Being Human vs. Getting Sued Is a False Choice in HR

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about why HR sucks at recruiting, which produced a predictable backlash from the HR community (who likes being told that they suck?). Among the many great comments were several from HR professionals who feel pinched between the need to follow protocols meant to reduce litigation risk versus treating people like, well, people. I certainly sympathize with this position. However, I believe that being human versus fair and consistent is a false choice as well as an outdated approach to building successful businesses.

First, fairness is not about treating everyone the same. Is it unfair that I get a shitty, cramped seat back in economy when a select few are sipping mimosas in first class? Treating people fairly is about setting appropriate expectations and delivering against those expectations. This applies to expectations about the hiring process as well as the specific skills and characteristics you are seeking for the role. Problems occur when candidates are not clear on what to expect or those expectations are not met. If there is a drug screen required to get the job, no problem. Tell me upfront and explain where it fits into the process. I'm not the best fit for the role? Fine. Share with me the relevant areas where I came up short and wish me good luck. You just saved me a lot of time.

Second, and more importantly, great candidates don't want to be treated like everyone else. They want to be treated like valued customers. They want to feel special (because they are special). The candidates you want have options, including the job they already hold. It's hard enough to convince them to leave that job and join your company. Treating them like a number doesn't help the situation. Dragging them through a long, bureaucratic hiring process is like putting a customer on hold for 45 minutes. Tell the candidate when (exactly) you'll be in touch with an update. Then do it. Explain clearly what qualities you're seeking. Then stick to your criteria.

What about non-discriminatory hiring practices? Doesn't the law require employers to treat everyone the same? Not really. It requires that you evaluate candidates and make hiring decisions using relevant criteria. You cannot and should not treat people differently because of their gender, race, marital status, hair color/length, etc. That's because these things have nothing to do with job performance. If you're going to do drug tests or background checks, everyone should go through the process, not just the guy with a face tattoo. Does the married woman in her 30s know less about marketing than the single man because she might want to have kids in the near future? No. Non-discriminatory hiring practices and equal employment opportunities (EEO) exist not out of a need to be fair and treat everyone the same. Rather, they exist because dumb people still use non-relevant criteria and superficial observations to make judgments about a candidate's abilities.

So how do you get out of the fair and safe versus human squeeze? Start by thinking less about staying out of trouble and more about building a great organization. Look for the most talented people who fit best within your company. Then you'll start to see candidates as valued customers instead of a lawsuit waiting to happen. Candidates, like customers, hate being put on hold or having to wade through mindless processes to make a purchase. They hate bait-and-switch behavior and crave authenticity and follow-through. They don't read or care about warning labels or terms and conditions. And they can take their business elsewhere.

Finally, many HR professionals lament that leadership, ultimately, is to blame for outdated approaches to recruiting. This is very true. But that makes HR the victim, which conflicts with all the "seat at the table" nonsense I hear all the time from HR leaders. It's one of those, "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" sort of questions. In her blog "5 Things HR Pros Say I'd Give Money To Never, Ever Hear Again," Crystal Spraggins writes:

So maybe we should stop looking to them for validation and focus on building each other up while quietly doing the best job possible until we can find an employer who'll respond to our request to "sit at the table" with a quizzical expression that says "Of course we want you involved in decision making. That's why we hired you."

That leaves HR with three choices: play the victim card and accept that you'll continue to suck at recruiting; demand that leadership start approaching talent acquisition in the same way they approach customer acquisition; or go work for a company that already does. Obviously, I prefer the latter two options and so will the great candidates your company needs so badly to succeed.