First, cast your net wider

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The Independent Online
IF YOU thought the notion that employees are an organisation's greatest asset could not be challenged, then think again. Not only are many employers giving the lie to their fine-sounding words by their actions - particularly shedding these assets at the slightest provocation - but even those who appear to honour the concept are going the wrong way about enhancing that asset.

A seminar at London's Ritz Hotel on Tuesday will inform representatives from a range of employers that whereas training is seen as a strategic issue, recruitment is not, and therein lies the problem. According to Marilyn Gardner, who will be leading the event, modern management's emphasis on passing responsibility for hiring people - as well as other traditional human resources functions - from specialist departments to line managers has led to the emergence of "ad hoc" arrangements within many companies. In short, companies see recruitment as "tactical".

Ms Gardner, an experienced human resources professional who has just set up Channel International with the aim of addressing the issue, is not seeking to take away from those managers the responsibility for picking people with whom they want to work. Instead, she says that activity must be put into context: "If you separate recruitment from the hiring decision you can create a powerful strategic weapon to go out into the market with."

Essentially, the idea is that the human resources specialists establish a strategy for delivering the sort of people the organisation feels it needs and the line managers make their choices from what is served up.

So far, so good. But even this can be highly inefficient and wasteful because organisations - particularly in these days of lean management and pared-down central structures - tend not to have the means for passing candidates from one department to another. Instead, as Ms Gardner explains, they consider a candidate for a particular post. If they are accepted, fine, if not - unless they re-apply for another position with the same organisation - it probably won't have any mechanism for trying them out somewhere else.

As she will point out on Tuesday, the problem is particularly serious at a time like the present when senior executives in all sorts of organisations are insisting that growth is being held back by an inability to find the right sort of people. Ms Gardner, an American who was previously UK human resources director for Microsoft, believes that the solution is to intensify the search for these elusive people by finding fresh "routes to market".

And that is where an organisation like hers - recently set up as a division within the recruitment consultancy Pricejamieson - comes in. Recognising that in the present climate few organisations are going to beef up their human resources departments in order to take on this extra work, she sees an opportunity for them to outsource the "business process" part of the activity. In other words, a consultancy such as Channel would establish how better to widen the pool from which candidates are selected and then bring them together for direction to particular companies, where individual managers would make the actual decisions on whether or not to hire.

"If you accept that finding people is a more generic task than selecting them, you have a great advantage," she says. "It's a more logical way forward."