Thursday, 28 April 2011

Recruiting the UK’s Meerkat Ambassador: Simples

One of the things I love the most about the world of recruitment is the diverse range of candidates I get to meet. However nothing I’ve experienced to date could have prepared me for the line-up I faced this week.
For the last two days I have been interviewing candidates for the role of UK Ambassador to the Meerkat village of Meerkovo. No you didn’t read that wrongly; that’s Meerkovo, home to Aleksandr Orlov and a community of highly frustrated meerkats. Despite Aleksandr releasing epic trilogy adverts, documentaries, an iPhone app and even writing a best selling book, the confusion between meerkats and cheap insurance deals continues to have a major effect on the villagers of Meerkovo and their livelihoods. The successful applicant will become the meerkats’ first ever, human, UK-based Ambassador and will be required to represent Meerkovo at a number of high-profile sporting and cultural events to raise awareness of the plight of the village.

Thousands of people applied for the role and understandably so as it does come with a not inconsiderable £40k salary for six months’ work. On the strength of their written applications, and in some cases accompanying Youtube videos, the group was whittled down to 24, all of whom were invited in for a face to face interview. I was asked to act as an independent recruitment consultant, leading the interview process and ultimately helping to shortlist a final group who will campaign publicly for the role.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the chosen few but given the people who I would be putting through their paces included a croupier, a zookeeper, a former bodybuilder and a parrot trainer I was keeping an open mind. On the whole they didn’t disappoint. 
For the role of ambassador we wanted someone who showed a clear understanding of the problems facing Meerkovo, outstanding communication skills, in-depth experience of using social media, and the social skills needed to make an impact at public events. There is no doubt whatsoever that each and every one of the candidates desperately wanted the role. Who wouldn’t? As opportunities go it doesn’t get much better. But whilst some of the candidates rose majestically to the challenge, delivering engaging interviews and showing exactly why they fit the bill, others were not as successful in responding to the demands of the brief.
It is imperative to remember that no matter what role you’re gunning for the fundamental principles of successful interviewing remain the same:
-           Prepare, prepare and prepare some more. You can never prepare too much.
-           Adopt an enthusiastic, alert, positive mindset. You don’t have to try to be someone you’re not but make sure you show some spark from the outset. If the chemistry is missing invariably your chances have gone.
-           Answer the brief. Identify the key criteria and ensure you demonstrate how you tick the necessary boxes.
For me it’s back to recruiting the UK’s best talent in PR, comms and social media. The shortlisted finalists for the Ambassador role will be announced on the 10th May and I wish them all the very best of luck as they thoroughly deserve their shot at glory.
Tim Court

Thursday, 21 April 2011

How much does a bank holiday really cost?

The cost to the economy of a single bank holiday is £6bn according to the CBI.  With four such holidays in the next two weeks this equates to a £24bn hit to the UK at a time of already struggling finances. At Fabric we certainly foresee a slow-down in recruitment activity as many people will be off work from today until May 3rd

However, what the CBI’s calculations don’t include are the benefits to the workplace of a much needed rest and recuperation period.  Employers and employees have been under severe pressure for the best part of three years now and the chance for two long weekends in a row combined with a national celebration is a welcome and well deserved break for many.  The benefits really could outweigh the costs.  We hope you all have a great few weeks.

- Justin Kent

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Nicola Franklin receives IRMS Special Award for Contribution to the Profession

It was with great pleasure that Nicola Franklin, Head of Information Division at Fabric, accepted an award recognising her outstanding involvement and contribution to the information and records management profession from Matt Stephenson, the current Chair of the newly renamed IRMS (Information and Records Management Society), at the Gala Dinner of this year’s Conference. 

“I am greatly humbled and proud to receive this award,” said Nicola Franklin. “It is not only vital that a recruiter has a thorough knowledge of the sector they are working in, but I also believe in the importance of good information management to the success of organisations and that information professionals of all kinds receive greater recognition.  Having the work I have done to try and help achieve this recognised by the community means a lot to me.”

Getting involved with one or more of the membership groups and associations that represent the information profession is a great way to open the door to continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities.  Nicola is a great believer in the fact that career development is in the hands of the individual, and it is up to individuals to grasp opportunities.

As a recruiter supporting the information and records management industry for the past fourteen years, Nicola is a member of many of these groups and enjoys reading their journals and attending events.  To get the most out of membership, however, she believes it is important to get more involved and so over the years has volunteered to write articles, speak at seminars and conferences and sit on committees.

