Imagine that last year your company spent hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of dollars to overhaul the technology platform that supports the recruiting function. As the director of recruiting operations for this company, it’s your responsibility to make sure that all the recruiters are using the systems and tools correctly and that the data required for reporting is there. But it seems like every week you have to manually adjust the reports to make the numbers gel. You hear that some division manager is complaining that he is being charged for a system his recruiters don’t use. You just found out that another division is out evaluating new recruiting software packages. You have provided training, you have put out detailed user guides, you have offered one on one support. “Why can’t those lazy recruiters get it?” you think. Sound familiar? It just might, because it’s happening at more and more companies these days. The battle lines between the corporate recruiting operations function and the recruiters on the front line have been drawn for some time now, but recently the stakes have gotten much higher. The spotlight is being shown on the recruiting function, as companies are demanding more accountability and demonstrable returns for the sizeable investments they’re making in recruiting technology. The recruiters who are aligned with the business have been faced with a tight labor market, a scarcity of top talent, and are under increased pressure to deliver the goods. They’ve even been forced to use the dreaded staffing agency and pay contingency fees (well, maybe not as much as of late). But the operations team is pushing the line recruiters more and more to enforce utilization and reduce those agency fees, while the recruiters themselves could care less about the system ó their main concern being how they will fill their vacancies. Recruiting operations thinks the recruiters are just lazy, too afraid to change, or not very computer literate, while recruiters think that operations has its head up in the clouds or has no clue about the needs of the business. The heat of this battle may rage at different temperatures in any given organization; however, some degree of friction almost always exists. The mere fact that one of the purposes of a recruiting operations group is to monitor system usage and compliance practically guarantees it. But I have been involved in hundreds of recruitment automation projects over the last 12 years, and I’ve found that the effectiveness of the operational support group (or individual, as the case may be) will make or break the success of a system implementation. So what can be done to mitigate this risk and stop the infighting? Here are some approaches and techniques that I have found to be essential in creating operational effectiveness. Customer Service There is no other way of looking at a recruiting operation group other than as a customer service center. In the heat of battle we often lose site of this and start pointing out all the things that recruiters are doing wrong. Well, a long time ago I learned some rules from a wise man. Rule number 1: The customer is always right. Rule number 2: If the customer is wrong, see rule number 1. Over the last ten years, with the evolution of the various shades of TQM, most of us have been taught how to identify who our internal customers are and how to identify and address their needs. These techniques should be applied to the recruiting operation. The most effective way to get your operation to turn out better customer support is to make sure the person running it has been a customer before. If you have been a recruiter, it is much easier to know what would be acceptable when it comes to system usage and procedures. Someone who has been a recruiter will have better ability to get creative and do their own acceptance testing before rolling out ideas to the team. It is a difficult position to fill because it can be a thankless job, and the compensation range for the role is nearly never enough to get the quality you need. When you finally get the right person in the role, they will eventually want to advance and move on. You can address this issue by making it a rotational assignment so that all your recruiters get to appreciate what its like on the other side of the fence. If all else fails you can outsource it. Alignment I cannot stress enough the importance of aligning the people, the process and the technology to reduce friction. If the tools are not in alignment with the way recruiters do business, they will slowly but surely slip back to their own means to track candidates. The good news is that we are doing a much better job of process alignment during the implementation in recent years. Alignment is not an event, however. It’s a continuous and never-ending task. Don’t underestimate the complexity of the dynamics embedded in recruiting. The details of a recruiting process will vary by business unit within a company, they will vary by candidate type (college vs. experienced, etc.), and the will vary by the experience and personality of a recruiter and the chemistry they create with a hiring manager. We can map processes by business, we can map by candidate type, but just try to predict the chemistry that will exist between a given recruiter and a manager. I am not suggesting that we need to cater to every idiosyncrasy, but we must identify the obstacles on an individual level and make every attempt to remove them and to find the “best practice” for that situation. But as always, one recruiter’s “best practice” can be another recruiter’s worst nightmare. There are a lot of recruiters out there who can be extremely successful with or without your technology, so you have to help them figure out how they can use your tools to be even more effective, or else the battle will rage on. Change Management One thing is certain, change is imminent. Whether it is mergers and acquisitions, re-organizations, or the turnover within recruiting ranks, this change must be managed to create any long-term success. Here we are in the middle of 2002, the dust is starting to settle, and everyone is anticipating the next wave. Over the last 12 months many organizations have decimated their recruiting organizations, and recruiting operations most likely was the first to go. For those companies that had a well-defined operational support plan, it will be relatively painless to pick up where they left off. For those without one, it will be like starting all over. It might take 3-4 months before anyone realizes there are systems in place to support them, but once someone needs to sign off on the maintenance bill or monthly fee, you can be sure a mandate will follow: “Thou must use the system, now!” This of course is the battle cry that will put the operation and recruiters at odds once again. During mergers, acquisitions, and re-orgs, the operations group should be heavily involved and sophisticated enough to make sure the new organization can be supported effectively. Innovation If we have learned anything in the last decade it’s that there will always be an onslaught of new tools in the market. The people who believe early adopters will gain the most benefit will race to acquire the latest gadgets and gizmos. The more conservative will wait for the early adopters to figure out what gets the best results and follow. Either way, if your recruiting operations group is not constantly monitoring these innovations and figuring out ways to integrate them into your technology platform, your recruiters will figure out how to use them outside of your system. Recruiting operations should also proactively benchmark how other companies are using these tools, stay plugged into user groups, and foster the sharing of information and success stories within the recruiter community. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the true value of the role of recruiting operations, and very rarely is there an adequate budget to staff it correctly. But it is the single most important success factor for attaining and sustaining your desired return on investment. By investing properly in the recruiting operations function, you can prevent your state of the art recruiting technology from becoming obsolete.