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Ask the Experts: Improving Candidate and Employee Engagement

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Insight into the topic of candidate and employee engagement from two industry professionals

We spent 15 minutes with Rob Catalano, co-founder of WorkTango, and John Dawson, Regional Manager of Xref in North America to pick their brains on the topic of candidate and employee engagement.

Maintaining engagement throughout the employee lifecycle is key to offering a consistently positive experience from hire to retire, but what does it mean to our experts, and how do they recommend achieving it?

We asked seven rapid-fire questions to find out.

1. What does “engagement” mean to you and your organisations?

Rob: Engagement is about being present and being invested, not monetarily, but purposefully. At WorkTango we’re all about passion. We don’t have a mission, because missions end, instead we have a passion because passions live forever. Our passion statement is to “improve (work) lives.”

John: For me, engagement means being open, connected and transparent. At Xref, we love what we do and we want everyone to know about it. We are a global family now and we are all responsible for delivering our collective goal of driving positive change in the industry.

That requires us to connect with each other, hold each other accountable and help navigate the tidal change in HR.

2. What are the differences between candidate and employee engagement?

Rob: I actually don’t think there is a difference. We need to engage our people from hire to retire, but even before they’re hired we should engage them while they’re in the candidate pool. It’s about developing relationships, communicating with individuals to find out if they would thrive within your work environment, and then, if all works out, continuing to support and encourage them so that they grow with you.

John: I agree. Too often we try to differentiate between employer brand and employer value proposition. Instead, we should have an all-encompassing strategy that incorporates both to ensure that the brand you’re selling to candidates carries over to employees and the work they’re doing.

3. What are your three top tips for improving candidate & employee engagement?

Rob: My top three tips would be...

Make sure employees have a voice. It’s important for them to experience transparency and be able to voice their opinions in a safe way so that the company can see what’s fantastic, but also what isn’t.

Establish alignment. It’s crucial that people understand the vision and the mission of an organisation as well as the purpose so that leaders are able to determine whether everyone is aligned on what success looks like. It’s much easier to reach your goals and navigate the journey to them when everyone’s on the same page.

Hire slow and fire fast. This is a touchy topic, but it’s important to note the value of taking time to find the right individuals and go through the process in order to hire the right person for the job.

John: From my perspective, I believe the three best ways to improve candidate and employee experience are...

Be transparent. We need to make Talent Acquisition accountable by ensuring the candidate is in the loop throughout the recruitment process. Candidates are invested in demonstrating why they want to work for you, so ensure you maintain an open and honest line of communication with them to drive engagement.

Don't silo candidate experience and employee engagement. Fuse the two together, better the handoff between Talent Acquisition and talent managers

Look beyond the same old hiring techniques we used in 1970. The rest of the business world has moved to agile, open and fluid operations, yet we still print resumes out, use the phone to chase references and require faxed documents for onboarding, when most people don’t even own a scanner. Reduce the archaic hoops and create better engagement with candidates and employees alike.

4. Ok, so what are the challenges of getting it right?

Rob: Some of the challenges include determining the different ways people respond to how you engage with them. There are many subtle differentiating factors, for example, introverts versus extroverts, or employees who have families and commitments outside of work, versus others that do not. It can be a challenge to determine methods that are successful and meaningful for a wide span of different types of employees, but building that environment is key. That is why I believe it’s so important to start with finding an aligned purpose and passion in the organisation.

John: I think we’ve broken HR into too many silos. The new HR, required for today’s workplace, should focus purely on talent. Some companies are already moving in that direction and demonstrating that the traditional “HR” function is no longer broken down into various stages and phases but focuses on engaging individuals throughout the employee lifecycle.

5. And how can tech help to overcome challenges?

Rob: I may be a bit biased, but giving employees a voice, as we do with the WorkTango platform, is a real support factor. Being able to see employee feedback and sentiment at an aggregate level may show gaps in the organisation, which is valuable for the HR function or executives in the company. When you couple aggregate insight with specific detailed insight at a leadership or management level, that’s when you can overcome those challenges by making leaders accountable.

John: Tech allows organisations to offer a greater level of transparency to both candidates and employees, and enables the data generated at each stage of the employee lifecycle to be transitioned seamlessly to the next. Which goes back to my point about not breaking down HR into silos, but treating as a consistent and overarching focus on talent. Automating admin tasks also frees up time for talent teams to build meaningful relationships with candidates and continue to foster those relationships beyond hire through to retire - bringing the “human” aspect back to the role.

6. How do you think candidate and employee expectations have changed in the last 10 years?

Rob: I think expectations have drastically changed. 10 years ago, we used to come to work and see all kinds of new technology we didn't have available to us. Today, coming to the office feels like we’ve gone back in time.

All employees are also consumers and are way more advanced in their expectations based on what is readily available to them outside of work. Expectations of consumers today are speed, access to technology, better communication, and access to information. And they want all of this to come with a great experience.

John: Again, I absolutely agree. We now live in a world with a growing gig economy which means that candidates and employees alike will drop out of the hiring process or leave a company if there’s not a sense of instant gratification.

The power is now very much in their hands and, in order to maintain their loyalty and attention, the experience we offer them must be positive but also authentic and consistent throughout their relationship with us.

7. Finally, the big question - What does the future look like?

Rob: The future is going to become even more fast-paced and “consumerised”. New philosophies about the employee combined with technology is going to rapidly change everyday processes. Companies are investing more in HR tech now than ever before (over $1B in 2017) so we are already starting to see those changes.

In the future, it will be easier to access information on a potential company or candidate. Technology will enable remote workers more flexibility than ever before. Hierarchies will be flatter, and communication will be paramount as we work in more collaborative teams that are also more geographically dispersed.

John: The future will be more of what we are starting to see now, but better. A recognition of the importance of a positive experience for both candidates and employees will grow as organisations realise that a slip in either can have detrimental effects on their employer reputation and brand.

The best companies have broken down the silos in traditional HR and are treating it as one talent-driven function. I think we need to get to a place where we willingly offer transparency and a sense of control to both candidates and employees.

Rob launched WorkTango in 2016, with co-founder Nadir Ebrahim. Outside of his role at the helm of the rapidly growing HR technology solution, Rob is also a passionate advocate for the power of employee engagement and success, and was named one of the top 100 Global Employee Engagement Influencers for 2018.

Rob Catalano

John Dawson

John Dawson was part of the team that made the Xref North America dream a reality, helping to launch the Toronto-based office in March 2016 and grow it successfully since. With several years’ experience supporting recruitment functions in Toronto, John has a profound understanding of talent acquisition, management and retention challenges and best practices.

John Dawson

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