Steps In Becoming A Business Partner Recruiter

There are literally thousands of articles written in HR about the need to become a “business partner.” What is unique is that there is not a single article on what specific things a recruiter must do in order to become a business partner. This article walks you through the 14 steps on how to become a recruiter/business partner. (Note: the 14 steps also apply to most other HR people who want to become business partners, even though the examples given here relate to recruiting.) As a start, realize that there are three types of recruiters in the world.

  1. The “Warrior”: A headhunter “type” that does only recruiting and is happy to do just that. They have a passion for finding and “getting their “man/woman.” These are aggressive types that hate paperwork and refrain from doing most “HR work”. See my earlier article “Becoming a “Warrior recruiter” for more details
  2. The Business Partner Recruiter: This is a mixed type who, although they do recruiting, might also develop and/or manage large scale recruiting programs. They may also be HR generalists that also recruit as part of their job. (This type is outlined in this article.)
  3. The Administrative/Bambi Recruiter: These bottom feeders spend most of their time working on “requisitions, approvals, headcount, and going to meetings.” Many corporate recruiters fall into this category. I will describe these “non-recruiter-recruiters” in more detail in an upcoming article.

What is a business partner recruiter? A Business Partner recruiter is a combination of pure recruiter and one that acts like an HR business partner when they develop or manager recruiting programs as part of their dual role. A recruiter business partner must be able to manage programs and sell them to managers. Recruiting is not always the most prestigious area of HR. Generally most HR people spend very little of their career as a recruiter. Once they learn recruiting, a majority either don’t like it or they see it as a stepping stone toward some other area of HR that they perceive as being more glamorous, i.e. being an HR generalist. Becoming a recruiter business partner is an excellent first step (both in a way of thinking and in it’s skill set) for those that hope to soon move out of recruiting and into the ranks of other HR jobs. Go to the next step?become a business leader. I generally use and prefer the term “business leader” to that of the more commonly used “business partner” because the word “partner” can infer a striving for equality, whereas the term business leader sets an expectation of getting there first and becoming the “superior” soldier in the war for talent. Individual business leader/ recruiters that expect to survive in a changing world of HR must have a new set of skills and a laser focus of making a bottom line contribution to the business. In a business environment that demands agility, speed and results the following are the areas in which true business leader/recruiter must excel. The 14 Skill And Focus Areas For Recruiter Business “Leaders” Although all 14 steps are important, if you can’t do them all, then practice them in the order they are listed (the most important ones are listed first)

