Merit Resource Group

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April 24, 2017 Issue



Human Resources Consulting, Recruiting and Staffing Firm Focused on filling the need for Temporary and Permanent Talent in HR Departments



Danika Davis

Chief Executive Officer


Merit Resource Group


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – April 24, 2017


CEOCFO: Ms. Davis, would you tell us about Merit Resource?

Ms. Davis: Organizations who need immediate help filling holes in their HR function have relied on us for results for almost thirty years. These holes can be temporary in nature due to loss of key staff, overloaded team members due to sudden growth or downsizing, or projects requiring specific expertise. We also help organizations find exceptional HR talent for regular full- time roles at every level and in every industry. MeritHR has never had a traditional sales function and has instead relied on long term relationships and networking with the HR community. My relationship with Merit is longstanding. Merit was instrumental in placing me in my first Director of HR job. Many years later I recruited them to be sponsor when I was running a large nonprofit that serviced the HR industry. A few years ago I joined the team, but my personal relationship with the firm spans decades and is not unique for us. We have a true passion for human resources. We were founded and are still led by HR practitioners. We believe great HR is the difference maker in most organizations if not all. We apply 100% of our efforts on helping organizations achieve success through great HR.


CEOCFO: How do you work with your clients?

Ms. Davis: Because we span all HR functions and levels, there is rarely a typical engagement. That is one of the elements that makes the work so fullfulling. We have the opportunity to learn about many industries and explore how they approach HR. Each is somewhat unique. Engagements come in two forms – temporary and full-time search work. We predominantly work on the contract staffing and consulting side for more temporary needs, though some of our contract assignments have lasted for years. The typical assignment is 3-6 months. Contract work is needed for a variety of reasons. For example a client may need an interim HR manager to cover a leave of absence or an unexpected quit, or have a special project for which they neither have bandwidth or expertise. We spend quite a bit of time understanding the need and the type of individual who will thrive there. Because of our depth of experience in HR, we can get to the right questions quickly and typically have several potential fits for them to review within a week. If the hole is more permanent in nature, we engage in a search for them and find the right candidate to deliver on their business objectives, who fits within their culture and shares their vision for HR. Those would be typical engagements for us. We work in any industry, any size organization, any HR discipline, but we only work within the human resources function.


CEOCFO: How are your people able to jump in to fill a particular gap and grasp the corporate culture quickly enough to make your services even more valuable than they might be otherwise?

Ms. Davis: I speak with absolute bias having practiced HR my entire career. Good HR people have a very fluid intellect. Adaptability is key to success given that HR professionals must interact effectively with so many different types of people within an organization as well as understand, grasp and interact with the external marketplace of vendors, competitors, talent, etc. The people who are attracted to HR as a profession are by their nature adaptable and flexible. If we move that into a contract staffing opportunity, our seasoned professionals are looking for the cultural nuance in a way that other professions might not because this is the world in which they have chosen to apply their talents. We also screen for culture as not every HR person is a fit for every culture. Therefore, when we are engaging on the client side, while we certainly want to know the hard skills and exact types of knowledge that someone has to have to be successful and deliver on the business objectives, but we are also probing even more diligently around the type of person who is successful in their organization and almost always visit the client’s worksite in order to get a feel for the culture. If possible we talk to multiple people within the organization before we make a placement so we are doing screening for culture when we are talking with HR talent to make that match before they ever walk in.


CEOCFO: Is it more or less difficult in 2017 to find good people that are interested in HR, know what they are doing and can keep up with the demand both regulatory and people wise?

