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September 1, 2015 / Mervyn Dinnen

What’s the Future for Recruitment Agencies?

At the recent RecFest conference, Roopesh from Workday opened a session exploring the relationship between agency and in-house recruiters by leading the attendees in a raucous sing-a-long of the Only Fools and Horses theme. It went down so well that they sang it a second time. Clearly for this group the image of recruitment consultants as fast talking market traders hit the spot. This was underlined by a slide showing some of the things that agency recruiters say during sales calls…

“I’m an expert in your market”
“I have a superb candidate from a previous search”
“Our standard Terms are 25% but I can agree to 12% just this once”
“Give me your most hard to fill vacancy”

So far so Delboy, but it wasn’t all pantomime villainy. There was agreement that in-house recruiters can learn things from their agency suppliers – sales and closing skills, focus and pushing back on hiring managers amongst them.

Earlier in the year I took part in a round table event where around 20 owners of small recruitment agencies were talking about their frustrations with in-house recruiters. They saw them mostly as failed recruitment consultants who weren’t commercial enough to realise the value of partnering with specialist agencies, and were scared of sales and targets and wanted an easy life. My role in this gathering was as one of two specialists with knowledge of both areas so I attempted to counter this view.

The real eye opener for me was that their major bugbear with in-house recruiters was over how they handled unsolicited emailed CV submissions. Yes, in 2015, all in the name of business development, agencies are still emailing companies with which they have no relationship, nor knowledge of their current recruitment requirements, attaching candidate CVs displaying full name and contact details. It seems that in-house recruiters ignore them, or worse still contact the candidate to let them know that their CVs have been sent in unsolicited.

I wasn’t happy with the stereotyping from either side. Whatever the rights and wrongs of each approach, there appears a clear undercurrent of disconnect between in-house and agency. Even amongst the successful supplier relationships there is still an element of mistrust.

These are interesting times for staffing agencies. There are skill shortages and talent is hard to find. Yet most are working harder for shrinking returns. Some sectors are thriving but the overall picture is one of tighter margins and harder to fill briefs. The number of permanent placements has fallen from almost 800,000 in 2006/07 to around 630,000 in 2013/14, despite the increase of people working in wider economy.

Trainees often join the recruitment industry in 2015 on basic salaries lower than those offered in 2005. Bonuses then were saved towards an investment in property or purchase of a car yet, anecdotally, now they help to pay the rent. Clients are changing the way they approach performance management, rewards and leadership development. Can the agency sales model similarly develop? Are we hiring the consultants that our clients would choose?

The days of being an intermediary between the client and the channels are gone. Agencies are now a channel again…and an expensive one.

Increasing automation and job polarisation could threaten the bread and butter business of clerical temp work. Clients are becoming competitors, whether through setting up their own internal function or offering their employees as a short term solution to others. There could soon be an app for outsourced managed workforces. Meanwhile the gig economy is connecting those who need a skill with those who are available and have that skill. Recruitment agencies are rarely facilitators of freelance gigs.

Everyone is connected. Clients are probably already connected to their next hire but may not yet understand where the connection is or how to leverage it. Permanent agencies need to look again at their own offerings and ask where they really add value. What if the introduction was free? What would they charge for then?

Much of the advice given to agency recruiters about the skills they need to develop – sourcing, analysis, content creation, storytelling, relationship building – usually pre-supposes that the business model remains unchanged, that vacancies need to be found and filled. But what if the business opportunities are not so obvious? Strategies need to evolve and respond to changing dynamics and preferences in employment models and talent acquisition.

Over the next few weeks I will be looking further into the current recruitment landscape and trying to understand the challenges that the industry faces, the impact they may have and how agencies might need to adapt.

Let me know what you think their challenges are?

August 7, 2015 / Mervyn Dinnen

The fattening of the rush hour

Mervyn Dinnen:

Really interesting post and mirrors some of my recent experiences.

