Talent Pipeline Case Study — Nestlé Purina Reaches an Amazing 43 Percent of Hires

You might be surprised to learn that a talent pipeline strategy can yield a time to fill that can actually be zero days. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a talent pipeline recruiting strategy provides a tremendous competitive advantage because it allows your firm to fill positions almost immediately with higher-quality talent then you would normally get by using the typical just-in-time sourcing. This pipeline approach is called a “pre-need strategy” because the candidate sourcing starts before you have an immediate opening. And that means that rather than “chasing talent” under time pressure, you can take your time finding top candidates. And once they are found, you can then slowly and deliberately make a thorough candidate assessment and completely sell them on working for your firm.

I have long been a leading evangelist for adopting a talent pipeline strategy because of its many benefits. During my research, I found that it is quite unusual for a firm to get even 20 percent of their hires from their talent pipeline. So, I was amazed when I found that in 2017 Nestlé Purina PetCare “filled 43 percent of their positions before they came open” using its talent pipeline database which contains over a million prospects.

Highlighting the Powerful Results and the Key Learnings at Nestlé Purina

Fortunately, Nestlé Purina provided me with open access to its program and below you will find a summary of its key results. Their descriptions of its actions and results are in quotation marks.

  • Higher quality hires and more diversity — at Nestlé Purina “Quality is the No. 1 driver.” And it has found that “the quality is definitely … the quality and diversity is higher because we can be more stringent in our hiring because we are ahead of the opening vs. chasing it.” In my experience across numerous firms, I have found the quality of hire (the on-the-job performance of new-hires) to be at least 10 percent higher.
  • Higher offer acceptance rates — because there is more time to build a relationship, where you fully understand the needs of the candidates. It’s not surprising that Nestlé Purina found “these candidates do have a higher acceptance rate. It is rare they turn us down.”
  • The time to fill can literally be zero  one factory expansion example at Nestlé Purina provides insight into their “pipeline in advance of need” results. Through its “awareness and targeting follow-up through multiple channels of specific branding campaigns … we were able to fill 22 production operator vacancies at zero days, a role that usually on average takes 50 days to fill.”
  • Managers see the business impacts — most firms find, as Nestlé Purina has, that hiring managers who use the pipeline approach “are extremely pleased and promote what we have done within the organization. We recently had a large department meeting where the VP of one of the groups came and talked about our process and the impact it is having on the business.” I have found across many firms that managers instantly see the benefits, so it’s easy to make the business case for the program.
  • Pipelines work across a range of jobs — at Nestlé Purina, the pipeline approach has worked well in “Sales, Customer Service, and Factory Hourly.” And it is beginning to expand into Audit. It has found a common success factor to be “high volume positions.”
  • Tracking source ROI to find the most effective sources — I find one of Nestlé Purina’s primary keys to success is its heavy emphasis on “source tracking ROI (i.e., identifying which sources drive the higher proportions of Qualified-Interested-Available prospects for specific functions, locations, levels, and roles).” The data and metrics collected by its recruitment marketing platform allows them to make smart, educated sourcing decisions. “Not only can we identify contact/applicant source, but we are able to identify the quality by how far they have made it through the recruitment process” (i.e., candidates from the best sources escalate further through the hiring process).The new applicants generated meet basic qualifications for the job greater than 60 percent of the time.”
  • Amazing prospect engagement results — a key engagement metric is the percentage of communications from the firm that are actually “opened.” At Nestlé Purina its data-driven electronic marketing approach “has increased our email marketing open-rates to as high as 90+ percent.” And, that “average exceeds by multiples the industry average.” As a result, of the data-driven marketing approach, it has over 1,000,000 prospects in their talent pipeline.

Implementation Actions and Tips

An important element of a case study highlights the action steps that a firm took to reach its extraordinary results. The top six most powerful action steps that were taken by Nestlé Purina include:

