the good the bad the ugly of the recruiting world
Before delving into the meat of my article I would take a moment
here to go back in time tracing the origins of the Staffing Industry. While a highly debatable
subject, the earliest claims of the first staffing company go back to 1890. In these days of yore
when Technology, Social Media, Talent Communities, Big Data.... were nowhere in the realms of
anyone’s imagination, a glimpse at the vision of one Lindquist group, possibly the first staffing
company, reproduced here verbatim underscores the logic of the Industry.....
Fast Forward to Circa 2013.... the overarching theme for the recruiting industry embedded in
the vision of the Lindquist group remains the same, i.e. successful recruiting ultimately depends
on people. Relationships – with candidates, hiring managers, key stakeholders – drive recruiting.
The Industry & the function works to ensure that all efforts remain focussed on the core
mission- to effectively build relationship capital with people that drive their clients – external or
internal- success. It is a mission that has driven recruiting in the past, and the regardless of the
advancements in processes and technology, will continue to drive the industry in the future.
the good- ability to stay rooted to its moorings
“We take pride in operating our business with adherence to four basic values:
discretion, integrity, service, and diligence. We have built our business largely
through word-of-mouth, and we value the opportunity to serve fair and respectful
clients in any way that we can. We also seek to deliver a highly personalized level of
service. We prefer to begin every engagement with a client visit, preferably in our
client’s home or at one of our offices. We explore the client’s lifestyle objectives, service
level requirements, cost objectives and current needs”.
‘For two days labor you ask two hundred guineas?’ ‘No, I
ask it for the experience of a lifetime.’ - James McNeill Whistler
In the customer seat, products and services only have visibility and value if they improve
customers’ lives or contribute to customer success - that is they solve the problems that prompt
customers to seek products and services in the first place. When we think of it, employers
ultimately do not want employees. Instead they want the correct and timely mix of talent
who can qualify outcomes. Making the connection between what customer value and what
talent provides is a recurring new reality1, a fact pointed out succinctly by Theodore Levitt in his
classical article Marketing Myopia (1960)- customers don’t buy ¼ inch drills – what they really
buy are ¼ inch holes. They buy a result not a product.
The only reason for using a external service provider by a client is to gain significant added
value. The law of classical economics do not apply to the provision of recruiting services any
more than they apply to the demand for high ticket items and luxury goods. The important thing
is a mindset that values the service and work we deliver. If we as a provider don’t value our
work, why should a client value it?
So how does the Staffing Industry measure upto this reality?
A Talent Acquisition firm primarily competes in two markets simultaneously: the “output”
market for its services and the “input” market for its productive resources, the professional
work force. There are three key benefits2 which the ‘output market” or clients seek of a Talent
Acquisition services provider- expertise, efficiency & experience. The Industry structure based
on the spectrum of client engagements served and the nature of the recruiting service offering
can be summarized in the Exhibit3 below. A Talent Acquisition firm’s relative positioning on the
practice spectrum determines every aspect of its affairs, from practice development to hiring,
from economic structure to governance and the type of client hiring need they are attempting to
David Sears- Successful Talent Strategies (2003)
Adapted from ‘Managing the Professional Service Firm’, David H Maister
Barring Talent Acquisition service providers in the high end ‘Retained Search’ – Psychotherapist
segment, the Industry character over the years has remained largely fragmented. Around 70%4
of the Industry in India happens to be in the unorganized space. While the Industry has had its
share of some brilliant practitioners and intellectual luminaries, they at best constitute a
minority and the amorphous nature of the Industry has done little to engender the ‘Innovative
Efficiencies’ critical in partnering with clients in today’s VUCA environment. The bad news is
that most staffing firms are so mismanaged that they are incapable of bringing any innovative
solution to a customer. Additionally Leadership in the Industry resides in sparse pockets.
Historically, in the staffing industry, it has been the end users – the clients- driving the
innovation & the change process. The dynamic being backward puts the staffing Industry at a
disadvantage in its relationship with the buyer of its services. When innovation comes from the
customer, we are allowing them to determine our workflows, processes and eventually our
business case. As an Industry we are guilty of shoddy services, shortcuts, reality gaps in the
values we espouse and the values in action. The problem, clearly, is not in figuring out what to
do. Rather, the problem is to find the strength and courage to do what we know to be right.
the bad – lack of Innovation, Leadership Capital, ethical practices
ERA- Executive Recruiters Association of India
Low Client Risk
High Client Risk
The recruiting Industry finds itself today at
crossroads. As it grapples with issues- some of its own making; some beyond its control- by far
the biggest challenge it faces is the lack of quality talent entering the Industry at the grassroots
level. Unlike medicine, engineering, arts or the sciences, recruiting as a career option is an idea
which does not appeal to many. Professionals in leadership roles in talent acquisition, including
me, have found their passion & vocation around ‘talent’ more by default than by design, but the
Industry as a whole must deepen its talent pool by promoting itself to young people as an
attractive career. Few children leave college with the intention of becoming a Talent Acquisition
leader or a strategist. In my own recruiting experience I have met a lot of young professionals
who took to this profession as a last recourse after failing in their tryst with other noble callings.
Nothing can be more paradoxical in the ‘talent economy’ of today where young professionals
would shy away from making a career around Talent. The talent deficit is a double edged sword
as the recruiting industry competes for talent both for their clients as also for their service
deliverables. A function which has the maximum impact on an organization’s strategic business
goals deserves an all encompassing effort to address the ‘talent’ issue at the grassroots level.
More visible, public domain, thought-leadership platforms are required to raise the industry’s
profile, push boundaries, inspire new young talent & lift the veil on the Industry’s ugly truths.
The ability to sell its services based on the professional craft of its staff drawn from a talent pool
of ‘also-rans’ or ‘best-in-class’ will define the long –term character & health of the Industry.
the ugly – talent deficit, both qualitative & quantitative