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Staffing Management: Starting Over

Steve Taylor  4/1/2007
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Vol. 3, No. 2

Know when its time for a new computerized recruiting system ... and how to get one.

 Satisfaction with the technology of HR is rare. A conversation with information technology experts can seem like a visit to “The Twilight Zone.” Groping with the problems of software and hardware feels like reaching into a dark cabinet for a tool, when you’re not sure if it will present itself as a handle or a sharpened blade.

No wonder many of us simply avoid the whole subject. There are times, however, when such resistance must be overcome, when problems with our centralized recruiting systems, talent management “suites” and employment screening “solutions” are too extensive to leave to IT. When tweaking won’t work. When it’s time to dynamite and start over.

“What you’ll notice first: You’ll hear it from recruiters,” says Tony D. Blake, director of recruiting for DaVita, a 28,000- employee dialysis services company headquartered in El Segundo, Calif. “Being ‘sales-y’ in nature, they’re usually pretty vocal. They will put up a flag to anybody willing to listen about the inadequacy of the tool set.”

For staffing managers who dismiss such complaints as simple office grousing, the next hint of coming system meltdown may be from applicant pool candidates. “You’ll get feedback about response time,” Blake predicts. “They’ll tell you, ‘The system crashed on me. It took me 40 minutes to go through the application online.’ If you’ve got your IT people tracking web page hits, you might see a falloff of applicants as they move through the process ... making it through the first two or three pages [but] not finishing it.”

“Also,” Blake warns, “the infamous e-mail webmaster will get inundated with complaints from applicants.” Blake has “re-engineered,” as he puts it, four recruiting organizations over the last eight years. He was senior manager, recruiting, for Great-West Life of Greenwood Village, Colo. Earlier, he managed recruiting for Denver’s Exempla St. Joseph Hospital and for ICG Communications in Englewood, Colo.

“Benchmarking is a way to see if you need a makeover,” he says, noting that companies should consider “benchmarking against competitors or similar-sized companies.” He also collects internal data: “Is the team satisfied with the tools they have? Is management satisfied with the reports [it gets]?” At DaVita, he decided the company had outgrown its vendor of recruiting software. “We [got] feedback about system performance that says the speed, the response time, is very, very slow. That’s a no-brainer, if you’re wasting 15 to 20 percent of your time because the system is too slow.”

It was time to pick a new employment management system.

Bells and Whistles

“There are approximately 185 vendors in the space,” says Mark Mehler, one of the principals of CareerXroads, a staffing strategy consulting firm based in Kendall Park, N.J. “There are systems on the market for $100 per month per recruiter, and systems that cost several million dollars.” In terms of functionality, Mehler says, “There is limited difference.” So what accounts for the differences in price? “Client base,” Mehler explains. “Once a big company has accepted a system, the others follow.”

And the price soars.

Technology is a foreign subject to many HR professionals, Mehler comments. “We’re really not there yet when it comes to utilization, acquisition and asking the tough questions of vendors that need to be addressed before buying systems. In the marketplace, you really need to dig deep.” Too often, he says, “We buy on faith.”

An echo comes from a 2006 Towers Perrin survey of the HR technology used by 325 HR and IT decision-makers. It concludes, “Organizations need to proceed thoughtfully ... and resist the temptation to sign on automatically for their current vendor’s solution, or hastily purchase the system with the most bells and whistles.”

Blake and Mehler say recruiting managers should begin by examining their own organizations, to thoroughly understand the ins and outs of their recruiting processes. “Really understanding the pain points. Get to know yourself before you go shopping,” Blake says.

Mehler recommends building a team within the organization that includes experts in IT, a practicing recruiter or two, the hiring manager, “people who work in administration [to do] the nuts and bolts. Somebody in purchasing/acquisition [for] the negotiations. And if you can get a job seeker [on the team], that’d be even better.”

Finding current employees who have the necessary backgrounds is the least expensive way to go, according to Blake. If the expertise isn’t available internally, “You buy that help. Buy consultants.” Consultant Mehler says that once the team is assembled, “Each person has an assignment to investigate the areas their expertise is in. That’s what makes the right buy: not money, not [vendor] references but the knowledge of the team.”

Jumping Through Hoops

The first objective, according to Mehler, should be to decide on the five top features a new system must have. Blake suggests deciding between “absolutely must-have and nice-to-have requirements. That gives you a baseline to evaluate.”

Mehler advises sending request for information (RFI) letters “to companies you met or heard of at conferences. ... An RFI should be a simple document. [Don’t] make vendors jump through hoops [at this stage]. You need some financials, and [indications of whether] the vendor can support key areas. Don’t go crazy with an RFI of a couple hundred pages.”

From the vendors that respond, Mehler believes, the team should choose five or six. “Then send each of them a request for proposal (RFP), which can be several to hundreds of pages. Again, hone in on those five key areas. An applicant tracking system is a huge undertaking. ... The challenge is to [know] the key components you must have and find out where the vendors stand.”

Evaluating the responses to the RFPs may be the most difficult task. “Now we’re serious,” Mehler says. “The corporation has to fully understand the technology, the search capability, the platform, security. There are many issues that the team has to go after.”

Blake adds, “As you’re going through the software selection process, you start to get ideas on how to add or eliminate steps to add value.” The problem with that, he says, is you may be considering only the recruiting operation you have had, not the one you need to have. “You should be doing a future-state diagram. ‘Here’s what we look like now, and here’s what the future should look like.’ ”

At this stage, Mehler says, “we have to decide who’s running the show. Do we need an outside consultant? Is there an internal person? Someone has to ask tough questions of the vendors ... Some companies hire moderators.” He adds that companies deciding to retain outsiders also have to decide whether to limit their involvement to vendor selection or to expand their assignment into other areas, such as installation of the system.

Hit the Road

Having narrowed the list of candidates to three, it’s time to visit them. “You find out things on the road you don’t find out in demos,” says Mehler. “A road show is critical, a road trip with IT to the three finalists, to make sure they really have an office, have technical support.”

Blake recalls a recent trip to evaluate a vendor’s employment management system. “We flew to San Francisco and spent a day,” he recalls. “The first priority was to size them up [and] the fit between the two organizations.” Blake says he and his team met with representatives from the company’s sales, consulting and product development departments. “We met the VP of technology, the classic IT guy. We met the director of customer success, which is their name for customer support. We kicked off the day with the CEO himself. We talked about company philosophy and company culture and our assessment of the recruiting systems market. ... We walked out feeling it was a very good fit.”

There’s another kind of road trip recruiting managers might consider, Mehler says: to visit “live customers who have the system. You really want to talk to your friends, people that you trust.”

The process of choosing an application service provider “boils down to how much customization, which means fee, vs. configuration, which means free, your management will accept,” he says.

“Technology is never the whole story,” Blake observes.

“My mantra is: people, process and tools. You need to cover all three, or you’re not going to maximize any one of those components. ... There is great technology out there, but great systems are not going to guarantee your success.” Steve Taylor broadcasts the news on the ABC Radio Networks.

Steve Taylor broadcasts the news on the ABC Radio Networks.

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 Conflict of Interest?


In deciding whether to use a consultant to help choose new technology, CareerXroads’ Mark Mehler warns that some experts for hire may have undisclosed relationships with vendors. “Make sure the moderators are prepared to ask tough questions. Some don’t push the vendors for additional information.” That’s a red fl ag, Mehler warns. “They may have ... a potential confl ict not to your advantage.”