Research Library Article


Staffing Structure—Wings or Anvil?

D. Earle

Staffing structureIn today’s rapidly evolving job marketplace, structure is not mentioned frequently enough discussions of staffing effectiveness and efficiency. In stable business environments, established habits, refined over time, tend to be assets because they represent the fruits of some period of trial and error that resulted in tested best practices. In unstable business environments, however, they tend to become liabilities because they lag behind reality.

Think of structure as codified process. Companies figure out how to solve problems then build structures to perpetuate the solutions. Corporate hierarchies are structures, as are supply chains and financial reporting schedules.  Every organizational job exists as a part of one or more structures, which provide the framework for “the way we do things around here.”

Organizations that cling tenaciously to inefficient staffing structures long after they should do so because comfort and familiarity have trumped analysis, reinvention and politics. Shaking up and reconfiguring established structures is hard work. CRM offers an example. CRM is not native to HR. It’s an import from corporate sales and marketing. While the high level concepts are not foreign—such as careful messaging, multi-step engagement, individual attention, post-sale followup— the professional disciplines perfected over decades by professional marketers generally are.


CRM developed to solve the problem of selling and servicing complex products in highly competitive markets. The disciplines required include copywriting, video, music, graphic arts, media buying, and extensive data gathering and analysis. Modern marketing is a sophisticated blend of art and science.

Professional CRM practices cannot be slapped on a traditional staffing department structure. Making them work effectively requires rethinking how the staffing process works and therefore how it must be structured. For example:

  • Who will develop expertise in specialties like copywriting and video? These tasks simply can’t be performed at a professional level by people also responsible for traditional staffing activities like sourcing and interviewing.
  • CRM-based selling is focused on the long-term: carefully building pipelines of prospective customers, making precise product/customer matches, and keeping clients through multiple buying cycles. Staffing, by comparison, is an exercise built around time horizons of a few weeks or months. Recruiters mostly have a short-term, volume mandates: fill “x” seats in “y” days at “z” cost. They are evaluated and rewarded primarily for cost and speed.
  • Staffing’s notorious “black hole” (forgotten or ignored job applicants) would be an anathema to a professional CRM marketer. Professional CRM programs are built to achieve the maximum number of positive customer contacts not the maximum number of negative ones. Why waste time and resources on a process designed to reject all but one of those those express an interest in your product, a job?
  • In CRM, buyer satisfaction is paramount, so post-sales follow-up and service are obligatory. Profitable, long-term relationships require that clients consistently feel pleased and satisfied with their purchases. Pre-purchase expectations and post-performance experience must align. Most staffing departments don’t provide extensive post-hire monitoring because they are structured to handle pre-hire activities almost exclusively. Post-hire monitoring someone else’s responsibility.
  • CRM programs acknowledge that an educated customer is the best customer. The more he knows, the better able he is to correctly match his purchases with his needs. The program’s obligation is therefore to provide as much information as that informed decision requires. Staffing departments, on the other hand, are seldom structured to create and maintain rich libraries of candidate information. Mostly they traffic in bland, generic information that is indistinguishable from their competitor’s.

Centers of Excellence
CRM is not the only area where old habits and processes can create staffing structures that obstruct best practice. Trying to manage a large, geographically dispersed staffing operation without a center of excellence is another example. Such centers are necessary to:

  • Establish best practice standards across large, sprawling enterprises
  • Set common goals, objectives, performance standards and targets
  • Recognize and evangelize best practice
  • Organize data
  • Develop and execute workforce strategy
  • Integrate technology
  • Oversee regulatory compliance

Successful centers of excellence do not reorganize the same old deck chairs, they are purposeful change agents with a mandate to make sure form (structure) follows function (process), not the other way around.

Strategic Outsourcing
Another obstruction might be hanging onto a full-service staffing structure instead of using value-added analysis to evaluate every staffing activity, then dedicating internal staff to the highest value activities while outsourcing as many lower-value activities as possible.

Best Practice
The most efficient and effective staffing organizations tell us that best practice excellence invariably consists of improving a myriad of small things together with a few big things. The small things are easy to spot, uncomplicated and relatively easy to fix. Their individual impact is small, but their cumulative impact is large.

 Big things such as structure are harder to improve because of their complexity, scope, and the number of stakeholders.  But tackling those big things successfully can also deliver disproportionate benefits, make HR management highly visible, and burnish reputations.

Rapid change and increased risk are facts of modern business life. Agility is no longer optional; it has become an essential organizational capability. Structures must adapt.

To further explore this topic, read our Recruiting Efficiency Report.