Have We Emerged From The Dark Ages of Big Data in Talent Management?

August 29

Hard to believe it will have been close to twenty-five years since the 1992 bookAccidental Empires by Mark Stephens. Called by many as “one of the last great success stories in American business”  a story of the personalities as well as the hacker culture that serves today as a chronicle and historical record of the likes of Steve Jobs,  Bill Gates, and Mitch Kapor on the “remarkable technology they created.”  Perhaps twenty-five years from now we may look back on past generations and speak of discoveries that became the key milestones that shaped the landscape of talent management in the future. The Institute of the Future’s recent blog post on Tech Disruption in Traditional Industries by Alex Goldman shares some unique insights on notions of how and why the status-quo organizational methodologies of startups had spread from the software-only field into the broader business landscape of manufacturing and distribution.  He makes a strong case around “optimizing customer experience” and why scenarios emerge in how the new entrant (disruptors) shift how the market operates because of its articulation of value proposition. I see this happening in talent management especially today albeit an innovation process can be explained as coming in three phases of disruptive, sustaining or diffusion such as the dark, bronze or golden ages of ancient Greek history. Epic changes are afoot, and those that innovate relentlessly will be positioned to ride the cosign with organizational ambidexterity.  So what does this have to do with ancient Greek history you say?

As storytelling enables us to learn, metaphor helps us to apply logic and reasoning to the principles of the human condition. In Talent Management it is about culture and identity which should be central to human capital continuum if you will.  Just as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs helps us to understand the world in which we live or how to create an employer value proposition – in turn technology elevates the body of knowledge and availability of data in our lexicon around people and culture as well as digital transformation.

It is not too hard to see how new ways of thinking, skill sets and talent can be the catalyst for growth and spur innovation. Ironically, ACT-IAC American Council for Technology ( business) and Industry Advisory Council (government ) Executive Leadership Conference, will be Enable the Citizen.  A fitting title, given the mere fact that the Geopolitical, energy, environmental, financial and government sectors are all being disrupted by how new platforms and technology that are profoundly changing incrementally the workforce of the future which in turn will reflect the norms around society and culture.  Wearables, IoT, and our relationships with brands and digital platforms are shifting.  How so? Wasn’t more than five years ago that a contemporary from my hometown John Battelle in an interview with Brian Solis sat down to briefly chat on the notion of Digital Identity and “bringing signal from noise” and postulated on how we were then moving to a “keyword-driven” world with mention of the metaphor of going from “the Telegraph as the first tweet” to how technology is changing us in profound ways in terms of just how we reconnect using Facebook, Twitter.  Matching algorithms, semantics, and context inform my ideas of where we can go with Monster.com and the semantic web illustrates that our digital identities are being tied to our sets of values and relationships to a brand. In the discussion of our Digital Society in the Next 30 Years John Battelle mentions an age old question that pre-dates even the telegraph is the assertion to adoption of technology that introspectively begs the question of meaning and value in the quote “what hath God wrought” Maybe it was the Olympics or McKinsey’s latest article on public sector digital strategy and transformation or perhaps the recent three-part series entitled The Greeks on PBS that inspired me to blog the question some five years later to you my fellow digital citizens of the world:  Are we in the dark, bronze or golden age when it comes to talent management of this networked age ?

Western Civilization for centuries has given us plenty of examples of how technology has impacted the human condition. Through the centuries time and time again it has shown to improve production, been responsible for wealth creation, or even inspired great works of literature that have educated the masses or fueled our imagination. Building on the body of knowledge in mathematics and science each new generation can inform each future generation. However, we know that for every action there is an equal or opposite reaction. Entropy happens and the human condition as reflected in sculpture, art, literature, and architecture to some degree fight against it, and guided by cognitive development through the ages ideally, science and data will inform each future generation.  Flash forward to the present the state of media and talent management technology being what they are, are undoubtedly converging and HR tech sector consolidation continues to what may evolve as islands or groups of people and cultures, talent platforms that adapt and help us to learn how to communicate, monetize, trade and barter or even capitalize on a trend before it becomes mainstream or a top of mind commodity even a modern day necessity for some. Equally, those that are left behind will find themselves at a disadvantage in an emerging digital society.

