3 Lessons from the Olympics Security Debacle for Talent Acquisition Or . . . How Not to Embarrass Your Nation

As you may have heard, the company contracted to provide security guards to the London Olympics announced a scant three weeks before the event that — [psych! sorry!] — it was going to be (by some accounts) 7,000 guards short. This apparently caught nearly everyone, including the CEO of G4S (the largest security company in the world — at least up ’til now) off guard (no pun intended.) The hapless CEO, Nick Buckles, admitted to British lawmakers that his firm has embarrassed the nation.

The extent of the fallout from this debacle is not yet known for the Olympics, G4S, or its competitors (who seem likely to benefit from the over-commitment and incompetence of their industry’s giant). But in the meantime, there are key lessons to be learned for HR and talent acquisition professionals (not to mention business leaders):

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  1. The primary job of talent acquisition professionals is to teach senior leaders that talent acquisition is an unwieldy beast that can bring a company to its knees. And this is hard to do, particularly when those around you say, “What’s so hard about it? There are a million unemployed people out there — pick one!” To refute this absurd but common perspective, a recruiting leader must build a business case on par with the way any other business function seeks to secure funding for technology or additional headcount. Therefore, the most critical competency a recruiting leader can possess is the ability to influence. And in order to influence, you must have personal credibility, business acumen, and confidence. Talent acquisition leaders who fail to build a solid business case for creating a scalable, measurable foundation for acquiring talent will be forced to wait for the slop that is tossed their way (free ATS through your ERP, anyone? budget for $30/hour contract recruiters?)
  2. There is only one outcome to operating without a scalable, sustainable, manufacturing-like approach to the acquisition of talent. And it’s not good. You will eventually prevent your organization from succeeding and growing (since you won’t be able to find top talent quickly and efficiently) — or — you will cause your company to falter. And really, those two things are the same. Actually, there is another potential outcome — that you’ll be an embarrassment to your nation (ouch.) Recruiting and HR leaders need to understand that hiring the cutest or the cheapest recruiters — and then letting them largely manage the way they recruit on their own — is not a strategy for success. It doesn’t matter that you’ve got “awesome” recruiters who your “hiring managers love.” So despite the fact that it might not sound sexy or paternalistic or sweet, the fact of the matter is, moving hordes of people through a process to find the single best hire cannot be done well or quickly without a rigid and audited approach to the process powering it. And I’m not just talking about high-volume, hourly jobs — a tight process needs to exist even for highly specialized, tough-to-fill jobs that require an inventive approach to sourcing passive candidates.
  3. A great employment branding and social media campaign means nothing if you can’t get people through the hiring process. I understand that it’s super fun to build a creative campaign or spend all day on Facebook or Twitter (really, I get it). But in the end, it’s just a big distraction that’s not going to help you hire great candidates. In fact, in the off-chance that your brand or social media “strategy” actually does in fact drive candidates to your applicant tracking system, the additional volume might make matters worse. So don’t spend a minute or a penny doing either until you’ve proven your application and selection process works efficiently and results in high-quality hires.

Lucky for us, we can reflect on this unhappy situation and learn from the mistakes of overcommitting and leading an unscalable process. But what’s really important here — at this moment — is a hope for a safe and wonderful 2012 Olympic games — for all the athletes, their families, the employees of the Games, tourists, and residents of London.

Linda Brenner is co-founder and managing partner of Talent Growth Advisors (TGA), a national management consultancy based in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to founding TGA, she led talent acquisition and talent management teams for companies such as Gap, Pepsi/Pizza Hut, and The Home Depot.

She started TGA in 2004 with the vision of helping business leaders improve talent results leveraging experience across operations, finance and talent management.

She and the TGA team have run finance and talent functions at Fortune 500 companies and have partnered with clients such as Coca-Cola, Raytheon, L’Oréal, Ogilvy, and Expedia. She works directly with companies to align talent strategies that map to the bottom line.

TGA helps clients with talent planning, talent acquisition and talent management current state assessment, process design and implementation services. She is passionate about defining what great looks like in measurable terms and taking concrete, measurable, and staged steps to get there.

TGA recently released the results of a first-of-its-kind Intellectual Capital Index that revealed that talent is the number one driver of market value in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

This finding has talent strategy and management implications for companies of all sizes.

She co-wrote, along with TGA Co-Founder Tom McGuire, Talent Valuation: Accelerate Market Capitalization through Your Most Important Asset, which details the firm’s innovative approach to talent strategy. She’s also the author of How to Manage Self-Directed Employee Development.


6 Comments on “3 Lessons from the Olympics Security Debacle for Talent Acquisition Or . . . How Not to Embarrass Your Nation

  1. Great on point observations, Linda–

    Having worked on high quality/high quantity recruitment challenges–I can see that the G4S simply took this customer and assignment lightly–thinking that time and experience were on their side. Apparently never heard of Murphy’s Law.

    What is particularly damning is the fact that “London was selected as the host city on 6 July 2005” for the 2012 London Olympic Games (Wikipedia) yet G4S suggests that “This has been an unprecedented and very complex security recruitment, training and deployment exercise, which has been carried out to a tight timescale.”

    Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/olympics/2012/07/11/london-ol

    The British Government’s Olympic Games Leaders in-charge and the GS4 are at great fault here, particularly the GS4. The scope of the job-at-hand, to your point, was underestimated to now a tragic degree with grave consequences possible. And a high price will be paid, monetarily for sure, the the GS4.

    Words to the wise: Be careful for what you ask for–you might get it.


  2. BTW…loved your comment: “Recruiting and HR leaders need to understand that hiring the cutest or the cheapest recruiters — and then letting them largely manage the way they recruit on their own — is not a strategy for success.”

    One sees that result more often than they like to admit.

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