How Should You Be Structured? 10 Questions to Ask

I see many recruiting functions wavering back and forth between centralized, decentralized, and some hybrid forms of organization. Recently this has been made worse by the increased number of virtual, contract, and part-time recruiters and the global spread of sourcing and social networks.

I usually end up, when talking to recruiting leaders, in the age-old discussion over whether it is best to keep the function centralized or to change to some other form. I think the majority of leaders want a centralized function for a couple of reasons. The first is the desire to be in control without question. It’s about power and prestige, because in the corporate world, the more people who report to you the more assumed power you have. The second is for efficiency because it is true that organizations with one leader can make decisions fast — whether they are good ones or not.

But leaders should ask which structure will be the best one for their particular organization. There should be a clear set of answers to these questions: “What are you trying to achieve?” 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 structures are most commonly found, along with their tweaks, modifications, and adaptations.

Centralized Structure: The most common is the centralized structure that more than 50% of recruiting functions follow. 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.

Its weakness is that most leaders make decisions with imperfect data, distorted views of events, and often play to what pleases their boss more than to what’s right for the organization. The very best recruiters and many who have strong ideas may become disengaged and leave, depriving the organization of their perspective. It also limits creativity and experimentation as central leadership is about expediency and the here-and-now.

However, it can be an effective structure, especially in a small organization. If your company has only a handful of 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 with the capability to set direction.

Decentralized Structure: Completely 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 decentralization 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. Its strength is the freedom it gives to a recruiter to do his or her job in whatever way desired. But the flip side is that the resources to implement ideas and the commitment to follow through are often missing, making the freedom much less valuable.

In decentralized structures many things don’t get done very well or 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, this is too much of a good thing.

Matrix Structure: This is a complex structure where individual functional areas are divided to support particular products, product lines, business units, etc. For example, the recruiting department might have a sourcing group where individuals are assigned to particular product groups or business units. There might be teams made up of sourcers, recruiters, HR generalists, and so forth to support the business.

The weakness of a matrix organization structure is lack of clarity as to where loyalty really lies. If an individual is responsive to the business and neglects the functional loyalties, or vice-versa, there can be tension, anger, and loss of financial rewards.

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Matrix structures rarely work well, but when they do, leadership makes it very clear where rewards come from and where primary loyalty lies.

Hybrid model: This is also called the federal model because it look a great deal like the way the United States has modeled the relationship of its central government with the individual states. 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, funds research, and purchases and maintains a central talent acquisition system or other system for building talent pools.

Organizations who adopt this structure need recruiters who are collaborative and yet can 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 and still get the positions filled. It is a structure filled with give and take — with the need to compromise and share for the greater good. It is a powerful model, but harder to sell than the seemingly more efficient centralized model.

This is also a model that adapts well to global units and to virtual workers. Each can operate the way best suited to their circumstances, but they also agree to abide by the commonly agreed-upon rules, use the same technology, and share their skills and learnings. This structure fits the social network model and provides for focus while allowing the maximum amount of flexibility and freedom.

I have compiled a list of questions that may help you think through how you are organized and whether or not to restructure.

  1. Does your current structure help you achieve your recruiting goals or does it impede attaining them by fostering inefficient or poor decision making?
  2. Does your current structure play to everyone’s strengths? Do those with the right skills work in the right place and feel comfortable making suggestions and offering ideas?
  3. Does this structure allow for cross division/business unit collaboration and sharing?
  4. Does each business unit feel that it is being well served by this structure?
  5. Does everyone have access to and use the same technology for tracking and reporting?
  6. Have you removed all extra layers and reporting relationships that do not add direct value? Is it efficient?
  7. Do the hiring managers understand where to go and who to go to for services?
  8. Are there clear lines of responsibility and accountability for each aspect of the recruiting function?
  9. Are decisions made with minimum bureaucracy?
  10. Are critical data and facts funneled to a common core for reporting?

There are no absolute right or wrong answers to what structure is best. There are perhaps three criteria that are core to deciding if you have chosen the best one for your organization. These are:

  1. The customer (and who that is can depend) becomes the central measure of success. His satisfaction is the core measure.
  2. All data, internal and external, is centrally recorded and available for analysis and incorporation into HRIS and other tools.
  3. Needs and resources are flexibly and quickly matched. Resources are allocated to ensure customer satisfaction.

Any structure that helps to achieve the organization’s goals in a way that is respectful of others, encourages creativity and honest feedback, and that accommodates virtual and global workers is a good one.

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


5 Comments on “How Should You Be Structured? 10 Questions to Ask

  1. This is a really good summary and the questions to consider are right on, the biggest one probably being, “What does the company want their recruiting experience to be for customers? (ie.-high-touch/low-touch; automated/intimate, etc.)”. I also like the hybrid model for all the reasons that you point out. It is often challenging to evolve organizations to this model, requiring lots of buy-in, socialization and meaningful reinforcement once in the model to the recruiting teams, customers, and internal partners. It also involves lots of change (in staff, process, relationships, etc.). But once through the change curve, I’ve seen this hybrid model produce excellent results.

  2. In a recent study on the German recruitment market, I asked similar questions (what organization model are you using? and how satisfied are you with it?) It turns out that the centralized model had the highest usage combined with the highest satisfaction levels. A mixed (all models combined) model results in the lowest scores in usage and satisfaction

  3. We went from a hybrid to a centralized structure and are a large company with significant hiring volume. We found the hybrid model was extremely difficult to manage and allocate resources accordingly. While we had a ‘Talent Acquisition COE’, the decisions were consistently made by the business units themselves. We felt that we were consulting but not driving the business to acheive the objectives – cost efficiency, employment branding, applicant experiences, etc. – because they simply weren’t informed.

    In this centralized model, we have a group that is solely accountable for all hiring in all areas with one leader. We are able to make decisions during economic turbulence that coincides with the needs of the business. We keep the recruiters themselves engaged by utilizing a ‘server bank’ method that gives the regional recruiter pocket change to spend on advertisments, travel, fairs, etc. They are also held accountable for their decisions (manage to bank is an objective on PMP).

    I’m a firm believer that its easier to operate as one unit than to manage a million voices that aren’t as intimate with the massive changes ocurring within Talent Acquisition during these times.

  4. Kevin, great article and I love your questions. Thanks for the brain squeeze …. I love thinking about this.

  5. Thank you, Kevin. This is a very thorough description of late 20th Century Corporate models. (These look like what I studied in the early ’80s). Consequently, while valid, I feel they do not reflect contemporary conditions: globalized and virtualized human capital. IMHO, the strategic questions that should be asked include:
    1) What do we want our recruiting staff to do, and why do we want them to do to those things?
    2) Where do we want to have those services performed, and why do we want them performed there?
    3) How much are we willing to pay for those services?

    As I have previously mentioned, it makes business sense to no-source (eliminate),through-source (automate), or out-source (send away) most routine, non-creative, low-value add recruiting activities. Most of these can be achieved at costs typically unbundled at $11/hr or less. The remaining activities would most likely be worth at least $50/hr. (There don’t seem to be many skills/tasks that would reasonably cost between to$11-$50/hr). This leads me to:

    “The Project Manager Model”
    This model has an onsite Project Manager acting as liaison for remote resources including sourcer/candidate developers, scheduler/coordinators, job board/social media posters/scrapers, etc. In a smaller organization, they might also perform high-touch, high value-add activities like consulting, advising, expediting, and closing, or in larger organizations, would work with those highly-skilled, highly paid individuals as part of the Recruiting Team.

    While certain cost-savings can occur, this modelis best at substantially increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the hiring process.



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