The response to my last two articles on the topic of requisitions was informative. Most recruiting professionals who responded via the ERE Forum thought I had missed the point entirely, while those people who wrote me directly expressed gratitude for stating something they struggle with everyday. But everybody’s basic point was the same: requisitions run my life and define my job. Some people seem to like that, some people don’t. No matter where people fell down on the issue though, they all hinted at the next question: “Okay, smart guy. If requisitions are so bad, tell me how you live life without them!” The answer? Integration! This article will explore “integration” the way people with pocket-protectors and broken horn-rimmed glasses mean it, as in, “The integration of multiple subsystems within a heterogeneous compute environment is a necessary condition for end-to-end transactions.” I know, it’s pretty hot. But since this is a family publication I will try to keep such a sexy subject as dry as possible. There is also the metaphor of integration, which is about how you integrate what you do with your client’s business. I’ll address that only briefly at the end of the article, since my main focus is on technology integration. Moving away from a tactical requisition-based environment to the more ideal strategic partnership scenario requires the integration of various technologies that you may already be using inside your organization. In fact, in order to move beyond requisitions you (or your HRIT partner) must work towards making sure that all your data sources are integrated into one seamless information system. Even if your organization doesn’t have the types of systems that I discuss below, they probably will at some point in the future. The technologies that drive workforce planning include workforce planning tools (including project management, resource allocation, new product modeling, and IT governance), performance management tools, contact management and candidate relationship tools, and financial central-planning tools. At present, most of these tools live in their own universes and don’t talk to each other. For instance, if you have a project at your organization that you are staffing, it is likely that the project management team used some form of tool to create a scenario whereby they would need to go off and hire someone. These tools range from the very old (manual spreadsheet analysis) to the very advanced (new product modeling features in resource and project management tools). The project planning tool helps the business leader model some scenarios around staffing: the expected launch of the product, what types of skills are needed on the project, which individuals inside the organization are available to be staffed on a new project, and financial/budget constraints on what the project can pay for any particular skill. The business lead creates these plans and then runs them through various approval processes and checkpoints in order to end up with an approved plan. That plan says, “The company needs to hire these types of folks, with these types of skills and experiences, around this time, for this much money.” The project manager will then typically contact their HR or Recruiting representative to tell them about their needs. Because the HR/recruiting rep wants to make sure that they have the information right, and since they usually don’t have access to the original planning tool to see the various approvals, they must create a requisition to confirm that the need is real, as well as to initiate a conversation with the hiring manager about his or her “actual needs.” But what if the planning tool and the ATS talked to each other? Using the present level of sophistication of integration tools (at EA we use a tool called Tibco, but there are many others out there), your HRIT department can help you create business rules that determine whether a “TBH” (to be hired) has gone through the appropriate authorization channels and whether the proper information is contained in the resource request. Assuming the needs of those rules are met, a virtual requisition can be created in the ATS, which then can trigger the hiring process. The need description, budget allocation, skill requirements, and timing of the request should all be contained within the modeling tool database. Yes, sometimes you will need to go back and double-check the information, or change the job description language to meet a specific geographical or employment challenge. But that is more about the marketing side of recruiting, and less about administration. In other words, integration between the project management tool and the applicant tracking system takes requisitions and moves them from the administrative side of the business process to the communication side of the recruiting/selling process. Of course, this integration won’t solve world hunger or hold back the tides. Recruiters must still be accountable for understanding their client’s needs by specializing in what Kevin Wheeler calls “expert thinking” and “complex communications.” Integration won’t solve for a lack of these skills. In fact, a simple test of how “integrated” a recruiter is with the company’s talent processes is to remark their level of surprise when a new requisition magically appears in their fully integrated ATS. A recruiter who is well integrated into his or her clients’ business planning process will already know the requisition is coming. On the other hand, a recruiter who uses requisitions as a way to avoid hiring managers will continually be surprised when new requisitions appear. Of course, project planning tools aren’t the only source of TBH data. In fact, most organizations are just starting to move towards a “project work model” (as opposed to the functional model of work, where you just repeat a task over and over, but never get to see the final outcome). But all organizations talk money. So often times new hire planning is done in central planning tools, usually in finance. Most companies (and almost all public companies) must provide a budget for headcount prior to the start of the fiscal year. In the post Sarbanes-Oxley era of company governance, headcount is a common metric that Wall Street uses to evaluate the expense risk of a company for the coming fiscal year. You have probably had to deal with this through your company’s budgeting process: how many people, in what types of positions, for how much money, are you going to need for the year? Again, in most companies today, this information is accessed through the finance