How to manage complexity and uncertainty
Often when people want to sell me a Talent Acquisition system or product, they explain to me how easy it will make my job going forward. There seems to be a lot of holy grails on the market. Concepts that are simple yet powerful. Systems that will solve all our problems and answer all our questions. There are so many choices to make and re-evaluate every day that it’s easy to wish there was a product that can take them all for me.
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of good systems out there to handle different aspects of our jobs. But the combination of complexity and speed of change means our jobs will never be simple or certain enough for one single fix-it-all solution. There are so many different components in running a progressive and efficient Talent Acquisition department, and the world insists on changing at a pace that seems to increase by the hour. There is technical progression and a constantly morphing talent market. So what we need to do is learn to manage complexity and uncertainty.
Accept that you don’t have all the answers
Noone has all the answers, it’s impossible to when the questions keep changing. So accepting that fact is the first step. But the real challenge is to keep adapting to new ranges of choices and figuring out what will work for your current organization, right now.
Some examples: What solutions are available for you? What is the general maturity level of the hiring managers? How far in the future does your company plan its growth? How advanced is the organization’s workforce planning?
Adapting means saying goodbye to the sweet comfort zone of the stuff that made you a winner last year, or in your previous organization. It means you will need to learn more things, new things, and fast. And it means you will have to challenge all your chosen truths, the beliefs that used to be the foundation of your approach.
When I joined Spotify I had some great goals and timelines set out for myself. I had ideas on everything from future team output to collaboration with other departments. As it turned out, it took us much longer than expected to find a systematic approach to the hypergrowth environment, and we had to revise most of the plans because the assumptions I had based them on were off. The experience taught me to be even more cautious about making assumptions and getting stuck in my own notions. It’s always better to look at the current data and dare to re-think.
Dare to trust those who know better than you
If you don’t have all the answers, you need access to someone who does. So always make sure you have a team that knows their stuff, and make sure they feel free to remind you and push back when you are headed in the wrong direction. It doesn’t always feel great to be told you’re wrong, but it always feels great to learn and improve, and that’s the difference our team makes every day.
If you find yourself always knowing better than your team, you need to reconsider either your position or your dogmas because regardless of the reasons behind it, “always knowing best” is not a position where you can improve and learn and be progressive in your field.
Be prepared to kill your darlings faster than ever
The speed of change we live with also means that both dogmas and darlings become obsolete quicker than before. So always make sure you are making decisions based on recent data – not old strategies and go-to solutions. It doesn’t matter whether you are an agile evangelist or a lean enthusiast, or if there’s a certain HR system that you just really love. If these “darlings” are wrong for your current situation and you don’t kill them fast enough, your company will miss out on great talent. Weak processes and models will lead to weaker final candidates. Which will lead to a weaker workforce and a negative impact on the bottom line profit & loss.
I always try to remain an “HR-technology agnostic”. By that, I mean that I see the HR systems and processes as a support to the HR strategy, never the other way around. The HR strategy is connected to the overall business strategy, and together they dictate what systems you need. If you allow the opposite flow, where the systems affect the HR strategy, you are in the end allowing them to direct your company’s business instead of the other way around.