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Recruitment: more than a side show.

It's said that doctors bury their mistakes, accountants write off theirs, sales people lose their mistakes to the competition, lawyers have the right of appeal. Executives, however, come face to face with the cold reality of their mistakes on the elevator every morning.

One of the most repeated management truisms is that nothing is more important to an organization's success than its people. Much of today's institutional advertising echoes this. "Quality people, quality products." "Our greatest resource is human." "Our product is widgets, our strength is people."

In many cases, this truism is more statement than fact. The critical corollary of this people-first approach is disregarded -- an organization's success really depends on finding and hiring the right talent at the outset. If companies did, senior executives would have less to dread as they step into the elevator in the mornings.

Similarly, although philosophically understood, few organizations act on the reality that central to the recruitment equation is that the standards demanded and the performance expectations outlined for managers and executives rises year by year. Competitive pressures, organizational complexity, global markets, social and legislative changes, to say nothing of new technologies, demographic shortfalls, and the information explosion, makes the need to continuously ask more from those key leadership roles. Indeed, any reasonable observer might have expected that this would have resulted in the methodologies, process, and indeed the calibre of those involved in recruiting this new generation of executive being subject to ever more exacting standards.

The truth of the matter is that few organizations have taken the time, or allocated the appropriate level of resource, that will enable them to respond to what can best be summarized as the dual realities of talent shortfall in conjunction with a business environment of increased competitiveness.

The failure to focus on recruitment as an essential dimension of long-term business performance is further compounded by the reality that organizations today are more vulnerable to, and the potential damage is greater from, hiring and recruitment malaise than has been the case even in the recent past. More to the point, like a small hole in a good sweater, if not addressed in time, it may not be capable of being fixed at all. This heightened vulnerability flows in large measure from the paradigm that is quickly emerging as the outline for high performance organizations. That is to say:

* A focus on the team as a basic building block in the organization means that a poor hiring (or indeed, promotion) decision, not only impacts the eventual contribution derived from the new employee, but equally important, limits the overall effectiveness, and often significantly, of the whole team.(1)

* Flatter organization structures, in conjunction with decentralization into quasi autonomous small business units, has resulted not only in key decisions being taken further from the centre, but for fewer staff specialists being available to filter the decisions. Thus, far from moving towards becoming a body dependent upon a kind of collective consensus, organizations are finding market responsiveness demands that decisions, and often key decisions, be made quickly, often with little time for exacting analysis, by individuals far removed from those ultimately held accountable.

* A move to single sourcing and strategic alliances has moved many critical business relationships from one of contractual confrontation to one of mutuality and value adding partnering(2). Such relationships, however, are at heart, built on trust. A trust engendered by consistency and continuity. Such strategic alliances do not fare well in an environment generating unnecessary management turnover, with the resulting need for the basic trust to be continuously re-established at a personal level.

Building on the fact that organizations are, and will continue to demand more from those in key leadership positions; that the skills and experience necessary for success limits the pool of talent available; and that once appointed, the impact resulting from anything less than successful performance from an executive or manager is likely, in a market driven environment, to be difficult to fix, what should organizations do about it? Where should they focus if they are to put in place recruitment and hiring processes that respond to the organizations needs?

Unfortunately, there is no easy set of answers to these questions. Recruitment is, in part, a complex issue in that intangibles and subtleties of the human behaviour are implicitly involved. Indeed, it is this intuitive aspect of recruitment that in the era of Business School training and resulting dependency on analytical technique, has made recruitment and hiring an unfamiliar skill to a high percentage of today's managers.

As a first step, organizations must spend time on recruitment as a critical strategic issue and be prepared to invest corporate resources. Recruitment must be seen as a critical investment and not an unnecessary cost. Equally important is the realization that the responsibility for recruitment is not a middle management role, or somewhere to place a hitherto successful senior manager who has now started to slow down. The best way to answer the question - "How serious is the organization about finding and hiring talent?" - is perhaps found in a 'critical' list of questions:

* Is the individual responsible for the recruitment process a senior executive?

* Is he or she considered to be amongst the top handful of performers in the organization?

* Do promotion decisions rest, at least in part, on an executives ability to pull together a high performance team underneath him/her?

* Is there an established and well honed recruitment process with checks and balances at each stage?

* When mistakes are made is there an exacting evaluation of the recruitment and hiring process to ensure that the same mistake is unlikely to occur?

* Is the process subject to ongoing review and evaluation such that the process is undergoing continuous improvement?

* Are new hires given an opportunity to candidly comment on the hiring process? Are individuals who turned down an opportunity to join the organization equally solicited in terms of their views?

* Is the recruitment process subject to critical review from a third party outside the organization to ensure that standards are not dropping?

Moving ahead in terms of recruitment, however, goes beyond having the right people involved. For the majority of organizations the problem is systemic in that the overall approach is narrow in focus and far too reliant on the 'magic' of the interview. The evidence is that the interview, except when conducted by highly trained professionals, is a highly unreliable tool(3). When set within the context of inadequate up-front analysis of the organizations needs(4), together with ill thought through new hire integration(5), the interview becomes a very expensive crap shoot. More to the point, in a rapidly changing business environment, mistakes made involving two or three hires can often amount to 'betting the business'.

To be effective, recruitment is, for the most part, dependent not on one or two key initiatives but on a wide range of often small elements. Successful organizations, and certainly those that remain successful, take what can best be described as a systems approach to recruitment. An outline of our own approach within Lawson Mardon underscores the critical components in such a systems approach. The approach given hinges on the belief that there are three distinct stages to the recruitment process, with successful delivery in any stage being dependent upon effective implementation in the earlier stage. Our experience mirroring that of high performance organizations is that short cuts cost money. Perhaps the best way to understand what is involved is to briefly examine each stage of the model we have developed in Lawson Mardon.

All investment decisions entail some risk. The risk is significantly increased where a logical disciplined approach gives way to poorly thought through, highly judgmental, decision making. Inappropriate, or simply bad, recruitment decisions compound this problem in that errors affect not just the immediate job and work area, but as often as not, the contribution of others, often far removed from the point of hire.

Equally important, the quality of the recruitment process itself has a very long term impact. Employees upon becoming supervisors and managers will, invariably, model their own behaviour, not on standards of excellence but, upon what they themselves have experienced. Thus, the seed once sown continues to return, not as a prize bloom, but as a flawed -- soon to wilt -- weed. And let us not forget -- weeds are the devil to get rid of!

John Burdett is Vice President of Lawson Mardon Group, a billion dollar printing and packaging conglomerate based in Toronto, Canada. John's responsibilities encompass management and executive development in Germany, France, U.K., Ireland, U.S., and Canada.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Canadian Institute of Management
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:effective recruitment system as tool for corporate success
Author:Burdett, John O.
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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