department during the requisition creation process. In other words, the information is only available to the finance department, because only they have access to the budgeting module of the financial system. So a requisition becomes a way of getting finance to approve something they already agreed to: that a position has budget approval as of a certain date. As we discussed in the previous articles, the approval of a requisition by finance is redundant, because they have to do it again when the offer gets issued. But again, imagine for a minute that your ATS and the central planning and budgeting system are integrated. Your position description (note that this does not have to be a requisition) already has a job code, a department number, and hiring manager number. Guess what? That’s the same information in the planning system! So once you are ready to send an offer out, you can initiate a request to the planning system to check that the position is budgeted and open. This protects the company from making the mistake of hiring someone off plan. It doesn’t require a requisition, and it has successfully automated a manual process. Finally, I would like to reiterate something I brought up at the start of the article, which is that integration is both a technology and a metaphor. From a technology perspective, integration means reducing the administrative workload of the recruiting organization through seamlessly meshing different information sources into one cohesive hiring management system. This will enable recruiters to shift from being tactical administrators to strategic consultants and partners. But technical integration only provides an opportunity for becoming more strategic. The metaphor of integration is the way to maximize this opportunity. Integration as a metaphor means that the recruiter is a seamless part of the business system they are supporting. Moving beyond requisition is the first step from technical integration towards “business integration.”
In my last article I went and kicked poor defenseless little requisitions all over the staffing beach, accusing them of being the cause of everything from world hunger and pestilence to the expansion of my waistline. As anticipated, lots of people wrote to me and said, “You missed the point. What about communication, workforce planning, compliance, and posting for active candidates?” In this article, we will review some of those uses of requisitions, the underlying causes for the requisition’s place in this process, and some possible alternatives. First, I would like to clarify the main point of the previous article: my problem is not with requisitions. My problem is with what requisitions mean to most internal corporate staffing organizations, and with how they are used. To reiterate: Requisitions are bad because they are used as a way to control cost and risk. In this role, they are redundant to the offer approval process and they pigeonhole recruiters into a “wait until finance tells us its okay to do our jobs” sort of role. Recruiters are not administrators (or they won’t be for long, since administration is non-strategic and will get outsourced ó but that’s for another article), and the requisition as we know it now is typically used as an administrative control device. There may in fact be legitimate uses for the requisitions (like EEO/OFCCP compliance), but then we should all recognize that the staffing department is not trying to solve a sales or talent problem; it is trying to solve an administration problem. In order to make a closer inspection of this concept, let’s review some of the most common reasons people stick with using requisitions and examine other possible alternatives, as well as instances when a requisition may be appropriate: Communication Initiation “How are you supposed to know there is a need if you don’t get official communication of the need in the form of a requisition?” That question is indicative of how all too often the requisition becomes an excuse for the initiation of a conversation between the recruiter and the hiring authority. If this is always the case in your organization, then you are letting the use of requisitions prove to senior management that your staffing organization is nothing more than a tactical, administrative, transaction-based service which is more than likely too expensive for the results it gets. As strategic sales professionals in the talent arena, recruiters must constantly be in conversation with their internal buyer (hiring authorities). The recruiting professional must be at the table when the business plan is developed so that they know what business problems the hiring authorities are attempting to solve, and how the application of talent helps solves those problems. This ongoing information exchange will be the true communication backbone needed to develop sourcing and recruiting strategies. If done right, the requisition is nothing more than an affirmation of information that has been exchanged on a consistent and regular basis. Here at Electronic Arts, talent and HR management is involved in the business planning process right from the beginning. While we know that plans change, we tend to have a pretty clear view of what types of positions are needed to drive our business, and we source for those positions constantly, whether there is an open requisition or not. When a requisition does open, we understand it as a financial control necessity, not the go-ahead to do our jobs. So, in short, a requisition is a HORRIBLE excuse to start communication. If you have to wait to that point before you know your organization’s talent needs, you are probably already behind. Process Initiation and Time Saving “Why would I be spending my time on something that may or may not be a real need? Requisitions force hiring authorities to define their needs before they get to me.” As a sales professional, you must constantly evaluate how you spend your time (just like any other sales professional). You need to ensure that you aren’t chasing phantom needs and opportunities. So there may be specific cases where you’d want to use the requisition as a way to bludgeon the hiring manager into a place where they have to clarify what hiring needs they really have. If this is the case, however, what you are saying is that you don’t understand your client’s needs well enough to be able to stop them from wasting your time. For instance, if a hiring authority says, “Go find me a java engineer,” and you know for a fact that they are just sending you on a wild goose chase, which is the best response?
