Don’t pay the middleman

agencyvsclientPICDon’t even fix a price” said the lesser known Talent scholar and Irish landed gentry dwarf Dr Chris De Burgh, who summed up the sentiment of HR people at the time who thought that the rise of the internal recruitment function was the key to destroying the dastardly agency recruitment industry. The typical persona of Essex wide boy ‘Luke’ from Pucker Mucker recruitment agency in Basildon,  was perceived, unscientifically but not without some due cause, to be a boil on our recruitment arse cheek that needed lanced.

So as the HR tribe splintered into the inevitable breakaway factions in a manner that would make the People’s Front of Judea blush, the internal resourcing function was born and tasked immediately with replacing the agency middleman with their own in-house version and ‘cost per hire’ was the battleground.

As time went by the HR function found that the promised land of agency eradication was not reached with this big idea. New fronts were opened, with the help of internal finance and procurement troops, introducing a series of three letter weapons such as the PSL, RPO and MSP to ensure that the interface between talent supply and demand was carefully governed by ‘market forces’. In other words, screwing the margin down as much as possible to demonstrate that the power relationship with any potential agency middleman was being governed by the organization. Short-term economics seemed to trump any commonsense as HR searched for collateral to be ‘at the table’ and internal Heads of Recruitment spent too much wasted effort managing the internal dynamics of this race to the bottom.

Rise of the Resourcing function, impact of HR outsourcing and the over reliance on cost containment as a business strategy. I haven’t even touched upon the non-stop rise of technology as part of the armoury for sorting out the agency middleman in the last generation. I’ve written before about the dangers of over-reliance of Technology in the current recruitment strategy mix but TAT has developed from automating clunky manual recruitment processes to positive developments in the art of sourcing (as recruitment splintered again), exploiting social platforms for employer marketing purposes and driving speedier matching but let’s be mindful about what it can’t do currently.

The belief system are that these technological developments provide further assaults on the agency middleman with full cycle recruitment ownership going in-house. But let’s step back. This narrative has failed to see the world of recruitment agency become obsolete and in fact the problems faced with the great white hope of internal recruitment LinkedIn and the sheer resilience of the agency industry has proved what a waste of our collective efforts this phony war has been, distracting us instead from key talent problems surfacing today.

Indeed, the new technology front in the past few years has seen some HR Tech disrupters, with little legacy in life and sometimes nothing in the world of recruitment, seem to think that they can now further simplify the recruitment process by copying a matching process they think correlates with the purchase of a pizza or the hailing of a cab. At a time when we need the best minds of our generation to truly help us humanize the recruitment process this requires:

  1. Greater collaboration between technologists and enlightened talent folk who both understand the sentiment for dialling up the right kind of technology investment that answers real talent questions.
  1. A recognition that nobody holds the moral high ground in the crap experiences front between the agency and in-house and maybe it’s time to put off this phony war that has distracted for too long. Across the piece will be winners and losers ahead but the best of the agency piece will adapt and prosper if they read the memo that dialing up human interaction wins the war for business.
  1. Finally, more bravery in the HR function and the board table that strikes a balance between short term cost containment measures on bad spend (that we do so well) to justify the seat and the longer-term pursuit of quality talent solutions (that we don’t do so well and that will truly help differentiate our workplaces).

Until next time. Interestingly Chris de Burgh is approximately 1.6847262820m high and is the most common fake profile name used on Linkedin.

In celebration of mediocrity

mediocreAt the end of the 20th century there was a subtle realignment of the English language in the workplace. We could no longer, ‘have a gay day’, discuss a ‘walkout’, hire ‘minions’ (long before those adorable little yellow creatures this was a derogatory word) or for the purposes of this blog accept mediocrity as ever a good thing again.

But hold your horses there. Let’s have a look at that definition and compare with everything we know today about productivity, job satisfaction and engagement in the workplace:

Mediocrity : (noun) – ordinariness, as a consequence of being average and not outstanding. Passable. 

