How Much Do You Trust Your Hiring Managers?

No, the title of this article is not a trick question (although it kind of feels like one, doesn’t it?). Hiring managers are a vital component of the talent acquisition process, and yet their role isn’t always well-defined.

Normally when I map an organization’s recruiting process, the focus is on the recruiter, the coordinator, and the HR business partner. Yes, the hiring manager has a role, but the only consistency for that role is in the interview and decision-making process. Everything else is up for grabs, up to and including the initiation of new headcount justification. 

Things that hiring managers are accountable for — labor budget, capacity planning, KPIs — are reliant on the recruiting process. And yet I see organizations allow hiring managers to outsource this to HR over and over again. 

When I ask why hiring managers aren’t asked to take on more of the process, I hear one of two reasons: 

  1. The hiring managers don’t have the time, or (more commonly) 
  2. “They’re just going to do it wrong.” 

If you have hiring managers who can’t be trusted to justify headcount or take on more hiring responsibilities, you either have too complicated a process or your people leaders shouldn’t have that job anymore. And while we could debate the state of leadership in organizations ad nauseam, let’s focus more on what recruiting leaders can control — the process.

Having a defined standard process can be the difference between a good candidate experience and a terrible one. It helps with reporting on metrics, it helps with keeping up with demand, and it helps identify key bottlenecks in hiring new employees. It brings clarity to roles and responsibilities and ensures everyone is engaged when and where they are needed — especially hiring managers.

As you think about your process, keep the following in mind:

Put responsibility where it belongs. I know HR and Recruiting just want to help, but beware of reinforcing learned helplessness. If hiring managers should be responsible for justifying extra headcount, or should be making the final hiring decision, then let them do that. If they truly don’t have the time or the knowledge to do it, then address the root cause. Simply saying, “I’ll do it,” doesn’t help anyone in the long run.

Automate and standardize as much as you can. If you hire five people a year, maybe you can get away with a highly manual process. But most organizations are looking at much more than that. Every small step of manual intervention (printing resumes, emailing candidates and hiring managers outside the ATS, scheduling) adds up to effort and time. Design a process that works for most of your reqs for most of your positions. Also, it’s perfectly fine to have a separate process for exempt vs non-exempt vs executive. Just have a process.

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Make exceptions rarely and with good reason. Every single hiring manager should not demand to be treated like a snowflake. The exception you make for one hiring manager impacts your ability to support others. Look, I love flexibility in a process. I just think you need to be able to adapt when necessary. A fully rigid process just invites workarounds and noncompliance, so finding a way to build in that flexibility is important. What I don’t love is random exceptions made without justification — and no, personal preference isn’t a justification to add 40 hours of effort to a simple process.

Optimization is iterative. Will you design a perfect process the first time around? Of course not. You need to be open to recognizing when the process isn’t working or when your needs change. Set up a feedback loop with your customers (hiring managers and candidates) to see what’s working and what isn’t. I’ve successfully used surveys for this purpose — five questions, easy to answer and respond. Continuous improvement means you need to always work on it. 

Transparency is vital to success. Places like Amazon and Google, which are often held up as examples of best practice (agree or not), share a detailed explanation of their hiring practice on their website. This lets candidates know what to expect, and it subtly reminds everyone in the company that they need to hold up their parts of the process. And hiring managers who have never been a part of your organization’s process before will appreciate having a playbook — really.

Hold everyone accountable. The beauty of a standard, automated-as-possible process is that it lends itself to metrics. You should be able to report on the metrics that matter to you and your organization — and then act on those reports. If your hiring managers insist on screening every single resume as part of the process, you should be able to call out when that decision adds three+ weeks to your time to fill because they don’t have time to get to it. Decisions have consequences, good and bad. Use your process to help highlight areas where you’re succeeding and where there are challenges.

Process design isn’t always sexy — but it is effective. It can put your recruiting team, and your hiring managers, in the best possible position to be successful. And everyone loves a winner. 

Mary is a principal with IA, a boutique consulting firm focused on HR transformation. She is also a talent strategist and business leader with almost 15 years experience in helping organizations achieve their goals. After working on the operations side of start-ups and small companies, Mary landed in HR by way of learning and development, with extensive experience in leadership and organizational development, coaching, key talent planning, talent acquisition, performance management, business partnering, HRIS, process and policy creation, and instructional design.

In addition to her work within companies, Mary authors a leadership development blog called Surviving Leadership to continue the dialogue around the challenges of leadership – both being a leader and being led. 

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