Forum exercise: Hiring in a tight labor market

If forum members are struggling to hire great new employees, consider doing this exercise at your meeting.

Opener: Start with two icebreakers as a warm-up:

  • Share a time when you/your company successfully recruited a top candidate in a tight labor market. What worked, what didn’t, how did you feel about it
  • Share a time when you/your company failed to recruit a top candidate in a tight labor market. What worked, what didn’t, how did you feel about it?

Print these articles in advance, and ask members to read them at the beginning of the meeting:

Ask members to rate their organization on each point in both articles on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1=we’re doing poorly and 5=we’re doing this very well.

Use the results of this assessment to choose selected dimensions (or others that emerge from the discussion) and do a deeper dive, inviting members to share what has/has not worked along those dimensions.

Closer: Each member to share one action item, new perspective, or question they are asking as a result of the conversation.

Follow-up at the next forum meeting: What did each member do? How did it work? How are they feeling now?

Mixing up your updates: High, Low, Medium, Rocky

Thanks to Melissa Weiksnar for sharing this idea.

Inspired by a grade school jump-rope game, “High, Low, Medium, Rocky,” try mixing up your updates with this approach:

Since we last met, what was:

  • your highest high,
  • your lowest low (could be a sadness or a profoundly deep realization)
  • a totally mundane update that nevertheless tells something about you
  • your rockiest, most turbulent issue

For each of the four categories, try to describe what it felt like to be in that state.

Melissa reports that members took up to 4 minutes each, and people really liked the way this format helped hone in on the emotions, and avoid the “travelogue.”

Needs and leads

Every member of a forum will over time have needs for a referral, introduction, expertise, new investment, or ideas on hiring, technology, or some other personal or professional issue.  At the same time, other members can often offer direct or indirect leads to help the first member.

Consider incorporating this “Needs and Leads” into your meetings on a regular or occasional basis:

  • The moderator sets up the exercise by explaining the objective and giving an example. “I’m looking for distribution channels in South America” or “touring ideas in Italy” or “a science tutor for my son.” Note that even if you can’t personally provide a direct connection, you might know of others who could help.
  • Go around the room, and each member states a need (or two) in under a minute.  If any other member thinks they can help, they raise their hand.
  • It is up to the members with “needs” to follow up with any members who provide “leads.”

“Tweeting” your update

Shakespeare opined that “brevity is the soul of wit,” and Pascal observed “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

In that spirit, try one of these three approaches to concise updates, preferable with advance notice so members have “the time to make it shorter.”

  • If your update this month was a movie title, what would it be and why?
  • Share your update as a six-word story, and then “unpack”/explain the story. For more on this rich approach, inspired by a famous challenge to Ernest Hemingway, see this website.
  • Prepare your update as a “tweet” (i.e. 140 characters, including spacing and punctuation), trying to include feelings. At the meeting, everyone will read their “tweet” (you don’t actually use Twitter!), have a thematic discussion, and go into more depth where needed.

Melissa Weiksar, who suggested the last option, reports that in her forum, everyone had a slightly different interpretation; perhaps the most interesting from someone who did his as a string of noun/verb/feeling updates. People appreciated how they had to truly distill what was most important.

Holding each other accountable in forum

In forum we withhold judgment, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t hold each other accountable.  In fact, one of the most powerful uses of forum is for me to hold myself accountable to a certain goal, commitment or deadline; with the other members of the forum serving as my witnesses.

If your forum wants to focus more on personal accountability, consider these possibilities:

  • Any member can voluntarily ask to be held accountable to report back to the forum at a specific future date on their progress/action related to a specific goal.
  • The forum can designate one member to serve as the accountability/commitment “secretary” who will ask about any pending items, either at the beginning of the meeting or during updates.
  • This SMART goals template can be used by any member to ensure that any goals they set are S.M.A.R.T. – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-framed.

“ERMIA” Updates

Melissa Weiksnar, a longtime member of an HBS forum in Boston,  suggests this occasional variation on members’ monthly updates.

Ask each member to share an “ERMIA” update”:  What did you Eliminate, Reduce, Maintain, Increase, or Add since our last meeting?  And how does this update make you feel?

This kind of update helps members focus on issues of balance – how are you spending your time, what have you changed recently, and what would you still like to change?   Items to be mentioned could relate to your business, personal, or family life.

Can we ever be fully free of judgment?

We know that forum works best when it is a judgment-free zone.  We speak from experience; we don’t tell others what to do.

But some situations are much harder than others.  Consider the case of two forum mates, “John” and “Mary”:

John, in full candor, shares something that he has done or some decision or choice he has made.

Mary feels strongly that what John did is wrong, bad, immoral, or unethical.

Even if Mary does not share her feelings out loud, is she still judging John negatively, and does Mary need to clear the air with John?

Or is Mary clean with John as long as she doesn’t verbalize her negative judgment of John?

I believe the answer to this case can be found in Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, the foundational text on judgment-free living and clearing the air.  Rosenberg makes the compelling case that, “when you’re busy judging people, you have no time to love them.”  In that spirit, Mary needs to clear the air with herself, not with John.  In that process, perhaps she can come to feel not “I judge John negatively because of what he did,” but instead, “I wouldn’t have done what John did, but I will not judge him.”  This can be our guiding mantra in forum (and in life), even if, as flawed human beings, it will be an ongoing struggle to be judgment-free.

Mary (and all of us) might further reflect:

  • Have I truly tried to understand what John did? Under what conditions would I do what he did? What would have to happen in my life to do exactly what he did?
  • If I see something in John that I don’t like, is this in any way an aspect of something I don’t like in myself?

A further complicating dimension: What if, in Mary’s view, what John did was not only wrong, but illegal?

While it’s simpler to paint the world in black and white, illegal acts can range across a spectrum from running a traffic light to petty shoplifting to embezzlement to first degree murder.  In general, our role in forum is to be an active listener, to ask thought provoking questions, and to share our experiences.  We are not to act as prosecutor, judge and jury.

However, I make one exception to this philosophy: If John has physically harmed another, or announces his intention to physically harm another (or himself), Mary (and others in the forum) are obligated to do something.  That means, depending on the situation, helping John get the professional mental health support he needs, and/or bringing the issue to the attention of appropriate public safety authorities.

Has your forum ever confronted situations like this?  How have you dealt with them? And how can we enhance our forum experiences by sharing best practices in these most complicated cases?  Please share your thoughts.