Updated: Apr 22
“As brands grow, inevitably the hiring manager takes on more responsibility for hiring, but this can lead to higher staff turnover.”
Said Sue Knowles, former GM and HR Director at Victoria Beckham, who kick-started our most
recent breakfast discussion.
We, at HVO Search, brought together some of the most interesting HR and Talent Acquisition
Directors at our office in Kings Cross, to discuss ways of optimising the working relationship between HR and the line - helping hiring managers to make better recruitment decisions and become more accountable.
Hope is Not a Strategy
Last year more than 8 in 10 HR decision-makers admitted their organisation had made bad
recruitment decisions, and 39% of them realised it within two weeks of an individual starting work.
The cost of such a mistake can range from £30,000 to £130,000, depending on the seniority of the individual involved (People Management, 2019).
So, it is worth exploring how the working relationship between the HR Business Partner, in-house
Recruiter and line manager might be optimised, to increase the chances of hiring and retaining the
This goes beyond process, and speaks more to the commercial value and insights that HR is capable of bringing to hiring decisions.
As Kirsty Langdell, Head of People at Browns Fashion explained:
"When hiring, it’s important to look beyond the technical skillset required for the role and also look at the future plans of the business and the potential that an individual has to support growth, as well as being a good fit for the brand."
Sue Knowles, explained, in the initial start-up phase the Founder, General Manager or CEO are able to feasibly interview everyone who comes into the company.
This ensures they can directly shape the culture of the business and ensure everyone fits the right mould.
In this scenario, HR may or may not be outsourced, and is likely to take a more process oriented and administrative role in recruitment. There are pros and cons to this e.g. HR will have little input in developing people solutions or nurturing strategic talent decisions.
Growth Phase: The Dangers of Speed Over Quality
As organisations grow however, it becomes less and less practical for the CEO or GM to be directly involved in recruitment decisions, given the volume of hires. Line managers need to take more ownership and responsibility for growing their own teams.
One of the downsides of this however can be that line managers may take a more reactive rather than strategic view of hiring, and staff turnover tends to increase as a result. The line manager’s priority is to fill a role asap so they have more capacity.
However poor due diligence and bias in decision making means they actually end up spending more time and money on replacement hires. In this way, less experienced line managers can lock themselves in a cycle of quick hire, quick fire.
The HR BP and in-house Recruiter have a key role to play here in helping the manager keep the broader strategic needs of the business and culture in mind, and not just the critical needs of the role.
Touchpoints need to be clearly defined, not just internally for HR, but also with the line manager to ensure everyone works together in a complimentary way. HR may take a direct role in interviewing and screening candidates. It is important that the C suite, line managers and HR are all ‘selling’ the same dream and managing expectations consistently.
Established Brands: Running Solo
In this scenario, managers may conduct interviews without direct input from HR as at YNAP, although supported by training, structured interview questions and a scoring system.
Conversely, where an ‘HR interview’ still exists as part of the process, it may well be the final ‘tick box’ needed to gain hiring approval. Coming so late on in the process it can be hard for HR to push back, as the hiring manager is likely to have already made up his/her mind. The real value comes from discussion with HR before candidates are even sourced, and checks and balances while they’re being screened.
However, while these processes increase ownership, they don’t eliminate bias.
In fact, although unconscious bias training has been very popular in recent times, research shows training on bias in decision making actually makes people MORE BIASED, because they feel attending the training gives them the "moral licence" to make good decisions - even though their decision making remains flawed!!
Challenges for HR
Zia Paul-Birabi, HR & Commercial Director at HVO Search acknowledged that:
“There can sometimes be a disconnect between the C-suite and HR when it comes to perceived responsibilities. When hiring goes wrong, hiring managers tend to point to HR, but when hiring goes right, they may chalk it up to the quality of their own decision making.”
So how can HR earn the trust of the line and really get to know the business? How can that connection be established, leading to a more symbiotic and strategic partnership?
