Not long ago, my wife (and partner at HR Innovators) asked a senior recruitment manager if recruiters were seen as a necessary evil within her organization, as they are to so many others. The answer was a resounding yes. This type of backward and condescending thinking is probably one of the leading reasons for the institutionalized mediocrity that plagues organizations and creates workforces that are unable to compete effectively. The reason for it is simple: if managers do not trust their recruiting business partners (who in most cases have forgotten more about effective recruiting than most hiring managers will ever know) to provide them with insight on everything from candidates to interviewing to closing, then it’s very easy for them to hire the wrong people while continuing to wonder why they can’t seem to engineer mediocrity out of their organizations. Hence the old saying, “Hire right or manage hard,” once again proves itself to be a cheerless and cold reality. It has been my experience that many corporate recruiters do not necessarily feel appreciated in their role as corporate recruiters. They believe they’re on the bottom of the food chain. As one recruiter told me, “Recruiters don’t actually do anything; they just find people who do things.” This, of course, is absurd. Great recruiters are rapidly becoming the “killer app,” because they know exactly how to hire first-rate employees, and first-rate employees are the only chance your company will ever have to make it to the big time. The only thing most organizations ever have of any real value are their employees. Everything else can be sold at fire sale as office furniture and used computers are easy to unload. Frankly speaking, if you want great employees, the most direct line to that result is to hire great recruiters. Those who correspond with me by email know that my signature reads “Professional Consulting Services for Professional Business Builders.” Take note, there is nothing in the signature about recruiting; recruiting is simply the methodology recruiters use to build businesses. My signature should be the signature of all recruiters. Recruiters are the front line forces; their vigilance, tenacity, and judgment have built some of the best organizations on earth, and they do this by guarding the door, keeping the bad guys out, and engineering situations that usher the good guys in. I can assure you that there are few functions more important to a growing organization looking for an opportunity at market penetration and eventual dominance than a top-notch recruiting staff. Having great employees is clearly becoming the key differentiator in achieving market share. Let’s take a moment to look at a few other factors that are considered to be great differentiators and see how they stack up:
- Company size. I think not. I live near what is called “the Mill,” which is the old home of Digital Equipment Corporation. In its heyday, the sheer mass, number of employees, and tremendous installed base of its products were legendary. Maynard’s Main Street looked like New York’s Wall Street at lunchtime. But Digital is now gone; the mill carved into endless small companies. Not even the corner of a scrap of paper has survived what was once a model organization for success and innovation.
- Customer base. No way. Companies like to speak of customer loyalty, but let a new source or technology shift a current paradigm with faster, better, or cheaper results, and those customers will drop you in a flash. (If your own company would outsource your job, do you honestly expect loyalty from customers?) Remember the Sony Walkman? In less than two years, the iPod devastated that product and reinvented the marketplace by marrying hardware, software, and networking (see Fortune Magazine, “Saving Face at Sony,” February 21, 2004), leaving the world’s biggest and broadest consumer electronics company to stare into space and wonder where they went wrong.
- Lots of cash. A temporary state of affairs at best. Organizations burn through cash at breakneck speed, often on things so absurd and poorly thought out that it boggles the mind. All you need is a few months of decreased revenue for one reason or another and that great cash position will be a thing of the past.
- No competition. This is my personal favorite. When an executive tells me that this is their road to success, I am forced to bite my bottom lip until it bleeds. This is painful, but it does stop me from laughing. If you are in an industry or marketplace that has no competition, you are either eking out a living in an arena in which no one else sees potential, or your great opportunity will soon be discovered and you will quickly have more competition than you ever imagined.
- Speed to market/invented here. This helps, but the honeymoon can end very quickly. We literally invented the automobile in this country and as a result became fat and happy. Starting in the late seventies, the Japanese came in and crushed our industry (not hard to do, we were building junk in those days and we knew it). We have still not recovered from this onslaught, and judging from the American car I rented last week in Florida, the Japanese still have little to worry about.
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Armed with the knowledge that great employees are the primary differentiator, it is high time for the recruiting community to take a bow and be recognized for the great work they do in identifying and attracting top talent. They are the unsung heroes who are on the front lines dealing with a crushing workload under pressure that is unbearable on bad days and unnecessary on good ones. (Some of this pressure would be alleviated if a bit of workforce planning were implemented.) If you are a recruiter, take this opportunity to feel good about the work you have done and company(s) you have built. If not for your experience, drive, and well-honed street smarts, who in your organization would be doing all that is necessary to hire great people? Hiring managers? I doubt it. The CEO? I think not. Ever see one try to plan a business trip when their admin assistant is out for the day? It can make you weep. From one business builder to another, this is a good day to feel good about the important role you play in creating something from nothing. Who else can pull into the parking lot in the morning, see people getting out of their cars and say, “That person is here because of me, and that person is here because of me, and that person…” Recruit a great candidate today and be the business builder that you are ó they could never do it without you!