My article last week on the illusion of workforce planning mentioned the need to anticipate the future. This week I will discuss scenario planning as one technique to ensure that you have a pipeline of talent to meet whatever needs might arise. For years, organizations have invested heavily in formal succession planning ó analyzing and predicting their future needs and the internal supply of talent they could rely on. They built strategies based on a rational, in-depth analysis of expected growth, economic trends, internal talent, the number of employees who would be ready after more years of experience, and so forth. But increasingly, companies are realizing that this does not work. It is impossible to predict your future talent needs with any accuracy. After all, who predicted the need for HTML programmers in 1995? Who predicted the growth of security personnel prior to 9/11? To try and earmark a specific person for a specific position should it become vacant is more often than not a futile activity. People leave, or they do not really have the motivation or skill to do the job, or the job itself changes so much that there is no longer a good fit. Even the competencies organizations deem critical to future success change rapidly and are hard to predict. This does not mean that you should not do succession planning. What it does highlight is the short-term nature of any succession plan ó perhaps only valid for a few months. Succession planning should be undertaken as a fairly short-term process for evaluating current needs rather than the longer term annual process used by most organizations today. For the times when companies are looking out more than a few months, scenario planning offers a more useful alternative. The emerging process for crafting talent strategies involves developing a number of alternate scenarios that provide a response to a wide variety of possible occurrences. This is often called scenario planning and involves projecting possible situations and then deciding what the organization would do, or how it would react, if that situation actually occurred. This is proving to be a far better approach than the analytical and rigid approaches of the past 20 years. At the same time, many organizations are developing business processes and setting up facilities that are multi-use or that can be quickly reconfigured to meet any situation. In other words, they are building flexibility into everything they can so that the uncertainty of tomorrow does not have as large an impact on their revenues or profits as it might. We in recruiting need to adopt some similar thinking. Rather than waiting for openings to occur or for people to apply for those openings, we need to build a process to anticipate our talent needs and the capability to respond very quickly to changing business demands. Here are five things you can do to begin developing these capabilities: 1. Focus on developing a variety of alternate scenarios. Put together a small team of hiring managers, recruiters, HR professionals, and any others whom you feel have something to contribute. With this group, develop scenarios about possible future business directions and needs your organization may have. Discuss the kinds and numbers of people your organization may need if any of these scenarios actually happen. By doing this, you will begin to see where you need to build your talent pipelines. There are many resources to help you understand the power of scenario planning and to instruct you how to actually do it. One of the best is a book by Peter Schwarz, who was an early advocate of scenario planning at Shell, entitled The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World. Another book, recently published, is Scenario Planning: The Link Between Future and Strategy, by Mats Lindgren and Hans Bandhold. 2. Based on these future possibilities and your employee skills gaps, widen the types and backgrounds of the people you have in your talent pool. Actively recruit a wide variety of people and let them know that you are building a talent pool of people you may tap into later. Most of us would be flattered to be solicited to be part of a talent pool even though we are not actually being recruited at the time. By reaching out to all potential hires, you increase the chances of having the person you need on tap when needed. Success in this area can be seen and measured. When the time to present a suitable candidate to a hiring manager approaches zero, you have achieved success. No search was necessary because you had already anticipated the possible need and had someone waiting in the wings. 3. Develop multiple talent pipelines. Every organization with any sizable recruiting volume (real or projected) needs to have more than one or two sourcing capabilities. You should have a robust website that generates at least 30% of all your candidates; you should have 30% or more coming to you from employee referrals; and you should have another 25% coming from internal promotion. The remaining 15% can come from your talent pool and from the pre-need searches you conducted based on your scenarios. A very small percent of your total hires should have come from recently conducted searches, your resume database, recent newspaper ads, or search firms. High percentages of candidates coming from these sources indicates a highly reactionary recruiting function. 4. Spend time building talent pools rather than searching for specific candidates. The real success to getting candidates is to allow a broad spectrum of people into your talent pools. Anyone employees recommend, anyone indicating interest in your firm, or even people you meet socially should be courted as potential hires long before you need them ó even if you don’t think they are a current fit. Just as CEOs cannot anticipate what future strategies will be successful, nor can you predict what kinds of people your firm will need in the future. Having a very broad pool makes it much easier to find that “impossible” candidate when the time comes. 5. Make building relationships the cornerstone of your recruiting function and spend the time needed to make and maintain the relationships. Technology can enhance this process. It gives you the ability to deal with many more people than you could if your only tools were the telephone and face-to-face contact. Leading-edge firms are using email, newsletters, online chats, and instant messaging to make this process more productive. You should have one or two people whose primary purpose is to stay in touch with candidates, invite hiring manages into online conversations with candidates, and keep your talent pools full of excited and interested prospects for your business ó no matter which way it goes or when. Traditional succession planning is less and less useful as loyalty goes down, turnover rises, talent becomes scarcer and choosier, and as full-time employment becomes only one of many ways to earn a living. The new approach is flexible, broad, and builds anticipatory scenarios.
Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at email@example.com.