HR anthropologists suggest Mediocrity was a lesser-known victim of McKinsey’s ‘War for Talent’. The authors, offering us absolutely no scientific proof to underpin their findings left the definition of the elusive ‘talent’ initially undefined. The HR function over the proceeding years left us in no doubt – Talent was tall, played rugby and flew fighter jets, had a handlebar moustache, was effortlessly charming, high cheekbones and never, ever got fat. They were out of reach, pursued by others and smelt permanently of desire. This highly male-centric definition dominated the landscape as an entire generation of female talent was squeezed out by narrow-minded protectionist white, stale males.

Soon Jack Welch stuck another nail in the mediocrity coffin by putting it in the middle of the finest feedback sandwich ever created by the Gods of Free Market Capitalism. Only 10% at the top could be Talent and 10% at the bottom were in the column marked ‘to be binned’ on an annual basis. This Darwinian approach spread from GE to every copycat large employer in the Western World. In the middle of the bell curve, the huddled masses, never referred to as mediocre were instead average performers, solid or dependable and were the rock the organisation needed to tick over. In short, some of the most patronising guff ever communicated by boardrooms populated, of course, by the self-appointed ‘most talented’ at the top of the pyramid.

Everyone in the people ecosystem colluded in the stitch-up – Recruiters of all types would source only for elusive A players and use traditional processes that would focus on universities, degrees, incestuous industry backgrounds and evidence of doing the same role currently as pre-requisites. In short, all the criteria that fails to predict future success or in other words full blown mediocrity.

Recruitment wasn’t alone – L&D developed HiPo programmes focusing on elitism, Reward delivered compensation packages that meant that only Talents could afford to buy a house in central London whilst ‘average Joe’ in a hospital doing a critical public service could only be housed at the back of a rented shoe box in the middle of zone 5.

Recently whilst we’ve shifted to allegedly more people-centric organisations, mediocrity has remained banned from the corporate lexicon despite all the evidence of its prevailing place in the current transitional world of work. Recruitment marketers, having succumbed to the colonization of the global workplace by the USA, remain hooked on finding rock stars for awesome organisations or turning the corporate IT geek into a ninja.

Which brings me back round to my growing belief that if we are being honest then mediocrity is a fair summary of where the vast majority of our organisations stand and maybe that’s alright in opposition to the prevailing narrative. In a world where external environmental factors have accelerated the pace of change, we are just immature organisations trying to push upwards to survive. Our HR ecosystem is just a byproduct of that.

So this Friday 1st April, people will celebrate ‘passable’ cultures, where good folk are just trying their best to do what’s right against the odds. They’ll celebrate how mediocrity continues to acquire and retain paying customers, grow revenue and sustain way beyond what it should through hard endeavour. Mediocre people will continue to be hired via passable recruitment processes, elite leadership programmes will continue to flatter to deceive and in the near term many organisations will remain vastly disengaged, unproductive with mediocre people trying to frequently look talented to external recruiters searching for it in oh-so mediocre ways.

Until next time. Enjoy mediocrity day and embrace passable as the new black.

Riding the tidal waves of recruitment guff

guffIt appears that simplistic populism is sadly all the rage across the world – From that trumpet Trump to the UK’s ideological warriors searching zealously for more and more things to bucket under austerity cuts. Limited and loaded answers to complex problems doled out to the chattering classes. Sad really. Meaningful debate is curtailed and simplistic mantras echo the chambers. Critique and counterview is frowned upon as the rather annoying cult of happiness now dictates that we all walk around permanently appreciative with a face that’s looks like it’s been overdosed on Botox.

In our own small patch of organisational turf, busy HR fools continue to dominate, making impressive arm gestures when asked to dive into a remotely difficult work problem by referring to the ‘we don’t do brilliant basics’ patter that closes down everything. Normally the preserve of our friendly HRBP fraternity, those storm troopers paid to dose out comforting lies to the ‘internal customer’.

In the absence of dialogue our profession remains deeply buried under a tidal wave of guff where the failing status quo is continuously sanitized and propped up in a manner that would make the North Koreans blush.

