The importance of project objectives – a lesson learned the hard way!
I have worked with a number of organisations each of which has implemented a partnership with one recruitment agency (in one case they partnered with two). The partnership enabled the organisations to make use of the skills and experience of the recruitment experts, for less money than they had been spending on just getting a bundle of CV’s from several agencies. In return the agency in each case was able to charge lower fees, because they were getting guaranteed work.
At the beginning, the relationships were structured with agreements and SLA’s, but in most cases these became unnecessary as the partners got to know each other and realised that they needed to work together and respect each other for the benefits to continue. The recruitment consultants effectively became an extension of the HR team in each case, so they would know the future workforce plans, they would provide support whenever there were redundancies and they built pools of potential employees for when recruitment would be needed. The consultants spent a lot of time in the organisations and got to know the culture; they trained new managers in interviewing skills and coached managers through the selection process.
I have found that, if you select the right recruitment agencies, they are pretty good at getting to know the candidates and keeping in touch with them before and after placing them in roles. This means that they get good feedback from candidates on what it is like to be a new starter in the company (and in some cases they provide feedback on an ongoing basis). This lets you find out about general problems with communication or poor management so that they can put it right; when feedback is good, the recruitment agencies can publicise the good feedback or encourage their contacts to go on Glassdoor etc. to give the positive feedback, which helps improve the employer brand.
Until recently, the organisations I have worked with on this kind of project have easily understood the nature of the relationship and have been keen to work with the agency to see what benefits they can jointly get. There have been a few teething problems in some cases, where recruiting manager had previously had favourite recruiters who they could no longer use or where recruitment consultants have not communicated well or not quickly understood the roles or culture – but in all cases these were ironed out fairly quickly by the seniors in both companies being very clear about how the relationship is to work and what each partner’s responsibilities were.
In all of these cases, the employers were very happy to recruit good people at a slightly lower cost and, in the longer run they also had lower turnover and therefore even lower recruitment costs.
In Company S, a company I walked away from, my experience was very different and I believe that if we had agreed and made public the objectives of the project, things would have gone far better. (I had agreed the approach with the CEO and worked with some of the Directors on the whole process, but we did not agree up front what success would look like).
Before we started, they had been using numerous agencies and paying standard rates with each – just for being sent CV’s, so the agencies were doing very little work for their 20-30% fees. The data showed that the turnover rate was more than 50% and they had been losing new recruits remarkably quickly – at the end of 2018, fewer than 40% of their 2017 recruits were still employed. It appeared that they were recruiting the wrong people and/or they were not onboarding them well enough.
There were poor reviews on Glassdoor about Company S as an employer, but the CEO had chosen to believe those were not representative (although that did not seem to be based on any evidence). My plan was to improve this by working closely with the agency, using them to get feedback on the candidate and new joiner experience and also to make sure candidates knew what our workplace was like and that we recruited people whom that environment would be likely to suit.
However, these aims were not really discussed or shared with the managers. The CEO had cancelled the project launch, so it started quietly and without the aims being communicated.
Early Project Results
In my view, the project had started well, especially given that the launch never happened. After 6 months:
- All vacancies had been filled – some very quickly and none taking an excessive length of time.
- Company S had saved around £80,000, which was half of their recruitment budget for the year. Even if there had been no other benefits, this should have qualified as a good result!
- None of the new recruits had left (it was only 6 months in, but prior to this project the experience was that new recruits did leave that quickly).
- Most managers were just getting on with it.
Three or four recruiting managers were not happy because they had been stopped from going to all their old favourite agencies to get a large pile of CV’s.
The problem seemed to be that these managers couldn’t get to grips with the idea that they wouldn’t be doing the sifting themselves. In the old days they might have seen 20 CV’s, so then they would be satisfied that the person they selected as the best of 20 would clearly be able to do the job.
Now they might get only 2 CV’s, both of people who met the standard they had told the agency they wanted. However, now they had nothing to judge against, so they didn’t know if they were the best 2 of 40 or the only 2 who had applied, and they didn’t know what to do with that!
These managers did not appear to be able to judge candidates against a standard, only against each other – so some training was clearly needed.
Because the objectives had not been spelled out and progress against them was not being shared in detail, the CEO and senior director were able to ignore all the good progress and they purely listened to the complaints of three or four managers. Without looking at any data, the CEO decided to abandon the whole project!
After months of work, they have gone back to their old way of working – and still don’t seem to realise that the old method wasn’t working:
- Whenever they went to agencies they would say the vacancy needed filling urgently (I never saw a non-urgent one in the year and a half I worked with them). They would be sent 20 CV’s, mainly of people who were not working, so were immediately available. The manager would then choose the best of those – and then wonder later why they didn’t stay or didn’t turn out to be very good.
My Personal Lessons Learned
- Always agree project objectives up front and publicise them widely, then publicly report progress against those objectives.
- Don’t assume that something as good as saving at least £1500 per recruit, whilst also getting better employees who should stay longer, is a ‘no brainer’ – there could be other things going on.
- Remember that once people have dug in their heels, winning the argument may be more important to them than doing what is best for the company.
And if I’m feeling a bit negative…
- Don’t assume that just because I have kept the CEO informed and he has said he is happy with what I am doing, that he will remember that when someone else has a different view.
- Don’t assume that Directors will be honest or ethical. Just because someone has been in every project meeting and has had an input to every stage, doesn’t mean he won’t deny all knowledge when it suits him later – even if it means a Commercial Director saying he hadn’t understood the contract!!
- Remember that when the CEO says he wants you to challenge the Directors and make sure they ‘do the right thing’, in many cases, he doesn’t really mean it.