- “Sure, once you get me an approved req I’ll start working on that. (Jerk.)”
In 1995 I decided that I had had enough of the administration game. I wanted to make money. More importantly, my wife wanted me to make money. I felt it would be nice to measure my success in easy terms, like dollars and cents, and not in “client satisfaction” and “atta boys”. So I decided to get into big ticket enterprise software sales. Software sales is a lot like recruiting. You have prospects (candidates), you have your “target number” (openings), and you try to figure out which prospects, given the right message and attention, will lead to making your number. Selling big software packages is tough. In order to close the deal you have to make a lot of pitches (sound familiar?), and when the deal goes critical you start burning a lot of company resources to make presentations and get the deal closed. There is a lot of inherent risk for any vendor in the sales process, because a salesperson can chew up a lot of the company’s resources trying to close a deal. This could be time better spent on other activities, like going to Hawaii or buying that new Mercedes. Yet in all my time selling software and enterprise services (about 10 years worth) I never once got a “sales requisition.” Not once. I never had the CFO call me up and tell me that the only way that I could start prospecting for my next customer was if I got a piece of paper with an “ideal sale description.” And yet there was at least as much on the line with a large multi-million dollar enterprise software deal as there is in the hiring of a junior programmer. Now that I am working inside a corporate staffing organization, I frequently end up asking myself, what good is a requisition? And the answer I arrive at increasingly is: not much. A Brief History of Requisitions In today’s dynamic staffing environment, requisitions are a dinosaur that should be at the front of the extinction express lane. At a time when internal staffing organizations are in need of ever more advanced tools to attract and close the best possible talent for their companies, the entire hiring process gets structured around an ancient relic of the days when human beings were just “cogs in a larger wheel.” Requisitions were created for two purposes: cost control and risk management. They don’t help recruiters hire more effectively or find the best candidates. They don’t help recruiters get better insight into their client’s business. To the point, requisitions are designed to ensure that those free-wheeling, devil-may-care nuts in staffing don’t go hiring a bunch a new CEOs, bankrupting the company in the process. There was a time when the use of requisitions made more sense. After all, if people are your number one liability, you definitely want to put big hurdles between the desperate flake searching for a job and the golden key to the executive washroom. In this scenario, a recruiter is nothing more than a frustrated social worker, secretly planning to save the world one ex-welfare recipient at a time. Only the wise hand of capital control can prevent every mental patient in the big house down the lane from ending up on the payroll. Thus the requisition was 1950s management’s way of saying, “Thou shalt not do anything risky, like talking to people before you actually need to hire someone.” Some further history may be instructive. Requisitions are a relatively recent phenomenon. They arose from the concept of the job order. A job order is like a purchase order, without the extra five letters to make it as important. The job order tells the outside recruiting firm that if they provide bodies that meet a certain specification (i.e “must be able to fog mirror”) then the company will agree to pay them. After this had gone on for a while people started thinking, “Hey, why pay the big bucks for an outside company when we could pay less and get the same result?” This thinking begat the corporate recruiting position. This in turn lead the finance department (as the protector of corporate capital) to have a collective coronary, as the cost and risk control mechanism of a job order would obviously not work with an internal corporate recruiting department. And so the “let’s control the risk of the corporate recruiter the way we control the risk of the outside firm” notion was born ó and we have been recruiting with requisitions ever since. Why Are Requisitions Used in Recruiting, But Not in Sales? A requisition is supposed to be an authorization (only once approved!) to the recruiter that they can now officially start their engines. It is the green flag of the recruiting race. But good recruiters fill their pipelines long before the approved req ever comes down from on high. At best, a requisition is a green flag to involve internal resources in the further exploration of the opportunity. At its worst, a