How to Evaluate Enterprise Staffing & Recruiting Technology
In my time working with small, mid-sized, and enterprise level staffing and recruiting organizations, I’ve seen many different flavors of evaluations. Evaluating enterprise front, middle and back office recruiting technology that will essentially run your organization is very difficult and often fails. I recently read that organizations switch ATS systems (recruiting technology) every two and a half years on average. Who knows, could be a made up stat but it had me thinking about why the cycle is so short.
Considering the quantifiable costs (implementation, double paying for licenses, man hours it takes to find a new system, etc.) and the un-quantifiable costs (dip in employee morale, time to productivity on a new tool, loss of confidence in leadership, etc.), you would think there would be a heavier emphasis on getting it right. That’s not to say that the intent is not usually in the right place but the execution is often lacking and it’s usually because there is not an expert on staff that has deep knowledge and experience with conducting an evaluation like this that touches so many aspects of an organization. In this article I will explore some ways I have seen firms increase their chances of success in selecting the correct solution.
The Data and Measurables
After doing research into this topic, I found data showing failure rates of IT projects ranging between 25% and 90%. Part of understanding the data here is defining failure. In this Couchbase study that had failure at 90%, failure was defined as projects that had “fallen below planning expectations, delivered only minor improvements or altogether failed.” In the Forbes article that showed a study that used 25%, failure was defined as “outright failure,” or not even completing the project. The links to the articles are referenced below if you’d like to see some of the data yourself. One way or another, the data suggests that if your implementation does fully succeed, it will be in the minority.
Coming to Terms
When selecting a committee to help with an evaluation, one must come to terms with an important fact early on… people are self serving in nature. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is what has helped us survive and thrive! But we didn’t evolve to evaluate technology, we evolved to survive in the wilderness, and those two things that can be in evident conflict when organizations evaluate technology solutions because people (almost) always put their interests above the greater good of the company’s. I cannot tell you how many times that someone evaluating recruiting technology will get hung up on a piece of functionality that will save them from five minutes of agony a day so they choose that solution vs the one that will save their company hundreds of hours a week. We are wired for our own survival, and often it’s difficult for people that especially sit within one function of an organization to see the forest for the trees. Select people who are global thinkers and prep them to think of things rationally, not emotionally, when making their decision.
Selecting the Right Lead
Now that we know what to look for, we need to decide who is going to be on the committee. Should it be just a few people? Should we let the entire organization take part? Ideally, a CEO, CTO or COO would run point for any technology evaluation because those people usually see the organization in a more global manner than anyone else. Unfortunately, execs rarely want to devote their time to the minutiae of looking at technology. Because of this, there is usually someone chosen to run point on an evaluation below the exec level and the reason they are chosen can vary greatly. Some reasons might be: they are a vocal agent for change, they are viewed as being tech savvy, the executives trust them, or maybe it’s just because they happened to be there when the conversation was brought up. None of the above are the best reasons in my opinion. The person running point should be someone who is a pure operations type that has nothing to gain by making one particular part of the organization happy over another. If you don’t have anyone like this in your business, do yourself a favor and hire a consultant from the outside. Maybe even consider someone without a considerable background in the recruiting technology space for the initial evaluation. I find that people in those types of positions bring less baggage to the table that would harmfully impact their decision.
Selecting the Right Committee
This to me can be the trickiest part that staffing leaders struggle with. Especially within organizations under $100MM in revenue. They still often are hyper-concerned with preserving culture (as they should be) and are often of the mentality that if they all choose it, they will have to live with it without complaining. Nonsense! For starters, you will never have a unanimous decision where everyone sings kumbaya and harmoniously selects the one perfect tool for your business to grow on. In fact, this may actually cause a division where two camps viciously fight over which tool to select. Also, end users and even managers and directors, are usually going to choose the tool that fits their agenda best, not the one that makes it so the entirety of the company can accommodate its needs today and 5 years from now. Recruiters will have mostly their needs in mind, as will salespeople, accounting, payroll, IT, marketing, etc. It would go almost completely against our fundamental nature to think otherwise.
My recommendation is to have your point person survey each team and maybe even some of its members to see what their needs are up front, document them, and make sure they all make their way into the evaluation criteria. From there, identify the best people from each part of the organization to represent their team, while also understanding the bigger picture, and encourage the most data-driven and pragmatic approach possible. It can help to ask the top 3 things someone would want in a new recruiting technology to make their life easier and the top 3 things that would help the company grow. Their answers may be telling as to whether or not they should be on your committee. Also encourage the committee to not only think of today, but consider the problems that might come up down the road, and how the recruiting technology they are evaluating could solve those problems.
