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Raj Tulsiani

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Recruitment in a downturn: Planning for the future

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Employers must spend time now examining how best to attract talent to nurture the business and invest in the future. Raj Tulsiani explains how organisations can get it right.

A disturbingly large number of organisations have reacted to uncertain economic times by downsizing with an axe rather than a scalpel. To a certain extent, that approach is almost understandable – corporate history has shown us that it is difficult to be strategic in a crisis. In terms of personnel, the result tends to be a loss of control on two fronts:
 
  • Organisations struggle to retain the employees they do want to keep
  • Organisations find it difficult to attract the talent they need to move forward
 
That loss of control is a challenge, but there are a number of steps HR departments can take to plan for the upturn (when it finally arrives). Undertaking that planning now puts you ahead of the game, and ahead of the competition, when it comes to competing for the best talent as the economy recovers.
 
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to plan for ‘the new normal’, because we don’t really know what it’s going to look like. However, in terms of planning for future recruitment, there are three fairly simple building blocks you can put in place so that you are ready to move forward swiftly and accurately when the time comes.
 
1. Review your recruitment channels
 
While you aren’t undertaking a large amount of recruitment, it’s a sensible time to review your current channels against your service level agreements and performance targets. It’s actually not as arduous as it sounds because the suppliers have to do most of the work.
 
For example, you can get them to produce statistics outlining their ‘hit rate’ of candidates supplied versus successful placements, which will allow you to assess the relative effectiveness of your recruitment partners. This is a good opportunity to disengage underperformers, but on a more positive note it is a chance to find out who is doing well and what they are doing differently.
 
You’ll probably find that they are not only working harder to match candidates of the right skills and experience, but also that they have a good understanding of your employer brand, and are finding candidates who are a close cultural fit to your environment. I believe that the easy part of recruitment is finding the skills and experience against the job specification: we can all read a CV. The challenging part is the bit where the best recruitment partners add value – accurately identifying candidates who will be a comfortable fit with the organisation’s culture and stakeholder management environment.
 
As an aside, you may want to take the opportunity to expand your ‘audit’ to explore the diversity of your supply chain and their commitment to corporate social responsibility, if you haven’t already.
 
2. Build new relationships and channels
 
Once you know what good looks like, you can look towards new channels that will be able to replicate that success. The suppliers you consider should be able to demonstrate a track record with similar client organisations, but you should also be looking for organisations with the strategic understanding to explore and understand your employer brand, business challenges and culture. Those sorts of suppliers are the most likely to be in a position to become a strategic partner in the future.
 
It’s a highly competitive supplier market at the moment, so you can very probably test your potential new channels by asking them to prove themselves on your most challenging assignments without adding them to your preferred supplier list.

 
3. Find suitable flexible resourcing channels

 
When the time comes to begin resourcing initiatives, it’s likely that most HR departments need to ensure that a higher proportion of hires are made on a non-permanent basis. It’s one of the most simple and effective risk mitigation strategies available. In fact, a large number of organisations currently have ‘hiring freezes’ on permanent staff, but have actually increased their proportional level of hires of interim employees (who are also increasingly used as a direct replacement for costly management consultancy).
 
Without going into too much depth, the relatively short notice periods of non-permanent executives, coupled with their direct accountability for results, makes them a solid operational risk-mitigation option.
 
If you don’t already have specialist interim suppliers, you are probably at a disadvantage since the best interims tend to align themselves with independent suppliers rather than ‘bolt-on’ divisions of permanent specialists. However, with a small amount of research, you can find specialist interim suppliers – a good start would be to explore the suppliers who have been accredited as members of the Interim Management Association.
 
If you already have preferred interim resourcing channels, you can easily run them through the same review process described above, using the same methodology.
 
In summary, the future is still uncertain, so it is very difficult to make concrete hiring or workforce plans. However, there is the opportunity to get your resourcing strategy realigned with the new, more competitive environment. It’s a good chance to review your recruitment supply chain with a view to demanding better, more consistent results from them. There is also a window to develop good strategic partnerships with new suppliers you will engage to deliver when the economy turns.
 
If you’re frantically trying to find appropriate resourcing partners when you actually need to make immediate hires, you’re more likely to engage weak partners, and they’re less likely to deliver strong candidates, interim or permanent.
 
 
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