Building an Advanced Talent Acquisition Function Today: Process and Optimal Operations (Part 2 of 3)

In part one of my article of how would I build a talent acquisition function today, we covered the people (resources) and skills you would use when building the right organizational model. I also teed up some disclaimers for context to the three-part series. I am not going to list them again, but if you missed the first part, you can read it here.

In part two, I am going to be spending more time on the process and operational pieces of a talent acquisition function (optimal process methodologies/approaches, workforce/demand planning, key metrics and KPIs to track, analyze, and report). Later in Part three, I will get into the technology.

Process & Operations

The best talent acquisition organizations strike the right balance of creating consistency in the recruiting process, but not at the expense of over-engineering and over documenting every aspect of the process.

As you have probably seen for yourself first hand, smaller companies or startups have fewer documented processes. The other end of the spectrum in the large enterprises is when there’s a tendency to document the heck out of everything. Are they both right in their approach? No. There must be a happy middle ground. Where that ground is, of course depends on where you are on your own journey.

When you’re a smaller company with fewer people, it’s not that difficult to understand who does what, and if you’re not sure about something, its pretty easy to find the quick answers to the questions you want. The flip side of this, is while you can be nimbler as you grow, you reach a point where it’s no longer productive to have new people (recruiters and business) constantly asking the same questions over and over again. As you have also probably experienced, it’s not overly productive when you have 17 variations on how things need to be done. Ever heard the phrase:

In my experience creating SLAs, RACI docs (responsible, accountable, consulted and informed), and governance regulations is fine, but if I am going to be truthful, most of those docs end up sitting on a virtual shelf gathering dust until some process police person pulls it out as CYA reference material.

My suggestion based of many years of trying to find the right balance is to embed SLAs into the process (your ATS as an example) and reporting, not make it a document that stands alone by itself. Example:

If the SLA is recruiters must hit an 80+ percent acceptance goal of candidates submitted to the business being accepted, then your own team scorecards and dashboards must reflect this. Your reports and updates to hiring managers must reflect this. Your quarterly business reviews or monthly executive summaries must reflect this.

If this is a key goal and measurement, and everyone is aware that it is, then the likelihood of recruiters skipping by this step in your ATS diminishes significantly. Why create a separate SLA, process/governance document? The goal and the measure drives the right consistent behavior you’re looking for.

The same could be said for SLAs for hiring managers committing to a goal of feedback within 24 hours of candidates submitted, or feedback after interviews. Start producing reports and public scorecards tied to clear, agreed-to goals. You will find behavior shifts more to the positive over time vs. pulling out that dusty SLA and shoving it under the nose of that the hiring manager who never read it anyway.

The key point here is to get executive leadership to understand and agree why these particular goals are important and must be adopted by all. You must clearly connect the dots for leadership and the business on the whole, and the impact (positive + negative) when people don’t hit these goals.

Creating a process and SLA with:

  1. a) no associated goal
  2. b) no accountability

… is just a F$@#*%^ waste of everyone’s time.

I Love RACIs and I Cannot Lie

While I am not a big fan of dust-gathering SLAs, I am a big fan of RACI matrix documents, and I will explain why.

In small and large companies alike, any time you have multiple people involved in the whole recruiting workflow, different handoff points, you will encounter the inevitable:

“Oh. I thought that was your responsibility”.

The problem is that when you try and spread operational tasks across multiple individuals without clarity, then everyone is responsible, but no one is accountable. It’s called “diffusion of responsibility.”

Yes, job descriptions help define role and responsibility. But most people don’t read other people’s job descriptions and when multiple people get involved on a process, many don’t understand who does what, given the overlaps in responsibility.

See RACI documents and swim lanes bring greater clarity to:

R = Who is responsible

A = Who is accountable

C = Who needs to be consulted

I = Who needs to be informed.

In recruiting, there can tend to be lots of cooks in the kitchen from time to time. Or depending on your model, many people need to be involved in the decision-making process on an initiative that spans multiple groups and roles.

Generally, were you will hear noise in your organization around communication-related issues (recruiters vs. hiring managers for example), when you dig into it, it generally comes down to a lack of clarity in who plays what role.

You don’t need to create a RACI document for every possible situation where multiple stakeholders are involved. Pick the big ones, where you have noticed the historical pain of communication dialog challenges. Pick the ones where you know clarity of role and responsibility is a critical factor in optimal delivery.

Hiring an Operations Lead When the Size and Timing Is Right

I noticed a trend around the mid 2000s. Business executives who had people in their organizations focusing 100 percent on business operations started to influence HR/TA that they needed the same. As recruiting functions get bigger with more complexities associated with delivery, it made sense to have someone within the TA function focus on all the operational elements of corporate recruiting in a centralized way.