Sanitized guff includes:

  1. Where should recruitment sit? – No matter what soulless organisational silo it resides it still needs to connect with the real world out there and the messy one inside. The one that hates it, to those who need it, to those who will fund it and those who worry about it. Stop this obsession. The wider business doesn’t care and it smacks of the abusive partner who constantly threatens to walk away if they don’t feel the respect their clearly fragile psyche demands.
  1. Should I write my cover letter with quill pen and spray panther musk just above my waxed family seal? – Yeah, you should because it will push the time spent on it by the average bored recruiter from 0.75 seconds to just over the 1 second mark. But the biggest crime is that ‘professionals’ are churning out ways of polishing the turd when the honest truth is that the CV and it’s antiquated ugly sister the cover letter provide little insight into the merits of an individual when considering their application. Bin it, don’t slap lipstick on it.
  1. Will I excite the talented few with 3 pages of bullet points copy and pasted and shoved into the ATS of choice as a means of my written sales pitch? – If this is truly your opening salvo in the equally fake ‘war for talent’ you’ve turned up with a peashooter for the battle pal. Get a copywriter and recognize that every touch point is aligned behind the marketing of your opportunity. For those who outsource this crime to a 3rd party then there is a special place in hell’s very own recruitment department waiting for you.
  1. Will I focus my team’s efforts on the application process for the upcoming candidate experience award or will I deal with the backlog of people who’ve spent some time trying to engage with your organization? – That the modern day Investors in People plaque is now the must-have ‘best places to work / have people filling in forms to an awards body’ is preferred and anyway we told everyone that if they haven’t heard in 5 days then we clearly accept that a little more of hatred for our brand will grow, or words to that effect.

Tidal waves of guff are visible every day if we happen to regain our child-like curiosity that has been sucked out of us by too many corporate functions or the race to the bottom that mediocrity leads us. Recruiting rituals and belief systems that are in need of being exposed as counter-intuitive at best and just definitions of insanity at worst. In the interests of much needed blogging brevity I’ll limit it to the 4 but in the immortal words of Marti Pellow, “the guff is all around us”.

In the meantime I’ve asked the LinkedIn development team to include a trumpet function on their platform when blogs and articles insulting our collective recruitment intelligence continue to deliver waves of guff.

Until next time. Remember to trumpet if you feel the guff is strong.


When #Tru tribes go to war

truHatIconIdent250If you have to pick a HR tribe to go on the lash (i.e bevvy, swally, drinkies, beers, pots, etc) with, choose recruiters. Not just because I have spent a very pleasant, chaotic yet educational day with #truLondon but for other more important reasons in my experience. Learning and Development people tend to worry endlessly about splitting the bar bill 70:20:10, Reward people tend to resemble the weird kids table at a wedding and spend the entire time avoiding eye contact and finally the self-important HR Business Partner types will leave you sitting alone as they constantly duck outside the bar taking oh-so-vital calls from ‘internal customers’ seeking reassurance for some appalling act of mismanagement.

Whilst I will applaud the upside of such a remarkable event such as #TruLondon for all its sparkling content and awesome, internationally talented company, the flipside is another confirmation of the rather tribal need for belonging that the recruitment fraternity seek as it closed the front door, circled the wagons and focused on the common enemy. Oh yes folks, the dreaded mention of the audience’s reference to HR as Human Remains tells me all I need to know that in the fight for liberating organisations from the shackles of old 20th century outdated management practices, some of our best would rather take pot shots than appreciate the difficulties and need to reach out across the wider community. This isn’t unique. I blogged about the Learning and Development crew going into pantomime mode also at a CIPD conference betraying its own need for the same human desire to belong.

All this parochial nonsense is really beginning to get on my breasts I can tell you. At a time when the window of opportunity flies open and screams ‘build me a people-centric new workplace’ we resort to the very thing we rally against elsewhere – big, bloody silos of functional snobbery and protectionism that ultimately stifle creativity and hold us back.

I’m incredibly proud of my recruitment bloodline but as a true people professional mongrel, I’m also never going to give up hugging my learning side, stifling my talent development and employee engaging tendencies, will never burn my old HR generalist bra nor reject the lashings that great Celtic industrial relations men gave me to ensure I turned from a boy to a man in the war against trade unionism !

