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Re-recruitment – Roundtable Report

16 February 2011     London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.

DELEGATES
Alison Harris, Resource Planning Manager – Santander
Andrew Kennedy, Head of Resourcing/Shared Services – Metropolitan Housing Partnership
Emma Knights, Talent Acquisition Lead – Microsoft
Obed D Louuissaint, Director Human Resources – IBM Global Technology Services
James Rapinac, Marketing Director – Gallup
Helen Taylor, HR Consultant – Ricoh Europe Plc
Peter Banks, Managing Director – theHRDIRECTOR
Simon Conington, Director – BPS Europe

Keeping the talent, knowledge and capability in the employee base is a crucial strategy for all employers.

When tough times call for tough measures, and redundancy threatens the talent base, innovation and flexibility are essential to keep that talent within the reach of the organisation, to avoid all that expensive training and development going to rival businesses. theHRDIRECTOR re-recruiting roundtable focused on current trends and key challenges, exploring in depth, re-recruiting strategies towards sustainable and optimised operational performance.

What are the key challenges facing employers as they consider resourcing, re-recruiting and looking for talent for the future?

Emma Knights: The green shoots are now small plants? We’re definitely seeing an increase in activity, in terms of hiring, which is very positive. I think one of the biggest questions that we’re trying to answer ourselves at the moment is ‘what does great talent actually mean’? I think we’re very good at measuring it and we have high potential programmes, where we incubate it and we help to develop it, but what does quality of hire actually mean and how do you measure it? So that’s a real challenge at the moment that we are trying to look at and we’ve started to measure it in terms of quality. We’ve just completed a four year piece of research for one area of our business in the US which was very interesting. But I think, as an organisation, we need to get much smarter about measuring that quality of hire, pulling the parallels between those qualities, our high performance and getting a connection between each of those areas.

Microsoft, has a strong employer brand, does that present more pressure to live up to expectation?

Emma Knights: I think it puts a lot of emphasis on making sure candidate value proposition and employee value propositions are identical and that the message that you’re portraying externally is totally authentic.

Alison, Santander has continued to grow through the downturn, give us an insight into meeting those resourcing needs.

Alison Harris: Yes, the outlook at Santander has continued to be very positive. Our challenges have come about as a result of the integration of new businesses. We have seen a change in the mix of activity and skills required in our business. In some parts of the organisation, typically head office and support roles, we have inevitably found duplication as we have integrated separate businesses. However, at the same, we have increased the number of roles in our branches and customer support centres to address customer demands and drive an improvement in service. From a resourcing perspective, we’ve enjoyed a relatively strong position during this economic downturn.

What is the job market like at the moment?

Andrew Kennedy: It’s a peculiar job market, a very unbalanced job market, I think we’re all probably feeling that, where the people who traditionally would be in the job market are not, the people who would take a punt at the job because they’re thinking ‘I’ve been where I am four years, I’ve done as much as I can, let’s look for something new’. To get the skills and expertise, it is hard to get on people’s radars. As employer brands, we’re not a Microsoft or Santander.

Are we right about what we think attracts Gen Y, and has their thinking, their expectations, been altered by the economic downturn?

Simon Conington: Gen Y has, largely, not needed for anything. They are confident, technology minded and comfortable with social media. As a result, they have been able to be more selective on issues such as the environment. Public opinion can drive change but it takes longer to achieve. Where you have legislation and public opinion working together change is very swift. I think we’ve moved on from Gen Y now. I think we’ve got Gen Y are very proud about who they were, very technology savvy. I am interviewing people who are willing to work for free. Graduates, 2:1s, willing to come in and just give me some work experience.

What a brand, or indeed a whole sector represents, beyond the products or services, has never been more relevant and under so much scrutiny.

James Rapinac: Authenticity is vitally important as you’ve been saying. Based on our experience with recruitment at Gallup as with clients we work with, the important thing is getting the correct alignment and ensuring that your internal brand is authentic with the people inside your organisation. Even if you do have a brand that screams corporate social responsibility, if the experience of new hires is completely different from expectations set by the employer brand, they are going to be very disappointed.

