The RPO – Rapidly Proving Obsolete or Reassessing Possible Opportunities ?

Over the last couple of years I have been immersed in the world of what used to be called recruitment but is increasingly a subset of the vitally important talent agenda. There are many players and a whole raft of interlinking variables so diverse that would make that great rock n roll HR poet himself, Ronan Keating, nod sagely at his once wise counsel :

“Life is a rollercoaster, and you’ve just gotta ride it”

Ride it I did, and I now wanna write about it as there are lessons to be learnt, challenges to be made and pitfalls to avoid if you want to make a success of the latest of these recruitment players I want to focus on – the RPO (cue thunder and lightning).

You want a nip back and peruse the Executive Search lesson then you’ll find it through here.

You see the RPO is the militant wing of the recruitment industry. It is typically led by charismatic people who need to sell dreams and visions to BigCo and SMECo alike and need to keep on board armies of impressionable recruiting youngsters (who’ve typically fallen into recruitment, then fallen out of the agency firms, to fall into an RPO with a strong desire to fall in-house at some point). Probably the clumsiest professional class of people I know :)Ultimately they turned into splitters and with a large possible market reaching trillions in revenue they proliferated and maintain a slightly uneasy truce between themselves. Today there is evidence that the market is beginning to consolidate again and partnerships will continue as the promised next audacious goal is global RPO (cue even louder thunder).

Anyway, way back in the noughties, with promises of efficiency and scale commercialised into contracts and signed by desperate HRDs and Procrement functions keen to show their respective bosses that commerciality was their middle name. For years in BigCo the whole thing hung together uneasily at best. Granted savings were made, job requisition transaction were the only measurable in town, functions breathed invariably ok at recruitments seasonal time and we all knew that replacing the incumbent was a long drawn out process. ‘Recruitment collusion’ between an apathetic client and an overly ambituously stretched RPO was the order of the day. The client had a ‘hands off’ partner in its midst to blame for service and a lack of intimacy with the hiring manager community, whilst the RPO could blame a lack of trust in giving them access to hiring managers for their limitations to push an agenda.

Then in the midst of this uneasy truce, the arse fell out of the market (thunder optional at this point).

The Financial crisis and the subsequent global downturn threw the old model upside down. HR functions went into lockdown and focussed largely on contracting, mass redundancies and the seductive powers of offshoring in foreign sounding outlets where once the norm was that the RPO hired that software developer from his home counties location. Volumes went down, transaction fees subsequently reduced markedly, RPO revenues dried up, flexible recruiter benches (if they ever really existed) vanished into thin air and investment was never a consideration, at the time when BigCO needed it most.

Because as we all know at the same time as this, swaggering into town like a Greek demigod with salon-ready hair, came the new and improved Talent Agenda with its focus on growing internal pipelines rather than buying externally, engaging communities of best in class talent with business critical skills and a bag full of technology goodies that could enable an organisation to rapidly evolve its agenda overnight.

The old RPO world stood with its arse out of its trousers and buying organisations had choices to make, if it wished to both accept and then shake up its world of recruitment collusion. I believe, to a greater or lesser extent, we are still in that phase of play and watching recruitment capabilites realign has been fascinating. I would summarise them as follows as you choose your RPO partnership wisely:

1. The impact of technology and the re-emergence of social is changing the face of recruitment forever. For example, I am pleased to see candidate experience back on the agenda after years of endless black holes from ill-fitting Applicant Tracking Systems. Does the RPO have a track record in knowing this evolving technology-inspired recruitment market ? Does it have a Centre of Expertise back at HQ worth the name to bring proactive insight and solutions in terms of technology and fulfilment to change your game or is it stuck in the groove of building operational machines and vanilla answers to everything ?

2. The quality of your Account team is a deal breaker. The market is patchy. There are some good and bad teams in play but believe me, the bad ones will destroy value so don’t underestimate the importance of meeting, greeting and if necessary referencing your account team. The due diligence can save your life. Once the sharp suited wise guys of the bid team disappear, this is all your left with and their reach, credibility and stakeholder skills into your and their organisations are the key dimensions.

3. The Global RPO doesn’t exist yet. It might be 3-5 years from being in play and by that I mean with a level of quality that is optimal in every operating region and which gives effective global leverage. Until such times there is a requirement and effort by buying organisations to establish an operating model that can be applied by the best in class RPO per region. This would entail for me a consistent technology roadmap, a consistent set of recruitment metrics across the organisation, a consistent process and a consistent RPO commercial structure that is creative (e.g it consists of Service Level Agreements, a proportion of key transaction fees and a management fee to help ultimately provide for an investment appetite where your own organisation falls short). Be creative, use the opportunity to delve into your own recruitment / talent culture and system and keep your RPO relationsip constantly updated to evolve with the wider talent agenda.

So much could be written about the fascinating agenda around the future of RPOs in the wider Talent Acquisition agenda and one blog couldn’t do it justice. Efficiency and cost, whilst important, are mere level playing fields nowadays and differentiators out there as mentioned above for both existing clients and growing SMEs hitting key critical mass are where its at.

As for the RPOs, those hanging onto a pure transactional play will become obsolete. Those adding to a top class operational heritage with true expertise, insight and a talent solutions focus will grasp the opportunity in front of them. Don’t get the buying decision wrong as the price for failure is now too high.

You want to learn more about this subject then please do feel free to get in touch and I’d be happy to share my thoughts, insights and experiences in further detail.

Until next time over to you Ronan, you wise old HR sage….


3 thoughts on “The RPO – Rapidly Proving Obsolete or Reassessing Possible Opportunities ?

  1. It is truly a nice and helpful piece of info. I am happy that you shared this helpful info with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

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