7 ways recruiters will learn to love their KPIs!

7 ways recruiters will learn to love their KPIs!

KPIs! Metrics! Hit your numbers! Micro-Management!

These are some of the dirtiest words in the recruitment lexicon.

Yet, it’s a universal truth that all recruitment relies on certain activities, being done well, consistently.

In my experience, managers of recruitment teams adopt one of three approaches to KPIs. Two of them are disastrous, and then of course, there is the right way.

(I will be explaining this in detail during my Masterclass in South Africa next week)

KPI Disaster #1.

In this company we have no KPIs. Or if we do, they are never met, never managed, and seldom talked about. In fact, the business operates like a bit of a freewheeling hippie commune, and often extends to lots of ‘working from home’, and meetings that never, ever start on time. Sound familiar? Unless your recruiters are peak level, self-sustained top performers, who operate as businesses to themselves, (which can happen, but exceedingly rarely) this laissez-faire approach will fail. Badly.

Watch Greg talk about the secret to KPIs that work.

Watch video on YouTube.

KPI Disaster #2.

The company, and its recruiters, are slaves to the metrics. In fact, the weeks’ work becomes all about the KPI report. There are a whole range of KPIS that get measured, numbers are managed relentlessly, often the wrong activities are measured, and the inevitable result is resentful recruiters who feel stifled and bullied, and they start to ‘finesse’ the reports anyway, just to keep ‘the boss happy’. Productivity drops, while staff turnover increases. You can’t hire intelligent, motivated people and then treat them like robots.

So what to do?

The right way.

The fact is that activity is key to success. But quality is as important, and the targeting of activities, and with whom, is essential. It is also true that as a leader, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

So in my view, activity management is crucial to individual and business success. It’s how you implement and manage the KPI regime that makes all the difference.

Here is what works best.

  • The KPIs actually serve as a ‘dashboard’ for recruiters to run their own desk. The recruiters use it to manage their time and to keep track of personal productivity, with the focus in the right place. It’s there to help the recruiter, not to ‘satisfy management’.
  • To achieve this, it’s critical that the consultants help develop the KPIs in the first place. It’s done in collaboration, with the recruiter working out what they need to do to succeed. Of course the manager massages and debates this until all parties are happy. But if the recruiter is invested in the goals, they will achieve them.
  • The consultant must understand why activity leads to the desired results. This is an assumption managers often make. Take the time to work out a ‘backwards plan’, which shows (for example) that to get a placement we have to have 5 jobs (we fill one out of five), we must make 4 interviews (It takes on average 4 client/candidate interviews to make a placement). Therefore we have to do so many client visits, to generate so many orders, and get so many résumés out etc. Spend as much time as it takes for the consultant to truly ‘get’ how activity, done well, flows on to results.
  • Only measure the 4 – 6 key metrics. A massive spreadsheet of KPIs that the recruiter has to monitor is a distraction. Just the crucial ones are required for weekly time management. And those KPIs might be different for people doing different things, or working in different markets within the team.
  • Relate activity to success, and ultimately to the consultants’ earning potential. Quality activity means placements, which means $, which means a bigger bonus for them.
  • Change the metrics measured depending on the market, and depending on the state of the consultants’ desk. Got no jobs? Measure BD activities more. Got no candidates? Measure candidate acquisition activities. Flex the KPI report for the outcome desired. It’s a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  • The management of the KPIs is key. A good manager will look not only at numbers, but also the quality e.g. ‘you interviewed 10 candidates last week, but none of them have been referred to clients’ or ‘good to see you sent out 25 résumés to clients last month, but that has resulted in only 4 interviews’. Dig beyond numbers.

The nirvana is when the recruiter takes ownership of the KPI report and understands how activity drives their business forward. They end up hitting the KPIs because THEY want to meet them, not because they are told to.

You want recruiters with high self-esteem, retaining a sense of autonomy, and hitting their activity numbers because they believe in them and they see the link between activity, quality, and success.

Please leave me a comment below with your opinion or idea.


The Savage Truth Tour of South Africa starts next week! Two huge sessions. One for Managers, one for Recruiters. South African recruiters… get on it!


About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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11 Responses to 7 ways recruiters will learn to love their KPIs!

  1. John Reynolds May 20, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    An excellent piece Greg. So many firms give everyone the same KPI targets missing the important points that consultants need engaging on the development of the KPI’s they ae to target, and that different consultants need different drivers at different times.

