Let’s Put an End to Our Inferiority Complex

Jun 27, 2006

HR conference season is nearly complete, and 2006 was a banner year for attendance at all of the conferences. Lots of people were out in force seeking to improve, enhance, and optimize their recruiting and staffing processes, and their skills, as well as to network with their fellow professionals.

As I spent time at these conferences participating in the various sessions, I felt like there was a constant trend in the messages being delivered: The recruiting and staffing function is not working effectively, and we better fix it or else! (We could be outsourced, laid off, someone else could do it better, etc.) If you read all of the articles written about recruiting and staffing on and other media, you could also hear that message.

This profession – and it is a profession – sometimes carries a collective burden. But, we as a profession need to be proud of the great things we have achieved. We don’t hear much of that in conferences and in the recruiting media, but I’ve seen it, and there’s a lot to be proud of. I wrote an article for another publication about metrics in HR and recruiting in which I noted that evaluating and analyzing your HR and staffing activities with even the most rudimentary metric-oriented approach can be very useful and have an immediate impact.

I began the article by mentioning that we all know about the value of even basic metrics, but that more often than not, we don’t even do these basics, even though we know they can help. That got me thinking: Why is it that even when we know it’s good for us, we don’t do the basics? Now, I realize that this is a bigger topic than recruiting and HR. For months I put off upgrading my virus protection on my computer, even though it was only a few mouse clicks away and it was only by sheer luck I avoided about four different worms. This is only one of many examples for all of us, and the true answer for my procrastination lies between me, my therapist, and my inner irresponsible child. But when applied to the world of HR/staffing, the question becomes “Why is it we still have people in top HR/staffing roles not doing the most fundamental of things?”

And, with those who are doing them and succeeding and doing even more sophisticated things, why do they keep so quiet about it? Why is it left to others, like consultants like myself, to write these articles? And, why is it that when the top HR/staffing professionals do speak, they often claim the profession is broken? The answers to these questions have their roots in a bigger issue – the issue of taking our profession seriously.

There are many who have been in the profession for a long time who still don’t take themselves and what they do seriously, who don’t believe in their bones that we’re legitimate. Because they don’t take themselves seriously, they don’t put much time into the basics, and it’s certainly easier for them to look at what we do negatively and wax on about how the glass is half-empty. People inside and outside of this line of work have to continually be reminded (and remind themselves) that this is a profession. It’s an end unto itself. And, it deserves to be treated as such. I’m speaking to those both in the profession and outside of it. People within these roles are more often than not some of the biggest offenders. I’ll get to the reasons why later. Outside of the profession, they don’t have to be convinced. In my sphere of knowledge, I know of about 75 heads of staffing and recruiting roles open today in the U.S. alone.

During the downturn when there were cutbacks, people left the role and the profession; now, during this new expansion, the role is so important that companies won’t hire just anyone. Employers want solid, business-oriented professionals in these roles and often times require that they have in-house experience as well (in the past, they used to hire a lot from outside, third-party recruiters, but the bar is higher now). In short, they want good people, but there aren’t a lot out there. I’ll tell you why people who are in these roles don’t take them seriously.

For many who have been in talent acquisition and talent management for years, there are scars and baggage from the era during which they were treated like second-class citizens – stepchildren of the corporate administrative world. It’s hard to let that go. And for people who are new to staffing, this is often a stepping-stone on their way to somewhere else. But as in all endeavors, the beginnings of taking ourselves and this profession seriously lie in executing the basics well. It builds confidence. These basics include how to find, source, and assess the best candidates. And, they include communicating with your clients and measuring their needs and your effectiveness in a basic way, i.e., metrics. You need these to do your job well. Once that’s taken care of, then it’s on to looking down the path and thinking about how to help your organization strategically. Anticipating and being proactive. To look into the future and have a vision always requires risk, and that you go out on a limb. But you limit your exposure by doing your homework and being thoughtful. In order to do this, the end-goal has to be a big one, such as a shift in your organization’s thinking to one that has a really strong brand, a strong employee value proposition, or a real reason for working that’s actually backed up by the experience an employee has on the job.

In my case, when I was the head of staffing at a large, global media company, I took a big risk and went out on a limb to completely change the way we used third-party search firms. I had noticed our use of third-party search firms was completely inconsistent throughout the company. It was driven by cronyism and individual relationships between the hiring managers and recruiters.

One day, I saw a presentation on a preferred-provider relationship in which the staffing group used a consultant to help structure the arrangements. I was reluctant to use a consultant because, after all, wasn’t that my job? But I talked to this guy and realized he knew more than I did. I also realized that the culture shift that I was shooting for was big enough (and so was the cost savings) that I needed help. And if it worked, regardless of whether I used a consultant, we would all look good. I lobbied my boss to spend a substantial amount of money to hire the consultant. I met with some conflict internally, but I was willing to explore it.

The conflict became constructive, but my credibility was at stake. I believed in the idea, and this was the battle I was willing to fight. I had pushed in my entire stack of chips to the dealer. It worked. The consultant was worth every penny because the results were so large. And, the experience was a highlight of my career. I can actually say that for a time, I changed the culture of a company. I stepped up and made my impact along the lines of other senior leaders in the organization. I was tempted to go out and preach my success to the world. But I didn’t because I was too busy, or I secretly harbored fears that, God forbid, the competition would discover, steal, implement, and ultimately take credit for my work. And these are the answers to the second question I often ask myself, which is, “When good things happen in staffing/HR within organizations, why is it left to others, like consultants (i.e., me) to write these articles?” Because we don’t think we’re legitimate, and because we don’t have the confidence to let things go. But I think it’s important to communicate your successes: what you’re doing that’s working. There’s some reticence for this because of the war for talent.

But, articles can’t just be left up to the consultants. Time is a rare commodity, but you, the HR/staffing professionals, are on the front lines, watching and urging innovation at every turn. Communicating what you’re doing can help others. Those in more established administrative roles, such as marketing, share information because there’s a confidence and ease of camaraderie to let things go. But for us, we need to have confidence in our roles and our profession. We need to stop the negativity and the self-flagellation. We aren’t broken, and we are legitimate. Companies and businesses at the end of the day are, and always have been, about people. Any decent leader will tell you that. Thus, we are the keys to the future. We need to believe that, let things go (and know it will help, not hurt us), and have pride in the name of the HR/staffing profession!