  1. Make sure you prove a business impact –There are many HR functions, programs, and jobs that don’t directly impact the business. There are many that do have a business impact that HR fails to calculate, so managers don’t give them the respect they deserve. Programs that don’t impact sales, product development, and profit need to be eliminated, and those they do need to demonstrate their impact!
  • Action Item: Business impact is defined by changing: sales, customer satisfaction, product development, people productivity & profit margins. First you must assess what HR tools and programs have the most impact on the business. Next concentrate your activities (time and resources) around those activities that you can prove make a difference to the bottom line. Last prove that impact to managers so they also give high priority to those high impact activities.
  • Example: Spend your recruiting dollars on employee referral programs, because employees hired under it produce 12% more output and have a 25% higher retention rate. High performing hires also have 30% more ideas and profits go up in direct proportion to the % of top performers in a group.
  1. Be a metrics (measurement) expert – Merely having “programs” can be deceptive if you don’t quantify the measurable business impact. Some HR processes can be a “time sink” and managers are often cynical about their value. Focus on results, not effort. Results must be demonstrated (quantified) in numbers and dollars.
  • Action Item: Learn to shift from selling your ideas with just your “opinions” toward proving what you do actually works. Measure HR program results with metrics, dollars, and numbers. Learn to “isolate” new tools and practices when you introduce them so that you can demonstrate their effectiveness. Always have a “feedback loop” to make sure that what you “felt” would work actually did work after it was implemented. Be able to show (rank) which programs and tools work best by measuring quality, speed, cost, customer satisfaction and volume in each HR activity.
  • Example: Measure the effectiveness of increasing on the job learning/challenge (compared to other retention tools) by measuring its impact on top and bottom performer turnover. First measure its speed in changing turnover (time to have an impact), Next survey managers and employees to find their satisfaction with the tool and finally see if it’s return (ROI), as measured by the dollars saved by reducing top performer turnover) exceeds that of other retention programs (i.e. stay on bonuses).
  1. Prioritize what you do –You can’t do it all well, so you need to determine which activities you should spend your limited time and resources on.
  • Action Item: Prioritize your managers, divisions, and the HR/business problems that you will address. Budget time, learning, and money on the highest priority areas and delegate, drop, or outsource the low priority items. Prioritize managers and respond rapidly to the high priority ones. Survey senior managers to see what they want more of/less of.
  • Example: Recruiting “temps” is a low-return activity. Outsource it to a vendor and include a service-level agreement and a performance incentive clause to insure top performance.
  1. Learn fast – Knowledge and “what tools actually work” change rapidly in a fast moving world. If you are to succeed you need to learn rapidly from the successes/failures of others.
  • Action Item: Use the Web to access information fast (and it’s also cheap). Join list-servers and chat rooms to learn and get answers rapidly. Read about business and industry trends, new HR tools, and strategies. Benchmark continually so you know what is “best in class.” Be an expert in business and HR, so that managers will trust and believe in you. Develop a small personal “learning” network of business and HR professionals so you can test your ideas and share “what works” solutions rapidly.
  • Example: Join the electronic recruiting exchange and HRNet listservers (online discussion groups). Post questions to get fast answers. Occasionally post an idea to pre-test it before you show it to your managers.
  1. Customer Service – You must have a positive business impact but you must do it with a high level of customer satisfaction. Managers (and applicants) must see us as responsive and offering services that meet their needs.
  • Action Item: Individuals, programs, and departments must continually assess both the needs and the satisfaction of their customers (i.e. usually senior management). Point of service cards, periodic interviews, quarterly surveys, and forced rankings need to be done to ensure you are doing the “hard things first” and with a high level of customer service (including responsiveness, accurate, offering the right mix of services & cost effective).
  • Example:Interviewees and new hires are given an anonymous comment/satisfaction card, which is analyzed by an outside vendor. Results are reported to you and to management.
  1. Pay at risk –Because we operate in a business environment that is full of risks, internally we (individuals and HR programs) must also strive to tie results and rewards together. HR results improve dramatically when rewards are added to performance expectations.
  • Action Item: Effective individuals learn to make measurable (costs, time and quality) promises to their customers about their results. Develop service-level agreements (setting minimum standards of performance) with your customers and tie your pay and resource allocation to the results. Demonstrate that you are on the same team as the managers/employees and as a result you are willing to share both the risks and the rewards with those on the line.
  • Example: Develop a service-level agreement with the head of your top priority division to respond to referrals within 24 hours and have qualified ones in for an interview within a week. Include the results as 25% of your bonus formula (or include a $25 bonus for each qualified referral that is interviewed within a week).
  1. Forecasting – In a fast changing world it is no longer sufficient to react to events. Most “crises” are a result of failing to anticipate! Business partners need to learn from the past, gather data on trends and accurately “warn” managers about upcoming possibilities.
  • Action Item: Provide periodic quantifiable forecasts (with dates) to managers so that they can prevent or mitigate problems. Measure the accuracy of your forecasts and continually improve. Anticipate our competitor’s actions (in people programs) so that we can always stay ahead of them.
  • Example: Forecast the labor shortage/competition in key jobs and regions. Suggest to managers when hiring should be curtailed and where internal retention rates should decrease.
  1. Speed and Technology – In a world where the speed of change increases literally every day. Individuals must learn to do everything faster while maintaining the same level of quality. This invariably means the use of technology in everything you do.
