Last month I ran into Richard Moran following his presentation at Executive Forum. He’s only been involved in the staffing industry for a little over a year, and we connected for the simple reason that we both share newfound outsider perspectives of the industry. Rich is CEO and vice chairman of Accretive Solutions, but there’s about a billion other things[1] you might know him from. His speech was called “Sins of the Staffing Industry” and, in a way, his spiel held up a mirror to the industry in an effort to point out some common mistakes.

“Staffers spend a lot of time and money trying to describe themselves as something other than staffing/temp agencies,” Rich said at the conference. “Sometimes we obfuscate it so much that people don’t know what we do. Be clear about what we do and the value we create.”

I liked this point, in particular; so much so that I decided to reconnect with him via a phone interview and prod my way into his brain to expand on this thought.

When you say staffers often describe themselves as anything but staffing/temp agencies, in what context do you mean? Is it in their marketing materials? On their websites?
It is on their websites, yeah, but it’s also when they talk about what they do. They tend to use words that confuse the buyers. The metaphor I’ve used before is when search people say they’re ‘in consulting.’ They’re not. They’re in staffing. We need to be proud of what we do and clear about what we do because otherwise it hurts us.

What words or phrases do you see as major offenders of this?
Oh, well, let me see. It’s words like ‘talent management’ or ‘HR consulting.’ All you have to do is go online and visit a staffing industry website and just look at what they call themselves. I think you’ll see right away. It’s called a lot of different things, and it just shouldn’t be.

Do you think the main problem with this is that potential clients and candidates are confused as to what that company does?
Exactly. Instead of putting the bullets in front of people – that we make jobs, provide valuable people when clients need them, and solve problems – we confuse them. That’s the main problem.

Could it also be so unclear that they come off as scam artists?
I think that’s true. (And it’s also hard to sell it when people don’t know what we’re describing.) When a client or buyer is confused, the market will define us as someone who doesn’t want to admit what they do. All any firm or service has to do is look at where their revenue comes from. … That defines who you are. I think what I said at the conference was, ‘If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it’s a duck.’ You’re a duck, so get over it.

Do you think this trend is because of the bad reputation staffing/temp agencies have, and they change wording in an attempt to dodge that?
Sometimes I get the sense that people are embarrassed by it. In the past, the reputation of staffing firms has been inconsistent. But if we want to make it consistent, we need the good players to come forward and admit they’re in staffing.

Do you think staffers should confront the bad reputation head-on, in an effort to prove it’s a bad-apple-spoils-the-bunch scenario?
Absolutely. That’s part of what my message was to the crowd. … Face up to what you are and be proud about it. I’ve been involved in a lot of things in the past, but now I’m in staffing. I’m in staffing and I’m proud of it. We’re a good industry, we provide an important service, and people need to own up to that.

[1] For instance, Rich is known for his humorous “Business Bullet Books,” of which he has six – the latest being Sins & CEOs and the next being Never Confuse Facebook With Reality – and his weekly radio show on CBS entitled In the Workplace. I highly recommend checking out his content if, like me, you enjoy people cutting through the B.S., providing insight, and doing it in a humorous and anecdotal way. Check out Rich’s Wikipedia page for all the other stuff.

Tags: Business, Executive Forum, Accretive Solutions, Business Bullet Books, CBS, In the Workplace, Never Confuse Facebook With Reality, Richard Moran, Sins & CEOs, Sins of the Staffing Industry