The first point of contact will likely be with the HR BP, who will have worked hard to build an effective relationship with their line managers over many months. Through this working relationship,
both parties will hopefully acknowledge that they have a shared and vested interest in ensuring the company achieves success.
It is through this direct collaboration with HR that hiring managers are likely to become more proficient in strategic hiring decisions.
So how can these relationships be established? The short answer is, not overnight.
Open communication – Have direct and frequent communication channels so problems can be quickly identified and managed, before they become formal employee relations issues.
Don’t condemn – Sometimes HR may be viewed as a compliance function; there to enforce policies and processes which the line manager doesn’t necessarily appreciate. If the HR BP or Recruiter condemns a line manager every time they make a mistake, they are much less likely to open up. If the HR BP is able to educate and coach however, this is much more likely to lead to constructive dialogue.
Partnership – When problems are shared a partnership develops. One side does not simply have more ‘power’ than another. Instead of simply relying on job descriptions, the HR BP and Recruiter might meet with the hiring manager to find out what they are looking for, review the Recruiter’s screening criteria, and underline the basis on which a decision should be made, and why.
The Recruiter saves the line manager huge amounts of time by screening out unsuitable applications before presenting a shortlist, but they can’t do this without intimate knowledge of the role. Without this, Recruiters will be forced to skim cvs looking for specific brand names and job titles, without a full understanding of the skills required, potentially removing candidates with valuable skills from the candidate pool.
The earlier this knowledge can be shared, the more successful the Recruiter is likely to be, and more comfortable the HR BP will feel stepping back from the process.
Hiring is a shared responsibility, and all stakeholders need to give input and be held accountable in different ways. But despite this, and the best intentions and/or process, evidence shows our decision making is not as reliable as we might like to think it is.
In this way our decision making and resulting behaviour is often flawed and unreliable. We discriminate, are irrational, suspicious of difference and are overconfident in our own ability to make a ‘good’ decision and do the ‘right’ thing.
Some suggested solutions were proposed and discussed, although it was acknowledged these would not be right for every business:
In an ideal world, HR influences the budget
One of the key takeaways from the discussion was that if HR don’t have responsibility for the hiring budget then their opinion is unlikely to carry much weight. When the Business Head and COO allocate pots to each hiring manager, HR’s involvement in the strategic planning for the year may be minimal. However, if HR is directly involved in the conversation, they are able to give input on what hires the hiring manager can afford for their money, job design, salary ranges, medium and long-term skills shortages, sourcing strategies and associated costs.
Furthermore, regardless of ownership it is important for HR to have a close working relationship with a commercially minded Finance team. Everyone needs to understand the strategic and commercial goals of the business and how that is reflected in hiring budgets. If HR isn’t able to own the budget but is involved in strategic discussions about where to prioritise talent investment and what the market is paying these positions, the end result is likely to be more commercially successful and consistent.
Measure what you value, and hold people accountable
The majority of hiring metrics focus on time and cost to hire. While this is helpful in determining how fast things move, this says nothing of the quality of the candidates brought in.
The Learning and Development team see first-hand the challenge of trying to ‘fix’ unsuitable candidates who should not have been hired in the first place. A feedback loop needs to be established between the recruitment and retention of new hires to ensure the ‘quality of hire’ is measured and improved. This means holding managers accountable by introducing appraisal objectives that assess the performance of new hires, and reporting the staff turnover of individual teams to senior management.
Use talent mapping to understand team profiles and identify gaps
When HR is able to regularly engage with the line manager and map the talent profile of existing teams, skills gaps can be identified (e.g. through use of the Clarity4D tool used at Browns Fashion). In this way, hiring can be about ‘adding’ new skills and experience, not reinforcing current ways of working.
So, beware of like for like hiring. Sometimes ‘anti-fit’ is needed to push the business to new places and bring fresh thinking.
