Are You Flexible? 🤸
Updated: Jan 3, 2022
How to Win the War for Talent: Part 1
I’ve avoided writing about “The Great Resignation” (or the “The Great Reshuffling,” whatever you want to call it) because so much has already been written.
But most of it is trash, and I can’t take it anymore. Almost every take I’ve read is a combination of whining, blaming, or misplaced hope that everyone will return to their offices immediately or work remotely forever. All these pieces miss the point, which is:
Workers' expectations have changed, and quickly adapting organizations will take the best talent.
This series aims to think critically about, and maybe even question, your stance on remote work. You need to see the shift as an opportunity, not an excuse.¹
How to Win the War for Talent: Part 1
For this post, I hope to convince you that most employers STILL underrate flexibility, so you can realize tremendous advantages in prioritizing flexibility.
Flexibility Is King
Years ago, my job was to recruit thousands of contractors to work for a tech support platform. Specifically, my team and I ran “acquisition and evaluation,” - which meant that we ran ads and evaluated all the candidates that went through our screening process. We needed lots of contractors, so we automated our entire process. We never met a single one in person until after they made it onto the platform. It was a fun job.²
Here’s the exciting part, we tested four different messages to see which one converted best. They were:
Help Others - we emphasized that they’d be helping other people with their tech problems.
Flexibility - We were clear that they could work when and where they wanted.
Make Money - We paid well and let the candidates know it.
Advance Your Skills - We were a great entry point for a customer and tech support career since we didn’t require any experience.
Can you guess which message had the highest click-through rate?
That’s a trick question. It was a tie between “Help Others” and “Make Money” - people who saw those ads loved clicking on them and starting our screening process. “Starting” is the keyword in that last sentence. Those people rarely finished.
Instead, ads emphasizing “Flexibility” brought in the candidates most likely to complete and pass our screening. And not just by a little, by a lot. It wasn’t long before all of our messaging emphasized: “work when you want, where you want.”
Once we had our platform up and running, I reached out to many of our contractors to do some additional customer discovery, and all of them raved about how fantastic the gig was because it was flexible, and they could do it from home. The flexibility was the draw.
Prediction and Takeaways
Here’s my prediction:
We’re about to see many more jobs we once considered “in-person” with fixed schedules become much more flexible. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg on this.
While I have some serious reservations about the “Gig Economy,” one thing it does very well is empower micro-employment. I believe we’re about to see many more professions move to that model.
Here are my takeaways:
First, if you’re not already thinking about making your workforce more flexible in terms of location, time, and schedule, you will have to settle for less than ideal talent. Someone in your industry will do the hard work and figure it out. It might as well be you.
Second, the end of the funnel is what matters. It’s easy to say “everyone loves our mission!” or “let’s tell ’em we’ll pay more!” to boost your applicant numbers, but what candidates make it to the end? Use data and adapt as needed. You may be surprised at what people value. I was.
Third, most business leaders enjoy a high degree of flexibility, whether they can admit it or not. Understand that the people you hire or report to you will likely feel pressure for performative in-personism. It’s human nature, and there are power dynamics. What YOU perceive as a flexible environment may be anything but your direct reports.
1 A caveat: I like going into an office, always have. I’m not anti-office. I like separating work and home. I work better when away from my kids (surprising, I know). And I’m an extrovert who likes most people, so I like hanging out with coworkers. And I’m also a realist.
2 Now’s a good time to thank my former colleague John O’Connor who fact-checked me and provided some suggestions. Thanks, John!