Lesson For Our Time: How Our Business Thrives in a World of Disruption

Disruption has become so commonplace in our society today that we tend to take it for granted. The way we shop, bank, book our travel and keep in touch with each other is fundamentally different than it was just a few years ago. We accept it, we like it and we cannot imagine it any other way now.

However, in the business world, disruption is often seen as a threat, something to be avoided or somehow handled as we seek to avoid the Kodak or HMV moment, or avoid being “Uber-ized” – a new verb to enter the English language.

On the one hand, we thrive on disruption in our own consumer lives, yet we can feel threatened in our professional lives. That’s quite a paradox, but I don’t feel it needs to be that way.

The types of roles we serve have changed as automation eliminated swathes of job categories. We now help our clients find data scientists, robotics engineers and digital marketing experts

Ultimately, disruption is a force for good because it goes hand in hand with innovation, and innovation brings us better ways of doing things, new solutions to old problems, and whole new industries from which to grow.

No industry should be immune to that progress, so let me describe its impacted on my own industry of recruitment, and on Hays, my company, in particular.

Disrupted by technology

Stepping back, it’s hard to find a more people-centric industry than my own. We are simply people helping other people, our clients, find the skilled talent they need to fuel their own business or organization. Yet despite that very human aspect of our business, technology has disrupted us in many, many ways.

Firstly, the types of roles we serve have changed as automation eliminated swathes of job categories. At the same time new roles and skill sets have emerged. We now help our clients find data scientists, robotics engineers and digital marketing experts.

Secondly, the way we deliver our services has also changed dramatically. Over a decade ago, as classified ads moved online, people predicted the end of the recruitment industry as it became cheaper and easier to advertise vacancies. Five years or so ago, the advent of professional social networks, the likes of LinkedIn, was seen as the ultimate disintermediator of our business.

Yet today we are still here, looking forward to celebrating our 50th anniversary as a business in 2018, and growing quickly around the world.

I put that down partly to how we have engaged with the disruptors in our industry and looked beyond the obvious to find ways of using these innovative new ideas coming from left field to enhance our own competitive position.

By finding ways of combining these new tools and models with the expertise we have in our own people, we have improved service, improved our own productivity, and improved our own financial results.

Working with disruptors

At the heart of our approach to innovation and disruption has been the notion of partnership. We simply cannot have all the resources in-house to design and develop all the tools and techniques that could fundamentally change our model. Better, then, to work alongside others as they develop the science that we can use to best effect.

One such example is the partnership we struck with LinkedIn four years ago to align our two databases. That gives us unprecedented coverage and insight into the talent market globally and has made us by far the world’s number one brand for jobs on LinkedIn today. 

So instead of being put out of business by LinkedIn, we thrive because of the benefits it, and other networks, bring us.

Similarly, every month we receive around a million CVs, all digitally. Organizing that and searching for exactly the right people on behalf of our clients requires real capability. So we work with Google to adapt their algorithm to better match jobs with job seekers at real scale.

Partnering is only half the strategy though. As the above innovations become business as usual, the world doesn’t stand still and we are now exploring how we can use a range of different pools of data to better identify the right person for a job.

Don’t be afraid of disruption: accept it is inevitable and use it as a catalyst to drive change. But remember one thing: it never ends

By tapping into cloud computing, for example, we are now able to deploy machine-learning capabilities to find exactly the right people, wherever they are, even if they haven’t applied yet.

Put simply, by distilling literally thousands of data signals from dozens of sources, we can identify not just potential candidates for a role, but also when they are likely to be looking for a new job, what attributes of a role really matter to them, and specifically how we can encourage them to apply. That capability will make us even better at doing what we do.

It never ends

Those are some of my experiences of embracing disruption within my own industry. No industry is immune to such change. However, you shouldn’t aim to just “keep up” with your peers.

Disruption actually gives you an opportunity to evolve your own business and adapt to new and modern ways of working, in effect it can be a way of leapfrogging competitors who are maybe slower to anticipate and adapt.

So my advice is, don’t be afraid of it: accept it is inevitable and use it as a catalyst to drive change and create advantage in your own business in a way that would be impossible otherwise.

But remember one thing: it never ends. Today’s innovative new idea is tomorrow’s business as usual, and you will need to plan to disrupt it all over again.

About the Author

Alistair Cox is CEO of Hays, a global executive recruitment firm. This article first appeared on LinkedIn’s Influencer blog. 

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