I read a blog recently that said that the GDPR creates an opportunity for search firms to increase engagement with candidates and position themselves as trustworthy.

I disagree.

To the best of my knowledge, none of the regulations have legalised an activity that would have been banned previously. The opportunity has always been there. What has changed is the motivation. The fear of fines, the fear of reputational damage, the fear of a lost retainer.

Every search firm on the planet would like to be considered trustworthy. To be considered a safe custodian of private information. To have an engaged community of potential candidates. To have a database that was up to date. The new regulations haven’t changed that.

It’s just that every search firm on the planet also wants to win retainers. Execute superbly. Recruit, retain and motivate team members. Like any organisation, search firms have always weighed up the costs and the benefits of doing everything they need to do – and data protection, certainly to the new, higher standards, rarely made the top of the list.

The “GDPR is an opportunity” mindset is similar to the mentality that means we all join the Gym in January. Joining a gym (and attending occasionally!) is a good thing to do, all year round. There is nothing to stop us doing it. However, statistics show that Gym memberships increase by 12% in January, reflecting over-consumption during the holiday period. People are reacting to increased motivation. However, the motivation is not sustained. By the summer, most new memberships have lapsed. Apparently, 80% of Americans who have a gym membership do not use the facilities. The benefits of going to the gym are unchanged – but people would rather eat cake than run around a bit.

Like health, the GDPR is not a onetime thing. May 25th 2018 is not the only day that the new rules will be enforced. From May 25th, search firms covered by the GDPR will have to follow the new rules, day in, day out. It might be that the profile of the regulations remains high, with big fines and embarrassed companies – but, at some point, attention will most likely move on. Motivation will dissolve. The work / reward ratio drifts back to where it was before the GDPR came along. If the ratio is unchanged, behaviours will be too.

That’s why, for a Search firm to successfully adhere to the new regulations, they need to build them in to how they operate. They need to take steps to ensure that the amount of work associated with compliance is manageable and largely automated – so that following the regulations does not “get in the way of doing our jobs”.

Let’s take a real-life example of this. At the core of the GDPR is transparency. If you store information on Jane, you need to tell her about it. End of discussion. We can argue about “Consent” or “Legitimate Interest” and as a result “Opt in” or “Opt Out” but, at the most basic level, Jane has the right to know. Moreover, she has the right to ensure that you keep her data up to date.

The typical search firm, trading for a few years, may have 5 employees and 20,000 people records. How will they contact 20,000 people? How will they handle the subset that respond? The Non-Delivery of emails? The information requests? How will the clean up all that legacy data? How will they do this for the legacy data now, but then on an ongoing basis, as new people are identified and existing contacts need renewing?

Unless the work / reward ratio changes, the likelihood is…. that the typical firm will not. They’ll ignore the situation and breach the rules. They’ll take the risks. If not now, then at some point in the future.

Which is why we developed GatedTalent - to help our clients automate much of the above. To send privacy and consent notes individually or in large batches. To manage responses. To automatically update database records when emails bounce. To allow executives to create profiles to update legacy data. Quick, simple, low cost and painless. Eminently achievable for firms of any size.

The GDPR is not an opportunity. It is an ongoing obligation. But, if Search firms don’t take steps now to ensure they can manage this obligation on an ongoing basis, they risk business and reputation damage.