This blog post first appreared on LinkedIn´s Talent Blog.
I was in a focus group meeting with Chris Bruzzo, the chief marketing officer at Electronic Arts, the $7 billion-a-year gaming company, back in 2016, when I was consulting with EA to build out their first comprehensive hiring manager training. Chris was one of those C-level leaders who was very clear about what he expected as he talked about his future talent needs.
I recently checked in with Chris, now chief experience officer, and Joseph Marrello, EA’s head of talent acquisition, to see what had evolved since we’d last worked together in 2017.
I was so happy to hear that EA had retained its strong focus on equitable hiring and diversity. And I wasn’t surprised to hear that Chris had implemented accountability mechanisms to ensure the teams had operationalized the high expectations he and his senior leaders had for their hiring teams. One of those accountability mechanisms is called the Alignment Meeting. It’s a meeting designed to drive alignment on hiring requirements and process and to create accountability. I’ll share more about that below, but first some insights into misalignment.
In all of the custom hiring manager training we build for clients, we say, “Misalignment is the root of all evil in recruiting.” Misalignment between hiring manager and interviewing team, between hiring manager and the hiring manager’s manager, between hiring manager and recruiter, and between hiring manager and the company’s overall hiring principles/hiring bar and diversity goals.
All of this misalignment is the enemy of speed, quality, and diversity. When teams are not on the same page, the risk for false negative hiring decisions goes way up — too many qualified candidates are passed over and reqs stay open too long.
We teach hiring managers how to drive alignment and build out alignment guides to help ensure everyone is on the same page. These alignment guides are built out pre-recruiting and articulate what good looks like in a new hire; what’s a deal-breaker requirement versus a nice-to-have one; how to translate traditional, poor job description requirements — like years of experience — into fair, interview-ready hiring criteria; and how to build out the right interview team, with focus areas for each interviewer.
Many hiring managers who participate in our training and expect to focus only on interview question techniques immediately see how misalignment — not just a lack of interviewing questions — is the root cause of a lot of problems. Many leave the training eager to drive alignment with their interviewers and recruiters. And every once in a while, as was the case with Chris Bruzzo, an executive jumps on this and realizes that this alignment challenge deserves focus across their entire org. They don’t depend on each individual hiring manager to realize the need for alignment... they personally drive alignment at the org level.
Enter EA’s Alignment Meeting.
What is the Alignment Meeting? It’s the meeting that Chris, who calls it the Great Hiring Meeting, requires every hiring manager to attend and present at, before any recruiting begins on a new or backfill role. It leverages what he calls “the positive Sentinel Effect,” where a person’s preparation and performance improves if they know they’re being watched.
To Chris, this meeting isn’t about bureaucracy and it isn’t in place because of a lack of trust in his managers. It’s all about creating a shared accountability mechanism across his org, to be sure things that might have felt optional in the past were actually happening now. These meetings — which took place a few times per month — required a hiring manager to present their recruiting plan and get approval on that plan from their manager and Chris.
So, what kind of things did the hiring manager present and get feedback on? Chris was looking for some very specific things.
I love that Chris was personally driving this. And his framing for the why around this big investment in these alignment meetings was great. “This was less about approving a hiring manager’s plan,” Chris said, “and more about ensuring the hiring manager was prepared, had clarity on fair hiring criteria, was ready to put in the effort needed to diversify their teams and hire great talent, and for all of us to learn from each other.”
Chris and I share some history pre-EA. We worked together at Amazon in the early days, where the culture of recruiting made it clear that hiring managers who invest more in hiring get better talent, faster. Chris was and is a great partner to TA, for sure, but he also says things like this to his hiring managers during these alignment meetings, which I love: “Look me in the eye, and commit to me that your top priority for next four weeks will be hiring.”
I asked Joseph, the head of TA, what it’s like to partner with someone like Chris. “Leadership advocacy has always been a critical step in gaining support and alignment around hiring,” Joseph responded. “Chris has been an incredibly strong champion for hiring great talent. He is active, engaged, and passionate about identifying, engaging, and hiring talent into EA. This type of behavior inspires his team and his managers. Chris is the kind of role model and leader who holds his managers accountable to the hiring process. Having leaders like Chris so engaged provides us with the right advocacy to really influence change across our global org.”
And it shows in the results.
EA recently published their impact report, which highlights some of the progress they have made over the last couple of years. Some examples:
Obviously, Alignment Meetings alone didn’t single-handedly generate all of the results highlighted in their report. But they definitely helped. I asked Joseph about the ongoing progress EA is making. “We have set specific TA goals to help drive better DEI outcomes,” Joseph said. “Our goals include driving alignment across interviewing teams, getting hiring managers trained, and recruiters influencing hiring managers at every step, and all of that work depends heavily on support and leadership from people like Chris. This Alignment Meeting is a key part of our strategy.”
In addition to the improvements in diversity, Chris highlighted another important goal for his work. “I want EA to be the place where you learned to be great at hiring,” he said. “I want your experience here as a hiring manager to be a highlight of your career.”
Joseph agreed. “For 2023,” he said, “our goal is to have all hiring managers certified in the hiring manager training — ‘Hiring for Results’ — that you built with us back in 2017, John. That’s a key part of our diversity work to help us get great talent into EA.”
Let’s get back to the Alignment Meeting idea. If you’ve seen me speak or write about TA in the past, you know I believe speed is the love language of hiring managers.
So, my first reaction to hearing about a pre-recruiting meeting that hiring managers have to prepare for, present at, and get approval at — from not just their boss, but their C-level leader, too —well, my first reaction was, “This sounds great, but at what cost to speed?”
“There might have been a short-term cost around speed,” Joseph responded, “but if we’re slowing down a bit to hire better quality and more diversity, then we welcome that. But, honestly, there’s not a big cost to speed. We move faster when we’re all aligned.”
Is an Alignment Meeting like this for everyone? Of course not.
Chris and his TA partner put this into place to address a root issue that they knew was leading to more homogenous hires. They knew that to change outcomes, they needed to change the way they sourced, screened, interviewed, and selected talent. Chris created a forcing function and used the Sentinel Effect to hold his teams accountable for living their aspirations.
But not all companies have strong C-level executives willing to invest this kind of time in Alignment Meetings. Many of us instead play the role of Talent Advisor recruiters, guiding our individual line/hiring managers to align their teams, pushing them to get their interviewers trained, and creating a culture of learning, where we share back insights that help them understand that hiring managers who get the best, most diverse talent at this company do X, Y, Z.
“Chris’s advocacy is a key component in driving successful results,” Joseph said. “It is equally important for the recruiting function to operate as strong talent advisors. Creating the playbook around Chris’s idea and helping to educate managers on their role in attracting the world’s greatest talent has helped us achieve more, faster.”
Joseph wrapped up with this: “Finding and leveraging a senior leader who is willing to create top-down expectations that are in service to better hiring, yes, that can be a real game changer.”
Did you see what he did there? Game changer :)
If you’re seeking more best practices, check out the free resources for recruiters at TalentAdvisor.com, on recruiting from underrepresented groups at WidenTheAperture.com, and for recruiting leaders at RecruitingLeadership.com.