  • Action Item: Become an expert at speeding up decisions and processes. This means eliminating excessive meetings, cutting approvals, processes and allowing managers to make decisions closer to the “customer.” It also means measuring response time and continually improving process speed. Using the Internet and your firm’s Intranet become common answers to most “fast” HR solutions.
  • Example: Institute a “same day offer” program for key jobs. Set high experience and skill levels but cut approval and requirements for an open req. Set up a one stop Intranet web page to guide managers on how to make one day offers. Allow key managers to make “on the spot offers” when they are satisfied that the recruit exceeds your requirements.
  1. ROI – In a time of tight budgets and cutbacks it is essential that you assess the return you get for every dollar you spend. That means every year practicing the “bookends” approach, i.e. dropping some __% of what you do and replacing it with activities that provide better results per dollar spent.
  • Action Item: Measure the dollar return of each of the programs and the tools you use. Be able to demonstrate (so a CFO would buy it) that you continually shift resources from areas with a low return to areas that generate a higher return. Learn to leverage the resources of others (Ex. marketing, PR, IT & business units) so that you can do more with limited HR resources.
  • Example: Stop going to job fairs when the unemployment rate is below 5%. Instead use trade fairs, which have a 50% higher ROI in low unemployment times.
  1. Kill the ?HR Cop? routine – HR must stop threatening managers. Using the “HR cop” routine, (it’s illegal, you’ll get sued, we have a policy that says you can’t do that etc.) to scare managers makes managers hate you. Instead, stop saying “no” and become more of a friendly advisor.
  • Action Item: Become a consultant in the “financial advisor mold”. Give advice, add to it probable consequences, probabilities, and liabilities but let the managers make the decisions. If they want to take calculated risks let them and later follow up with the metrics demonstrating how good/ bad their decision was. Use business impacts as your persuasion tool of choice.
  • Example: A manager wants to give a hiring preference to people with military backgrounds. Show them that other managers that have used that preference have reduced the talent pool and that the average tenure and productivity of military hires is the same as regular hires. Mention that because women are our primary customers, preference hiring from the military (which have a low % of women) might result in products designed from a primarily male perspective (thus losing sales).
  1. Competitive Analysis –If your goal is to make HR a competitive advantage for your firm, then you must know the results of the competitor’s people practice. Then you must continually do competitive intelligence and revise our HR practices to insure that we are doing HR that is superior (in results) to what they are doing.
  • Action Item: Gather information on the competitors HR results (performance of new hires, retention rates, output per employee etc. Identify where your results are behind theirs. Develop a competitive advantage plan to ensure that the results of our people programs are continually improving faster than the competitors in all key areas.
  • Example: The competitors newly hired salespeople reach their sales quota in 6 weeks. Ours take 2 months to reach it. Benchmark best in class practices and implement a new hire on-boarding package that continually identifies and eliminates performance “roadblocks” until they reach their quota in just 4 weeks.
  1. Kill the transactions –Individuals must realize that, although they must do transactions well, these are “administration,” and as a result have a low business impact. HR leaders must minimize time spent on transactions and put most of their focus on providing consulting advice to managers that increases hiring, retention, and productivity.
  • Action Item: Learn technology and how it can ease the transactions burden. Learn which transactions can be better handled through employee intranet self service, outsourcing or even elimination.
  • Example: Hire an ASP vendor to manage your resumes and applicant tracking system. Shift your efforts toward programs which attract higher quality applicants and that better sell the candidates on the job
  1. Focus on increasing productivity and stop doing lower value HR –Administrative work needs to be minimized if you are to make a large business impact. At the same time you must realize that increasing the productivity of our people is the main value of HR. That means hiring better performing people, retaining the top performers and increasing the output of our employees through training, incentives and better policies.
  • Action Item: Reduce approvals, meetings, transactions, lengthy reports, consensus decision-making and other behaviors that are likely to add little value. Focus on the basics… attracting and retaining top talent and on increasing the productivity of our employees.
  • Example: Increase the quality (performance-level) of our new hires by tracking which sources (ads, referrals etc.) and selection criteria (grades, experience etc.) provide hires that rank among our best performers in their first year.
  1. Learn how to market and sell –Most HR people expect managers to automatically “do the right thing” and to put people first. A better approach is to gradually “sell” them (using marketing, branding and sales tools) on the importance of doing HR correctly.
  • Action Item: Don’t “push” HR programs on busy managers. A superior approach is to sell them on the programs benefits. Sell managers on how easy it is to do and how it will directly benefit them (in productivity) to have and use the right HR tools. Learn (through market research) what are the problems that manager’s face and what does it take to get them to “demand” good HR programs.
  • Example: Survey managers as to what they dislike about the hiring process. Eliminate the “frustrators” and demonstrate to managers the dollar/ business impact (on the quality of the hire) by doing it “your” way.

Conclusion If you are to be successful in HR, you need to become a “business leader.” It requires a new set of skills and focus but the results are worth the effort. Recruiters that design and run recruiting programs need to think more like business people. The road is hard but the steps to take are clear. HR and recruiting are both changing dramatically as a result of new expectations in the business world Successful HR professionals must lead business and HR change… and do it at Internet speed! Those that fail are expendable… it’s just that simple!

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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