Dr. HR and Mr. Recruiting

On August 18, 2011, in HRExaminer, More2Know, by John Sumser

Doctor HR and Mr. Recruiter on HRExaminer
There is nothing more important than having the payroll on time and accurate. Unless your firm is very young and very entrepreneurial, the morale impact of bad payroll processing is an unthinkable option. Profound diligence and precision in this purely administrative challenge is the minimum requirement.

The same is true of benefits administration, vacation scheduling and monitoring, sick leave consumption and a host of other tasks routinely performed by the Human Resources Department. Risk taking is simply not a part of workplace conflict resolution. You don’t want entrepreneurial spirits delivering the news of the layoff. Policy manuals require consistency, not innovation.

Meanwhile, acquiring talent demands out of the box thinking. A good recruiter doesn’t get permission, she asks for forgiveness. Spot market performance in the labor business looks more like a trader’s pit on a commodity exchange than it resembles a staid and reliable procedural office.

The idea that the Recruiting function lives exclusively inside of the HR Department is a slightly skewed version of the truth. The obvious tension between an administrative function and its entrepreneurial sibling has had a series of consequences in organizations over many years. Even in the most rigid organizations, Recruiting is only partly an HR function.

Most Contingency and Executive Search Firms bypass the HR function and its associated recruiters as a matter of course. From the hiring manager’s perspective, this sort of Recruiting is clearly separate form the HR operation. Typically speaking, talent acquired from outside sources is accounted for as a material purchase rather than as an HR cost.

In large engineering firms, contract labor is also acquired through the purchasing department. The “temp to hire” construct is a method for bypassing all that HR has to offer except the final approvals. Executive Search, temps and contract labor are all end runs on the HR Department.

For hiring managers, Recruiting is usually a range of options. Only some of them include the HR Department. The details are often a function of market and industry factors.

In large project environments, for example, (like the defense, security, military and aerospace industries), a large proportion of Recruiting happens as customers become employees. This form of Recruiting is accomplished by senior leaders in Project Management roles. HR is a last stop, a rubber stamp.

It’s simply a mistaken view to suggest that Recruiting is somehow constrained to a prison within the walls of HR.

The variations are regional, professional and industrial. In the federal government (US), the personnel department has far reaching powers. Recruiting is handled through carefully designed structures that prevent nepotism (referral networks).

In heavily unionized environments, on the other hand, the union itself is the source of a lot of the Recruiting muscle.

HR Departments and their relationship to the Recruiting function vary significantly in each of the categories. Size (micro, small, medium, large and huge) is an additional factor.
Generalizing about the relationship between Recruiting and HR is great fun. It rarely, however, hits the “truth gong” (that’s the resounding sound you hear when something is so true that you can not resist it.) The truth always contains a large chunk of paradox. Good theories, on the other hand, are logically consistent but rarely true.

Recruiting is the membership gateway for an organization. We all spend time thinking that it’s a formal and rational process. Really, though, it’s part rites of passage, part initiation ceremony, part courtship, part mating dance. The underbelly of Recruiting is less than elegant and subject to a range of myopias that include forms of illegal discrimination.

Recruiting is the front end of the membership process. It’s rhythms and peculiarities are the way that a culture weeds through potential players and settles on the “right” ones. A big part of the reason that discrimination in hiring requires regulation is that it’s a natural consequence of the Recruiting process. This is why many organizational subsets take matters into their own hands.

Recruiting is the way that people join the tribe.

It is one of the riskiest things an organization does on a routine basis. The right members can guarantee viability and longevity. The wrong choices can produce instant death.

There are a range of “sub-tribes” in an organization. Depending on the size of the overall entity, they can be departments, divisions, business units, wholly owned subsidiaries and so on. Hiring, recruiting and retention practices always vary in these “sub-tribes”. That’s part of the way that they keep their identity solid. The rationale is always something like “there’s deep and important technical understanding involved in our special ceremonies”. Really, it’s the most primitive form of quality control and risk management, having a trusted insider running the operation.

So, what is HR’s role?

When Recruiting is well nestled in the HR department, it is a form of risk management. HR is really, really good and providing and maintaining order. It helps the organization maintain the proper defensive posture in a variety of regulatory environments. It promotes discipline and routine, the very essence of business success and mature organizations.

Recruiting lives in HR because HR is a sheriff and Recruiting wants to be a cowboy. HR is usually the best sheriff in the operation (only finance is ever better at it). This is the nature of the tension. Recruiting is all about growth and development, HR is for process oriented stability. The two complement each other.

The reason that the marketplace provides so many alternatives is that this is not always the best way to do things.

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