Emma Knights: The research points exactly to that being the number one (ECO readiness) above anything else, as to why graduates want to be attached to an organisation, so my view is that you need to be ready for that, you need to make sure that as a workplace, not so much from an attraction point of view, but from a workplace point of view, that we’re geared up to do that and that we’re on the right track.

Do you think recession has blunted that?

Emma Knight: I think if I just look at the research that we’ve done in Microsoft , we’ve found that environmental issues are in the top three, for Gen Y, and it’s usually in the top five for experienced hires and that’s only looking at the last 18 months or so, but it’s really interesting how that’s important. I’m going to be really curious to get people’s views on this but we’re finding that beyond just the green issues, the people are asking questions.

Simon Conington: Corporate and Government agendas have been affected by the financial crisis. The green agenda has in many cases been put on hold. The progress that was being made has lost its momentum. If an organisation is serious about promoting and contributing to the green agenda then they need to be serious. This needs to be reflected in the company’s values and actions. They will genuinely have a huge effect on the talent that they attract.

Andrew Kennedy: Our sustainability team tackles issues such as carbon neutral house building policies, educating and communicating our travel policies and waste management procedures, so that’s a big challenge for me going forwards.

James Rapinac: We have defined five components of wellbeing: financial, community, social, career and physical, and we find that there is a very strong link between these components and engagement, which is a proxy for productivity and other performance outcomes. These elements are tightly linked to the employer brand, and they also raise employee expectations for the employer to live that brand promise.

If asked, people are more likely to say they care about the environment than not, so any survey is skewed.

Simon Conington: I go back to that word of authenticity, it’s what does it represent and I think if we look at that and get away from this year’s issues, does every company feel they are representing a brand with that kind of alignment where that message is super clear, and I think that’s possibly more important than any one particular issue.

What are the real resourcing challenges at present?

Simon Conington: In many industries, we have what I call a skills bubble. This is where an industry stops hiring or investing in new talent for a given period. Then when they start hiring again they find that the talent they seek does not exist. The only way to combat this is significant investment. When true investment comes to an industry it becomes attractive and people with transferable skills migrate to it. When a nation develops a scarcity mentality, as we have witnessed over the last three years, organisations stop spending and investing. A survival mentality takes precedence over investment in our future.

Do employers effectively look internally for talent?

Andrew Kennedy: Internal talent pooling is the big challenge I always face. Are you better buying in talent or are you better developing it from within? For the last six years the policy has been that all vacancies went internally only for a period of a couple of weeks, to see what you had in the first instance. I abolished this because I was fed up with listening to managers saying that they were permanently settling for mediocrity. Well now we’ve come around full circle. We did trial to see whether a job would be filled internally or externally, to see what the talent pool was like. I’m in a bit of a quandary actually as to what to do because I believe the internal talent is an important asset that needs to be built up and closely monitored. Our HR business departments have put a lot of focus on career route planning and understanding within their business areas, where the roots are, where the next role is and what the plan is to develop people.

Simon Conington: It’s one of the biggest things that I try to combat, sometimes there’s a culture against internal promotion. There are misconceptions that an external hire will have no faults. Everyone has a mix of skills and character traits and employers must provide the opportunity to train, coach or mentor them in a mutually agreeable direction.

Alison Harris: Yes, it’s about making sure everyone in your organisation understands the career paths in their area and what development is required to progress and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to access this development.

Peter Banks: You must get the communication and the messages right though.

Alison Harris: You can manage the message by good management practice when it comes to development and succession planning. There will be times when we’re looking to bring in new skills into the organisation, in which case it will be obvious why we don’t look internally. Occasionally, we may want to benchmark internal talent with that available in the external market place and this can be managed by ensuring these opportunities are posted internally at least at the same time.

Simon Conington: One of my frustrations is, I work with so many companies who go straight to an external solution. I think it’s very important the point that Alison made, why did the vacancy come about because actually if you’ve got it completely right, it should be a natural progression. The reason BPS is in business is because companies need to make external hires, but what we try and do is make sure that hiring is also tied into their own succession planning and talent management programs.

Isn’t there a fear that it could mean vacancies are only filled from within?

