The availability of talent goes through cycles, largely driven by, and slightly behind, the economic cycles. There are growing doubts about the world’s ability to sustain a business model predicated on continuous growth. But, we are likely to experience the cycles (downturns, each followed by larger upturns) for the foreseeable future... each cycle generating greater demand for new talent. So, Talent Acquisition is a hot item on the HR agenda. But, we cannot think of talent acquisition solely as a tactical issue. There are six strategic contributions that HR must make to an organization and every one of these contributions depends in some way on effective and efficient talent acquisition. Those contributions are:
Update the organization's strategy, not merely support it
Talent acquisition must be treated as a strategic issue, not merely a tactical one. Focusing solely on tactics can only create talent crisis after crisis talent. Each organisation must use the availability of talent (current staff plus the potential to attract and recruit new staff) as an input into its business strategy. There are many strategies that can be followed but only one or two are likely to be optimal for each organisation. Examples include:
- We will develop from within versus recruit trained and experienced candidates;
- We will deskill our business to enable us to employee low skilled talent;
- We will attract using upper quartile pay and benefits;
- We will position ourselves as the most ethical and environmentally sound employer in our market;
- We will attract overseas candidates, targeting countries we know have surplus talent of the type we need;
- We will outsource or offshore all work other than that which requires our differentiating core skills;
- We will recruit the best by working with schools and universities to excite, educate, and attract top talent to us;
- We will drive innovation in the business based to capitalise on the core skills that we already have.
Each organization has to balance “setting a business strategy and then determining how to resource it” with “identifying its core and differentiating talent capabilities and setting a business strategy to capitalise on those.”
Talent acquisition must be treated as a strategic issue, not merely a tactical one. Focusing solely on tactics can only create talent crisis after crisis talent
Ensure a sustainable talent pipeline
The real challenge for HR is to develop a comprehensive talent management strategy and set of processes, of which talent acquisition is one:
- Workforce Planning – identifying what knowledge and skills we need now and will need in the future, and determining how these needs will be met;
- Talent Acquisition – identifying potential sources of talent, attracting a suitable pool of candidates, and making robust selections. Note: this can include identifying potential “boomerang employees” i.e., those who thought that “the grass was greener on the other side of the fence,” left but might now appreciate what they had and could rejoin;
- On-boarding – rapidly engaging the recruits into the organization’s family, to achieve loyalty, commitment, and desired contributions;
- Development Management – continually focusing on the training and development that is needed for long-term success not merely short-term performance;
- Organization Development – frequently reviewing the organisation’s vision, mission, and strategy to identify where changes to the organisation’s structure would be appropriate;
- Career Management – ensuring support for each individual’s career aspirations, as appropriate;
- Succession Planning – planning to ensure that critical roles can always be filled;
- Retention Management – taking steps to ensure that critical and top talent is retained and suitably motivated;
- Deployment Management – using vacancies, new roles, and position changes to increase the capability of individuals and the organisation;
- Exiting – managing the exiting of individuals to ensure optimal resourcing whilst treating each individual with dignity and sustaining the organisation’s employer branding.
Increase individual, team, and organisational capability
Many organizations limit their potential by recruiting staff based solely on the job-specific skills needed for the positions to be filled. Paying too little attention to the candidates’ desire, willingness, or even ability to grow may mean that you never experience their true capability or even know what it is.
Virtually all roles in organisations now face continuous change. If individuals are to remain valuable to their employers, they need to develop, preferably ahead of the need, not merely in response to it. This demands highly effective development strategies. But, it also demands a Talent Acquisition process that finds and recruits those with the motivation, willingness, and adaptability to use their skills and to keep growing them.
Much has been written about the importance of “organisational fit.” This is key to tapping into each individual’s motivations. Outsourcing talent acquisition can reduce the ease of filtering candidates based on how well the organisation may meet their needs and aspirations and so unleash their potential.
