Recruitment is Broken. And Only Marketing Can Fix it

Recruitment is Broken. And Only Marketing Can Fix it

James Sandrini 2018/05/26

– Sous Chef
– £32k
– Great opportunity
– Start ASAP
– No Agencies

You’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it. The lazy, laconic LinkedIn recruitment post. It screams ‘WE HAVE A JOB’ and rejects why on earth anyone would ever want to work there.

Recruitment is broken. And, speaking on behalf of those with half a mind in marketing, I’ll share an idea: We can do it better.

Steven Hankin coined the term ‘war for talent’ while at McKinsey & Co. in 1997. The phrase may seem equal parts antagonistic and anachronistic some 20 years later, but the challenge remains: How can you recruit and retain the best people?

Hospitality businesses – where the service is a constituent part of the product – are acutely susceptible to changes in personnel. And, for all the process that underpins the service, it’s the people that determine the success or failure of the enterprise. Today, talented people have never been in shorter supply. Here’s why:

– VC money has poured into new concepts, swelling the ranks to the point of saturation. Similar investment has not followed into training, however, leaving a significant skills shortage

– The threat of Brexit has robbed the country of tens of thousands of potential contributors. 75% of waiters, 37% of housekeepers and 25% of chefs in 2017 were EU nationals

– Other sectors, spurred by a long-overdue move towards customer-friendly activity (who’d have thought?) are now offering their workforce more: higher pay, better benefits and greater flexibility

– The working-age population, those between 16 – 64, is declining as a percentage of the total populace. Simply, the number of potential customers is growing at a faster rate than those able to serve them

In isolation, these issues threaten. When combined with a shift in audience demands, they’re perilous.

"The division of employee and guest didn’t necessarily make any more sense in times past; it was simply customary and tolerated"

The current generation of consumers – no, this isn’t about ‘millennials’ – expect transparency, heritage and equitable values from the brands they interact with. And they don’t just expect it from business leaders; they demand it from every single team member they interact with in their buying journey, on and offline.

The advent of ‘portfolio’ work – exchanging full-time employment for independence – married to swift technological advancement, has triggered a shift in organisational structures. Companies now rely less on core teams and are more likely call upon transitory workers or agencies on a project-by-project basis. Recruitment, retention and development, particularly of non-operational team members, simply isn’t as vital.

The result? An uncomfortable equation: A looser company culture, multiplied by an ever-increasing need to shortcut alignment with a rotating series of hired hands.

Facebook provides a platform for people to share and content. In exchange, they collect data that can then be shared with advertisers to help target likely consumers, at a profit. Facebook is as much a marketing platform as a social network. Marketing is founded on this principle; exchange. Campaigns exchange content and ideas for attention and awareness, for example. And more than ever, marketers now rely on their audience to help craft the narrative that will appeal to other, like-minded members of the same tribe.

Customer-facing businesses – particularly those with accessible concepts like restaurants and bars – don’t just accept an overlap between the guest and team persona, they actively petition for it. Workers that want to eat or drink or stay in your establishment are much more likely to be powerful advocates of the brand, both in and out of work. It follows that the messaging most likely to convert a prospective candidate overlaps with the content of a consumer-facing campaign. They share the same space and interactions, after all.

The division of employee and guest didn’t necessarily make any more sense in times past; it was simply customary and tolerated. Now, in a world that craves transparency – and technology that circumvents privacy – the well of acceptance has dried up. So, if you’re penning the same notes to prospective team members as you are to your guests, based on the very same principles, then why exactly aren’t marketing and recruitment working in tandem?

Recruitment is Broken

Retention is everything. Tenured team members are more likely to appreciate the company’s heritage, understand its processes, and share its stories. These people make the brand matter to guests and incoming employees. Crucially, they are also far more likely to hold company governance accountable for the values they themselves maintain.

Hospitality isn’t alone in failing to prioritise retention over recruitment. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, owners & operators seem intent on spending their money on the glistening possibility of acquisition, over the security of retention; on recruiters, not coaches; adverts instead of benefits.

