Supply-Side Human Resources Management

Jul 15, 1993

The ability of an A/E or environmental consulting firm to quickly hire qualified people for any opening affects virtually every aspect of its management. I call it “supply-side human resources management.”

If you think about it, a firm’s hiring power goes deeper than the ability to staff up to meet clients’ ever-changing demands. More importantly perhaps, it also influences how the firm deals with marginal employees, employees who are complainers, and employees who make demands on the firms. For example, we recently worked with a design firm that is having problems with one of its top engineers, a guy who alienates both clients and staff. Yet, they continue to put up with it (in addition to paying a hefty sum for the privilege of doing so) because they’re afraid they won’t be able to replace his specialized technical knowledge. The fact is, if they had the right person waiting in the wings to go to work, they would never have allowed this situation to drag on for so long. A similar situation exists in one of our architectural firm clients. The firm’s marketing director is hated by everyone in the firm. In addition to the fact that she simply refuses to do any clerical work whatsoever (I’m not too proud to make copies or stuff envelopes every so often!), she has been ineffective in her larger role. The firm has declined under her marketing leadership. The company president has said he’d be perfectly willing to replace her if he had someone to do it with. Yet, the situation persists. Or, how about the firm that changed its organization structure to accommodate the warring of two of its key people? Or the one that allowed an employee they knew was cheating on his expense report to continue working there? Or the firm that would not fire the secretary who had the habit of getting “sick” repeatedly on Mondays and Fridays only? Or the firm that kept “old Joe” because he was good technically but could never, ever be shown to a client? The firms involved in these real-life situations exist, the answer is almost always the same: “We don’t know who we would get to replace so-and-so, so we make the best of a bad situation.” And in spite of the importance of recruiting to any professional firms that sells labor for a living, most companies with fewer than 500 people don’t even have a full-time recruiter. And when they do finally put someone in the role, it’s rarely a person who has had any prior experience in an A/E or environmental firm, or someone who makes more than $40,000 per year. Fortunately, if a company is smart enough and willing to allocate some of its scarce resources to the problem, it does not have to be held hostage by these situations. The answer lies in supply-side human resources management. Here’s how to start. Define your hiring process, in writing. Make sure that the process includes adequate time for selling candidates on why they should go to work at your firm. Continuously recruit. It doesn’t matter if your workload is waning— you should still be out recruiting to get a backlog of bodies for the positions that you historically have the hardest time filling. There should never be a time that the firm is “not accepting applications.” That’s crazy! Put together a database of every candidate who has ever sent a resume to, interviewed with, or filled out an application for employment at your firm. This database need not be computerized— a file drawer is fine. Classify people according to what they do and what their credentials are, not which of your employment ads they responded to. Search the database every time a position develops. Stay in touch with those individuals you’d eventually like to hire. Just like a good client, good employment candidates need to be courted. Conventional wisdom dictates that the best people are not out there looking— they are already employed. That being the case, you will have to spend time with these best people to build their interest in coming to work at your firm. It’s rarely an overnight process, and it may even take years to pull off. Measure how long it takes to fill open positions, report on this statistic, and then work diligently to keep reducing that time frame. Any process worth its salt requires that you measure its effectiveness and make changes as necessary to improve it. Recruitment is no exception. The bottom line: Firms with a strong pipeline of good people (those who practice supply-side human resources management) are more successful than those who see this activity as a nuisance. Originally published 7/15/1993

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