Thinking Global, Hiring Local
How should you select and work with a recruitment-process outsourcer for global hiring?
By Larry Stevens
As oil-and-gas pipeline service company T.D. Williams began an expansion into new countries a few years ago, the strain on recruiting efforts became so great that it threatened the success of the entire strategy.
"If we couldn't find a way to efficiently hire people in the new countries, one option we had considered was to postpone those new projects," says Candace Peterson, HR manager at the Tulsa, Okla.-based company.
A second option, strategically more in line with corporate goals but tactically problematic, would be to beef up the company's recruiting staff. But Peterson and others at the organization worried that the process would take too long. Then there was the fact that, once the new country sites were fully staffed, recruitment requirements would drop while recruiting resources would remain at surge levels.
HR was able to resolve this challenge by partnering with Kenexa, a Wayne, Pa.-based recruitment-process outsourcing provider, which took over most of TDW's recruitment efforts in the regions where TDW had only weak or non-existent resources. Not only did Kenexa apply more resources to the effort than TDW could have reasonably done, it also gave the pipeline-service company the advantage of intimate knowledge of the new sites' cultures, laws and technologies.
"By partnering with a company that is familiar with the area, we were able to keep [HR] headcount more stable and predictable, and also reduced our learning curve about the new regions," Peterson says.
Rajesh Ranjan, vice president of the Everest Group in Dallas, says many companies are turning to RPO for global recruitment for the same reasons they use it for domestic hiring: to handle the peaks and valleys of recruitment processes without being forced to grow and shrink HR headcount. However, he adds, companies face unique challenges in global recruitment.
"Despite all the talk of a global economy, each region -- if not each country -- has its own set of idiosyncrasies which affect hiring," says Ranjan. Even if companies can handle the HR headcount issue in a general way, they may not be able to hire the kind of experience and expertise that will ensure success in a particular country, he says.
Of course, many HR executives will choose to use in-house resources for stable hiring in countries in which the company has a long-standing presence. But global RPO provides a fast way to enter a new hiring market with relatively little disruption to ongoing projects and responsibilities. An understanding of the benefits of global RPO, as well as the challenges of working with recruitment outsourcing companies, can help HR executives make smart decisions about this option.
No "Setting and Forgetting"
It's important to note that, while a global RPO provider can reduce some of the strain on HR, companies can't expect to "just set it and forget it."
"The relationship between our company and the RPO is something we had to work at," says Peterson.
For example, although TDW was relieved of the need to fully understand the new countries' recruitment particularities, it had to help train Kenexa's personnel, who understood the country but not TDW's culture and business.
"We had to work with the operations manager that Kenexa assigned to us to teach her about what we provide our customers and our employees, as well as the process of working with hiring managers, among other things," Peterson says.
If she had to do it all over again, Peterson says she'd be more involved in selecting and orienting the people Kenexa assigned to her company. "I'd bring them in here and give them the same two-week orientation we provide for our internal people," she says.
But despite the initial snags, Peterson says, the RPO has provided her company with an invaluable asset.
"I really don't think we could have done the recruiting we needed in a timely enough manner without this partnership," she says.
Some companies find there are fewer problems, and more advantages, when they use RPO to help them move into an entirely new region, thus handing the provider a tabula rasa on to which it can impose new processes and incorporate new technologies without disruption. A good example is Spirit Aerosystems, a Wichita, Kan.-based supplier of commercial airplane assemblies and components.
About a year ago, the company began working with The RightThing, a Findlay, Ohio-based division of ADP, to manage hiring in two new sites, Scotland and Malaysia, and a French site that the company acquired and which already had a well-functioning HR department.
The RightThing was called upon to integrate the three new sites' technologies -- particularly the applicant-tracking systems -- with Spirit's central database. This was important to Sangita Richardson, Spirit's senior manager for global employment and workforce, who wanted a single view of her company's global recruiting efforts. But while this was simple enough in the greenfields of Scotland and Malaysia, it was more problematic in France, where the provider's technology had to sit on top of the existing applicant-tracking system.
