All the retention skills in the world won’t matter if an organization loads up on the wrong people. It’s time to change your workforce acquisition approach—or else.
By Sherry Benjamins
For many organizations, talent acquisition is still tactical. They see the search process as a transaction to fill important gaps. They identify a need for a specific skill and open a requisition. While a few firms seek outside talent because they identify a gap in their intellectual capital that will impact future objectives, these companies are the outliers.
Over the past two decades, where markets and technologies have experienced significant transformation, not much has changed for search. Most organizations’ approaches to identifying talent gaps, planning future workforce needs, and finding talent haven’t shifted despite everything else in business rapidly changing.
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The value of intellectual capital—the people empowering business success, the human factor—will dominate the future of work. The winners will be those who expect the unexpected and have a clear vision of where they’re going, a workforce plan enabling adaptability, and a solid strategy for getting and keeping the talent they need to make it all happen.
According to the trends forecaster Bob Johansen, the more complex the future, the further ahead leaders need to look. The big question we must ask: Are we looking ahead to understand and prepare to manage the unexpected?
We don’t have to imagine a heated, highly competitive talent market of the future, because it’s here today. Urgency is driving decisions, and search professionals are being told to both find “unicorns” and “look under rocks” for that unique leadership skill set everyone wants.
Frequently, after a long, exhaustive search process, someone inside the company is identified to take the role. The organization realizes the mix of skills and experience it’s looking for doesn’t exist in the external market and decides to develop its internal talent instead.
But this cycle squanders time and money, sends mixed signals to employees and candidates, creates new challenges for talent development and recruiting, and damages the employment brand.
Reactive, tactical workforce management wastes resources and money, and yet many organizations are unwilling or unprepared to shift to a strategic approach. Why are we still stuck in our own ways? And by the time we finally budge and adapt, will it be too late?
How Did We Get Here?
As qualified candidates have become increasingly scarce, many organizations have been unprepared to adapt. The few companies that have reacted to the evolving market are winning the war for talent without throwing stacks of money at candidates to get them in the door. They’re already planning for how they’ll manage the race as the market continues to grow.
For most firms, however, outside candidates aren’t waiting around if they don’t hear back. Over time, all that waiting gave candidates a longer period to research the company and connect with employees.
Most interview panels aren’t aligned on key selection factors, and creating a positive candidate experience isn’t on their radar. While the recruiting and management teams slog through the old hiring process and lose candidates to rival offers, internal teams get burned out trying to fill vacant shoes and become targets for competitive offers.
But these strategies won’t put the organization on a path to sustained success. In fact, an outdated search approach can leave such lasting damage to your employment brand that it can set back your ability to attract top talent for years to come.
Where We Must Go
Shifting your perspective starts with moving from “filling a need” to understanding the human implications of business objectives, and how they dovetail with future talent requirements. Companies with a longer view formulate a plan to develop and acquire the talent they need for the next phase and execute it.
Identify your current and future mission-critical work and its impact on the bottom line. Then, know your game changers. This will inform your options to build a roadmap that reflects the interdependence of your business and talent strategies, and create room to address today’s unique talent marketplace. With more available jobs than people looking for work, we’re forced to focus on a company’s culture, brand, and presence. What’s your answer to the question, “Why join us?”
In today’s talent world, attracting is about telling a compelling story so candidates want to learn more. Finding is about building a strategic outreach plan that leverages your employee network and diverse talent pools to develop relationships for the future. And growing includes fostering acceptance for a new role, onboarding to drive instant engagement, and ensuring a new hire succeeds.
Your candidates are assessing you even more than you’re assessing them. Do you have a full picture of how talent perceives your company? Are your values articulated well? Are your stakeholders enthusiastic about their parts in the process? Will you adjust as the story evolves?
We worked with one firm that regularly lost its best clinical talent to its competitors. The organization was ready for a new approach, and leadership saw this change as fundamental to its future growth and competitive market position. The leaders understood the need to transform and engage hiring managers in the solution.
Despite initial resistance, the organization created teams to solve specific talent challenges and set weekly goals. Small wins soon started to come in as the team aligned processes to the new strategy and achieved the 90-day hiring objectives.
A second organization, meanwhile, had the same reactive hiring practices that often left it in firefighting mode. The difference: This organization never addressed that early resistance, and leadership didn’t agree on the need to evolve. The organizational belief in the old model overpowered the impetus to transform.
We know it isn’t easy to let go of old, once-successful ideas. Trying new things always seems harder than hammering away at an established process.
But we’ve worked with teams to get through these challenges, and witnessing reluctant leaders become champions to help others adjust to significant change is remarkable.
Good thing adaptation is possible, because it’s critical to winning the talent wars and ensuring you have the human and intellectual capital needed to thrive.
Employment cycles will inevitably rise and fall in the future, but the “do more with less” mentality must head for extinction. The future of work and talent dynamics compels us to ditch outdated approaches and recognize the value of our limited resources. Possibility thinking uncovers the hidden value of creative solutions for completing work and achieving objectives.
The first step is a system of self-inquiry to create an actionable plan using the real perspectives of your leaders and workers. To be a true game changer, your organization must:
1. Create a dynamic lineup. Imagine how you’ll execute on key initiatives without the right leadership team or backup. The quality of your team’s performance is a function of the leadership you select and develop.
2. Define the big jobs. Which roles are essential for taking the mission forward, and what is the most critical work? Identify essential roles for advancing your organization. Do you have the right talent in each of those positions?
3. Reimagine talent acquisition. Develop internal potential and be clear about your values, then ensure your employment brand reflects those values with defined behaviors. Market your compelling story in an honest and authentic way to attract the right talent to achieve your objectives.
If your organization struggles with the leader lineup, developing the right people for game-changing work will be an even bigger battle. Leaders who expect the unexpected and appreciate our complex future are 10 steps ahead as they move from insight to action.
Sherry Benjamins is a talent strategist with more than 25 years helping organizations find top talent when the stakes are high. She is the founder of S. Benjamins & Company and creator of HRoundtable, a peer learning forum for HR leaders.