Obed Louuissaint: We split roles by internal and external. First we would primarily say most job postings are internal only for a couple of weeks. In that time period, look at your internal candidates, in fairness to them. If there is an opportunity, make sure that you vet it fairly and it’s an open market, so someone can apply for it. After a couple of weeks of giving first advantage to people, internally, because they know our business, they know how things work in the company and you can’t discount that right. Sometimes interviews and selection is flawed. You can also have misaligned expectations with candidates, or the candidate has a different impression and within a year or two we find that our attrition of those individuals is more rapid or more frequent than people who have been there for some time. So there’s inherent risk in hiring from the outside world. Then there are times where it makes more sense to see the new team with someone new with a different perspective.

James Rapinac: Whether you’re looking at external or internal candidates, it is important to have some kind of scientific measure of talent among the selection criteria you are using. Recruitment and selection is in some ways an art more than a science, but having some objective measures of candidate talent can help to make a better hiring decision. It is also important to have a clear understanding of what the performance objectives of the role are, and of who in your organisation are the best performers currently. Ultimately, however you gauge candidate talent, skills and overall capability, you want a measure that is a reliable, predictive measure of a candidate’s likely chances of success in the role.

What are the tools available when selecting candidates, I guess references are key?

Obed Louuissaint: It’s where you draw the line between what’s chatty gossip versus real feedback, because sometimes you get into these things where a reference is poor, I mean it’s just not credible, and then you know what I found interesting is when you referenced a referencer, so what’s the performance or credibility of the person that’s giving the feedback. Would I give the person a job who’s telling me that this other person isn’t good. Sometimes you just have to look at who is the messenger.

Simon Conington: My favourite word is alignment, and it’s understanding what the criteria of the role is and then selecting, trying to drag the emotion out of a decision.

Alison Harris: Re-recruitment of people who have left the organisation is not something that we currently focus on. If our employees are affected by change and their roles are potentially redundant, we work really hard to redeploy. Integration has the potential to create a lot of change in organisational structure and senior management. New leaders may want to make changes, for example, to the skills mix within their team or to the location where activity is carried out and these initiatives can generate both redundancy and recruitment cost as well as unsettle employee relations which does not make sense.

James Rapinac: Turbulent times pose huge challenges to engagement and motivating a workforce, but it is possible to get these things right even in the midst of a major financial crisis. It is not easy to do, and particularly during the recent crisis there were many organisations making people redundant that hadn’t had much experience in doing that before, and a lot of them handled it quite badly. However, if you can manage redundancies in the right way it is possible to mitigate the negative effect of them on survivors’ engagement levels.

There are options to redundancy, there is the flexibility to keep talent close at hand. Re-employment as an example and keeping talent in reach.

Obed Louuissaint: We rarely go back in a systemic way to look at people that we’ve made redundant. The reason being is when we go about making someone redundant, it’s generally on a strategic move, so if we are investing from the skill group and that skill is now going to be done some place else, then the fact of the matter is, we are – unless that person goes and re-markets or re-brands themselves, we don’t have a need for that skill anymore. Where we are in the business of rerecruitment and we have to get better at it, is around people who voluntarily left, that may have been a regretted loss, and those are individuals that maybe we would like back. We need to do better at creating an alumni network around those individuals, because the ones that we made redundant, we painstakingly go through a process and make sure that we’re making the right decision in fairness for that individual and for us.

Alison Harris: I would say that as well as considering employees who leave to take up a job with a competitor, it would also be good to think about those who leave for family or personal reasons, some for a different job, and some for home or travel, who may be interested in re-joining the organisation at a later point in their life.

Simon Conington: A company that we’re working with has created an employee network on LinkedIn and the first debate was ‘well people have left, can they still stay in the forum’? Well yes, the organisation said and then I received a phone call, could you come in and help us with a decision – an ex-employee who has gone to another company is using our page to advertise opportunities, what do we do?

Emma Knights: I guess my view on that would be, let the individuals make the choice themselves. At the end of the day it’s up to the individuals to make that decision. I think the worse thing they could do is draw attention to the fact that they don’t like that idea, would be my own humble opinion but it’s entirely up to the individuals to make those choices and if you’re confident in your brand and you are looking after those people and they are engaged, then you have to hold true to that.