  • Project your hiring needs for the upcoming year  NP started by developing projections covering how many positions it would have open during the next year.
  • Use the best sources to fill your talent pipeline — I found that pre-need referrals and boomerang rehires are some of the best sources. Nestlé Purina uses its CRM system for “supplying a significant amount of candidates.” And “referrals are also delivering some quality candidates.” Like many firms, Nestlé Purina also uses LinkedIn and Indeed. Obviously, having a world-class employer brand as Nestlé does help it easily attract many enthusiastic candidates. However, even when you lack a world-class employer brand, the pipeline approach helps you attract more quality candidates than traditional JIT sourcing because it provides more time to find and convince reluctant prospects to apply.
  • Develop your candidate bench in advance  Next, it began building pools of viable candidates within its internal CRM before the position openings occurred. “We assessed the candidates before the opening occurred and put them on a bench waiting for the opening. During the wait, we engaged with them frequently to let them know what was going on. We developed benches by geographic regions.” I have found that an excellent CRM process is essential for building and maintaining the relationship.
  • Use automation to nurture your pipeline talent members — a key success factor is “how we created interest in these positions and how we engaged the candidates.” It “automated nurturing workflows for key talent networks” in order to increase speed and efficiency. This process involves a series of emails that begin when a candidate enters their talent community (CRM). It “follows a timeline receiving the communications at appropriate times as they work through the desired flow.” “Within every communication, we can see the candidate behavior which shows us what is of value to them.” This allows “us to continually tweak the communications to respond to specific audience need.” A critical success factor: creating a candidate persona and personalizing your communications so that they meet the attraction factors of individual candidates.
  • It periodically pushes relevant jobs  it “publishes a quarterly newsletter (email marketing) to our entire talent network that promotes job openings by segmented areas of interest. Results have ranged from a high of more than 900 new applicants and an average of greater than 300 new applicants often within the first week of deployment.” Obviously, pushing a high-volume or irrelevant jobs can frustrate your pipeline members.
  • Recruiting competitive intelligence helps to identify prospects — you will limit the volume and the quality of prospects in your pipeline if you don’t closely watch the external recruiting environment. Nestlé Purina “conducts ongoing competitive intelligence monitoring for market events such as layoffs.” And it “runs targeted talent network lead generation campaigns through digital platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook.” Contacts are continually monitored and followed up with … “brand content that is relevant to each contact’s area of interest.”

Next Steps at Nestlé Purina

The data-driven team at NP doesn’t rest on its laurels. So, its future-action plan includes “moving to more hiring teams … in order to minimize the delay of getting our candidates assessed.” The use of a dedicated hiring team is also used at Google and Intuit because having a team that continually hires improves their ability to assess and sell. Nestlé Purina also plans to increase its use of virtual interviews because their ease of scheduling also speeds up the completion of the assessment process. Its amazing initial success will also be accelerating as it broadens the pipeline process, so it covers many additional business units. Rather than relying on external benchmarking, Nestlé Purina’s team strives to make serial innovation in recruiting part of its team’s culture.

Other firms are shifting to the Talent Advisor model, which prioritizes the pipeline. In addition to the above actions, machine learning can improve pipeline results. Also, firms should reward recruiters for contributing high-quality prospects to the pipeline. Next these firms should ask top employees to make quality referrals (after they view a prospect’s work), even when there’s no opening. And, finally, firms should focus on boomerang rehires and current and past interns who are already known to be top performers.

The Architects of the Innovative Nestlé Purina Pipeline Efforts

In my decades of experience, I have found few truly world-class recruiting teams. In my view, Nestlé Purina’s should be on everyone’s global top 10 benchmark firms alongside other greats like Google, Facebook, the U.S. Army, Intuit, and Sodexo. I’ve written in the past about Nestlé Purina’s incredibly successful remote college hiring program. The recruiting team is led by the phenomenal recruiting innovator Mel Kohr. And among this powerhouse team, Mandi Josias, Eric Schmidt, and Brook Lynch all deserve credit for contributing to the design and implementation of their pipeline effort

Final Thoughts

When I’m asked to list the most effective sources for top-performing hires,  the one common factor among them is that the source allows you to avoid “hiring strangers.” The talent pipeline strategy described here fully meets this criterion because the early identification of prospects gives a firm a great deal of time to learn about them. As a result, when you consider them for a job, they are no longer strangers. The pipeline approach has another outstanding characteristic: it also allows you sufficient time to convince reluctant individuals that they want to work for your firm.

And finally, the fact that you can literally fill jobs as they formally open means less lost productivity due to the position vacancy days. And that means less hiring manager frustration because they get the talent they need almost immediately.

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With such a high ROI, it’s a puzzlement why so few recruiting leaders take full advantage of this pipeline approach.


Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips,  connect with me on LinkedIn

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Dr. John Sullivan

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.