So recruitment, step back from the age old animosity towards HR. Yes, the ATS has been made totally unwieldy with screens of boring fields on diversity, disability and sexual preferences but it’s not your nuts on the line when the people from risk, legal and compliance come a calling so show a bit of understanding.

And don’t get all bloody uppity when that new hire you loved steering through the interview process leaves after 10 months in the job. Your technical brilliance most probably sold the business an individual with all the predictive validity of a 1 in 5 shot to success. In any other part of the business you’d be banged up for producing a car with 3 wheels or a drug that made your hair turn blue with such odds.

Somewhere along the way we are going to have to tackle this bloody big gorilla in the room or we’ll continue to favour a safe, judgmental, local tribal preference over a collaborative effort to fix some big complex issues in the world of work. I’m keeping a close eye on Open Source HR and giving it my full support as it at least recognizes this cross-functional need.

Finally, we can have a local tribal flavor but the movement will have to come in recognizing that HR isn’t institutionally shit, or that recruitment aren’t all untrustworthy wide boys. Until then as Frankie would say “a point is all that you can score….

Until next time. I was indeed the first person in Belfast to buy Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I was also the first person in Belfast to realize they were shite.

When will recruitment leave its comfort zone ?


It’s a well-known fact that nowadays recruiters are dominating the internet superhighway with complete content overload. And when I say dominate I mean in a way that a dungeon mistress would be proud of – overbearing, painful and ultimately bringing out bouts of guilt in the poor recipient who decided to endure it.

In that big siloed chatroom, you’ll be able to soak up all sorts of guff ranging from ninja sourcing skills (come on, what age are these authors ?), the endless agency v. in-house debate, waves of talent technology that look all a bit same-y (when the average corporate Joe can only name you Taleo and Kennexa), voodoo-like selection algorithms that nobody can really explain to a client (beyond a shrug of the shoulders), employment branding (that promise to make your organisation look sexy to the disloyal band of millenials) and lastly job board aggregators that erode the work you’ve done to articulate your brand in the first place. On the peripheries are a bunch of lunatics who believe data analytics has matured beyond endless dirty data problems that nobody will admit to and the complete loony left who believe something virtuous such as candidate experience is worth pursuing but in fact are treated like Donald Trump views Mexicans amongst the mainstream recruitment media. In fact a whole bunch of relatively simplistic transactional recruitment guff that takes a push of a finger or the making of a candidate persona.

Now here’s the conundrum. What fails to grab little or any airtime amongst the recruitment glitterati is the vital issue of Strategic Workforce Planning and it’s tumbleweed sister Adaptive Workplace Strategies. The very thing that helps determine requirements beyond an arbitrary headcount plan has about as much allure as a company balance sheet at a HR night out. Think about it :

Right people – Yeah. Full marks for the recruitment branding, attracting, and selection competences. In some organisations it has also been know to bring them closer to their HR colleagues, which is nice. Full marks.

Right location – This is not the same as the low hanging fruit of opening a new office in Munich but leading the debate based on some clear talent economics as much as the size of the market. Recruitment less comfortable and recruitment waiting for the order to come through ?

Right time – This is not the same as the time to hire debate nor some low level analytics based on some historical trend analysis either.

Right cost and shape – I’m going to bundle these together and I’m pushing the boundaries beyond the balance sheet view I’ve seen for years of having typically permanent employees (with all the increasingly false premise built in) and contingent (still being categorized as being too wide or the place where the RPO takes over). As permanent continues to whither, contingent needs segmented into partnership, borrowed, freelance and open source to name a few. Not because the organization dictates it but because the world of work is changing it. Adapt or die.

I see little by way of the next technology wave stepping into this space as the problems remains too organization-centric to scale effectively as a market product with any level of margin (and who says the technologists are only in it to cash in on a potential IPO ?).

If everything else recruitment continues to focus on (from sourcing to selection) are mere transactions along the way, why are we so reluctant to take a lead in the debate and do recruiters accept that it will continue to push the function further onto the peripheries of the organization ? At the moment it’s a fragmented discussion bar a few notable consultants trying to push the agenda.