Ms. Davis: I believe in the power of ‘and’ in almost every instance, so I will say both. I think the demands on HR people have changed in a meaningful way. The profession has evolved from industrial relations to personnel to human resources, human capital, etc. We see the function being described in terms of organizational optimization or effectiveness. The very words we are using are demonstrating an evolution of a profession from one that was initially very compliance and risk management oriented, to one that is as much, if not more, focused on organizational effectiveness. The foundations of HR in that compliance and risk management are now the basics. These other more meaningful organizational dynamics work around optimizing the effectiveness of people and companies are the new skill set that HR people need. It is harder to find HR folks who have kept up with the evolution of the profession. My joke is that if there is someone has 20 years of experience do they have twenty years of learning and growth, or one year of experience which they have repeated 20 times. The new expectations provide better opportunities for exceptional HR leaders than there were in the past to have meaningful impact. I emphasize the word leaders, whether they have that from a title perspective or not. In an organization, HR professionals always have to have good influence and leadership skills in order to be successful, regardless of their level or role. I think with every profession it is harder to find exceptional talent on one hand because there is so much more expected of organizations and people in today’s world and it is also on the opposite side easier, we have so many more tools and options.


CEOCFO: Does HR get more respect these days?

Ms. Davis: Certainly. I practiced for many years personally and had the good fortune to always work inside of organizations where HR was a trusted advisor and business partner to senior leadership. The modern professional receives more respect and more scrutiny. Both are warranted. If you listen to almost any business pundit, they are talking about the critical importance of talent and people as the primary differentiator and driver of success. Talent and organizational capacity from a skills perspective has the C-suite’s attention. And that is a wonderful thing for respect. It also ups the ante as HR professionals must have the ability to deliver on those higher expectations, which is a good thing and will bring more and better talent into the profession over the long run. The more expectations there are from the business organization, the more opportunity good HR people have to real influence on the success of their organization and on the lives of the employees within that organization.


CEOCFO: What is the competitive landscape; are there many companies that specialize in HR placements?

Ms. Davis: Not nearly as many as other professions such as IT or accounting/finance. In our area we were among the first to specialize in HR. There are now several firms who specialize in HR now in the greater San Francisco bay area, but it is still less than 10. Many of the traditional staffing firms in the market have developed HR or management arms, which they did not have before. Our strength lies in the deep relationships we have built and commitment to serving both the client and the talent.


CEOCFO: Why do HR professionals turn to Merit?

Ms. Davis: Just as we are screening talent for a match for the client, we also provide the same service to the HR talent. We know a lot about the companies before we approach a potential person who might be a fit. So it saves them a lot of time. If talented HR professionals are working with us they can be much more passive about their searches because we are their agent in that regard. We know their talents and know what they are looking for. We are not going to contact them unless we have a client where we believe there is a match.


CEOCFO: Are there certain specialized areas where people are not turning to you as much as you would expect?

Ms. Davis: Not really. We get a wide range of requests spanning every discipline. Our vertical is so specific and we have never wavered from our commitment to the profession. Our clients are HR people for the most part. A candidate today is a client tomorrow and vice versa.

CEOCFO: How is business these days?

Ms. Davis: Business is good. The market is a little different than it has been in our history. We are primarily a contract staffing firm -- interim placement, consulting projects, things of that nature. Right now we are in a direct hire market and thankfully we have multiple product lines. We are still talking to HR folks on both the client and candidate side. We have shifted our focus to meet the market demand for more direct hire search. We are doing four or five times the number of direct hire searches than our historical average. You have to follow the market and what the clients want. We believe that shift is being driven by the very low level of unemployment in the bay area and the recognition of top quality talent in HR being the primary driver of organizational success. Organizations are willing to pay an agency to find that talent and bring them on full time.


CEOCFO: Final thoughts?

Ms. Davis: I am a self-professed HR evangelist. The take-away for your readers is not to skimp on HR, For a long time it was thought that human resources was the type of work that anyone could do and there is a recognition over the last decade that quality leadership in your HR department is the differentiator for success in the short-term and more importantly in the long-term.


“The take-away for your readers is not to skimp on HR, For a long time it was thought that human resources was the type of work that anyone could do and there is a recognition over the last decade that quality leadership in your HR department is the differentiator for success in the short-term and more importantly in the long-term.”- Danika Davis


Merit Resource Group



Danika Davis






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