opportunities they want.

It is so much easier today to research companies. To Link in with people from a prospective employer. Candidates can now do their own background checks before accepting a job. More managers probably check employers than references taken out on them.

And why not – what harm can it possibly do? Why should references be a one way process?

Candidates have to give you a truthful picture of their background (it can be a serious criminal offence to lie on your CV). How long before employers are taken to task for not doing the same?

I have often written about the similarities between sport and business. The reason I do so is simple.

People seem to instinctively understand sport. They recognise the need for teamwork, for balance, for winning. And they do so in a way that often gets missed in business.

Have you ever asked why sport should be so different?.

It could be that sport is so clearcut. There is always a winner and a loser, or the third result, a draw. In sport nearly every individual has a clearly defined role – and there are no hiding places. We all know when we are not performing.

Without a good scoring system of course there would be nothing to watch. No spectator could enjoy or and make sense of the action, but neither could the participants get any feedback.

And no serious team would ever hope to reach the top wirthout both a good recruitment policy and a development scheme. No club could survive or develop anyone without letting proven high flyers and experienced players pass their skills to the next generation. Rarely would a team of 20 year-olds to win the Premier League, neither would a team of 35 year-olds.

And I doubt whether any of you would really disagree with any of this. It is the blindingly obvious, just a statement of fact, no one will contradict me.

Except if I suggect it is just as true in business. Then my audience will be divided, some will agree wholeheartedly (look at some of the most successful operators out there) and some will think it’s a bit of a waste of time, a luxury, a pool of talent for others to fish in and to poach from.

I guess it comes down to the following – do we view our people as a resource that needs to be nurtured, nourished and developed? Do good people do good things and make good money for you? Or are they a millstone around your neck, a cost to be minimised, a resource to be exploited?

I guess the latter group won’t win many trophies and they’ll probably underperform in business too. So perhaps they could learn a lot from sport – learn to enjoy their work, to direct their teams and to succeed in their business as well as many top sports men and women. At least it’s a start.

If only we could earn as much money as Wayne Rooney too – I’d only have to work a week a year.

Here are a couple of fictitious scenarios.

First, I rather improbably get made the Operations Director of a small dealer group (you can see why I used the word “fictitious”).  I quickly find out it has been badly run for years. Their franchises should mean the group is highly profitable, but it isn’t.

The staff have received almost no training and, to put it kindly, are well meaning but bumblingly incompetent.    The owner struggles from hand to mouth because he doesn’t realise that, with the right direction, the business can be unlocked and make him a lot money. But he’ll have to get his act together before the manufacturers pull out.

The second scenario, a small rural dealer has a very experienced local staff.  They are not the most efficient but they love their work.  It is owned by an owner who is also local, on the council, popular and who has owned the freehold for years. The owner doesn’t put on too much pressure because everyone is doing their best.

They get great CSI scores because their clientele are all local too – they know the people, they do their best, don’t charge too much and if anything goes wrong, which it does, they know they’ll put it right.

The business puts a lot into local projects, gives away plenty of free shirts, umbrellas and other merchandise. In short, Rural Motors is part of the community and is well respected, if a bit quirky and inefficient.

Then everything changes. Under pressure from outside, maybe the manufacturer or the bank, a one time cleric and preacher, as well as a very respected recruitment consultant and industry expert (I’ll keep the fictitious bit going) Guy Liddall is appointed as operations manager.

In both scenarios (or are they the same?) GL rides in on his white charger.  He changes the company focus overnight. All of a sudden everyone is under review, under pressure. The staff are now anything but settled but the business becomes profitable as they start charging the right price for the job.

But customers are also unsettled – they don’t like the way their friends are being treated, they don’t react favorably to bigger bills and the distinct commercial attitude.  CSI plummets as profits rise. And then the employment tribunals start landing on the owner’s desk – constructive dismissal, age discrimnation, grievances etc.

The cat is well and truly amongst the pigeons. But this type of management and cultural change is played out across the UK every day, the motor industry, in the Health Service, in Local Government or any sector to be fair. Changes in Senior Management or ownership will often cause this stress.

Because such changes mean changes in allegiances – all the old certainties have disappeared. But think about the problems for the new management too. The banks are closing in, the manufacturer has threatened to withdraw.

So things have to change. But is it right?

 

KPI’s – Key Performance Indicators – are just that. Indicators.

They measure whether your business is operating in the right areas, the health of your business if you like. If one of them is out, then perhaps you are doing something that should be investigated. But we now run the industry as if nothing else matters.

