Why Strategy and Structure Go Hand-in-Hand

There are many complex models that exist on how to organize the recruiting function. I have seen charts that covered horizontal page after page, carefully defining all the relationships. While these may be useful administrative tools, they don’t give you much traction when it comes to understanding whether or not you have put the function together well. What ultimately matters is whether things are getting done ó and done well. In many ways structure should follow strategy, or to put it another way, form should follow function. Once you are clear on a strategic direction for the recruiting function, it becomes much easier to determine whether things should be centralized or decentralized or balanced between the two. Here are a few rules to guide you in making decisions on how to organize your recruiting function. Rule #1: Be sure you have a strategy. I am amazed at how many staffing groups have no articulated strategy. When I ask a recruiter what the strategy of their group is, they often answer (if they answer at all) that the strategy is to hire people fast or something like that. While that may be a direction it is not a useful one. It’s like the airlines saying their strategy is to fly. Michael Porter at Harvard defines strategy as, “an integrated set of actions that a company designs to produce a sustainable competitive advantage and thus attain superior performance.” It may be simple, but it is almost always several pages outlining what the group is responsible for accomplishing and how they are going to do it. A strategy should contain three major elements: a look at the future (anticipation), a look at today (awareness), and a focus on what should be done (action). The act of looking ahead and predicting trends may be very useful in determining directions and structures. For example, if you predict that the economy will get stronger in the next few months, you may decide that hiring a few people into a central group to start doing sourcing makes a lot of sense. It is also critical to know how you are doing today and make changes to direction and structure, as needed, based on current feedback. Rule #2: Match the structure to the strategy. Structure should always reflect the strategy. For example, a recruiting function that is focused on hiring lots of call center staff and administrative support people might decide to centralize a small core group and outsource the bulk of the sourcing and screening to an external vendor or two. The central staff would coordinate the vendors, work to determine internal vacancies and act as the clearinghouse for hiring managers. Because the skills needed are easy to define and communicate, this model has worked well for many clients. On the other hand, if your staffing function is chartered with finding scarce talent ó those whose skills are in high demand and low supply, often from competitors ó a centralized sourcing group separated from the hiring managers might be a poor choice. When skills and talent are scarce, it takes a lot of negotiating and discussion to determine what the right person looks like. Knowing the job and the hiring manager become paramount, and administrative efficiency becomes secondary. Recruiters in these situations are best located at the side of the manager in decentralized or balanced organizational structures. Rule #3: Beautiful org charts are not important. Ultimately, structure is about the customer. I have seen very successful recruiting functions with very messy structures ó complex, varied, and mixed to the point that an organizational chart is almost too complex to read. One division of a firm may have a centralized structure because of the nature of the people they hire, while another may need a different structure. There is no need to have the same structure everywhere. What is most important is that the structure serves the customer’s needs and makes implementing the strategy easy. Some divisions may have strong feeling about how their recruiting is organized, and following their needs is sensible. Recruiters need to build connections between themselves and the hiring managers, learn about the business and changing talent needs, and always have the right people ready to be interviewed. Whatever structure makes this happen is the right structure. Rule #4: Structures should be flexible and changeable. And finally, many people believe that structures are things that should change rarely. I believe that the best structures, like strategies, need to adapt to changing circumstances. Occasionally I find people who are pushing against the tide to maintain an organizational structure that has outlived its functional usefulness. No one should think that a structure is something fixed and rigid. Good structures may include links to vendors and suppliers, to agencies, to free agents. Good structures can be built around ever changing teams or around individuals. Rather than spending days and days designing org charts, take a few hours and spend them discussing what needs to be done that isn’t being done or talking about what would make your group more successful and more appreciated. Time spent on those activities is more likely to build your credibility and success than how well you have defined everyone’s roles and reporting relationships. Stay loose and keep your eye on the customer.

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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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