… And Yet More “Recruiting is Sales!” Bullshit

Yet another article, again predictably on LinkedIn, claiming recruiting is sales.

And yet another blog poster blaming HR for shitty results.  Now, to be fair to the author, Lou Adler, I have found his techniques very helpful in recruiting.  His Performance Based Hiring system is something I’d recommend everyone take a look at, because you’ll invariably learn something useful.  But when you read his stuff, it’s always a lot of anecdotal ‘evidence’ and very little actual evidence.  Up until recently he was one of those people who always claimed ‘passive’ candidates were better, but he and that view in general took a big enough beating recently that it seems even he backed off of that in a recent post.  Specifically because there’s literally zero evidence to justify that view.  Passive candidates are more numerous at any given point in time, that’s all.  How they have performed or will perform in the future is completely independent of their job search status.  I like to think my and others’ heckling of this bullshit on sites like Ere.net might have helped lead to this shift in rhetoric.

So, here in this article Lou wants recruiting to report to the CEO.  Here I’ll have to go Lou’s way and speak in anecdotes and experience, I’ve looked and I’m not sure the evidence on this subject.  My suspicion is he could be right, but there is a deeper problem; assuming recruiting is sales, and a lack of accountability, and sales people are aces at avoiding accountability.

The idea that HR is some obstacle is really not the case.  As both an agency and corporate recruiter, I’ve worked with HR departments that were helpful, and others that were obstacles.  I’ve worked with hiring managers that were helpful, and others that were obstacles.  In the C suite I’ve worked with execs who were helpful, and others that were obstacles.  The reporting relationships were generally not the issue, the issue was no one gave a shit and no one was accountable.  My suspicion is the problems with recruiting stem from the fact that no one really gives a shit about their employees, plain and simple.  Here in the US you’re “lucky to have a job,” our hours worked are up, our benefits are down, our PTO is basically non existent, and our wages are largely stagnant.  This does not indicate an environment that values employees, but rather one that sees them as disposable.

There are two views of sales in my world: good sales people are into needs fulfillment and will advise and consult with people to make good decisions, bad sales people are scum bags chasing a commission, who will do anything to get it.  The majority of recruiters, in my experience, fall into the latter category.  And even for the existing ‘good’ ones, few companies out there are concerned enough with meeting the needs of their employees in order to get them engaged and retain them, much less recruit them.  More often than not, they just work them to burn out and then replace them.  There’s just not that much to sell when the preferred approach to employment is churn and burn, to be blunt.

More ‘sales’ does not solve the problem.  Sales people are not accountable in good organizations because they’re good sales people, they’re accountable because there’s a good manager there bringing objective reality to the situation, so when they say their numbers aren’t at quota, s/he can look at their excuses and say objectively if they have a point or not.  There are objective stats to go over and measure against.  More sales will not bring that to recruiting, nor will changing the reporting relationships, but accountability will.

In Lou’s own method, you have to justify a ‘No’ vote on a hire as much as a ‘Yes.’  ‘No’ can cost the company as much as ‘yes,’ if it’s the wrong move.  But it takes an accountant to realize that, not a sales person.  Sales people are notoriously blind to opportunity cost, and the concept of accountability is often in direct contradiction in their minds with the customer always being right.  What’s missing from recruiting is supply chain and accounting principles that let people spot the cost of not hiring and bad hires, or poor retention, not a lack of sales.  They need to understand the cost of not having what you need when you need it, or having the wrong stuff there.  If anything there’s too much damn sales of the bullshit kind in recruiting, and too little objective reality, too few people calling bullshit on bad hiring decisions, whether it’s not hiring or hiring the wrong person.  A buyer in a factory who refused to buy materials needed to keep it going, and who gave vague ass reasons about ‘fit’ and ‘culture’ as to why they didn’t buy when the factory ground to a halt, would be fired.  As a manager or recruiter, you get praised for doing the same thing, and sales people facilitate this bullshit, they don’t check it.

As for reporting to the CEO, well you can go that route or not, I don’t think it will make a difference one way or another.  The real truth is the costs of poor recruiting and poor management are not captured by most companies except in the vaguest, most diffuse ways, much less are they factored into the bottom line calculations, so the costs of poor decisions are unacknowledged and unseen by most.  We live in a world where labor is increasingly seen as disposable, where the costs of treating labor as disposable aren’t even tallied in most cases, and yet where every company, regardless of how horrendously it treats its employees, expects to get Top! Talent! at bargain basement prices, and then to expend no effort whatsoever in the retention of that talent.  And they think this way, in large part I believe, because a bunch of sales people taught them too.