Look at it another way. A friend of mine runs a hotel in the country. They recruited a new Chef, who came with glowing references from a big, city hotel. This Chef was well known because not only did he know his onions, etc, he produced such good margins on food. Around 70%.

And he guaranteed he could do that in the country.

So prices went up slightly, and suppliers were squeezed a bit, and food was bought in the right quantities to get the best discounts. But demand fell slightly, only 5-10%, because of the higher prices. And suddenly wastage went up – because they had to throw more away – and margins began to fall.

So up went prices and quickly they got into a spiral that nearly killed their restaurant business. Because 70% wasn’t possible – in fact competitors were closer to 55%.

And once that had been recognised, the business changed. It took a while to recover, but he was a good Chef and they could start to price food realistically. They were not bound by some arbitrary criteria that was only meant to measure how well they were doing their job, other things equal, rather than being set as a goal itself.

But I don’t see that in our industry. I see managers who are ruled by their KPI’s, who are beaten about the head with this or that ratio, whether it is gross margin on labour, or debtor days, or number of test-drives per coffee cup in the canteen. Because it isn’t real management, it is just management by numbers.

I used to paint by numbers, but the results were never as good as my father’s, who learned to do it properly.

I talked last week in my blog about measuring the right thing. In an age where we can measure everything, track everything, find out anything there is a real danger that the really useful stuff gets lost in the mass of stuff we know.

And if we don’t start out by measuring the right thing the results are useless (look up the Mars Climate Orbiter for a serious measuring mistake – NASA had asked for the thrust to be measured in metric, it was measured in imperial and so it crashed – just the odd $600m later).

I talked about an imaginary Football league, but it was parable for elsewhere. Today whole industries are doing the equivalent of testing footballers for cricketing skills, downhill skiers for juggling skills. Because we are assessment crazy, wanting an impartial test to take away responsibility for decisions on real people, without using the best measure of future success; past performance.

It is happening in the Health Service, in Education and of course in the automotive industry. There is nothing wrong with the tests or the testing procedure, so long as you are measuring the right things. Even more importantly, so long as you are looking at the results and then seeing how it is impacting on your business and then adjusting the model.

Or put it another way, while they are getting very good and scientific at measuring, are they just poor at choosing the important things to measure? Which is how you end up with Staffordshire Hospital Trust.

Or how schools ended up a few years ago when league tables were pretty well just based on their GCSE results. Bright pupils weren’t able to take exams early, or take extra subjects, because they would do worse than concentrating on fewer subjects. And less talented kids were pushed away for the same reason.

I am not against testing, assessment or examinations. But make sure the right things are being measured, the right behaviours rewarded and you might just get things right.

If you look at the Health Service, the Education Service and even the good old Co-op, it does seem that “the accountants are running the asylum”.

I really have nothing against accountants, they are great clients, pay our bills almost on time and help me with my tax return – they are good at their job. But, and how can I put this, I don’t necessarily want you to run the show. Just like I wouldn’t want the scorer at a cricket match opening the batting, being good at figures doesn’t always hack it in the middle.

Let’s just say that if I wanted a good football manager I wouldn’t turn to you first. Because I don’t see measurement and figures as being quite as important as you do. Not every training session is a profit opportunity. I  wouldn’t perhaps analyse in-depth my fans’ satisfaction at every game. And while I support West Ham (sorry) and aspire to play the most attractive football in the league, I wouldn’t have swapped that for points in the second half of this season.

But supposing someone other than the Premier League ran our biggest competition. Intelligent, enthusiastic, numerate managers decided to protect their brand. So now every fan has to fill out one of those cards after the game. “On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied were you with your experience today?” Extra points could be deducted or awarded according to the results.

The League suddenly said that players were not entertaining enough. Or at least not in the way they said was entertaining. Now players are individually assessed on their completed passes, tackles and fouls. Those not hitting the right numbers were penalised financially or even suspended. Those going through a bad spell were transferred.

“Ah” – thinks the League – “a profit opportunity”. Supposing we can help in these transfers “making sure the quality of the players is at the level we want”. Proper assessments are now run by the League on football skills, fitness, stamina and most controversially on communication skills, because they want better post match interviews.

The problem is for clubs that these tests are very expensive and even worse, if players failed they couldn’t work in the League. A young Beckham or Rooney wouldn’t have stood a chance, whereas a Robbie Savage would have passed with flying colours. Tough, but the League didn’t really like the players they were attracting.

Make sense? I doubt it, I am not sure how satisfied each club would be with 10 left footed midfielders who could quote Byron, Shelley and Keats. But if the “Computer Say No” who are we to argue?