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It is obvious that the people with responsibility for getting things done are likely to have their favourite sources of help. That includes those responsible for recruitment in law firms, and suppliers to them. It is a people business, and always will be. But that has to be set in context by the reality of the situation. Quite rightly, the legal profession is falling in line with the rest of commerce and industry by benchmarking the performance of their recruitment consultants.
At its best, this is a godsend for all concerned. Getting that process right is the point. With a fragmented recruitment market and some would say little to choose between the agencies out there, in-house resourcers and management have to find a balance between minimising the dilution of their message in the marketplace and being correctly represented. They also need to reduce the number of sources that they deal with to a manageable level and build fruitful relationships. So what are the criteria for that cull?
At its worst, the preferred supplier list (PSL) process can be statistic-driven, but in isolation this will be misleading. It is like saying to a fee-earner: "How much time have you recorded?" If it is not billable, or producing knowledge or business, that pure fact is irrelevant. The last thing an overworked HR professional needs is more CVs. What they do need is a few of the right ones.
But it is more than that. Consultancies, made up of individuals with particular characters and talents, will have different things to offer. Some are great at consultancy - keeping you briefed and alert. And frankly, you will get on with some better than others. A PSL is about spread - having all the skills sets covered, much like having a good mix of striker, defender and captain in your team.
So what is behind the rise of the PSL tender process? Clearly valid and important factors including quality of service, 'fit', economics and past performance. Just a thought, but when the pressure to hone suppliers (from a budget, volume or other 'factual' perspective) comes from above, is it always right to look outwards for the solution? Sometimes as much of the work is internal, making sure that the efforts of everyone involved are maximised. Sometimes reducing rates is not the answer. Grabbing management by the throat and tackling thornier issues may be a healthier use of time.
And who better to effect change and enhance the performance of existing staff and partners than HR professionals? And who better to help deliver that message than trusted external consultants who know the market, the reputation of individuals, team and the firm as a whole?
In short, the growth of talent management in the profession is welcome, as long as it also deals with firmwide issues that, if not tackled, will impact on the most unlikely functions and waste time and resources. The taking in hand of recruitment suppliers, for example, is welcomed, as long as the tail does not end up wagging the dog: retention rates, offer-to-acceptance ratios, general consultancy advice, professionalism and representation of the client in the wider market are all more important than being able to show a 3 per cent saving in budget to the managing partner.
It is certainly not about having sufficient confetti flying around to be noticed. If we can blend the best intentions behind streamlining with an intelligent analysis of how to judge suppliers, while building relationships with great communication, then everyone - recruiters, law firms and candidates - will achieve the best of all worlds.
Penny Terndrup is a director at EJ Group