But if you saw the double entendre then you will appreciate the tale.
Once upon a time…
there was an environment for consulting where a client (potential client to the consultant) contacted a company or an individual through their internal staff or on their own.
In this world there were also external recruiters and staffing firms who did that work for the client. But it was for roles that were clearly defined, specialized, usually low level and did not deliver much, if any, external influence- contracting rather than consulting.
No this is not a fiction fantasy tale.
This story takes place in 2014, but it could have (and likely did) happen anywhere from 2005 to 2014 and beyond.
The series of events:
- Client has a role that needs to be filled.
- Client MUST use their procurement organization.
- Third party (the consultant being the historical SECOND party) finds consultant.
- Consultant is submitted and is asked to interview with the stipulation they are ready to take an offer on the spot.
- Consultant interviews, client offers the next day on the stipulation background check passes.
- Consultant gets closer to second offer, which was discussed by the triangle of actors previous to the interview, during the check process.
- Consultant asks for delay, while recruiter frantically looks to a beginning of the week start date.
- Recruiter rescinds candidate. The recruiters “principles” (business tends to create those bunny ears for differing perspectives)? Candidate (consultants are candidates for recruiters) promised they would take the role. A principled consultant would take the role- no matter what.
This is a business parable. A story made entirely of bullet points.
Let’s look at the players (characters- another double entendre).
For any change it pays big dividends to look at a scenario from each stakeholders perspective. Especially if you are one of the stakeholders (but this story is about a friend, of course).
First and foremost wants to fill a role.
If it lasts the full duration and creates secondary chances that is icing on the cake.
Because the recruiter is the last one in line for the money chain (and is working directly with those who get the biggest chunk) the filling process is an intense pursuit.
Many recruiters work directly with a computer system through procurement and have no ability to talk to the actual client. Often, for the big staffing firms, their boss or representative does. (Insert a FOURTH party into the story).
They often must work with clients who do not compensate well. That clashes with the freeze in rates over the last ten years. (The consultant in this story and those from the bigger story have gotten very good at pushing for rates knowing that all those “parties” are skimming- 30+%- from what used to be part of the consultants rate- which was about 30% higher ten years ago).
That getting-them-in-getting-them-committed-with-low-level-rewards thing has to be an uncomfortable dance for recruiters. I honestly feel for them (all of them, there are a lot of them, which must make it even worse- record for me is 13 firms contacting for the same low level, low compensation role- I passed on all thirteen).
The issue (principle) for the recruiter in this story:
that the consultant let the recruiter submit them knowing they might not want to take the role. That the consultant continued the process by saying yes. That the consultant stopped the process temporarily.
Clients in organizations, especially mid-level leaders who are now being tasked with strategy design as well as implementation, are hamstrung with the emergence of procurement systems. They have no direct line to consultants and are expected to not interact with the consultant until the role is filled. (Consultants are absolutely forbidden to EVER contact a staffing firms client pre-offer- recruiters go ballistic over this).
They assume a request into the system will produce exactly what they want.
When it doesn’t they are forced to refill roles (so much for the procurement savings).
They are usually in a hurry, but their systems do not facilitate speed.
They rarely have a chance to raise a rate for value or to make sure they grab the right person the first time around. The systems lock in rates, the recruiters erode that rate, bargaining and value-add disappear. (This is a consultant voice, but I, surprisingly have heard the same voice from clients- the system for high level roles is not working for a lot of them).
The issue for the client in this story:
Wait. I am not sure. Because the recruiter in the story gave the explanation…
THAT issue is:
the client expected the consultant to accept an offer or not interview. If the consultant says yes and then rescinds the recruiter made a mistake.
(the recruiter in this story insists the client will be livid and never work with them again- the relationship is over).
Admittedly this is the character that is hard for me, personally, to explain.
That is the most difficult part about change scenarios (like this story)- taking your own blinders off to see things from the perspective of other stakeholders. Whether you agree or not, empathy and understanding is possible.
Consultants in this procurement environment have lost some of the core things that make them good at, and help them enjoy, what they do.
A short list:
- Middle men make client/consultant relationships difficult. Like using two coke cans with a string in the middle.
- Rates have not budged, and in fact have gone down, over the last 10 years (the economy is part to blame as are procurement structures).
- Clients (not even the consultants client directly any more) will drop someone on a moments notice for budget cuts and more.
- The addition of recruiters into the mix may (that is a big “may”) have saved clients time. But, they have added hours and hours of empty, non rewarded time for consultants. How many hours do you think I spent trying to be nice to those 13 recruiters?
