This US company has a first in, first served approach to hiring and it has seen some great results. What does this actually look like and is it something more businesses should consider?
For the 716,800 people in Australia who are unemployed, there are plenty of things that are holding them back. Coming from a lower socioeconomic background, not having attended university (or finished highschool) and having a criminal history are just a few. Unfortunately, often several factors often go hand in hand.
But what if those barriers didn’t exist? What if we didn’t focus on a candidate’s history but instead zeroed in on their future potential?
One way to do this is through open hiring policies. This might sound like a new-age recruitment fad to come from Amazon or Google, but it’s actually been around for over three decades.
One American company has been rewriting the recruitment rules with open hiring since 1982. And now it’s ready to share its learnings with the world.
Open for business
The concept of open hiring started with a New York based company, Greyston Bakery. It’s a recruitment ethos embedded deeply into its DNA – they’ve even trademarked the term. In some ways, it’s more important than their products. The company slogan is, “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.”
Candidates for a job at Greyston Bakery don’t need to feel disadvantaged because of their past. There are no background checks, applications, interviews or resumes. In fact, the only barrier to employment for prospective candidates is the waitlist. And even that is done diplomatically; whoever signed up first will be contacted when a job opening is available.
Once on board, staff are first put through a ten month “job training and life-skills course”, according to Fast Company. This period of time acts as an organic candidate screening process. The difference being that the organisation is investing in people upfront in the hope they’ll become a natural fit. This ten month period is likely what makes it work. Not only are staff learning on the job, they’re also involved in external community programs to help them get on their feet (housing, childcare etc.). Greyston takes a holistic approach to developing their staff.
Following this, those who are interested in staying on are offered an entry-level role. From here, the company outlines clear progression plans for each staff member including additional training where needed (some are even supported to go back and do their GED). Greyston’s CEO, Mike Brady, says the idea is to elevate staff as far up the ladder as possible in order to make way for a new cohort of apprentice staff.
The proof that this model is working is that the business continues to thrive three decades on. You would even have heard of one of its clients – it provides brownies and blondies to Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s.
It’s worth emphasising that Greyston’s open hiring model is for lower level roles for a bakery. So there are already lower barriers to entry. But it’s still an impressive innovation, one that has been recognised. In 2015, it was rated in the top 10 per cent of B corps (businesses that meet the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility) in the world.
After sustained success and offering employment to over 3,500 people who may have otherwise been overlooked, Greyston is now ready to spread the message further. In 2018, it opened the Centre of Open Hiring, and is gearing up to train HR managers and business leaders in their approach.
The ripple effect
There are many benefits of open hiring. Firstly, it does wonders for your employment brand. Environmental, social and corporate governance in organisations is of the utmost importance, especially to millennials. So if people can see that a company is really valuing its people and working to reduce poverty by offering staff a fair go, others are more likely to want to work for the business, or at least support its mission.
There are also plenty of ways a model like this can help businesses to cut down on costs. In Australia, it can cost up to $5,000 to hire a single employee (and even more in retention costs if you lose a high potential employee). The open hiring model eliminates a lot of these costs. As the Grayston’s video explainer states, “You invest to bring people in, rather than spend to screen them out”. There’s also a huge opportunity to reduce staff turnover costs as staff morale is high and loyalty to the company is strengthened.
The Fast Company article also makes a point of highlighting the potential savings to society as a whole. In Australia, incarceration costs per person average around $110,000 per year. Programs like open hiring make it much easier for former offenders to re-enter society and contribute to the economy. Prisoners who are equipped with learning opportunities are far less likely to reoffend.
What should we keep in mind?
It’s all well and good to admire the companies who are doing their part to break the hiring mould, but there are risks.
“I really want something like this to work! But as an HR director, I can see the challenges,” says Karen Gately, director of HR consultancy Corporate Dojo. “Something like this would take a great deal of leadership maturity to work. Also, you could have a psychopath put their name on the list… you have to think about the impact that something like this could have on others in the organisation and have provisions in place.”
In saying that, drawing on her twenty-something years in the HR industry, Gately’s “gut feeling” is that the majority of candidates would turn up with a great amount of potential.
“I really want people to be open minded about this stuff. Challenge your thinking. I love getting past unhelpful barriers. We read CVs and we make judgement calls about people. But at the end of the day, if someone is really passionate about working and you give them a go, that can change their lives.”
For an Australian company to emulate the success of Greyston Bakery, Gatley says there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Use probationary periods as part of your recruitment process. “In this case there isn’t a ‘recruitment process’, but you should still set aside that first three months as your candidate assessment period.”
- Cultivate self-esteem. “For people to really thrive, they need deep respect for themselves. When people genuinely love themselves, they’re more likely to build the personal skills and healthy relationships required in the workforce.”
- Think about where it could work in your business. “If we’re talking manufacturing, hospitality or task-oriented jobs… the barriers-to-entry in those jobs are generally a little lower. So the concept of open hiring can work in those environments, subject to leadership accountability around behaviour and cultural environment, and ensuring a healthy and safe environment.”
While obviously open hiring works is an easier fit for those kinds of roles, it could still work for more corporate positions. For example, if you chose to make certain roles within your business available through open hiring, say an administrative position, with the right support and training that person could end up managing the business one day.
Whether you agree that this model could work or not, most can agree that the sentiment is a worthy one. As Greyston says on its website, “The future of work is not only about advances in technology and the changing of job skills, it is also about the creation of a truly inclusive workforce and businesses that care as much about community as they do about profit. ”
Are you open to open hiring? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.
If you’re looking for a fresh approach to training and development, AHRI’s short course Building and developing talent can help you to understand different learning styles and show you how to create individual learning plans.