Friday, August 14, 2009

Best-Practice consistency

In my twenty-five years of recruiting, I have experienced a few economic downturns and a few incredible times of economic boom. What never ceases to amaze me is how wide a variance a company will have in their recruiting practices to try and leverage market conditions that are subject to the economy.

The idea is to establish a set of practices that will yield good hires and increase probabilities of success. These practices should be well thought-out, include strategies for every part of the placement cycle (pre-recruiting through start date), and become a corporate standard that is predictable and proven to deliver good results.

In short, here is what many companies do during times of feast and famine:

  • Feast: When the economy is doing well, candidates are scarce. Companies often short-circuit their proven best-practice standards and equivocate on the quality of candidate they are willing to hire. To be competitive, they often find themselves in an upward compensation spiral, trying to "buy" better prospects. The goal becomes filling openings as quickly as possible before they lose their candidate. Any "body" will do. The result? Lots of over-paid hires who bring marginal competency to the table and ultimately high turnover.

  • Famine: During lean times, candidates are plentiful. Companies begin to cut proven recruiting practices supposing (often wrongly) that candidate volume will yield more legitimate choices. It's a "smorgasbord" mentality. At the same time, they tighten their profile to the point that the person they are now looking for literally doesn't exist. The smorgasbord doesn't offer a "10lb prime-cut of beef that has the nutritional benefits of fish, the leanness of chicken and the dietary value of veggies – all for $3.99) The objective becomes making sure they get an A++ player instead of hiring proven performers with the right "stuff" – as defined in their best-practice standards. The result? Positions are open for long periods of time and productivity suffers.

To be sure, some variance in practice during market swings is wise. But best-practices establish an objective set of standards that will yield good results in any economy.

  • Are candidates plentiful? (Lagging economy) Then don't cut recruiting costs. Your recruiters will need to be diligent to screen the sea of people available to them and identify the keepers. Don't cut external recruiting fees. Good headhunters have access to the best people in your industry – both the employed and unemployed. Your time-to-hire will be reduced dramatically in a market that is bogged-down with resume clutter.
  • Are candidates scarce? (Strong economy) Then maintain the integrity of your compensation plan. Tell recruiters to find people that have career goals that align with your company's direction. Emphasize the aggregate of your opportunity and don't allow mercenary candidates to sway you. In my experience, they are never worth what you pay them and they will leave for the next high bidder.

Smart companies establish standards and processes that are objective and work. They determine how long an average cycle should take, what the proper steps in the process are, and who has ownership over each task. They hold their leadership team accountable to these standards. These practices are then reviewed at least twice a year to gauge results and make appropriate adjustments. These companies are shamelessly committed to their process and trust it regardless of market swings. The clients I serve who understand this also have the highest consistency in successful hires, time-to-hire rates, and employee longevity.

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