April 6, 2018

Agile Recruitment: A true Story

Agile Recruitment Is Possible, You Just Need to be Creative



I had no idea it would one day be called Agile Recruitment but thats exactly what it was.

One day a very senior leader in the company I was working for said, “Alan we need to recruit over 200 local business bankers and we need it done in the next three months.” he smiled a wry smile and then left.

At the time I was a senior HR professional looking after a number of ‘front office’ businesses for a very large bank with around 1,800 staff just in my patch alone.

Here were my challenges; they are not unique and will be familiar to many of us:

  • There weren’t enough bankers in the country to fill the roles
  • The internal recruitment team said they had too much work to handle this project (and it would take months)
  • I had no resources myself
  • We had a blank sheet of paper, there was no real formula we could follow
  • The war for talent was very much alive and the talent pool depleted
  • The business needed people in days, not in three months (they fibbed to me)
  • The budget was limited so we couldn’t rely on commercial recruitment companies

As you can imagine I was flabbergasted when I received that initial request and this is exactly what I did. It is in every respect an Agile approach to solving a big problem:


No.1: We Built a “Get This Done” Team


The team we put together did not simply consist of internal recruitment professionals and an HR Officer. The team consisted of a diverse group of people who were clear at the outset on what we needed to achieve, why and by when. We had:

  1. A Business Banker who knew the role inside out and could help us identify the critical character traits and the minimal essentials skills required to be successful at the job.
  2. A Business Banking Manager, who gave us constant feedback and input on how and what we would need to train to ensure these new employees added value quickly in their roles.
  3. A learning and Development professional, who designed and developed our on-boarding and induction program (the initial training when people joined the business).
  4. Two commercial recruiters who I brought ‘in-house’ and worked with us on a contract basis. They helped design and build a scaled volume recruitment process based on the finalised traits and skills required for the Business Banker role.
  5. Myself. I saw my role as the person who supported the team to get things done. I would find additional resources, liaise with senior managers or our internal clients and work around internal obstacles (and there were many).


No. 2: I Laid Out Our Objectives, Agreed our Meeting Schedule and Then Protected the Team


I was very clear about what we needed to do, but I left it up to the team to work out together how we got there. The only lead I took was on our recruitment advertising because I had the most experience in that area.

During the planning period we met regularly to refine the projects and agree timeframes, project details and so on. Once we got to execution we, as a team, met on a weekly basis to review progress, review challenges and to make improvements. A SCRUM retrospective in all but name.

However, nearly everything we did flew in the face of traditional ways of doing things in the bank. So I spent a significant amount of time pushing over internal obstacles and handling resistance at all levels. This is akin to the Product Managers role in a SCRUM environment, simply making sure we give our teams the space to do what they do best.

A big piece of this project was TRUST. I had to trust the team to deliver the work and I made sure I didn’t micro manage them.


No. 3: We Created Innovative Ways to Get Things Done


We knew there were simply not enough bankers to go around. So with our Business Banking experts we created the DNA of an ideal candidate based on attitude, behaviours and lastly ‘minimal viable skills’ required for the role. Business Bankers need to really understand business people, they need to be great ‘people, people’, they needed to be numerate, they needed to be good at putting together financial solutions to problems, most of all they needed to be pro-active and self-motivated.

When we agreed our DNA, we realised we no longer needed to recruit from a very narrow target group. We could expand across financial services in general and even into other industries (like business consulting for example). Suddenly we had a huge pool of talent to recruit from.

As a team we also designed a 6 week induction and on-boarding program that could take these motivated individuals and give them the practical business banking skills to hit the ground running, no matter what their background. This program was constantly adjusted and refined, based on feedback from the hiring line managers.

We also designed a quick 10 question phone interview process that whittled down the face to face interviews significantly. Saving huge amount of precious time and resource. And at no stage compromised on the quality of either the candidate or the recruitment process.

Constant feedback, readjusting and testing are key to Agile Recuitment success.

No. 4: We Maintained Flexibility and Sought Feedback Constantly


Nothing is ever straightforward and no project runs smooth. So our doors were open to ensure that all of us in the team were constantly listening to the feedback. (This feedback could be anything from lack of advertising response, to the unhappiness of line Managers with the quality of their new staff).

We DID NOT get it right first time. Once the first new employees joined their offices there were some significant gaps in their skills and the managers were not shy in telling us. But we welcomed and encouraged the feedback. Every piece of feedback ensured the induction and on-boarding program improved and improved.

We also encouraged feedback from the candidates themselves to see how we could improve their experience too. Our biggest lesson? To inform them promptly (and with some compassion) if they had not been successful.


No.5: We Looked After the Team


This was a tough project and so constantly ensuring the individuals in the team were mentally, emotionally and physically well was incredibly important. Team wellbeing is often overlooked at the expense of meeting project deadlines and this is a dumb thing to do. People burn out, people leave, people never forget if you burn them too hard, even if they stay. So I tried hard to make sure my team were thriving rather than just surviving and once again, I didn’t succeed all of the time because of the workload or pressure but most of the time we were good at ensuring we had fun, remained motivated and didn’t burn out.


No. 6: Look After Yourself


One hard lesson I did learn was that I did not look after myself and that is typical for leaders who are passionate, driven and take on big challenges. I worked too hard for too long, not just on this project but on three other projects after this and eventually the workload had an impact and I fell ill with appendicitis.

So for other senior leaders or leaders in a similar boat, my only thoughts on this are simple. You cannot have a healthy, motivated, high quality, ‘fun to be with’ team if you, yourself do not bring these things to the table. As an Agile leader, ‘Self-Care’ has to be an essential ingredient of your leadership philosophy.




Agile recruitment can be done and done well. Technology today helps us to improve even on the processes I’ve touched on above whilst maintaining the quality of the process for all involved, candidates and hiring managers.

But Agile Recruitment is not simply for big projects it is for ‘on-going’, business as usual recruitment. It should be a pro-active force, identifying skills gaps in the future, spotting business trends with leaders to help strategically pin point new talent. The recruitment function should be able to draw upon a diverse ‘thought leadership’ group from the business to improve its recruitment success rate and it should be constantly seeking innovative technologies to simplify, streamline and improve the recruitment process.

Most of all Agile Recruitment should have diversity of employee as one of its core philosophies. Diversity in gender, age, experience, ability and ethnicity yes, but also diversity in HOW people want to work too. One of the main reasons commercial recruiters fail regularly is because HR departments constrain them to narrow briefs foisted on them often by the business units, rarely is that person available.

Google analysed their own recruitment processes and found that their insistence on Ivy League University backgrounds as a minimum entry requirement to the company had ZERO impact on whether that person was a good hire or not. So they scrapped the whole thing and immediately began recruiting from a more diverse pool of talent. Agile Recruitment, when done well, forces people to see that there is talent everywhere if you just have the wisdom to look.

Author: Alan Furlong, Director, Sherpa People Systems