Use a Cross-Functional Perspective to Implement a Just-in-Time Sourcing Strategy

Nov 7, 2008

Progressive companies are now implementing Just-in-Time (JIT) sourcing programs to ensure they have a ready pipeline of top talent once the economy recovers. This will provide early adopters a significant competitive advantage and an increased share of the best talent.

In fact, these are the same companies that everyone else will be benchmarking in 2010 and beyond. So if you’d rather be the presenter at ERE Expo instead of sitting in the audience hearing about what you should have done, here are some things to consider as you begin implementing a JIT sourcing program.

Back in the late 1970s and 1980s, supply chains became very sophisticated with concepts like material requirements planning, demand-pull procurement, Kanban, and just-in-time sourcing becoming commonplace. Recruiting is now starting to apply these same supply-chain ideas to improve the quality and timing of hiring efforts. This parallels the increased application of advanced consumer marketing and advertising concepts to recruitment advertising. It is the adoption of techniques from these two fields that makes JIT sourcing possible.

The basic concept behind JIT sourcing is the development of a dynamic candidate database of resumes and prospects. On top of this is a drip marketing program nurturing and engaging with this database on an ongoing basis.

When jobs become available, appropriate candidates in the database are notified and invited to evaluate them. As long as the database is filled with enough high-quality candidates and if primed properly, enough people should raise their hands for consideration. This means that jobs could be available for interviews within hours after a req is formally opened.

Even better, a recruiter could query the database ahead of time to determine whether there are enough candidates available to meet upcoming hiring needs. If not, sourcing programs can be accelerated to meet future supply needs.

Obviously, this state of bliss doesn’t come about without some important processes in place. Here are the big ones:

  1. Getting enough high-quality prospects into the database. This is where aggressive consumer marketing concepts need to be implemented. Much of this involves Web 2.0; targeting behavioral marketing; proactive employee referral programs; highly networked recruiters; pushed advertising to blogs, social networks and niche sites; and the development of candidate personas. (Check out our free resource library if you’d like to understand these concepts in more detail.) If you don’t have good people to start with, JIT sourcing will just enable you to hire average people very quickly.
  2. A CRM technology that automates the nurturing process. Most CRM (candidate or client relationship management) systems require heavy involvement by the recruiter to send out a series of compelling sourcing messages on a regular basis. Making matters more difficult is the need to send out targeted messages rather than all-purpose generic messages. So without the right nurturing technology the drip marketing program becomes difficult to manage. We’re now exploring automated CRM system that eliminate this burden. Email me ( if you’d like to participate in some beta evaluations of these systems and find out what types of compelling messages you need to use to maintain and attract your prospects’ attention.
  3. A short- and long-term forecast of hiring needs. The idea of workforce planning still seems to be anathema to most recruiting departments, yet this is what drives the CRM/db engine. Knowing who you’re going to be hiring 6-12 months out allows you to implement the recruitment advertising programs necessary to fill the database. While rough estimates allow the process to work at a fundamental level, knowing who, when, and where provides the raw material to keep the process running smoothly on an ongoing basis.
  4. Targeted and sophisticated messaging. If you want to fill your prospect database with top performers, don’t use traditional skills and experience-based job descriptions as the basis for your ads or drip marketing emails. Traditional job descriptions filled with generic boilerplate will preclude the best from even considering being a prospect. As important, the nurturing messages need to consider your target demographic. This requires some market research up-front to get the complete series of messages done right. For example, a job appealing to a college grad would not highlight the same things as a working parent, a committed up-and-comer, or a baby-boomer looking for a healthcare plan. For an example, here’s our outrageous ad contest winner for last year, which emphasizes the culture and type of work, rather than the skills required to do the work. (Make sure you enter this year’s contest for most effective ad to get some practice with this new form of advertising.)
  5. Strong metrics and reporting. Just like any business process, JIT sourcing requires constant monitoring and updating. Ongoing monitoring of factors like quantity and quality by class of candidate, the effectiveness of different sourcing programs, the productivity of each recruiter, and candidate response rates to different messages, among others, are the drivers for ensuring the program quickly delivers the best candidates when needed.
  6. Implement a “just looking” mentality and eliminate the idea of “buy now.” Forcing people to apply to even talk to someone requires too big a commitment for those on the margin or just starting their job-hunting process. This blockade-mentality precludes the best from even becoming a prospect. For example, most company career sites make it difficult to find a job, or chat with a recruiter to get more information. Worse, most hiring managers are equally unwilling to just talk with a prospect on an exploratory basis. They typically want the candidate highly committed and interested before the first interview. The problem here is that the best people are generally open to talk even if they’re not looking, and many are willing to become prospects if it doesn’t require too much of a commitment. To build a big hot prospect database of high performers, companies need to eliminate every possible barrier to entry.

Even if you don’t achieve a complete JIT demand-pull sourcing program right away, proactive recruitment advertising designed to fill your prospect database will provide a significant competitive advantage. Getting prospects into the database is a science in-and-of-itself, and a good place to start.

The best way to do this for high-volume jobs (developers, sales reps, customer service, engineers, etc.) is to develop a series of talent hubs by job class. These 2-3 page microsites offer prospects an introduction to the job class (e.g., power engineers) providing information about the company, the types of jobs available, typical projects, learning opportunities, and a means to connect with the company, all without applying for a specific job.

You can add Web 2.0 interactive features to this microsite, including chat, RSS feeds, video podcasts, and a means to be first to learn about upcoming opportunities. As part of the talent hub design, make sure it can be found first by those Googling for jobs or pushing the link to appropriate blogs, networks, and social sites.

This is where search engine marketing becomes critical. Jobs2Web and Shaker Recruitment Advertising are leading the effort on creating these prospect portals.

It’s difficult to imagine the idea of advanced consumer marketing combined with state-of-the-art supply chain management as being the foundation for the future of recruiting.

Despite the non-HR emphasis, the most progressive companies are already moving in this direction with great success. Who knows? We may be able to win the war for talent after all with some true cross-functional thinking.

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