Disparate use of the same language leaves potential buyers unclear about the competencies of various providers. Only through careful questioning will clients be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.
After seeing the premiere of the latest James Bond flick, Casino Royale, one of my friends treated a group of us to the signature Bond martini. I am vexed to report that to my uncultured and, perhaps, unsophisticated palate, it tasted like ….most other martinis. It sported a different description, but it was a very similar cocktail, which made me think about how language is being used, or misused, in the outsourcing industry in general.
We face the exact opposite problem in the world of recruitment outsourcing. In fact, definitions have become the subject of much debate. The problem, to put it mildly, is that everyone describes his or her services using the same terminology, but the offerings are very different. Many firms describe themselves using identical phrases such as full-service “employment or recruitment process outsource service providers.” This issue is not so much about the use of the word “recruitment” or “employment” as the delineation of the services.
Most of the marketing literature promises the same outcomes: faster candidate cycle time, lower cost-per-hire, reduced administrative burden, higher quality of candidate through better sourcing channels, etc. Many use the phrase “full service” liberally, but if you look closely, there are vast differences.
One firm making these promises really provides the names of five “pre-screened” candidates. It is up to their client’s staffing department to contact each, arrange interviews, manage feedback, develop and extend offers, administer on-boarding, and handle virtually every step in the recruitment process. Yet this company calls itself “full service.” In the mix are also contingent labor firms that use identical messaging and recruiting agencies performing one off-hiring on a per placement basis.
At the other end of the spectrum are a handful of high-end providers that can emulate or actually “outsource” all aspects of the staffing department operations up to and including providing an on-site staffing department at the customer locations. These true outsourcing providers can offer up a complete staffing operation or some subset based on a customizable program design developed with the client. These companies address more complex implementation issues and, at times, are actually at a disadvantage against the less structured providers who want to build the racecar during the race.
So what is the buyer to do? How does one differentiate one provider from another? It requires careful questioning in the RFP or bidding process. The first step, as always, is for buyers to understand their needs.
This is different from what should be outsourced. The decision is based on financial and competency considerations. Many companies try to reach point B without first gathering the RFP data.
Once buyers understand their needs, they should ask providers for sample process maps of the actual steps they manage for current customers. These should be customers that the provider can list as a reference. Some may complain that this is intrusive and violates confidentiality.
To be fair, the provider should be allowed to redact names of managers, individuals, specific departments, or sub-contractors from a process map, but they should be able to deliver an overview of what they provide for one or several current customers. If a provider is unwilling to do this, chances are he cannot do this, and the best suggestion to the buyer is to run as fast as you can in the direction of a provider who can give this kind of detail.
When performing the reference, ask specific questions around the process steps that are supported and how well they are supported. Ask questions around how well the providers will measure defect rates, for example. Six Sigma company HR executives may want this data, and providers who think Six Sigma is a racecar should probably not work with Six Sigma companies.
After completing the reference process, a buyer should have a final meeting to ask for a final program proposal from the provider based on an open dialogue of what the buyer believes are the true needs and capabilities of the client organization. If you do not leave that meeting impressed with the provider’s program and implementation staff, they probably are guessing at steps in the process they have not offered in the past.
Remember, picking the right provider for a five-year outsourcing engagement will be the key to a customer service experience that will hopefully be “stirring” rather than “shaken.”