Managing Bureaucracy

Sep 5, 2002

Most people get a laugh out of reading Dilbert comics, especially when they see how closely Dilbert’s work life resembles their own. But at a certain point, when these comparisons hit particularly close to home, it’s suddenly not so funny. But if you are a recruiter or staffing director within an organization that you know operates with a bureaucratic mindset, it’s important to start taking these issues seriously and to look at how they are affecting your recruiting efforts. Most of us can recognize the bureaucratic mindset pretty easily. It’s usually expressed in statements like these:

  • “We’ve always done it that way.”
  • “We need everyone’s buy-in before we make a decision.”
  • “It’s not in the budget this year to add that career site or technology.”
  • “I don’t want to make my boss mad by spending too much money.”
  • “I don’t want to make the wrong decision. It could get me fired.”

Almost every new organization starts out with the philosophy that they will be different when it comes to politics and bureaucracy ó or that there won’t be any. No one ever sets out to build the perfect bureaucratic atmosphere, in which all employees are expected to play by the book and only by the book. But as a company grows so to do the layers within it, and much of the original “thinking outside the box” philosophy can be lost. Senior executives may still have the strategic and creative vision, but as more middle management layers develop, the lines of communication begin to get clogged. What often happens is that the bureaucracy takes over the true vision of the company, and the recruiting department gets lost in the bureaucracy. In this article, I hope to highlight some of the ways that traditional bureaucratic paradigms that might be negatively impacting the recruitment process within your organization. Timing Is Everything As a past member of the “entry level employee” club, I have seen firsthand the effects of politics and corporate bureaucracy. You enter the company bright-eyed and full of new ideas to grow the business. You become a company person overnight and can’t imagine working anywhere else. You jump headfirst into a project ó let’s say it is to evaluate and sign up career site memberships for your corporate recruiting efforts. Your boss gives you the amount of the budget, the names of the career sites they have used in the past, the prices paid, and the contact names. Then you start calling and find out that the budget you have won’t cover what you need this year. When you mention this to your supervisor, he or she tells you to make it work, because that is all the company has, and in today’s economy we can’t make a case to ask for more money. So you go back and really start aggressive negotiating. Meanwhile, you are only a few weeks away from your old contract with the sites ending and the job sites know it. As you get to the last day of your contract, still nothing. It then takes another three weeks to get everything finalized, but you finally have a signed deal that makes everyone happy. Should they be, though? How might your recruiting process have suffered in the last two weeks, and was it a result of a company policy or a management decision? The Damage Done At any given time, there are over one million open job positions listed on the Internet, with hundreds of candidates applying to any one of them every day. Remember that, other than referrals, use of the career sites on the Internet is where you brand your company for recruiting. Today this is where people are going to look for a job. If any of these jobs are yours and you are not able to capture the job seekers attention for three weeks, someone else has probably already hired your perfect candidate. So, was saving $50,000, or even just $10,000, while at the same time not having your job listed really worth losing the top candidates for one or more of your open positions? Saving vs. Spending With the corporate financial scandals and bankruptcies catching the public eye today, it’s going to become increasingly easy for companies to fall prey to internal bureaucracy that hampers their recruiting efforts. We all know that a legal review of contracts and a good negotiation by your procurement group is sometimes necessary, but it’s also important to examine the cost of lost time and candidates against what you saved. Let me repeat that again, because it is the most important thing to take away from this article: examine the cost of lost time and candidates against what you saved by making sure that everyone in your company had “approved” your spending of your recruiting dollars. It’s sometimes a difficult task, but a closer look at the approval process for spending your already approved budget dollars can reveal serious inefficiencies. To perform such an analysis, start by taking the hourly cost of each individual that will be involved in the decision as well as those not directly involved but impacted by the delay. Multiply that times the number of hours of total input or involvement they will have. Then compare that with what you are saving overall. Let’s look at a quick example using the career site negotiations project mentioned above. The target is to spend no more than $100,000, but the best rate you have been given is $120,000. It takes three weeks of intermittent time to finally get to $100,000. You have saved your company $20,000, but what did it cost your company?

IndividualSalary*Hourly Rate**Hours Involved***Individual Costs
Staffing Manager$80,000$3820$760
Director of HR$120,000$588$464
VP of HR$180,000$864$344
Corp. Attorney$120,000$586$348
Procurement Manager$80,000$388$304
Recruiting Team (5 members)$325,000$156100$15,600
Total Cost$17,820

*Estimated averages based on Chicago market. **Using 2080 total annual work hours. ***Hours are a factor of time that was spent on the project or would have been spent using the service being purchased. So in this scenario, saving the company $20,000 by further negotiating over three weeks actually only saved your company $2,180 ó and this analysis still might not include everyone that was truly involved or impacted during those three weeks. I know a lot of people might say these are fixed costs and that the company still saved $20,000. But if you have five recruiters that are not given one of their main tools to complete their jobs for three weeks, how do you know they are hiring the best candidates? You wanted to make sure that you did a good job in negotiating and protecting the company, so why shouldn’t your recruiters have the same benefit? The reality is, the hires still need to be made. If a recruiter is not able to access candidates at a low cost, they will resort to using a higher cost method, such as a third party recruiter. Even if you don’t believe the numbers above, consider the fact that using a third party recruiter for a single hire that you would have made from this career site during those three weeks would likely cost you more than $20,000. And if you hire poor candidates that promote bureaucracy rather than break it down, you create a never-ending cycle that costs your company more and more every year. Look at the process within your recruiting department for negotiating and approving budget expenditures. You definitely want to have a solid process that everyone follows. But make sure that the process is not counterproductive either. Also, look at the hard and soft costs that go into a new hire and take these into consideration when you are negotiating with vendors when spending your budget. If you are a recruiter or hiring manager that sees this as an all-too-familiar scenario, discuss with your supervisor the impact that waiting can have on your performance and the quality of the candidates you provide. Making a quick decision that costs you a few extra dollars today might actually end up saving you thousands in the long run.