Building your capacity and capability to deliver your own virtual learning incubators

A sure path to failure, is not going on a 'problem journey' by foot, but trying to arrive at the destination by 'air'. Like any good journey it should challenge your assumptions, and constantly change your view points.

 

At zero customer/user meetings, all you have is a hypothesis. After first five meetings you start asking better questions, After the first 10, you start to see patterns in answers. After 20, you really understand segmentation of the market. After 30, you have a really good understanding of what it is that you actually need to go build. After 40, you really understand what it takes for them to buy, and what change management needs to happen.

 

Time and time again, we see problems which operate in the 'important but not urgent' space, devoid of any quantification, not assigned to an individual, lacking understanding of the problem (the bit) before and after the problem, and lacking understanding of the consequences of not solving the problem.

 

Diving into these into more detail, with examples showing our own 'problem journey' with hiring incubators, before we've written a single line of code.

 

Important but not urgent: There are a hundred and one important things that our customers/users should be doing that they aren't. Very often, people live in the urgent  and important space. 

For example: When we launched the 'innovation incubators' focused on helping individuals and teams, we failed to realise that innovation is an important but not an urgent problem for organisations. Thus the sales cycles have been 1+ year long. After 2 years of successful case-study after successful case-study,  we still failed (in terms of scale) to convince leaders that they should invest in people innovation (first), rather than lead with product/service innnovation.  We have recently decided to take all our lessons of designing a virtual learning incubator model and apply it to both an important and urgent use-case - hiring. We reflected on our first hand experience of the problem, as past hiring managers we made really good and really bad hires. We arrived at our personal view of the problem, that the hiring process (much like a startup's business model is full of assumptions and hypotheses, which are not properly tested) is a key contributor in bad hires.

 

The problem before and after the problem:   Without understanding all the 'interfaces' (the bit before and after) of your customers problem, it's likely you'll end up developing a minimum viable product not a minimum viable solution, the latter being something someone is willing to pay for and has impact.

For example: We're developed hypotheses in parallel for a number of problems before and after the job-spec, it turned out that the problem wasn't with just the job-spec, but our targeted users had problems with recruiters and senior leaders. Uncovering these interfaces, we learned about the pains in developing hiring cases (detailed here), sourcing referrals, selecting, interviewing, onboarding and role development. For each of these we've gone on separate  'problem journey', to build an authentic understanding of the problem.

 

Not a single owner: When there is no owner to the problem, there is no likely to be no buyer. Organisations don't buy, people do. 

For example: We found many hiring managers view HR as rather negatively in terms of their understanding of people so any straetgic partnership was difficult. This led to another hypothesis - hiring managers lacked a structured case to put forward their hires to senior leaders. When we tested this, we realised most hiring managers would struggle to take anything that is not an official process (from HR) to their senior leaders. Notice the contradictions that start popping up. We then realised it had to be a senior leadership driven solution. So, then we started to frame the hiring-case as a senior leadership problem. After interviewing senior leaders we learned about their problems with hiring, they (recently promoted HR and Finance Directors, mid-sized companies, with geographically dispersed offices) were hiring for roles that weren't fully thought out, sometimes hiring at the wrong level, with difficulties in prioritising hiring for the roles with the most value, not able to track ROI of each new hire, difficult to evaluate competing requests for limited resources (budgets), wanted to create a more agile orgnisation that didn't rely on the annual budgeting process acting as a bottleneck for new hires, and make objective decisions that align with strategy (they often only see budget line item requests for new hires). 

 

No quantification:  When there is no quantification, it suggests you haven't really understood the breadth and the depth of the problem. 

For example: We are only now (at the the time of writing this piece) are trying to quantify the hiring case as senior leadership problem. Our recent interviews suggest that senior leaders make the wrong hiring approvals 30% of the time, which translates into hundreds of thousands of pounds of sub-optimal decisions.

 

We have now developed and tested the 'hiring-case' template with a number of senior leaders, and are now in a position to be confident about developing it, because they are willing to pay for it. It is important to sell something frst, then develop it  (this part of another learning blog coming soon). Some of the lean startup thinking involves building prototypes first (versus the design thinking which seeks user input first) may argue that it's too long before prototyping. In our view, we are 'pretotyping'. The bit before prototyping, by going out and testing and testing again our assumptions before attaching ourselves to one or more solutions.

