The recruitment supply chain of fools

blameIt looks like I can add the subject of recruitment alongside that of politics and religion to those areas you just shouldn’t talk about. It’s seemingly taboo, especially when you go anywhere near one of the 5,000 high street recruitment agencies that roam the country at this time. They’ve heard it all before and don’t you know they are doing just fine, the good guys at REC told them recently and the economy’s on the upturn. It’s somebody else’s fault.

Just before that audience told me to eff off, the point I want to make is that the entire supply chain in recruitment is a busted flush and until such times that this reframes itself accordingly then we will have an eternal conflict. One man’s revenue is another man’s cost saving and all that, and to hell with quality. A constructive and appreciative debate would be a good start for all concerned but positions are so hardened comfort is found within groupthink of the respective camps.

I wrote this blog to try to raise the level of debate up by painting an end to end supply chain picture that would make even the most hardened headhunter weep. If insanity is making the same mistake over and over again then step forward our broken supply chain and jump right in at the point you feel comfortable with recruiter.

In the beginning the company created a vacancy. Let the hiring no-pants dance begin :

Planning stage – The future dictates a rise in analytics and a strategic workforce plan of talent perfectly in synch with business strategy. He’s called recruitment big data but today he’s so grubby and useless you are frightened to let him out. Today and in the recent past the process resembles wacky races so over to you HR, line manager and if lucky the internal recruiter. Fred has resigned, start the gun and get me a warm body before his handover notes get cold. Distressed hiring is in full swing.

Attraction – Despite advances in the digital space, there’s still a spec that needs rewritten. There’s a drawer of templates all looking like the instructions for plumbing your hot water system, in dutch, as you never rely on a copywriter and the 70 seconds with the hiring manager hasn’t given you much to go with. There may even be an associated competency model with undifferentiated phrases like “enjoys uncertainty” that are ticked with a cross because they’ve always been ticked since they came in 9 years ago.

Sourcing – Welcome to transactional spaghetti junction. The ATS (if we have one) is unwieldy and we’ve stopped using it for valuable search purposes when the business didn’t ask for reports and we bastardised it so much. If we have an old-fashioned HR policy that felt eternally paternal we’ll stick a job on the internal postings, although we secretly know it’s lip service and we’ll do that external thing anyway. In parallel of course, and covertly. In our attraction strategy we’ll bizarrely labour on the fact that we are an open and honest culture.

If you work in a big Company the voice in your head keeps saying “stay away from the high street agency firms on the PSL”. The emboldened internal team will own this vacancy for the first few weeks and of course will use LinkedIn to publicise the role and will scream out on-line that NO AGENCIES ARE WELCOME. The agency will not take no for an answer and will send it’s obligatory ‘if you aren’t successful maybe we can help’ note. Like cheetahs watching the gazelles from a distance, they are getting ready to pounce for that req.

Unsurprisingly hiring manager hates the CVs from the internal recruitment team as he invested little time in the process, hasn’t made his mind up and keeps fighting with his finance controller on replacement budget. Not so secretly when surveying the CVs he notes that either nobody looks like him or happens to be an attractive woman, because he’s short on them in the team. Failure internally breeds more nervousness. The word goes up, bring out the PSL. AGENCIES ARE NOW WELCOME. A begrudging briefing is held by the young recruiter and second-hand views on the candidate spec are given out to a multitude of suppliers, each one hitting the candidate database for the same active candidates who has been doing the rounds inside their comfy offices for the previous three months. 48 hour turnaround. The whiff of desperation is strong as the notice period draws in and expectations are lowered. The young recruiter may be part of an RPO therefore he guards the entrance of the process as the agency cannot be trusted to go direct to the line manager. It’s his job, they’ve worked hard on reducing those rates to a pittance and this is his way of exerting some power in the relationship as he strides above the external agency worlds but sits well below the ultimate organisational decision maker.

CVs are mortar bombed and the bar is dropped. Some agencies drop away as they recognise this is not a fee earner and can’t be arsed after a while taking it seriously. A small, select band of folk – known as the best of the bunch – are now ready for assessment.

Assessment – My good friend Mitch Sullivan has a view that recruitment is broken because nobody likes doing it. All our efforts are about pushing against this natural urge to resist the activity. Despite predictive assessment advances, our selection processes are still rife with unconscious bias and are inconsistent in organisations where it is an activity rather than a role. One happy candidate is fussed and pampered and little feedback is available for the 2 rejected. All along the process (loosely termed) is too often a power relationship that pits the line manager against the relatively junior recruiter (hired for cost : revenue reasons). Feedback is outsourced so far away from the decision maker that it leaves the candidate feeling like they would never touch the brand again.

Well of course this is a grotesque parody of things that never happen to this agency / internal recruitment team / RPO / Headhunter / technology vendor (delete as appropriate). But this complex nonsense, built through a historical focus on controlling hiring as a cost play, has to stop and that’s even before you factor in the vast choice of technology arriving, the generational expectations and the increasingly tough job it will take to source, attract and retain the best talent in our new global economy. Today we are ill-prepared for this challenge on a broad scale, with exceptions not being the norm.

So all you constituent parts of the unholy mess of recruitment, step back, reflect on which chapter you feature highly and detach yourself for blaming some other schmuck. The supply chain from end to end in so many of our organisations is broken, accept that premise and understand why businesses need a different type of leadership to cut through the crap, create clarity and get back to focusing on what recruitment teams have been put on this planet for – having salon-ready hair and hiring amazing talent !

Until next time, we all need to talk about this.


One thought on “The recruitment supply chain of fools

  1. Another excellent blog and painfully true. Those in the recruitment world need to “sharpen their pencils” but recognition of poor process from the hiring company/client side is also a critical element of success. And love the bit about job specs/dutch plumbing instructions…!

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