When recruitment goes “wrong”
In the days and weeks following England’s unceremonious exit from the Rugby Union World Cup, we discovered that many things were the fault of Sam Burgess. Journalists and Pundits have found it easy to point the finger, whilst many parody themes have materialised along the lines of “first world problems”. My personal favourite was that One Direction were 10 minutes late on stage! We are now being torn between conflicting accounts of whether he will leave to return to Rugby Leave or stay with Bath Rugby and become a Flanker.
After watching England’s defeat to Australia, many friends who regard Rugby League as an uncouth and uncultured sport were quick to suggest that one of the main factors behind the hosts’ failure was the selection of Burgess. “How can somebody with less than 12 months experience be worthy of selection?” was probably the most polite and printable arguments. Having played both codes in my youth, I found myself trying to be the voice of reason. I countered with a few questions of my own: Who made the decision to bring him across? Do England have a style of play? Did England try to play in a way to suit his skills? The general strand of the counter arguments from the Union aficionados was that the two games don’t mix. What about Jason Robinson or Jonathan Davies as players? Shaun Edwards as a coach? Exceptions! Don’t get me wrong, there have been many failures in cross code experiments and we could go on for an age if we try to argue which is best. Overall, I fought a noble but, ultimately, futile attempt to argue that it was an experiment that could have worked if everyone involved had a clear picture of what they were trying to achieve.
In some of the quieter moments that have followed, it led me to ponder the situation from a professional point of view. Having spent almost twenty years as a recruiter, there have been placements that haven’t lasted as long as everyone would have hoped. I am fortunate to say that I don’t need too many fingers to count the “failures” and I do remember every single one. The moment when you find out is not particularly pleasant and a dent to your professional pride. Some have been beyond our control (relocation/family/illness) but there have been a small amount where the marriage just didn’t work. Like any recruiter worth their salt, we analyse everything. What went well? What didn’t work? What did I miss? What could I have done better? Experience tells you that recruitment is a process. Certain elements of the process you can control, other parts you can’t. The recipe for “success” is to make sure that you fully control what you can. Asking the right questions, checking and rechecking the answers, never making assumptions, playing “devil’s advocate” are things that need to be done. However, there are other elements that you can’t control.
In the last three years there have been two incidents where things didn’t go as planned and the placement ended early. Both were with relatively new clients who were looking to expand their businesses quite quickly. The process of analysis starts immediately: What went wrong? What did we miss? Speaking at length to both the client and candidate, we found that there were similarities in reasoning and also a clear difference. In short, what we all thought the role was was not what it turned out to be.
When agreeing a role, it is important to ensure everyone is clear. Why does the role exist? What are the responsibilities/expectations? How will the new starter be incorporated? What is the training/progression path? What will success look like? With this information you can identify suitable applicants and ensure that they have the right skills, motivation and desire to do the role. The interview process should then reinforce that belief and the offer and acceptance should be straightforward.
However, in the two cases where things went wrong, the common denominator was that the role was not what was agreed. Expectations were not met and ultimately it ended unhappily. So where does the blame lie? Did we, as the recruiter, do our job correctly? Did the employer have a clear vision of what they wanted? Was the candidate really able to deliver what was required?
As in many cases, the answer is not as simple as we would like. Sometimes people want something so much that they think success is inevitable and that believe that they can make things happen by wanting it to work. In the cases above, it turned out that the companies were probably thinking too far ahead and to where they wanted to be rather than where they were. As recruiters, we could and should have done more due diligence and really tested their model rather than assuming that the company were “right”. In turn, was the candidate “blinded” by ambition and oblivious to the reality?
In practice, the reasons eventually became clear. In one case, the employer had promised that a certain, vital resource was in place and it became evident quite quickly that it wasn’t. In the second case, the applicant assured everyone that they had certain technical skills which in practice they didn’t (despite passing a rigorous pre employment Technical test by the employer!). With enough time in recruitment, nothing will surprise you!
Recruitment can go wrong. When you are trying to match different people who have different skills, talents, objectives and expectations there will always be a factor that you can’t control. In many cases you can identify this early enough to either adapt the process or change course. Sadly, in England’s case, it is now too late and we may never know if Sam Burgess could have been a Rugby Union great. Whether he stays or goes will become clearer in the coming days and weeks. From England’s point of view, the review panel may or may not look at numerous recruitment issues. However, the important thing to remember is this. Just because you want something to work doesn’t mean that it always will. Think about the desired end result and be honest about where you are now.
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