Helping organisations to address the challenges of digital transformation is one of the biggest areas of work for Armstrong Craven, and will continue to be high on the agenda in the coming years. Indeed, it was one of the three key topics we covered in the first AC Review last year. In digital transformation, as with any change, one of the more difficult elements to address is how to enable teams to embrace new ways of working. We can learn from technical teams, particularly software engineering, in understanding how ways of working have to adapt to a digital environment. One aspect that has been brought out of tech and successfully developed in other areas of the business is Agile.


What is Agile?

By way of a quick introduction, Agile is an approach to developing software which enables tech teams to deliver results quickly, effectively manage requests for amendments or added functionality, and to focus on continual improvement. Agile surfaced as an alternative to the more traditional and sequential approach of analyse, design, build, test and deliver which originated from the manufacturing and construction industries. In simple terms, Agile practices are put in place to remove complexity in work processes, to enable teams to deliver rapid results, and to effectively respond to change.


Increasing productivity and efficiency

Agile has been successful in allowing teams to be productive and efficient in delivering critical projects which require input and direction from multiple stakeholders. Given the successes in functions such as software engineering, manufacturing and marketing, business leaders have sought to implement Agile in more business areas, including HR and recruitment. Agile recruiting is by no means a new concept. GE coined the term RaaS (Recruiting as a Service) to meet the need of hiring at scale in a short timeframe for GE Digital and the music streaming company Deezer ran an experiment last year to implement an Agile concept into their recruitment team. For these companies, recruiting in such a competitive space means that any inefficiency in the recruitment process has an even greater impact on their ability to hire the people they need.


Challenges of the traditional recruitment model

To understand how to develop an Agile recruitment function, we first had to look at the challenges with the traditional talent acquisition model. For the majority of companies, their recruitment teams are set up in one of two ways. In the first, they are either in a shared service or defined recruiting team environment which is separated from the business. In the second, recruiters are dispersed within the business with a high degree of autonomy, but little opportunity to take a strategic view of recruiting or hold a dedicated budget. Recruitment teams in both models spend a lot of time managing and updating stakeholders and there is often wasted time in the process waiting for feedback from hiring managers or decision-makers from the business. Often when taking on a new requisition, recruiters spend the first few days, or even weeks, finding and engaging candidates who may not be the match the hiring manager is looking for. This issue is often exacerbated by a lack of a detailed briefing session or working from an outdated role profile that does not reflect the current requirements.


"An Agile recruitment team is the only way forward for progressive organisations. More and more prospective candidates are interested in job content first, before considering the employee value proposition. It is essential therefore that the recruiter fully appreciates the requirements of a role by being an integral part of the project team as opposed to a partner to the business." Helen Norris, Interim HR Director, British Business Bank


How does Agile address these issues?

We can build the Agile recruitment model by addressing the basic values of Agile:


  • Individuals and interactions are more important than processes and tools

Agile recruitment teams should be built on a project basis, including the hiring manager, business stakeholders (including HR) and the responsible recruiter who meet regularly. This reduces the need for processes as the right people to make decisions are working together as part of the project group. This project team should have sufficient autonomy to move from headcount approval through to an offer without reliance on hierarchical approvals processes. This project team may last for the duration of one key hire, or for a more significant recruitment programme. The traditional managerial role, responsible for the functional management of recruiters would move to a coaching position to allocate recruiters to the right project teams, addressing team dynamics and shielding the team from outside interruptions or interference from the business


  • Output is better than comprehensive documentation

Recruitment teams are under pressure to show results. They can get caught up in near constant reporting on metrics such as 'time to hire' and 'cost per hire' and in sending documentation back and forth for review and approval - job descriptions, role competencies, adverts, longlists, candidate reports, offer approvals - the cycle is relentless. The Agile recruitment team cuts down on documentation by agreeing the hiring criteria directly alongside the hiring manager and HR, and can build the attraction strategy together. The team works in short, ‘sprint’ cycles, with the recruiter or recruiters delivering example profiles, qualified candidates, or relevant information to the team regularly with instant feedback and decisions. Breaking recruitment down into shorter, well- defined deliverables allows the Agile recruitment team to focus on delivering results and eliminates waste. As the business and HR are represented, the offer approval process should be managed by exception where only offers outside of an established range require sign-off.


  • Responding to change instead of following the plan

The Agile recruitment team is better able to manage and respond to the increasing speed and complexity of change, both within the business and in the overall industry or market. In the time between making the decision to recruit, compiling the job description, briefing the recruitment team, sourcing candidates, and arranging interviews, so much can change. The business requirements can change, the skills and abilities required of the new employee can change, and uncertainty in market conditions can call into question the location where the role will be based. To respond quickly to change, the Agile recruitment team is able to frequently exchange information and course-correct when needed. This removes the risk of wasted time and effort following a recruitment plan that has changed since the initial decision to hire or briefing meeting. To develop an Agile recruiting capability, HR and business processes need to make the transition from annual or quarterly planning and processes for activities such as headcount planning and performance reviews, and manage these as ongoing processes rather than fixed decisions at set points in the year


“We already see examples of agile working within talent acquisition, particularly in times of business stress such as an acquisition, merger or restructure when time limits are short. As a result, hiring decisions both internally and externally are expedited and there is constant dialogue and interaction with all parties involved in the recruitment process. In recent years, the growth of RPO and constrained budgets has resulted in lean recruitment teams who must innovate to maximise their capacity and return for the business. For agile to really work in recruitment, there needs to be clear process parameters established and an ability to pivot and change depending on market conditions or the candidate pools’ behaviour. A classic example would be when a hiring manager is permitted to hire using a budget rather than headcount which provides greater autonomy and flexibility to hire relevant resources.” Jim Richardson, Talent Consultant. Former Director of Talent, Learning & Resourcing for Santander UK and Global Head of Recruitment at RBS.


Bringing it all together

You may recognise elements of the Agile recruitment model in your own organisation, and many recruitment teams are currently using aspects of Agile recruiting. This can easily be lost when individuals leave the business or the business changes recruitment models from inhouse to an outsourced or hybrid approach. As with any methods which are designed to increase productivity and enable teams to work more effectively, it is only when Agile is implemented as a working style and embedded in processes and culture that it can become and remain truly effective.

What are your thoughts on bringing processes into recruitment from other areas of the business? Are you currently using Agile in your talent acquisition efforts?

This article was first published in the January issue of the Armstrong Craven Review.

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