Recruiting Strategy Is Hard When You Can’t Do the Basics

Talent acquisition professionals often face barriers to becoming true talent partners. Here's how to bust through them.

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Jun 7, 2023

Talk to any talent acquisition leader and they will tell you that their goal is to get their team to a place where they are a strategic partner with the business. They want to assist with workforce planning, advise leadership as to what skills are missing from their team, and help shape the employer brand to both attract and retain talent.

Despite this focus on strategy, if you check in with talent acquisition on any given day, you find a team mired in administrative tasks — manually scheduling candidates, tracking status on personal spreadsheets, pulling job descriptions together on a case by case basis, and chasing down emails with no end in sight.

And forget talent analytics recruiting teams consistently say that they can’t even see how many open headcount the organization has at any given time. And many struggle just to report on how many jobs are posted. Without this basic data, any decisions or analyses are basically just guesses, and not very educated ones, at that.

This reality comes up again and again when talking to recruiting teams who want to elevate their work beyond order-takers and crisis managers, particularly in a world where recruiters are focused on showing their value across all of talent management.

This can lead to a perception from the business that recruiting doesn’t have the skills necessary to be a true strategic partner, which perpetuates the cycle of treating recruiters like order-takers. Recruiters remain at risk for quick cost-cutting because the business assumes it’s easy to restaff the team quickly, failing to recognize both the expertise and the institutional knowledge internal recruiters bring to the table.

This disconnect between ideal state and reality can be frustrating for everyone involved. To help mitigate some of the challenges, there are some concrete steps leadership can take to try and close the gap.

Audit your systems. All too often, teams assume that their system can’t do what they need it to do, when in reality it can; it just hasn’t been configured correctly. Improper configuration can stem from a “lift and shift” mentality, where suboptimal processes are built into the new system. The organization may have fallen behind in accepting system upgrades. Or maybe business needs have changed and the system truly doesn’t do what you need it to do. Regardless, you can’t make good decisions moving forward without knowing your current technology gaps.

Set realistic expectations. We’ve all been to conferences where we learned how other organizations are leveraging dashboards and data proactively to advise their business leaders. And yes, ideally everyone would love that ability, but don’t make promises you can’t keep. If it takes hours and hours to prepare a dashboard that may or may not have accurate data, be honest about it and share what you can.

Use frustration to drive change. As soon as you tell a leader that your system can’t pull the data you need (or that they want to see), you’ve identified a pretty compelling use case for change. I once manually created a report that showed all the information that business leaders wanted to see, used it to show how that information could be leveraged to make process and talent decisions…and then shared how much time it took and how out of date the data was because of our outdated systems. This bait and switch approach was the catalyst to finally find a new ATS/onboarding solution, and ultimately a new HCM.

Evaluate your team’s skill set. Some recruiters are better at strategy than others. Take the time to determine what your team does well and where the gaps are. Leverage people’s natural talents and preferences to maximize the efficiencies of your recruiting approach. Some people thrive in the day-to-day administration — let them take on the work to optimize those processes. For those who skew more strategic, find ways to have them help build the roadmap to future state.

The bottom line is that strategy execution relies on data and capability. Data integrity relies on strong processes and properly configured systems, and capability relies on a team that partners effectively with the business. Recognizing what this means in your organization will help you lay the foundation for a successful move into building a truly strategic recruiting function.

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