For many, work is still a place you go, not just a thing you do…

Originally posted on Flip Chart Fairy Tales:

Five years ago I asked whether people were starting work earlier. Based on my own observations and anecdotes from others, it seemed to me that roads and railways were packed with commuters at times of the morning when they used to be almost deserted.

Thanks to an article in the Economist, retweeted in the context of yesterday’s Tube strike, I now have some data to back up my hunch. Since 2001, the number of people using the Underground has increased and so has the length of the rush hour. It’s more like a rush three hours now. As passenger numbers have increased at peak times, the number of  people leaving early or delaying their journeys has also risen. In just over ten years, the volumes have shifted at each end by about half to three-quarters of an hour, so 6.15am now looks like 6.45am used to.


This example from the article reflects many…

View original 396 more words

April 10, 2015 / Mervyn Dinnen

Getting to Grips With HR Analytics

If there’s one topic that has both dominated and divided the on-going conversations around HR over the last year or two, then its data. Specifically big data and what to do with it. We constantly seem to be told that HR doesn’t have the capability or know-how to properly leverage the opportunities that all these extra insights offer us. When I wrote about the topic last year I found a range of perceptions and misconceptions – from the size of the data to the complexity of technology, solution focus to looking beyond the quantitative – that cloud the conversations in detail and jargon.

Keen to understand more I went along to the recent HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit and heard a range of speakers – from Coca Cola, Aviva, Nestle, Metropolitan Police, Unilever, Serious Fraud Office to name a few – share case studies and insights about how they had used analytics to drive business value and achieve results.

Here are some of the thing that stood out for me.

Getting the right people.

With a background as a recruiter I’m always looking at how we can get the hiring right. Certainly talent acquisition and performance are two areas with much to gain from deeper insights, and where there is already a lot of data available.

As with any specialist area it starts with scoping what you really need – “an HR analytics team needs to understand data and present it in a way that engages the business – they don’t need a background in HR

We can have a tendency to compile a long shopping list of attributes, skills and experience that we want and then complain that we can’t find it. The key for analyst roles is to understand what you really need. Don’t look for a list of technology and software skills, but for someone who can understand problems and tell stories. Analysts are hot property at the moment so not easy to find – many presenters came not from an HR background but from one involving maths, statistics and analysis. HR generalists can get bogged down with data and detail whilst analysts can’t always present or tell stories so the best teams will blend a range of skills.

Once there is data and analysis then someone needs to be able to bring it to life, tell a compelling story that will engage stakeholders. More than one speaker observed that stakeholder management is a very hard skill to locate when recruiting in this area.

The concept of storytelling came through loud and clear during most presentations and is one that resonates with me, given the day job. How many HRDs look for separate people? Those to work with the data and those who will present the results? And how many look at the people they already have in their teams who could develop into a role like this with some help and training. One suggestion was to ‘steal’ someone from another business area – maybe the capability is already within the business, just not HR.

The key attributes were described by fellow event blogger David D’Souza as “The 4 N’s – Nosiness, Numeracy, Narrative, Networking“. But also remember that analysts need a career and personal development plan just like everyone else – they need scope to hone their skills.

Quick wins, simple wins, ask questions.

The clear message was to understand exactly what you want, and to be patient and realistic, starting with basics. Many teams have little or no budget, but however small it is there will need to be some budget to either hire or train the right person.

Think big, start slowly, and get in at the top! When you start make sure you meet the CEO and FD. Let them know what’s happening. Coca Cola’s Vanessa Varney told us “Get the basics right. Don’t rush to do the ‘sexy stuff’. Laying robust foundations is a must and can reap just as much reward“. She also stressed the need to get buy-in from leadership and the rest of HR and warned not to underestimate the cultural impact of embedding a data-mindset within the HR team.

