How to Really Do More With Less: Why Recruiter Training Doesn’t Work

Nov 16, 2010

Part 1 of a Series Related to Optimizing Recruiting Team Results

Let me start by saying I am biased with regard to recruiter training. Beyond that bias, though, it is clear that providing development opportunities for people to improve their skills is certainly worthwhile, but in most cases it only holds true provided the training is implemented correctly. But there are countless occasions when I observe recruiter training initiatives deployed incorrectly, so the topic warrants discussion, particularly given that one of the common themes prevalent in today’s workplace environment is cost-containment, and the goal of doing more with less. Indeed, “doing more with less” has probably never been more pressing than in today’s economic climate and is particularly true of human resources and talent acquisition departments across most companies.

I talk with a large number of recruitment leaders who, like many others, are asking, “But how can I do more with less?” As a result many of them are seeking to improve business results by developing their staffing teams. Just last week I was talking with the staffing leader of a large, multinational corporation and the primary mandate for 2011 was to develop her recruiting team capabilities.

I have delivered a large quantity of recruiter training, have also led very large teams of recruiting professionals, and have been required to improve their capabilities through coaching and professional development, including training. I am a huge fan of developing proficiency and capabilities in order to improve business outcomes … but there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to create real results. In truth, I would go so far as to argue that in general terms, one of the primary gaps in the recruiting industry is that the skills of the average cross-section of recruiters would really benefit from significant improvement. Unfortunately, I often observe recruiting leaders investing in training, and then lamenting the fact that recruitment yields, productivity metrics, or other outputs do not show improvement.

One of the reasons for this is that doing more with less requires a systems approach when implementing changes. Recruiting team output is the dependent variable that is related to a number of independent variables that combine with different magnitudes to produce results in the system. These variables include recruiter or team capacity, incentives, motivational factors, feedback and communication systems, skills and competencies, and also environmental factors. We will look at the first couple variables in this article, and the next in the next article.

The presumption underpinning this article is that recruiter training is being implemented in order to improve business outcomes … which seems self-evident, but you might be surprised how many times I’ve observed training being delivered to recruiting (or other) teams without sufficient thought put into answering the question, “What outcome are we trying to improve with this training?” Before training is considered, thinking through the question in detail, and being very specific with regard to what goals training is intended to influence, will pay dividends.

Recommendation #1 — Do not implement training before evaluating recruiter and recruiting team capacity

The capacity variable is strongly correlated to nearly all recruitment metrics, including doing more with less. Indeed, the often-cited measure of “time to fill” is often a measure of recruiting team capacity. Many organizations fall into the Trap of False Economies … what at first seems like a cost-savings measure actually in fact increases operating expenses. For example I commonly observe organizations loading up their recruiters with far too many requisitions, but the net result is that cost per hire increases dramatically. Another example would be a lack of investment in administrative resources … some recruiting organizations “save headcount” by reducing (or eliminating … or outsourcing) much-needed administrative support such as scheduling or other logistics management in order to reduce costs.

Delivering training to a recruiting organization that is at capacity or being stretched beyond its capacity will have negative ROI — the team will just grow frustrated because it doesn’t have time to get to everything on its plate already. Instead, revisit the expectations for the role of each member on the team, revisit the capacity model, and make sure the team has the capacity to implement the behaviors that training is designed to help them improve.

Recommendation #2 — Do not underestimate the impact of incentives

If your recruiting team isn’t incented to improve results or change behaviors, training them how to do something differently or improve their behaviors or skills is unlikely to produce material results. Incentive influences human behavior. It always has and it always will. If you’ve thought through the outcomes you are trying to improve through the delivery of training, then mapping the incentives to these outcomes is relatively easy. However, many staffing organizations have not done an effective job of aligning incentives with the outcomes that drive the most business results. Don’t waste training dollars without thoroughly understanding what the incentive structure, both tangible and intangible, is for your team and whether it’s aligned with the training objectives.

But incentives can be tricky. Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Stanford professor and author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management suggests that incentives can and should include things other than money. A useful exercise is to have your recruiting teams define what incents them. To do so, ask them to form a small focus group of three or more people and send them off to come up with a broad list of incentives, beyond just compensation. Once you have the master list of potential incentives, share them with the broader team and have each team member force-rank them in terms of their personal preferences (what incents each individual most). You may be surprised at the results. Once completed, align the incentives (some will cost zero dollars) against your business objectives, and then evaluate training initiatives against these objectives.

In the next installment, we will examine how motivational factors, feedback and communication systems as well as environmental factors relate to recruiting team training and doing more with less.

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