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That headline is a little misleading.

I love shiny new things. And I’m a notorious (and often obnoxious) early adopter — typically, at the expense of my family, who are forced to act as de facto guinea pigs.

Here’s an example: In 2012, my wife came home from work and found me sitting in a tangled mess of cable boxes. I was fed up with Comcast, so I cut the cord and went all-in on Netflix and Hulu. She rolled her eyes. Emphatically. Especially when I told her HBO, Bravo, and HGTV were out. (Unless she knew someone who’d let us hijack their login…)

Initially, I was proud of the decision. We saved a pile of money. I didn’t have to sift through hundreds of channels I never watched. And I wasn’t spending hours every month on the phone with Comcast.

There were just a few small problems. Namely, in solving one headache, I created another.

Remember: This was 2012. Streaming services were gaining momentum. But the infrastructure to support them wasn’t ready for prime time yet. Internet speeds were pretty slow. And most big media companies — ESPN, HBO, every network channel — remained bullish on the traditional bundled cable model.

Within a few months, my wife longed for HGTV. And a few months after that, I went crawling back to Comcast.


The Key Difference Between Foundational and Auxiliary Technology

My point is this: I love cool new things as much as the next person — particularly if they have the potential to make my life simpler, less expensive, or more exciting.

But I’ve also been burned by the next great thing a few times.

Those experiences have taught me an important lesson about new technology. Namely, there’s a big difference between what I like to call “foundational” and “auxiliary” innovation.

Let me explain:

  • Foundational technology is the core platform that creates an environment for auxiliary innovation to thrive. An example of this is the battery technology that made it possible for Tesla and General Motors to build electric cars with 200+ mile ranges. Or the sensors, cameras, and algorithms that make autonomous vehicles a real possibility.
  • Auxiliary technology is the really cool innovation built on top of — or as the result of — those platforms. Netflix’s growth was driven by a lot of factors, but it’s closely connected to rapid improvements in internet infrastructure and speed. Would Netflix exist today without that foundation? Maybe. But the user experience would be so horrendous that it never would have reached the scale it’s at today.

Now, it’s worth clarifying that one isn’t necessarily more important than the other. In many ways, they’re interconnected and synergistic. Foundational technology tends to precede auxiliary technology, but the latter often enhances the value of the former.

In this case, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.


How Does This Connect to HR and TA Technology?

Ignoring my sometimes irresponsible personal habits, I’ve always tried to be pragmatic about how and where I layer technology into my professional life. Strategy always precedes technology. And even then, everything is built with the foundation in mind. Always.

But in HR and TA, there seems to be a disproportionate fascination with newness — foundational strategy be damned. 

Whether it’s AI, augmented reality, or — get ready for it — blockchain, buzzwords are currency in HR. Use them wisely and they’ll buy you a seat at the table and accelerated budget approval.

But there’s a question worth asking: How long does that last?

In the context of your strategy and your current technology ecosystem, will the next flashy thing really fix your problems? Or will it just slap a Band-Aid on them long enough to move to the next trend? In my experience, the latter is often true.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about blockchain and augmented reality and whatever else comes down the line. We have partnerships with a couple of amazing AI vendors — Paradox/Olivia and HiringSolved — who are doing truly remarkable things.

But the reality is that many talent acquisition teams haven’t even mastered social media and email marketing, let alone data warehousing and conversation trees. Before moving on to a PhD, wouldn’t it be prudent to master Recruitment Marketing 101 first?


If You’re Going to Innovate, Focus on the Foundation First

Yea, I know. That’s boring advice.

But the reality for most organizations is that the trends grabbing headlines are often little more than auxiliary distractions. They’re interesting. And many of them certainly have long-term potential. But without a foundation to support them, they’re as useful as Netflix on dial-up. Again, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


The question I’d ask is this: How confident are you in your strategy and the core technology that supports it?

  1. How well do you know your different candidate personas? How do they find you and what do they actually care about?
  1. Which sources can you attribute to pipeline growth among those personas?
  1. What’s your nurture strategy today and how would a new tool — chatbots, blockchain, augmented reality, [insert newest buzzword] — fit into it?
  1. Do you have a platform in place (CRM or recruitment marketing platform) to centralize, pipeline, and campaign to the leads you’ll create with all of your slick new tools?
  1. How connected are the technologies you use today? I’m not arguing for a tech suite. Integrations between systems can do the trick. But are yours working as planned?

A few days ago, my colleague and I received the same exact recruiting InMail from the same exact person: An HR director at (wait for it) one of our competitors. That’s how bad recruiting strategy is today.

Over the last few months, my colleagues and I have spent hundreds of hours digging through the data in SmashFly’s 2018 Fortune 500 report (stay tuned). There are some positive trends. But on the whole, the reality is pretty bleak. Truth is, the majority of companies are still slapping new technologies on old, tired, broken processes.

Consider these numbers: Only 5% of companies share content other than jobs with their candidate leads (and research shows that passive candidates don’t care about job alerts). Furthermore, nearly 50% of the companies who have a talent network never send a follow-up communication after someone opts-in.

Welcome to the new black hole.


So, Where Do You Start?

I get it. Recruitment marketing isn’t easy. Recruiters need to fill jobs. And marketing isn’t a core competency in most TA organizations.

But when you build a house, you don’t start with the newest, fanciest Nest thermostat. You think about the location. The lot. The architecture. The layout. And when you’re confident you have that foundation in place, you start layering in the things that make your home unique.

Recruitment marketing — and talent acquisition — are really no different. Without a grip on the basics, it’s hard to entertain the idea of pushing the limits. As Tim Sackett recently put it: “HR and TA doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to clear a path to help it roll better.” Put another way: Focus first on the foundational elements that will make your TA strategy run like a well-oiled machine. Create a platform you can confidently build on. Organize and segment your CRM database. Study actual candidate behavior (and go beyond the last source pre-apply your ATS gives you). Identify where your pipelines are weakest. Build basic campaigns you can replicate at scale, but tailor to specific candidate audiences. Iron out your unique message. Evaluate your investments.

And once you’ve done that, by all means: Test and play around with all the crazy new concepts that make being an innovator so damn fun.

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