The simplest way to then start is to find out what problems that business has that need answers, and that means asking questions not offering metrics. As Andrew Gamlyn said “the business don’t want metrics, they need answers to questions. Educate the business in a mindset of asking for answers to business questions instead of metrics from HR“. Understanding the real issues is key else you’ll just be defending data. One example involved data showing that the best performers were those whose previous job title matched their new ones – but was this a real measure of capability or really just a measure of recruiter or hiring manager behaviour?

There is HR data everywhere in the organisation” said Hendrik Feddersenunderstand how the business operates. Then engage with users, tell stories, use graphics

And collaborate.

One of the most tweeted soundbites of the day was from Vanessa Varney “IT and HR must collaborate. There’s no way around it“. Although you need to lay ground rules as well. I chaired a panel that included Vanessa and Sally Dillon from Aviva, who took responsibility for FTEs from finance saying “You look after the £££, we own the FTEs“.

The quickest wins often seem to come from straightforward employee metrics. Absence, sickness, resignations and links to overtime, workplace pressure or even length of tenure of managers, the ‘people game-changers’ are all areas that provide valuable insights to the business – if the managers don’t like the data then they can fix the problem.

During Sally Dillon’s presentation she described the HR analytics role as “kill complexity, never rest, care more, create legacy” and reminded us that “we own definition, methodology and tools – we don’t own the data, the business leaders own the data“…

…whilst Vanessa Varney’s summary provided a useful round-up of many attendees’ takeaways…

April 8, 2015 / Mervyn Dinnen

Whose Employer Brand is it Anyway?

Back in December I went to the Employer Brand Management Conference, which I previewed in this post.

I have written about employer brand quite a few times for HR and recruitment audiences – its a hot topic that many practitioners seem to want to know more about – so it was surprising at that event to find in over 120 attendees there was no-one from either discipline. Maybe the word ‘brand’ signifies marketing and comms to some HR folk, but there is little doubt that they shouldn’t be ignoring it.

The number one priority for most HRDs is the attraction, retention and engagement of the employees and skills they need – the way you are perceived as an employer, the way you reach out to new hires, the way you manage and lead, the vision and purpose, all of this is in the large melting pot of what we call Employer Brand.

Is it a case of everyone thinking that someone has responsibility for employer brand but in reality nobody takes it? Recent research from Universum sheds some light on this.


60% of CEOs think that they own it and only 32% think its HR. Which is in contrast to those in the talent acquisition sector, with 58% of HR execs and 57% of recruiters thinking its HR’s responsibility. Marketing execs are even more confused with 39% saying HR, 40% the CEO, and 27% themselves.

Whoever has internal responsibility, they seem in little doubt that the immediate main objective is to fulfil short term recruitment needs and the longer term main objective is to secure long term recruitment needs.

Of course the reality is that if anyone ‘owns’ it then it’s the employees, as it’s their experiences that are most visible to outsiders. How their employment experience is impacted by development opportunities, reward, performance management, inclusive management and a positive hiring experience is where HR come in to play. And if HR are doing their job and creating a great working environment, then they should also want to know how that is being communicated. The art is to let employees be the storytellers through encouragement, not control.

However some of employer brand is inextricably linked to general brand perception. Employer branding didn’t start with the internet, and just as Google, Apple and Facebook are brands that newer entrants to the job market would like to work for, so companies such as Virgin, M&S, John Lewis, BBC and numerous consulting firms and advertising agencies have been aspirational employers in the past. Often these preferences are based on general brand awareness, not the employment experience.

Is it the wider implications of branding and brand messages that maybe HR and recruiters struggle with?

On April 21st I’ll be heading off to blog and tweet from the European Brand Conference in London, which again is being run by Transform Magazine. There are a number of presentations around branding – perceptions, reputation, tone, experiential – with sessions specifically looking at employer branding too. There is a diverse range of companies speaking, including Cancer Research UK, BT, Oxfam, Eurostar, Orange, Fairtrade, Oxford University and Starbucks.

If you want to hear more then there are a small number of tickets available and blog readers can get a 10% discount the code TRANSCONF10 when booking here.

