To improve diversity, do we need to remove the human element?

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Unilever’s novel approach to diversify its candidate pool for entry level positions.

Unilever’s strategy, implemented in 2016, saw the company move away from on-campus recruiting and the submission of resumes. Unilever had traditionally focused on recruiting from a small number of colleges, using recruiters for the process.

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Can automation reduce bias in the hiring process?

Instead, Unilever placed ads on social media and job search sites, then invited candidates to apply directly. The application software uploaded information directly from the candidates’ LinkedIn profiles.

In a further departure from the usual recruitment process, downselected candidates were then asked to play a series of online games which assessed issues such as concentration and short-term memory. The next step was to submit a video interview; the software assessed response times, facial expressions and vocabulary.

After these steps were completed, candidates participated in their first and last interview with HR and management personnel.

Unilever stated that this process increased the percentage of overall candidates who received and accepted job offers (as well as increasing efficiency in the hiring process). The number of colleges in the applicant pool increased significantly and the anecdotal experience of Unilever management was that the successful candidates were as strong as, or stronger than, previous intakes.

Unilever’s initial view is that this process has great potential for reducing bias in the hiring process.  As the WSJ article points out, human input into the software naturally involves bias in the choice and weighting of desired characteristics (facial expressions and vocabulary would be particularly prone to issues here); and software is not capable of recognising and compensating for the bias of its inputs or programmers. However, even if the process only increases the number of colleges represented, it would have a positive effect in opening up the talent pool.

In addition, the conscious effort involved in identifying and encoding desired characteristics has great potential to help organisations understand their own culture.

Next week we will look at recent reporting on what happens when organisations try to predict whether new leaders will fit within their culture.



Delegating effectively – part 3

In previous posts we looked at how to set up successful delegation and how to follow up to ensure your delegation is successful.

This week we look in more detail at one of the more complex issues that can arise from delegating relationship and negotiation responsibilities.

There is potential for delegates to become so comfortable working with ‘the other side’ that they are at risk of “capture”, forgetting which organisation they represent.

An organisation we’ve worked with provided a clear example of this issue. Account executives were expressly instructed by their management that it was their responsibility to be an advocate for their client. This is not uncommon – account executives will push hard to achieve the best deal for their client, and that can be consistent with building strong relationships with a client and achieving sales goals.

However, the important caveat, that they should advocate for their client when facing inwards to their employer, but still represent their own employer when facing outwards to the client, was glossed over. The account executives found it understandably difficult to change hats. Ultimately, this approach created significant compliance difficulties, and client disputes, when the account executives tried to work around internal protocols and overpromised to their accounts.

An Australian Government department we dealt with was well-known for regularly rotating its delegates.

Executive Coach Exchange colleagues rawpixel pixabayThis was an interesting arrangement. On one hand, it effectively avoided what the department called “provider capture”, where their staff became advocates for external organisations instead of representing their own. On the other hand, external bodies constantly had to provide information which they had already provided, because they were always dealing with someone new. This was not efficient and other organisations often felt the new representative lacked expertise and knowledge.

Our view is that there might be a limit to the effectiveness of this kind of rotation. Nevertheless, we believe you should regularly review your delegation arrangements, at least once a year. By this, we mean looking at the responsibilities each of your staff members has been given and asking:

  • Are the delegation arrangements still delivering the outcomes you need?
  • Has your staff member been successful in delivering these outcomes?
  • Are they still engaged and interested in the area?
  • Are your staff still effectively representing the interests of your organisation?
  • Are you confident they have not been captured by their stakeholders or their opponents in negotiations?

If the answer to any of these questions is “No”, then it’s time for a refresh. While your staff should have sufficient time to learn how to undertake their new responsibilities, no delegation arrangement should be a job for life.

In conclusion, here is an excellent tip from Mind Tools. “When you first start to delegate to someone, you may notice that he or she takes longer than you do to complete tasks. This is because you are an expert in the field and the person you have delegated to is still learning. Be patient: if you have chosen the right person to delegate to, and you are delegating correctly, you will find that he or she quickly becomes competent and reliable.”

Running an engaging meeting

Last week we looked at how to set up a successful meeting.  This week, we look at running an engaging meeting that will support your overall goals.

