Does Your Company’s Passive Talent Acquisition Strategy Need a Chiropractor?

Dec 2, 2011

Of late I’ve been making the contention that the strategies and tactics used to recruit active candidates is fundamentally different than the ones used for passive candidates. Until this foundational difference is resolved, companies will never be able to hire enough top talent to meet their needs, unless they have a big employer brand to hide their process inefficiencies.

Employer brands, however, have limited shelf lives in maturing markets. As an example, just compare Google today and its continuing series of product blunders to the Microsoft of 10-15 years ago. When a company’s business strategy changes due to changing market conditions, its talent acquisition strategies must immediately follow suit.

Quickly, here’s what I believe are at the root cause of most companies’ hiring challenges:

  1. The company’s talent acquisition and development strategy is out of alignment with its business strategy and operating plans.
  2. Lack of understanding of how the actual customer, in this case the passive candidate, decides to engage with a company and eventually accept an offer. Since there is a disproportionate percentage of top people in the passive pool, this is a critical shortcoming.
  3. The workflow and recruiting methods to find and hire passive candidates is fundamentally different than for active candidates. Unfortunately, most companies try to mishmash the two together, and wonder why neither one works too well.
  4. Overreliance on a big employer brand that hides process inefficiencies and narrows the selection criteria based on past hires rather than current and future business conditions.
  5. The decision-making process to hire or not hire someone is flawed, and does not fully address the fundamental reasons why top people underperform. Typically these involve style problems with the hiring manager, lack of clarification around total job needs including available resources, and a superficial assessment of cultural and environmental fit.

Aligning Talent Acquisition Strategies, Plans, and Processes

Addressing the lack-of-alignment problem starts by examining each factor involved in the process. Start with these core components to see how well-aligned your company is. As you read through the descriptions, you’ll quickly see how lack of alignment on any of these factors creates inefficiency, lost opportunity, and problems with attracting, hiring, and retaining the best. One example will highlight problems causes by lack of alignment: a passive-candidate program to target world-class design innovators will fall short if the compensation is based on group averages instead of best in class. I’m sure you’ll see similar problems at your company as you read the list.

Business Strategy. The long-term business plan combined with current operating plans needs to drive every aspect of a company’s talent acquisition program. When the business strategy changes, everything else has to change in domino-like fashion, including the talent acquisition strategy. Since talent acquisition is so critical, if it doesn’t flex quickly with changes in a company’s business strategy, it becomes the tail wagging the dog.

Talent Acquisition Strategy. This needs to support the business strategy with emphasis on ensuring that the best people are put into critical roles. A quality-of-hire target for each job category should further refine this, with specific targets for all managerial, professional, staff, and rank-in-file positions. If you’re a recruiter and don’t know this for your assignments, either you’re not working the hot jobs, or your recruiting department is out of sync with the business it’s supporting.

Workforce Planning. A workforce plan allows a company to develop internal mobility and succession planning programs, and from this, determine external needs by class of jobs. Different sourcing programs are then developed depending on candidate demand vs. local supply, and whether candidates are active or passive. A workforce plan is the first step involved in turning a talent acquisition strategy into a operating plan, so if you don’t have one, you’re missing an important connecting link.

Sourcing Strategy by Job Category. A passive candidate sourcing program is far different than one designed for active candidates. Active is generally higher volume and based on a “find-and-apply” model. A passive candidate program is more targeted, including focused messages, and a multi-step “career discovery and matching process” before the candidate agrees to be a candidate.

Active and Passive Candidate Recruiting Workflow. This is a huge tipping point, and even if the planning and strategy development is appropriate, it often falls apart at the execution level. The key is to have at least two different workflow branches. The passive candidate branch would focus more on the prospect’s needs, involve a formal means to “bridge the gap” at first contact to ensure candidates never opt-out without full information, include pre-interview exploratory conversations with the hiring manager, and a career-based closing and negotiating process.

Of course, there are still a bunch of other HR/recruiting issues that need to be included as part of this talent acquisition program, but these are the big ones (here’s a link to the full list). Doing the up-front talent strategy and planning and then executing against this plan is why doing this right is important. Surprisingly, many companies react to changes in hiring needs rather than plan for them. This is equivalent to putting the cart before the horse, doing the doing before the thinking, or firing before aiming.

While most companies complain they can’t find enough top talent, the root cause is more likely a lack of alignment with the company’s business strategy and talent acquisition programs. If you don’t have enough recruiters, if hiring managers aren’t held accountable, if compensation determines who gets hired, if your ATS establishes your workflow, or if some corporate lawyer says you have to write a boring ad, you are experiencing the problem first hand. Collectively all of these practices and processes are built upon a surplus-of-candidates mentality. The idea behind this approach is to attract as many unqualified people as you can, and hope that a good person falls through the cracks.

Alternatively, you could build your talent programs on a scarcity-of-talent model. In this approach, the needs of the best people determine the workflow, not a DBA. To get a sense of a talent-centric approach, consider how some of your recent best hires made it through the maze. As you review what happened, don’t be surprised that someone “modified” your company’s basic processes to meet the person’s needs. Commonsense would then suggest that you make the talent-centric approach the default rather than the exception. This is a great way to start aligning your talent acquisition programs to meet your company’s business strategy.

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