Another quick scan of a typical recruiter group discussion online suggests that cold calling, rejecting candidates and a ‘how to use (insert obscure sourcing tech) remain the safe domain of debate. The workplace is going to get a hell of a lot more complex in the years ahead if half the megatrends come true. My take is that this generation of recruitment are happy to remain in the comfort zone of transaction and seem happy to hand over the hard thinking to anyone but them. Maybe a new generation needs to change that, not constrained to crappy dialogue about silos, the ineffectiveness of HR and why they should be owned by someone else.

An opportunity exists to raise the bar. Will anyone take it ? Until next time.

Talent Acquisition Technology – Without talent design they are just toys

tatTalent Acquisition Technology (TAT) is now officially trending in 2016. Do you know your Workable from your Smartrecruiters ? Your Greenhouse from your TalentRover ? Funded to ridiculous amounts by Investors stateside, a great big tidal wave of TAT is on its way. And if you are planning on installing without any major talent design in place, then you might as well literally burn the cash.

So says this battle hardened survivor of recruitment technology 1.0. The cautionary tales are there as a warning and here’s a typical story from the postbag :

5 years ago it arrived with a fanfare. The spreadsheets were burnt and a new era of recruitment technology arrived having convinced your CFO to release £60,000 to fund an ATS. It would create ‘efficiencies’ and banish the agency from the door said your ambitious proposal. For your HRD, it would symbolize true eHR (remember when we put an ‘e’ on the front of everything to make us look cool and digital – ePayslips, e-learning and the lesser known eStillRefusestohireWomen).

Over the intervening period the world fell out of love with growth and the recruitment team was downsized. Nobody to administer the record keeping benefit it brought (and nobody read the reports) and as for the culture of managers owning the process, well that went as soon as sales began to dip and the HRD didn’t want anyone doing a ‘real job’ impacted by ‘HR matters’.

You see, back then, without a supporting talent design, it was too often about acquiring some TAT within a limited vendor landscape who treated the product like a weekend hobby for techies, bereft of changing market expectations. Inside the world of Ulrich HR, all technology investments were dished out across the specialist silos with little joined up thinking.

Now the contract is running down and you want an upgrade. The workplace is changing and you need technology to satisfy your social media channels, brand reach, candidate experience, talent pools, analytics and the short-termism of the business to just hire people NOW !! Got all that lined up ?

If you are coming into this cycle the first time or back round again, here are some of the lessons to supplement the excitement (or otherwise) of the technology tendering exercise.

  1. There is a huge difference between installing and changing – Don’t let the tail wag the dog. We are overwhelmed by shiny new toys but there has to be an ecosystem and a change path that has technology within it. Have you got this narrative and does the technology align to this? This is the chance to look inwardly at the value chain that now drives the talent strategy for any organisation. Use it.
  1. Your stakeholders will have different drivers. Manage them accordingly – Talent Acquisition needs to influence, lead and push the agenda. Nobody else will. That sounds obvious but the reality is that in our siloed sub-function, we often give too much away. Procurement will want efficiencies and cost savings, IT will want security guarantees, traditional HRD wants ‘direct sourcing’ (as agency avoidance pays the bill) and the CEO/CFO wants instant return on the kit. Your culture, if highly resistant, will kill the investment over time. Redefining how your extended talent landscape (agency, PSL, RPO, assessment) is impacted should also be key.
  1. Context will be key. Do you have the ability to understand where you are jumping off from (start-up, growth, maturity, redefining the brand, etc) and what the journey ahead looks like, especially when measuring investment success ? When people talk about being entrepreneurial that means defining an opportunity to breakthrough some inertia by utilizing technology, as well as people (capability), culture (high or low trust environment) and process (minimum viable standard). Make the change sustainable.

Finally, given the multitude of issues, you could do a lot worse than to invest in some interim expertise to help you navigate this complex change agenda. As a Head of Talent or HRD I have done this previously with all my technology change programmes and I can tell you it has more than paid for itself. If you want to speak to me about this further then contact me by clicking on this about me page to set up an informal chat. I’m passionate about ensuring we maximize every Talent transformation journey in 2016.