“No, no, Mr. Manager, it makes total sense to not hire someone because their degree is from a school that has a football rivalry with your alma mater, we’ll get you someone else…”

“Absolutely, Mr. Manager, turnover of 500% is normal, especially when your preferred method of managing people is screaming at them and calling them names, we’ll get you some more people for that position shortly…”

“No worries, Mr. Manager, paid time off is for pussies, and it’s totally alright to fire someone because their parents were killed in a car accident and they needed to attend the funeral.  Don’t worry, we’ll have a replacement for you soon…”

“You’re right, Mr. Manager, how dare that lady take PTO to see her child in the E.R. after an accident when she didn’t have enough time accrued in her bucket, we’ll get you a replacement by tomorrow…”

These are all real life examples I’ve either experienced myself or heard first hand from other recruiters and HR people.  I truly don’t think people like Lou are clued in to how horrendously bad most companies treat their employees and how little they give a shit about their ‘talent.’  And because of that lack of value, there is a lack of accountability in obtaining and retaining talent.  The reporting relationship doesn’t matter in the end, no one gives enough of a shit about the goal for it to matter.  They say they care, every company gives lip service to caring about its employees, but actions are what matter.  And, in action, most companies couldn’t care less about their employees.  They’d happily throw them into a wood chipper if it meant higher quarterly profits.

That is the root of mediocre hiring, not reporting relationships.  If Talent Acquisition reported to the CEO, they would still have jack shit to work with in terms of stats to convince the CEO that there was an issue, and the CEO will likely consider himself or herself a God among people, generously dispensing jobs to the lucky, and how dare they speak about market rates for labor, or paid time off for vacations, etc.  The new modern worker is expected to work 90 hours a week, never take a vacation, never work remotely, never leave the office, never get a raise, never have a medical problem, never have to do anything, ever, which might require leaving their desk for one picosecond.  That is the problem, and it’s not one a different reporting relationship will solve.

Again, my opinion.  But after ten years in this business, I feel confident saying that most employers couldn’t give a shit less about their ‘talent.’  And I also feel confident in saying that a lack of acknowledgement of the ‘sales’ aspects of recruiting isn’t the problem.  If anything, it’s too much sales and not enough incorporation of the principles of accounting, engineering, and management into the recruiting process.  We need fewer sales types in recruiting and more who are ready and willing to start using data and stats to hold people accountable.  When a hiring manager leaves a position open for months on end, they need to stop being praised for being ‘picky’ and an objective assessment of who they’ve interviewed and not hired, and what that’s cost the company, needs to be made.  When a manager has high turnover they need to stop being praised for being ‘demanding,’ and to start being held accountable for the extra cost of replacing people on their team more often.  When clients don’t return your calls or don’t give feedback on candidates you’ve sent, you need to stop labeling those accounts as ‘challenging,’ and instead drop them and find new clients.  When a company keeps losing people due to the fact that their hours or their PTO policies suck dog ass, it’s time they acknowledged that and were called out for what they are – sweatshops – instead of glossing it over or claiming people just don’t want to work hard anymore.  None of these things require more ‘sales’ or a different reporting relationship, they just require someone in a key position to give a shit, which very few do.

That is the problem.

EDIT: Also, Lou did make one incredibly good point in the article: the lack of a good system.  Most ATS systems are cumbersome pieces of shit, barely adequate for their purposes.  Most HR people work to make them even worse, requiring people to type and retype their life story forty ways from Sunday before being able to submit an application, after which sometimes a resume screener just looks for key words and kicks them out if they don’t match a profile.  The nature of most ATS systems is compliance oriented, they are not designed to get better performing hires.  If they were, it wouldn’t be so hard to apply for one, and they would be action oriented for another, with regular automated reminders built in.  One of the main problems, at least with agency recruiting, is the sheer number of people you deal with goes way pas Dunbar’s number, and it’s up to you to do everything in terms of scheduling follow ups, etc.  A simple ATS that just reminded people to call candidate X, or Hiring Manager Y, for a follow up would likely blow all the others out of the water with that functionality alone.

Edit Again: Also, if you read the comments in Lou’s post, you’ll see a lot of bitching about HR.  Usually along the lines of how stupid they are, or how they are incompetent because they aren’t experts in the field in which they’re recruiting.  The latter is certainly correct, they can’t be experts in everything. However, over the last few decades they have been expected to be, and have performed pretty well living up to an impossible task.  At my last job, in order to truly hire for the company, I would have had to have been an expert in: accounting, project management, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, manufacturing engineering, supply chain, customer service, order entry, information technology, and likely some departments I’m forgetting.  How the fuck can anyone do that?  The answer is they can’t, and the fact that HR generally has done well, if not great, having to cover all those bases is pretty fucking spectacular when you stop to think about it.  And it again goes to the root of the problem, the fact that they have been tasked with that, when in fact it really is the unaccountable almighty managers who are supposed to be the technical experts when hiring their staff.  That they have sloughed off this responsibility on to HR and then blamed them for every fuck up while claiming credit for every success only goes to show how little talent is truly valued.  And the next person to complain about HR should consider that.  Those people have been hiring reasonably successfully for all areas and departments in your company for years, and that they’ve done that kind of shows they’re a hell of a lot more talented than you’re giving them credit for.

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