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  How to Get Stuff Done in a Crazy World

I know you almost never have the time nor the resources to do the things ERE writers, including myself, suggest you do. I know that you are thinking that many ERE writers don't run talent functions, don't understand the pressures you are under, and have unrealistic expectations. But there are ways to get stuff done, even when the going is tough and the workload high.

I was speaking with the VP of recruiting of a very large organization a few days ago. This person's company is being acquired and is in a geographical location where recruiting is competitive and the cost of living is high. On top of that, he has over 800 open professional positions with hiring managers pushing hard to fill them. Budgets are tight and the focus is on getting jobs filled. Now that's real pressure.

Is he caving in and just reacting? No. Quite the opposite. He sat down with his boss and worked out a strategic approach to the overall situation. He was able to convince his boss to move forward on new sourcing strategies and on working with a marketing firm to prepare messaging for potential hires. Taking some time to think before acting may result in a more positive recruiting effort.

What we get caught up in is the classic struggle between doing the day-to-day tactical work and thinking longer term and strategically. We struggle with the proper balance and most of us err in favor of the tactical. We do this because the day-to-day stuff is what our boss sees, and it is what brings immediate reward.

Strategic things take time and the reward is much further away. Rarely are compensation schemes based on the longer term (except perhaps for senior executives) and we all ask ourselves if we'll even be at the same company when the fruit of any strategic effort start to ripen.

Is there any way to break this cycle? Is it really that we are so tactically focused that we cannot see the strategy? I would suggest that tactics are always just the methods we use to carry out a strategy. Whether or not the strategy is explicit (written down and communicated widely) it is exemplified and carried out by the tactics you are applying to your work.

Most of us are simply following an implicit strategy: one that says filling requisitions and responding to the organization's hierarchy without question is the right thing to do.

It takes deliberate effort and requires some risk-taking to break this cycle. There is no time like the present, so try these tips now:

Set aside one day a month. Start by taking one day each month and using that day as a planning and discussion day or as a communication day. Use the time to meet with your team or bring in an outside expert and brainstorm, discuss, and try to come up with a vision or broad strategy for what you would like to be doing. The process will allow you to explore new approaches and give you an opportunity to broach innovation and change with your staff. Most likely there will be some resistance to change, but the discussions with your team will jump-start valuable ideas for the future. Use subsequent days to discuss specific actions, communicate your intentions and ideas to management, or to develop tactics to make the ideas real.
Set the stage with your boss and stakeholders. Brief your boss on what you want to do and lay out a plan that shows the potential benefits that will happen from taking some time out to plan. Invite your boss to join you and have her provide her own ideas and solutions. Obviously, acting without support and understanding from your boss and your peers will usually result in failure. Stress the benefits and advantages this will bring to them. Lay out a business-oriented case for making these changes. I have worked with several large organizations that decided to take time to develop a strategic plan and do an analysis of their recruiting function in order to locate areas for improvement. In each case, the end result was that the recruiting leader was rewarded because results improved. It is critical to identify and explain what benefits they will get from supporting your efforts, and also talk them through some of the consequences that might result from implementing these changes.
Experiment a lot. The next step is to actually begin doing things differently, even on a small scale. Find an ally on your team and introduce a change or two. Some argue that big, quickly introduced changes are the best way to make things happen. If you are in a culture that is supportive of that approach, go for it. However, in my experience it is often more practical and more acceptable to move in incremental ways. By introducing small changes over time you can get more lasting and better-accepted results than by making big changes and moving quickly.
Rally the troops. Get your team to help. Ask a few of your staff to take on a specific project and do the research necessary to decide whether moving forward makes sense. I have seen recruiters vastly improve their own productivity when chartered to dig into a new project. We all need the occasional change to stimulate us. Rather than punish those who do not support your changes efforts, get them involved and reward those who do. The rewards don't have to be bonuses or salary increases, although those are fine. You can also offer time off, a dinner, or some other small tangible reward. Or simply make sure they get recognized publicly and often for their contribution. We are all eager to be liked and recognized for what we do.

Getting stuff done when times are crazy requires a combination of creating an overall plan, getting your team involved, experimenting, trying small changes, and tweaking what you do. But most of all, you need the commitment to do things differently.

DaCare is the leading bi-lingual executive search firm in China. Ranked top 10 in China by People's Daily.