Who Is Your Most Important Stakeholder?

Who is your most important customer? Who needs to be satisfied with the results of the recruiting or staffing department? These are important questions, and ones that may determine whether you keep your job, get your budget, or find satisfaction in what you do. Just as a politician has to satisfy many stakeholders and spend lots of time balancing one group and one set of issues with another, so do you. Recruiters have many stakeholders, including their immediate boss, the head of human resources or whatever function the department reports into, hiring managers, candidates, perhaps the CEO, the management team, and even your fellow recruiters. Then there are recruiting vendors and contractors, too, who are part of any complete list.

Given this long list, it seems impossible to satisfy them all. One wants speed while the other wants cost control. One wants it her way and the other wants it his way. Recruiters, more than most other HR people, feel unsure of whom they should focus on and who the ultimate “boss” is. Many recruiters I have spoken with align themselves most closely with the hiring manager. They focus on making her happy in the belief that this person is the real customer and the only one that really counts. I have seen recruiters go outside corporate or departmental operating principles to satisfy a hiring manager. I have seen them fight for a salary level that the hiring manager is willing to pay but that the compensation department does not support. At the same time, I have seen many recruiters out of a job because their immediate boss felt that they were not team players and were not contributing to the overall strength of the recruiting department. While the hiring manager is obviously one of your prime customers, making him or her happy should not be your only priority. Mistakenly attaching yourself to one or even a few hiring managers can make you look pretty silly and reduce your effectiveness. Here are five reasons why becoming too close to the “customer” can be a mistake:

  1. You lose objectivity and are unable to help the manager look outside his or her box
  2. You lose the respect of other HR professionals, who feel you are looking down on them and aligning too closely with the business unit at their expense.
  3. While the immediate manager may be happy, their management team may not be so pleased.
  4. You may weaken or even lose your network of associates and the friendship of other hiring managers who could broaden your view of the business and its needs.
  5. You may be perceived as a “flunky” or “yes person” for the department or hiring managers you are attached to.

If you have a good relationship with your hiring managers, it is probably because you gave them what they wanted or needed at some point. That’s fine. But here are a few ideas on what you need to do to build even greater credibility, expand your areas of expertise, and be able to provide increasingly valuable service to the hiring manager without damaging other relationships.

The Customer Isn’t Always Right

Good salespeople have always recognized that guiding and educating people is a major part of what they have to do. You may decide you want the cheap 21″ TV that’s on sale at your local electronics store, but the salesperson shows you how the larger 36″ one, at roughly the same price, would be much better value for your money. You are happy now, but you weren’t “right” originally. While that’s a simple example, there are many times that the recruiter has to steer the hiring manager to a person who is not, on the surface, what the manager is expecting or thinks she wants. Sometimes getting the hiring manager into conversation with senior executives or with outside professionals might change her perspective. Being able to do this requires some courage, as well as a deep understanding of the position and the hiring manager. It also requires the ability to identify the competencies make a difference in a job and find the people who have those competencies.

Anticipate Needs and Stay Ahead of the Hiring Manager

When a hiring manager says that she needs a particular skill, the best recruiters ó those who have thought the positions and strategy of a manager’s department through ó may suggest a different skill or push for some experimentation. One weakness of many recruiters is their shallow understanding of the real needs that a hiring manager has. This understand can only come through experience with the function, discussion with lots of people about the various tasks and results needed from the function, and by doing some critical analysis of the skills of the current staff. You may need to bring in outside speakers who have a different point of view. You can enlist internal resources to help you make a case for a different approach. These resources can keep you educated on what might be happening down the road so that you can prepare for it.

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Most of Us Don’t Know What We Want

The classic example that is used in university classes on market research is the story of the Sony Walkman. Sony conducted numerous focus groups to determine whether there was any interest in a small portable tape player. The results were clear. Everyone thought it was a useless concept. The only reason Sony pushed forward with the Walkman was because the founder and chairman of Sony was a jogger and wanted to listen to music while he was jogging. As soon as it was introduced, of course, the Walkman was a huge success, and its introduction coincided with a rise in the popularity of jogging. Another example is the Internet itself. No one knew how it could be useful and no one marketed it. It was a military communication tool that met a need no one knew anyone had. Pushing for new ideas and encouraging managers to hire people with unconventional skill sets may be exactly the right thing to do. Top recruiters urge risk taking and take risks themselves.

Keep a Network Alive Outside of the Department You Support

Practice good communication. Keep as many people as possible in the loop and informed about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what your accountability is. Perception is essential to all success. Broad support will give you more long-term leverage than any hiring manager relationship can. In the end, you have to be true to your own thoughts and beliefs. Trying to please everyone, the saying goes, means you please no one. Working closely with hiring managers is smart. Doing everything they say or want to keep them happy is dumb.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


2 Comments on “Who Is Your Most Important Stakeholder?

  1. Great article! Really illustrative of the ‘dance’ we all do to keep all the influencers happy. And we do need to educate them along the way, with few exceptions. It is rare that all our stakeholders are on the same page. We have to constantly orchestrate and influence the process to keep everyone moving the project forward.

  2. Definitely enjoyed the article. It highlights a dangerous path many CR’s go down.

    There is a natural tendancy to want to focus on the hiring manager. The distinction, perhaps, is that the HM is the ‘client’, while the critical stakeholders are often many and varied.

    For a CR, the company itself is the most important stakeholder. Beyond that, it is often a matrix of stakeholders with varying degrees of importance at any given time as Kevin mentioned.

    Work the matrix. Communicate. Consider the organizational impact of each search you prosecute.

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