So if you’re thinking of dipping a toe in the branding conversation then come and join me, I’m sure the water’s just fine.

March 31, 2015 / Mervyn Dinnen

#HRTechEurope – We’re All Millennials Now!

Last week’s HRTechEurope conference and exhibition spanned 2 full days of interesting content and thought provoking presentations, 1500 delegates and lots of fun. There was a blog squad of 21 leading to a range of views and insights as we digested what we heard, and there is definitely some variety in the follow up blogs.

For me the HR takeaways were about flatter and faster workplaces, with greater personal responsibility and a different kind of leadership, offering seemingly less secure employment. The 20th century definition of employment may not be helpful for addressing the way work is transacted in the 21st Century. And as networks of influence and knowledge shift power from the institution to the individual then reputation will become an important currency. All of this requiring a mindset that we may not be used to finding. And its millennial!

Too much is happening too quickly. Technology is transforming customer and employee expectations and several industries are experiencing challenges to the way they operate. The need for agile and flexible structures was referenced by many speakers, as was the writing of Frederic Laloux on reinventing organisations. And Tom Fishburne’s alternative org chart got an airing in presentation slides…


How can workplaces keep up with the pace of technological change? “The new normal isn’t technology, it’s speed” said Peter Hinssen “if things move fast then hierarchies are dangerous“. His “work is the brief period of the day where I have to use old tech” slide (above) was one of the most shared images from the event and the concept of today’s workers as time travellers illustrated this well, but maybe even the most agile organisations might struggle to keep up. The reliance of adult workers on email and the phone (50% of business comms) is at odds with experiences of the future workforce, for whom they make up around 5% of communication.

Peter’s main message was about networks, for information and knowledge – “We’re still building companies with old fashioned structures…we need networks where information is shared. If a brand doesn’t speak the language of its network it will die” Network vs hierarchy was pitched as fluidity vs rigidity, with HRs role as enabler of the network.

Change requires more than technology though. “Social tools can help but can’t change the organisation alone” said Lee Bryant in an afternoon keynote. They do make new structures possible though, relying less on visionary leaders, whilst organisational change is not a technology project and more about continual improvement – “Change shouldn’t be top down, or something that only happens every 3 years, but it should be agile, gradual and on-going

Continuous improvement was also a theme underpinning a new approach to performance management. “Do you have confidence in the performance data within your organisation?” asked Heidi Spirgi. 1 hand was raised out of an audience of over 300. The new approach is based on leaders having frequent strengths-based conversations over the course of the year “what are you working on and how can I help?“. There is a shift from purely delivering feedback to regular coaching whilst performance ratings are becoming a thing of the past, with research indicating that 61% of a performance rating its a reflection of the rater not the ratee.

In another session on the performance appraisal, Armin Trost asked who was the customer – employee, manager or Board? He berated those who tried to set objectives for 12 months when they didn’t know what would be happening in their business the next month, whilst also observing that what usually starts out as an appraisal about performance usually ends up being about the person.

Rachel Botsman closed the event with a look at the Collaborative Economy. Rich in positives – “using technology to allow trust between strangers“, “untapped value of assets through collaborative models that enable empowerment efficiency and greater access” – she said the next phase for this technology would be about ‘unlocking the value inherent in human potential‘. Work was being ‘consumerfied‘ with new app Wonolo being showcased in a video – a collaborative platform for basic low skill, repetitive work.

Rachel had questions for HR. The 20th century laws for classifying workers is no longer relevant for new working models. Is the future of work not just about flexibility and empowerment, but also precarious, with no benefits and no guaranteed income? She called it the murky side of the sharing economy. The personal ratings element within this technology is interesting though with personal reputation and a kind of ‘peer capital’ becoming the new currency of work – from institutions to individuals.

