Today for the first time in a couple of years, I am speaking about the future of recruitment. Last time, it was in Boston in 2016 at the Smashfly conference, keynoting alongside the incredible Mel Robbins. This time I’m in Sheffield, at another tech company conference with TribePad.
There are lots of articles out there about the future of recruitment. Many of the ones that I read tended to focus on how we will hire people in the future. The end of the CV/resume, for example, and AI-assisted selection. But I thought I would focus on why we will hire people, what sort of business we will be bringing them in to, and how we will see workers change as a result.
Adaptation not optimisation
The starting point for this is understanding that the rules of success are changing. What defines a successful company in the future is not the ability to optimise, it is the ability to adapt. In short, being the best at what you do is only useful while what you do is something people want. In an age of high frequency change, what people want is subject to frequent and rapid disruption. New products and services come along that might displace or make irrelevant what you do. While the wider pace of change has not necessarily increased, we are all subject to these short sharp shocks and future success is based on our ability to deal with them.
Organisations and their leaders are beginning to come to terms with this. They are changing the shape of their organisations, the nature of the people they hire, and their approach to leadership in order to deal with this new reality. These things all have an effect on the future of recruitment.
Future-ready organisations are constructed as networks of loosely-coupled smaller units, not deeply-integrated monoliths. Each of these smaller units might have a unique culture and operating processes. They will need to be ethically compatible and aligned to the wider organisation’s over-all goals. But if their interfaces match up to the interfaces of other parts of the organisation, and they continue to deliver, there is little need for rigid control.
Hiring in this environment is complex. Control might need to be devolved away to team-level leadership. A shared services model for HR is possible, but some of the economies of scale might be lost since each functional unit will require slightly different things from the hiring process. Even the characteristics of candidates that different units might require might be very fundamentally different, not just in skills but in attitude, temperament and outlook. Some of these variances already exist but in a networked organisation they are likely to be amplified as each functional unit diverges from the corporate whole.
The total numbers of people hired by companies are also likely to fall. Much has been said about automation, so I don’t want to focus too much on it here. But I still struggle to see a future beyond the next 20 years where total employment rises. The potential for machines to take on large chunks of human work is just too great – greater than the recognisable potential to create uniquely human work without a significant cultural shift.
High value hires
That might sound bad for recruiters but that would be to ignore the critical corollary to falling worker numbers: each worker becomes more valuable as a result. Just look at the earnings per employee of some of the world-leading companies right now. Companies like Apple make over two million dollars in revenue and hundreds of thousands in profit for every single employee. That means the value that they have to place on selecting and developing the right people is much higher.
Networked organisations created in response to high frequency change are designed to be adaptable. Sometimes that adaptation will be organic within each node on the network. Small, agile teams should be able to evolve faster. But sometimes more radical excisions and acquisitions will be required. Whole units may need to be added quickly, sometimes through outsourcing to third parties, sometimes through acquisition. Sometimes, whole units will be dropped. Recruiters will be expected to fill critical positions at speed.
For workers, high frequency change means constantly evolving your skill set to remain relevant. This too presents challenges to recruiters. The best candidates will be advancing their skills at an accelerated rate. The ability to learn and develop becomes one of the most critical factors in candidate selection, much more than established skills and experience. Companies are building the ability to be great tomorrow, not just seeking more of the same to expand their current output.
In summary then, the future of recruitment is likely to look very different in a number of dimensions. Yes, the way we hire is likely to change. But so is who we hire, and how many of them. Expectations will only rise on recruiters to bring us the very best people, quickly, to fill fast-changing positions inside highly diverse corporate cultures.
The future of recruitment is increased speed, increased complexity, lower numbers, but higher value.