- Loyalty is pretty non-existent in all directions. Individuals from all three of our groups try, but the system is priced based, solely.
The issues for the consultant in this story:
- Nothing is sure for any role or contract (procurement system or otherwise) until the first day of the engagement.
- Rate is king. If you can’t match someone else’s rate expect to lose talent.
- Don’t ask for loyalty unless you are willing to compensate for it.
One of the principles the recruiter has in this story is a willingness and intensity of desire to make this a relationship business- hence our twisted title. Kudos.
And the recruiter was, apparently, willing to forgo filling the role and receiving the compensation IF the consultant would not take the interview without promising to accept (and show up for that first day beginning). If it is true that could have happened (we don’t know because the consultant accepted the interview and continued the process right up to just short of the start day- the recruiter was not faced with that possibly tough choice) then this is a rare recruiter.
Ironically the best approach for the consultant, in order to stick to the recruiters principles, would have been to take the role, show up for the first week and then leave for the higher paying contract. According to the recruiters principles that scenario would actually be ok, legally with no “promises” broken. The client was spared that through the consultants honesty- the consultant could have showed up for the role rather than explaining the conflict before the role started (too bad in our story that gets filtered by the recruiter).
Rescinding the consultant is one sided relationship managing though.
If our storied recruiter was truly managing the client relationship they would explain the whole scenario and illustrate a possible loss over rate. The consultant should not have interviewed according to the recruiters principles. In any story like this though, if the consultant did take the role, because they were intrigued, because the other role fell through (our consultant only asked for two days) or because the timing worked for the role to begin (remember nothing is truly “accepted” until the first day, from the consultants perspective) the client would obtain value they probably do not normally get (because they are short resources to compensate- education, non- profits come to mind).
So the recruiter strengthens the relationship through dialogue, honesty and practicality. Or the recruiter brings in a consultant that may have been hard to get in any growth economy.
Footnote: the consultant in our story offered to talk to the client and take the heat while reinforcing the recruiters honesty and principles. Consultants know how to defer blame to themselves when it can be helpful. The recruiter may have just taken away a perfect candidate for the client- without that two days of stall time no one will ever know.
Everyone, be careful your own perspective does not cloud possibility. And if you are mad take a breath. Anger eliminates empathy. Anger can also reduce possibility. (How often is anger a result of principles broken rather than a selfish reaction?).
A good tale has to have a moral
For the consultant it is that things, even when they are ambiguous, sometimes have to be laid out crystal clear.
The consultant in this story should have said they could not interview if they were expected to take an offer (however refreshing and novel that request was). The recruiter may have decided it was worth the submission (if they had a relationship with the client that would be an easy conversation).
OR the consultant should not have said yes until the second role was a yes or no, but they would not have gotten the chance to even talk to the client.
OR the consultant finds a way to work around these systems so they are not forced into breaking principles they might agree with to be compensated fairly.
This would never have happened the way it did if the consultant was working DIRECTLY with the client. The scenario could happen, just not the blowout of expectations-unmet.
For the recruiter it is that consultants can’t be trusted to stick to promises. In business it is very easy to set people up for promises that may be difficult to keep… For any recruiters who might have made it this far (I meant the post, but another hidden meaning in my words), there is a lesson to be learned (not a moral just a lesson). Be careful asking for promises that could change with one little catalyst. Or at least be prepared for multiple, possible outcomes.
For the client it is, maybe, that consultants can’t be trusted. Or it is that recruiters can’t be trusted.
I hear of scenarios similar to this all the time. I always wonder if clients sit back and look at the problems distance has created. For our story the client is disconnected from the consultant unless one of them reaches out (in the mind of the recruiter “around their back”). So the client has lost a fantastic connection (likely much stronger than the one with even the best recruiter- consultants have huge networks). Or the client has lost the chance to corner the consultant for what, perhaps rightly so, they may see as a poorly principled outcome.
We could have added some twists like the recruiter threatening the consultant with no roles EVER from her firm (who the consultant worked with previously- eight years past. Food would be short if we had to wait eight years for “relationships” to build with no connection or revenue, in between).
We could have had the client contact the consultant afterwards, or vice versa.
Or hey here is a twist: we could have the client contract work with the consultant later some time because when they DID get to actually talk there was an understanding of experience and talent and need.
Or we could just have everyone move on angry, guilty or not. Although that is kind of a boring ending.