Nicola has been attending the IRMS Conference every year since it was held in Leeds in 2003.  She has been a speaker for three of those years, ranging from CV and interview advice to marketing records services internally.

Nicola joined the IRMS Accreditation sub-committee at its formation in 2007 and has been working to develop the assessment criteria and marking scheme with her colleagues on the committee.   The Accreditation scheme was launched at the 2011 Conference and all the documentation for it can be found on the IRMS website

Nicola has also been working with two colleagues to organise the ‘Fragmentation of the Information Profession’ meetings.  These are designed to facilitate closer collaboration and co-operation between as many of the information groups and associations as possible.

“I would always advise new entrants to the profession to get involved with their professional groups and volunteer for things,” says Nicola . “If you are nervous start off by taking small steps, like doing a short ‘newsy’ report on your experience of a conference for one of the journals, or comment on someone else’s blog post.  Gradually this extra-curricular activity will raise your confidence level, which itself will heighten your chances of getting a good career move.  Get involved in your professional associations, sit on sub-committees or volunteer for co-opted officer posts – make your association the group you want it to be.”

LIKE24 Event – Human Library

Last night saw LIKE members once again met at the Crown Tavern in Clerkenwell – although this time there was a huge crowd of people socialising outside in the sunshine and it was tempting to linger there instead of going inside!
Linda Constable, Senior Manager Customer Services at Dorset County Council joined us from Bournemouth to run a Human Library event for LIKE members. 
As part of the booking process for the event some delegates volunteered to be ‘books’ by nominating a topic.  On the night Linda gave a passionate description of the project and some of the feedback she has received from participants in events she has run around the country as part of a CILIP and MLA project.
Human Library is designed as a tool to encourage the breaking down of cross-cultural barriers and help people exchange ideas and share experiences.  It can give a voice to dis-enfranchised people who might otherwise feel marginalised.  Linda gave a poignant example of a ‘book’ on knitting being ‘read’ by a young mother at one event, where the ‘reader’ admitted that although she loved knitting her husband wouldn’t allow her to “waste time” doing it.  What could have been a superficial encounter about a hobby became a much more meaningful dialogue about women’s rights and interpersonal relationships in the home.
At LIKE I had the chance to be both a ‘reader’ and later on during the evening a ‘book’.  As the former I learnt about mountaineering, and specifically ice climbing in Norway.  As the latter I had 3 ‘readers’ asking me all about online gaming – from what it was exactly through to what I got out of it.
In a work environment, as opposed to a community library setting, this technique could be used to facilitate knowledge sharing.  For this the ‘books’ would need to be on ‘non-fiction’ topics such as ‘how to do xxx’ or ‘what to do in yy situation’, rather than from the auto-biographical genre.
- Nicola Franklin

Monday, 18 April 2011

ISKO-UK & TIPS Event – Public Access to Information; challenges for information gatekeepers