Creating a Criteria & Scoring
Often times we will look at 5 demos from 3 vendors over a 2-3 months evaluation period and at the end just throw our hands in the air and say screw it, I’m just going to choose X vendor because I like them. Or, I like these one or two things Y vendor does so I’ll choose them. Evaluation fatigue is real and it happens to everyone. How can one single person ingest so much data in a drawn out period and remember everything about it? Not to mention they may not revisit the conversation for another 5-10 years, or ever again for that matter! Having a rock solid evaluation criteria documented can make you feel 100% more confident in your decision.
You can create one on your own from scratch, or the easier road is ask your friend who works at another staffing company if they have anything hanging around that you could base yours off of. Also, you can weight each feature by level of importance and then rate the features vendor by vendor 1-5 or 1-10. From there you can determine the final score of each vendor. You can also break functionality out by group so they can rate the features that are important to them while they are watching the demos, rather than having to look at the entirety of the document that is largely irrelevant to their life. This way they don’t have to rely on their foggy memory later and it keeps people engaged in the demos. They aren’t going to want to turn in a blank score sheet or have scores on there that can’t be justified because they had no idea why they put them there. Just be careful that if you do decide to score and rank solutions, that you choose line items to score that are clear cut and definable, not confusing and ambiguous. For example: say “Rate the ease of creating reports from scratch” instead of “Rate their reporting from 1-10”. One asks a specific question. The other leaves it completely open to interpretation. They could be rating how visibly appealing the reports are, how many reports there are, how well the reports fit their needs, or even if the reporting tool allows them to create their own report in the first place. In the end, find out what’s important to each team, and give them a manageable list to help them organize their thoughts and help you make a solid decision.
Process – Evaluating a Recruiting Technology
Similar to implementations, too often sales processes face unnecessary delays or get put on the back burner. Even worse, sometimes people reach out to vendors too late, putting them both in a precarious situation because the vendor of course won’t turn down the opportunity despite knowing the implementation is already in jeopardy. Allot at a minimum of 3 to 3.5 months for a smaller organization. If you are larger, there is usually a sliding scale upwards from there. Be wary of any company that is offering to do an implementation in a shorter time frame. They are most likely not spending much time making sure your data migrates properly and/or their system barely has any functionality so there’s just not much to do in an implementation!
Another detriment to an evaluation process is when it gets delayed or put on the back burner. I can confidently say that you will need additional meetings to discuss the same things over again because you and your team will forget these details as time elapses. To prevent this, work with your vendor to create a timeline from the beginning to move the evaluation forward. A timeline should outline the expected meetings needed for a company of your size within your vertical. A timeline document will rarely be adhered to perfectly, but it sets expectations that you are a serious buyer. Your time is extremely valuable, as is theirs, so why not make sure you are both not wasting it.
One other major time-waster is being unprepared for meetings. This falls on both the vendor and the staffing company but not having clear agendas and prepped teams on both sides, inevitably more meetings will need to take place in follow-up. To quantify this, let’s say an average demo is attended by 7 people. If those people are making on average $100k/year fully burdened then that’s roughly $350 down the drain if another hour needs to be tacked on that could have been avoided. Effort up front can save far more effort on the back end. Having a clearly defined process from beginning to end is time well spent.
Get Behind Your Decision
This may sound simple but it can easily get botched. As an executive or a decision maker, your team needs to know that you are 100% behind your decision. If they feel you are not, some will exploit this fact. It’s basically giving them carte blanche to say if since our CEO doesn’t fully believe in this, why should I? Then they might poison the well for others, really throwing a wrench in your investment. BUT, if they know you are unwavering, they will fall in line. You and your carefully selected team know what is best for the business, and they have to have faith that your goals are aligned. Their success is your success, so you’re obviously not going to purposely impede them. They have to know if it’s not in the system, it didn’t happen. Joe the recruiter spoke to that Jan the candidate but the call’s not logged? Sorry, Jan’s going back into the pool for someone else to take a stab at. Your team is conversing via email about candidates rather than using the internal social collaboration tool like Chatter, they lose out on kicker bonuses for the month because visibility in the system is key for your organization. There has to be value in using the system and everyone needs to know you strongly believe that value.
Closing Thoughts – Recruiting Technology Stack
I’ve seen companies run evaluations that are totally haywire and others that are nearly spotless, and in my experience they are far more often the former than the latter. As people in the staffing industry know, there are no shortcuts in success. Doing the hard thing the right way is not for everyone and it ultimately can determine who thrives and who fades away. Outside of the people at your company, your recruiting technology stack is your biggest opportunity for differentiation. Decisions of a large magnitude like this should be considered accordingly.