Around the world, a frequent complaint heard from corporate recruiters is that they fail to get the respect they feel they deserve from line managers. Almost without exception, they wonder out loud why managers don’t return their calls, read the resumes they submit, or find time to conduct interviews they set up. This lack of respect is not based on perception alone. Studies from Watson Wyatt and other management consulting firms demonstrate that while managers feel recruiting is important, they typically rank their organization’s recruiting performance poorly. Why the disconnect between the importance managers place on recruiting and their simultaneous lack of respect for those who do it? The answer is actually quite simple. If you look at recruiting functions ó and recruiters in particular ó through the same lens that managers assess non-HR programs, you see that recruiters routinely operate outside the constraints and conventions that guide other business projects. The isolated dominion that recruiting and HR in general has created for itself is often devoid of metrics, rewards for performance, and accountability. Its continued existence sends a message that recruiting cannot exist in the same competitive business climate that line managers must operate in daily. In short, it demonstrates clearly that recruiting is not a profession of equals, but rather a profession of ineffectual social workers. (Incidentally, external executive search professionals are in direct contrast, and are generally held in high regard by line managers because they operate under a competitive pay-for-performance model.) Smart recruiting managers who want to elevate the level of respect given to their recruiters and their function should examine the factors listed below and use them as a checklist to improve the respect that the recruiting function receives. Factors That Cost Corporate Recruiters Stature and Respect Managers outside the human resource function understand that there are rules ó some of which are unspoken and undocumented ó that govern the approaches they take in leading their team, group, or unit to success. Adhering to these principles gains a manager respect, while ignoring them places him or her at risk of being singled out. Unfortunately, many recruiters seem to feel that they are exempt from these business rules, and they wind up losing the respect of the line managers they work with everyday. Some examples of this include:
- Failure to demonstrate your ROI. Every line manager competes daily in a competitive and unforgiving marketplace. Part of that competitive struggle requires them to consistently calculate and demonstrate their return on investment. In short, to secure additional or ongoing resources, they must provide data to prove that the dollar benefits exceed the dollar cost in whatever they do. While many recruiting functions do look at and track their costs, the majority fail to measure the revenue impact of great recruiting. Without measuring the revenue impact of hiring top people (versus hiring average people), there’s no way to calculate the ROI of recruiting. Other overhead activities like supply chain management and customer relationship management have demonstrated their value in economic terms, while for some reason recruiting and human resources in general has not.
- Unknown payback period. When CFOs invest in a project, they want to know how long it will take to get their initial investment dollars back. For this reason all line managers routinely calculate payback period on each of their programs and projects. Unfortunately, a majority of recruiting functions never even attempt this calculation. For example, when purchasing a new ATS, it makes sense to assess the value received and to demonstrate the point where the initial investment is returned. By refusing to calculate an investment’s payback period, recruiters demonstrate contempt for standard business conventions.
- Poor customer service. In a highly competitive business climate, almost every company emphasizes the importance of customer service. Many corporations have even adopted a customer relationship management model where building and maintaining relationships is considered essential. Recruiting, on the other hand, operates one of the least customer-sensitive processes in any organization. Recruiters often fail to communicate effectively with their customers, neglecting to inform candidates and hiring managers what exactly to expect from the recruiting process and on what timeline. For example, when candidates ask how they’re doing, the answer is almost universally, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” In a majority of firms, applicants that fail get no feedback on how to improve should they want to apply in the future. Using any customer service measurement criteria, the way recruiters treat candidates is disappointing. Since few firms track candidate satisfaction, recruiting never really knows how dissatisfied candidates are or the impact of that dissatisfaction on the recruiting power of the organization. If the real cost of poor customer service was known, it would be clear that the recruiting function would cease to exist as we know it.
- Pay for performance. Many line managers have a significant portion of their pay at risk. If they don’t perform to expected levels, they lose their bonus and eventually their job. In direct contrast, corporate recruiters often have none of their pay at risk. In order to build respect, all recruiters pay should be directly tied to their performance, as should the recruiting department’s budget.
- Competitive advantage. Nearly every major business function is required to compare itself to the direct competitor and to demonstrate to senior management that it provides a distinct competitive advantage. While some recruiting departments do some basic benchmarking, only a handful ever do a side-by-side competitive analysis. Recruiting managers should demonstrate on a quarterly basis that their results and their programs are superior to their competitors’ and that they provide a distinct competitive advantage to their firm.