 

For illustration purposes, after having interviewed many individuals with regards to hiring, this is what we are learning:

 

Senior Directors

 

Recruiters

 

Hiring managers

 

Candidates

"most of the job descriptions are unengaging and unclear!"

"Why do 99.9999% of the job descriptions all look the same, long list of bullet points"

"The JD feels very transactional rather than an experience"

"the middle-part (of how the job connects with the customer, the team or the company's objectives) is nearly always missing.

"....(applicants) wanted insight and access into the people responsible for overseeing the hiring process, yet most JDs focus on the 'what' rather than the 'who'...."

"....There is no real dialogue with the company. The interview is such a sterile way to understand the company, very one-sided (with questions at the end)....it's an artificial and unbalanced process"

"Our hiring cases are tied to our annual budgeting process, with 3-5 lines explaining the role. We then have to justify our roles with questions from other senior leaders at our annual meetings. However, there are lots of other conversations with senior leaders that need to happen, they're done in relative ad-hoc manner, without real structure, transparency or strategic way... Some roles get approved based on hiring managers relationships, rather than evidence based..."

"A large part of writing a job description is hypothesis driven. I don't know exactly what this person should do - but I have to write a catch-all of 10 different things - and make it come across as fact..."

"The collaboration between recruiters and hiring managers takes the form of lots of emails, phone calls, word docs flying between. It's not an efficient process. "

"Hiring is a core compentency, yet we have received very little training on it. Recruiters are dealing with 20+ vacancies at any one time, they don't have time to coach the hiring managers in the journey to effective job spec"

"Recruitment, when done properly, is still a hard job because it requires the person to first own the vacancy they’re tying to fill – and then to be good at research, sales, marketing, assessment, management and admin. There isn’t a person alive anywhere who’s good at all of those things."

"Hiring managers seem to hate filling in job descriptions, they don't have the time, or rather they don't see the value of their time being spent on writing job spec"

"We are good at getting lots of applicants when we know the why and who, but too often we best-guessing what exactly hiring managers need "

"ATS are great in terms of features for CV storing, scheduling, filtering CVs, but they fail in helping recruiters and managers in writing effective job descriptions..."

"Poor internal clarity around the job description is the critical root cause of poor job-employee fit...it takes some time to align/calibrate and then re-calibrate all the different stakeholders needs and expectations..."

"Every week we get hiring managers coming to us with a job description, We have to undo the work and in 50% of the cases start all over again. They normally present it from their perspective and then we have to shift their perspective to what the candidates want/need and this takes time (partly because they've already loved their solution of their JD...)

"When we post our job description, we never know what parts of it are working, which parts are not, we have no real-time feedback from candidates to refine our job descriptions..."

"We know that hiring managers think we're a pain and necessary evil"

"The speed of our hiring is slow and complex. From the moment a job was required to creating a job description, to inviting applicants, to interviewing, selection and then onboarding the selected candidate it took us 325 emails, 12 weeks, 13 versions of one document, 5 different documents, 6 different systems used (ATS, email, word docs, google docs, etc), and 27 people involved result - an ineffective hiring process: took 3 months to make the hire, another 3 months for the new hire to figure out 50% of the job description was no longer required, £10K direct recruitment fees, plus another £15K of everyones time

"hard to differentiate our employer-brand with all the text in a job description..."

"I find that hiring managers don't do a lot of the ground-work and testing of the hypothesis behind each of the bullet points on responsibilities. They forget, or don't present, the bit before job description - the testing of their needs for the role, running experiments, defining needs of different internal stakeholders and then building robust clear business case is often missing in most hiring requests that come to us... "

"Job descriptions...one doc used in so many different ways making making them ineffective as they speak to different audiences: helping employees understand their jobs better; building team understanding and support; motivating employees; determining non-pay rewards; assisting work sampling research; providing priorities for supervisors to monitor; and guiding decisions about work design and task allocations.

The problem journey