  2. Judith Eller May 20, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    KPI’s really that is so last year!

    I’ll give you an example. A candidate who came to us 6 or 7 months ago is called up this week, referred to a role because they have been identified as a fit, has an interview and gets offered the role. That initial candidate contact didn’t show in the KPI’S this week or last week but 6 months ago! It is driven by the consultant’s desire to fill the role and satisfy the client not by numbers.

    if you recruit and develop intelligent. motivated, networked consultants who know what drives and motivates them to get results; provide a supportive team orientated and collaborative environment, lots of discussion and cross referencing where commission is replaced with profit share then individual KPI’s you discuss aren’t even going to get off the ground to be honest. Yes we do measure our performance from a business perspective with budgets, targets, comparisons and growth figures. We also listen to our clients and candidates and measure our performance by the feed back we receive. We are in the relationship business after all.

    • Greg Savage May 20, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

      Judith, the name “KPI” may well be ‘last year’. Indeed it could even be ‘last century’. The need for recruiters to work to a plan is not. If you have developed a plan that works for you in a sustainable way, and allows you to grow your business across multiple staff in multiple locations, then you should off course stick with that.
      Being in ‘the relationship business’, is not at odds with accountability and measurement one little bit. Indeed that was the point of my blog, allowing recruiters autonomy and freedom to run their desk, and build such relationships, but with tools to help maximise productivity. You might find as your business wants to move to the next level, or indeed hits tougher times where there IS no profit to share, that my advice here will in fact be “so next year” for you. Be not so hasty to flippantly dismiss ideas based on a lot of experience and fair bit of success.

      Thanks for your input and all success to you.

  3. Cara May 20, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    Great article – as recruiter new to management my biggest challenge has been finding the balance on KPI’s, this article hits the nail on the head and truly demonstrates how a successful agency should be run. Thanks Greg!

  4. Mark May 21, 2014 at 1:09 am #

    I did this exactly – turn the table to the consultant gain buy in from the consultant by letting them feel in control and set there own KPIs and targets – obviously with myself to guide that.

    My job then with said consultant is to coach and train them to achieve there already bought into KPIs.

    Trouble with the process for me, I realised it was lost on some senior managers – as they couldn’t control the KPIs in the short term, the long term they saw growth – yet still questioned the KPIs…



  5. Peter Ricci May 21, 2014 at 1:26 am #

    As ever Greg, an excellent and well-reasoned article.

    I have worked in a number of organisations in my time in this industry that fit models 1 and 2. Both of which pan out pretty much how you predict. Particularly Model 2.

    It may mean more of a management overhead to manage people at the individual level, and given where their business/productivity cycle is at, but that it what is needed to get the best out of people, attract quality staff to the business…but more importantly, retain them.

    Sadly, many organisations in our sector here in the UK do not have the capability to operate outside of a “one size fits all” sales management model and you end up with a crowd of automaton recruiters drifting from agency to agency.

    When will our market learn. No time soon I suggest.

    Of course, then you have to ask “How are the Manager’s managed/measured ?”

    Then, “How are Director’s managed/measured ?”

    Now there’s a question or two I would love to hear your thoughts on.

  6. Alan Allebone May 21, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

    KPI’s isn’t that ” keep placing individuals”?

    That is ALLL I know it stands for!

    Forget the rest!

    remember WANT & NEED.

    You “need” to “want” to do it to be in it!

    Thanks again legend Greg!

  7. Wiana Esterhuyse May 27, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    Thanks for a great article Greg.

    I attended your masterclass sessions in Johannesburg today, and you covered this in detail.
    I come from a strong sales backround, where KPIs were always crucial, but it is so easy to think that recruitment is different. Luckily, I soon realised that recruitment is nothing but a sale.
    KPIs gives me the opportunity to incentives top-preformers and also place under-prefomers under pressure.

    Quality people in place, will give quality input, which will lead to a quality output.

  8. Peter Goodwin February 17, 2016 at 3:54 pm #


    I totally agree and have always seen KPI’s as not just a management tool , but a self-management tool also. There is no way an intelligent consultant will buy into these unless they are involved in their creation. Our business is now very small and boutique, but as a director/founder of larger business for many years, we always involved the consultants and worked from the front end backwards.

  9. Matt March 30, 2016 at 7:29 pm #

    I think that you make some very interesting points here with regards to not measuring too many variables. I am constantly discussing with my team the need to complete their shortlisting quicker and by doing so their chances of placing the roles increase dramatically. Despite backing it up with the stats which prove this, they still need reminding of it regularly.


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