Form Follows Function: Are You Organized in the Best Way?

Staffing directors frequently ask me how they should organize their recruiting functions. I spent time not long ago with Mark, a director of a staffing function within a large organization with around 75 recruiters, assistants, researchers, and IT staff reporting to him. We had the age-old discussions over whether it was best to keep the function centralized or to change to some other form. His first question was, what other possibilities are there that really make any sense? Is a decentralized structure ever a good choice? Does it matter whether the recruiters report into the center or to the line? And what structure makes the most efficient use of resources? The most basic answer to the question of structure can be found in the answer to the questions, “What are you trying to do?” and, “What is your organization’s culture?” Because, in the end, every effective structure is a reflection of strategic intent and of the values and goals of the organization. Within organizations there are three structures that are most commonly found, along with their tweaks, modifications, and adaptations. Centralized Structure The most common is the centralized structure, which more than 40% of you indicated on our recent survey as the way you are organized. Central structures are not only common; they are efficient. A single person controls all recruiters, all budgets, and all resources. Decisions get made quickly. It “looks” efficient and streamlined to those who approach organizations like machines and expect people to act like machines. It can also be an effective structure in a small organization. If your company has a few recruiters and little infrastructure, a central organization does make a lot of sense and would be a logical form. It requires a central leader with a sense of vision and the ability to set direction. Decentralized Structure Decentralized structures are much less common and only appropriate in the rarest of circumstances. In a large and highly diversified conglomerate, perhaps a form of the decentralized would be an acceptable way to organize. This structure allows each part to have total control over itself. In effect, it is many centralized functions working under the same umbrella. About 15% of you indicate working under this structure, which is still a large percentage for a model that has many weaknesses. In decentralized firms, many things don’t get done very well ó if at all. Metrics are not rolled up, recruiters do not receive consistent training, EEO standards are hard to enforce and it is probably hard to even get the right data. There is no overall strategy and little sense of belonging to a larger organization. While freedom is nice in many ways, sometimes it is too much of a good thing. Hybrid Model This is also called the “federal model,” because it looks a great deal like the way the United States has modeled the relationship of its central government with the individual states. In our survey, about 32% of you say this is how you are organized. The “states” in our model are the various divisions or branches of your organization, and they have the core responsibility for recruiting. The central function still exists and has its own set of responsibilities and duties. It sets an overall strategy for the recruiting function, develops standards and training so that every recruiter does things in a similar way. It also funds research and purchases and maintains a central ATS or other system for building talent pools. Organizations who adopt this structure need recruiters who are collaborative, but who can also focus on filling the needs of their internal clients. They need creative and flexible managers who can adapt quickly and figure out ways to stay within the guidelines and standards ó and still get the positions filled. It is a structure filled with give and take, and with the need to compromise and share for the greater good. It’s a powerful model, but harder to sell than the seemingly more efficient centralized model. An Organizational Quiz Below, I have compiled a list of questions that may help you think through how you are organized and whether or not you may need to restructure. Just answer “yes” or “no” to the questions in this quiz: _____ 1. Does your structure help you achieve your recruiting goals? _____ 2. Does your organizational design make good use of your people and their strengths? Do those with the right skills work in the right place, and can you (or anyone in the recruiting function) do anything about it if they don’t? _____ 3. Does this structure make sense to you? _____ 4. Does this structure make sense to others? _____ 5. Does this structure allow for cross division/business unit collaboration and sharing? _____ 6. Does each business unit feel that it is being well served by this structure? _____ 7. Is the structure simple and easy to understand? _____ 8. Have you removed all extra layers and reporting relationships that do not add direct value? _____ 9. Do the hiring managers understand where to go and who to go to for services? _____ 10. Are there clear lines of responsibility and accountability for each aspect of the recruiting function? _____ 11. Are decisions made with minimal bureaucracy? _____ 12. Are critical data and facts funneled to a common core for reporting? If you answered 10 to 12 of these with a “yes,” you are well organized and most likely have a hybrid structure. If you answer fewer than eight with a “yes,” think about a serious restructuring of your function so that you can move into a position of responsible growth and effectiveness.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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