- Six Sigma quality standards. Many organizations have undertaken Six Sigma programs to help ensure that quality permeates their organization. Line managers must constantly demonstrate to internal and external organizations that they produce high quality products with a low error rate. Recruiting, on the other hand, not only does not use Six Sigma standards, but in most cases it fails to measure quality at all. Less than a handful of recruiting departments have undergone Six Sigma assessments, and very few quantify the quality of their hires. By exempting themselves, recruiting departments damage their image among managers who must demonstrate quality everyday.
- Lack of fee for service. Managers are accustomed to getting what they pay for. Because managers are often not required to pay for internal services, they have no basis to evaluate the value they are receiving. When using external recruiters, managers not only have direct access to output of the process, they also have to pay the bill, which provides them with all of the information needed to determine value. Corporate recruiting managers should shift internal recruiting to a fee-for-service model or institute service level agreements that extend choices to managers between internal and external recruiters. Operating in a competitive environment improves everyone, and recruiting is not exempt from that rule. Living in a “socialist” world where line managers never really know the cost of the services provided by corporate recruiting weakens recruiting and the respect that recruiters get.
- Branding. Nearly everyone would agree that branding is one of the hottest corporate topics among senior executives. Senior managers constantly talk about the importance of building a product brand and the value that it brings to the company. In contrast, most corporate recruiting departments fundamentally ignore the importance of branding. If you want senior managers to respect you, you need to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable in this important area of business. By building a great employment brand and demonstrating to potential candidates that the organization is well managed and a great place to work, you show senior managers that you possess the same skills and understand the complex environment that line managers live in. Building a strong employment brand should be one of the top priorities of any recruitment manager.
- Professionalism. All major universities offer degrees in management, accounting, and finance. It is not possible to get a degree in recruiting. There is no credible recruiting certification and a majority of recruiters start their job with literally no formal classroom training of any kind. There are no books on the theory of recruiting and there is no standard body of knowledge that is recognized within the recruiting profession. Until recruiting becomes more professional, it will not reach the standard of acceptance that finance and supply chain management have.
- Productivity. The universal measure of any department’s effectiveness is productivity. Every business unit must demonstrate its productivity improvement on a monthly or quarterly basis. For some reason, recruiting has not jumped on this productivity bandwagon. Few recruiting departments even measure their productivity, let alone report it executives. It’s time for recruiting managers to demonstrate a significant percentage improvement in productivity each and every year.
Action Steps to Increase Your Respect Among Line Managers Almost everyone in recruiting agrees that managers don’t pay enough attention to recruiting. They value recruiting itself but they undervalue and under-appreciate recruiters. If you are a recruiting manager and you want to gain the respect of line managers, there are several things you can do. The first is to begin to understand how line managers think and the problems they face. They live in a highly competitive world where measuring and producing results is essential. They are highly impatient and focus on activities that produce immediate results. The hiring process takes so long that they see recruiting as a long-term investment that can be postponed when more immediate short-term needs arise. In order to resolve that perception of being long-term, the recruiting process needs to be streamlined so that the time period between its start and completion is less than one month. In addition to rectifying the items highlighted in the beginning of this article, there are some other things that recruiting managers can do to increase the respect recruiters get. These include:
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- Involve managers more directly in recruiting. Start by periodically rotating managers into the recruiting function. Next, develop an advisory committee to give managers more input into the recruiting process. Until they see firsthand the difficulty of your situation and feel that they have some input, they are unlikely to increase their level of respect for what you do.
- Make metrics an essential part of everything you do in recruiting. Begin to measure your ROI and use that calculation to improve your recruiting process. Measure the on-the-job performance of new hires and compare that to last year’s hires or the average worker. Finally, quantify the dollar impact of hiring “better,” more productive workers as a result of great recruiting.
- Focus on building your organizations employment brand. Get your organization and its best practices talked about in the media. Apply for and get on best-place-to-work lists. Try to be written up in the same business magazines that line managers regularly read. Nothing impresses them more than seeing the quality of your recruiting process being recognized in external industry and business publications.
My final recommendation is to tie recruiter pay to recruiting performance. If you are serious about diversity recruiting, recruiting top performers, or improving recruiting overall, nothing works faster than regularly measuring and rewarding individual and departmental performance. Not only will it improve overall recruiting performance but it will also demonstrate to line managers that you too are willing to live within the rules of business.