How to help your recruiters move forward? – A short case study

Ever since I started sourcing for “agile” IT professionals in London, I have been fascinated by related methodologies. I was knee deep in figuring out what acronyms like ATDD, TDD, XP meant and looked like in practice, how agile, scrum, kanban, etc. were perceived, understood and brought to life by different people. It was like discovering a whole new, ridiculously cool world that had a big impact on how I see recruitment now. It all just made sense.

I found liberation in knowing that as opposed to usual process principles and methodologies, these were not here to bind me, to give me a strict framework. They were here to help. And with it, offer great flexibility: I can pick and choose, mold and form them the way they best support my needs – creating a unique set of tools and processes. However, keeping the core idea intact: fail fast, learn, adapt, improve while keeping transparency. At least, this is my interpretation, I am sure there will be a whole lot of people arguing with it.

The reason I started thinking about bringing these ideas into sourcing recruitment was very simple and recognizable for most of us in the industry. We were not clear about what we were doing and why, not to mention with what results. In theory, this is our process:

Traditional recruitment cycle

But in real life, we simply do this most of the times after grabbing a spec from the client, may we be corporate or agency side as sourcing recruiters:

Searching cycle

Working on multiple roles at a time makes it even worse as we are usually not able to finish a task before picking up new ones. Our time becomes distributed over a lot of actions, in small portions – resulting in longer time spans:

Role time distribution

Meanwhile, this would be our ideal scenario:

Ideal role distribution

Of course, in a high pressure environment it is nearly impossible to only deal with one role at a time, so the above graph remains showing an idealistic picture. But the principle is definitely something to incorporate in our daily work!

So we cleared all of our white boards and created our own kanban boards! First of all, we had to call a system to life that showcased the original idea but was tailored to our needs. (For you tech savvy friends, let me tell you why we did not utilize Trello or any other online tool: it does not allow for us managers to pinpoint bottlenecks in our recruiters daily work, as we literally cannot see them – thus cannot help them. Simple as that.)

Keeping in line with the original idea, this is what we came up with:

Our kanban board

I know it is not a literal depiction of our process, but we also wanted to keep things as simple as possible – squeezed the mid section of our process into one. As you can see we have not included any steps after submission as in a 180 model we do not have any further tasks to carry out. If a role comes back to be searched again, we simply put it on the board as a new role, with the original date. As a rule, nothing that does not require action from our side is allowed on the boards. It only occupies the recruiters’ mind and we are busy as it is. No distractions needed. (One of my biggest lessons gained was my colleague, Colin telling me when I started to forget about a candidate when I submitted them, to move on to the next role. I will hear about any good or bad news in due time and can deal with it then.)

This board set up works best if you can group your recruiters, enabling you to have a limited number of roles on a board. We have teams of recruiters supporting a particular region of the country, but it’s easy to see how one could also make distinctions based on verticals or profiles as well. We have seen “white boarding” fail before as the teams have no “relationship” with the tools, rendering the whole idea completely ineffective. So we told them to make their own boards! It’s not only good to see them bring their ideas to life, but the boards decorate our offices too!

Originally we worked with post its, each team member having a distinctive color or shape for easy recognition. It was a usable system, already pinpointing “waste” in our process. As we gave the teams the rules for their daily stand up (three questions: what have you done yesterday, what are you going to do today, what do you need help with ) and a limit of how many roles they could work on simultaneously (4), we also created a framework of “safe failing” and pushing forward. As the group’s target is to take a role off the board as quickly as possible, they became interested in making sure they got things right the first time. There was no hiding anymore, if someone’s post its did not move along the process towards the right side of the board, there was a discussion about how to solve the issue (revert back to question nr. 3!). Another great discovery was that this way the recruiters were actually able to recognize when they reached a point to stop as there was nothing else they could do that would have provided added value. Note, that they could only start working on their 5th role if they’ve finished one of their scheduled ones before. The average time we have now a role on the board is 2.5-3 days.

As much as this brought to the teams already, we also wanted to experiment with more conscientious day planning, so we introduced “time magnets”. Each recruiter got 14 little magnets, representing 30 minutes. We asked them to start attaching time to the activities they scheduled for themselves during the stand up while having 1 hour “for anything else” as default. Some took to it easily, others really struggled to make decisions! Ultimately however, it became a whole lot easier to have discussions with them about what they did – with what expectations for results; and whether these expectations and plans were realistic.

The biggest wins so far are: 1. they themselves come forward and ask for help; and 2. there is a clear stop moment. The interaction level in our office is very high, there is a real spirit of team. Seriously, this is no bullshit bingo! We see that keeping potential “fires” small and addressing the issues at their roots enables us to move forward and improve, with continuous on the job learning and knowledge sharing.

We also have retrospects: our weekly team meetings, where they discuss the status of things and look back at the past days, talk about experiences, share insights and highlight learning points.

I will not close this blog entry saying that this is the best way, nothing else works as good as this. However, I will encourage you to experiment with simple visualization techniques with the involvement of the teams. If they don’t own it, you’ll never make a success out of it.



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