HR must prepare for the upturn by forward planning

There is a need to woo talented staff now, ready for the economy’s recovery

The duration of the current economic downturn has even surpassed the
expectations of some of the best economists.

While redundancies and restructuring are commonplace, HR managers failing to
focus on recruitment are risking the long-term future of their companies.

As HR professionals, we know that recruitment is dynamic. We know it cannot
simply be turned on or off according to the economic conditions. We also know
that companies that choose to ignore recruitment risk never recovering from an
economic downturn.

HR will need to convince the board of this strategy – it is certain there
will be screams for a headcount cut when the bottom line begins to falter. And
as the economy limps on, HR managers face a crisis that could make or break the
companies they are working for.

They need to prove to the board that a stagnant recruitment function is part
of a shortsighted strategy, and usually the result of over-reaction to
quarterly results.

The double impact of a global slowdown and the events of September 11, for
example, meant a scythe was swung through hundreds of thousands of jobs across
all sectors. I am not saying the majority of these redundancies were not
needed, but the rashness with which they were executed bore the hallmark of a
knee-jerk reaction.

During this rather ambiguous downturn, some companies are downsizing,
restructuring and recruiting all at the same time. However, even when a company
is not looking to recruit, to ignore the recruitment function during hard times
is to risk the stability and reputation of the company in better times.

It is essential to plan ahead for the upturn, rather than simply manage the
here and now. Specialist recruiters are often the first to be axed, but how can
an HR department hope to secure the best candidates without the very employees
who can recruit the right people for the job once that recovery begins?

More importantly, HR also needs a fundamental shift in its thinking. We
could learn a great deal from our counterparts in the sales and marketing
professions. We must adopt a more business-like attitude to recruitment, where
potential candidates are regarded as customers who we need to aggressively
market our company to.

It sounds so simple and, quite frankly, it can be. HR needs to acknowledge
that the downturn won’t last forever, and that we shall soon need to recruit to
fill the gaps. To enable efficient recruitment, it is vital that the HR
department manages its community of candidates during the downturn.

Take graduate recruitment, for example. Something as simple as sending a
congratulations card to a graduate who has just received their results can be
an invaluable gesture from an employer to a potential employee. Experience
tells us that candidates need to be kept ‘warm’ during the recruitment process,
and companies should never be complacent enough to assume that candidates are
not in touch with your competitors.

HR will always need to retain its essential soft skills, but new words can
enter the HR vocabulary. Think customer relationship management; think
marketing; think technology; think speed and accuracy.

A downturn can be used as a fallow recruitment period in which the HR
department could be responsible for promoting the company’s profile and
reputation among potential candidates and competitors. When the economy
eventually picks up, therefore, the company will already be half way to
attracting and recruiting the best candidates.

Now is the time for HR to raise its game to ensure that it acts as the
guardian of the future, rather than the bastion of the past.

Mark Tennant, vice-president of resourcing at Accenture HR Services
(formerly e-peopleserve).

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