If we look way back before the telegraph, well before America or Democracy was even thought some universal truths can be found that have an interesting similarity to the modern digital age.  For example, If you happened to catch the recent PBS mini-series called the Greeks. Their examination pointed to allot of themes that relate to discussions in my field within the human resources industry and the lesson learned for the C-Suite as with public sector agencies, academia, and non-profits emerge such as identity, culture, diversity and inclusion and cognitive development. Upon reflection, some might say absent compensation, succession, and workforce planning all are essential ingredients to any human capital strategy. But if we look to history it teaches us that the notions of identity, culture, diversity and inclusion, as well as cognitive or more aptly career development, have and continue to provide a framework or the pillars that can support value creation as they always have. These factors can help drive growth or spur a decline or fall from grace for any organization that fails to develop strategies to address them.


I often speak to Federal executives about the need for building a sustainable and replicable approach to recruitment or talent management due to a lack of resources that means proactive attention to both the existing talent pool as well as the talent supply chain need to be accounted for. Both in modern multi-national corporations or governments across the globe; where ever you may be in the talent management spectrum today, it’s hard not to try and compare your organization to others, albeit benchmarking employee engagement or how your organization sits in the rankings of best places to work. Washington Post recent interview with Apple’s CEO one of the nation’s most iconic brands Tim Cook Looks Back featured on August 14th illustrates just how entrenched our culture is moving to a global village and our place in the world as Digital Citizens has become. To survive as an organization firms must ride waves of innovation or be struck down by disruptors as illustrated in the Alex Goldman example. This is playing out across sectors but recently has been very notable in the media and tech industry. My own experiences over the last few decades perhaps have made me somewhat immune I guess to the spin and hype cycles. Ultimately when it comes to recruitment advertising or employer branding, it is about culture and the need to be inclusive while allowing for the individual to feel connected throughout the customer journey and user experience.

Leadership Is Focused On Creating an Epic Culture & Brand Identity For The Ages


When the proper conditions for growth are firmly rooted in the employee experience, and core principles as they are today at Monster.com I am excited about the future. One that is designed to create value from learning activities make it easier for me a boomerang to see why and how I can as an individual contribute and begin to apply lessons from the past to predict the future.  No question that external factors that have helped shape the Federal workforce today may not be the same that inspired the traditionalist or baby boomer generations in past decades or even millennials today for that matter to stay in government but that so many have joined the ranks of 18F or other mission critical occupations across the Federal landscape to me is telling. Bottlenecks and a lengthy process aside the Federal workforce and consulting sector that feeds on them both seek to provide meaningful careers that ultimately can be inspired by a need to benefit the masses, the “demos” from the Greek word for the people and within the HR departments’ perspective the people are your candidates, internal customers, stakeholders, and employees.   So what are some of those key attributes we learned about in ancient history that can help guide us and inform how we may look to build a viable culture within our own organizations?  

So just as millennials are all about making an impact that requires leadership to mentor new recruits and to learn from the past, to predict or even forecast the future.  Workforce development, succession planning, employer branding, and human capital all rely on a framework. And where ever you may be in your journey like in navigating the candidate or even customer experience it takes an investment and discipline to align the right metrics.

Discovery becomes the first step in the process from which to begin to use your data to tell the story.  From the Phoenicians, the Greeks developed a new technology – it was called the alphabet.  For better or worse we are ushering in a new age, the dawn of Big Data not unlike how western civilization had evolved through the use of a common language, passed down through storytelling and formal academies of learning and mentoring today just as was the case for the ancients. Even today in the networked age, corporations like individuals or city-states form a collective global village that requires governance and structured or unstructured data as the historical record.  Just as  multi-national corporations seek to establish key indicators, trends, data reference points related to profits, so too in government and not politics mind you many of the public servant professionals I speak with wish to provide a citizen-centric approach and need to speak to the public in a different way than they may be allowed to by law – not in the notion of public opinion mind you, but to the notion of the “cult of the individual”.

