Get Smart: 5 Winning Strategies for Managers in Tough Times

Mar 10, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

A few years ago, one of my clients, a large, well-known financial institution in the U.S. (yes, it’s still around), gave me a search that required we recruit from two distinct geographic areas. I assigned one recruiter to the northern (more difficult) area and another to the southern (easier) locale.

As the search progressed, it turned out the northern-area recruiter far outperformed her southern-focused colleague, even though the latter was more experienced. As interesting as this was as a case study, the more pressing goal for me was to satisfy my client’s need. So I began a process that looked very closely at the struggling senior recruiter’s tactics and results. I worked closely with him to improve his process. I evaluated his spreadsheets and figured out whom he was calling and in what context. I helped him identify easier targets, and we reviewed his pitch. Soon his performance improved, and while he was never quite able to hit this project out of the park like his northern counterpart, he was able to meet his goals.

This experience taught me how valuable, effective, and important hands-on performance management is. We live in a world of shrinking budgets, limited resources, and must do more with less. While good management is always important, in difficult times, it is essential. When everyone is being asked to do more with less, as managers, you need to roll up your sleeves and be more hands-on than ever before.

The first thing to do is to ensure that your recruiters are well-trained in your systems and processes.

I am a strong believer in encouraging individuality on my team, but — and this is an important “but” — they need to have the processes down first. Before this can even happen, recruiters must be endowed with something very basic — recruiter DNA.

Hands-on management begins in the hiring-evaluation process. Before I hire someone, I spend a lot of time getting to know what they can and can’t do. For instance, I need to see a writing sample that is exclusively their own. I ensure that they are proficient in Excel and Outlook. I have them pitch me as though I am a potential candidate so I can hear their style, and I have them provide notes they’ve taken on previous searches and client calls so I can get a sense for what is important to them. While all of this may seem extremely detail-oriented (and it is), it helps minimize surprises and reduces the risk that a new recruiter may hide a particular deficiency. And, as I’m certain is customary for many of you, I conduct a thorough reference check on each new recruiter.

Assuming all of that passes muster, I then focus on a recruiter’s initial “trial” period as they begin their work with me. During the first few months, I monitor their efforts very closely. Throughout the first two weeks, I spend 5 to 15 minutes with them every day, going over their daily results, getting a sense for how they prioritize calls, reviewing intake notes and write-ups, and ensuring they are using sound processes.

After three or four weeks, they should have the processes down. If they’re struggling and not “getting it,” I try to determine why. I’ll look at the recruiter’s work activity, including the emails they’re sending, what they’re saying on calls, the types of referrals they’re getting, and the times at which the calls are being made, among other things. As a result of this process, I have rarely, if ever, been unable to identify the root cause(s) of why a recruiter has not been able to move forward.

However, assuming all is going “swimmingly,” I’m then able to turn my attention from performance management to results management. This is a vital part of the management process because it enables me to stay on top of my group’s work and (once again) to eliminate surprises, which allows me to better perform for my clients.

I am thus a fan of spreadsheets (although any system that captures results metrics will work). I have my recruiters fill them out daily. I view their weekly summaries, and will randomly pick a day, read the notes they’ve recorded, and look at the time they’ve spent on a certain project versus the results, etc. As I mentioned, this enables me to ensure my group is working efficiently and at the highest level possible.

Some version of this is common in most companies. “We have a robust metrics function as part of our recruiting department,” notes Mike Adamo, recruiting manager for Edwards Lifesciences. “We measure everything from how our recruiters perform individually to how they do as a team. We look at what our recruiters do, the source of their data, and how efficiently they work.”

“We conduct performance reviews four times a year,” says Ginny Eagle, director, talent acquisition, for T-Mobile. “We also monitor the progress and success of our recruiters based on four criteria: 1) Account Management (how our recruiters deal with clients); 2) Candidate Development (the thoroughness and success of candidates presented); 3) Technology (how well our recruiters are using their technology — is it making things more efficient, less efficient, etc.); and 4) Metrics (an analytical review of the entire life cycle of a hire, from source to termination).”

Use surveys and feedback forms. I have them ready for hiring managers and candidates to fill out as soon as possible during, or just after, the process. We therefore get nearly instantaneous feedback on our execution and processes.

In a world where resources are tight, you’ve still have a job to do and you must find ways of making the most of everything at your disposal.

In addition, here are several additional steps you can take to help deal with limited resources:

  1. Bring It In-House. “Because our recruiters need to have expertise in the medical technology industry, our response to this tough economic time has been to ‘insource’ by cutting spending and bringing our cold-calling and candidate development in-house,” says Adamo. “When we do spend money externally, we try to buy research versus advertising because it’s more targeted and continues to pay dividends in the future. In that respect, it’s more of an investment than an expense.”
  2. Take It Out of the House. Determine which elements of your recruiting function can be outsourced to make your efforts more efficient. For instance, as mentioned above, purchasing research not only removes from your staff the burden of a time-intensive activity but can also be an investment that continues to pay dividends. Similarly, there are other activities that might be best left to a third-party provider.
  3. Prioritize Hires. When the demand for your services exceeds your ability to fulfill the openings, prioritize the hires with two things in mind: A) Identify and Tackle Key Hires First: This is an obvious but often overlooked step. If you remember that your value to your organization is determined by your ability to satisfy client needs, it’s important to identify the most pressing and key client/company needs, as determined by senior management, and tackle those first. B) Identify Which (If Any) Hires Can Be Done in Group: Anything that can be done to ensure your efforts result in the biggest bang for your buck will enable you to fill more needs quicker. Keep an eye out for roles that are similar and where you can make the most of your efforts.
  4. Increase Employee Referral and Other Internal Programs. Need I say more? Your firm needs to have a “We’re-all-in-this-together” and “All-hands-on-deck” approach!
  5. Use Hiring Manager Staff to Help with Administrative Activities. Take advantage of any available resources to handle administrative activities. It will create more time to focus on recruiting.

Thus in the end, during times of both boom and bust, your goal as a recruiter and a manager is to add value to your company. During the difficult times, this of course means making the most of what’s at your disposal. (For insight into how to make the most of the research you have and how to turn research into “A” player hires, please come to my presentation at ERE in San Diego April 1, entitled “The Talent Transformers: Turning Prime Research into Optimal Hires”). But in both instances, the best managers and recruiters realize they don’t have to do it all themselves — they just have to make sure it gets done.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.