This was one of the best value for money events I’ve attended recently - £20 for a half day mini-conference with four outstanding speakers;  the Information Commissioner, the Director, Information Policy and Services at TNA, Professor Charles Oppenheim and the CIO for a District Council in Somerset.
Over 100 delegates listened to four very different but interlinked talks, ranging from how to achieve a balance between protection of individual privacy (Data Protection) and transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds (Freedom of Information, to how public bodies can move from a protective gatekeeper stance over data towards a new default position of proactive release of information. 
Charles Oppenheim gave a very entertaining and controversial look at what’s wrong with UK information law, and the CIO of Sedgemoor District Council had us all puzzling over the difference between linkable data and linked data, and how the latter means different data sets can be amalgamated to allow more sensible questions to be posed.
Many people’s favourite anecdote of the day was Charles’ revelation that a valid exemption to an FoI release in Norway was if the requester was ‘too inebriated’.  He was puzzled as to how the FoI officers could tell...
The  more senior questions he challenged us with about information law, included:
  • Why is some information considered ‘sensitive’ under DP but not others?  Eg – sexual preference or religious belief is ‘sensitive’ but DNA profiles, financial information or job performance information isn’t.
  • While there is a right to sue for damages arising from DP breaches, why is it only possible to sue for distress caused if the media is involved?  Eg – if a utility accuses you of not having paid a bill which you have, and threaten to bring in the bailiffs, that is likely to cause distress but you have no redress.
  • How is the DP going to catch up with modern technology?  Eg –  with cloud computing, it is all too easy for personal data to end up ‘in the cloud’ which in practice is likely to mean it being sent to a USA based server – and despite the use of Safe Harbour companies, the Patriot Act is likely to over-ride those and thus potentially expose personal data to review.
Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, made a valid point about the call for his role to act as a ‘Privacy Czar’, in that this would simply push the point of decision (between right to privacy and right of access) elsewhere.  Christopher also argued that FoI can be a driver of efficiency and that proactive disclosure promotes value for money, as it’s more cost effective to publish information in advance than it is to hunt for information later on in response to a FoI request.
Carol Tullo, TNA, talked about the ‘public data principles’ and the Open Government Licence, which has already been adopted by central government departments, over 180 local authorities, and many non-departmental government bodies.  This is important if third party uses, volunteers and entrepreneurs are to feel comfortable  to ‘mash up’ the data to produce innovative applications and products.  Carol also reported that the Cabinet Office is considering the establishment of a Public Data Corporation, to collect, hold and manage public data centrally.  It was clear that the main focus is now moving to proactive disclosure of as much information as possible, in a re-usable and linked data format.
Carol also briefly described the 5 stars of open linked data, from a 1 star of having data on a website, in any format, through to a 5 star of having data up which is already linked with other people’s data.  This fed nicely into Paul Davidson, CIO of Segdemore District Council’s presentation on how to create meaningful linked local data.  Paul made the distinction between ‘machine readable’ data, such as data in csv or rft format, open standards (such as rss feeds or GML), linkable data with identifiers, and true linked data, which has Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs) embedded.
Paul gave several examples of the sorts of interesting and useful questions that can be answered if linked data is available:
Example 1:
Air pollution data (including locations)
Health incidence data (eg asthma)
demographic data

Could lead to very interesting questions about which local authority area has higher air pollution, do they show increased incidence of asthma, and which section of the populations is more affected?
Example 2:
Spend on road maintenance
Number of miles of road
Political control of councils over time

Could allow questions to be asked such as “which councils spend least on road maintenance per mile, while under control of a particular party?”
A lively Q&A panel debate session followed the speakers, which eventually ran out of time with several hands still up in the audience.  Around half the audience then retired to the main UCL building for drinks and networking, and many were still there when I had to leave at 7.00pm.
- Nicola Franklin

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Recruitment is easy, right?

