If you care about culture, your recruiter MUST be an employee

Paul Weinstein / 28th April 2016 / Comment

A year ago we had a problem.

our-business-is-peopleWe were adding clients quickly, but having trouble finding the right people to fill several critical open positions to increase our capacity. We were in our third year of 60% annual growth and, although theoretically a “nice problem to have”, our growth was becoming an issue. As we tried to fill our open positions, we screened lots and lots of candidates – but they weren’t the right candidates for us. They didn’t have the unusual combination of extraordinary professional skill, strong intrinsic motivation and inherent resonance with our culture and values that we know to be the hallmark of a stellar addition to our team. We were finding lots of people – but not the right people, and not fast enough.

So we hired a great outside recruiting firm to act as our virtual recruiting department. The firm was closely aligned with our values and culture, they took care to understand our needs and were attentive and diligent in their approach. They were great people – and it didn’t go well. We had to let them go after just six months.

At Wheelhouse, we’ve prioritized our culture and our values over growth. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to grow–quite the opposite–we just don’t want to grow at the expense of our values and culture.

As an organization, we’ve established twin missions:

  1. To be the most valuable partner for each of our clients
  2. To be the best place to work for as many people as possible

Externally, our missions require us to deliver amazing value and real business returns to our clients. As we do this, our business grows via word of mouth from happy clients. Our first mission creates the opportunity for growth.

Internally, our missions direct us to grow – not for the sake of profit, but to provide an amazing and fulfilling work experience for as many people as possible. The only way to fulfill this mission is to grow. And thus, our second mission gives us a reason to grow.

And grow we have. Quickly.

This values-driven growth underscores the criticality of recruiting. Our business is our people; our people are our culture. So about six months ago, we came to the (now self-evident) conclusion that, if our people truly are at the core of who and what we are, it made no sense for recruiting to be removed from that core. So we took our recruiting in-house.

What went wrong with external recruiting:

  • We had someone else representing our employer brand. Though we described our culture and values to our recruiter, they had never experienced it for themselves. Our culture couldn’t be authentically shared with candidates; it was merely part of the recruiter “pitch”.
  • The recruiter couldn’t partner deep in our organization. We have several teams, each with leaders who act as the hiring managers for those teams. With the external recruiter, they had one contact – me. It was my job to liaise with other managers, glean requirements, and pass them on to the recruiter. This left the recruiter once removed from our hiring managers.
  • The nuances of our recruiting needs were lost. Our culture is a living, breathing entity. Each person we add to the team plays a role in growing – and protecting – our culture. Finding the right person takes more than an understanding of a written job description and a voice over from us. Without experiencing the culture every day, it’s impossible to understand and convey.
  • It was expensive. This isn’t the biggest reason, but it is important. We invested heavily (for an organization of our size) in recruiting. It was an important investment and we allocated a budget reflecting its priority.

Our internal recruiting strategy is amazing, here’s why:

  • We found someone with a super power to lead the effort. For this, I have to give credit to our external recruiter. They found Cindy and the moment she arrived, we knew she was special. Cindy has a super power – it’s the power of WOO (to win others over), and it took about six seconds for her to use it on us. Cindy started as our office manager, but we quickly learned that she has a passion for people, a skill well beyond the role for which she was originally hired. She is the embodiment of our culture and values. So, we made Cindy our Talent Scout and moved recruiting in-house. Best. Decision. Ever.
  • An internal recruiter experiences the culture every day. When we talk to prospective recruits, we start with an overview of our culture and our values. Because Cindy lives and breathes our culture every day, the authenticity of it comes through. More importantly, Cindy can also tell if the candidate’s disposition is naturally aligned with our values, or if they are just telling us what we want to hear.
  • The recruiting role can partner deep in the organization. Each of our practice areas has slightly different needs. Many overlap, but there are subtle distinctions that take experience and time to understand. With the recruiting role in-house, hiring managers have a direct line to the recruiter and can help guide the effort to align with practice needs.
  • Our recruiter is much more than a recruiter. We hired Cindy because she was a culture and values fit, but also because she’s multi-talented. In the office manager role, Cindy helps with the books (she’s also studied accounting) and with managing the office overall – she loves taking care of our people. Cindy is also responsible for onboarding the employees she’s recruited, helping them get quickly up to speed. Her support for internal processes allows her to accurately describe the work we do, ensuring each candidate is a technical fit as well as cultural.
  • Our ROI is sooooo much better. Because of the multi-faceted role that our internal recruiter plays, the value we get for our recruiting investment is exponentially greater than what we were seeing last year. And the results are stunning. Our candidate pipeline is full, we’ve hired great people, and the overall experience is much improved. It’s just simply a better way for us to handle this critical function.

To grow our business, we need to attract and retain amazing people. Our company’s success is dependent on our ability to do so—and it all comes down to recruiting. Our experience, even with an amazing external recruiting partner, led us to in-house recruiting.

Our culture is our business strategy – and internal recruiting is a significant pillar in fulfilling that strategy.

By Paul Weinstein