Feb 16, 2011
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

I’ve been thinking a lot about speed.

Things are starting to loosen up in the talent marketplace. Candidates are now comfortable changing jobs. Jobless claims are dropping, as is the unemployment rate, but there are not a huge amount of new jobs being created (yet). So The Great Churn of 2011 has begun, as employees (including recruiters) start to change companies after having hunkered down for the last three years. And this is putting increased pressure on corporate recruiting departments, most of which have been cut in ways we haven’t before seen. My prediction is that 2011 will be a tough year for most corporate recruiting departments.

Which brings us back to speed.

Not the I ride fast motorcycles kind of speed, or the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, or other more illicit connotations.

I’ve been thinking a lot about speed as it relates to the overall performance of recruiting operations, and how in this economy, speed is a source of competitive advantage, and should strongly be considered as a strategy for 2011.

There are three primary interdependent variables when it comes to optimizing recruiting operations: Speed (or Time), Cost, and Quality. Generally speaking, corporate recruiting departments are only able to optimize for two of the three at any one time. There is almost always going to be one of these three components that gets traded away in favor of the other two. For example, if you want to hire high quality talent very quickly, it’s going to be very expensive.  Conversely, if you don’t care so much about quality, you can hire very quickly at very low cost. There are a never-ending series of trade-offs happening between speed, quality, and cost.

Most organizations would be well served to think through these tradeoffs as part of their longer-term talent strategy. Because in practice, organizations talk a lot about optimizing for quality, but in practice most organizations optimize for cost. Until they get behind in their staffing plan, and then they optimize for speed by hiring more search firms because the pain of unfilled vacancies becomes too great. We’ve seen this as recruiting departments across the world have been whittled to bits and are now being asked to deliver with insufficient capacity.

There is a strong argument for focusing on speed: speed, in many cases, breaks the tradeoff model described above. There are many ways to preserve cost and hiring quality and still improve speed. With operational discipline, recruiting organizations can (relatively) easily impact the speed of their process. And doing so will lead to improved recruiting yields. And reduce the average net workload per recruiter required per hire. Which preserves recruiting team capacity while increasing throughput. Indeed, increasing speed reduces cost per hire for these reasons… hiring faster is less expensive.  This is why speed should be an area of focus for 2011. Getting candidates through your recruiting process quickly is a great area of focus as we head into a more competitive talent marketplace, while recruiting departments are being rebuilt and are currently stretched.

Here’s a real example: Back in the late 1990s, I was in charge of recruiting for a technology integration consulting firm. We were relatively small (several hundred people) but frequently competed for talent with Oracle, Anderson Consulting, KPMG, and other large, multinational firms. We won far more than our fair share of the available talent, and mostly we did it with speed. We out-executed our competition by implementing a more efficient and speedy recruiting process. Our goal was to give recruits that we wanted to hire a job offer before they left our office on the day of the interviews. And we frequently did so. Of course the recruiters and I needed to prepare candidates for this, and handle objections, and complete other due diligence in order to make it happen.  To use speed as a competitive advantage, you just need to be materially faster than your competition. Which in some industries is not that hard to accomplish. Speed is always relative.

The other upside is that speed is generally required to hire the “best of the best” talent: the talent that doesn’t ever look for a job. The truly exceptional talent won’t settle for a slow, arduous process. For these candidates, speed is actually part of the selling process.

It takes organizational discipline and concerted focus, but most recruiting teams can, with little cost, and with zero impact on quality, improve the speed of their process.

Here are some ideas to help focus your thoughts on speed as a recruiting strategy:

  • Start making changes in recruiting process with jobs that are mission-critical to your business. This will pave the way for hiring teams to buy-in to potential changes, and also allows you to more clearly articulate and illustrate the improvements. So choose the recruiting processes related to the jobs that if left unfilled, would create the most negative impact on your  organization. Where there is pain you will find motivation.
  • Next, find advocates in the line business that will help with execution. This shouldn’t be a hard sell, particularly if you frame it as, “I am hoping to implement some changes so we can fill your jobs faster, without increasing costs or diminishing quality, and I am looking for a partner in the business who will help me.”
  • Once you have found an advocate in the business, task them with helping quantify the cost of vacancy for these key roles. This will help you frame up the “before” and “after” business impact.
  • Then, measure the duration of time it takes from candidate engagement to final selection decision. Don’t do this in aggregate with average time to fill or other broad-brush stroke metrics. Instead, follow a few actual candidates through the process, and put yourself in their shoes, so to speak, by considering the process from their vantage point. Pay particular attention to the duration of time between interactions between the candidate and your organization, and measure each of those time-segments carefully.
  • Finally, re-evaluate the business reasons that are creating the cycle time in each segment, and re-engineer the process in ways that reduce the wait time. For example, one easy way to shave days or weeks off most recruiting processes is to schedule interview days with hiring teams in advance of generating candidates, and then slot the candidates into predetermined interview days.

All of this to say that speed is a great area of focus for 2011. There is more reading, and five more operational tactics and recommendations related to speed here.

As usual, sound off in the comments.

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