In time the personality of the organization can become evident to the outside world and serve to attract or repel talent. 

We do this today on sites like Kanunu globally or on the review sites nationally like Glassdoor. How does one begins to escape Plato’s cave when you’re in the dark, often means taking a hard look inwards, and being accountable and transparent. Having the faith to move ahead of “mob rules” and then having the courage to put it out there for the world to see . Candidates seek an escape and go beyond to find the “green fields” that exist in navigating the external landscape of jobs. Connecting people to jobs at Monster.com and how we work with clients to develop a roadmap or blueprint from which at the macro level our society or down to the micro level our team, can benefit from shared experiences in order to survive. Notions of identity and culture create value, and leadership that will sustain this value enables us to be agents’ of change.  How that drives us and inspires new generations of innovators at the brand level means a message hierarchy that can attract or repel candidates and ideally is one that can embody your mission and retain a pipeline of talent.

Leaders and citizens in your sphere of influence need to be able to connect to the mission of your organization and have a firm grasp on what you do and who you are. Those pillars for your organization, how they are built around core values, and moreover how you are telling your story is where meaning is derived. How to go to the market to stay relevant and competitive boils down to some key factors. Data, language, diversity, and striving for better in execution are a just few ways to provide some common threads that leaders can use to navigate through troubled waters in an uncertain world fraught with peril, change, and disruption.

Timeless truths that can help inspire creating an epic culture and brand identity is essential today amidst increasing amounts of data and content generated, thus a signal or the sirens if you will calling us or evoking a sense of purpose. As the pace of IoT intensifies and the future of work evolves to become a reality, whether we are farmers or merchants, fundamentally how we interact and engage in the networked age within our respective talent ecosystems has changed.  The nature of how we interact with each other, with media, is a reflection of the culture, it impacts finance, and economics and these interactions albeit through mentoring or training styles are just one way that influences the digital native or the digital immigrant in terms of how we find meaning and value in our lives to some degree.

The promise of predictive analytics in the government sector and the role industry and academia can play in working together is to me a truth in the fable that can serve to provide the tools and resources needed for large-scale workforce planning and competitiveness in the global marketplace. It is hard to argue that we are not at the epoch of digital transformation that so many are writing about but what are or will be the benefits of big data and moreover what will be the consequences.  Looking at what is happing from the micro level in the state or at a macro level in federal IT sector and shared services across not only the U.S. but in governments around the world point to the fact that there is a movement afoot towards building a more citizen-centered focus that begets a serious discussion on customer service and it’s relationship with employee engagement even.

Then, as with successful organizations today what helped spur growth and influence like the Greeks thousands of years ago is a common language. Not unlike the painted walls of Mycenean frescos the need for self-expression then as now plays out today in social media on the walls of Facebook and boards of Pinterest. As the Cup of Nestor that served as the earliest proof of the written Greek word – it was simply three lines of text. A drinking game, by three men writing prose. Historically in Egypt and with the Phoenicians writing was only used by priests and kings; it was not used by ordinary people in this case sailors and merchants trading in a port hundreds of miles away from Athens. That inscription on the Cup of Nestor came about as a game, so we know there was a sense of competition that was evident to anthropologists seeing this in hindsight as yet another form of expression of one’s personality, a poem on desire if you will. Flash forward to the always connected digital landscape of today the same notion supports the idea that gave birth to the Greek culture that emerged from the Dark Ages. Individual or team achievement as we see in the Olympics in Rio and the artistic expression that emerged from the bronze age or golden age where common threads as what is known as the “cult of the individual”. From the PBS series The Greeks, you will hear one expert express this as “the supreme opportunity given to each of us as individuals to make our own identity, to make our own world, make our own life. The Greeks keep hold of this idea that they are somehow special, which they have potential and even in hard times they have a kind of grit and really are creating the conditions for change that allowed the glories of Greece then to emerge a hundred or so years later.”

