In between pro bono consulting, contracting, and research, I am also job-hunting for a permanent position and I thought I would give a specific example of bad Knowledge Management practices that I come across typically from HR departments.
Since Booz Allen Hamilton have over the years never responded to any job application or job query I have sent them, I feel quite safe in discussing them by name as a good example of a really stupid practice.
They obviously aren’t very self-aware, so this post should comfortably escape their attention, but if they did suddenly wake up and want to talk, maybe I could get them to pay for some basic education on prudent knowledge management practices – as I have said before, Knowledge Management isn’t something you buy, it is something you already do, just either well or badly.
… but maybe buying some education might be a start.
To survive in a competitive commercial terrain, a firm needs to provide copious signaling to various parties that it is a serious contender and getting this wrong – being off-key, deaf, or imperious, can spell the difference between long-term survival and not.
This includes inter alia getting the behavior and messaging right in respect of three distinct groups of people, and to give …:
- … existing and potential investors the distinct impression that you are master of a domain
- … current and potential customers tangible evidence that you are alert, responsive, and reliable
- … current and potential employees that you are awake, in-tune, and believable
In case this post was tempted to wander off into a strictly theoretical discussion, what follows is a verbatim response to a job application that illustrates in lurid detail the kinds of things that people do hundreds of times a month and which do damage to the corporate image and branding, and which makes the highly-skilled and desirable applicants think your organization must be staffed with morons.
I have highlighted some specific strings for comment, but as a general observation the whole response is unworthy of a serious company that is aware that job applications may come from current or future customers, investors, suppliers, and employees, and which makes an effort to get this right.
The following text (my italics) is a verbatim response to a specific job application:
Dear Matthew H Loxton(1),
Thank you for taking the time to submit your profile for the position Knowledge Management Strategist (01098857)(2) at Booz Allen Hamilton(3).
We are eager to review your qualifications in terms of the requirements for this position. If our recruiters believe you may be a fit for this role, someone from our staff will contact you(4).
Again, thank you for submitting your profile and for expressing an interest in our firm(7, 8).
Recruiting Services Team
Booz Allen Hamilton(9)
Replies to this message are undeliverable and will not reach the Recruiting Services Team. Please do not reply.(10)
- Well ok, they got my name right, which is a plus because most don’t even get this bit right, score 1
- Score a point here for saying what the role was and the number, because frankly, after seven different submissions I can’t remember what your role was, and typically a job-seeker will submit hundreds of applications. Subtract the point for not hyper-linking the job – I mean really guys, you list it but then don’t link to it, how lame is that?
- Score a point for reminding me who you are, subtract it again for not hyper-linking it
- OK, so how condescending could you possibly get for starters and why aren’t you telling me when and how? Explain your process, put some commitment in regarding timeframes, and be specific! Deduct 5 points
- What sort of lame anchor text to your web site is “web site”? – use a meaningful anchor text so you don’t look like utter newbs. Deduct 1 point for newb factor that makes the company look foolish and clumsy.
- Same as above, “click here” isn’t something people need to be told in order to comprehend the implication of a hyperlink – show that you “get it” and make the anchor text meaningful. Deduct another point for making people think you probably do the same stupid stuff on your web page too.
- You have a name, use it, your firm’s name isn’t “our firm” and this needs to be hyperlinked as well. Branding guys, branding! Deduct 1 point
- This was your shot at providing a hook from the Marketing guys to say something sticky and meaningful about what you do and who you are, and you flubbed it so badly I want to deduct several hundred points, but one will suffice. Try to make the reader get a little frisson of emotional entanglement with your mission and vision.
- Again you could hyperlink and again you had a shot at branding, and again you undermine the brand. -1
- This deserves a public flogging at least – besides being incredibly insulting and condescending, it is just plain moronic. No other department in a firm other than HR thinks it makes sense to have one-way communication with the public. You are dealing with people who might wind up at customers or investors or analysts, do you really want to stick your thumb in their eye. … but that’s not all, having insulted the public, you then also remove any hope that the person could help you learn. They can’t even say “hey, your job add has errors in it”! See my previous blog on departments that undermine corporate branding
- Well attaching the same email was, …um…, interesting, but you know what would have made more sense? – sending me a copy of my application and the job details. Now that would be useful when you call in three months and I can’t remember what it was about. -1
Getting -11 is not a good score and should be a sign that things are wrong – Either staff are running around without a due degree of management oversight, or (even worse) the managers are running a shop that is deliberately out of alignment with the Marketing and Sales part of the company.
In which case, it might be better if the recruitment side of Booz Allen Hamilton worked for the competition instead.
Why a firm’s recruiters should behave so radically differently to how other departments behave that touch the public is a source of mystification to me.
I do know that the common trope will be that they are very busy, that they get hundreds (if not thousands) of emails, and that nobody has ever complained before, so let’s look at that for a moment.
We are too Busy
Not too busy to undermine the corporate branding though, just too busy to be like any other customer-facing department and be polite and have coherent and consistent practices.
Customer Service and Sales go to the ends of the earth to be polite and to maintain branding and messaging, and none of them would in their wildest nightmares imagine that ignoring the public is a clever or even remotely sane thing to do. Let’s not beat around the bush on this, making the HR return email address an invalid one is like a receptionist that refuses to listen to anybody calling or arriving on the premises.
HR should no more supply an invalid email address to the public than should Sales, Support, or the receptionist, and nobody is too busy to adhere to good knowledge management practices or protect the brand.
But we get so many emails
So what? – That’s your job, figure it out.
Throwing them in the bin is not a valid option
This is the public talking back to you and if you don’t like that then get another profession that doesn’t deal with the public.
Amongst those emails could easily (very likely) be one from somebody whose other job opportunity will be as the chief purchasing officer of your biggest customer, and they might easily take this experience with them in their next role. In fact the research shows that they do.
Being rude to the public is stupid, ask Marie Antoinette.
Nobody Ever Complained Before
How would you know if you don’t let them email you, your phone number isn’t listed, and you don’t invite comment.
It is truly amazing how many firms are deliberately and systematically deaf, and how this eventually leads to corporate death.
Preventing people from telling you that you are full of it or that what you are doing is wrong, irritating, or stupid is not a clever approach to survival and does nothing to foster a Learning Organization.
Being incurious is bad enough, but actually preventing feedback is stupendously stupid.
This really should not be something anyone needs to point out or explain – never be rude or dismissive to the public, and yet HR departments across the globe do this on a routine and ongoing fashion, apparently exempt from the kind of oversight that we conspicuously apply to sales, marketing, and customer service teams.
I am not singling Booz Allen Hamilton out for criticism, this is a widespread and pernicious pattern of behavior – and one that needs to be stamped out across the board.
Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management expert and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge assets to work.