6 Best Practices for Effective RPO Transitions

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Begin with the end in mind. In everything, the goal or definition of success must be clear or the disruptions and distractions will lead you astray, and make achieving success ever allusive. There are many tools that must be used to get to the end, but without the end clearly defined, the transition never stops and the improvement / growth will not begin.

RPO is gaining more and more attention with each passing year and as more organizations begin to partner with an RPO provider, there will be greater pressure for success. In fact, a Staffing Industry Analysts’ study published by Recruitment Process Outsourcing Association indicates that about 30% of large organizations partnered with RPO providers for at least some of their hiring needs. They go on to mention that an additional 23% may seriously consider bringing in an RPO provider within the next 2 years. With all of these potential RPO deals coming through over the next couple years it becomes clear that effective transition plans will be critical for the their success.

With a growing number of large companies shifting their focus away from in-house talent acquisition teams, there is often a temptation to step away and let the outside team take the wheel. Although many of the functions once handled by the internal team are taken over, the success of the engagement depends on both sides closely working together with a shared vision of success.

For companies that choose to take a step back and leave everything up to the vendor, there is a greater chance that the desired results will not be achieved or in a worst-case scenario, the engagement will fail. 

No matter the size, scope, or make-up of the relationship, if there is no buy-in or involvement from the existing members of the organization, the engagement will be plagued by delays, unnecessary escalations, and role ambiguity. This is also referred to as the "finger pointing stage". In the end, it doesn't matter whose fault it was, if the engagement is not successful, both parties lose. If we begin with the end in mind, everyone wins.

Setting up for Success – the Win / Win 

Once a company has gone through the RPO vendor selection process and they have agreed on a specific scope of work; the task of integrating them into the talent organization begins. In this post we'll break down what elements compose a successful transition…

  • Definition of success
  • Attach the right people
  • Detailed information gathering discovery
  • Problem diagnosis and prevention
  • Accountability and stakeholder meetings
  • True partnership is critical
  • Maintain focus even after the official transition has concluded

Best Practice #1: Definition of Success

This all starts with a joint agreement and collaborated definition of what a successful engagement will look like. This will enable both sides to understand what is expected of one another and quickly identify when things are not going as intended.

Best Practice #2: Involve the Right People

In order to intertwine the activities of the in-house recruiting team and those of the RPO provider, project managers must be put in place and given decision-making authority within their respective organizations. Client stakeholders cannot simply assign a placeholder or timekeeper. Those assigned must have extensive knowledge of the current recruiting system and have the ability to hold others accountable for their work. They must also work closely with the RPO provider to develop a customized and enforceable change management plan. Failure to do so may have a dramatic impact on the ability of the new team to effectively deliver their services as requested. It goes beyond putting people in roles to complete the transition; one must make sure the RIGHT people are in place (motivated, detail oriented and strategic thinkers).

Best Practice #3: Detailed Information Gathering & Discovery

The next important step of the transition process involves an in depth information discovery meeting that goes step by step through all aspects of the current talent acquisition process. This includes everything from locations of facilities, currently held employee views of talent acquisition, hiring manager involvement as well as enterprise-wide hiring metrics. There is no such thing as too much information here, anything related to talent acquisition can be important. The more detailed information gathered helps the transition team on the RPO side get a very clear and descriptive view of the internal workings of the company. The old saying that "knowledge is power" rings true here and can prevent many of the hassles that are often described as inevitable parts of the process.

Best Practice #4: Problem Diagnosis & Prevention

Once the transition has been initiated and the foundations are in place, it is time to start assigning tasks and deliverables for both sides to complete with set deadlines. These various tasks will range from being granted appropriate technology access, to requisition assignments and established recruiting process documents. These tasks are all laid to help prevent go-live delays and to reduce the chance for engagement failure.

So, what problems should you be concerned about?

Huge, catastrophic problems that could prematurely end an engagement are usually easily spotted by seasoned members of talent acquisition and would likely be weeded out through the contract negotiations and definitely before go live. These major issues are usually addressed whether or not a formal transition procedure is in place.


The real problems to watch out for are the small, unforeseen process, delivery, or partnership problems. By themselves, they are not catastrophic but they often cause delays and can undermine the credibility of those involved. The trouble is there is never just one of them. Like mice if you see one, there are likely a dozen more waiting to come out from the woodwork.

Occurring together or in quick succession, these annoying and frequently time consuming little issues add up to some major problems. Not only do they end up taking significant amounts of time away from the delivery teams' goals, they can initiate a runaway snowball effect that can dramatically impede team effectiveness three, six or nine months down the line.

This is considered the "death by a thousand cuts" philosophy. When a relationship fails, it’s rarely due to one memorable issue. It ends up being a series of small to medium sized unforeseen problems that destabilize the client / RPO relationship and inhibits the delivery team’s ability to do their job appropriately.

How are these small but serious problems prevented?

Best Practice #5: Accountability & Stakeholder Meetings

All of these assigned tasks are managed through a series of client and RPO team status update meetings, or what we call tollgates. They function as project update meetings as well as a way to hold each participant accountable to their assignments during the transition and identify problems or potential problems before they can materialize. Potential red flag items are identified quickly and openly and are addressed before go live. .

Tracking documents that establish the potential risks that would prevent or delay the contract go-live date further reinforces these activities. Each potential problem is tracked with a risk assessment log that rates the urgency and threat level of any one issue. These documents are also used to track any change to scope of work, personnel, or the established timeline. This will allow for small to dramatic changes to be dealt with effectively and efficiently so that the overall project is not delayed or disrupted.

Best Practice #6: True Partnership is Critical

It’s all about the partnership and the teamwork. All of these strategies are geared toward ensuring that all issues and potential issues are resolved before go-live. The goal of the transition process is to set up both the delivery team and talent acquisition for a successful engagement. The RPO provider and the client company must take on more than a vendor and customer relationship. 

Yes, the RPO Company is providing a service, but it is much more than that. RPO is solution that changes much of the established makeup and processes of the talent acquisition business unit. The RPO delivery team members are very conscious of their actions in relation to safeguarding the client brand. Since the public views them as internal employees, why not develop a relationship with them that is similar to internal employees? It only makes sense to involve the RPO delivery team in the same way that the team would be if they were internal to the company. Only through teamwork and true collaboration with the RPO provider can the full benefits of the engagement be felt.

We went "Live." Now What?

The "go-live" date has come and gone on the calendar, so the transition is over, right? Not so. In order to avoid taking any steps backwards in the relationship and to continue down the road of a successful partnership, it is crucial that a member of the implementation team stays in constant contact with the delivery team post go-live. Having someone who is familiar with the first steps of the engagement available to the delivery team is crucial in the first 30, 60, and 90 days of delivery. This subject matter expert can assist the delivery team with any post go-live process changes and updates, and ensuring that these changes remain within the scope of the engagement.  Relentless measurement and tracking will allow everyone to know scientifically if there are tweaks or changes to be made. In addition, if any additional training or support is required during this critical time, the implementation team can assist since they are the most familiar with the client and their expectations. This will ensure continuous education without sacrificing production.


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