Using Recruitment to Support Culture in the Public Sector

by David Creelman on April 05, 2017

One of the findings of the IPMA-HR HR2020 Task Force was that only 49% of public sector organizations believe recruiting directly supports the culture. If we set the bar a bit higher and ask if recruiting strongly supports the culture, only 11% say it does. If the recruitment process in your organization isn’t promoting the desired culture, what should you do?

The Steps to Take

First we need to ask the question why it matters. The main reason it matters is that conveying the culture will help attract the right people and deter the wrong ones. For example, if the organization is process-driven then it will want to attract people who thrive in that atmosphere and hence the recruitment experience should reflect that process-driven culture. Another reason to ensure recruiting promotes the culture is that first impressions matter. If the organization wants employees to make decisions based on data, then it should model that right in the recruitment process. Otherwise, it will leave new hires thinking, “The organization says it cares about data, but doesn’t behave that way.”

The second step is to decide where you need to change the recruitment experience. The fancy answer for that is doing a “gap analysis” between the culture you want to convey and what is actually being conveyed during the recruiting process. However, really all you need to do is look at the different parts of the recruiting process and the problem areas are likely to leap out at you. For example, if an important part of the culture is sustainability, and yet it doesn’t show up anywhere in the job posting, then that’s an obvious oversight that is easily fixed.

Finally, one has to make the required changes. We can illustrate this by looking at two cases particularly relevant to the public sector: changing the perception that the culture is slow or not innovative.

A Culture of Speed

In the public sector, one problem that may leap out is the speed of the hiring process. Many organizations are emphasizing being more nimble, but it is hard to convince new employees that you are serious about being nimble if the recruitment process takes 9 months.

There are many things you can do to improve speed, the most obvious of which to invest in recruitment software. One way to generate support for this investment is to ask applicant tracking system vendors to package up some demos for management that compare how your current recruitment system compares to more modern ones.  This must not be a demo about all the features, the demo must quickly illustrate how much faster the process could be with better technology—that’s what will get buy-in.

Another way to improve speed is to look for bottlenecks in the process; for example managers failing to do interviews in a timely manner. Ideally, you’d have good data on each step of the hiring pipeline to identify what is slowing things down. However, remember that one principle of analytics is that some data is better than no data. If you do a brief study that looks at a sample of recent hires, and what steps held the process up, then that may be enough to illuminate what needs to be fixed.

Finally, you can reduce the sense that the process takes forever by keeping candidates well informed. If candidates know where they stand, what the next steps are, how long it will take and why it takes that long, then they are less likely to feel it’s an unnecessarily slow-moving culture.

A Culture of Innovation

Once again technology is part of the solution to putting an innovative face on recruiting. As part of getting support for this investment you’ll want to demonstrate how a new system would in fact support the message “we are innovative.” Instead of figuring out how best to do this on your own ask vendors to highlight how their recruitment software can convey the culture you want to promote.

Also, don’t let unduly high expectations deter you from trying to build more innovation into the recruitment experience. People applying to the public sector are not expecting them to be like Tesla or Apple. You just need to brainstorm on little things you can do that show candidates you are keen on new ideas. For example, maybe you get the head of the organization to do a three minute video explaining the interviewing process; when candidates arrive for the interview they can be handed an iPad to watch this video. No doubt your team can come up with even better ideas; the point is that innovation is mainly about being open to new ideas, and that’s a characteristic you can demonstrate without spending a lot of money. Take the small steps; they’ll eventually lead you to a recruitment experience you can be proud of.

The Burning Desire to be Better 

Another cultural issue for public sector organizations is changing the perception that they don’t innovate. If the recruitment experience signals that there isn’t a taste for innovation then the very people you most want to hire will be deterred from joining. Recruitment can feel very operational. There are a large number of positions to fill, a large number of steps you are required to follow, and a lot of paperwork that has to be done. Yet, recruitment should be more than just putting bodies behind desks. It is part of the public face of the organization.

As the IMPA-HR study shows recruitment often doesn’t support the culture, but that’s something we can change. We can change it in a big way with new technology and in an incremental way by making small tweaks to what we are already doing. HR needs to have a burning desire not just to churn through the work in front of them, but to make the processes better so that the organization can develop the culture it needs.

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David Creelman

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research. He studies the pressing issues in managing talent and culture. His most recent book, with John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan is “Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment.”