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Recruiting Leadership Guide — Navigating through Uncertain Times

Mike Joyner

In 2000, I graduated from college and soon found myself in the middle of the dot-com crash. The company I worked for lost two-thirds of its employees (10s of thousands) in the span of two short years. Fast forward to July 2008, my wife and I sold our house and moved across the country to California. I had taken a pay cut for a job at a tech company in the Bay Area. Within weeks of me starting, the Financial Crisis hit. Both of those experiences taught me that times can get really (I mean really) scary and difficult, but staying positive and focused on taking one step forward at a time makes all the difference.

It’s impossible to see through the fog of uncertainty right now, but in hindsight amazing companies, new innovations, and successful entrepreneurs are born during difficult times. Fun fact, we wouldn’t have delicious Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies had it not been for the Great Depression.

We are in the middle of something that doesn’t have a precedent, which means that we’re all in this together to figure out how we navigate through the fog of uncertainty.

For recruiting leaders, it’s especially difficult right now. We’ve put together the best advice and guidance we have on how to keep moving forward one step at a time. These draw from our own experiences, resources that have been made available, and through our amazing network of HR and Talent leaders like those in the People Tech Partners community.

1. Leading your team through change

Be real

  • Lead with your heart — Allow yourself to be a real human being during these uncertain times — it is so important. Share your struggles and wins with the team. Create space for the team to do the same. Everyone’s struggling to work from home including those with huge audiences like Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show. If they can do it, so can you!
  • Makeshift home workspaces are not perfect, embrace it — Proactively invite kids, pets, and be curious about people’s work area — what’s out the window, who’s in the picture, where did you get that chair, is that a child singing in the background? You can also share advice for crushing work from home.

Establish communication norms and rituals

  • Over communicate during this time — Consider a daily stand-up or starting the day with saying good morning with everyone to break the tendency for remote communication to be transactional — do you know how to, I need, can you do. Mix up how you communicate with the team.
  • 1:1 FaceTime or walking call — do a step count at the end to combine physical exercise, connection, and maybe even a little competition.
  • Hold an AMA (Ask Me Anything) — Invite someone else from the business to join the team or rotate with managers on your team to share what’s going on across the organization. Share the latest on what’s going on with the business, hiring plans, and any insights you’re learning about how other recruiting teams are adjusting across the industry.
  • Commitment to cameras on and keeping chat statuses up to date — Teams are going to be way more willing to work together and trust each other if they can see and connect with each other.
  • Agree to non-verbal signaling — Use meeting tools like muting and unmuting as a sign you have something to say and whoever’s leading should pay attention to these cues. It’s much harder to see body language through a screen.

Managing performance when you can’t see it

  • Start with trust — Everyone will default to fear of not doing enough if there are unclear expectations of what success looks like. Remind your team what’s in their control and to focus on making progress against those things.
  • Delegate constructively — Give a timeline and agree to check-ins if anything is needed.
  • Shift to sprint goals and outcomes — Performance (especially now) needs to focus on achieving outcomes. Everyone will need to find ways to navigate schedules and disruptions to hit their goals. For companies that are slowing down or freezing hiring all together, it’s a time to focus on building solid foundations with your recruiting team. Nothing creates focus like creating a ‘war room’, meeting often to quickly align on decisions, and getting to work on one or just a few things in a collective push for progress. Consider breaking up your bigger goals into a series of smaller goal milestones within shorter timelines. For example, you could meet every Monday morning to assess priorities, set goals, and agree to check-in updates when roadblocks or questions come up. On Friday, catch up on progress and celebrate the wins.
    This serves multiple purposes:
    1) Team feels like they’re making real progress even if overall goals are shifting around.
    2) Gives you specific data to share out to the larger team and business leaders on progress that’s happening.
    3) Gives ‘you’ confidence that work is happening and your team is performing.
  • Clarify how decisions will be made — Slack is not great for decision making. Be mindful when conversations are starting down an unproductive path and switch the medium, move to video. This is even more important when everyone is remote. Be clear on who owns the work vs decision and agree to the frequency that updates will be made to those that need to know.
    Example DACI framework
    D — driver, person responsible for doing the work
    A — approver, owns the decision
    C — contributor, provides input with a voice, but not a vote
    I — informed, stays in the loop as things are happening
  • Commit to process consistency — Now more than ever, it’s important for everyone to commit to following a shared process and documenting things. As hiring plans are revisited, recruiting leaders will need to be all over the data and the data won’t be there without everyone’s commitment. If you don’t have a consistent process, now’s the time to design one and put it in place.
  • Brainstorm creative solutions — Everyone is learning each day what is working and not working with moving their processes completely online. Take the opportunity to focus on particularly challenging steps in your process to think of creative solutions.

