Being Strategic Requires Two Separate Recruiting Teams

Profile of the Two Teams

Strategic recruiting team: It focuses on the very highest impact jobs, including mission critical jobs, senior execs, revenue producing jobs, jobs with a high consequence of an error, and "high value customer" impact jobs. These jobs require a firm to hire candidates who are in high demand and convincing these individuals to join the firm requires a unique mentality, skill-set, and a totally different candidate experience.

Operational or tactical recruiting team: This team's focus is on the rest of the firm's jobs including most high-volume, back office, shared services, hourly, temps, and the rest of the workforce.

Many Firms Do Have Separate Strategic and Tactical Teams

Nearly every large organization has a strategic and tactical team of some kind.
In football, you have the more strategic team that scores (the offense), and the lesser but still important teams of defense and "special teams." In hotels, the two teams are called the front and the back office, and in restaurants it's front and back-of-the-house teams. In jewelry, high end salespeople are on distinct teams from high-volume cosmetic sales people for a good reason. Real estate teams are also separated into high-end properties and midrange property teams because the customers are quite different and the cost of a lost sale is double or triple with high-end properties.

If you doubt the different impacts of the two different teams, just look at the typical pay structure. Scorers in football and basketball get several times more pay than non- scorers, and any 3rd string player or punter will get 20 times less than the star scorer or QB. It's just a fact that some jobs have more impact and that finding and selling people on these positions requires a unique approach to recruiting that must not be diluted or combined with the approach used to recruit candidates for operational and tactical positions.

Why Doesn't Recruiting Have Distinct Teams?

Well that's easy. Anyone should know that recruiters who can effectively hire 30 accounting clerks wouldn't have the tools, time, or skills to recruit a CFO. That is why external executive search firms don't recruit operational people and mid-level agencies don't recruit top executives. But unfortunately, logic often fails in HR and recruiting and criticism of the status quo is seldom tolerated.

When asked to prioritize jobs that are strategic to the organization for the first time, many recruiting professionals come back with the jobs on the top few rungs of the organization chart. This is a huge mistake. Managers need to be forced to really think about what positions in the organization have the ability to immediately impact a firms time to market or quality of goods or service being offered, because when they are, the list of critical positions looks a lot different. In fact, the focus moves from the top of the organization to positions much lower and throughout the organization. One could almost say that the 80/20 rule is in effect here. Eighty percent of what drives the capability and capacity of a firm to execute its strategy lies in just 20% of its jobs that are scattered among organizational levels.

Exacerbating the problem of making the transition to separate teams, in my experience, is the fact that the majority of HR and recruiting managers have such a strong "social work" mentality that demands that they use a misguided equal-treatment approach, which means that no team or individual can be separated out and designated as superior or strategic. Well, it takes courage to say that something is more important than something else and it is true that the whining that occurs when you do create level 1 and level 2 teams is almost always deafening. I suggest though that you ignore it and instead, do what is right for your customers and the business.

Combining the Two Levels of Recruiting Guarantees Failure

Putting recruiters skilled in filling strategic jobs on the same team as tactical recruiters (or even worse, having a single recruiter do both levels at once) unfortunately results in "high-volume tools" being used for all levels of jobs.

In fact, if you actually track how many recruiters source for say, an accounting clerk and a head loan officer, you will find that they will all too often use the same identical sourcing plan and sources for the two distinctly different job levels. And the consequence of this tendency to shift to the lower-level tools is that the higher impact jobs go under-filled or unfilled. Why? Because you are using "active candidate" tools and recruiters that love them, on individuals in jobs that require high-touch recruiting approaches. Or, using an analogy, it is true that people who make good beer should receive their due importance, but never mix a team of beer brewers with a team of great winemakers, because the resulting brew would embarrass both teams.

You Won't WOW Anybody Recruiting 1,000 Clerks

You have to decide at some point what kind of an impact you want to obtain. Few organizations have enough recruiting talent or budget to do a great job for every open position, so it only makes sense to focus your resources:

  • Where you can have the most business impact
  • Where you get the maximum visibility
  • Where quality and customer service matter more than efficiency and cost cutting

Action Steps for Recruiting Managers Who Want to Dramatically Increase Their Impact and Visibility

Here are some action steps to get you started.

1) Identify mission-critical and high-impact jobs. First talk to the senior managers in your high-growth and high-profit business to verify the fact that some jobs really are mission-critical and have more impact (to reassure yourself that Dr John isn't spieling out a bunch of theory here). Also consider benchmarking with firms that routinely do this. Start with Valero (Dan Hilbert), the worldwide leader in allocating recruiting resources scientifically to reach a measurable and maximum business impact. Other leaders in designating distinct recruiting teams for unique needs include B of A, Microsoft, Google, Quicken, and Booz Allen.

2) Identify the targeted jobs. Next, you need to develop a process for determining which jobs need to be allocated to the strategic recruiting team. I recommend…

  • Looking at the highest paid jobs in all job families.
  • Doing the calculations or just ask the GM which jobs have the biggest negative impact when a new hire fails (Ex. safety, sales, revenue producers, critical patient care).
  • Doing the calculations or just ask the GM which jobs have the highest performance differential. That means those jobs where a top-performing employee produces 3x or more output than an average performer in the same job.
  • Asking which jobs cause them to cuss out loud when someone in it quits.
  • Asking which jobs when unfilled cause the most negative impact to meeting their business goals.
  • Asking which jobs require skills that will be critical to the firm's future.
  • Asking them if there are mission-critical teams or units where every job is mission-critical.
  • Asking them which jobs are currently filled with experienced "baby boomers" who are likely to retire soon.
  • Identifying jobs with high levels of customer interaction with high-profit customers, because these positions, even though they may involve hourly employees, can also have a dramatic impact on revenue.
  • Identifying jobs that in the past have been filled by external executive search. You might have to outperform current executive search agencies to capture these jobs (Which is not that hard to do).

