How To Organize Your Recruiting Function: The Pros and Cons of Three Models

How we organize ourselves often becomes a time-consuming political engagement that satisfies no one. Some organizations oscillate between centralized and decentralized structures almost as frequently as the seasons change, while others toy with networks and matrices and all sorts of variations. In the end we are struggling to balance and find political agreement on three fundamental needs:

  1. The need to obtain and disburse resources
  2. The need to coordinate and organize what we do
  3. The need to know who should make decisions and be accountable for performance

The Traditional Centralized Model The traditional, centralized hierarchy serves many organizations well. It makes it very clear who is responsible for what and places accountability squarely on the leader of the centralized function. It is the military model and assumes a leader who knows almost everything, rarely makes mistakes, can make decisions quickly, and who is totally accountable and responsible for the results. In most organizations that I am familiar with, this is the model that is more or less in place. The recruiting manager gathers information on open positions and other needs and submits a budget. The budget is given to the manager to control, and she is responsible for keeping spending within that budget. The manager makes most big decisions, assigns staff and runs political interference when needed. She acts as a filter between upper management and the staff. The benefits are obvious: speed, efficiency, and accountability. However, there are huge negative aspects to this model. First of all, the manager rarely can know all that she needs to know to make the best decisions, and she often cannot act quickly enough because she lacks information. In a world of constantly changing needs and priorities, many clients feel underserved or are faced with resistance to needed change because of budget or resources limitations. The Swing to Decentralized So, when the pressure gets really high, many organizations swing to a decentralized model, in which all the recruiters are disbursed to the business units, the manager is laid off or reassigned, and control of budgets and resources revert to the business managers. Responsibility and accountability are where they matter most ó with the client ó and strategies and tactics can change quickly because there is little need for hierarchical decision making and information gathering. Hiring managers prefer the decentralized model because it gives them almost total control over the hiring process. 10 Disadvantages to the Decentralized Model Unfortunately, many things get lost in the decentralized model, even though it seems to put accountability and power where it belongs:

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  1. There is no way to track whether or not hiring managers follow ethical and legal hiring practices, and records are often not well kept.
  2. There is no coordination between business units, and the same candidate may be interviewed more than once for different positions.
  3. There is no centralized database or tracking systems of candidates (or if there is, it is not used well or efficiently because no one has the power to force a hiring manager to use it).
  4. The efforts to source candidates become fragmented, uncoordinated, and frequently more expensive than under a centralized system.
  5. Recruitment branding and marketing either disappear entirely or lack depth or breadth.
  6. Attempts to coordinate decentralized recruiting functions often fall apart from lack of cooperation or become more time consuming and expensive than they were under the centralized organization.
  7. Reporting, standards, and metrics all pretty much disappear or are so fragmented as to be useless as a predictive tool for the organization.
  8. Certain groups may be more progressive than others and reap the benefits of better practices that are not shared with the rest of the firm.
  9. Recruiters receive no specialized, coordinated training or development and may be laid off even though other parts of the organization have a need for recruiters.
  10. In my experience, the number of external staffing agencies being used rises dramatically under a decentralized system, which increases costs.

Another Approach: A Flexible Top and a Stable Base The best way to organize a recruiting function, in my mind, is to create a hybrid model, very much as we as a nation have set up our national government. Sometimes called the “federal model” because of its similarity to the U.S. government’s structure, it has both a centralized and a decentralized component. A Flexible, Responsive Top Recruiters are physically placed in the business units and have the responsibility both to liaison between the central recruiting function and the business unit as well as to build a close relationship with the functional staff in the business unit. They can be flexible and can move as needs change. The recruiter must be loyal to the client, yet be aware of corporate goals and requirements and keep the client aligned with those as much as possible. The core responsibility of this function is to develop relationships with candidates and with hiring managers. The recruiter should know the needs and competencies required for each job in his function. He should have a talent pool of candidates that can be tapped for open positions. He should be primarily a networker, a relationship-builder, and a partner to the hiring manager to ensure that talent is ready when it is needed. The Central Unit The central unit is the stable base of the recruiting process. It is generally small in number of employees but powerful in the impact it has on the organization. It has four critical responsibilities.

  1. It must decide upon, purchase, and maintain the central IT structure for recruiting. This includes the applicant tracking system and the interface with HRIS tools. It also designs and maintains the recruiting website and makes certain that it is up-to-date and linked to the ATS and the HRIS.
  2. It has to determine with senior management what the relevant measurements will be to track recruiting success and ensure that the organization has the information it needs about talent.
  3. It establishes the tools, processes, and methodologies that recruiters will use to do their job. This includes training recruiters and helping them develop new skills. It also means ensuring that the candidate has a seamless and satisfying experience, that ethical and legal procedures are in place, and that all state and federal regulations are being followed.
  4. It creates the recruiting brand for the company and oversees, according to established and agreed upon criteria, the placement of advertisements and job postings.

While this is a very brief overview, the real answer to the argument of whether the recruiting function should be centralized or decentralized is simple: it needs elements of both, carefully blended.

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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