requisition can be a serious distraction. But if recruiting is a sales function as is frequently argued, then we must ask some questions: Why isn’t there a requisition in software sales? Or any other complex sale? Why doesn’t the CFO issue a “sales requisition”? Any complex sale involves lots of internal company resources. Even in companies that interview a candidate 20 times, the relative cost of the interview process still pales in comparison to the cost closing a multi-million dollar software sale. If the requisition is the best way to control cost and risk, then why not use it in any “sales” situation where cost and risk are part of the process? There is no “sales requisition” outside of recruiting because of a fundamental belief most executives subscribe to: When you are closing deals, the customer is in the driver’s seat, but when you are closing candidates, the company is in the driver’s seat. In other words, candidates need jobs more than prospects need software (or services, or whatever you are selling). Which translates into: candidates are expensive and risky, and customers are not. (I am not saying that every company that uses requisitions believes this. I am saying that this is the fundamental assumption behind the creation of the concept of a requisition.) One would have to agree with that statement ó if there were only one employer in the universe for any particular sort of opening, and if there were vendors as numerous as the stars available for any prospective sales situation. But of course, it is usually exactly the opposite. In fact, the more talented the candidate, the more opportunities she has to take her services to the highest bidder, whereas large enterprise software companies will cut their prices all day long to win a deal. Enterprise software is increasingly a commodity, while talent is increasingly expensive and valued. If this is true, then perhaps sales management should start issuing requisitions with the exact deal properties listed. In that, way salespeople will stop wasting their time chasing deals that don’t help the company achieve the margins and market penetration needed to milk every last cent out of an increasingly commoditized market. This is not to say that there should not be financial controls on decisions that affect how people spend money. In sales, you have ongoing executive review of the deal pipeline to make sure that salespeople are not signing the company up for something that won’t yield expected returns. In recruiting, we call that kind of overview “offer approval.” All offer letters (and, by extension, the verbal extension of offer letters) should be reviewed by the finance department prior to delivery to ensure that the original budget assumptions are not invalidated, challenged, or changed. Top-tier talent executives view their number one responsibility as the ongoing management of talent resources (as opposed to finance’s focus on managing capital resources) and therefore constantly review recruiting pipelines for fit to specification. In a well-run recruiting shop, it is much more difficult for a recruiter to burn company resources than it is for a salesperson inside a well-run sales organization. So there are plenty of checks and balances on recruiters in a well-run recruiting department to make sure that someone isn’t hiring their best friend into a new “CMO” position (chief massage operator) with big bucks to boot. Yet requisitions are still almost universally used, even in leading-edge recruiting organizations. Even here at Electronic Arts, which was one of the first adopters of the talent pool concept and has sourced ahead of demand as a standard business practice since its inception over 20 years ago, we use requisitions as our final hiring control. But my experience has been that pioneering recruiting organizations use requisitions in spite of their effects, not because of them. Recruiting organizations often have to use a tool to initiate conversations with hiring authorities, track hiring activities for EEO/OFCCP purposes, or ensure that the needs of the hiring manager are validated. And the requisition is the most commonly acceptable, tried-and-true tool to tackle those all-pervading problems. But just like the proverb of a carpenter who has to use a hammer for every need, even to drive in screws, requisitions get used to deal with problems they were not designed for. Unfortunately, this leads many organizations to spend as much time trying to figure out how to deal with requisitions as they do solving the most important problems every recruiting organization faces: how to attract and close on talent that will extend your organization’s competitive advantage in its marketplace. In my next article, we will review the specific standard uses of requisitions, possible alternatives, and what this means for the staffing organization and its clients.