What Is Your Hiring Strategy, and Is it the Right One?

Nov 19, 2009

At an early age I had the unique opportunity to work at the corporate offices of two different Fortune 500 companies. One was number 37 on the list, and the other one 497. While there, I learned a few timeless strategy lessons. They might be useful as you develop the hiring strategy for your company or organization.

Some business concepts worth considering when developing a hiring strategy:

  1. When business conditions change, your strategy has to change along with it.
  2. Tactics don’t drive strategy; strategy drives tactics.
  3. Strategy drives the planning process. The plan drives the tactics.
  4. Plan. Don’t react.
  5. If you have the time, worry about the forest more than the trees.
  6. You can’t push on a rope.

With this as a backdrop, it seems that most HR/recruiting departments don’t have a fundamental hiring strategy in place that ties directly to their company’s business strategy. If they did, it would seem, as a minimum, that requisitions would be categorized by the impact the job has on the company’s strategy. Some jobs would be more critical than others. Workforce plans would be developed to build pools of potential candidates for these critical jobs long before they’re needed, and hiring managers would be intimately involved and trained on how to find, assess, recruit, and hire the best prospects.

A description for this type of hiring strategy resembles something like this:

Maximize Quality of Hire Strategy: hire A-level talent for all strategic and critical management positions and the top-third for all other positions, without compromise. As part of this, offer careers, not jobs, at every level in the company.

While this is worthy, it seems that most hiring managers react rather than plan, and most don’t have a clue about how to assess and attract the best. HR/recruiting exacerbates the problem by focusing more on cost than quality, giving recruiters so much to do that they become mere paper pushers, and/or jumping from one sourcing idea to another in the vain search for the silver bullet.

Few companies are immune. While defining this type of hodgepodge hiring strategy is not easy, the one being used at your company probably resembles a combination of one or more of the following:

  1. The transactional, minimize cost per hire strategy: find anyone who is actively looking who meets the job description at the lowest cost in the shortest period of time using the cheapest approaches possible.
  2. The silver bullet strategy: try out every new sourcing idea with the hope that it works better than the last, and now tarnished, silver bullet.
  3. The eliminate-the-worst strategy: put as many barriers as possible to eliminate the worst with the expectation that good people will be attracted and persevere because we have a great employer brand and an easy-to-find career site.
  4. The proprietary talent pool sourcing strategy: build a talent pool of diverse talent and hope that a few people raise their hands when they’re emailed a boring job. (Note this is actually a pretty good sourcing strategy if coupled with better messaging and a career-focused assessment and recruiting process.)
  5. The vendor-driven (aka the comp- or OD- or legal- or IT- or OFCCP-driven) strategy: let’s forsake all our responsibility for hiring and let our vendors tell us what to do, or let some bureaucrat, technocrat, or lawyer tie our hands.
  6. The post and pray: post boring jobs on as many boards as possible with the hope that a good person inadvertently sees it.
  7. The incomplete strategy: let’s do something really well, but then mess it up by not completing the process. Example: finding top-notch prospects who opt-out of the process early due to one of the following: application process is burdensome, recruiters don’t know the job, managers who are weak interviewers, offers that are uncompetitive, etc.
  8. The “I’ll know it when I see it strategy” — aka the hiring manager-driven strategy: let hiring managers do whatever they want to do with heavy reliance on the job descriptions and the manager’s good sense of what success looks like. As part of this, recruiters are just told to send over as many candidates as possible who meet the specs.
  9. The knock-out question or survivor strategy: this is a version of the “eliminate the worst” strategy, but starts by asking people a bunch of silly questions that only leave the desperate as survivors.
  10. The hide-and-seek arrogance strategy: make it extremely difficult to find job postings, make it more difficult to apply, and require all candidates to bow down to the hiring manager if they’re fortunate enough to be granted an interview.

Of course, no one every starts out with this type of hiring strategy in mind, but somehow, piece-by-piece, this is what it evolves into. Part of the problem is letting the idea of the moment drive activity. As a result, we can often unknowingly affect the final outcome for the worse. This is called sub-optimization. For example, in today’s paper I just read that Orange County (California) is planning on widening its main freeway system into Los Angeles. Unfortunately, LA County is not planning on expanding the junction, with the result just moving the traffic bottleneck north by 10 miles.

Something like this happens every time a new sourcing process is implemented without considering the end-to-end impact. Problems like these can be minimized when there’s an overarching maximize-quality-of-hire strategy in place that everyone adopts. Then every subsequent action or decision can evaluated on how it impacts this strategy.

If you want to implement a maximize quality of hire strategy, you should first go through each step in your current sourcing, interviewing, and recruiting process and see if it’s counterproductive in some way or preventing the best people from consideration. With this as a framework, develop a two-pronged action plan. The first part involves stopping doing the things that prevent you from hiring the best. The second part involves implementing new processes based on how the best people look for new careers, how they compare different opportunities, and the criteria they use to accept an offer.

While I’ve been contending that HR/recruiting must take full responsibility for quality of hire, developing the strategy, plans, and processes is at the core of this. Of course, getting managers on board is the most difficult challenge here, requiring executive-level vision and support to be successful. A strong metrics and feedback program tracking everything pre- and post-hire is the essential piece that ties it all together. Developing, implementing, maintaining, and monitoring this maximize quality of hire strategy is what I mean by ownership. In my mind, maximizing quality of hire is the most second most important function of HR/recruiting. The first is developing and maximizing the talent already on board. Everything else pales in comparison.

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