The narrow view revolves around money. It simply costs more to hire a new team member than to manage an existing one. This view is equal parts reductive and destructive and ignores the wider value of long-tenured team members. Longer-tenured team members – let’s aim for a year plus – actively advertise your brand, acting as powerful advocates to prospective talent and current guests. They help train and develop new recruits, maintain the status quo during times of turnover and, having worked their way up the chain, appreciate how challenging each role can be.

This is key. Teams are tasked with an ever-growing, forever-changing series of tools to complete their day job; the ability and determination to upskill is the arguably the most valuable asset in the modern workplace, irrespective of industry. In hospitality, the days of excel and email have rapidly been replaced by a medley of digitised tools, designed to control the volume of the music, or manage guest feedback, or operational checklists or, well, you get the idea.

It’s never been more difficult to retain your best people. And it’s never been more important to keep them.

"No logo or colour palette or activation can conceal the unvarnished reality of what a brand – and its people – stand for"

‘Culture’ might be born from a series of values and principles, but it’s certainly not maintained by them alone.

Businesses are focused on success. As they grow, they contort towards the behaviours – and people – that bring success. Sustainable, effective behaviours can propel an enterprise inexorably forward; obstructive behaviours can hold them back interminably. Brands, in both the abstract and actual sense, are the products of these behaviours. No logo or colour palette or activation can conceal the unvarnished reality of what a brand – and its people – stand for.

So, for a brand to retain its appeal and marketability, it needs to maintain groups of workers pursuing a common, constructive goal. Doesn’t that sound like a job for a marketer?

Your business has a value proposition: An explanation for why a customer should buy your product. Few businesses develop employee value propositions, ignoring the need to detail the value that the company can provide a potential new starter. A decent value prop will distill everything a brand offers into one or two key reasons why the brand matters to the target audience. And hey, we just said that the reason your customers should love you, and your team should love endure you are not so divorced from each other, so you’ve got a head start.

The very best proponents of the internal brand actually design a whole new brand, complete with guidelines, imagery and key messaging. And why wouldn’t they? They’re working just as hard to attract and retain talent as they are to attract and retain customers.

Let’s presume that you are employing your marketing team to help recruit and retain. Bravo. You’re clearly ahead of the curve. But if you’re only asking them to help craft the copy for your recruitment ad, then you’re missing a trick. Successful marketing campaigns rely on audience & competitor research to understand what customers will buy and what your rivals aren’t selling (or aren’t communicating). When was the last time you looked at the ads your competitors were sending out? How often are you interviewing recent inductees to understand where else they applied and the flaws of the current recruitment process?

The insight that this research produces will help determine how to compete for talent, and what actions are required to achieve your recruitment goal. This is where a marketer will excel: Who should you target? What channels can you use to find them? And what information can you feed back into the process to continue to optimise the strategy?

Is. It. Sinking. In. Yet.

Recruitment is Broken

Spoiler: Businesses are run by people. Like people, businesses can be very good at working towards a single goal, and essentially awful at striving to achieve a few. You want your team to be customer-centric? Work towards it. Want them to be profit-lead too? Good luck buddy.

Focus your team and your internal brand towards a single goal. Reward it and share stories of its success. Photograph it. Write about it. Assign people to be in charge of it.

And for the love of Christ, measure it. Reporting is to most marketers what press conferences are to politicians: A necessary evil. However, I’d chance that your marketers deal with diverse and evolving data sets far more often than anyone else in the office. So, if you’re working towards this single goal, and measuring it in order to provide insights and actions – of course – then you know who to call.

Is the difference between a £5 and £500 bottle of wine all in the grapes, terroir and production, or is a significant value in its scarcity and its story? And is a diamond – a stone that hasn’t been rare for 150 years – worth 2 month’s salary for any other reason than the well-told story that allies diamonds with marriage and eternal bliss?

If you want to inspire trust, nurture people to progress and motivate a group of people, you need a story. This is the marketer’s bread & butter.

Recruitment and marketing are rarely discussed in the same breath for the very same reason that people still consider recruitment and training & development to exist exclusively of each other. Separately, marketing and HR departments are starting to share some of their attention with retention and advocacy, rather than focus solely on acquisition. Together, they can do that much more.

The workplace is changing. It’s time recruitment did too.

This article first appeared in EP Magazine.