The one where something failed

Recently I’ve started watching Aaron Sorkin’s new TV show “The Newsroom”. Whilst it’s no West Wing (will anything ever be) it’s well written and well produced entertainment. It’s set in a fictionalised newsroom of a Cable News Network and the set in the recent past. The first episode featured the explosion on Deepwater Horizon and the breaking of the story that put BP squarely in the firing line. During that time it was interesting as a British person to watch the multinational BP once again referred to as British Petroleum and in what seemed like an effort to mobilise politicians and the world’s media, BP’s British heritage was also squarely in the firing line.

Another organisation that’s seen itself placed front and centre recently is G4S. G4S was previously Group 4 Securicor but rebranded in 1996 but with their recent Olympic press I’ve heard discussions about long forgotten incidents – losing prisoners and misplaced security patrols. Incidents that most people haven’t thought about for ages were brought out as people chose to use history to strengthen their negativity. G4S was Group 4 all over again.

The fact that CEO Nick Buckles had to appear in front of a Commons select committee and the nation’s press to admit they have come up short on their Olympic recruitment damaged them both  in terms of reputation and financially as doubt was cast over their ability to deliver against other proposed outsourcing and their share price took punishment. The fact that Mr Buckles had to admit that he didn’t know until 8 or 9 days earlier must have made the attention all the worse but for Mr Buckles and G4s recruitment was without doubt a strategic issue.

Having worked in resourcing I’ve been imagining what could have lead to such a failure and how it could become such an issue that was, as stated in the public statements, not escalated to the most senior levels and the options I’ve come up with so far are:

  • A failure in planning and an optimistic view on what would happen to recruitment volumes as the process continued
  • A failure to attract enough candidates to fill what I’m sure would be a large pipeline
  • A failure to ensure sufficient capacity to manage the applications
  • A failure to manage the vetting process either through timing or capacity to ensure sufficient candidates could be screened
  • A failure in communication either between the recruiters and their management or the HR leadership and the organisation’s leadership
  • A failure of accountability in both owning and addressing the problems at various levels in the organisation

[If anyone can think of other reasons feel free to comment]

I’m sure given the amount of publicity and the need for public statements in a regulated environment the truth of what happened at G4S will never really be known or understood within the recruitment community. I do think it’s a cautionary tale for those who see recruitment as just an operational function within Human Resources. I imagine someone somewhere lost their job over this but not without further protection being put in place to ensure no further reputational damage but it wasn’t Mr Buckles and I’m sure whoever is leading the next big recruitment campaign will be feeling the heat of what must be an increased spotlight.

We’re over half way through the Olympics and *touches wood, there have been no reported major security incidences which must be a credit to those that were successfully recruited and the members of the Armed Forces who stepped up to ensure the safety of participants and visitors to the Games. Let’s hope despite whatever part of the process failed we continue to see a secure Olympics and subsequent Paralympics and that someone somewhere took the lessons learned to heart.

Update: A cracking post from Rick over on Flipchart Fairytales definitely worth a read in this context and also he shared a link to an interesting series of articles in The Guardian



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2 responses to “The one where something failed

  1. It’s all about the money money money isn’t it? I can imagine the excitement and adrenalin attached to a contract like this and lure of the big bucks. When money is the main motivator, you get a different mindset in relation to decisions and plans.

    There may also be a culture where the prospect of “not delivering” is the undiscussible; when an organisation fails, people at the front line always knew there was a disaster coming at some point. I’d be interested to look at turnover figures at key points where people felt they could do no more and decided to jump ship.

    Another failure to add to your list might be from the funders; I would assume certain milestones have to be achieved at certain times and reported against; there would have been early warning signs. There always are.

    I had another theory, that maybe all along, the gov really wanted the army.

  2. I wasn’t involved in any way, but I did read the press with interest – I think there are some aspects (in addition to your comments above) that we can all learn from: I gather that G4S were initially asked to recruit 2,000 security staff – it was only late last year that that number was raised to 10,400 – that is a huge increase to be effected within a tight time frame, particularly given that recruits needed to go through a lengthy screening and vetting process before being able to be offered a role, as well as having to be trained if not already qualified. Did anyone at G4S raise this matter with their client at the time? Suppliers can and should challenge clients’ requests when they are potentially unreasonable, so that expectations can be managed and solutions devised in a timely manner.

    Although superficially, being an Olympic Security Guard might sound like a fun job, I suspect that after some consideration the role became less appealing to candidates. The dream and reality don’t match – the job is not highly paid yet it requires a person to live in or near London (which is expensive) to be able to get to and from 12 hour shifts. The Olympics and Paralympics cover a seven week period, so the G4S job by definition has to be temporary – in times when jobs are scarce individuals are likely to take a permanent role over a temporary position – was this factor taken into account when planning the recruitment campaign? Although the recruitment seemed to be going quite well in May 2012 – the expressions of interest had resulted in 67,000 interview bookings, and 21,000 candidates successfully passing the interview stage, there seems to have been a failure to convert these candidates into employees. Clearly there were issues over the final part of the recruitment process.

    I have read of candidates who had no contact from G4S for months after being offered a job. It is easy to believe that you have been forgotten, to be attracted by other opportunities or to feel disengaged when left in a vacuum. What was the planned on-boarding approach towards offered candidates whilst vetting/screening was occurring and prior to the time when employees needed to start working at the Olympics?

    Many of the problems seem to come down to poor communication (mind you that is a learning for life, not just recruitment).

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