Top Ten Reasons Most Companies Do Not Really Consider Staffing Their Number One Priority!

Pick up any newspaper, any professional HR magazine, any newsletter or business journal “of record” from any segment of industry–even the shopping news “flyer” from your local super-market–and there will be an article in there about how CEOs in every industry claim that there is only one missing element from their business that’s preventing them from taking advantage of this robust economy. What always seems to be missing is an adequate pool of trained and experienced staff, one that is available at a reasonable cost, a timely delivery, and with some hope of reasonable stability. Capital, product, marketplace, a large consumer audience bloated with disposable income–these have never been better. Heck, Alan Greenspan is fiddling with the interest rate in an effort to offset the possible impact rising salaries could have on inflation. (Imagine that, the salary offer you made to that last candidate made Wall Street tremble.) These CEOs and industry leaders will go on to say that the net result of this situation is that staffing has been elevated to the “number one” position in their strategic goals and planning. Well from where I sit in the trenches, my response is: “No, it hasn’t been!” The rhetoric is in place, the speeches are written and have been made at “rubber chicken dinners” all over the United States. But once again–and as usual in the executive halls of business–style trumps substance. There is an unending litany of articles on new tools and process upgrades, written by self-styled experts (present company excluded, of course) with “new approaches” to the staffing dilemma. But as always, it’s a long walk from the mythology of the boardroom to the reality of the recruiting office, where those of us who are burdened with the colossal task of turning “pipe dreams” into directed success toil endlessly. If “lip service” was a useful tool, staffing professionals could open a factory outlet. What we really need is plain, old-fashioned commitment, and we certainly don’t get enough of that. Why do I feel this way? Well, here are the top ten reasons for my belief, based on my own experiences with numerous clients as well as my knowledge of the experiences of others. My apologies to David Letterman… Top Ten Reasons Most Companies Do Not Really Consider Staffing Their Number One Priority! 10. Companies have a separate Sales and Marketing Department, they have Operations, Finance, even Engineering–but Staffing is just a part of HR, not “HR/Staffing,” or even “HR and Staffing.” (How can you call someone a resource if they are not even hired yet?) Something that is the number one commitment at a company deserves “top billing”–or it isn’t really number one. 9. How often do your managers/clients call back the exact same day they receive a resume or interview request from you? (How quickly do they call back the office supply store about missing mouse pads and wrong size post-it notes?) 8. How many established interviews occur without changes, last minute substitutions, or cancellations due to “important schedule conflicts” among the hiring manager’s staff? (If staffing is “The Most Important Thing,” how come they don’t cancel the other meetings to do the interviews?) 7. How often is the final element in a decision about staffing tools and expenditures based on cost vs. time, effectiveness, and quality? (But the budget was probably lavish for the sales department’s annual off-site meeting. “Cow-a-bunga, dude! This shrimp cocktail is awesome!”) 6. Who gets the new computers first, purchasing or staffing? (Well, we are “buying stuff” too! Talent!) 5. More often than not, HR reports to the CEO by way of Finance, the chief “bean counter”! (If we are so important, why don’t we have our own seat at the table?) 4. The same manager who decided to change operating systems in a new product line in a day needs three weeks to decide whether or not to make an offer to a candidate. (If all decisions and progress were that slow, laptops would weigh 48 pounds and require an extension cord!) 3. Effective managers “make things happen” in their work, but “get around” to their staffing needs as time permits. (If staffing is so critical, why isn’t effectiveness and timeliness in staffing a review item for line managers?) 2. Managers are sent to all sorts of professional, technical, and management training sessions. So how about interview training? (Maybe that’s why so many ask questions like, “What’s your biggest fault?” on interviews, as if that is a question with a point or a purpose!) And the number one reason you know that staffing really is not all that important to companies no matter what they say… 1. In the average company, who has the greatest percentage of part-time, contractor, or non-permanent employees vs. Full-time employees? Staffing, that’s who! (XYZ Company’s Recruiting Motto: “XYZ – Where Transients do the Permanent Staffing!”) Bitter? Moi? No, I’m not bitter. I honestly believe that staffing professionals and their business partners mutually agree that staffing is their number one goal. I will be the first to admit that it is hard to plan a fire proof home while putting out a fire that surrounds you. All of us must constantly postpone the elements of a carefully thought out strategic staffing plan to deal with an immediate crisis that may or may not preclude the company having a future. But, as in all other matters of easily ignored or generally postponed importance, success requires attention to detail, and each detail requires a champion. Well troops, we are the “champions” of staffing. But, while we focus on the “positives” of our mission, we must remain aware of the “negatives” our mission can represent to our business partners:

