On Thursday many of my thoughts and sense of discomfort in relation to recruitment in the software development sector were brought to a head. In working through multiple aspects required for scaling Symbiotics, my concerns have been growing.
Software development is a people resource intensive business, with the greater proportion thereof being highly skilled. Yes, there are many supporting aspects required for successful project delivery, be those true fixed price, deliverable based or time & materials projects, but by far the largest constraint to scale are people resource acquisition and talent development.
With there being a clear indication to the market that Symbiotics is hiring, even though reasonably low-key through our website only, there has been a flood of calls and emails from recruitment agencies sending candidate introductions.
These resumes are usually directly accompanied with the agencies terms and conditions, typically pegging fees around 20% of the annual cost to company remuneration. All do indicate some level of willingness to negotiate, with the best I have experienced being 10%. From these experiences, the recruitment industry seems to have geared itself for a transactional relationship.
Now expanding by small numbers on an annual basis may accommodate the 3-6 months for junior to intermediate and 6-9 months for intermediate to senior resources that it takes to recover the recruitment fee, but I certainly don’t see this being the case for periods of rapid growth. Speaking little of the real cash outflow required to meet these fees, there is still the matter of induction required before a new team member is gross profit producing. So break-even is in reality much further down the line.
In dealing with the growing sense of needing to find a more scalable mechanism for growth in a small business that has limited cash resources, coupled with aspirations to undertake such significant growth, I have found myself not being as professional as I would like, and in contradiction with the values of Symbiotics. Emails and calls not being returned, and little to no feedback have been symptoms of a growing frustration in not being able to find commensurate value. In reflecting, I am particularly embarrassed by this behavior.
Getting back to Thursday, on providing feedback to one agency that I was still not ready to engage there was a deservedly angry response to not bother contacting them again. This event did, however, drive me to a different level of reflection.
At no time has any recruitment agent sat down and asked me any questions related to my business. What are our core values? Do we even have values explicitly stated? Why are we on the current growth curve? What is driving it? What are the key characteristics we look for when hiring? … and the list goes on.
Have the large organisations fundamentally changed the playing field for recruitment by simply turning it into a numbers game? Is it that within the large corporates there are sufficient resources and ‘natural churn’ to have software developer recruitment being about no more than how many resumes come across HR and subsequently the hiring manager’s desks? Have the recruitment agencies played directly into this market dynamic and structured themselves accordingly?
This reflection has further reinforced the opportunity I see in the market; where rather than hiring directly many of the large corporates are engaging with smaller entities that do take acquisition and talent management of above-average software developers seriously. With this switch, are these organisations channeling the fees from recruitment to solution delivery engagements and getting a much more direct return on their investment? Further, such engagements are developing into longer-term strategic partnerships and not just a single transaction, highest possible ROI interactions.
These are not engagements whereby Symbiotics’ resources are consumed into the client organisation. We have a very strong belief that a core aspect of differentiation is that Symbiotics team members have a unique identity distinct from, but complementary to that of the client. We continuously develop not only the technical skills and industry trend knowledge but also the Symbiotics identity. Many individuals within our clients’ organisations do not understand the value of this aspect of Symbiotics, due to historical thinking that “I have contracted these resources, I need them around and will decide what they do”.
This is a challenge that we address through applying a balance over the core values of “Flexibility with Responsibility” and “Lifetime Learning”.
I have digressed slightly from the role of recruitment agencies in talent acquisition and the ability for Symbiotics to scale significantly. But not that far, because it again reinforces that no agency that has attempted to engage with us even knows that this is the dynamic into which we place our team members.
All being said, recruitment is not our core business in that we don’t do it on behalf of others. However, it has become crystal clear to me that talent acquisition is a core competency that Symbiotics must actively develop. We need to acknowledge that talent acquisition is a critical aspect in enabling us to scale our core offering of Software Project Delivery in a unique and high-return way.
So, yes, we are hiring, but not through recruitment agencies.
Now that I have made the decision to actively establish and formally structure a recruitment core competency within Symbiotics, I look forward to providing a very early status update, in a month or so, on the realities of this decision.
Till next time