How CEOs + CHROs Can Help Recruiters Attract Unicorns

Recruiters rarely receive any kind of leadership and emotional intelligence training. They will receive plenty of technology training, and probably negotiation training. But when it comes to it, humans hire humans. Companies should invest in education and training for recruiters to enhance their talent acquisition and retention rates.

After reading that first paragraph, you probably encountered the feeling of resistance. Encountering resistance to learning something new is usually a result of fear. We like to perceive ourselves as ‘experts’. We reject that there is always more to learn.

Now apply that thought to recruiters and the people who attract and retain the talent you need.

As an executive coach, I help clients who are unknowingly stuck in a thought-pattern so they can excel and move on to the next level. Recruiters, like executives, must also be willing to constantly engage in learning. But we’re human: we all resist the new and unfamiliar. Every time technology forces changes in how to get work done, the technology is met with resistance. When recruiters resist training, the best approach is the “coach approach”.

James Kemper, President of W.H. Meanor & Associates in Charlotte relayed his experiences with instituting change and training among recruiters. “We have had real issues dealing with change internally. The first big change was just converting paper to digital to then a cloud-based CRM system. There was huge resistance. We then embarked on automating emails, marketing, switching to a VoIP system and using systems to search candidates and clients. We basically converted a system deeply ingrained in the 1980s and brought it up to date. We did lose quite a few employees.” Some people experience transitioning into a new system as a threat because they don’t have confidence in their own ability to learn and adjust to a new system. Supporting employees through proper training is key to ensuring they are able to successfully complete the process.

Some people experience transitioning into a new system as a threat because they don’t have confidence in their own ability to learn and adjust to a new system

Dr. Nicole Gravagna, neuroscientist and author of VC for Dummies and MindSET Your Manners, describes this challenge as a “value system challenge” and how there needs to be a specific request for the brain to accept change. Nicole said, “It’s important that recruiters understand what is valued in any system. When changes occur in technology or process, those changes will be coupled with value system changes. For example, you have this team of recruiters living with old technology. They found success under that old system. It’s likely that they each believe their most valuable trait is their own expertise.”

Dr. Gravagna added, “The problem occurs when the office changes the technology and immediately, the most valuable trait will be the ability to learn quickly. That’s a value system shift. For best results, the leader of this group can make an explicit request for recruiters to shift into student mode for a week or two. Leadership can stress how learning will be valued for those two weeks and expertise will be valued again as soon as everyone has learned the new system. People will feel uncomfortable about the shift no matter what. By helping them understand that it’s ok to feel uncomfortable during the transition, you can expect less friction and faster adoption.”

By helping them understand that it’s ok to feel uncomfortable during the transition, you can expect less friction and faster adoption.”

The problem of change resistance spans across generations from boomers to millennials, because this is how brains resist change. When talent reaches mid-level or above and believe they ‘know’ their job, they have assumed a certain level of authority and comfort. The suggestion of doing something differently or taking direction can be perceived as a threat. In this age of constant learning, resistance to training is more than problematic: it can derail careers and companies. We live in an age where career success is determined, in part, by one’s willingness to constantly learn. Retraining is now a constant part of work, and flexibility is critical to success.

In this age of constant learning, resistance to training is more than problematic for companies, it can also derail careers and companies

James continues, “Initially there was resistance because no one truly likes change because the system works for them and always has worked for them, why change? What we did was show how (the new technology) would simplify their workday and make them even more productive. We did not embrace multitasking. But on scheduling tasks, automating candidate interview intake sessions, video interviews, and recording and then being able to call up files, conference call anywhere and no longer tied to the office, (the technology) opened up a new world for us. We didn’t make it too drastic, but when people saw how much easier it made their work and that they could take on more, then more came on board.” James’ experience illustrates that you have to show employees how the change directly benefits them and speak to their interests. Speaking to self-interest when meeting resistance can quickly solve this dilemma in most situations.

Flexibility is critical to success.

Dr. Gravagna provided insight on what happens when recruiters don’t transition with the new system, “They (recruiters) will start to notice they don’t fit in anymore and will intensify the old behaviors that worked for them last. Birds do the same thing. In a laboratory setting, birds were given buttons and levers to press to receive food. But the joke was on them. They were fed randomly. The buttons and levers did nothing. The birds would remember the pattern of button pushing and lever twisting that they tried right before they successfully received food. Birds think they can control the random feedings with their own actions. Humans do that too. We think we have to keep up the same routine to get the same result. But the world changes and we aren’t great at noticing that we are lagging behind. Don’t be the bird. As humans, we can notice when changes occur and we can get curious about which parts of our own behavior need to change.”

The world changes and we aren’t great at noticing that we are lagging behind

The best way forward, Dr. Gravagna advises, is for each person to become curious about a new path to success. “Really we need people to develop curiosity. When there’s a change, managers can be upfront about the shift and request that workers become self-empowered about how they will move forward. You can say, ‘We’ve moved your cheese. Can you please be curious about where the cheese is?’ It’s about figuring a way to catch-up using an empowerment attitude.“

Today, training is now a constant part of any job, and most companies are having difficulty keeping pace with the needed changes. Talent must constantly adapt to how their work gets accomplished in order to keep pace with technology. Recruiting, as an industry, is no different. Resisting training is really about resisting change. Change is scary and brings out insecurity in most people. Instilling confidence and a can-do attitude is key to ensuring recruiters can master a mindset that can effectively engage in training in a way that is both positive and effective. Change at work, for most people, is a frightening prospect and the underlying fear is that they will not be able to adapt and will essentially fail or become redundant in their jobs. Eliminating this resistance requires changing the mindset to embrace change as growth and essentially positive.

Recruiters need to be open to a “coach approach” model not only in their work but also within themselves. When recruiters resist change, disarming them is the first step to having a conversation. It’s vital. Resistance to change needs to be proactively managed. When recruiters participate in leadership, emotional intelligence and coach approach training they participate in their own career development and invest in themselves. This enhances the success of their organizations. Flipping the dialogue so that recruiters get this point is critical.

Recruiters need to be open to a coach approach model

To help your recruiters move forward, manage stress and develop a coach approach with talent, your team, hiring managers and colleagues, sign them up for my 9-week live online leadership and emotional intelligence-training course. Its designed for recruiters, talent acquisition specialists, sourcers and HR Generalists focused on making a difference. The online blended course starts on the 2nd of October and finishes on the 3rd December, 2018.


Caroline Stokes is founder of FORWARD and The Emotionally Intelligent Recruiter podcast and coaching platform. An executive headhunter, an ICF accredited executive coach and certified emotional intelligence for recruiters and innovation leaders.


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