Patrizia CiuppaApril 11, 2022
Topics: Recruiter Experience

Learning to Unlearn: The Key To Unlocking The Future of Talent Acquisition

If there’s ever been a time to embrace change in HR, this is it. A historically volatile labor market, shifting candidate and employee expectations… challenges like these demand innovation and creative thinking.

But as humans, we’re wired to stick to what we know: living inside the comfort zone. That’s why change is hard — even change that holds invaluable long-term benefits, like automating aspects of talent acquisition and management with artificial intelligence.

Could unlearning be what HR teams actually need to succeed now and in the future? That’s the topic Phenoms Christine Kensey, Sr. Director of Global Organizational Effectiveness, and Ljuba Bogdanovich, Sr. Director of Talent Acquisition, explored on this episode of Talent Experience Live.

Catch the full episode below, or read on to get the highlights.

What Does “Unlearning” Mean?

So what exactly does it mean to unlearn something? It’s similar to decluttering a closet: take inventory of your knowledge and beliefs, and say goodbye to anything that’s no longer useful to make room for the new and improved.

“These things that we believe we know, they’re no longer relevant sometimes, or the world has changed, or we have changed. There’s this important process of actively reflecting on what we know… and re-assessing what is serving us well and what’s not serving us well,” Kensey said. “It’s where you start to challenge your bias; it’s where you start to challenge the assumptions that underlie the things you’ve learned.”

Lateral vs. Dominant Thinking

Unlearning sets the stage for lateral thinking — a mindset that’s open to creative problem solving. In the process of unlearning, we question dominant thinking, or the “easy pathways” our brains revert to based on societal expectations and rules we’ve internalized.

“Dominant thinking is when we go down those really easy pathways,” Kensey said, confining ourselves to the tried-and-true.

On the other hand, lateral thinkers challenge assumptions, rules, premises, and objectives. Lateral thinking is entrepreneurial and innovative. It’s not just thinking outside the box — it’s throwing the box away entirely and pretending it never existed, Kensey said. “Lateral thinking gives us opportunities outside the realm of what we’re familiar with.”

Dominant v. lateral thinking

How To Apply Lateral Thinking To Recruiting and TA

Technology — from video assessments to AI-driven screening and scheduling tools — are easy ways for recruiters to save time on menial tasks so they can build more meaningful relationships with candidates. But when faced with changes in technology, employees often resist because of long-held beliefs: AI is going to eliminate my job. Video assessments are too impersonal. This fixed mindset forms the proverbial “box” that keeps people stuck in dominant thinking.

How can TA leaders and managers get employees to “throw away the box” when it’s time for big change? Kensey and Bogdanovich provided two strategies for fostering lateral thinking.

1. Question convention to solve problems

In the workplace, employees tend to focus on whether they’re doing things “right” based on the rules and expectations in place. But to become lateral thinkers, we need to question unconventionally — that is, ask questions like these that challenge conventional thinking:

  • Question the rule. Is there a reason this rule is in place? Why am I doing this?
  • Question everything. What’s the context for this rule? What premise are we working from when we follow this rule? What if the context has changed?

2. Focus on the benefits

Kensey reminded us that dominant thinking isn’t always “wrong.” For example, if recruiters say that manual scheduling has worked for years, that may be true.

However, “to get people to move into a lateral thinking mindset, you want them to have positive feelings and sentiments around [the change],” Kensey said. Employers can build excitement and acceptance by pointing out the positive impact that automating scheduling could bring, for example.

Encourage the team to think about what they can do with two to four extra hours in their work week once AI scheduling is in place. Could they revolutionize the process of finding new talent? Create more authentic relationships? “That gets people’s minds in a state that allows for that kind of novel thinking,” Kensey said.

Using video assessments is another big change that many recruiters and candidates have reservations about, mostly related to the loss of in-person (or virtual) one-on-one contact. Bogdanovich weighed in on how to get candidates and hiring managers to think laterally about video assessments.

“[For candidates], it gives you the opportunity to do it at your own pace, in your own time, to understand how you’re going to present and put your best self forward through a medium that you’ve got control over,” he said.

And for hiring managers who cling to the convention of assessing candidates through real-time, one-on-one meetings? Help them see that they’re still getting that individual snapshot of the candidate — but at a time convenient for them that doesn’t take them away from other fulfilling responsibilities and goals.

Related: How Phenom Scheduling Is Saving One Major Software Company 24,000 Hours

Ways To Practice Unlearning with Your Team

Like anything, learning to unlearn takes practice. Kensey shared a few team activities that can encourage employees to shift their mindset.

  1. During a team meeting, choose an applicable scenario and have the group list all the dominant thoughts that come to mind (e.g., “technology will replace my role”). Reframe each dominant thought into a “why” question that challenges assumptions.
  2. Pose a question like this to your team: What would a particular process look like if it were easier (e.g., finding candidates for hard-to-fill roles)? Ask the team to brainstorm answers, but with all limitations set aside. Then, layer some of those restrictions back in, and think about how to get around them.

Here at Phenom, Bogdanovich is encouraging his TA team to consider new ways to engage with candidates outside the traditional searching methods like job board posting. “There’s nothing that we can’t look at and explore to see if there’s a better way to do it. If it helps us get the right talent at the right time, then why not? Let’s go after it,” he said.

Facing & Overcoming Fear

Fear is one of the biggest barriers to moving forward with change. It’s up to managers and mentors to help employees identify those fears and move through them so they can learn and grow.

Apprehension, lack of knowledge, and self-consciousness are all root causes of fear. Giving people words and context to describe their fears helps them process them so they can evolve rather than retreat back into the comfort zone.

Ultimately, removing fear and all other boundaries that traditionally hold us back can clear a path toward growth, learning, and innovation. “It’s the art of the possible,” Bogdanovich said. “If the boundaries weren’t there, what could you possibly do?”

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