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Leading Through Challenging Times

Adam Ward

As we often discuss in our Recruiting Leadership Academy, it is in challenging times like these that you really earn your leadership stripes. Sure — leading recruiting teams is always challenging, but in uncertain times like the present, how you lead through ambiguity and headwinds will be where you grow most as a leader. Your success in navigating the next 6-8 months will rely on effective communication.

Here are 3 tips:

  1. Strike a balance between ultimate transparency and the team feeling blindsided by changes to headcount and the impact on recruiting. While you probably shouldn’t provide play by play details on leadership team meetings you are a part of, you can share that you are participating in meetings where these topics are being seriously discussed.
  2. Don’t over promise. You worked really hard to recruit and build your team in a competitive environment, so your instinct might be to provide an optimistic outcome. But, if you aren’t sure, you can tell people you “don’t know the outcome, but here are the types of conversations I am having and the data we are looking at to drive them.” And if you don’t have new information for the team, a “no update” update also lets them know that you are still working on gathering specifics for them.
  3. Be a business leader first and people leader second. Often we see that the biggest inhibitor to recruiting leaders growing beyond a director level is their defensiveness of their team. Rather than taking a principled and operational approach to evaluating their function, they tend to deflect and protect their team to a fault. In times like these, taking a critical and business driven approach will establish credibility with the leadership team that will give you the capital to push back on recommendations that you feel are too drastic and short sighted. For example, evaluating contingent worker vendor contracts and processes, this can often lead to huge savings and lots of efficiencies if your company has never done this.  Or partner with total rewards teams to help with benchmarking real-time market comp with talent competitors, and other insights that can be gathered from candidates that inform important company burn decisions. Companies are looking for ways to extend their runway, so where can the recruiting team contribute?

As we outlined at the start of the pandemic, if hiring is slowing, it is also a great time to invest in the processes, your talent brand, data integrity and training for the team.  We really liked the Protcol’s interview with Gem’s Chief Recruiting Officer Richard Cho: Preparing for the Rebound. He says “now is the time to do all the things that you never had time to tackle”.  

This is an opportunity for career progression for your team. They'll have opportunities to contribute to other parts of the people team — culture, employee experience, L&D, ops, etc. View it as a learning opportunity to round out experience for their next role.

If your team is continuing to hire, don’t forget that layoff lists are cataloged at

Whether this is your first market correction as a leader or your experiencing it for a second or third time, it is not easy on anyone. And as a leader of recruiting teams, it can be especially tough, but leading through adversity is a valuable experience in your leadership development. And remember, when in doubt, you can lean into this community of leaders who may be in a similar situation for empathy, camaraderie, and support.

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