So from the dark ages of recruiting, to the bronze age e.g. semantic search and candidate matching capabilities. I personally believe that at Monster we will move HR technology forward – we always have in past decades and will continue to do so in the future. Why because we have new leadership, a new culture, one where we are dedicated to changing the mindset that is counter to the ‘ that is the way we have always done things” that we encounter every day. Just as the job posting has evolved to become a job ad as the syntax of “your alphabet” requires employers to find new ways to brand themselves and to tell the story.  To connect, and embrace new solutions to manage big data, means change management and having the organizational ambidexterity to find, hire and develop the right team e.g. data analysts, writers, artisans, or soldiers is undeniably about building capacity and resiliency.  In your future force, like in the ancient times, the Greeks were armed with the knowledge of science, engineering, mathematics, and competencies that came together through trade and commerce. They didn’t have much land to be an agrarian society but instead were situated to become a melting pot of trade and culture. Perhaps it is not unlike what we are facing in the era of digital transformation so too will your organizations evolve or perish as we begin to understand the value of natural language processing.

If the dark ages of recruiting were the card catalog Rolodex, telephones and fax machines, newspaper print ads, help wanted posters, today we have advanced the trade by borrowing consumer marketing tactics and tools to yield more robust solutions such as sourcing tools, email automation, data aggregators like TalentBin by Monster. And it’s not that those early tactics are bad things, but once rudimentary tools are mastered, we learn new ways to be even more productive in attracting and recruiting talent which ultimately means communicating authentically and in a genuine way from one person to another.  When in crisis mode we move to what we know, our roots if you will and change management requires we adapt to modernity but still keep the citizen or candidate foremost in our engagements.

Recruitment advertising is now moving beyond contextual or behavioral targeting in the commercial space, and some like the Army are even on to artificial intelligence agents i.e. Sargent Star on GoArmy.com so to have the ability to serve up relevant web pages or speak back to candidates to facilitate self-service web-based functions is here today. So if you’re writing job descriptions or building out infographics it still needs to help tell your story – and like the painted frescos depicted a day in the life of Crete thousands of year ago, or today maybe you’re working to tell your tale through interactive mobile video and realistic job previews with fit check tools.  I doubt that one day centuries from now anyone will find a scroll of a job description on USAJobs.gov and say this could be how people came to earn a living in government during the Dark Ages of Big Data but hey you never know. A friend at OPM recently shared with me ” but you have to use USAJobs.gov it’s the law! ” in all fairness he was partly joking but seriously there was some truth in that statement that pushes OPM to untie the knots and for us in Monster Government Solutions to reply ok but why can’t we evolve the science to help agencies find better in the public sector. Looking at what we are doing for the State of Washington with WorkSourceWA.com means moving away from simply keywords to more advanced technology, check out this short video.

So what factors lead to advancing from the Dark Ages of Greece Not long after the Trojan wars the civilization of Greece collapsed. No one knows exactly why. Trade outside the borders stopped, art and writing stopped, and the people only survived on what they could produce themselves. This however, became a good thing because the Greek’s found new places to settle and begin again. Between 1100-750 BC was known as the Dark Ages of Greece.

  • Most Greeks left to various islands because of food production drop
  • Trade revived in the dark ages
  • Iron farming tools helped to reverse the decline of food production

So as all the pundits, experts, and bloggers out there are speculating on the future of talent management in government or in commerce with platforms such as Monster USAJobs.gov, or the plight of LinkedIn or even media to sustain growth I would say that history will guide us and armed with new ways of thinking on how to reach candidates we are really now only at the beginning my friends not the end to an ever repeating cosign or cycle of innovation and process that once we begin emerging from the Dark Ages of Big Data in Talent Management the future is bright, and nature of recruitment will be profoundly changed as we look forward to adapting to the cult of the individual, the gig economy, candidate matching, re-skilling and new connections and solutions from consolidation in a marketplace that is ripe to transform the way we live and work. I hope you find joy in the “good strife” and go out there and #FindBetter my friends.

– views expressed are my own –



Part I of III  – Next Up The Bronze Age – Connections

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