I’ve been thinking a lot about speed.

Things are starting to loosen up in the talent marketplace. Candidates are now comfortable changing jobs. Jobless claims are dropping, as is the unemployment rate, but there are not a huge amount of new jobs being created (yet). So The Great Churn of 2011 has begun, as employees (including recruiters) start to change companies after having hunkered down for the last three years. And this is putting increased pressure on corporate recruiting departments, most of which have been cut in ways we haven’t before seen. My prediction is that 2011 will be a tough year for most corporate recruiting departments.

Which brings us back to speed.

Not the I ride fast motorcycles kind of speed, or the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, or other more illicit connotations.

I’ve been thinking a lot about speed as it relates to the overall performance of recruiting operations, and how in this economy, speed is a source of competitive advantage, and should strongly be considered as a strategy for 2011.

There are three primary interdependent variables when it comes to optimizing recruiting operations: Speed (or Time), Cost, and Quality. Generally speaking, corporate recruiting departments are only able to optimize for two of the three at any one time. There is almost always going to be one of these three components that gets traded away in favor of the other two. For example, if you want to hire high quality talent very quickly, it’s going to be very expensive.  Conversely, if you don’t care so much about quality, you can hire very quickly at very low cost. There are a never-ending series of trade-offs happening between speed, quality, and cost.

Most organizations would be well served to think through these tradeoffs as part of their longer-term talent strategy. Because in practice, organizations talk a lot about optimizing for quality, but in practice most organizations optimize for cost. Until they get behind in their staffing plan, and then they optimize for speed by hiring more search firms because the pain of unfilled vacancies becomes too great. We’ve seen this as recruiting departments across the world have been whittled to bits and are now being asked to deliver with insufficient capacity.

There is a strong argument for focusing on speed: speed, in many cases, breaks the tradeoff model described above. There are many ways to preserve cost and hiring quality and still improve speed. With operational discipline, recruiting organizations can (relatively) easily impact the speed of their process. And doing so will lead to improved recruiting yields. And reduce the average net workload per recruiter required per hire. Which preserves recruiting team capacity while increasing throughput. Indeed, increasing speed reduces cost per hire for these reasons… hiring faster is less expensive.  This is why speed should be an area of focus for 2011. Getting candidates through your recruiting process quickly is a great area of focus as we head into a more competitive talent marketplace, while recruiting departments are being rebuilt and are currently stretched.

Here’s a real example: Back in the late 1990s, I was in charge of recruiting for a technology integration consulting firm. We were relatively small (several hundred people) but frequently competed for talent with Oracle, Anderson Consulting, KPMG, and other large, multinational firms. We won far more than our fair share of the available talent, and mostly we did it with speed. We out-executed our competition by implementing a more efficient and speedy recruiting process. Our goal was to give recruits that we wanted to hire a job offer before they left our office on the day of the interviews. And we frequently did so. Of course the recruiters and I needed to prepare candidates for this, and handle objections, and complete other due diligence in order to make it happen.  To use speed as a competitive advantage, you just need to be materially faster than your competition. Which in some industries is not that hard to accomplish. Speed is always relative.

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The other upside is that speed is generally required to hire the “best of the best” talent: the talent that doesn’t ever look for a job. The truly exceptional talent won’t settle for a slow, arduous process. For these candidates, speed is actually part of the selling process.

It takes organizational discipline and concerted focus, but most recruiting teams can, with little cost, and with zero impact on quality, improve the speed of their process.

Here are some ideas to help focus your thoughts on speed as a recruiting strategy:

  • Start making changes in recruiting process with jobs that are mission-critical to your business. This will pave the way for hiring teams to buy-in to potential changes, and also allows you to more clearly articulate and illustrate the improvements. So choose the recruiting processes related to the jobs that if left unfilled, would create the most negative impact on your  organization. Where there is pain you will find motivation.
  • Next, find advocates in the line business that will help with execution. This shouldn’t be a hard sell, particularly if you frame it as, “I am hoping to implement some changes so we can fill your jobs faster, without increasing costs or diminishing quality, and I am looking for a partner in the business who will help me.”
  • Once you have found an advocate in the business, task them with helping quantify the cost of vacancy for these key roles. This will help you frame up the “before” and “after” business impact.
  • Then, measure the duration of time it takes from candidate engagement to final selection decision. Don’t do this in aggregate with average time to fill or other broad-brush stroke metrics. Instead, follow a few actual candidates through the process, and put yourself in their shoes, so to speak, by considering the process from their vantage point. Pay particular attention to the duration of time between interactions between the candidate and your organization, and measure each of those time-segments carefully.
  • Finally, re-evaluate the business reasons that are creating the cycle time in each segment, and re-engineer the process in ways that reduce the wait time. For example, one easy way to shave days or weeks off most recruiting processes is to schedule interview days with hiring teams in advance of generating candidates, and then slot the candidates into predetermined interview days.

All of this to say that speed is a great area of focus for 2011. There is more reading, and five more operational tactics and recommendations related to speed here.

As usual, sound off in the comments.

Jason Warner left corporate America to focus on entrepreneurship with a clear mission: to help organizations recruit better. In early 2011, he founded RecruitingDash, a recruitment software company that delivers world-class SaaS-based reports, metrics, dashboards, and analytics from existing applicant tracking software. As with other trends in Big Data, RecruitingDash turns the wealth of data in the recruiting "supply chain" into valuable information and insights to improve recruitment efficiency and effectiveness for companies of all sizes. A former corporate recruiting and talent management leader at Google and Starbucks, he has successfully built, scaled, and led large global recruitment and talent management functions during critical growth periods for some of the world's most recognized fast-growing companies, including Google and Starbucks. At Google, he led the largest learning, training, and people development group at Google -- for the Sales and Operations group across Latin America, Asia Pacific, and North America. During the peak of Google's growth, he also led recruitment for the Global Online Sales and Operations Group. He was previously the director of North America recruiting for Starbucks Coffee Company.


