“Willing & Able” – Do RPO Buyers Pay Enough Attention to Both?

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Each year Sevenstep hosts its annual “Analyst & Influencers Day,” where industry analysts, bloggers, consultants, and members of the Talent Acquisition and Human Capital Management technology community come together to discuss the state of our industry and make some predictions about its future. Most notably, we also ask executives from some of our clients to attend as well. This combination of different voices and strong, knowledgeable opinions makes for a lively and inspiring agenda that we all learn and benefit from.

It was at this event a couple of years ago, that the phrase “Willing & Able” took on a whole new meaning for me because of something incredibly meaningful that one of our clients said. It’s a message that today, still, supports the foundation of what we feel makes Sevenstep different. And as our leadership team currently prepares for several upcoming pitches to prospective new clients, I’m thinking about this message and making sure it sits at the core of our presentations.

The message I’m referring to came from a longstanding client partner of seven years – the VP of Talent Acquisition at a Fortune 10 Healthcare company. That day, he said, “You need to have an RPO provider that is both willing AND able.

He explained that the “able” piece is relatively easy to fulfill in today’s provider landscape. Most top-tier RPO companies have proven track records and can easily demonstrate their capabilities to deliver in the specific recruitment verticals, as well as any key talent acquisition strategies such as sourcing, employment branding, candidate attraction & engagement, technology enablement, and analytics.

However, the “willing” element is the real attribute to focus on, he advised, given just how dramatically the priorities, challenges and even the core delivery requirements can change in a recruitment program over the years. How an RPO provider successfully manages all of this change is the essence of their “willingness,” and the cornerstone of an RPO partnership that will stand the test of time and grow with the client’s ever-evolving talent landscape.

Yet willingness is not a stand-alone concept in that it only refers to a state of desire and readiness. So what types of willing commitment specifically should an RPO buyer look for in a provider? Here are a few areas of willingness that we feel make for an exceptional RPO client partnership:


Responsiveness – Willing to be fully accessible…

It seems like such a simple and obvious concept, but it actually requires a strong degree of discipline to accomplish the kind of “hyper” urgency necessary to respond to new situations and challenges. It all comes down to an institutionalized belief in responsiveness as a core value amongst the delivery team – a belief which then goes on to create the more meaningful motive and reward culturally to live up to this higher standard of availability. Heightened responsiveness should also never be too subjective, or viewed as a quality and leveraged only for emergencies. No, it must be a uniform principle that permeates everything we do and in any situation.

The best providers – those known for their responsiveness – will often have measurable response and escalation success metrics. Additionally, their references will communicate clearly the security and comfort they feel about the speed to action their RPO firm provides.


Curiosity – Willing to study…

There is an extensive amount of learning that takes place in RPO; the roles, functional departments, processes, compliance, company goals and missions, employment brand messaging, and organizational structure, to name a few, must all be learned. But, there’s a difference between ‘content’ and ‘context.’ RPO providers must indeed master this vast amount of content involved with their specific engagement. However, it’s the ability to contextualize of all this information where an RPO really demonstrates its ability to be as comprehensive as possible. This additional line of questioning isn’t often required or even expected, and, most certainly, is constantly evolving. When this extra mile of study is done, it enables a far deeper comprehension of the core information, and ample opportunities for applied learnings within the process to create a superior experience and set of successful outcomes.

The best providers – who possess this deeper curiosity – are known for their elevated  engagement practices and have powerful communication guides, such as their implementation discovery tools, job intake guides, and quarterly business reviews. All of these clearly demonstrate an ongoing focus on this deeper contextual data gathering and analysis.


Agility – Willing to transform…

An RPO provider must transcend mere “flexibility,” which is limited to movement in reaction to already-anticipated events. While, yes, there is an enormous amount of flexibility required to quickly pivot and accommodate the typical and constant changes within talent acquisition, “agility” is a next-level attribute, in our opinion. Agility extends past common expected changes and demonstrates a heightened preparedness to manage change that is unplanned and unexpected. Agility is about having a model with enough acuity, scalability, and finesse to accommodate a wide range of both situational variability as well as the evolution of the talent acquisition program.

The best providers – who achieve this higher mark of agility – will often have think tank and ideation programs hosted by the senior leadership team, a well-established and evolving skills mastery curriculum, a suite of technology tools that empowers analytical insights, and, of course, a set of strong references who can point to specific examples where the provider has helped them transform their recruitment performance.


Pride – Willing to endure… 

All talent acquisition programs have their ups and downs, with challenges that can be both self-imposed or brought on by external and/or macro conditions. It’s one thing to know IF an RPO provider can handle these challenges. But, the real question is “WHY are they good at managing through challenges?” The answer will typically include things like strong leadership, scalable solutions, and effective resolution strategies. However, the best answer will come from the cultural perspective. Coming through adversity should be a known point of pride internally where RPO delivery teams are genuinely motivated by conquering obstacles.

The best providers – who pride themselves on conquering obstacles – have a storytelling culture and staff who share (and even relish) in the details of their challenges. In fact, their internal mobility culture will often center around a desire by employees to work on the tougher accounts because they see the inherent value of such an experience.


Ability and a set of very specific delivery capabilities are an important place to start when assessing an RPO provider. But, take care to also look deeper at the more behavioral elements of an RPO’s culture. Their “willingness” is a far better predictor of long term partnership and success.


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