The showcasing of Wonolo interested me. I’ve long thought that this kind of technology will impact staffing agencies and this was the closest yet. There have always been threats to agencies – job boards, in-house teams, social media – but this is different. The business needing a basic skill is directly in touch with the person offering the skill. The fact they connect, and the worker has a rating, covers validation, certification and availability with the pay rate set. Once these scale then things could get interesting.

So what about millennials?

I took part in a panel discussion, chaired by Andy Campbell from Oracle, about them. We heard research on what they want from the workplace – and the list could have been what the over 50s want from the workplace. or what 30/40 somethings want if they didn’t have childcare costs and associated expenditure. We heard about their aspirational employers of choice – Google, Apple etc – yet these are purely based on brand perception. Most look fun but don’t necessarily offer the flexibility, opportunities and rewards that we heard earlier the millennials want.

Employer branding didn’t start with the internet – there have always been aspirational employers of choice. Step back in time and Virgin, Marks & Spencers, John Lewis, BBC, NHS, British Airways and a plethora of banks, consulting firms and advertising agencies would all have topped those lists for older age groups.

Whilst the socio-economic, cultural and family factors that have influenced the values and aspirations of millennials during adolescence may have been different from previous generations (though not those growing up in fluctuating economic times) their mindset towards technology, change, personalisation, consumerfication, instant gratification, speed and opportunity is something we all need to share in the future world of work.

And if its a mindset, and not a date of birth, then we’re all millennials now.

March 20, 2015 / Mervyn Dinnen

Looking for Collaboration and Simplification at #HRTechEurope

The conversations around HR, recruitment, technology and the future of work move on to Docklands next Tuesday and Wednesday as HRTech Europe rolls in to Town. Always one of my favourite events, the mix of practitioners, theorists, commentators, suppliers and collaborators usually makes for some lively dialogue, great networking and thought provoking takeaways. And I’ll be part of an awesome (and I don’t use that word lightly) blog squad who will be helping to try and make sense of it all for everyone following online.

For those working in the people space, technology is posing some interesting problems and exciting possibilities. The recent Human Capital Global Trends report, along with other recent workforce overviews, have all flagged up findings such as:

  • People analytics has the second highest HR capability gap
  • Increasing investment in technology is not being matched by investment in the people and processes that would gain maximum benefit
  • 70% employees say that technology has changed their role or career in the last year
  • Using technology/new devices is ranked as the second highest training need by employees
  • Identifying and implementing the right technology is only a priority for around 20% of HRDs
  • Half of HRDs see their work environment as complex, and another 25% as very complex.

Are we being overwhelmed by an inexorable onslaught of automation and robotisation? Or do we just need to step back and take stock of the opportunities on offer?

I think there are a few strands here, most of which will be aired at HRTech next week by speakers as diverse as Peter Hinssen, Rachel Botsman, Lee Bryant, Nick Holley, Costas Markides and Euan Semple.

Some of the questions on my mind looking ahead to the event:

Should we be leveraging networks more? Peter Hinssen will be looking at networks of intelligence. Maybe customers and employees can provide some of the inspiration.

Is collaboration a choice or a necessity? I’ve been hearing about HR collaborations with IT and finance over analytics and data. I’m thinking this needs to become the norm not the exception.

How should we define performance? Most would agree that the yearly, school report style assessment of past performance isn’t fit for purpose, but what’s the replacement? Ongoing dialogue and continuous learning, with flexible goals, may be more relevant, with collective feedback. Do we have the culture, and leadership. to bring this about?

How do we define leadership? A culture? A collective mindset? Agile and flexible, future leaders need to be change agents comfortable with spearheading organisational change.

If responsibility for personal, professional and career development is now with the employee, what’s the future for the L&D function? I’ll be joined on the blog squad by some learning professionals, who will no doubt have a view!

How can we make work simple? Businesses may be facing increasing complexity but passing that on to the employee will reduce effectiveness and increase stress. Only just over half of companies have some kind of programme in place to help simplify work processes and practices – we clearly need to do more.