Take care of yourself, set the example

  • Set boundaries — Let your team know when and how you’ll be available through the day. If you’re a parent, part of this may just be letting them know when certain home obligations need to happen like getting lunch ready for your kids or putting them to bed. This can be fluid and it can change often, which is fine. It’s more important to keep open communication.
  • Find ways to disconnect — This will look different for everyone. Here are some ideas:
    - Reading
    - Exercising — Peloton (free for 90 days) and other services are offering classes for free online
    - Draw something — These lunch doodles with Mo Millems are easy and fun
    - Go for a walk outside
    - Play a board game
    - FaceTime with friends or family

2. Encourage learning

Conduct Lunch and Learns — Take advantage of opportunities for the team to learn together by holding webinars or Zoom meetings to share knowledge, drive best practices, or teach new skills. This is a great time for your sourcers to teach coordinators how to find great talent, and for recruiters to teach sourcers the mechanics and creativity involved in effective closing strategies.

Organize a virtual panel — Crowdsource a topic. This could relate to how different parts of your team, external teams, or other parts of your organization are managing through changes. Invite people to join and record it for those that can’t make it for playback.

Start or highlight meetup groups around interests — These can serve to help with learning and for creating more social connections. Given the amount of information flowing around, it could be a group of #factcheckers or #dailytips for working from home, parenting, cooking, movies, or homeschooling hacks. These could be around topics, books, or podcasts too.

3. Be creative in driving connection and engagement

If you have a large team, Qualtrics has made their Remote Work Pulse survey available for free. This can quickly give you a sense of how your team is feeling and areas they may be struggling.

Virtual Coffee Break — Meet someone new on your team or at your company using Donut. You can also use things like watercooler trivia as conversation starters.

Collaborate on a Spotify playlist — There are going to be some surprises and maybe even something you can use to kick off meetings, or setup dedicated time to hear why people selected different songs.

Create a crowdsourced video — A fun project can bring a team together. This could serve as a way to rally your team around a shared fun goal AND something that could be shared with candidates as a preview into team or company culture. Some ideas of videos you could easily create:

  • Origin stories about why people joined your company
  • Stories about projects that had amazing outcomes or were really innovative
  • Cultural rituals at your company and on the team
  • Virtual tour of the office
  • Impersonations of each other
  • MTV Cribs style tours of new makeshift home workspaces
  • Introductions to pets

Daily or weekly challenges and themes — These could be step counts to encourage activity or things like the TikTok Flip the Switch dance challenge. Ideas of themes (a.k.a. creative ways to reuse those Halloween costumes):

  • PJ day, fun hat day, tropical shirt day, no makeup day, formal corporate dress up, 90s

Meetings without work — Online cocktail parties or virtual hangouts with pets. We’ve heard of scheduled ‘no work talk’ time and some teams that have an always on Zoom for reaching out in real-time. Here are some of our favorite conversation starters and ideas that we’ve heard teams are trying:

  • What’s in the fridge
  • Favorite app on your phone
  • Easy exercise at home hacks
  • Kids virtual show and tell or talent show
  • Parents can livestream story time for other parents/kids to watch
  • Recipe exchange
  • Wine or beer education
  • Virtual gamer communities or online matches

Exercise time — You may have a certified yoga or fitness instructor at your company. Maybe ask around and organize lunchtime classes or share a recorded class.

Stay informed

Growth by Design Talent helps early & mid-stage high growth companies design talent strategies to help them scale quickly and thoughtfully.

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