The Key Operational Components of an Effective Talent Pipeline

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May 23, 2016
This article is part of a series called How-Tos.

Let’s face reality: most sourcing efforts are extremely rushed. As a result, there is a high probability that in key jobs, your sourcing effort will completely miss a significant number of high-quality external prospects. If you instead want to avoid missing a single top prospect, a superior approach is to stretch out the sourcing process so that you have a complete inventory of already assessed top talent to draw from whenever a key job comes open. This stretched outsourcing and assessment process is known as a talent inventory or talent pipeline. And this approach has an added benefit. Because of this extra time, you can better sell the prospects in your inventory on the advantages of working at your firm.

In the two past articles of this pipeline series (The Many Benefits From a Talent Pipeline – And How It Improves Quality of Hire and Your Talent Pipeline Needs a Roto-Router Because It’s Not Producing), I covered the many benefits of building a talent pipeline and a list of the types of individuals who should be included in your talent pipeline/inventory. This final article in this series covers the key elements that are necessary in order to make a corporation’s talent pipeline/inventory effective.

The 15 Key Features of an Effective External Talent Pipeline/Inventory

If your corporation desires to start up an external talent inventory or if you are just striving to rejuvenate an existing one, here is a list of the key process components and why each one is needed.

  1. Make the business case — the first step is to convince executives and hiring managers that the traditional just-in-time, or as I prefer to call it “panic sourcing/hiring” is hurting their business results. You can get them to financially support a talent inventory approach when you show them how sourcing is rushed and a limited time for assessing and selling candidates results in lower-quality candidates and lower-performing hires. In addition, you want to convert the cost of those lowered recruiting results into their dollars of revenue loss. To prove the difference, consider running a pilot where you develop a talent pipeline for a single key job and show how this approach produced significantly higher-quality candidates compared to the standard sourcing approach.
  2. Program goals are clear — the overall goal of an external corporate talent inventory is to identify a large number of qualified and interested talent that can be quickly accessed by recruiters and sourcers when a sudden key job opening occurs. You can also consider this inventory as a “talent map” because it is designed to identify and eventually build relationships with all of the desirable talent in an industry or geographic area. Specific program goals should include higher-quality applicants who are sold on the firm, higher performing hires, critical positions must be filled faster, and there are fewer key jobs that go completely unfilled.
  3. A focus on external prospects — although there are internal talent inventories (i.e. succession and progression plans) this external talent inventory is focused exclusively on external recruiting prospects. Because the focus is also on filling future jobs, the inventory should focus on individuals who are highly talented but who are not necessarily currently seeking a job. Another option is to include and track rapidly developing “under the radar” individuals who will relatively soon become hirable.
  4. Prioritize key jobs — your talent inventory should be specifically limited to critical or key jobs that are difficult to fill using the traditional just-in-time sourcing approach. Those listed in the inventory should be able to fill mission-critical positions as well as jobs that require leadership and innovation.
  5. A long-term recruiting effort — the focus of a talent pipeline/inventory is long-term, so those listed in the inventory might stay in it for several years. This is because top talent takes longer to attract, they might not be in the job market for a while, or because your firm might not have an opening that fits their expectations for several quarters. The focus should be exclusively on top talent, meaning those who are so talented that someday we would definitely want them to work for us.
  6. Identification of inventory talent list-ees starts pre-need — the first key feature is that you begin identifying talent inventory “list-ees” long before you have a current opening (i.e. pre-need). Identifying potential names for the inventory should be a continuous process that involves both recruiters and employees (as an offshoot of the employee referral program). The goal is to identify or map all of the desirable talent that might someday be a great hire, even if they haven’t yet expressed any interest in working at your firm.
  7. Assessing their skills and fit — once a desirable individual is listed in your inventory, they need to be further assessed to ensure that they fit your firm and that their skills are clearly superior. This can be done at arm’s length by recruiters and employees assessing their social media profiles and by finding examples of their work online. As time permits, recruiters can make direct assessment calls to the very best on the list in their assigned job family. Those that turn out to have only average skills or fit can be dropped from the inventory.
  8. A relationship is built over time — because those who remain in your talent inventory might not have expressed any interest in your firm, you must build up their interest. The best way to do that is to build a relationship with them over time. This relationship building might involve commenting on their online work or blogs. You can also purposely meet them at industry events and conferences or even use direct recruiter calls. The goal is to first build their trust and eventually their interest in your firm. Once you have built a relationship you can then get their permission to occasionally send them employer branding information about what makes your firm a desirable place to work.
  9. Continuous two-way communications is essential — once they have accepted a relationship, you should periodically send them information about your firm in the form of a “friend of the firm” newsletter. You can also invite them to company events. As a relationship gets stronger, you should encourage them to ask questions, to benchmark your firm’s best practices or to talk to your employees. Talent inventories are simply less effective when there are only one-way communications.
  10. Assessing their interest — after a highly talented individual has been sent a sufficient amount of information about the firm, their interest in “someday working at your firm” should be assessed. Those with the highest skills and interest levels should be labeled as “hot prospects” who should be contacted first when a relevant job opening occurs.
  11. Learn their expectations — in order to effectively land them when a position opens up, know the expectations of those labeled as “hot prospects.” So over time, you should attempt to identify the job attraction factors of each of these individuals. Recruiters can then use that information to determine which specific jobs that they would be willing to consider.
  12. Job openings are proactively pushed — obviously when a position is about to open up that is a perfect match for an inventory list-ee, that job should be automatically “pushed” to them, along with a personalized invitation to apply. In some cases, you should even promise them an interview.
  13. Consider maintaining open slots — traditional hiring relies on the rare chance where an employed list-ee is actively looking at the same time you have an open job that meets their expectations. To avoid this “coincidence hiring,” under the inventory approach, maintain “open slots” or “corporate resource slots.” These are a handful of “always open” preapproved hiring requisitions that allow you to hire truly exceptional individuals at the precise time that they become available.
  14. Inventory members agree to let you know when they’re available — your firm should know when an inventory “hot prospect” who is currently employed decides to enter the job market. If you built a strong relationship, in many cases you can get them to agree to directly contact a company recruiter whenever they are about to enter the job market. The recruiter can then contact hiring managers to see if they want to act immediately to interview them into an open job, or if they are exceptional, consider hiring them into an open corporate resource slot.
  15. Performance metrics — the most effective talent pipeline programs operate in a business-like manner. That means that results metrics are developed to determine if the talent inventory/pipeline is meeting each of his goals. Including providing faster and higher quality hires and superior offer acceptance rates than the normal just-in-time hiring process does. Once again it makes sense to quantify in dollars the revenue increase of their results from meeting those goals.

Final Thoughts

Business leaders are already familiar with the many advantages of a pipeline approach because the approach is already used in sales for slowly developing potential customers and in product development to ensure that product development is not rushed. So in order to get financial support for a talent inventory/pipeline effort, you merely need to show the economic value added by stretching out the sourcing and the assessment process for not-actively-looking prospects. And paradoxically because those in the inventory have already been pre-assessed and presold, show how they can be brought on board almost immediately. That means that critical positions are not vacant for very long and you can hire top talent within 10 days (which is how long top talent remains in the job market). There are few programs in recruiting that are more strategic or that have a higher ROI.

This article is part of a series called How-Tos.
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