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Recruiters As Strategic Business Partners

Recruiters As Strategic Business Partners with Pete Clarke

If you were to ask your CEO what the biggest challenges facing your business are, what would they say? My guess is they’d rattle off a few examples about product development and adoption,  customer engagement, sales numbers, and maybe, eventually, hiring. Finding exceptional people is a perennial challenge, and one all leaders will bow to, but it’s never at the top of the list. The obvious dot to connect here is that without great hires, none of the product or sales targets will ever be in reach. But enough preaching to the blog-reading choir.

Enter Pete Clarke, Talent Partner over at Accel Partners. In his role advising teams on talent related goings-on across Accel’s portfolio, Pete has made it his personal mission to make sure organizations are bought in to talent acquisition early and often. In the following interview, he explains how talent teams can position recruiters as strategic business partners, why to steer away from time to fill, and even waxed philosophic on where the bad rap recruiters often get comes from.

Rob Stevenson:  Whenever I chat with talent partners I like to start out with asking them how they define their role because in my experience they all do something a little different. How would you explain what it is you do?

Pete Clarke: As we look at the talent function at Accel, we focus  on how we think about more people as a long term network building operation. Especially since our portfolio tends to consist primarily of early stage companies where they may have real revenue and real business model maturity, but still need quite a bit of help around the executive team. And those are fun conversations where it may be a team of seven, eight, nine, ten people, the CEO’s trying to figure out how they go from 10 to 20. Usually in those situations, they ask the question of when should we hire the first recruiter and I say, “Now”. You really should think no differently about building your company from a people perspective as you do in terms of building your product. A really easy question to ask is would you attempt to build your product the way you’re building your company or attempting to build your company, and the answer’s usually “No”.

RS In light of that mentality, how should the recruiting team be presenting themselves?

PC: Recruiting’s almost always coming from behind, even as you get started. And there’s a tendency, if you haven’t established credibility, if you haven’t gained trust and respect up front, you end up just suddenly becoming the target for, “here’s a bunch of open reqs. I’ll give you very little input other than this piece of paper I just sent you and go find me amazing people to fill these roles. I won’t give you timely feedback, I don’t really respect your opinion”. Rather than pushing back, the tendency is just to go heads down and try to see if you can accomplish that. Suddenly you’re very quickly into this environment of, “I sent you rec’s, You sent me crappy resumes or people,” and it’s not like, “How do we fix this? How do we understand what we’re trying to hire for?” It’s just, “Let me blame the recruiter for not doing the right job,” and, “hey, let’s hire another one.”

RS: In order to respond to that, have you coached talent teams to push back when the rest of the org isn’t being thoughtful about talent?

PC: Definitely. You gotta create an opportunity and a culture, and just around the culture and the people and the company you’re trying to build, and make sure that there’s credibility for that person coming in. That looks like making sure there’s clarity around what a great business partner from a recruiting standpoint can do and getting that established upfront. That means something different hiring manger to hiring manager, everybody operates with their talent partner a little bit differently. I will say a caveat to what we were just discussing, and this is a lesson that I had to learn in a very hard way, that relationship building isn’t finished after that first couple months on the job. It’s a never-ending cycle. You’ve gotta continue building that rapport and being in front of them. I think I was really quick to believe “Oh, we’re in a good spot. They understand recruiting. Things are good. There’s nothing to fix.” And pushing off the one-on-ones and not pushing back as much as I was in the beginning. And that quickly turned into, “Well, where did the strategy go?”  So a lesson to maybe new talent leaders or recruiters who are learning to push back on their hiring managers and build that credibility from day one, it doesn’t stop in the first ramp period of your time at that company.

RS: I really like the metaphor of comparing building your company to building the product. When you put it in terms like that and you say it’s a glass shattering moment for people, why is that such a harsh realization?  Why is recruiting viewed as administrative and not a business partner? Forget how to fix it and forget waking people up to it. Why does it exist in the first place?

PC: I’d argue that I think traditional HR, it starts there. And I don’t believe that human resources as a function  has made the leap from the industrial revolution. We still think about people as human resources. No one wants to be considered a human resource. Are we gonna be mining people out of the ground? Back to the recruiting aspect of it, the function’s not done itself any favors in terms of how they present themselves. They tend to sort of go right to process and procedure versus again, the culture and relationship piece. And no fault. I think it is just inherently baked into it from the hundreds of years of how businesses have run prior to what we think about today with businesses that are in, I guess I call it intellectual property or knowledge or the fact you’re hiring people for their smarts and their creativity. Not because they can bolt something on to something else.

RS:  How can talent teams position recruiters as strategic business partners?.

PC: Whether you’re in HR, Marketing, Sales, Finance; you gotta understand the business. You want a person who sits on the executive team, and every peer o looks at them and believes if they have a question about if we’re expanding into Europe, they’re going to have valuable input and not be relegated  to “Oh, well you’re the HR person. I’ll come to you with people questions later.” They think about the business first and sort of the functional expertise they have, is secondary. So it’s table stakes that they’re great at the function you hired them for. The X Factor, if you will, for this person’s going to be that they’ve demonstrated their business acumen and can quickly understand our business. And then how the functional expertise they have applies to the business that we have.

To hear more from Pete, head here to read the full uncensored transcript.