Today in larger corporate TA functions it’s not unusual to find hundreds of these openings online.

Why is this important, and why should you care?

While we could argue that recruiting is not that complex … open a req, fill a req … talent acquisition by default has a lot of complexities in between to make that an optimal reality. You could be at that point of your growth where you have someone who is part recruiter, part keeper of the job board/LinkedIn licenses/vendor relationships/OFCCP, EEOC, etc., etc. Your current state could be as the head of talent acquisition you are responsible for all the reporting to HR/business. Social media is owned by all recruiters, but you have no consistent process as to where or what they post. You’re not really sure any more if the brand is being consistently and properly represented. I think you get the point, as I could list out hundreds of tactical operational things that role up to the key strategic initiatives in a TA function.

What I can’t give you is this magic formula that says that once you reach “x” amount or hires or “y” amount of hiring managers you need to support in “z” locations, then you should hire a head of recruiting ops.

Recruiting is not that linear. They best I can do is give you this advice and guidance.

If you have ever done “voice of the customer feedback” sessions before, or currently do hiring manager and candidate satisfaction surveys, you will find one common theme that pisses both of them off.

Consistency of delivery. Consistency of experience.

Hiring managers hate having to learn a new way to engage with TA when they move from one business unit to another. They get ticked off when a recruiter who they formed a solid partnership with they trust moves to another area, and the new recruiter comes in has a different process to follow.

The reason we create SLA, RACI charts, governance docs, etc., when you boil it all down, is about consistency.

You should make the decision, that while all these operational items are important to running a TA function, about the most optimal approach given these two realities:

  1. A recruiter’s primary function is to identify, attract, and assess talent. Are you loading them up with operational tasks that take them away from optimally executing on their primary responsibility?
  2. As the head of TA, your primary responsibility is to set the strategy, communicate the plan, educate and partner with business leadership on removing roadblocks, andensure your team is focused on the right activities to execute against the plan. Are you focusing on too many operational tasks that take you away from your primary role?

If you look at the world though this lens, and yes, it’s not linear but gray, you might reach the conclusion that it might be time to hire an operations manager. Business leaders get the value of having operations-focused resources, and you should be no different.

Workforce and/or Demand Planning

Can you run a recruitment function without any workforce of demand planning in place? Of course, you can, but you will be far from operating optimally.

As a recruiter or TA leader, do you get frustrated when the business surprises you with a spike in demand with no notice, and expects all these people to be hired next week, but the only real short-term choice you have is to load up your recruiters who already have a full req load?

The reality is that the business working with HR should be the ones responsible for creating appropriate workforce and demand plans related to attrition and growth. TA should logically be consulted and involved in the process, but can’t be held accountable to 100 percent owning the process given that true workforce planning must factor in more than just headcount growth and attrition.

I am going to come at this topic with more of a large-scale enterprise POV, but I think that even in smaller organizations, you should find some value as well. I am also going to say that while workforce and demand planning helps TA functions be more efficient, I don’t think it is realistic for people to take the position that if you fix this problem, it solves all your req-load balancing challenges for your recruiters.

If we look at workforce planning/demand planning from a TA output perspective, then the primary goal is to have better line of sight of who you want to hire and when. Data and analytics is not at a point that can accurately forecast when people are going to leave a company. So, scratch that piece.

While companies should be smart enough to know what their growth plans are and the worker types they need to enable that growth, it’s not a static scenario for many reasons: hiring managers holding onto approved budgeted headcount given the EBITDA impact; customer deals that were not on the initial budgeting cycle radar; special opportunistic projects; and so on.

The reality is that while I hope for companies to get much more efficient and accurate in their forecasting, I have learned that I could be still holding my breath today for that reality to come for some time, so I had to find a happy realistic middle ground.

Don’t Try and Boil the Ocean; Start With the Teacup

What can we do given our roles is try to at least get the business to acknowledge the challenges that come from a lack of meaningful planning. Remember to frame it in terms that are WIIFT (what’s in it for them) vs. coming to the discussion with a perceived whining and complaining position that it’s hard to find candidates. Good luck winning those discussions.

My advice based off my experience is you should start by influencing the business on the mission-critical roles first tied to more effective workforce planning … the ones that they will tell you have the biggest impact to the success of the organization. Sit down with the appropriate business leaders and first talk with them and understand their perspective as to the impact of roles not being filled with the right level of talent quickly enough.

You and the business should get on the same page as far in advance as possible about what the hiring demand will be in the next 12 months for these mission-critical roles.

