Boosting the productivity of Recruiters, the forgotten knowledge workers

January 16, 2023

Many years ago, McKinsey published an interesting report on how to boost the productivity of knowledge workers. They defined knowledge workers as those whose jobs consist primarily of interactions with internal and external stakeholders combined with complex decision making based on their knowledge and judgment. Based on that definition, are Talent Acquisition professionals the forgotten knowledge worker?  

Recruiters interact with hundreds of stakeholders if not thousands throughout a year – candidates, hiring managers, HR, interview panels, suppliers – and each interaction requires a recruiter to make a decision based on knowledge and judgement: Is this candidate a good fit, what will motivate the candidate to apply, are the hiring manager’s expectations realistic, how can I work with HR to ensure compensation and benefits will align with the market, etc. 

Moving into 2023, companies are focused on optimization – organization structures and size are now aligned to opportunity, costs are aligned with predictable revenue, etc. And critical to optimization will be ensuring that the teams in place are set up for success in this new world of doing more and doing better yet with a smaller team. In other words, companies need to look at how to boost the productivity of their teams. 

According to McKinsey, knowledge workers spend half their time on interactions, and their research and experience suggest that when implementing productivity initiatives, companies should first explore the productivity barriers that impede these interactions. Armed with a better understanding of the constraints, senior executives can get more bang for their buck by identifying targeted productivity improvement efforts to increase both efficiency and effectiveness. 

McKinsey suggests there are 5 barriers to productivity for knowledge workers – physical, technical, social or cultural, contextual, and temporal.  So, what can be done to remove these barriers and boost productivity of the forgotten knowledge worker in the TA Team? 


Physical and Technical barriers 

Challenges to collaborating with stakeholders are more pronounced when they are far away from each other. TA teams are often in different locations, in multiple time zones, and hire for positions outside of their own region.  And often, TA teams do not have access to effective tooling that facilitates collaboration through the sharing of up-to-date knowledge across those physical barriers. One remedy is to implement communities of practice – repositories of knowledge that capture best practices for recruitment that are accessible by all. These knowledge repositories can span topics such as ATS best practice, latest salary guides, market insights, pay transparency obligations, through to recruiting playbooks that provide the recipes for technical recruitment across the organization and in each region.  


Social or cultural barriers  

Social or cultural barriers can prevent the right people to engage and collaborate, for example perceived hierarchies that can make hiring managers appear to be unapproachable to the talent team.  To avoid such problems, it’s important to encourage a culture of knowledge sharing and collaborative problem solving.  In the hiring manager example, if TA teams offer transparency into the complexities of their hiring processes, then hiring managers are more likely to help solve those challenges rather than rail against them. If hiring managers understand the market they are hiring from, the availability of the skillset they seek, and the competitors in the market for the talent they are targeting etc, they will appreciate the challenges facing the TA team. 

To benefit further from such approaches, TA Leaders should include knowledge sharing in performance reviews. Introducing knowledge sharing as a value into the company culture helps break down these types of barriers. The communities of practice described above can help too: recruiters and their relevant stakeholders are far more likely to give timely and useful responses if it is a network of people collaborating. 


Contextual barriers  

Employees who face contextual barriers struggle to share and translate knowledge obtained from colleagues in different fields.  Our own research suggests 55% of recruiters do not have a background in the roles they recruit for. This is especially acute with technology recruitment, meaning that for TA teams the contextual barrier is one of the more complex barriers to overcome.   

There are several approaches to address this barrier. Rotating the TA team into other parts of the organization is one approach as it helps the recruiter understand the domain more fully. Another approach is to create forums where specialists in the different parts of the organization can document knowledge about their functions and also answer questions from the TA team when needed. Creating forums creates trust between the TA teams and the rest of the organization which in turn helps break down social and cultural barriers.  


The barrier of time  

The final barrier is time, or rather the perceived lack of it. With the assumption that TA Leaders will be expected to do more with less, TA teams, who were already time pressed, will have even less time. Which means less time accumulating the knowledge that is required to improve their judgement in decision making during their thousands of interactions with their stakeholders.  

In this instance, rather than expecting recruiters to accumulate the knowledge individually, TA Leaders might consider creating a small set of ‘knowledge intermediaries’, recruiters who can broker the sharing of knowledge across groups, capture best practice, and collate it in a central repository that is accessible to the team.  


We should look to 2023 as a defining year for the Talent Acquisition profession, one where the TA function is developed as a strategic knowledge function, and where investment is made in the TA team themselves in order that they become knowledgeable and expert so that in turn the productivity of the function is improved to the extent that not only TA Leaders can demonstrate they’re doing more with less, but they’re doing better! 

McKinsey Article: Boosting the productivity of knowledge workers.

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