All HR need to do is find recruitment partners who send as many CVs through as quickly as possible.  Well perhaps, if you base your success metrics purely on ‘time to hire’.  But what happens six months after the onboarding is complete?
In my experience, having recruited for both a global high-street recruiter and several niche industry-specialist recruiters over the past 20 years, many clients see recruitment as a cost rather than an investment, despite platitudes about people being their most important asset.
Viewing recruitment from this mind set leads to the assumption that lower cost and higher speed are good, in-depth discussions and anything else that slows things down are bad.
I have never understood this approach.  In today’s risk conscious world, especially, why would organisations hire key people on a purely transactional basis, blindly taking on the risk of engaging recruiters based on the speed of their service and lowest cost?
It makes me wonder whether those agreeing contracts with outside recruitment services have any understanding of the knowledge and skills that go into a high quality recruitment process.  Do organisations really want recruiters who will pull CVs off an online job board and email them through, in some cases without ever having spoken to the ‘candidate’?  That is the ultimate ‘high speed’ reaction to an ‘automated email alert’ of a vacancy, and means CVs can be uploaded onto the hirer’s system within minutes of the vacancy ‘going live’. 
Does this mean that the people who’s CVs are submitted are actually a good fit to the role?  Or to the company?  At best, it probably means that some of the keywords from the job description might be found on the CV.  At worst, it means the candidates have never heard of the organisation or the job, and will have to be persuaded to attend an interview if any of their CVs do happen to be a close enough match.
To help busy, stressed HR teams understand what makes up a high quality recruitment process, I thought I would share the process we follow here at Fabric:
Ensuring a full understanding of the job brief
  • What is the culture of the organisation?
  • Listing and also qualifying the duties of the role
  •  Discovering the department structure and fit into the organisations’ business model
  • Understanding the team dynamics and the personality which will fit well into the group
  • Finding out which technical skills &/or previous experience will enable the candidate to do the job successfully
This understanding can be gained much more easily and to a greater degree at a face to face meeting, ideally including the line manager as well as HR.  To save time when there is an urgent requirement, much of the information around organisational culture and department structures can be gathered during an earlier meeting.
Sourcing candidates
Good recruiters have a wealth of methods available to them to identify and source high quality, carefully matched, candidates to suit the job brief:
  • People they have already met, possibly several times over the years or at industry networking events, as well as during a registration interview
  • People on their database, who have submitted CVs either for earlier advertised vacancies or on spec, who may have had a telephone screening call
  • Advertising on the recruiter’s website, which if they are well known in their sector (why would you be using anyone else?) will be a regular port of call for both active job seekers and those ‘keeping an eye on the market/salaries’ and reading the recruiter’s blog/twitter posts
  • Advertising on niche job boards, appropriate to the functional &/or industry sector of the role or organisation
  • Candidates from all these sources would be screened, selected and then contacted for a detailed briefing on the job opportunity – these first steps may generate an initial shortlist to present to the client
The process doesn’t stop there, however.  However strong some of these candidates appear, it is likely that people who are an even better match haven’t been identified yet, usually because they aren’t actively job hunting.  The recruitment process should continue while the client reviews these initial CVs:
  • All candidates going through the screening process are asked for referrals of people they would recommend for the role
  • Research into relevant sectors and organisations, to identify passive potential candidates whose background is a good match to the person specification and other requirements of the job brief
  • Discreetly approaching those possible candidates – this requires skills to source the right people, make initial approaches, sell the role to them, sell the organisation to them, arrange times to meet and interview the candidate
  • These headhunted candidates also require a higher degree of management throughout the process and the clients must be prepared to play their part to, in order to promote their organisation, the team and the role to them and increase their desire to make a career move
Managing the process
A good recruiter’s job doesn’t end at the moment they have a shortlist of candidates ready to send to their client.  To maximise the chances of a successful hire (ie, not just getting an offer accepted, but the candidate starting in the role, passing probation and going on to be a valued team member), the recruitment process needs careful management:
  • Managing the expectations of both client and candidate(s) during the various interview stages, acting as a conduit for communication between the two
  • Preparing candidates for interview, covering technical as well as behavioural questions, background information on the organisation and its culture, down to practicalities like a map and directions
  • For candidates at final stage for permanent roles, working in partnership with the client to take up telephone peer references, focusing on productivity and performance of the candidate, the impact they had and how they worked within the team
  • Negotiation of an offer, once made, covering off any candidate concerns 
  • Assisting the successful candidate through the resignation (and possibly counter-offer) process
  • Informing other candidates in the process of the outcomes of their applications, passing on constructive feedback on their interview performance gained from the client
  • Keeping in regular contact with the successful candidate throughout their notice period to ensure they remain excited and engaged with the role up until their start date
  • Maintaining periodic contact with new starters and the client to ensure that any impending concerns are caught early and can be addressed effectively
As you can see, a good recruitment service is much more than searching a job board or database and emailing over a few CVs.  It is, above all, a people centred process that cries out for a focus on quality of service, not on speed/cost.  That is the best way to mitigate the risk of a bad hire.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

