Key Performance Irritators

KPI – certainly the most used 3 letter acronym in recruitment. It seems that the whole industry is totally obsessed with them; and why not. KPIs are vital in any business, and especially  in recruitment where activity is the cornerstone of success. The amount you bill is largely a result of the  amount of activity, so tracking the key activities tells you a lot. KPIs make a lot of sense.

It’s odd then that I often find myself speaking with successful recruiters who moan about the  heavily KPI driven culture they work in. In fact, it is one of the most common reasons for recruiters moving jobs. These are not rookies or poor performers who are about to get the heave-ho from their employer. They are good, experienced recruiters who are consistently high billers. They know what activity they need to do to make money, and they know if they don’t do it they will be out of a job. They don’t need to be micro-managed. Regardless, they are made  to count the number of telephone calls they are making, and then put a little stick man in a little box to show they have done it. They are told they need to interview a certain number of candidates, and if they fall short they have to justify why .  It is obvious from my conversations that this approach  is largely de-motivating, patronising, time –consuming, irritating etc…

And I tend to agree . As a recruiter with over 10 years experience I embrace the concept of KPIs every day. What I don’t embrace are the KPI junkies – the managers who are totally fixated on KPIs, KPIs and more KPIs

One recruiter I met this week told me he is measured on  twelve activity targets. I didn’t realise that there were twelve activities in recruitment, let alone twelve that could justifiably be called ‘key’! He said he spent more time focusing on achieving all these KPIs than focusing on the end result. So, he would end up just seeing people for a quick 20 minute interview or knocking out ten quick cold calls just to say he had done it. ( I wonder how many of the  cold calls an HR Manager gets a day are from a  recruiter just ticking a KPI box). Then there is the guy I spoke to who had his bonus stopped because although he had achieved his financial target, he hadn’t achieved some of the KPIs. Another  just got fed up with having to justify everything he did after 15 years proven experience. “There is something a bit Big Brother that doesn’t feel right about a manager wanting to dissect every hour of your day” he said. And guess what – none of these recruiters I speak to ever say that their performance improved. Just that they are looking for a new job where there is more to life than KPIs.

It is not KPIs themselves that are the problem. It is the way KPIs are managed. Often, far too many KPIs are being tracked at anyone time. Greg Savage argues in a recent post that The Only Recruitment Metric That Matters is client interviews and I wouldn’t disagree with him. Often there is a one size fits all model which doesn’t take into account individual experience, market, strengths and weaknesses. An over reliance on KPIs leads to a quantity over quality approach that doesn’t serve anyone well. An activity sheet that needs to be filled with little ticks is childish – especially if all the same information is in your CRM and probably more accurate.  It encourages micro-management, or management just for the sake of it. I suspect a lot of managers who push KPIs are not particularly good managers, and hide behind a KPI spread sheet trying to seem effective.  In any case, the bottom line is that if someone doesn’t want to do the activity, they aren’t going to do it. It doesn’t matter how many KPIs you track and how closely you manage them.

Think of it another way. What would happen if you suddenly stopped measuring KPIs? Would your best performers suddenly stop billing ? Would everyone in the team just put their feet up for a few weeks and hope for the best? Would you arrive one day in the office to find anarchy and chaos had taken over?

Maybe it is time to reconsider how KPIs are managed in your organisation? Maybe your KPIs have become more irritating than indicating? Maybe it is time to say RIP to the obsession with KPIs ?


8 thoughts on “Key Performance Irritators

  1. Michael Sleap on Reply

    Great post with some excellent points. KPIs have their place in driving performance and clarifying expectations but the ‘key’ aspect often gets lost.

    It also shows that it is much easier and more comfortable for many managers to manage people rather than lead them. It is effective leadership which takes people’s results to the next level – not micro management and bureaucracy.

    1. Linda Jonas on Reply

      Totally agree with you! Let’s not forget the ‘key’ in KPIs and focus on real performance improvements, not bureaucracy!

      Great article.

  2. George Smith on Reply

    Too true on all counts – BUT – the high billers are ALWAYS at risk for alienation themselves and wanting to create mini kingdoms

    As sure as the sun comes up tomorrow the big billers will lose a client, have a bad month – whatever – and then expect the employer to look after them

    The only way to maintain a business long term and profitably is to have the same rules and measurements structures for all

    Flourish and Prosper by the Morgan and Banks guys re enforces this right way through, and they , even as directors of a multi million dollar public company, still had visible KPI’s for all to see, as did their recruitment managers

  3. Brian Fleetwood on Reply

    Here here to all of that. I think this line sums it up:

    I suspect a lot of managers who push KPIs are not particularly good managers, and hide behind a KPI spread sheet trying to seem effective.

  4. Hassanah Rudd on Reply

    I believe KPI’s in recruitment are important for new entrants to our industry to build the habits that make you a successful recruiter. When I entered the Industry…let’s not go there in how long ago…it was a while. I had a month of intensive training before I was allowed near a client, & the mantra was 5 visits & 25 telemarketing calls a week. They were checked & measured for quality & had weight on your bonus.

    After a while it became a habit & led to success. So my question is, shouldn’t KPI’s be used to build the habit’s of success for new recruiters…and after that … well stop measuring people by them. That may take 18months or 2 years…..But the habit’s of (good) KPI’s have done what you needed them to do.

    Successful recruiters are generally going to continue to be successful – they know what leads to results (I like Greg Savage’s take on it) and they are grownups so treat them as such. People like that. Recruiters definitely like that.

  5. rossclennett on Reply

    The important thing to consider in setting KPIs is demonstrating how achieving these KPIs ensures the desired end result (eg fees) has the best chance of occuring. To use a sporting metaphor an AFL coach doesn’t focus on the KPI of ‘winning the clearances’ for the sake of it, he shows the players, based on past results, how winning the clearances leads to winning the game a large majority of the time.

    Unless a recruitment leader demonstrates how ‘winning’ the KPIs leads to winning the fee a lrage majority of the time it can all just come across as ‘numbers for numbers’ sake.

    I have also written on the topic Candidate interviews: the dud KPI

  6. lukecollard on Reply

    Thanks for the comments. I think Ross sums it up very well (and with the bonus of a sporting analogy !!!) and his blog is a valuable read for any recruiter. Check it out if you haven’t already.

    My theory is that KPIs have been inherited by successive generations of recruitment managers as the ‘go-to’ and sometimes exclusive management tool. As a result they have lost some of their value and effeciveness. I don’t disagree with Brian that KPIs are essential, but it is about using these valuable metrics wisely and as part of an overall strategy. As Michael says, we need to be measuring ‘key’ activities, not just every activity for the sake of it. I aso agree with Hassanah that they are probably most valuable to teach someone recruitment as opposed to being an entirely effective ongoing management toll.

    What most people seem to agree with is that if you are having to constantly manage through KPIs to enforce activity, or finding this is essentially your only management tool then something is wrong with either your consultants or your management style.

  7. Doug on Reply

    It’s the Corporate Recruitment disease! Probably why after almost 10 years now in the industry I am not sure I could ever go back to a corporate. One of your best articles yet and perhaps one of the most relevant! I think you are right, it’s the junkies, normally boring nerdy types that hide behind figures, metrics and processes as they can’t actually people manage that are placing too much emphasis on silly KPI’s…

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