If you have read my articles in the past, I like to try and give as many tactical and practical examples that I can. Here is a related one about technical account managers with deep financial services industry expertise.

In the past, this one job family role was on top of the mission-critical list for leadership given the impact it had in retaining very large financial institutional clients once a deal was closed. Historically these roles took forever to fill given the tricky combination of a deep technical SME who also had deep business expertise in the financial services space.

After a couple of meetings with leadership on ways to be more effective at identifying and attracting this type of person, I pivoted the discussion to workforce planning. Once I explained the connected WIIFT, they understood the negative impact of only giving the recruiting function line of sight once a deal had been sold. They agreed that going forward, the sales team would provide regular updates to the recruiting team on their percentage probability of closing a deal, where these technical account managers would be needed (locations), and how many they would need, and by when.

The outcome was as deals reached past 50 percent probability of close, the business would start chatting with potential talent in the marketplace vs. the historical approach of the deal having to be won first. This approach shaved six months off the traditional time it took to hire these types of folks.

Eventually we got to a point where we had pipelines of talent engaged and interested, with the business involved in developing relationships with this talent on an ongoing basis, not just when they had openings.

In conclusion, my advice to you is, while it is a noble cause and valuable journey to do this for all roles across the whole enterprise, boiling the ocean takes a very long time to accomplish.

KPIs and Metrics

Given an ah-ha moment I had in my career over 10 years ago now, one of my personal passions and deep expertise is in how to tell the business story and influence change using data/analytics. I won’t repeat everything I have written about the subject here again, but I can give you some guiding core principles, and reference some key articles on data and talent analytics below.

In short, if I had to build a talent acquisition team from scratch (or fix a broken one today), here are five key things that I would do:

Article Continues Below

Go on a listening tour with the business/HR/your own team to find out what is most important to them, what they think needs to be measured, and why.

Create a culture (TA/HR/business) around of the importance of gaining insights from data and how that can help inform more optimal outcomes.

Build/configure/customize my ATS to ensure it allows me to effectively capture and analyze the data in a way that allows me to pivot by what is most important. Example: job families, cities, job levels, date/time stamps, etc. Make these critical fields and step/status workflow mandatory not optional.

Make scorecards and reports easy to understand at a glance as to how the metrics tie to the goals/SLAs, how we (TA/business) are tracking against those goals, and what we are doing to fix it if we are off track.

Track speed, cost, and productivity metrics, but make quality metrics the cornerstone of your strategy (see standard set of recruitment metrics below for formula/definitions). Examples:

SBA Metric: Quality of candidates submitted and accepted by the business

SHR Metric: Ratio of the number of candidates submitted to produce a hire

OA Metric: Offer acceptance percentage

ADR Metric: Applicant dropoff rates.

Customer and hiring manager satisfaction metrics. Note: For candidate satisfaction surveys, ask all candidates throughout the whole process, not just the ones who accept your offers.

Quality of hire: Don’t do what I see some consultants suggest in the industry by combining multiple data points (attrition, promotions, performance review scores, pulse surveys, hiring manager surveys, source data, etc.) and dividing by the number of data points into an easy button score. It does not work. I tried it and failed.

Measure and manage data integrity. The “key things that I would do” above are pointless if no one trusts the stories you are trying to tell with inaccurate data.

A standard set of recruitment metrics

The ultimate talent acquisitions performance scorecard

Rewire your brain to present talent acquisition metrics differently

I love back of the napkin math

Show me the money for talent

In part three of my series, I am going to dig into what lessons have I learned and how I would use technology in building a TA function today.

Rob McIntosh

Rob McIntosh is the principal advisor and founder of McINTOSH & Co., a boutique talent acquisition advisory firm helping corporate and industry executives improve business results.

He is a senior talent executive with 20+ years of global recruiting experience spanning four continents where he has consistently delivered results through building high-performing teams for Fortune 100 companies in senior leadership roles for McKesson, Avanade, Deloitte, and Microsoft. 

As a public speaker his articles, presentations, and case studies have been shared and downloaded over 50,000 times. He is one of the early pioneers of corporate sourcing functions and the co-founder of SourceCon. He is the primary content, strategies, tools, and case studies provider for the Human Capital Institute Talent Acquisition Strategist Course & Certification and ERE Media’s Talent Advisor course.

His strategic advice is constantly sort after for use of advanced metrics/analytics to help tell the business story around the value of talent acquisition, and how to scale delivery while improving quality of hire through optimal talent org designs; shared services, CoE, offshore, outsourcing, and hybrid talent acquisition structures. 

You can learn more about Rob and McINTOSH & Co.