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A Formula for RPO Success

A Formula for RPO Success

To review the original article click here 9th Mar 2015

When it comes to winning hearts and minds of recruiting stakeholders in a recruitment-process-outsourcing launch, transparency and communication are key.

When Rob Brinkerhoff was handed the HR reins at Palmetto Health in late 2012, the recruiting process was strictly "post and pray."

Palmetto Health, a 9,500-employee, five-hospital healthcare entity in Columbia, S.C., was in dire need of a recruiting revamp, so Brinkerhoff got busy.

After a deep dive in the form of an audit to determine what, if anything, was working within Palmetto's recruiting program, Brinkerhoff, system vice president of HR, quickly realized the solution would be a move to recruitment-process outsourcing.

Some 700 miles north in New York, Elaine Davidson, head of recruiting excellence at BlackRock, a global investment-management-solutions firm, faced a different RPO challenge. BlackRock, with 12,000 global employees, sought to create more "capacity" for its in-house recruiting team. BlackRock wanted internal recruiters to focus on high-level talent, with the idea being that an RPO vendor would handle the balance of the firm's fluctuating recruiting needs.

Down in Charlotte, N.C., Laura Khaleel, senior talent acquisition and employer branding HR executive with Clariant, a Swiss-based global specialty chemicals company, faced a different RPO scenario. In Khaleel's case, Clariant's North American segment was coming off an existing, and definitely negative, RPO experience, so her challenge had obvious risks.

All three of these HR leaders had to successfully execute an RPO implementation (BlackRock's is ongoing). Yet, despite the clear differences in their individual situations, all shared the critical challenge of winning the hearts and minds of every stakeholder -- in particular, internal recruiters (if they existed) and hiring managers.

"Focusing on culture and transparency will drive a successful RPO."

In short, they had to tame the beast known as change management, keeping internal turmoil to a minimum.

"RPO is, more often than not, a big change -- though, in some cases, it's even bigger than expected," says Karen Piercy, a Philadelphia-based partner with Mercer in the HR effectiveness segment of the firm's talent practice. "If you are using RPO to change the entire recruiting model, thereby removing it from local control, that's a huge change. If you are going from, say, a centralized model to an end-to-end outsourced model, it's not quite as dramatic, but there are internal challenges here as well."

As with the three employers above, companies move to an RPO solution for different reasons, but each needs to manage change in pretty much the same way, says Percy.

"Initially, a critical hurdle is dealing with the loss of control that your managers have now," she says. "When you outsource benefits, for example, HR loses control. But with RPO, hiring managers also lose control, and mitigating that feeling is often of of the biggest issues."

Craig Johnson, a partner in Mercer's workforce communication and change group, says a good way to manage change is to do a pilot rather than just roll it all out across an enterprise.

That way, an employer is much better prepared to manage expectations from lessons learned during the smaller, more focused launch.

"Taking it one step at a time makes sense because every organization is different," Johnson says. "Transparency is critical. All of the stakeholders -- senior management, HR staff, hiring managers, recruiting staff -- need to hear why it is happening."

Powering the RPO
Palmetto Health's antiquated talent-acquisition process made it very tough to navigate the choppy waters and increasing demands of healthcare-talent management, says Brinkerhoff.

On the plus side, there was an existing dissatisfaction within the company about the incumbent system, he says, so he had early senior-management support to go the RPO route. Brinkerhoff's challenge was to identify and acquire top-level talent by bringing it into the fold in a very competitive market. Also, Palmetto Health was in a growth mode, as it was opening a brand-new hospital.

"We had built-in momentum, between leadership buy-in and general dissatisfaction with the existing situation, but there were still change-management issues," Brinkerhoff says. For example, Palmetto Health historically is very relationship-oriented, so despite the recruiting process being broken, the challenge was to get affected parties to understand that RPO meant changes in personnel.

Palmetto Health wound up with an end-to-end RPO, as some of the company's recruiting staff made the not-atypical move to work for the chosen RPO vendor -- in this case, Cielo, a global RPO provider (formerly Pinstripe and Ochre House) with offices in Brookfield, Wis., and London. For recruiters who remained with Palmetto, the company worked very hard to identify alternative jobs in the company for them -- a very successful effort, Brinkerhoff says.

"It really is about making the rational and emotional case at the same time," he says. "Clearly, an RPO made sense on every single level; it is one of the best business cases we have put together. But there also is a strong attachment to the old way of doing things. It was about transparency and communications. We addressed every issue at every corner of the process."

At BlackRock, an investment firm with $4.6 trillion in assets under management, managing talent and recruiting is a daunting task. BlackRock and Davidson settled on a gradual, focused RPO strategy, rolling it out in the United States this past June, and Europe, the Middle East and Africa rolled out this past September (Asia will be next).

