Takeaways from My RPO World (okay, on the ground U.S.) Tour | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On June 23, 2011

During the past few weeks, I was on the road interacting and engaging with a variety of buyers, service providers, and technology providers in the Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) ecosystem. My travels took me to the HRO/RPO Summit in Las Vegas, Manpower’s analyst day session in Milwaukee, and meetings with numerous buy- and sell-side organizations in multiple cities.

Broad themes I identified during those forums, meetings and some very stimulating conversations include:

Greater pragmatism on global/multi-country RPO. Notwithstanding the continued interest among multinational companies around global/multi-country RPO, there is an increasing realization that a more practical and pragmatic approach is required. For example:

  • Buyers are realizing it’s exceptionally important to understand the “art-of-the-possible” in heterogeneous markets such as Europe, Asia Pacific, and Latin America, even before floating an RFP.
  • Quite often, it makes sense to approach and scope multi-country RPO utilizing the Pareto Principle, i.e., focusing on 80 percent of the hiring that takes places in 20 percent of the operating countries.
  • A phased approach that starts with limited countries in scope and expands into other countries/regions once the relationship stabilized is increasingly preferable.
  • A hub-and-spoke delivery model is emerging as the most prudent choice.

High interest in “understanding” a total talent acquisition approach. Note my emphasis on “understanding,” as opposed to adopting. Currently, I see buyers making RPO and Managed Service Provider (MSP) decisions for permanent hire and contingent hire management, respectively, independent of each other. While a combined approach to permanent and contingent hiring management through an integrated solution looks compelling, the reality is there are organizational (e.g., misaligned objectives of HR and procurement), operational (e.g., difference pricing structure and service level considerations), and technological (e.g., lack of single technology solution for permanent and contingent hire management) challenges to adoption in the current market. Buyers must have a clear upfront understanding of these challenges and need to identify potential mitigation steps. I have even seen buyers comfortable with their organizational readiness but lacking confidence in providers’ capabilities to offer an integrated solution at this time.

I expect adoption here to be gradual and in a phased fashion, with buyers starting with either RPO or MSP and then looking to expand and integrate the other. From a service provider perspective, creation and execution of total talent acquisition requires expertise in both traditional RPO and MSP models. That expertise, if proven, can create differentiation and significant opportunities, while also creating a natural entry barrier for competitors that focus only on RPO or MSP.

Side note: Everest Group’s forthcoming RPO studies will focus on multi-country RPO as well as blended RPO (RPO + MSP) exclusively highlighting the current state of the market and various dynamics at play.

Providers’ proactive investments to enhance their value proposition and create differentiation. It is clear that some RPO providers understand the importance of creating differentiation in a cluttered marketplace. Those that do are proactively investing in building their differentiation themes and associated capabilities. Examples include Kenexa’s focus on quality of talent theme, Manpower’s investment in helping buyers better plan their workforce requirements, Pinstripe’s development of tools to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the recruitment process, and SourceRight Solutions’  total talent acquisition solution.

Broader opportunities in emerging markets. With the demographic and economic changes taking place around the world, emerging markets such as India, China, and Brazil are increasingly viewed as markets with immense potential extending far beyond low cost delivery. Manpower’s recent acquisition of China-based REACH HR is a prominent example.

While my current tour in-person has concluded, I am looking forward to keeping a close eye on the RPO industry’s journey, even if from a near-term virtual view.

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