Why do companies make people redundant one minute and then go on hiring sprees the next?

In the current economic climate businesses have to adapt to survive and often require very different skills – perhaps in different locations – to those that may have been required before. It’s not unusual to see headlines announcing job cuts in one part of the world, followed shortly by announcements about a recruitment drive in another, which can have a negative effect on the company’s brand and reputation as an employer. Furthermore, those new posts could again come under threat if projects don’t work out or the economy contracts, potentially further damaging the brand.

Is there a better way?

Companies need to give more thought to why they’re recruiting in the first place and how that person is going to add value for customers. Often businesses think they need to be agile so they recruit people into a team very quickly to test something out. That’s not always the best way, particularly when employing staff because it’s very costly to the business and even more costly to the staff when they’re made unemployed. There should be very careful consideration about why they’re doing that task and whether they should adopt more flexible approaches such as outsourcing, using temporary workers or managing a project through the use of IT.

How can sustainable recruitment help?

Sustainable recruitment is about not recruiting anyone unless there is a sustainable business objective and then when you do bring them in to ensure they’re flexible so you can adapt and change them as the business requires. It’s about retaining, retraining and re-skilling people, but also about making sure that the people you recruit have a flexible attitude and recognising that not everyone is conducive to change.

When you do bring them in, you also need to look at the terms of the contract. Within our business we only give people fixed-term contracts, so every time we have to renew it makes us reconsider how they are adding value to the business. If they’re not, we have to retrain them and if we don’t need to retrain them and they’re not adding value then, sadly, they need to go. That may sound harsh but no one likes to be in a job where they’re not contributing.

We’ve seen some companies, such the car manufacturers, do fantastically well in the way they have managed the downturn in the economy. They put a lot of people down to part-time hours and retained their workforce, and now they’re retraining staff to make fantastic new models. It’s a great example of sustainable recruitment.

Can existing staff be made futureproof?

Yes, if people have the right attitude you should always try and reskill them. You’d never want to lose them; you’ve spent a fortune as a business training and investing in them and getting them to understand the business and the brand.

The concept of retraining people is just good business sense, and it’s been around since the mills came along when Britain was industrialised. But looking objectively at the way in which the function is filled – through outsourcing, short-term or flexible contracts and the use of automated IT – is a fundamental shift. Those tools and resources were never available to employers, even a decade ago.

And, if so, how?

It starts with the recruitment process. I always look to recruit people who have a positive attitude, a flexible approach to work and who want to adopt new responsibility. If I have those three things then I have people who are essentially retrainable. It’s as much the employer’s responsibility in hiring the right person in the beginning – not just for the role you require them to do now but roles you may require them to do in the future – as much as it is about the employees adopting responsibility for their own development. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

A great example of this is McDonald’s. They recruit on certain skills but mostly on attitude. Many of their managers will have started right at the very bottom but after a considerable amount of training become great managers, running restaurants which turn over millions of pounds. It’s a fantastic example of how you can develop people, both for the business and its employees.

But there must be benefits to losing old skills and hiring new ones?

Yes, if those old skills are genuinely no longer required and those individuals aren’t willing or able to learn new skills, it may be an excellent opportunity to let people go. During the recession I’ve seen a lot of businesses let people go and wonder why they ever recruited them in the first instance. Invariably people are hired on their skill and fired on their attitude. I’m suggesting they’re hired on attitude and that you train them appropriately.

As featured in the Financial Times.

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