Conquering Complexity with the Help of an RPO Partner

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Talent acquisition is an incredibly rewarding profession, but it’s also full of challenges. Never have they been more acute than in today’s business environment.

Record low unemployment means that high quality candidates are either already employed or hold most of the leverage. A dynamic economy, aggressive competition, an active M&A market, and other market forces are compelling recruiters to be flexible and fluid like never before. They’re constantly balancing and prioritizing the needs of business unit owners, hiring managers, and candidates themselves. And a flood of new technologies is changing the way recruiters find, screen and engage with candidates.

Managing any complexity is just that: it’s complex.  It’s part strategy, part relationship, part instinct.  It requires patience, aggressiveness, and the right investment of time and resources. That’s especially true for large, highly matrixed organizations. But selecting the right Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) provider can bring clarity and simplicity to this chaos.

At Sevenstep, we believe that setting up a program with the right people and a strong governance structure – one with clear workflows, pathways and escalation procedures – backed by training and a robust change management strategy, can alleviate much of the complexity in talent acquisition. It’s also vital to be proactive in dealing with issues before they ‘graduate’ to crises, and to regularly audit both the strategy and the relationship management aspects of the partnership.

Failure to do so has real consequences. According to EY, subpar governance can result in value leakage of anywhere from 17-40% of the annual contract value over the life of an outsourcing contract.

Dealing with RPO Complexity

Once an RPO program goes live, the hard work has only just begun. A good RPO partner will be proactive in continually analyzing how well the program is performing, identifying potential weak links, and helping you simplify processes, minimize risk, and instill innovation.

There’s nothing like the day-to-day ferocity of running a talent acquisition program to reveal additional challenges. Once a program is underway, we see several potential areas where complexity creep can occur:

  • Stakeholder Ownership
    An effective RPO provider is skilled at navigating the internal complexities of their clients and understanding the ‘voice of the customer’. That means every customer – whether it’s a hiring manager, the talent acquisition department, the CHRO, or someone altogether different. For an RPO to overcome this challenge, they must make it a priority to understand whom to include in conversations at the appropriate time, whether these are final decision-makers, executive sponsors, influencers, or subject matter experts. In many ways, an RPO can serve as an effective bonding agent by helping to take on and analyze viewpoints from different stakeholders and – with a valuable degree of impartiality – recommend a course of action that is best for all involved. Really effective RPO providers are good at ‘crowd-sourcing’. In an outsourcing context, that means connecting with people across the enterprise and, whenever it’s appropriate, sharing points of view from inside and outside the organization (with vendors, peers, analysts, for example). A big part of handling complexity is to not go it alone, and to use your entire community to your advantage.
  • The Ambiguity of Change
    When change inevitably occurs, a good RPO provider is agile enough to roll with the punches. The best RPO firms will stay abreast not just of how its client is performing, but how the broader market is evolving as well. In doing so, they’ll anticipate the impacts of broader business, and political trends on the talent acquisition function. They’ll even help your organization cut through its own internal complexities to identify and focus on what matters most. In fact, having that outside-in view – free of internal politics and the instinct to ‘keep my job’ – can be extremely helpful in navigating ambiguity.
  • Technology Complexity
    Recruiting technology isn’t just about an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or a Candidate Relationship Management (CRM) tool. There may be talent analytics systems; workforce planning tools; web-based sourcing tools; even compliance tracking tools for diversity reporting. Your RPO provider will not only bring a full understanding of the talent technology ecosystem and how it works effectively together, but will also make suggestions on how to leverage emerging technologies to your advantage. And they’ll help you sort through what is worth investing in, and what isn’t (or can wait).
  • Standardized processes
    Working with an RPO helps to drive a standardized recruitment process outsourcing across business units, geographies and departments. This creates transparency for everyone involved in the process, while delivering a consistently positive candidate experience with your brand. As the program matures, it also drives the ability to replicate efficient processes and increase predictability. While standardization is nirvana, real businesses rarely work so uniformly. What’s key is to ensure these exceptions are kept to a minimum, and to drive agreement on what circumstances warrant a deviation from the standardized process. Embedding outsourced recruiters inside the organization – literally seating them next to internal recruiters – will help give the RPO a clear understanding of when a non-standard approach may be warranted.
  • Scaling the Solution
    A 2016 study by Nelson-Hall revealed that scalability to meet changing business demands is the number one challenge facing talent acquisition teams.  That’s why an RPO provider must be supremely nimble to meet the demands of its clients. Indeed, that’s one of the primary reasons why RPO is so appealing to CHROs and CFOs. A smart RPO partner will have a strong understanding of your business and your industry, and be able to see these emerging demands before they become critical. They may leverage predictive analytics to determine where your most critical hiring needs exist, and your ability to effectively execute against them.

Conclusion: Complexity is inevitable – but manageable

The larger your organization, the more likely it is you’ll come face-to-face with complexity.

But the key to success lies in a few principles:

  • Expect and anticipate. Just accept the fact that complexity is bound to occur.
  • Create a strong governance model so that complexity can be handled effectively, predictably, and constructively.
  • Work with an RPO that observes the market, embraces change, prides itself on being resilient, and is willing and able to turn challenges into opportunities.
  • Use your – and your RPO’s – network. Crowdsource new ideas from technology vendors, analysts, consultants, and your peers. Go to conferences and other learning opportunities. A good RPO provider will share thought leadership and connect you with people who’ve faced the same challenges you’re facing.
  • Collaborate and communicate. Transparency is vital to getting past complexity issues –because it enables teams to start overcoming those challenges in a way that works for everyone. And honest communication – in both directions – builds trust.

This is about much more than holding weekly calls or quarterly business reviews. Those are just tablestakes. A good RPO provider will anticipate challenges and opportunities and bring them to you in real-time. It won’t be afraid to ask you tough questions and make bold recommendations.

Most importantly: remember that recruitment process outsourcing is a partnership. Over time, your RPO provider should think and feel the same way your own employees think and feel. It’s about much more than just getting along – it’s about having the same priorities and the same motivations.


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