How is recruitment changing for employers – is there likely to be more internal selection?

Andrew Kennedy: We have an internal recruitment function that clearly uses a number of resources to attract candidates, our strategy is to as much as possible, direct hire and so that we have so many people subscribed to join. We have 3500 people on that database who frequently expressed an interest and are frequently appointed from that source, we need to keep topping that up from other sources by using websites.

What are the options open to businesses that are diversifying away from their core markets, or to new territories?

James Rapinac: A commercial bank that we work with is very adept at deploying best practices in recruitment as they expand into emerging markets. Many of the roles they are recruiting for are very similar to existing roles but of course the environment may be very different, or the business objectives of the new market could be quite different from other markets. So in emerging markets the bank tries to define the roles they are recruiting for with regard to the business objectives of the bank. Once that is done, they can decide to what extent they should look for similar profiles to the persons that have been successful in other parts of the business and designate what must be different.

Is there an ideal recruitment model… what would it look like?

Emma Knights: That’s always the obvious place to start in building what that talent looks like, and we talked about earlier having an internal/external succession plan and I would say that we are getting there, certainly for our key roles, but it’s an on-going journey.

Andrew Kennedy: Our structure is the problem, I would love to have a succession plan for the most significant pain points in the organisation, we have about 250 people a year who move jobs internally within the organisation either vertically or horizontally and therefore could become more credible applicants after that, but I struggle with some of my vertical challenges which don’t help.

Obed Louuissaint: We had this issue as well and we’re in the process of reconstructing some job roles, giving greater scope, repackaging jobs, increasing levels of individual accountability and developing individuals, so the cream of the crop kind of rises to the top, and then you’ve got a better path to your more senior roles.

How can employers adopt and implement comprehensive green field resourcing plans and the holistic approach to recruitment?

Simon Conington: I suppose my interpretation is general rule of thumb there are many exceptions but recruitment was a big issue three years ago, it’s not exactly been the top of a lot of companies to do this, in fact, the opposite were true for a while and we’re in a static period right now, there are obvious exceptions. I suppose my interpretation of that as I read it was right, ok, well we’ve got a clean slate because we’re at point neutral so we could actually change, what are we gonna do with that.

The Recruitment sector itself has had to redefine and reinvent itself.

Simon Conington: The recruitment industry has had to adopt the new networking tools while still understanding that there is merit in all the other traditional tools. Inherently people are lazy, that’s why agencies exist, because it’s a lot easier to throw your CV at an agent and ask them to present job opportunities. It is the same for clients. It is easier to turn to agency than build their own community of talent. Technology has allowed us to be working 24/7. We’re always connected and communicating. As a result job people are not proactively going to go to the job board to search because opportunities are hitting them all the time.

Obed Louuissaint: Interpreting green field is kind of open, it’s a new world and it’s everything is an option right, I think if we as a function start to recognise recruitment as a real process and a solution versus a set of transactions, I think that can get different results and I think it’s the conversation around what does recruitment utopia look like? But it’s engaging in a relationship with the person, a set of skills and the cultural fit – we know more as the relationship increases and that’s a pool of individuals.

Recruitment seems far less personalised today, certainly at the thick end of the wedge?

Emma Knight: That’s where I think there is a fad! Where employers are going too far down the technology line and removing that relationship. It’s absolutely about relationships. If you’ve got somebody who knows they are one of the top five in their field in the world, are they going to go into a company that they don’t know. Or are they going to go with the company who they’ve been talking to for the last two years? People are going to prefer those relationships, they know what the environment’s like.

Peter Banks: In football, the way scouts get to know young players and keep an eye on their progress, there’s something that businesses can learn from this.

Yes. we spoke about tracking would be recruits at an early stage.

Emma Knight: It’s about providing talent the right entry points into your organisation and that’s not just HR, it’s providing accessibility to our business, do you agree?

