Recruiter Development as an Exercise in Cooperation: Donate Yourself!

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 5.11.44 PMIf you work in recruiting in any capacity, ask yourself this question: “When was the last time someone really invested in making me better?”

Then give yourself the responsibility of that development for someone/everyone around you.

Why would we do that? Who has time for that? Where should I start? If this is what comes up top of mind, you might owe it to yourself to put some thought into this topic. I’ll tell you why I think it’s not only a business imperative but a preservation technique as well.

I’ve been inside the profession in various capacities for the better part of 17 years. Wherever I’ve been, recruiters can be conditioned to think transactionally. Even with all the push lately for recruiters to become “trusted advisors” and to “get a seat at the table” (a more famous request of human resources practitioners) we can tend to work selfishly in pursuit of those concepts.

I had also experienced plenty of examples of coaching and development that I didn’t agree with. Early in my career I found myself sitting across the table from a recruiting lead who might use my concepts, commandeer my approach, or worse — put me through oversold SWOT analysis. I then found myself resenting the fact that I wasn’t being challenged as a professional or I was back into the doom loop of indulging their development and back at square one when they came out with a new approach that sounded eerily similar to something I had discussed earlier.

Aside from my paranoia, I wasn’t alone with these thoughts, nor was it confined to a particular industry. I had friends and colleagues globally — independent, corporate, and agency alike — who all felt the same way. This Prisoner’s Dilemma — a simple game theory model which shows how a lack of cooperation results in an outcome that is inferior to that which could have been achieved with cooperation — was holding me back. It was holding me back from sharing and holding my managers back from developing. Perhaps better named the “recruiter’s dilemma.”

In working with some extremely high-performing individuals, I quickly realized that our community was way too small not to give freely and work collectively with my peers, leaders, and reporting staff.

When I was more of an individual contributor, for example, it was not uncommon for me to share all of my qualified leads with people I was working with, and I mean all of them — a complete open book. I’m not suggesting you build a commune but, I’d like to think I’ve carried elements of that with me along the way.

In many recruiting organizations there is a lack of path or promotion available to recruiters. As leaders you might feel frustrated with the problems that this perception can cause. Mismanaged expectations can also create havoc for leaders who find themselves losing talented recruiters because they can’t promote them when expectations and timelines and opportunity don’t synch.

The reality is we can be leaders where and when we want to be, and it’s my job to help create an environment that makes that a reality for those looking for those types of opportunities.

This type of approach only works if you’re authentic with it and are committed.

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Many things can present themselves as challenges inside of coaching and development. Don’t let preparation or support be among them. Getting your people ready for the next level helps fill operational gaps and provides individuals with a more confident level of experiences to draw upon when being evaluated.  This can be a hard concept to reconcile: am I training my replacement? As individual contributors and leaders you do have a few options available to you. Leaders: creating succession and demonstrating developmental prowess is both a core and adaptive skill that will separate you from any pack. Individual contributors: Your ability to influence (relationship building 2.0), truly collaborate with your team, and be easy to work with will differentiate you from the pack as well.

For the high-potential people I’m involved with, I work with them on two main areas: operational readiness and creating foundational experiences that build their acumen beyond recruiting to create influence. I facilitate this by continuing to exercise my own influencing skills by negotiating access for them to organizational leaders and challenging them with new responsibilities that build competencies (meaning no busy work and substantive delegation). The former creates reciprocal relationships with leadership that helps both politically and from a networking standpoint. This is critical in any organization where relationships are key (thus, every organization).

In addition, when career opportunities become available, decision-makers now have shared experience with people and can provide better insight into job fit and suitability. Creating interlocking experiences is trickier but requires leadership sponsorship, so results, accountability, and recognition are legitimized and acknowledged. For high-potentials and the right type of culture-carriers, you can challenge and prepare them for the right opportunity. Give yourself and expect the same in return. Everyone on my team adds value and has something to contribute.

If you’ve never seen, or don’t know where to start, when creating development plans or a coaching roadmap, here are five anchors that might be helpful:

  1. Make it meaningful: Your plan should take into consideration specific areas for development as well as aspirational goals for the person. This is competency building, so they should be challenged. Once you have these locked in and agreed to, the plan should reflect the objectives that will be attained at the end of the plan.
  2. Follow up: The use of a meaningful development plan can act in conjunction with rewards and recognition. Don’t shy away from recognizing and working to the plan. The development of your staff will likely suffer if you don’t make the time to follow up, on and through the progress. This will give you permission for No. 4 below.
  3. Guide effectively: These people will likely run into roadblocks along their path. Don’t give them the answers to the test. Your job is to help guide the person to the right solution, not hand it to them. There is a fine line here though — don’t answer their questions with questions and create more frustration than they’re already feeling. If you’re stuck, just remind yourself to be helpful!
  4. Hold them accountable: You’ve agreed to a goal, now remind them and yourself that you’ll be looking for progress. Give your staff something meaningful to work toward. Celebrate successes.
  5. Develop with the end in mind: Development should be useful not only to the individual but also be valuable for your organization. As we serve our businesses try and look around the next corner to see what’s coming. Consider giving them a business problem you need addressed that aligns with a strategic business initiative like quality, innovation, or process improvement.

Developing your recruiters not only legitimizes your ability to lead but enables relationships that create outcomes over the long haul. I try to imagine myself still working collectively in 5, 10, 15, years with the exceptional talent that I’m lucky enough to be associated with today. I’m still giving all of my leads to my peers, supervisors, and reporting staff just like I always have — it just looks a little different.

I realize most of these are no-brainers, but if you have them in front of you when considering coaching and development of recruiters it might keep you on track. It should prevent you from assigning busy work and come through the exercise together with memorable achievements and experiences.

If you’d like to hear more about my approach and how we’ve created distinctive leadership development programs for recruiters, join me at the upcoming ERE Conference in September where I’ll be speaking on this topic.

Matt Blunt is currently the U.S. Recruiting Leader for PwC’s Assurance practice and has held leadership roles within the firm for the past six years. His team works in support of 19,000 partners/staff and he also leads the firms risk assurance, veterans, and contingent workforce initiatives (Flexibility Talent Network). His 17 years of experience ranges agency, campus, federal and commercial as well as professional services.

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