  1. Own your meeting

You’ve called people together. It’s your responsibility to make the meeting successful. If you have added items to the agenda, take ownership of these and get them through. If you have prepared well, these items should be the most straightforward of the day.

2. Bring a minute-taker

You can’t chair a meeting effectively and take the minutes yourself. Bring a minute-taker and empower them to check they have recorded the decisions correctly before you move on to the next agenda item. In this way, you can create an accurate record of your meeting that everyone has agreed as the meeting progresses. This includes assigning tasks and timeframes to the right people during the meeting.

3. Reward the punctual

Always start the meeting on time. Begin by welcoming everyone and ensuring everyone knows everyone else in the room. The next step is to acknowledge traditional Owners of Country, and then step through the agenda.

Go through the minutes of the previous meeting and check the group agrees they are an accurate record. Once the minutes are agreed, check the progress of every action.

4. Other business

Everyone hates it when, just as a meeting is drawing to a close, someone starts adding extra items to the agenda. Call for ‘other business’ at the beginning of the meeting. Decide if any of these can be considered under items which are already on the agenda. Add any essential items to the end of the agenda – but list the rest for the next meeting. ‘Other business’ should only be for urgent items which have emerged since the papers were sent out. Don’t let people use them to raise personal preoccupations that are best dealt with in another forum.

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“At today’s meeting, I’ll be reading the slides word for word.”

5. Pay attention

Watch people’s body-language. Notice:

  • who makes eye contact, with whom and when
  • who are the allies and who are the antagonists – is this stable or does it depend on the matter being discussed
  • who looks uncomfortable and why

If it’s a long meeting, when people get restless call a break. Make it long enough for people to check their devices and have a chat. A lot of goodwill can be gained in a meeting break.

Paying attention is your most important role as chair.

6. Set the tone

Set the tone yourself. If you are checking emails and not paying attention, you are sending a strong message that you don’t think your own meeting is important. Be involved in every item and take an active part in the discussion.

7. Give everyone a say

The purpose of a meeting is to allow discussion and information exchange. If only one person is talking, that message can usually be better conveyed in writing.

Some people can talk under wet cement. Others will wait to be invited and yet may have the most important things to say. Make sure everyone’s opinion is heard and taken on board. While it’s essential you steer the meeting, you don’t need to speak all the time to do this.

8. Push for an agreed decision

You have got the decision-makers at your meeting. While discussion is important, decisions also need to be made now. Push through to a consensus and ensure the decisions are recorded.

9. Thank people

Acknowledge the time and effort of the people who came to your meeting and thank your staff publicly for running it well.

10. Act on the actions

It’s essential to get the minutes out as soon as possible after the meeting, while the decisions are still fresh in everyone’s minds. Although the minutes will still be in draft, if they were agreed during the meeting, there should be few changes so people with actions can get them done.

11. Evaluate

After the meeting, consider thoughtfully and thoroughly what went well and what didn’t. Evaluate your own performance and decide if your meeting was worthwhile. Get feedback from trusted people. Plan for continuous improvement in your meetings.

Finally, if you decide the meetings are a waste of everyone’s time, and nothing can save them, cancel them and find another way to get views heard and decisions made.

Next week we’ll look in more depth at dealing with difficult people in your meeting, an important topic in its own right.

Oh no – not another meeting!

We’ve all found ourselves in this situation – dreading the boredom of another pointless meeting. Yet, when it’s our turn, we still call people together. If meetings are such a waste of time, why do we keep having them?

And how can you make meetings work for you, now you are the chair?

This is the first post in a series of our top tips for giving your meeting the best chance of success.

Good preparation ensures the best outcomes.

  1. Set a tight agenda

Make sure to set a tight agenda that only contains issues that need to be discussed when the group gets together. This means your items should be important to the organisation, strategic and controversial. They should be items where different views need to be heard.

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Oh no. Not another meeting.

Don’t make the meeting longer than it needs to be. Administrivia is a waste of everyone’s time – deal with it another way.

  1. Involve key stakeholders in setting the agenda

Call for agenda items from the group well in advance. If papers are required, ensure the group gets enough time to read and consider them before the meeting. Including items from other people gives them ownership in the meeting’s success. However, you also need to understand why these items have been added so you are not caught out by a hidden agenda.

