The Recruiting Tipping Point

I’ve been a judge for the ERE awards for the past three years and have attended numerous recruiting conferences around the world. As part of this, I’ve seen great ideas come and go, and some not so great, somehow hang on. So I’m a bit cynical with most of the hype and the emergence of the next great hope.

However, something chilled me at this year’s ERE Expo in San Diego that hadn’t before. If you weren’t there, you missed something special. I was there, and even I missed it at first. It took awhile to register. While some of the presentations were great, some weren’t, but that’s not the point. What was special about this event was a sea change of ideas that collectively will hugely impact our business.

A tipping point relates to an idea whose time has come. This is the point when a critical mass is reached and there’s no turning back. Its own momentum will turn the tide and carry the day. For recruiting, I believe the tipping point occurred sometime in April 2008 at ERE’s Spring Expo. At least that’s when it was announced to the world, although only a few heard it at the time.

The tipping point I’m referring to is the moment in time when recruiting shifted from teenage angst to young adulthood, to when recruiting finally came of age. It’s when all of the tools, technology, and resources have begun to work in harmony to make the idea of hiring top people a scalable, sustainable, and consistent business process.

It’s the moment when a company can rely on its recruiting team to consistently deliver top performers for all essential positions. It’s the moment when the recruiting team became a strategic asset, rather than a tactical expense. It’s the moment when the recruiting team became a line function, rather than overhead. It’s the moment when the recruiting team became a profit center and began paying for itself. I believe that moment is now.

Few would argue with “consistently deliver strong candidates for all positions in a timely and cost effective manner” as the standard of performance for measuring a recruiting department’s effectiveness. Unless a company is an employer of choice, very few have met this target, but from a tipping point perspective many are on their way.

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Interestingly, the tipping point’s arrival is not about some new tool, technique, or technology. What it is about is how all of the tools, techniques, and technologies have been used and integrated to make recruiting top talent look more like a business process than a group of independent, unregulated activities. Practical integration is the key, and while many factors attributed to this, a few stand out as critical.

Top Factors Pushing ‘Recruiting as a Business Process’ to the Tipping Point

  1. Leadership. This is at the heart of the conversion from loose independent processes to a systematic business process for hiring top talent. A recruiting leader needs to pull everything together, set the vision, obtain the resources, ensure the commitment of the executive team, and then make it happen. Except for isolated instances, this was what was missing before April 2008, but what was clearly emerging as the theme at the Expo.
  2. Change management. Implementing change despite the naysayers and non-participants requires commitment and persistence. It’s great to have the vision of how to do things right, but doing them is the difficult part. It’s time-consuming, often unsatisfying, and frequently scorned. Despite this, more and more recruiting teams are successfully pulling it off.
  3. Metrics. Performance must be consistently measured against some standard in order to improve processes. This year, it was apparent that more companies were using metrics to demonstrate not only how they were doing, but also to prove what they were doing was working. Real-time metrics are at the core of every business process and recruiting is rapidly coming on-board.
  4. Deliver results. Although there’s still a gap between line managers and the recruiting department, it’s closing, as more recruiting departments begin to deliver strong candidates on a consistent basis. Results that can be measured and observed are far more impressive than talk, and some impressive results were presented.
  5. Proper use of technology. Whether it was using sophisticated CRM to manage a proprietary resume database, recruiting dashboards to track sourcing channel and recruiter performance, or modeling to predict workforce needs, sophisticated technology used properly was clearly evident. Even better, recruiting managers and executives were seeing the effective use of technology as part of the solution, not the total solution. This is a huge shift in thinking.
  6. System-level perspective. While it wasn’t pronounced as such, many of those who submitted applications for the ERE awards program clearly demonstrated a system-level understanding of the hiring process. This means that there is better understanding that individual tools and techniques (ad postings, interviewing, cold calling, closing, etc.) are just subsets of a bigger and more complex hiring system. Getting these individual sub-systems to integrate with other sub-systems is critical to getting through the tipping point.
  7. Workforce planning. While there has been much talk about this over the past few years, this year ERE offered a full-day, in-depth, pre-conference workshop on the topic. Whether you use a bottoms-up forecast or a predictive statistical model to predict your workforce needs, the important idea emerging from this is that you won’t be too successful unless you know who you’re going to be hiring over the next three to 12 months. Planning vs. reacting is certainly a critical step in getting past the tipping point.
  8. Process consistency. While there is still some art left in recruiting, science and systems are taking over. This does not mean minimizing the importance of the one-on-one relationship, just that there are standardized “best practices” that all recruiters and sourcers need to use. This is no different from the idea that sales people need extensive training to sell sophisticated and complex products.
  9. Segmentation is critical. The best are different than the rest. The baby boomers are looking for different things than the Ys and Xs. Advertising, sourcing, networking, interviewing, recruiting, and closing have to be customized to address these unique differences. While few are there yet, recognition of segmentation is an essential part of moving through and beyond the tipping point.

While these factors are clearly on the minds of recruiting and HR leaders, bringing hiring managers onboard seems to be problematic. No matter how effective the recruiting team is in delivering top-quality candidates, much of it is wasted effort if managers aren’t good at assessing competency or attracting top performers to work for them.

Whether it’s due to lack of training or lack of recognition on the manager’s part, ignoring this issue seems like negligence given all of the other initiatives and hard work involved in improving everything else.

Given this challenge, maybe April 2008 wasn’t the tipping point for the recruiting industry after all. But then again, maybe it was. April 2008 is as good a time as any.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).

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3 Comments on “The Recruiting Tipping Point

  1. Lou,

    Nice article, you accurately have described all the characteristics of a Talent Acquisition Process and leave us with the same question that has confounded recruiters for decades – will the hiring managers ‘buy in’ to the process?

    If I can be so bold to use a current professional baseball team as an example, one that nearly every ‘expert’ predicted to win the World Series even before the first game was played. The team is the Detroit Tigers. On paper, one of the most talented teams comprised in the last two decades, led by one of the best managers in baseball. The fans bought in to it, selling out tickets at a record pace. The ownership bought into it, paying out to the tune of the second highest payroll in baseball. And so far, they have won only one of nine games, having the worst record in baseball to date. At that pace they would win a total of 18 games for the season (which would break a record for the worst record of all time), BUT it is still early and it is highly unlikely they will continue to have the same disappointing results. The point is even with ‘buy in’ to the process and assessing of talent, at the end of the day, the candidates or team still have to produce. History is not always an accurate predictor of the future, but it definitely increases the probability. I doubt the team members on the Tigers have forgotten that there are twenty nine other teams all vying for the World Series Champion trophy, however, they will need to find a way to motivate themselves if they intend to be in the final game or watch it from the stands. I am reminded of one of my mentors years ago who daily would tell us: ‘Don’t read your own press clippings.’ Meaning you are only as good as you prove to be today.

    Thanks for another great article!

  2. What a great article. Lou, this was inspiring. If recruiting truly has come of age, you deserve a tremendous amount of praise and credit for the evolution of the industry. Thank you.

    Christopher Moore

  3. I enjoyed Lou’s article and I especially found point 8 about Process Consistency very interesting.

    Yes, I agree that recruiting can be broken down into processes and systemized using technology as a tool; in this light, recruiting is very much a science. However, I beg to differ regarding Lou’s statement that ‘science and systems are taking over.’

    What makes me question this statement is how Lou discusses the ‘problematic’ hiring manager toward the end of his article. It is at this point in the process where recruiting becomes art.

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