"At this point, the French feel they have more work, not less, because they have double entry, in some cases," Richardson says.
The RightThing is now working on creating more seamless integration of the systems. Richardson isn't sure that, given the short time requirements, The RightThing could have been expected to provide systems integration in time for the roll-out. But she does advise other companies moving in to existing sites to be aware that an RPO provider may have issues when attempting to integrate technologies and processes.
Patricia Bradford, senior vice president of worldwide human resources at Blue Bell, Pa.-based Unisys, agrees that an important benefit of RPO is the ability to standardize processes and technologies across multiple regions. For that reason, she believes that, wherever possible, it's best for a company to select one RPO provider to partner with.
"They get to know your company, your systems and your culture. It's a learning curve and you don't want to go through it multiple times with multiple companies," she says.
Unisys works with Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup when it has to gear up quickly for lower-level jobs, such as help-desk personnel. "If we need to hire 100 people for a help desk in Asia or 50 service technicians in a Latin American country, we want one person to call whose company can handle both jobs for us," Bradford says. And, once the hiring process begins, she wants to be able to track it using a single technology.
Rules and Regulations
An RPO provider that's familiar with the lay of the land can also keep companies out of legal trouble. Michael Beygelman, president of Melville, N.Y.-based RPO provider Adecco Group, says in many locales, recruiting is highly regulated. "There are plenty of ways a company can unknowingly run afoul of the law," he says.
He points out that some countries require job seekers to fill out paper applications; others don't allow people to be contacted through social-media sites; still others dictate what applicants can be asked at various stages of the recruitment process. Partnering with an RPO that has incorporated local legal requirements into recruiter training programs greatly reduces the possibility of errors and omissions, Beygelman says.
Kate Donovan, the managing director of ManpowerGroup's RPO business, says some laws virtually require a local presence for recruiting. For example, some countries' customs and laws don't allow cold calling; so, without having someone in-country with contacts, "It may be difficult or even impossible to reach some people," she says.
Donovan points to other reasons why a local presence is important. In some locations, Internet -- and even mobile phone -- access is spotty. So RPOs have to find creative ways to reach out to people. "In some places, the best way to find people is to hand out leaflets outside a train station," she says. "Obviously, you can't do that without a strong local presence."
Another potential advantage an RPO provider can bring is a well-established local presence. In most cases, RPO providers take on the client's brand when sourcing candidates, to the extent that the candidates typically assume they're talking to the hiring company when, in fact, they're talking to the provider. But in locations where personal contact is important, an RPO provider that is a known entity may be able to open many more doors.
"In some locations around the world, people will answer the phone for us while they may not for a hiring company that is not very well known in that region," says Rebecca Callahan, president of RPO for Randstad Sourceright in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Angela Hills, executive vice president of Brookfield, Wis.-based RPO provider Pinstripe, says many RPOs achieve that local brand and experience by partnering with local recruitment firms.
"This provides a stable set of alliances that have a proven track record," she says. Hills argues that this best-in-breed approach gives RPOs the pick of the most successful local companies while, at the same time, ensuring central governance. However, other RPOs that have opted to grow out, rather than partner their way, into regions of the world have also been able to create very strong and successful networks of local organizations.
The process of balancing global governance with local support can sometimes be tricky, says Phil Stewart, president of Kenexa's RPO group. Local hiring managers may have their own sets of favorite recruiters. Local organizations can find many ways to sabotage recruitment efforts they feel were imposed on them. The most obvious is hiring managers dragging their feet on interviewing candidates.
"The best way to avoid a lot of headaches is to begin by sitting down with the local people, explain why you're using a specific RPO provider, and answer any objections ahead of time," Stewart says.
It's clear that after an RPO is hired, the global recruiting effort will still require a good amount of care and feeding from headquarters. But, as long as the hiring company understands that, going with an RPO can provide a very efficient way for global companies to develop and maintain a local presence in many regions of the world.