As Terry Swann, Global Head of Talent Acquisition at YNAP explained:
“Brands should try to avoid hiring the same all the time. In this way ‘culture add’ is likely to result in superior innovations and competitive gains than ‘culture fit’.”
But to do this, first you have to define the existing culture….
Define the ‘culture’ and who should own it
What is culture? Essentially, it’s the way things get done. Culture exists on multiple levels – it’s not just the external face of the brand, but also the internal employee culture and a sum of the individual team cultures. HR has a key role to play in reinforcing behaviours that support the desired culture. This is critical in order to take a future oriented approach to hiring. But who should define it, and how?
As Jasmin Taylor, People Partner at FitFlop highlighted:
“When different teams have different cultures there is segregation and teams tend not to collaborate as effectively. This is particularly an issue when different functions sit on different floors, impacting communication.”
So, who should ‘own’ and ‘manage’ the culture? Ultimately the leadership team should be help accountable for the company culture and should consistently role model and embody it. HR is typically then able to advise on tactical and practical ways for line managers to embed that culture e.g. in the day-to-day way meetings are run.
When brands such as Browns are acquired or brands such as Yoox and Net-a-Porter merge, the challenge of integrating contrasting cultures should also not be underestimated. The financial and operational aspects of a deal are often explored in minute detail; however, the same rigour is rarely applied to the merging of two different cultures.
Manage candidate expectations – don’t tell them what you think they want to hear
Once a preferred candidate has been identified, manager’s often go out of their way to promise them the world (e.g. bonus, promotion within a certain time period). Not only does this cause issues which HR have to resolve later, but this mismatch between expectation and reality is one of the main reasons why staff turnover goes up.
Candidate expectations might be better managed by waiting to actively recruit until a specific role has been approved and a clear timeline can be given, to avoid candidates going off the boil. Similarly, promising promotions, salaries and bonuses without contractually binding references to back this up are a big no-no.
Consider using a panel to make the hiring decision
The decision is made by an elected panel of stakeholders who reach a consensus, not the hiring manager. Brands such as Google are a fan of this. Scores and answers for each candidate interviewed are discussed and reviewed by an independent panel who ultimately determine who should be hired.
Maria Hvorostovsky, Founder of HVO Search commented that:
“This can happen in big companies but in order for this to work effectively there needs to be strong communication internally which is not always the case. The diversity of the panel is also paramount. Where this may work well is for roles that the companies repeatedly recruit for and there is already enough data on what works/what doesn’t.”
Define HR BP and Recruiter touchpoints in advance
While the Recruiter is the process expert and accountable for hiring progress, the HR BP has valuable knowledge of the context behind the hire, team dynamics, management style of the hiring manager and can more effectively push back on unsuitable candidates as they are likely to have a more established relationship with the hiring manager.
Each party should have a transparent, distinct but complimentary role to play in successful hires.
Shivanni Ladwa, HR Manager at Ralph & Russo underlined that:
“Instead of working in parallel to build independent relationships with the hiring manager, clearly defining HR BP and Recruiter touchpoints saves everyone time and results in a more effective working relationship.”
The focus of HR catch-ups should not be so much on updates, but instead on troubleshooting and education to earn trust. The approach may need to be adjusted depending on the personality and experience of the line manager.
Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:
1. HR needs to understand the business areas and individual roles they are supporting, in significant detail, if they are to add real commercial value.
2. Budget ownership is key, including commercial dialogue with Finance.
3. Touchpoints need to be transparent, with hiring managers held accountable for their hiring decisions and HR BPs and Recruiters clear about how they can help one another.
4. “Quality of hire” metrics should be explored.
5. “Fit” needs to be formalised and explicit, using applied Behavioural Science techniques or similar.
At HVO Search, we us behavioural science techniques to place strong leaders who share your brand’s values, mission and ethics.
If you'd like to find out more about how we find leaders who can thrive in these uncertain retail times, please get in touch.