Gaining Respect Through Service Level Agreements In Recruiting

Recruiters are notorious for complaining about the lack of respect and cooperation they get from managers. Whether they are corporate types or external recruiters, both consistently blame managers for most of their troubles. Because I spend a great amount of time with corporate managers, I get to hear the other side as well. As it turns out, managers are not very fond of the way recruiters treat them either! One of the many reasons for these disagreements is that the relationship between the two parties is never clearly defined. A second reason for the conflict is that the power relationship between the two parties is unequal. In this case, the managers seem to have all of the power. The third reason is there are few metrics to ensure that the work is getting done at 6 sigma quality and on time. An excellent way to improve this relationship is to clearly define the rights, expectations and the roles of each party in a service level agreement. What Is an SLA (Service Level Agreement)? An SLA is just that, an agreement to provide a certain defined “level” (variable with the price) of delivered service. An SLA has three basic parts:

  1. It is a formal written agreement to provide a certain level of “measurable service” to a customer.
  2. It defines the effort level that the manager must provide in order to complete the tasks that they “own” in the recruiting process.
  3. It describes performance metrics and related rewards

Service level agreements are widely used in many customer service functions. HP was a pioneer in offering service level agreements in HR. Starting in the 1990s, managers were given the opportunity to choose between several different levels of HR service. From the “Cadillac level” to the “VW bug” minimum bare bones level. Managers could pay less in overhead if they needed fewer services. In fact managers with fewer employee relations problems and turnover issues actually needed less HR help because they did a great job as managers. Why not reward managers (by cutting their costs) for being an effective people manager? Sun Micro went even further in providing “choices.” It’s fee-for-service approach allowed some managers to choose to utilize no internal HR services at all in some areas and even to go outside for the HR services they wanted. Recruiters Can’t Spell Customer Service? How is recruiting at providing customer service to applicants and managers? Many corporate recruiting functions can barely spell customer service! Michael McNeal, the former godfather of recruiting at Cisco (and now a lesser god at PureCarbon), called recruiting the “graceless process.” In fact, he was being kind. Ask a customer service expert to rate your recruiting and selection process. Their response is almost universal…the worst customer service outside of a prison (or DMV)! Service level agreements can change all of that because 1) they initially spell out roles and expectations and 2) their heavy measurement and reward components “incentivize” all to do their part. Benefits Of An SLA A service level agreement is a formal contract were the roles and responsibilities of the managers and the recruiters are spelled out. For each deliverable, there is a measurement element which looks at performance in terms of time, quality, volume, cost, and satisfaction level. These measures (coupled with rewards) assure that both sides to the agreement do their part. Customers have responsibilities too! Managers (and applicants) are customers of HR services. These customer have a shared responsibility to do their part or face the consequences. Service level agreements require managers to be responsive when they are called, to read resumes, and to do interviews in a reasonable period of time. Managers are traditionally unwilling to commit much time or effort to recruiting, because they often see few immediate benefits in it. They also see recruiters as being unresponsive. Service agreements can help even the playing field because they look at both the performance of HR as well as the actions (or lack of action) of the hiring managers. Incidentally, service level agreements are just one part of a growing trend to make HR act less like a bureaucracy and more like a competitive business that is responsive to customer needs. The next step you can expect to see in HR is the “fee-for-service model.” In this model, managers only pay for the individual HR services that they actually use. This means that managers who do a great job of retention, recruiting, and motivating employees (and therefore need little help) don’t have to use any level of HR service. They in essence get to buy as little HR as they want. In contrast, a manager that needs a lot of employee relations and training help will have to pay for it. What Does A Service Level Agreement Look Like? An SLA has 3 basic parts: Part I. Deliverables The first element of the agreement is the listing of the services and tasks that the manager requires (and that they want candidates to have). In recruiting, the “deliverables” could be sourcing, requisition help, screening or even offer letters. There are generally 3 “levels” of service offered (in an A, B, or C level “bundle” of services) in an SLA. For each task or “deliverable” there would be a defined level of service metric in as many as 5 areas:

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  1. Quality
  2. Costs: A range of costs
  3. Time: A minimum and maximum response time and delivery dates
  4. Quantity: The minimum and maximum volume or quantity level and last
  5. Satisfaction: A minimum level of customer satisfaction

Part II. Rewards And Penalties For each task there would be a defined cost. In addition there might be a reward for exceeding any of the five service-level metrics. There might also be a penalty for not meeting the goals. Part III. Responsibilities Of The “Customer” This is the part that makes recruiters happy. The manager would be required to carry out their responsibilities as well. Under the agreement a manager would be responsible for fulfilling a certain number of recruiting tasks. Manager responsibilities might include:

  • Filling out requisitions and job descriptions accurately
  • Reading resumes within a certain period of time
  • Completing interviews within a certain period of time
  • Selecting the finalists within a certain time.
  • Making a certain number of reference calls
  • Ensuring that interviewers are trained in interviewing and the law
  • Completing the offer process within a specified period
  • Completing documentation within the specified time
  • Completing an effective orientation process
  • Responding to questions from recruiters within a reasonable period

HR is responsible for maintaining the metrics and reporting the results. Managers that meet their deliverables would be rewarded with a higher level of priority (in response time) and with lower costs. Managers that fail to meet their goals would be served with a lower priority and in some cases, services would be withheld from a manager as a consequence of their failing to meet their responsibilities. Performance metrics would be reported to top management so that they can judge both the effectiveness of HR and to what extent that individual managers are helping or hindering our recruiting and retention efforts. Conclusion If HR is to be a “business partner,” it needs to be more responsive to market forces, just as the business must be. SLAs are an effective but a less drastic step than the more draconian response of outsourcing or the full fee-for-service approach. Customer service level agreement almost always positively impact the quality and level of customer service when they are used. The agreements work because they force both parties to spell out their expectations in advance. The metrics and the rewards components then incentivize both parties to do their part. Try one. It will force you to spell out your expectations, to define what services you offer, and to be more responsive. In the end, if the manager is the one that actually turns out to be the problem, with an SLA, everyone will now know for sure who is at fault! <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

 

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