Our world changed significantly on September 11, 2001. It had such a dramatic impact, we simply refer to it as 9/11. Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic. It, too, had a dramatic impact, not only on the United States, but across the entire world. I think we could refer to this new 9/11 as 3/20, since it locked down the entire U.S. economy in March of 2020.
3/20 forced our economy to basically shut down and flip from brick and mortar to completely digital. Ready or not, businesses were forced into a digital delivery model, and the staffing industry was no different.
From Digital Evolution to Revolution
The staffing industry has always embraced technology to a certain degree, with nearly all staffing firms using an Applicant Tracking System to capture and store candidate and client information. In addition, many staffing companies have added other automation tools to supplement candidate sourcing and onboarding, drive referral efforts and improve marketplace reputation through ongoing marketing campaigns.
Prior to 3/20, the adoption of technology had been following the normal cycle, with innovators and early adopters leading the way and late adopters lagging behind. But the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic changed all of that. The swift and sudden changes forced on the industry turned the slow, methodical evolution into a digital revolution.
Far too many staffing firms have implemented automation tools that are too complex and difficult to understand.
Do We Know Our Why?
The problem with this revolution is that technologies and automation are being adopted with little to no planning. It’s a case of doing the right thing for the wrong (or no) reason. We’ve all been around long enough to know that this is a recipe for disaster. And that’s what many staffing firms are beginning to experience. They’ve implemented automation tools that are too complex and difficult to understand. They lack the resources needed to successfully manage the tools and technology doesn’t deliver on the promises that were made by the seller, or don’t really solve the problem that needed to be solved. This is simply a result of jumping into the fray without truly understanding the why. Simon Sinek, author and business consultant, reminds us that we must always "Start With Why." So how should today’s staffing firm go about introducing technology into their organization? Here are seven factors to consider.
1. Be Strategic
Adopting technology should not be driven by trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” Just because a competitor has a chatbot is not reason enough for you to add one. The process needs to start with clear thinking and planning. Stephen Covey, in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” identified key factors that the most effective people adopt. One of those he referred to is beginning with the end in mind. This is a perfect way to strategically plan for automation. First, identify the expected outcome that the resource will deliver, then work backward to identify the right automation solution for that particular need.
2. Have a Champion
Once you have a strategy for implementing technology, it’s a good idea to identify someone who will lead the process of sourcing, selecting, and implementing the solution. I refer to this person as a “champion.” They understand the strategy, have the skills necessary to lead the project, can bring people together from different functional areas or departments, and are passionate about making sure the solution is the right one. Nothing of importance gets done without strong leadership, and the champion of a project is just that.
3. Clean Up Your Database
Many technology solutions developed for the staffing industry integrate with the client and/or candidate database. I have seen a number of automation projects stall because the data in the staffing firm’s ATS is obsolete, incomplete or simply inaccurate. The fact that such a critical source of business information is incomplete or corrupted is a problem all by itself, but when you couple it with the introduction of automation, the problem is immediately compounded.
4. Does the Solution Fit the Problem?
Just because all you have is a hammer doesn’t mean that everything must be a nail. The right tool is necessary for the right outcome. This is especially true when it comes to implementing an automation resource. Making sure that the problem has been accurately identified and then sourcing a technology solution that addresses that problem is critical. This ties in very closely with our earlier point of beginning with the end in mind.
5. Get Everyone Involved
Keeping the automation project in the hands of one person is risky. As you will recall, we stressed the importance of a champion but made it clear that this role is designed to bring other people into the process. Everyone in the organization should be involved in the project, or at the very least, kept informed of key developments and milestones. Quite often, a task force is formed that works with the champion to help keep everyone informed and involved. Adopting new technology should not be kept a secret.
6. Do Your Homework
The automation highway is littered with solutions from providers who want you to buy their software. Like any industry, some are better than others and have a reputation for delivering a quality product at a competitive price. Make sure you do your research and find out about all potential suppliers. What solutions do they offer? What do other companies who have adopted their technology say about them and their product? How long have they been in business? Do they outsource some of their product development or support? Understanding as much as you can about prospective suppliers and their products is vital. Ask questions – a lot of them.
7. Use Its Full Potential
I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with staffing leaders who complain about how they are not fully utilizing their ATS or some other technology solution they have acquired and implemented. Then, to make matters worse, they proceed to go to the next new automation tool and ignore the fact that they are not using the full potential of the tools they already have. Making sure you are gaining all of the benefits of the automation you already have (before adding more) is a discipline that will put you head and shoulders above the majority of your competitors.
A Final Word
Technology, when used correctly and to its full potential, can boost a staffing firm’s efficiency while driving productivity. This will drive a robust bottom line, but even more importantly, will provide tangible benefits to the client and candidate – and that should be the real driving force behind automation.