"There always is a ramp-up period when implementing RPO," she says. "For us, you can say RPO is still in its infancy."


BlackRock has just over 12,000 employees and, until it outsourced the organization's recruitment process, its internal recruiting team had handled staffing at all levels.

Davidson says BlackRock decided to move to an RPO model -- working with Randstad Sourceright, an RPO vendor in Alpharetta, Ga. -- primarily to create the aforementioned capacity for its recruiters. The company has experienced an overabundance of job applicants and already has a strong recruiting function, but didn't have the capacity to source both active and passive candidates.

"By exploring and choosing an RPO strategy, it creates bandwidth for our recruiters," she says.

Specifically, BlackRock "outsources its sourcing" via RPO so internal recruiters only have to focus on a subset of the applicant population.

For example, with the RPO in place in North America, Randstad Sourceright identifies and prequalifies candidates for "junior" roles. BlackRock uses very specific criteria (vice president and lower) for which jobs go the RPO route versus those staying in-house. That way, the internal recruiting team's time is focused more on high-level candidates. At the same time, hiring managers receive only the top few candidates among those junior-level job requisitions.

"If it is a higher-level job role we need to fill, we want to keep it entirely in-house," Davidson says.

As with any change, she says, constant communication and transparency top the list of must-haves for a successful RPO. And while change is bound to cause some internal concern from those directly affected, in BlackRock's case RPO is proving a welcome solution for in-house recruiters.

"This lets them do the work they love to do and are so good at," Davidson says. "From the start, we had some healthy discussions around RPO, with lots of questions right up to the implementation. Over time people really started to embrace the idea because it helps them be more strategic."

Making it Work
Clariant's North American division has seven distinct business units, with separate leadership, cultures and expectations. Within the last year alone, it hired 300 new employees, split evenly between hourly and salaried workers. In the meantime, the company is slated for additional growth, which Khaleel says involves mainly filling tech roles.

In fact, when she joined Clariant two years ago, one of the main reasons she was hired was the company's evolving growth strategy, with top talent as an enabler of that expansion (the company planned to double the hiring volume from what it had anticipated). At the time, there was an existing RPO in place but it was a "first generation" platform, Khaleel says, and didn't meet Clariant's emerging talent needs.

"We certainly needed to figure out how to fix that," she says.

Khaleel joined Clariant in February 2012 and the company went live with its new RPO -- provided by Alexander Mann Solutions, a global firm with U.S. headquarters in New York -- the following January.

With its first RPO the company had no internal recruiters, but it did have HR managers at some field locations. Some didn't get involved in recruiting; others enjoyed recruiting. The latter group was directly affected by the second RPO. There was some change management needed there, but with in-depth and detailed communications, it was done successfully, Khaleel says.

Khaleel's main challenge in winning hearts and minds was twofold. For one, while HR staff and hiring managers were open to change, they were highly skeptical because it had not worked the first time. Her strategy was to get the key stakeholders involved not only in searching for a new RPO vendor, but in the final selection as well.

"It couldn't be just me shoving it down their throats; the process needed their involvement and accountability," she says. "Every step of the way, we had a cross-functional team working together on the RPO-implementation process. It worked, because we had buy-in."

A 20-year HR veteran who has spent the past 12 years in the talent-acquisition space, Khaleel says Clariant never had a talent-acquisition staff in place until she joined the company. In fact, she was the first person hired to tackle the job in any Clariant global office.

"For North America, we were looking to standardize recruiting, but also needed to create a process with the flexibility to adjust and be customized for our seven business units," she says.

So far, Khaleel says, it's been a positive experience; however, not without challenges. After all, it's a brand-new process with a new recruiting team, sometimes akin, in her words, to "drinking out of a fire hose."

"With double the hiring volume we anticipated, that made it tougher on Alexander Mann, but they rose to the occasion," she says.

According to Khaleel, any HR leader facing an RPO endeavor needs to recognize that things often will be bumpy for a few months.

"It can't be sugarcoated," she says. "You give process design and planning your best shot, but you are not always going to know where the bumps will be. You have to set expectations that out-of-the-box things will not be perfect. That can go a long way."

For BlackRock's Davidson, one critical success factor is making sure the RPO provider is viewed as an extended member of the recruiting team.

"It can't be an 'us-versus-them' scenario; it has to be all 'we,' " she says, adding that in BlackRock's case it also had to be seamlessly connected to the business. "This is about getting great talent into the seats. From a change perspective, the RPO vendor must know and understand the company's culture. Job description and industry are not enough."

Palmetto's Brinkerhoff says, in the end, focusing on culture and transparency will drive a successful RPO.

"You have to meet people where they are; you can't force the change," he says. "Then, meet them again and again and again. It may even take going knee to knee to help them understand the value they will get from RPO. Most of all, if you have made the RPO decision, then go all-in."
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