Hiring is one of the most important tasks done by leaders in your organization. When they get it right, their job (and yours) is made easier. When they get it wrong, everyone’s job becomes harder—possibly putting careers at risk. The desire to get hiring right is why many executives and managers are slow to hire and quick to fire.
Problem is, everyone is beyond busy. Every day is full. An open seat means extra work to be delegated or done by the manager. Add the steps of the hiring process, and an already busy day turns overwhelming.
How can you help leaders balance the need to make good hires while managing their day efficiently?
It’s all about talent flow.
Enrich and Harness Top Talent
The importance of talent flow came up recently at global CEO summit I attended. After my keynote address I stood on a balcony talking with a few CEOs from the audience. We looked out over a stunning landscape. Mountains stretched into the distance, dotted by lakes and streams, the rolling landscape accented with the beautiful orange and red hues of fall foliage.
On one side, a particularly beautiful lake drew our attention. One of the CEOs, who lived in the area, told us it was his favorite fishing spot. He explained the lake was fed by a spring. The spring burbles up from an aquifer, pumping in millions of gallons of oxygen-enriched fresh water. Water that sustains the fish and nurtures plant life. On the other side of this crystal clear lake was a stream. The stream served double duty — it allowed fish to swim downstream to seek food in nearby lakes, and carried away dead plant matter and other natural waste.
“That’s why it’s perfect for fishing,” the CEO said. “The flow in and out creates balance. There’s just enough fish, plants, and nutrients to keep it pristine.”
As we were talking, I happened to glance in the other direction and see another lake — one that was quite unattractive. There was no spring feeding this lake, nor was there a stream carrying away debris. It was stagnant, covered by a large algae bloom and choked with dead plants. I pointed it out and asked the CEO about it.
“It smells just as bad as it looks,” he said. “No one fishes there. Even if they did, I doubt they’d catch anything good.”
I nodded my head, making a connection. I was about to speak, but he anticipated my thoughts with uncanny accuracy.
“These lakes are a good metaphor for hiring,” he said. “The effective hiring you described in your keynote is like the lake where I fish. Flow creates abundance. In the spring-fed lake, the flow of water creates abundant life. In an organization, a flow of talent gives the organization an abundance of human resources which allows it to achieve strategic goals. Talent may flow out, but a continuous supply of new talent brings new perspectives and people who can do great work.”
He was spot on. If there’s a secret weapon behind successful CEOs, top leaders, and their talent acquisition teams, it’s making talent flow a strategic imperative. From the top down, these leaders know that it’s incumbent upon them, not just the talent acquisition team, to maintain a strong flow of talented people. Savvy leaders understand having a strong talent flow is a strategic necessity. Without that flow, departments — or even the entire organization — could end up like that stagnant lake.
How can you work with the leaders in your organization to incorporate improved talent flow as a strategic imperative? Here are three suggestions (and I’m talking more at the San Diego ERE conference, in April) I shared with the CEOs at the summit.
Enrich the Flow
Like the spring feeding the lake, make sure your organization has a constant inbound pipeline of prospective employees. Take steps to keep it strong. Partner with hiring managers, working together to generate a consistent stream of talented, valuable candidates. Weed out the weak sooner so they don’t waste your time later.
Only 10 percent of organizations across the globe maintain a strong flow of quality candidates and tap into overlooked pools of talent. That’s where you start—don’t be one of the 90 percent.
Your organization’s growth strategy must include a robust talent flow strategy. That flow must be fed by everyone from the top down. Contributing to the talent flow must a job requirement at all levels of the organization. Collaborate with senior leaders, asking for their help to task department heads to continuously assess and enrich the stream of prospective employees. Request that this help to enrich the talent stream happens before jobs become open, not after.
Provide hiring managers resources and expertise to tap into a wider pool of candidates. Show them how to enrich the flow by actively networking, referring new candidates, and pointing them toward the pristine, spring-fed lakes best for fishing.
Harness the Flow
The healthy lake is the candidate pool; the interview is the rod, reel, and tackle. Effective interviews are how hiring managers will harness the flow of top talent. They’re how they’ll catch and land top team members. Unfortunately, most interviews fail at identifying the best people.
Effective interviews aren’t conceptual. Companies operate in the real world of balance sheets, deadlines, and deliverables. Interviewing should be a reality check — a pragmatic and efficient process that allows the hiring manager and the candidate to make an informed decision based on facts directly related to the job, not on theory, abstractions, or cute questions that may or may not be relevant to the task at hand … which is, of course, finding the right person for the organization.
The prettiest lure in the world is worthless if it doesn’t land the right fish.
Help hiring managers get the facts they need by taking a rational approach to interviews. Encourage them to be like a scientist: gathering and evaluating evidence; making a decision based on that evidence — not on what they project or how a candidate spins a particular aspect of their resume or work experience. Show these leaders how to look for proof the candidate can do quality work. Suggest that hiring managers ask for real examples from previous work projects or, if examples aren’t available, have candidates generate a sample — right then and there — related to the job for which they’re interviewing.
Sustain the Flow
As your organization takes steps to enrich and harness the flow of talent, there’s a risk you’ll change too much at one time.
Patience is a virtue many of us lack. In today’s fast-paced society, impatience is the norm. We want things done now, not weeks from now. To drive change, we set tight deadlines and push everyone, including ourselves, towards the goal.
Fast change rarely sticks. It takes time to adjust routines and change habits. A rapid series of changes can overwhelm us. We reach a tipping point and give up, reverting to our previous routines.
Incorporating an improved talent flow into your organization’s strategic plans is a must, but you have to make the timeline realistic and achievable.
As a talent acquisition professional, creating a vibrant organization begins and ends with your partnership with the leadership team. When your organization is already like that beautiful, thriving, healthy lake, you have an advantage. If your organization is part of the forward thinking 10 percent that maintains a constant stream of incoming talent, keep it that way. Don’t build dams; make sure the spring keeps flowing.
If your organization is more like that stagnant lake, don’t fret. A lake can be restored to its former beauty — so can your organization and all the departments in it. Work with the leadership team to make it a strategic imperative to tap that deep aquifer. Help them enrich, harness, and sustain the flow of top talent. When you make this proactive choice, you’ll help keep your pool of potentials stocked with skilled, resourceful people who do great work, helping your organization reach its strategic goals, and keeping the business strong and thriving.