15 Comments on “Speed

  1. Jason-

    This is a very well-written and thought out article. I remember a phrase from my GE HR days that strikes to your premise. Focus on speed, simplicity, and self-confidence.
    It was valuable then, and even more so now, as the velocity of change is accelerating and becoming more complex. Focus on speed, keep it simple, and be bold in execution. I personally would rather ask for forgiveness after the fact than ask for permission. By the time you get permission, your competitors will have outflanked your organization.

    All the best!

  2. Hiring poor performers faster is hardly a recipe for success. This article argues for speed as a virtue, and it certainly can be, as long as quality is not ignored. Valid online assessments, conducted prior to on-site visits (or even during them) can lead to fast, high quality screening and hire decisions. It doesn’t need to be fast or careful screening decisions anymore.

  3. Very good article. Speed from the sourcing side of the business can not be neglected as well. Being able to quickly identify, contact, and screen active or passive candidates so when it does come time to set those interviews is the foundation.

    How would you go about putting a dollar value on the time wasted in the interview process? # of hours X hourly rate of the position being filled?

  4. Jason hits the nail on the head with this article. An absolute home run.

    Bottom line? There is the slow and there is the dead.

    The successful companies of tomorrow will plan intelligently and execute with the speed required to win the hearts, minds and market share required to dominate. This is capitalism – a winner take all game.

    I have grave concerns with the speed of recruiting as we perhaps enter a period of catch on fire hiring. Honestly, the churn just might be furious.

    HM’s who can’t make decisions and candidates who’s pent up frustrations with lack of activity and organizational lethargy will have no time for those who walk slowly or seek the proverbial perfect candidate.

    Making the right hiring decision is top dog but doing so with efficiency and speed is a very close second. Time to get out the speed skates boys? I believe so because the prevailing winds will call for good and fast decisions.

  5. I couldn’t agree more that speed is one of the most important elements in the hiring process, particularly in a competitive market like we see today. Not only does a sense of urgency make the candidate feel valued, but it shows the candidate that the employer is on the ball. There is no room for sluggishness in an efficient hiring process. And quality does not need to be sacrificed to accomplish the goal of speed. Thanks for this, Jason. Love it!

  6. @Jason: well written and sensible. At the same time, “employers of choice” can hire slowly and treat their candidates like crap in the process, and even the best candidates will ask for more of the same.

    For most every other company, speed is the ONLY thing they have as a chance to get the top 10% of candidates that everybody here is always drooling over. They can’t pay especially well (to get an A-player from a stable, functional comapany: think “20% raise,” thanks to Google’s 10% raise for everybody), and their stories aren’t particularly unique or compelling.

    @Jason: “speed, simplicity, and self-confidence”? This is the opposite of big-company recruiting.

    @Howard: “planning and intelligent and companies”?
    Much of recruiting is based on the failure of companies to plan and act intelligently. Do you want us to be out of jobs?

    @Everybody Re:churn: Churn is good for recruiters, and retention is bad, Thereforefore, we should tell everyone we know who is working to hurry up and quit their jobs.



  7. Ryann – I would take a deeper dive into the cost of every extra interview and not use the open requisition salary, but use the time value for the people who are doing the interview. In every company, though, the time value of employees is actually more than you pay them (that’s what generates the profit) so if you want to get really arcane you could multiply their hourly rate by a multiplier related to net revenue per headcount or something like that.

    Dr. Janz, I would never recommend that companies ignore quality for speed, but many do, if only inadvertently. It actually happens all the time, but I agree it’s an avoidable error.

    Keith, I disagree that the best candidates will tolerate a lousy process, even if offered at an employer of choice. Regardless, the cost benefit analysis from the company perspective is a no-brainer… the net yield of a faster process pays for itself, even if at an employer of choice.

  8. @Jason – great article and well thought out. I don’t think the question is trading quality for speed, I think you are right on with using speed in the recruiting process to out maneuver the competition. So many times companies sit on individuals or wait to see what is going to happen meantime another company pulls the trigger and gets the A player they want.

    When this economy turns around, and it will at some point, there will again be more jobs, more people taking the chance to make a move, and companies will have to move fast and execute.

  9. A great article and thought provoking. In my mind it’s the quality of the process from the workforce planning, recruitment process management, brand management and ultimately the candidate having a quality experience – that will give the organisation the dexterity to move at speed as and when required.

    For example there’s little point moving a such speed that may scare off the most sought after candidate in the market. Quality will surely win out more often than speed? That said, many organisations could take great heed this article and improve the speed of their recruitment, with beneficial results!

  10. Very much appreciate these well thought out articles aimed at increasing the community’s productivity in their jobs.

    Any additional thoughts (from anyone) with some effective ‘how-tos,’ to liberate this philosophy into application,

    Effectively, does it arise out of doing the same, but faster or searching for tools that help increase speed w/o sacrificing quality, or both (is there time for both? are there tools/technologies that help?)

    I’d love to hear from the community on any additional creative suggestions from an ‘experience’ perspective, other than the very helpful insights Jason lays out in bullets…

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