3 Lessons from the Olympics Security Debacle for Talent Acquisition Or . . . How Not to Embarrass Your Nation

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As you may have heard, the company contracted to provide security guards to the London Olympics announced a scant three weeks before the event that — [psych! sorry!] — it was going to be (by some accounts) 7,000 guards short. This apparently caught nearly everyone, including the CEO of G4S (the largest security company in the world — at least up ’til now) off guard (no pun intended.) The hapless CEO, Nick Buckles, admitted to British lawmakers that his firm has embarrassed the nation.

The extent of the fallout from this debacle is not yet known for the Olympics, G4S, or its competitors (who seem likely to benefit from the over-commitment and incompetence of their industry’s giant). But in the meantime, there are key lessons to be learned for HR and talent acquisition professionals (not to mention business leaders):

  1. The primary job of talent acquisition professionals is to teach senior leaders that talent acquisition is an unwieldy beast that can bring a company to its knees. And this is hard to do, particularly when those around you say, “What’s so hard about it? There are a million unemployed people out there — pick one!” To refute this absurd but common perspective, a recruiting leader must build a business case on par with the way any other business function seeks to secure funding for technology or additional headcount. Therefore, the most critical competency a recruiting leader can possess is the ability to influence. And in order to influence, you must have personal credibility, business acumen, and confidence. Talent acquisition leaders who fail to build a solid business case for creating a scalable, measurable foundation for acquiring talent will be forced to wait for the slop that is tossed their way (free ATS through your ERP, anyone? budget for $30/hour contract recruiters?)
  2. There is only one outcome to operating without a scalable, sustainable, manufacturing-like approach to the acquisition of talent. And it’s not good. You will eventually prevent your organization from succeeding and growing (since you won’t be able to find top talent quickly and efficiently) — or — you will cause your company to falter. And really, those two things are the same. Actually, there is another potential outcome — that you’ll be an embarrassment to your nation (ouch.) Recruiting and HR leaders need to understand that hiring the cutest or the cheapest recruiters — and then letting them largely manage the way they recruit on their own — is not a strategy for success. It doesn’t matter that you’ve got “awesome” recruiters who your “hiring managers love.” So despite the fact that it might not sound sexy or paternalistic or sweet, the fact of the matter is, moving hordes of people through a process to find the single best hire cannot be done well or quickly without a rigid and audited approach to the process powering it. And I’m not just talking about high-volume, hourly jobs — a tight process needs to exist even for highly specialized, tough-to-fill jobs that require an inventive approach to sourcing passive candidates.
  3. A great employment branding and social media campaign means nothing if you can’t get people through the hiring process. I understand that it’s super fun to build a creative campaign or spend all day on Facebook or Twitter (really, I get it). But in the end, it’s just a big distraction that’s not going to help you hire great candidates. In fact, in the off-chance that your brand or social media “strategy” actually does in fact drive candidates to your applicant tracking system, the additional volume might make matters worse. So don’t spend a minute or a penny doing either until you’ve proven your application and selection process works efficiently and results in high-quality hires.

Lucky for us, we can reflect on this unhappy situation and learn from the mistakes of overcommitting and leading an unscalable process. But what’s really important here — at this moment — is a hope for a safe and wonderful 2012 Olympic games — for all the athletes, their families, the employees of the Games, tourists, and residents of London.

About the Author

Linda Brenner is managing director of Designs on Talent, a consulting firm based in Atlanta which helps organizations improve talent acquisition and talent management results. The firm has a unique approach to recruitment process improvement and recruiter assessment and development. Prior to consulting, she held talent acquisition and talent management leadership roles for Gap, Pepsi, and The Home Depot. For the last eight years as founder, owner, and managing director of the firm, she has worked with clients including Coca-Cola, Microsoft, The Home Depot, Turner Broadcasting, Chick-fil-A, Toys R Us, Scripps Networks, Dell, Linkedin, and TJX. Her no-nonsense, high quality, deliver-the-goods approach is reflected throughout her team of 14 talented professionals. Linda holds a master's degree in industrial relations from University of Cincinnati's School of Economics and lives in midtown Atlanta with her husband and two sons. You can check out Designs on Talent at designsontalent.com.
  • http://www.verticalelevation.com Carol Schultz

    Great post Linda

  • http://www.designsontalent.com/ Linda Brenner

    Thanks Carol!

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  • Valentino Martinez

    Great on point observations, Linda–

    Having worked on high quality/high quantity recruitment challenges–I can see that the G4S simply took this customer and assignment lightly–thinking that time and experience were on their side. Apparently never heard of Murphy’s Law.

    What is particularly damning is the fact that “London was selected as the host city on 6 July 2005” for the 2012 London Olympic Games (Wikipedia) yet G4S suggests that “This has been an unprecedented and very complex security recruitment, training and deployment exercise, which has been carried out to a tight timescale.”

    Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/olympics/2012/07/11/london-ol

    The British Government’s Olympic Games Leaders in-charge and the GS4 are at great fault here, particularly the GS4. The scope of the job-at-hand, to your point, was underestimated to now a tragic degree with grave consequences possible. And a high price will be paid, monetarily for sure, the the GS4.

    Words to the wise: Be careful for what you ask for–you might get it.

    http://www.recruitingblogs.com/forum/topics/recruitment-nightmare-g4s-under-estimates-the-olympic-security

  • Valentino Martinez

    BTW…loved your comment: “Recruiting and HR leaders need to understand that hiring the cutest or the cheapest recruiters — and then letting them largely manage the way they recruit on their own — is not a strategy for success.”

    One sees that result more often than they like to admit.

  • http://www.designsontalent.com/ Linda Brenner

    Thanks for the comments Valentino – you and I think alike. You should be proud. OK, maybe not. :)