Go through the minutes of the previous meeting, check the progress of action items and ensure as many tasks as possible have been completed.

Make sure attendees are aware whether the meeting, or individual items, are confidential, before the meeting begins. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for confidentiality acknowledgements for highly sensitive material.

  1. Get the decision-makers in the room

Meetings are about decisions, so you need to get the decision-makers at your meeting. The more important the decision, the more important it is to get the people with the authority to make decisions to attend. Consider what people expect to gain from coming to your meeting.

  1. Dealing with substitutes

If people want to send a substitute, make it clear that decisions will be made and their substitute will be part of those decisions. If people are constantly sending substitutes, they are telling you that your meeting is not important. Ask yourself whether they need to be part of the group at all and, if they are needed, ask them why they are not attending.

  1. Schedule the meetings well in advance and set the mode

To make sure people can attend, fix the dates and venues of your meetings at the beginning of the year and don’t move them. Decide whether people can attend virtually to reduce travel time. If a meeting must be face-to-face for people travelling long distances, make sure the content is worth their while. You can waste a lot of relationship capital by insisting on personal attendance for meetings with routine content.

  1. Set the meeting up properly

Delegate the set up to someone you trust. Make sure the meeting room is properly set-up before the meeting starts. Provide food and drink if the meeting is to go for more than 2 hours or if people have travelled a long way to get there. Without a practical set up, you risk losing engagement.

  1. Controversial items

Talk to people before the meeting as items and papers are being developed and take their concerns on board. Enlist allies to speak in support of your items. Know what objectors will say before they speak. Anticipate questions and address these in your papers. Make sure you know what members will say and, if applicable, how they will vote, before the meeting starts.

Next week – running your meeting.

Multi-tasking and busyness – just how efficient are you really?

Two opposing ideas are dominating the discourse about work and, indeed, about life too. The first applauds multi-tasking and admires people who seem able to do many things at once. The second tells people to live in the present. As Maya Angelou says, “Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”

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“I did things I did not understand for reasons I could not begin to explain just to be in motion, to be trying to do something …” – Dorothy Allison, Trash: Stories. Photo: Catherine Burrows

We read sensible, helpful articles which give people strategies to manage their emails efficiently, including by only looking at them a few times a day, and promoting the idea of not starting your day with emails but by “eating the frog” of your most difficult and important task.

Then we hear about people whose managers require them to respond to their emails instantly, and be logged onto instant messaging, at all hours. How can a person manage this without multitasking? And what is the cost?

Lisa Quast cites research which found only two per cent of the population are exceptional multi-taskers.

The implication of this, of course, is that the rest of us – 98% –  are not good multitaskers. This won’t surprise anyone who has sat behind someone texting at a green traffic light. In fact, David Strayer’s research showed, “Outside the lab…the multitasking deficit held steady. When Strayer and his colleagues observed fifty-six thousand drivers approaching an intersection, they found that those on their cell phones were more than twice as likely to fail to heed the stop signs,” as Maria Konnikova reports.

What about in the workplace? It turns out that multi-tasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40%.

David Sbarra has described how he trained himself to be less busy. He realised he had become “…a robot, programmed to obliterate my to-do list…” “addicted to busyness”. He decided that “To get more out of life — more meaning, more joie de vivre — I needed to start doing less and to become more conscious about my choices.”

His strategies were amazingly simple. He started by being outside and walking more. Next, he tried valuing idleness, left Facebook and got “serious about laughing more”. Finally, he focused on the value of friendships. While it’s a work in progress, he says the result is, “I am feeling better than I have in a long time — more deliberate in the choices I make, more connected to the people around me, and more energized for the demands of the day. The surprising irony here, for me at least, is that by doing less, I am getting way more out life.”

Working with an executive coach can help you to overcome mindless multitasking. A coach can help you identify those tasks you are doing from a sense of busyness rather than necessity. A coach can help you build strategies to focus on what’s important. Finally, if you need to have a difficult conversation with your manager about improving your productivity by not answering every email as soon as it is sent, an executive coach can help with this too.