  1. Like going to the dentist, everybody knows that they have to do it, but that does not mean they will not procrastinate as long as the dentist will allow. (It already hurts bad, one more day won’t make any difference!)
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  3. The Chinese have a saying: “A thousand mile journey begins with the first step.” (What they do not tell us is that taking that first step can often take as long as the rest of the journey and often entails a lot of pushing and shoving.)
  4. In the harsh light of the crisis “du jour”, the ongoing priority of staffing loses its luster. Especially when that blinding light carries the authority of, and veiled threats from, senior management. (“Fix this problem or update your resume!” “Cancel all interviews this week! I’m too busy to interview!”)
  5. If the commitment from the top is not continuous, how can we expect middle executive and middle management to keep a steady pace? (What is my unchanging and permanent priority this week?)
  6. When people are drowning, they are looking for anything to cling to, not the plans for a proposed lifeboat. (“I need staff now, this interview will not produce staff now! Today!”)

That’s right, we are the champions of the ugly reality that everyone faces with, at best, grudging acceptance, and at worst, barely concealed animosity, directed at those of us who are merely trying to accomplish the number one goal of business today. Staffing! So how do you behave like a “champion,” and not merely as the functionary of an unpopular process? Well, here is a new motto for your wall: Make the basics work, then get fancy. An anti-bureaucracy presidential candidate once said, “If you need to kill a snake, don’t form a committee on snake killing. Just kill the snake!” And so it goes with staffing. Before you propose and start to build the humanistic, touchy-feely, showplace staffing organization of the new millennium (have we all overused that expression yet?), make sure your proposed “Staffing of the 1990s Project” you started in the late 1980s is completed! Sometimes in our quest for perfection, maximization, and seamless automation, we are our own worst enemies. We spend a lot of time on “white boarding” the future at the cost of doing our job today with the tools at hand. I was interviewing a young candidate who insisted they wanted to be considered for an HRIS project management slot, despite their lack of general experience. I asked them why they felt they were ready for such responsibility, and the answer was as sobering as it was pathetic: “I really am not good at accomplishing tasks based on details. I get easily bored with the mundane. I am more the architect than the builder.” Despite my misgivings, this candidate was hired into an HR position that was 100% detail, and absolutely 0% architecture. The hallmark of this person’s first three months was repeated “volunteering” for every HR planning committee under the sun. Anything was better than “doing the job.” They received rave reviews from senior HR management for their excellent collateral work, but their business partners called the 1099 consultant for help. And so it goes. I sometimes feel that if HR/Staffing were a construction company, we would have 457 architects and three workers with hammers. Our business partners see a lot of time invested in staffing with few returns. They read the 25 resumes you forwarded (because you did not screen out the 20 marginal resumes). They asked for an interview to be arranged for three of them (unaware that since you did not call any of them, 2 of the 3 are already off the market–they were the day you pulled them off the database). The one remaining candidate did not show up for their interview (because you did not call the night before to confirm the appointment). An offer is finally extended (but the candidate took a counter offer from another company. They stayed in touch. You didn’t.). An offer is eventually accepted, but on the first day of employment, no employee (how many times did you call the candidate after the acceptance? Never?). Staffing is a profession of endless detail and follow up. The irony is that all the Internet tools we routinely discuss merely “dredge up” resumes. They are the cyber and virtual equivalent to a set of keys to a filing cabinet. It is the recruiter who actually drives the process and insures it’s quality–or lack thereof. Yet many of us have abandoned, or downgraded, the basics, while we honed ourselves in the use of our fancy new tools. But why master a tool if you do not make something with it? The finest chisel in the world only makes rust if not used. Use your tools, do not be defined or limited by them. Much of what the new technology has to offer enhances the basics of recruiting, it does not replace them. (Can you still recruit without e-mail and a resume database? In other words, could you still recruit during a power failure?) As the champions of the “number one” most important issue facing business, it is up to us to create the energy and enthusiasm needed to get our business partners engaged and excited. That is, more often than not, the result of personal impact and energy–not reams of e-mails about flat, cold, unscreened and unengaged resumes. You see, this is the first time business has come out and decreed in a unified voice that the role and function of attracting and retaining top employees is the number one goal of all businesses in their efforts to achieve revenue goals. If we still cannot get our business partners “into the game” with us, then the fault must be our own. Be wise and knowledgeable in the use of your tools, but never forget the most powerful device at your disposal is you! Release 1.0. Have a great day recruiting! (Author’s Note: Today is the day we all should remember the real “Private Ryans,” those soldiers who, on this date in 1944, stormed the beaches of Normandy into a battle we can only imagine. Many gave their lives, and all sacrificed their youth and innocence forever, so that we could live free today. To those who passed that day, or since, or still live amongst us: thank you. To the rest of us: earn it!)

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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