Increase productivity with prevailing capability
Organisations have struggled with increasing productivity (units of valuable output delivered, per unit of total cost) ever since organised labour was introduced. In the developed world, despite massive advances in automation and communications, productivity has been plateaued for the last decade.
Increasingly, it is becoming clear that, “The differentiating factor in sustainably successful organisations is the quality of their leadership and management.” This is a combined talent acquisition and deployment management issue.
The real challenge for HR is to develop a comprehensive talent management strategy and set of processes, of which talent acquisition is one
When recruiting into an organisation, we must review continuously the pool of people we have to feed into the management cadre. Propagation of, “Promote those who are best at what they do into management positions, as a reward,” never did work, rarely would work, and collectively fails to work.
Talent acquisition has to source sufficient individuals with the potential, willingness and aspiration to become great managers and leaders. Deployment management must only appoint those to people-management positions who have the capability, willingness, and aspiration to excel at management and leadership. Compromises are now proven to be immensely costly.
Reduce the overall cost of Human Resources
Over the past few years, we have seen an explosion in the number of organisations seeking to be “Employers of choice”. Whilst well-intentioned, the practical applications of this concept have been widely flawed, especially in relation to talent acquisition. Many organisations have attracted large pools of candidates and paid the price! Talent acquisition is also, and more importantly, about:
- Candidate quality;
- Efficiency of acquisition;
- Quality selection – the calibre of the actual recruits.
One way to minimise HR costs is to attract just enough suitably talented candidates from which to make a selection. Attract too many, and we:
- Increase the cost of shortlisting;
- Risk creating a negative market image by rejecting too many and so have to spend more to attract the next pool;
- Delay recruitment and possibly lose great candidates;
- Increase costs due to poor on-job performance or recruits and reduced productivity of recruiting managers during the process.
There is even an argument that discouraging unsuitable candidates from applying is a positive strategy – it uses the concept of scarcity to attract the best and reduces the cost of short-listing.
We can also reduce HR costs through the selection process. We must make robust recruitment decisions with speed. These decisions must validly and reliably identify the candidates who truly meet the needs (short and longer-term). And, we must identify the candidates who are likely to accept an offer, should one be made. Failure to address both issues can lead to a serious waste of resources and loss of suitable candidates.
Ensure regulatory and statutory compliance
Selection is still one the most hazardous processes, opening organisations to negative publicity and, at worst, litigation. These risks are heightened during periods of surplus talent - those applying become more and more frustrated by rejections. It is also heightened by the ever-increasing awareness of the negative impacts of unconscious bias on diversity and inclusion.
Talent Acquisition processes must be examined for potential systemic bias and those applying them must be trained in how to identify and address any biases that they might introduce.
In simple terms, every time we trigger talent acquisition we should:
- Step back and define precisely what we need for the short, medium and long-term;
- Check whether re-organisation, work redesign, redeployment, and/or recruitment are needed – avoid unnecessary;
- Attract only potentially excellent candidates - the smallest suitable pool, large enough to allow for likely variations in their actual suitability;
- Apply the most efficient process for validly and reliably assessing candidates to enable a robust decision with speed.
The metaphor of a Talent Pipeline is used in most organisations. This is because, as can be seen above, we need a:
- Well (talent source)
- Primary pump (attract, select, recruit the right “raw materials” to ensure a sustainable and diverse pipeline)
- Refinery (train and develop)
- Secondary pump (reward, recognition, … to drive productivity)
- Storage (entry level and individual contributor roles, retention strategies … to sustain supply)
- Distribution systems (on-boarding, career management, deployment management … to respond to fluctuations and overall changes in demand)
- Maintenance (management, exiting … to keep the system working and fluid).
And, like oil pipelines, it doesn’t matter how good the processes are, the quality of the final product depends on the quality of the raw material fed into them – talent acquisition.
So, talent acquisition cannot be viewed as filling merely vacancies. In our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, we must continually assess our talent pool; review our short, medium and long-term needs; identify the gaps and apply talent acquisition processes that address them all.