What enables recruiters to hang on to their talent in a post-downturn economy? After a few years of salary freezes and redundancies (and in some organisations, a high turnover of staff), recruitment companies are now starting to hire people again. And current employees are sometimes feeling a little ‘weatherworn’ by the recession and tough recruitment times; so some may start to look elsewhere for a fresh start or be headhunted by competitors. So, what are the foundation stones of a successful retention strategy?
In my travels across the UK, meeting recruitment businesses to discuss their performance gaps, it’s interesting to note who has a robust platform in the critical area of learning & development. The people development agenda has consistently been the single most important feature of staff retention – particularly in recruitment businesses where the structure of the organisation is traditionally fairly flat. Of course, there are loads of other tools and processes that support the super-structure that is L&D: for example, how many recruitment leaders really know what lies behind people’s performance? Is their training needs analysis (TNA) accurate? And again, when an assessment of the performance gap has been carried out, what then? What do recruiters have in place (either in-house or via external providers) to close the gap?
Of course, this blog is all about staff retention – and the seamless flow from defining Company aims & objectives, to accurate TNA to closing the gap is an essential component of keeping your best people (and allowing those who really should be moving on to do so). So why is L&D so fundamental to your retention strategy?
In reports, articles, surveys and polls over the years, regardless of industry sector or type of work, putting money, time and effort into people development has consistently been acknowledged as key to motivating, retaining and driving optimal performance from teams and individuals. We’re all familiar with what most of us say about the benefits of personal development:
- Increased motivation
- Increased feelings of belonging
- A sense of being valued and supported; that we matter
- A sense that we are more than our current behaviours
- That the Company believes we are capable of better performance
- That our development is not just to improve business results; it’s for us, in the round
So, given that L&D allows for both increased motivation and better bottom line results, what’s curious is why the recruitment sector has not universally embraced L&D (and put in place robust strategies in this space) and, furthermore, tolerated such traditionally poor quality training from external providers?
I think the answers are many and complex. For the sake of this blog, let’s offer up some possible reasons for the first challenge: why haven’t recruitment businesses fully embraced the L&D agenda? Perhaps because, in a time and price-sensitive sales environment, the notion of spending time and money in training does not seem to be warranted if individuals are likely to leave for ‘better’ things within 12 to 24 months. Indeed, the high churn in most recruitment businesses is indicative of such an accepted culture. In fact, I would suggest that one reason why this remains a challenge for the industry is that many still regard recruitment as less of a professional career and more of a convenient ‘stop gap’ job. Where does this come from? My belief is that it emanates from a lack of vision from senior leadership and a legacy of when times were easier. It didn’t matter that consultants left – there’d always be another one along the next day.
In the good old days when recruitment was buoyant, good consultants would stay, enjoying the personal benefits of good commission payments every month. Now, however, with a third of recruitment companies going to the wall during the recession and clients in much more control of the market, decent, regular commission is harder to find. The good recruiters are staying put if they feel their business is on a sound footing to get them through the current fragile climate; the poor recruiters are looking for work. So now, more than ever, there’s a case for investing in the L&D agenda – to keep the good people and get them to deliver even more results for the business.
So what about the quality of L&D within the recruitment market today? I have to say, the landscape of external training provision is littered with well-intentioned entrepreneurs who have made it in the heyday of boom times, wanting to roll out their model as a set of training modules; it’s also populated by people who perpetuate the notion that recruitment is no more than a crude sales process, where persuasion and spin are all that’s required to place a candidate (in the hope that their candidate will stay in post long enough to cross the calendar threshold of returning the client’s fee as laid down in their Terms). And that’s about it really. Two choices – ‘my way’ or the ‘sales’ way. As we all know, it’s only when we get beyond three options that real choice becomes available to human beings. And recruiters are human, aren’t they?
And what of the landscape on internal provision in the L&D space? A mixed bag, it would appear, ranging from no provision at all, to young, inexperienced HR grads studying CIPD, to MD’s who “train their staff” regularly – often repeating the same model, regardless of the nature of their changing and sophisticated audience. It’s rare, from my view of the marketplace, to see a recruitment business who really knows what excellent L&D looks like; furthermore, it appears that even those businesses that endorse training and personal development still believe ‘training’ to be the thing to plug the gap on performance – very often as a singular intervention, in groups, in isolation. Shame really; human beings are sophisticated animals, particularly in terms of why, how and what they learn. Thinking that sending your people on the odd training course (particularly when the content and delivery has suffered from only having its own internal referencing for feedback) is at best well-meaning and at worst naive. And what of coaching, mentoring, blended learning, CPD, behavioural competency frameworks……?
Learning is systemic. Everything (and I mean everything) has a bearing on how effectively L&D works in a business – from client relationship strategies, to sales processes, to the colour in the kitchenette or break-out areas, to how people talk to each other, to the power and congruence of the senior leadership team’s vision for the future……
So is it possible that the recruitment sector have inadvertently restricted themselves to these two options? Can it be that they, for all their positive intentions, look to external providers for help, not knowing what ‘good’ looks like? I believe this is the case. The recruitment sector deserves better: from both the world of external L&D provision and from their own profession who, only in certain niche areas, has fully embraced the notion of being a profession. My call to action?
- Get someone in who can help you really know where you are (in terms of recognising that performance, as is learning, a systemic thing)
- Get to a point of real clarity about what you (collectively) want
- Only then can you plan how to get there
And for goodness sake, let’s encourage those in the industry to believe themselves as professionals, delivering a necessary, valuable and professional service to people – and as we all know, being fulfilled, successful and happy in your job is a pretty fundamental ‘right’ for human beings. We should strive to embrace this fact – and embrace the fact that the very best recruiters are those that are properly trained, coached, mentored, supported, challenged, encouraged to evolve etc. etc. etc…………..