How Recruiting Can Meet the Challenges of a New Economy

Sep 2, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Picture 2Warning bells are ringing. The emerging economy will be quite different from the one we have come from. There are signs of change everywhere. General Motors breaks down, and Tesla, Phoenix Motorcars, and Detroit Electric begin to make electric cars, changing the paradigm about what a car manufacturer should look like. Companies like IDEO are organizing themselves differently and deliberately to foster innovation. They are small and look for capabilities and interests and passion in the people they hire — not degrees and pedigree.

Rather than a focus on rapid growth, companies will look for sustainable growth. To achieve this, many more workers will be contractors, consultants, or work as temporaries or part-time. The average age of the workforce is going to get older as Baby Boomers stay longer and fewer young people seek regular corporate jobs. Learning to re-use and find new positions for internal talent will be important.

Many economists are worrying that we may have a jobless recovery, which means that rather than hire lots of people, companies will not seek to fill the jobs eliminated in this recession. They will try hard to maintain a small, highly productive workforce. Today’s BLS figures indicate that productivity is at an all-time high, despite the layoffs and slower economy. That means we are all working harder (and maybe also smarter). So CEOs may be asking: why do we need to add more people and lower our productivity?

What Does This Mean for Recruiting?

Recruiting is full of managers. These are the people who run their recruiting organizations efficiently and effectively. They implement processes, cautiously install technology, focus on customer satisfaction, and stay within their budgets. As long as the world doesn’t change too much, they thrive.

For many organizations, this can be outsourced. A solid, well-chosen RPO can take over the transactional side of recruiting and provide the people you need. It may cost a bit more than the internal recruiter and may not always be as tuned-in to the environment, but they will be capable and offer flexibility in times when hiring is slow.

As I have written many times before, internal recruiters will have to become competent in thinking more broadly about talent. Here are five things you can do.

Step #1: Realize what is happening and accept it

It is highly unlikely that recruiting will return to its pre-recession state within the next two to three years; it probably never will.

Learn as much as you can about the labor market, productivity, and the economy. Understand where your organization is compared to its competition. Realize that recruiters will still exist and even prosper, but when working for a recruiting agency or an RPO and not when working for a corporation. Inside corporations there will be jobs for talent leaders and strategic recruiting people, but not for very many regular recruiters.

Step #2: Assess your organization’s talent

What capabilities and skills do you (or the management team) think will be needed to remain competitive? Does your firm have a labor force capable of thriving in the markets you engage in? What would make it more competitive?

You can form focus groups, talk to hiring managers, meet with your organization’s strategic planning team, and understand where the firm is headed. The more you can speak intelligently and in an informed way about business issues, the better you will accepted and the more influence you can command.

Step #3: Focus on building capability, internally and externally

Develop systems and methods to find the internal talent that will most likely be able to meet the longer-term needs of your organization. Perhaps set up internal talent task forces to begin suggesting what new capabilities and skills should be hired. Ask managers who their stars are and why they are stars. Involve line management but, in subtle ways, begin to demonstrate an ability to do things more strategically and to think on a broader scale than simply filling positions.

Step #4: Communicate and educate

Spread the word about the changes in the labor market and suggest new ways to look at talent. Use the resources you have such as ERE or any of the think-tanks such as my own Future of Talent Institute to get informed and able to explain what is happening to your management.

Write an internal blog, create a talent newsletter, or just send periodic emails about the labor market. The important thing is to keep the issues of people and talent at the forefront of any discussion about business development or growth.

Step #5: Focus on leadership issues, not tactics

What really separates a winner is the focus on longer-term strategic issues and not on day-to-day activities. As I said above, outsource or automate those tactical issues so that you have time to focus on the bigger ones.

By setting up task forces and by focusing on a few critical areas, you can broaden the focus of the recruiting department and make it more integral and important to the success of the firm.

This is what leadership is all about: educating and setting expectations, engaging people to achieve goals and then getting out of the way.

The future is fine for all of us in the talent arena, but it will require a different set of skills and a new mindset.

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