Your Future: Embracing the Strategic Inflection Point

Jun 10, 2004

Andrew Grove (author of Only the Paranoid Survive) defines a strategic inflection point as a changing of the rules of the game resulting in a massive shift in the way business is conducted. As an example, consider the impact the PC and the Internet had on changing the way business is done in many different companies and industries. HR/recruiting is now going through its own strategic inflection point. Those who recognize the signs and respond accordingly will be able to make hiring top talent a business process within a few years. Those who ignore or minimize the evidence will continue to have difficulty finding enough top people, will have hiring managers who barely cooperate with their recruiting team, will still have frustrated recruiters who work too hard, and will continue to make unnecessary and costly hiring mistakes. We’ve seen some remarkable changes in the past ten years in the areas of recruiting and hiring processes. The Internet and the growth of job boards jump-started the process. The surge in candidates led to the need for an applicant tracking system. These early solutions were less effective than promised, but in their wake came the next iteration ó with a focus on metrics, employer branding, and the insourcing of the recruiting department. This established the idea that corporate recruiters could replace third-party recruiters. Collectively, these changes set in motion events leading to a strategic inflection point. But despite all of these changes, candidate quality did not change. Hiring managers continue their demand to see stronger and less active candidates, not just those who respond to online ads. Some corporate recruiting departments continue to seek the quick cure. The current buzz is using networks of friends and talent pools as the long-sought solution to the top candidate shortage. To me, these are just detours along the road to making hiring top talent a true business process. Despite some false starts, I believe that with the new generation of applicant tracking systems, more practical hiring manager and recruiter training, semi-sourcing techniques, and a stronger, more centralized HR/recruiting department, hiring top people can become a systematic business process. With the opportunity created by this strategic inflection point, HR/recruiting must overcome the following hurdles:

  • Companies must start designing their hiring processes to find and hire top employees, not top candidates. This is an issue of perspective.
  • Companies must stop making long-term strategic decisions using short-term tactical data. This is an issue of business judgment.
  • HR/recruiting needs to act like a line function, responsible for delivering results, not a timid staff department, asking for permission. This is an issue of leadership.

Here are seven actions that HR/recruiting can take now to take advantage of the opportunity for making hiring top talent a systematic business process.

  1. Formalize the workforce planning process. Hiring requirements must be forward looking, using a quarterly 12-month rolling forecast. Positions should be mapped to the business strategy and categorized by importance. The recruiting department must then be organized around fulfilling these needs. The workforce plan can establish legitimacy for the HR/recruiting department and is a great way to reduce costs, improve time to fill, and increase candidate quality. The process of quarterly updates to the workforce plan is the real key to success here. This way, HR/recruiting can hear about changing hiring needs early enough to plan accordingly.
  2. Design hiring processes around the needs of great employees, not great candidates. Great employees are highly motivated and competent. They are also more discriminating, will not respond to boring ads, and sometimes are not great interviewees. Only about one-third of great candidates are also great employees, and vice versa. To address this difference, every aspect of the hiring process needs to be redesigned from a top employee perspective.
  3. Recruiters need to become partners and coaches, not subordinates. Improving each recruiter’s relationship with his or her hiring manager clients can have profound repercussions. When recruiters become partners, coaches, and advisors, they know the job better and candidate quality naturally increases. Since fewer candidates need to be seen, both costs and time to fill go down. This requires an understanding of real job needs, and finding enough top people to keep the hiring process moving forward.
  4. Use performance profiles instead of traditional job descriptions. Traditional job descriptions should not be used for hiring. Instead, job descriptions must be about performance objectives. All interviewers need to accept the performance profile as the measurement standard and ask in-depth questions benchmarking the candidate’s accomplishments against this standard. Using comparable rather than identical accomplishments will broaden the applicant pool to include more diverse, internal, and top candidates.
  5. Start overhauling the sourcing process first. Too much time is spent targeting active candidates. Writing more visible and compelling ads will entice less active, more discriminating candidates to consider your opportunities. Establishing a proactive employee referral program targeting top employees will increase the flow of stronger, semi-passive candidates. Simplifying the application process will minimize opt-outs. Strengthened back-end processing will ensure that the best get called within 24 hours. This is how common sourcing techniques can be optimized to reduce time to hire, reduce costs, and increase quality. We call this process semi-sourcing.
  6. Consider ease of use and user adoption rates over other features when selecting an ATS. Most applicant tracking systems are over-designed. User-friendliness and high adoption rates will increase the accuracy of the information and allow companies to scale up their recruiting resources to meet more challenging hiring needs. The selection of an ATS first requires a redesign of the hiring process, eliminating bad practices and streamlining activities. Automating flawed processes, no matter how well it’s done, is not a good thing.
  7. HR/recruiting must view itself as a line function, not as overhead. Take charge. Stop making excuses. HR/recruiting has been in a support role too long. The HR/recruiting function struggles with exerting itself, implementing complex projects, and taking responsibility. The leadership team of HR/recruiting must take a more dominant role in effecting change. Demand the resources to do it right. Prove that quality of candidate dwarfs the ROI of any other business initiative with hard facts, and then deliver.

Every manager and executive will tell you that hiring top people is #1. Yet from what I’ve seen, this is more talk than walk. If hiring top people were really #1, it would be embedded in the culture. Managers would be judged on how well they do. Visual signs would sing its praise. Every employee would be able to tick off three or four reasons to prove it. Managers would be selected and trained to interview. Hiring quality would be discussed at every staff and board meeting. HR/Recruiting would even report to the CEO. If hiring were #1, resources would be provided to make it a business process. On these measures, the “Hiring is #1” mantra barely makes the top 10 list of important business initiatives. This is where HR/recruiting must place a stake in the ground and lead the effort to make hiring top people a business process. Only then can hiring be #1. Leadership is the key. Pulling it off requires vision, a detailed plan of action, buy-in from the executive team, and great execution. None of these steps is easy, but neither was initiating TQM, establishing the first budget, opening up the new plant, launching Six Sigma, implementing the ERP, or starting continuous process reengineering. In most companies HR/recruiting is not called upon to lead these efforts. The tools, technology, resources and systems are now available to make hiring top people a business process. The missing pieces are leadership and executive commitment. Seize the moment.

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