IRMS Conference 2011 - Risk vs Opportunity

The one concept that will stay with me more than any other from this year’s conference is risk.
That isn’t to say that there was any lack of variety in the topics for the sessions – this year was perhaps one of the most varied in that regard of all the conferences I’ve been to over the past eight years.  We had sessions:
·         from the Information Commissioner
·         on MoReq 2010
·         updates on FoI
·         trying out the Big Bucket theory of retention scheduling in practice
·         describing e-Disclosure developments
·         quantifying business benefits of IRM
·         about cloud based RM
·         on open source and open standards
·         discussing marketing your records service
·         offering a Sharepoint surgery
How did all these subjects boil down to a consideration of risk?
For the Information Commissioner it was important to emphasise not only the financial risk of public bodies incurring a fine of up to £500,000 for getting it wrong, but also the reputational risk of being ‘outed’ on the ICO website as being under investigation or having had an enforcement notice served on them.
From an e-Disclosure point of view Ed Sautter of Meyer Brown made it clear that the risks of incurring very high costs in the process of searching for ESI (electronically stored information) were only equalled by the potentially very high fines or court costs that an irate judge might impose on a firm thought to be hiding, losing or disposing of incriminating data.
The ‘Big Buckets’ retention schedule session gave us all a chance to try and create some buckets and then attempt to classify some record types into them, which had quite a few of us scratching our head! The ultimate message of the session was that, if you make your retention schedule too complex and unwieldy, your users will simply not use it and you risk having lots of unstructured information being kept indefinitely (or deleted inappropriately).
The panel for the ‘Electronic Futures’ debate, which included Ed Fowler from Capgemini, Dave Camden from Flare Solutions, James Lappin from Thinking Records and Tom Gilb from Result Planning, came to the conclusion that a key risk was simply that information created now is likely to be inaccessible in 20 years+ time due to problems with digital preservation.  Their initial solution – put anything vital on paper in a box – also fell down as audience members pointed out that cost savings have meant changes to paper suppliers, so that paper used today is highly unlikely to last 20 years.
 Following on from this session Ed Fowler ran a packed session on Cloud based records management, and while he tried to balance the opportunities with the threats of using this new (low cost, easy, fun and therefore tempting) medium, he didn’t altogether succeed and I think the audience was left feeling even more wary of Cloud than when they started.  However, as Ed pointed out, the chances are that users in almost all organisations are busy storing their documents on Google Docs or Flikr or elsewhere anyway – with all the attendant risks of losing it, exposing it to overseas legal frameworks, etc.
Even in my own session, on marketing your RM service, the discussion sessions around ‘who do you need to market to’ and ‘what topics keep your CEO awake at night’ inexorably came back down to risk – risk of higher costs, reputational risk, risk of losing income, risk of litigation.
This concept was summed up nicely in the panel debate on electronic futures – we have not only come out of the filing cabinet (basement!), to become professional records managers, we are now moving beyond that to become information governors.  Our role now has to be about creating the rules for managing information, not being the person to whom the user brings the box of files.
- Nicola Franklin

Friday, 1 April 2011

LIKE23 Event - Information in the palm of your hand: the evolution of mobile information access

If you were a town planner c1850, what would you have made of the newfangled automobile drivers insisting on navigating your streets in 1920 in their bulky contrivances? 
Mark Needham from Widget used this metaphor to illustrate the situation we now find ourselves in, with new-adopters of smartphones and tablets, chock full of features and apps, trying to use systems that weren’t designed with their use in mind.
He argued that, after a slow evolution over the past 20-30 years, something clearly resembling or descended from the touch-screen, tablet-form smartphone / pocket computer, which is starting to become ubiquitous, will still be recognisable in the devises that will be in use in 50+ year’s time.
Mark described three key features that are essential to, and common across, all these devises:
·         Microprocessors, allowing for miniaturisation
·         The web, offering information and data
·         Mobile networks, offering access to that information
One area of potential that is still not being realised is the powerful combination of video and location awareness (GPS) that sits within smartphone and tablet devises.  Perhaps the bandwidth isn’t yet sufficient for a use to be found for it?
Andrew Swaine, Manager of Knowledge Sharing and Internal Communications at ARM then took the floor, and made the point that developers are now concerned with the power consumption of the devices rather than the processor speed of the past.  He said he preferred an i-pad to a laptop because the former lasted for 10 hours... not for 2 hours like his laptop used to!
He predicted there would be a major consolidation before mobile devises fulfil their potential to be useful – consolidation of operating system, of cloud providers, etc.  Users will come to expect single platform operation across i-phone (or equivalent), tablet and desktop.  Andrew sees web apps as an enabler for that to happen.
He said that user interaction is now the key thing.  Gone is the era of the ‘stupid user’ – if something doesn’t work as expected, it’s a bug!  He gave the example of the disappearance of the ‘save’ button on mobile apps – data is now saved automatically on exit from a screen or app, and that is the new normal.
We then had group discussions of what various people today try and use mobile devices for, and what impediments exist, as well as changes that might help solve those issues.
Our combined ‘wish list’ included such goodies as:
  • Better input devices – improved keyboard, or a projected keyboard onto a table surface so the size of the device isn’t an issue
  • Better search into large data sets – so better ‘right answers are returned from stupid questions’ as one person succinctly put it
  • A single log on / password for all the services you may want to use
  • Voice recognition
  • Better network coverage (especially in underdeveloped countries)
‘Always on’ access to everything (one’s own documents and email as well as the web) was seen as having positive benefits (eg, negating the need to email ‘stuff’ to your private email, circumventing information security on the way) as well as negative consequences (eg, logging into remote servers from unsecured mobile or web devises opening a route for malware) – more room for improvement in systems and technology to go then!
- Nicola Franklin