Who’s the Boss?

Who needs to be satisfied with the results of the recruiting or staffing department? This is an important question, and one that may decide if you keep your job, get your budget, or find satisfaction in what you do. While metrics are important, we often measure the wrong things. We don’t always identify our customers as well as we should. Just as a politician has to satisfy many constituents and spend lots of time balancing one group and one set of issues with another, so do you, the recruiter. Recruiters have many constituents, including the immediate boss, the head of human resources (or whatever function the department reports to), the hiring manager, 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. And recruiters, more than most other HR people, feel torn and 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 the hiring manager is the real customer and the only one that really counts. I have seen recruiters go outside their own department operating principles to satisfy a hiring manager. I have seen them fight for a salary level that the compensation folks think is wrong but the hiring manager is willing to pay. And I have also seen many recruiters find themselves out of a job because their immediate boss feels they are not team players and are not contributing to the overall strength of the recruiting department. While the hiring manager is obviously one of your primary customers, making him happy should not be your only priority. Mistakenly attaching yourself to one or even a few hiring managers can make you look pretty silly. 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.
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  3. 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.
  4. While the immediate manager may be happy ó even quite a few of them may be happy ó their management team may not be so pleased. I could write a whole column about immediate hiring managers who were happy but whose senior management team thought they were doing a poor job.
  5. You may lose your network of associates and the friendship of other hiring managers, who could broaden your view of the business and its needs.
  6. 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 the hiring managers, it is probably because you gave them what they wanted or needed at some point. That is fine. 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 ówithout damaging other relationships. The Customer Isn’t Always Right You must, first of all, understand that the customer is neither always right nor always the most knowledgeable about what she needs. 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 set that’s on sale at your local electronics store, but the salesperson shows you how the 36″ set, at roughly the same price, would be a much better value for your money. You are happy, but you weren’t “right.” While that’s a simple example, there are many times that the recruiter has to steer the hiring manager to a person that 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 the perspective. Being able to do this requires some courage, a deep understanding of the position and the hiring manager, and the ability to identify the competencies that do make a difference in a job. It also requires being able to find the people who have those competencies. Anticipation You also have to anticipate needs and stay ahead of the hiring manager. When they say they need a particular skill, the best recruiters ó those who have thought the positions and strategy of this 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 managers has. This understanding 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 individuals who have a different point of view. You can enlist internal resources to help you make a case for a different approach and to keep you educated on what might be happening down the road so you can prepare for it. Take Risks A big part of your job is recognizing that most of don’t really know what we want or would like. 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 if 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 it is because the founder and chairman of Sony was a jogger and wanted to listen to music when he was jogging. As soon as it was introduced, it 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, being an encourager of trying out different people and skill sets ó even those that the hiring manager doesn’t really see a need for ó may be exactly the right thing to do. Top recruiters urge risk taking. Maintaining Your Network Finally, make sure you keep a network alive outside of the department your support. Make sure the senior management team knows what you are contributing, that your boss feels you are supportive and progressive, and that your fellow recruiters feel you are also part of their team. 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.

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