And then there’s the Millennial Mindset. I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion (along with Jo Dodds and Perry Timms) on ‘Employing the Millennial Mindset‘ chaired by Oracle’s Andy Campbell. It’s Tuesday at 3.30 on the main stage and we’ll be answering questions that you’ve all asked – you can start submitting them now through the hashtag #OracleAndyAsks. Come on, it’s about Millennials…you know I’ll have something to say!

One of the main concerns over technology is how intrusive it’s becoming. The 24/7/365 always-connected working environment, with more responsibility being shifted to the employee, can have a serious impact on wellbeing. I recently took part in a panel discussion for ADP on people and technology. here’s the video for the part of the debate on technology and wellbeing – I’m hoping to hear more about this on Tuesday and Wednesday…

HR Tech is coming to Town…are you ready??


March 9, 2015 / Mervyn Dinnen

Talking HR Data & Analytics at #HRAnalyticsLDN

Is 2015 the year analytics finally goes mainstream for the HR profession?

A few thoughts:

In most areas of our personal and professional lives we now have endless information on which to base a decision. No longer do we invest time and money without prior research – instead we do as much checking as we can to ensure that the decision we’re making is right.

And yet in business we’re too often stabbing in the dark. We hire the person that our instincts tell us may be right, even though we’ve got years of data to show the type of people who succeed in the organisation. We look to recruit someone who’s done the job before, without seeing how successful that approach has been in the past.

Walmart in the US have recently raised the pay of their lowest paid workers to try and reduce churn, yet as one commentator pointed out “if retailers really want to reduce churn, the next frontier will be promising more predictable schedules, rather than higher wages“. We have the data to produce predictable schedules – do we use it?

So why do so many in HR often see data and something big and insurmountable, rather than the way we can make better informed, more robust decisions? Or as Neil saysan HR person who “doesn’t like numbers” is a bad HR person.  I just think the idea of data being BIG in HR is a bit of a myth‘.

The 2015 Human Capital Global Trends Report found only 8% of respondents believing they have a strong HR analytics team in place., with this specialism registering the second highest capability gap. Suggested areas in which good people analytics can help the business immediately were:

  • Understanding and predicting retention
  • Boosting employee engagement
  • Expanding sources and quality of hire
  • Profiling of high performers in areas such as sales and customer service.

Starting doesn’t have to be painful nor involve massive expenditure – getting the right people in the team (mixing business and technical skills), starting with the tools you already have and focusing on a specific business need rather than a scattergun approach across multiple teams is sometimes all you need.

And learning from those who have already begun the journey.

Which is why I’m really looking forward to the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit in London next week. Across two days there will be sessions and presentations from HR professionals representing all sizes and sectors, and all at different stages of the journey. There should be some useful takeaways, whether your looking for quick wins of playing the long game. Some of the sessions I’m looking forward to are:

  • Beginning HR Analytics with No Budget (Andrew Gamlyn, SIG plc)
  • HR Analytics for Beginners (1 hour interactive workshop – learning from those who have taken the journey)
  • Driving Business Value from HR Data (Sally Dillon, Aviva – includes case study using data to reduce absenteeism, driving bottom line benefit)
  • Employer Branding Analytics (Alison Hadden. Glassdoor)
  • Analytics and Driving Cultural Change (Nicki Makin, Morrisons – the journey of moving from relying on gut feel to making data driven decisions)
  • Planning with a Blank Canvas (Dan Gordon, England 2015 – planning a large workforce for the Rugby World Cup from scratch)

Readers of this blog can get a £200 discount by using the code RECS200 when registering. If you want to know what to expect then check out this presentation from last year’s event – ‘Using Workforce Analytics to Create a Recipe for Success’ from Vanessa Varney, Senior Manager of HRIS Analytics at Coca-Cola.

Look forward to seeing a few of you there – and to finding out more about data driven workforce decision making.


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