By: Edward Muzio
I cross paths with all kinds of HR experts, with a variety of titles and levels of recruiting and hiring responsibilities. As a general rule, the best and brightest HR people worry that their expertise isn’t valued or heeded. Nowhere is this more poignant than in the realm of staffing. “I do more than review resumes,” goes the typical cry, “and nobody knows it but me.” “I’m viewed as transactional, but I have a whole lot more to offer,” is often the sentiment. “I want a seat at the table.”
How do you get hiring managers to engage with you beyond the transactional role? Perhaps you’ve tried to force conversations about the value you can offer, but it didn’t work. You’ve talked with staffing colleagues, only to learn that they face similar problems. And you’ve found advocates high up in your clients’ HR organization, then sadly discovered they can’t do much about it either.
When talking fails, listening is often the answer -- particularly to your customer’s point of view. Since it’s hard to get time on clients’ calendars to ask about their needs, here’s a hypothetical letter from a hiring manager to you. Imagine that it came from one of your own clients.
Dear Staffing Consultant,
I’m the busiest person in the world. At least, it feels that way to me, so you’d be well advised to treat me that way when we interact. I’m so busy, after all, that I’ve received approval to hire more help. You stand between me and the help I need. The faster you find me the right candidate, the faster my life gets easier.
Here’s what I suggest:
Tell me what to expect
I’ve worked with various staffing consultants, at various levels of competence. The worst struggled to simply stay organized and return my calls. The best made the hiring process go so smoothly that I don’t remember much of it. As a result, I remember a lot more of what I don’t want from you than what I do. So, educate me as to how you will help me! Take five or ten minutes to tell me what to expect of you. A brief summary of your process, your commitments to me, and how often I should expect to hear from you would be a good start.
Keep it short and focus on how you will help me. Remember, humans build trust by seeing each other deliver on commitments. Give me some clear commitments, then deliver on them and we’ll begin a trusting relationship.
Teach me that you’re reliable
One of the commitments you make and keep should be regular status updates. If you want me to trust you, I need to know that you’re working hard on my behalf, even when I’m not watching. That means I need to hear from you, on a regular basis, without asking. In fact, by the time I wonder how things are going, I should already have your answer at my fingertips, in my calendar, or in my inbox. Each time that happens, it reinforces my sense that you’re a valuable partner. Each time it doesn’t, you look like a transactional agent who has to be prompted.
Warn me as soon as things go off track
It’s not enough to tell me everything is fine. Plans and goals don’t always work out. I’m in a hurry, so of course I’m not going to be happy to learn that you’re behind schedule, or that a candidate has slipped away. But even though I won’t show it in the moment, you will earn my respect if you report problems early and suggest workaround plans. On the other hand, if you surprise me with problems late in the game, or if you present problems without plans to correct them, I will come to see you as a transactional agent who needs constant supervision.
Show me what else you can do
When you’ve taught me what to expect, kept me up to date and warned me about looming problems, I will begin to trust that you’re watching my back. Once that happens, I’ll be more open to other contributions from you. Don’t force your “value” on me; just wait until I need help or advice and offer it. If you’ve done a good job establishing yourself as a credible resource, of course I will listen to you -- it will be in my best interest to do so.
Be a good one, not a bad one
Always remember, my strongest memories of staffing consultants are of pain caused by the bad ones. Show me you’re a good one. Proactively apprising me of your intentions and plans, honoring your action items, and providing honest status updates can help do that. The more you demonstrate your “goodness,” the more I’ll engage with you, and the more you will have a seat at the table. On the other hand, the more you push to be included in my process, the more resistant I’ll be. The choice is yours.
With respect and hope,
Your Hiring Manager/Client
Granted, every client and every situation will be different. But if you approach your clients based on their challenges, rather than what you wish they would do, you’ll have better results. Consider following these steps:
- First, develop a standard introductory conversation in which you explain your process and key commitments to clients. Consider supplementing it with a one-page handout.
- Second, keep a log of commitments and status for each hiring manager you’re supporting. Keep careful track.
- Finally, provide frequent updates. Stick to your plans if you can and be honest when things go off-track. Become known as a source of realistic information and solutions.
Delivering on your commitments takes some effort, but it’s time well spent. Who knows -- by following this approach you may soon find that you occupy a real seat at the table.
Edward G. Muzio, CEO of Group Harmonics, is the author of the award-winning books Make Work Great: Supercharge Your Team, Reinvent the Culture, and Gain Influence One Person at a Time and Four Secrets to Liking Your Work: You May Not Need to Quit to Get the Job You Want. An expert in workplace improvement and its relationship to individual enjoyment, Muzio has been featured on Fox Business Network, CBS, and other national media. For more information visit Make Work Great and follow the author on Facebook.