On your Marks, get set, RPO…


Sue Marks, Chief Executive Officer, Pinstripe Talent Acquisition Solutions

Without any doubt, the best known figure in the world of Recruitment Process Outsourcing is the all-tweeting, i-pad-wielding, champagne-supping, serial entrepreneur herself, Sue Marks, CEO of high performance talent acquisition solutions firm, Pinstripe.

As we ready ourselves to produce the results of our new RPO study in conjuntion with Human Resources Executive magazine, who better to have a conversation about the future state of RPO than Sue herself?   So we sent our roving HRO analyst, Mindy Blodgett, out to  catch up with Sue the other day…

Here at Horses, our research reveals that C-level executives are showing heightened interest in the potential of Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO).  Prior to the deep economic downturn, many enterprises resisted handing over their recruiting functions to a third party to manage – many saw recuiting as something they could manage better themselves.  However, the demands of a fast moving, post-recession economy are nudging business leaders towards exploring RPO as a means to add talent acquisition expertise and flexibility in a fast, cost-effective way.  Many are faced with the need to scale their operations faster than they had envisaged, and they simply to do not have the internal resources to cater for these requirements in this market.  

However, misconceptions about what RPO actually is continues to muddy-up the marketplace and confuse the buyer. We talk with Sue Marks, the CEO of RPO provider Pinstripe, about trends in this slice of the HR universe and whether it might even be time to retire the phrase “RPO” in favor of something that might better describe what companies get when they outsource their recruiting process in all or in part.

An unabashed workaholic and gadget geek (she loves her new iPad, we at Horses can attest to that) – Sue Marks is the founder and CEO of Pinstripe, Inc., a privately held, venture backed HR and Recruitment Process Outsourcing firm serving large and mid-sized domestic clients, as well as the Global 5000. She sits on several profit and not for profit boards and is President of Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. She literally grew up in the recruiting business, as her Dad was a recruiter for Management Recruiters (now MRI). She is an evangelist for the RPO model, a thought leader and frequent speaker and can honestly be called one of the industry’s pioneers. Take it away Sue!

Mindy Blodgett: Is the increased interest in RPO due to the new realities of the financial explosion and the slow recovery?

Sue Marks:  It’s certainly a big factor. What we are experiencing now is a period of relentless change. This economy compels organizations to adopt very agile structures. I think that when you dissect some of your functions into components, and are able to plug those pieces into a service delivery model, you can be more flexible and scalable – up as well down.  This allows the operating cost structure to better align to the customer’s business needs.  You can also respond better to market forces That is what well-designed RPO does the best – rather than being a monolithic outsourcing model that does not allow users to use the pieces they need, when they need it – a good RPO deal,provides flexible, scalable components.

Mindy Blodgett:  While there is increased interest in RPO, there is also a good deal of confusion out there about what RPO means and what it does. Why is that? 

Sue Marks: What we call RPO (and what I like about the term) is that it distinguishes us as firms that are reengineering the process with technology, rather than just providing volume recruiting services. Unless the combined BPO and technology piece is there, it’s not truly RPO. A lot of people confuse RPO with volume recruiting. In reality, though, I think we should be talking about HR and Talent Acquisition Service Delivery Models that are architected to be “plug and play”, or componentized, both domestically and globally.   Because in today’s world of relentless change, we have to be architects of flexible, rather than one sized fits all, monolithic service delivery models.

This gets me back to the right “components” of a company’s Talent Acquisition Service Delivery Model. I think the suppliers who will be successful in this RPO space are those that have flexible modules with some capacity for customization. One size doesn’t fit every client but there has to be an effective way to customize within that service delivery platform while also retaining consistency at a high level.

Mindy Blodgett:  Back to the term: RPO…should we be coming up with a better phrase or acronym?

Sue Marks: I am hearing more strategic thinking on the part of companies looking at their recruiting needs. It’s not just about “this project” and the need to get human resources support– it’s about “resourcing” and the supply chain of talent. Perhaps we could call it Human Capital Supply Chain or Talent Sourcing Supply Chain… but then you wouldn’t have RPO fitting nicely in with the other ‘O’s’.

Mindy Blodgett:  What else are you thinking about these days?

Sue Marks: I’m disappointed by little process improvement has occurred in our space.   Think about recruiter requisition loads … most people I talk to still have about 20 reqs per recruiter as their standard.  If American manufacturing and service industries had spent the last decade with zero productivity gains, we’d be at the bottom of the global food chain.  If you think about HR and look at “broadbanding” in terms of talent acquisition, that may help.  You also have to look at the entire system and not just the applicant-facing pieces of it. How do you reduce demand on the system the way you reduce pressure on a call center by not having software that breaks down? We need to be working on these things.

I’m also hearing a lot of “change fatigue” from all levels of staff.  The best organizations are really worried about how they can help their employees to recharge.  This gets us back to the pace of relentless change: how do you help your organization regenerate now that things seem to be improving? People are also talking about the “invisible competition”, which refers to the unpredictability of competitive forces in every aspect of our profession and our business.  One of our roles is to help our clients “think around the corner” to be anticipatory, rather than reactive.  To get ahead of the wave, instead of being drowned by it.  It’s what keeps me up at night on one hand, and keeps me excited and optimistic about our business and our future on the other.

Mindy Blodgett:  Thanks so much for your time, Sue.

Sue Marks (pictured above) is Chief Executive Officer for Pinstripe.  You can access her full bio here, and follow her on Twitter at @SueMarks.

If you’re an HR practitioner with recruiting responsibility, your opinion is vital for our research. Horses for Sources and HRE have teamed up to run the following survey assessing whether HR departments are using RPO, your current experiences and attitudes towards RPO, and whether you plan to explore RPO as a recruitment enabler in the future.  Please click on the following link to share your views and experiences with us:

Posted in : HR Outsourcing, HR Strategy, Outsourcing Heros



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  1. Talent acquisition is about the only part of HR that makes sense to me to outsource in a BPO model. Economies of scale and scope, flexibility to ramp with business cycles, tight technology integration, and easily measurable outcomes.

    The biggest risk is where companies differentiate through talent acquisition processes, although few firms do. Examples of companies that differentiate are large consultancies’ campus recruiting efforts and heavily branded high volume recruiting efforts in for transactional positions.

    Still not sure how effective outsourcing of executive recruitment is. Still not sure how important customization is. Still not sure how effective RPO service providers are at execution. Lots to learn here.

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