Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thoughts for 2009

As a new business totally focused on employer communications in China, 2009 promises to be a pretty scary year. Only a few months ago all the talk was about the 'war for talent' and companies struggled to hire the people they needed - especially in mid management and leadership positions. We were receiving plenty of enquiries about how we could help customers develop their employer brands, asked for our ideas on tapping into new 'passive candidate' channels and were kept pretty busy working with Microsoft in particular, on their campus recruitment campaign.

How things change! Within a matter of weeks, companies crying out for solutions suddenly announced hiring freezes, or worse. All plans for 2009 seemed to have been put on the back burner and our forecasts took a hit. But then we took a good look around at the general state of employment communications in China and found more than a few reasons to be cheerful.

To put it bluntly, apart from a few innovators, the vast majority of 'talent managers' preside over a pretty underwhelming recruitment and engagement programs. In an age where all candidate traffic should be driven to the corporate career site, we still find plenty of shocking career sites - badly designed, badly maintained and often not even functional.

Only a few are working on SEO in an effort to drive their job offering high on the search engine rankings - most are still satisfied to lump their jobs onto one or more of the big job boards - Zhaopin, 51 etc - along with all the competition. Surely in 2009 the home of employment communications shouldn't be in with 62,000 other competitors for talent, but housed on your own channel, when you can hold more meaningful conversations with the best candidates.

As Rob pointed out in his recent post, pretty much all the 'ads' found in this market are jargonised job descriptions, impossible to understand even by company insiders. It is very difficult, reading any type of employment communications, to figure out what distinguishes one company from another...why should the best candidates chose you, rather than your competition? Although most big companies do have an employer brand articulated at the global level, invariably it doesn't work in China. This is generally because employer branding is such a new concept in PRC, not many people have real experience of it, and struggle trying to bring an EVP handed down from global HQ to life in this environment.

Another area that seems ripe for exploration is the posting of 'job ads' online. I still can't work out why more HR folk aren't experimenting with the massive potential of the wider internet. Posting to the open web - social networks, bbs, blogs, video hosting sites - surely offers huge payback to the companies that get it right. Of course, before you can really take advantage of this area, you need to know what to say about need a brand communications strategy and the means to get your message out there. Anyway, one of my predictions for 2009 is that a few brave souls will take the plunge and be repaid handsomely for breaking out of the job-board and headhunter mindset.

And talking of September I took part in a seminar organised by CCH (of China Staff fame) - the talk was about emerging recruitment practices. Mal Bentley, Oracle's Head of Recruitment for Oracle explained how he had created an in-house headhunting team to take care of all of Oracle's recruitment in Greater China. This effort has paid huge dividends for Oracle and I expect many other large employers to follow suit and develop their own direct sourcing teams over the next few years.

So, after getting over the initial panic of head-count freezes and budget clampdowns, it is clear that there is an awful lot of work companies should be doing over the course of 2009 to make sure they are well set for the continuing battle for talent over the long term. They need to sort out their brands, their websites, their communications, their job ad distribution. They need to really get to grips with metrics - especially source of hire and true cost per hire - and they need to think about using talent management software, both pre- and post hire. They should also think about experimenting with emerging assessment tools, psychometric, aptitude and others, as part of the talent acquisitions and evaluation mix. Yes, there is a ton to Oxus will be back with a vengeance in 2009 to move the market along.

31st December 2008

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