Obed Louuissaint: I absolutely agree! Everyone recruits, right? Recruitment isn’t delegated to a particular function within an organisation, every employee carries a brand around every day and if you recognise that everyone has a role in recruitment and in bringing on the best talent then this isn’t a delegated function.

Simon Conington: There is good sense in reaching out as early as you can to the talent needed tomorrow. It’s also about a value exchange. With this in mind, companies that engage with Universities and contribute to their programme, get visibility of the candidates suitable for them. Technology provides another platform to build a community of future talent. BPS has also used technology to build an associate programme of pre-vetted talent for a client. We have used the downturn period to get it started but now this community has gained kudos and now is an attraction tool in its own right. Two years ago, you couldn’t even get hold of these people, and now for a very inexpensive cost, the client now has a live community of potential talent.

What have we learnt, both recruiters and managers, with regards to the past and what is the future of recruitment in terms of best practice?

Obed Louuissaint: I think onboarding in some better at, basic best practice is make sure the person’s manager is working on the candidates first day. It’s simple things like, that they have a phone and a laptop.

James Rapinac: It makes me think of the ultimate worst practice in onboarding. I don’t know if anybody knows the American TV series Seinfeld, but there is an episode in which one of the characters applies for a job and at the end of the interview he’s not really sure whether or not he got the job – so the following Monday he just shows up for work and simply acts as if he did indeed get offered the job. Obviously this is not best practice in terms of recruitment and onboarding. On a more serious note, something that happens frequently is that all the intelligence and information about the candidate, gathered during the selection process is either lost or simply not used once he or she is hired. That’s a shame because it can be valuable for future development, or for the new employee’s manager, in terms of how he or she should motivate, engage, recognise, etc.

Simon Conington: I think there is a differential there, it’s an old recruitment saying but it’s very true, ‘time kills deals’. I think there’s a huge differential between taking time in the process to get it right, communicating that we’re getting it right, versus procrastination. So I take your point on board, and one of the cultural changes we bring is focussing on the consulting piece with the candidate.

Do employers outsource recruitment to offload a problem, as opposed to seeking a solution?

James Rapinac: From my perspective it depends on whether you label recruitment as a problem or a solution. Whatever your approach is, and whether you outsource recruitment or keep in inhouse, an important part of the process is understanding what the business objectives are and, from that, what performance outcomes you wish to achieve through your recruitment strategy in the short, medium and long term.

Andrew Kennedy: To me, it’s trying to educate my managers who are hiring people, that they need to think about recruitment as a critical business decision, because too many of them don’t. But it’s actually the person who interfaces with your customers which means whether or not you’re a successful organisation. All that’s pretty basic of course, but people forget it and customers won’t say great things about your company. If you are considering a partner you want them to be a true partner who understands your business completely.

Alison Harris: Managed appropriately, I believe outsourced partners can be an integral part of your resourcing solution and this is something we have in our resourcing function at Santander It’s important to define your requirements, and work with partners who understand and can fulfil these. You also have to have a clear operating model where everyone involved understands the processes and their responsibilities.

Obed Louuissaint: I think that it is a solution, the reason? It’s an opportunity gap, because there is – as evidenced by our conversation today – a lot of innovation left in recruitment and a partner who is probably doing it over a couple of different organisations, with core subject matter expertise, has got a slight advantage in finding those innovations and implementing them because it’s their business. I also believe that recruitment is quite cyclical in nature from a business perspective, so the ability to flex in the scale can be managed by a partner who is working in multiple industries and can balance, do peaks and values in different industries.

Emma Knight: From my perspective, it’s definitely an opportunity, a solution I guess. If I had to be in one of those two camps. I think for us it’s about agility, to be able to ramp up and down in the main part of your engine of recruitment and I think there is a lot to be said for getting that metric right. I think also having an external lens on what best practice looks like, not just in your own industry, but in others. I think there’s so much that we can learn from other industries.

In terms of representing the business and the brand, recruitment is at the front desk.

Simon Conington: Yes it is. Successful recruitment is about rigour and tenacity. Recruitment is about people and so will never be a pure science; it will always be subject to interpretation and debate. I’m often used to being the expert in the room. I’ve been very humbled today by the expertise and experience of the group and the value I have gained.

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