Nobody else will lead this change but us folks. Don’t accept any old piece of TAT.

Until next time.

Recruitment into Marketing – Yer havin’ a laugh

marketing adLike a long, lost sub-tribe of flagellating bedwetters, the world of recruitment has perennially been waiting, Moses sandals packed and ready, for someone to take them away from the unloved world of tyrannical HR rule. Whilst the constant has always been the dislike of their flaky kith and kin in the People world, there has a been a variety of chosen ones that has been called out over the years, with most recently top of the pops Marketing as the most desired destination for the average recruiter – and by god do we have too many average recruiters.

But I digress.

We all know that recent HR history has seen it make more u turns than a dodgy plumber – from protectors of welfare workers to storm troopers of management flexibility. Now in the big businesses it helped to create, it looks on, as the management teams demand more than efficiency, controls and subservience to thrive and survive. The recruitment teams are caught in the crossfire being asked to push PSLs, broken agency relationships, outsourcing inflexibility and cost to hire mantras when little of that delivers any true sustainable value in the changing world of work.

However, if recruitment thinks that leaving this behind to live in a land of marketing flim-flam will bring a change for the better then you are as daft as triggers brush. Marketing, with all its own legends and rituals, is equally riddled with imperfections and as the corporate pimp, its sole purpose is there to manipulate average Joe into a purchase they didn’t want to make. Marketing does not make you five pounds lighter or £1,000 richer, and for its survival at the mythical table of CEO greatness, sees no further in a business cycle than what’s in front of its nose. Now, not for a second am I throwing the baby out with the bathwater – marketing skillsets (which doesn’t include throwing corporate parties or picking partnerships) does signal a need to be more data driven and scientific (and I’d mark this better than HR but nowhere near as good as truly scientific disciplines). If this step change can be blended with the art of selling (and god forbid you ever ask a marketer to do that) that needs equally to make a renaissance in recruitment then the job’s a good un.

As pendulum swings towards marketing’s fabled flawless strengths, signs of over influence are there and should be challenged by all good, questioning and cynical recruitment teams. Here are 3 examples:

  • The average talent (passive, active, untapped potential, unfundamentalist, environmentalist, gay, straight, left, free and in need of the right job in the right company at the right time and impossible to segment) does not wish to join talent communities for some fabled reasons that ‘ever since they were a young boy or girl they’ve only ever supported (insert some FTSE 50 or Fortune 500 company). Go search online for the ‘heartbroken talent community of Enron’. You’ll find that they don’t exist for the obvious reason that people don’t actually give a shit if brands / companies die. They want a job and an employer who treats them ‘well’. We just got to understand what well translates as for them.
  • Social networks are still the place where the average person goes to chill out, escape the humdrum pressures of modern life, stalk an ex-girlfriend and watch an elephant urinate over its zookeeper. Conversations and the fabled brand advocacy is not taking place in the scale or volume that we are led to believe. For all the science that Marketers believe they bring to the party, much of it is still lacking validity and is guesswork and the data thrown at us about social is right up there telling us ‘what’ but not telling us ‘why’ because that just takes too much from the market research budget and eats into the ultimate margin of the product. When you are selling a career and not a commodity then the price for getting it wrong is not a credit note but a huge big hole of toxic mess in the middle of your organisation that needs carefully dealt with.
  • Lastly, I blame marketers for selling us the myths of ‘generational blah blah blah’ with a disproportionate focus on milennials to the detriment of baby boomers who employment brand ‘experts’ associate phrases like ‘dying out’ and equating lots of reactive, conservative traits with. Worryingly this stuff gets regurgitated without much rightful cynicism or challenge amongst recruitment professionals. And you want more of this under the marketing functional ownership model?

Can we just stop right there. Taking the benefit of a wider lens to organizational issues is GOOD. Taking in the whole smoke and mirrors of Marketing-speak without perspective or fact is frankly CRAP and can I ask us to desist.

Whilst it is abundantly clear that self-flagellation is an endemic trait of HR and Talent people, the answer doesn’t lie in pitching our tent under the Marketing sky.

Until next time. Take no heroes, only inspiration. And never let your daughter marry a marketer.