Smart Moves: How to ease the HR load

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When British American Tobacco decided to combine offices in Staines, Woking and central London into one new global headquarters in the capital, the company soon realised that its human resources specialists would struggle. According to one manager she and her colleagues would - "in a fairly short period of time" - have to manage the resettlement of hundreds of staff and the integration of three offices. Moreover, it became clear that since some of the staff would be unlikely to move, the company would have to recruit at least 50 people before the office opened last autumn.

BAT decided to ease the HR burden by calling in a consultancy to handle the first part of the recruitment process. Sue Brooks, co-founder and director of Profiles, explains: "The HR team at British American Tobacco faced the dilemma that recruitment was taking a disproportionate amount of their time."

A consultancy can save time and money. Ms Brooks points out that her company's service only has to be paid for when it is being used. She believes the big attraction is the company's guarantee"to find the right people, on time and within budget". Ms Brooks adds: "We're giving advice and are prepared to be paid on that advice."

But Profiles does not only do one-off recruitment. For example, it has been helping Deloitte & Touche, the accountancy and consultancy firm, to introduce a more systematic approach to recruiting managers. It feels that its internal team serves it well at "the extreme ends of the recruitment spectrum" - with a well-established graduate recruitment programme and more targeted methods for top posts. However, external recruitment to positions between those two extremes was carried out with the help of 25 separate recruitment agencies.

A particular challenge was recognised by Ms Brooks. Whereas in the past recruits had typically come from the Big Five firms, with a shortage of suitable candidates, Deloitte & Touche had to spread its net wider. Profiles made use of its "multi-strategy" approach in order to find the right candidates.

Furthermore, Profiles's ability to manage the various agencies reduced the pressure on senior managers at Deloitte & Touche. Not only has the consultancy produced shortlists for managers to interview, it has also helped ensure that all recruits taken on so far have been successful. This is important in a business whose positions are "billable" and therefore the firm's income could be threatened if people fail in their jobs.