You then need to pick your targeted jobs from this combined list but before finalizing it have the executive team fine-tune and approve your focus. Generally these high impact, revenue-producing and mission-critical jobs usually end up being between 12% and 20% of all of the firm's jobs. Most errors occur when too many positions are included, rather than too few. Also, never forget that these strategic jobs require a different sourcing and recruiting strategy and different rules, budgets and recruiter skills in order to be successfully filled

3) Develop the two-team strategy and a plan. Next identify the tools, rules, metrics, budget, req load and approaches to recruiting that best fit the job level and type of target candidate for this strategic team, i.e.

  • They are currently employed in this or a related job
  • They are currently treated well in their current job
  • A great high-touch candidate experience is required
  • A partially customized job is required
  • They are not actively looking for a new job

Also assume that, with the impending baby-boom retirement wave, that replacing these individuals with other experienced and capable managers will be a primary goal of your strategic team. Don't forget that this team must be trained and given bonuses for quality customer service, hiring by the "need date," and for hiring top-performing hires.

4) Select team members. Identify who on your current team has the attitude, knowledge, experience as well as sourcing, customer-service, and closing skills to be successful in the lower volume but higher complexity job. Avoid the temptation at all costs to fill the slots on this team with "resume processors," wimps; job-board lovers; or people who want to be generalists (trust me on this one). Instead, look exclusively for ex-headhunters, salespeople, marketing pros, people with P&L experience, and people with the attitude of a warrior (it is a war for talent after all).

5) Assemble the tactical team. The next step is to assign the remaining recruiters to the tactical team. Their skill-set, rules, budget, metrics, and req loads should be geared to high-volume, low-touch, and fast but efficient hiring in the remaining important but not strategic jobs. Team members and approaches need to be geared toward efficiency, high hiring volumes but with on-time hiring. You might also consider outsourcing some or all of these important but high-volume jobs that require efficiency and cost containment, especially if your talent management leadership doesn't have the bandwidth to manage two distinct teams of recruiters (Never consider outsourcing the strategic team's work which gives you high visibility, as well as a high impact, and most important, a competitive advantage). You might designate sub-teams within this tactical group, such as like college, hourly, or temps.

6) Do a test or pilot. It's critical that the strategic team refine its approach before it goes prime time. I recommend a pilot in one business unit to show others your increased capabilities and to refine your approach. Also, pick a manager who will agree to be your champion if/when you kick butt. Having them take ownership and credit for the approach means they will brag more about it to other managers, thus creating increased demand for it from other managers. When the pilot is over, try to get your new approach approved by the executive team for "rollout" throughout the firm.

7) Demonstrate your increased business impact. Work with cost accounting, risk assessment, the CFO's office, and the GMs to convert your outputs (quality of hire and fewer vacancy days) into dollars, and to show the increased performance from both of the teams, now that both of their focuses has been narrowed.

Common Problems in Making the Transition

Moving from aiming at the bottom of the organization chart to focusing on the top and the bottom simultaneously is not without its problems. Some of them include:

  • Wanting to be strategic is "all hat and no cattle" talk, with no follow-through
  • Many managers fail to realize, as Jim Collins states that "Good is the enemy of great" and combined teams can only be good
  • Managers in recruiting won't have the cajonies to divide their current "all-equal" team
  • Managers in recruiting won't have the courage to pay more by bonusing the strategic team
  • Managers in recruiting lack the skill to calculate and then brag about the increased ROI and business impact, as a result of the separation and increased focus
  • The VP of HR will have "social work" leanings and will veto any attempt to divide any team within HR
  • Recruiting management will not allocate the budget and the number of recruiters to lower the req load of the strategic team to the point where high-touch recruiting can actually take place

Final Thoughts

In my past I have been a manager, a CEO, and a Chief Talent Officer. In those capacities I found that differentiation was a critical success factor in every aspect of business. I quickly learned that if you treated all customers, suppliers, jobs, or products the same, you will fail. It's just a fact that some products have higher margins, some customers produce more profit and some jobs are critical while most are just important.

Prioritizing might not seem like a major business initiative to some but not to CEOs. Airline CEOs know that flight attendants are important, but pilots are critical. Oil refinery managers know that truck loaders are important but welders and safety managers are critical. Football coaches know that kickers are important but coaches still focus 75% of their recruiting effort on the skilled mission-critical positions of quarterback, running back, top receiver, and dominant pass rusher. Coaches also realize that recruiting demanding receivers like T.O. and high in demand QB's like Peyton Manning requires special recruiting approaches and focused recruiters. Putting a recruiter that specializes in punters on the same recruiting team with quarterback recruiters would cause both to lose focus and effectiveness.

Do you want to build your career in recruiting using your advance skills based primarily on hiring "clerks" or instead on hiring high-impact players in key positions, where the visibility and payback are several times higher? The fact is that when the job and the candidate are totally different, nothing but a separate recruiting team can or has ever produced results worthy of appearing in any firm's annual report. By the way… on what page is your recruiting function mentioned in your annual report?

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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