Don’t Let Tactics Drive Strategy

[Note: Don’t forget my Defend Your Desktop ATS survey today, Friday, March 19, 2004, at 4 p.m. EST (1 p.m. PST). I’ll be revealing the names of the best systems based on my external and internal surveys, so you won’t want to miss this. You’ll need to go my ATS survey page to obtain the phone number. If you haven’t taken the survey, it’s not too late. Our conference line only holds the first 50 people who call, so get there about 15 minutes early. You can use the extra time to complete the survey.] Moral of today’s story: Don’t let tactics drive strategy. Don’t mistake activity for progress. But let me begin at the beginning. Many, many years ago (when I worked for a living), I was on the corporate staff of a Fortune 100 company. My job was to flip the slides during the monthly operations reviews where the CEO, CFO, and COB (among others) would throw tantrums at the division presidents for missing their plans. This wasn’t the actual purpose of the meetings, nor my real job, but it seemed like that’s what invariably happened. At one of those meetings, I remember watching the corporate CFO stand up, look at one of the division presidents, and sternly state, “You must never let tactics drive your business strategy!” He then walked out of the meeting in disgust. This was prompted by some lame excuse about why the quarterly sales and revenue forecast was missed. (I’ll tell you the excuse later.) This past week, I heard some things which brought back that long-forgotten memory. What’s your take on the following? How many of you have, or would have, walked out in disgust? Or do you merely tolerate the current state of affairs?

  1. A recruiting department didn’t want to run better ads since they had too much work to do, and better ads would just increase the number of bad resumes to review.
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  3. A company told me they couldn’t shorten the application process because they needed to capture EEO information from everyone that applied. Then they wondered why the best people weren’t applying.
  4. Too many companies allow the IT department and the CFO to have a bigger vote on deciding what talent management system is used than the recruiters who use the system.
  5. A company posted a critical position on their website and all of the major boards, leading off with the working hours and the fact that the company has a 401K. They told me they couldn’t change this since it was read off the standard job description form which was approved by the legal department.
  6. Managers complain they don’t have enough time to discuss their job needs with their recruiters, but they then want to review all of the resumes. Of course, they have more than enough time to push their sub-par performers to eke out sub-par performance.
  7. Hiring managers over-talk, under-listen, and then say want to see more candidates ó because they don’t know what they’re really looking for, and don’t know how to assess competency anyway.
  8. Using cost to hire or some clever derivative to drive strategies, when this is only a tactical objective. Quality is a strategic goal. Great strategies, executed well, should drive your metrics. Your hiring strategy should be: Quality is job one ó hiring people as quickly as possible and at the least cost, without sacrificing quality. What is the cost of not hiring a top person? What’s the cost if Amgen doesn’t hire great scientists to meet their aggressive new five-year drug product rollout program? If you have Amgen stock, you’ll know. If you or a member of your family ever needs one of their new drugs, you’ll be thankful that Amgen made hiring top people a strategic necessity.
  9. Using traditional job descriptions to hire top people is the best example of the worst thing to do. Traditional job descriptions listing skills, experiences and academics don’t define jobs at all; they define people. In fact, the use of them actually precludes the best people from applying. I just took a quick sample of the companies who attended this week’s ER Expo 2004 West in San Diego. About 90% of the job descriptions started off listing requirements rather than describing opportunities. The best people don’t apply to an ad to get another job; they want a better job or a career opportunity. Why not offer them one? If you do, you won’t have to pay any salary premiums either.
  10. Recruiters complain they don’t have enough time to do all of their work, but they seem to have enough time to do searches over again, or to place ineffective ads, or to write bad job descriptions. (When you react instead of plan, you’re letting tactics drive strategies.)
  11. Everyone says hiring is #1, but if it is, shouldn’t this be the first thing managers are measured by in their annual performance appraisals? Hiring top people is a great business strategy, but if it’s not executed, it’s just talk.
  12. Are you aware that if you could replace the entire bottom third of your company’s sales force with people who perform like the top third, your company’s revenue would increase by another 25% every year? It’s strategic stuff like this that gives you the ammunition to justify an increase in cost per hire. Of course, then you must deliver.
  13. Watson Wyatt’s Human Capital Index indicated that a company’s market value increased by 8-10% when recruiting top people was made a strategic function.

Don’t make tactical excuses for strategic problems. Instead, create a vision statement for your recruiting department like: we want to become a strategic asset, or we want to make hiring really #1. Next, prepare a mission statement. Here’s one you can use: “The [insert your company’s name here] recruiting department delivers top talent on time at the lowest possible cost.” Now figure out what it takes to make this happen. This will be become your company’s hiring strategy. Make sure it ties to your company’s strategic vision. Put this on you company website at the top of the career section. Then make sure that each job description tells why the job is important and how it relates to the company strategy. If you’re really serious, create a workforce plan that identifies all of your critical and game-breaker positions. Assign your best people to finding and recruiting these people. Get your hiring managers involved. Ask them why a top person would want this job. Minimize the motherhood and apple-pie stuff. Instead, substitute the types of projects and work your new employees are expected to perform and how they’ll be measured. Look at Toll Brothers for some good example of this. Then include this stuff in the first two sentences of every ad. Are you aware that the title and the first two sentences will determine the likelihood of a top person applying for one of your jobs? Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that the long-ago excuse the division president used was that his group couldn’t get the dozen or so new engineers hired and up-to-speed soon enough to launch a critical new product line. Moral: Don’t let tactics drive strategy. You’re just mistaking activity for progress.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).