A Talent Strategy Conversation with Susan Burns – Part 1 1 Comment

One of the great outcomes of spending time on social networking sites like twitter is the opportunity to engage with and meet people worldwide.  Earlier this year I met Susan Burns – first online, and then a few months later in-person at a Conference. Since then, I’ve grown a tremendous amount of respect for her thoughts, views, and strategies around talent.  I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Susan to discuss Talent Strategies.

Focusing on talent, what do you see as the biggest opportunity (or opportunities) for organizations to consider as we plan for 2009 and beyond?

Alignment, structure and clarity of the company’s talent philosophy are three opportunity areas for companies to address that will strengthen the overall talent foundation and support increased agility and speed – which are increasingly important for success, competitiveness and sustainability. At first, it may sound like a lot to address but these opportunity areas are closely related, complimentary, and play off each other to strengthen the talent function and drive overall momentum.

Alignment frames how the talent function intersects with the organization’s business strategy and planning process. Intersection with the strategic planning process should be a high priority for the staffing function since it provides insight into how to plan for the future and informs key decisions. Alignment between staffing and the business strategy process influences where and how recruiting resources are allocated and how growth and investments, or contraction, are prioritized. The information derived also informs workforce planning, which is obviously critical for the recruitment function. Whether it sits in the recruitment function or not there needs to be purposeful overlap and a continuous, two-way open information loop so recruitment can be proactive. I personally believe that workforce planning should sit within recruitment, if not be led by the recruitment function, for simplicity, efficiency and for the greatest value to be delivered to the organization’s business objectives.

While this may all seem straightforward there are still too many indications that active discussions between staffing leaders and business leaders are not happening, leaving staffing in a reactive position. When the staffing function is in a reactive position it is not as well-equipped to contribute strategic value, experiences increased costs, and also results in recruiter stress and burnout – besides a lack of time for recruiters to pursue personal development opportunitites. One more important point about intersecting with the organization’s business strategy and planning process – learn the language of your company’s business! Understand the important components and metrics that guide and measure the business and the related decisions. How do your decisions, actions and metrics tell a compatible and supportive story?

Periodically looking at the design and structure of the recruitment function ensures it’s agile, efficient, aligned with the company’s talent philosophy, and producing results that deliver a competitive and sustainable strategy. We continue to see an increasing number of channels, tools and technologies emerging that can benefit talent attraction and acquisition strategies. However, unless you can smartly organize around these to improve the value-add of recruiters, process efficiency and results, they potentially become more problematic, add complexity and dilute the existing strategy. As you breakdown the drivers for your overarching strategy do you assess whether what you want to get done can be supported by the existing structure? Here’s an example – Social Media! Not only is it increasingly important for the organization to have a presence on social networking sites and incorporate social media into their attraction strategy but to derive value from these channels there needs to be a dedicated resource to make the strategy sustainable. It is simply not possible for a full-cycle recruiter to allocate sufficient time to build and nurture an online community presence. Revisiting the structure to see where budget and/or roles could be reallocated to support a community manager role would support a successful strategy.

Alignment and structure work together to address one of the biggest challenges for a talent function – increased complexity. The amount of complexity is significant, primarily because of the disparate number of tools and technology used within the talent function, but that problem isn’t going to be solved any time soon and it’s much more difficult to address. But, complexity can be addressed by looking at those things that are controllable, and should be, if the function evolves, keeps pace with business and becomes a value-added partner. The more that can be done to reduce complexity the more time there is to invest in truly value-added activities like candidate attraction, engagement and selection.

Clarity around the company’s talent philosophy is often taken for granted, and the absence of clarity is a significant contributor to inefficiency and turnover. Being intentional and purposeful in communicating what the company is trying to accomplish streamlines efforts, increases momentum and strengthens the employment brand and value proposition. Are candidates receiving the same message from recruiters? From hiring managers? Is a new hires experience consistent with what they learned on your website and through the interview process? What happens when they want to take advantage of development programs? When their ready to pursue another opportunity in the company are they supported? These are just a few areas for Recruiting to assess, clarify and develop in partnership with their HR peers and design a persistent communication plan to cascade through the organization.

As you have had the opportunity to consult, network, and meet with hundreds of recruiting and talent management professionals what are 2 or 3 common trends you notice in today’s climate?

The most common trends are incorporating social media and networks to attract and engage talent and expanding their company’s view of “right fit” talent and to broaden their talent reach and candidate pool.

The majority of recruiting leaders realize that social media is an important component to integrate into their talent strategy, although there are still some that question the viability for recruitment. Of those that do want to incorporate social media the most common challenges are developing an understanding of the nuances of community to design an approach and establish a sustainable strategy. Allocating time to invest in learning about social media and then implementing a strategy to engage and manage communities is often daunting. Sustainability requires considerable care for nurturing community, which is an important component of a social media strategy, in addition to learning about the various platforms and supporting technologies. I’m a firm believer in establishing a foundation for understanding the tenets of community and then building an approach to recruitment. In most cases it may even require rethinking the current recruitment team function and processes, as mentioned above, with inclusion of a community manager role.

The real value of social networks comes when you can transform transactional actions to relationship interactions. Developing and nurturing communities takes time and if recruiters have full-cycle responsibility they don’t have the bandwidth to learn the numerous technologies and platforms and effectively engage in community relationship building and interaction. The role of a community manager, which is borrowed from the consumer space, is a position that should be established when developing a social media strategy to ensure it’s a sustainable and successful investment. Depending on the size and complexity of the organization this role could be a hybrid of a sourcing strategist role. The community manager / sourcing strategist should be tightly integrated into the recruitment team so the focus and purpose of the role is intentional and information flows openly and is shared efficiently. I’d also recommend developing an incremental approach that allows the company to define success milestones by moving slowly into the social media space, focus on building a strong foundation, and address specific talent needs that will be recognized as a big win for the talent function and company.

Expanding the company’s talent view to broaden reach and attract a more skillfully diverse candidate pool has many benefits. Hiring managers often apply a narrow view to “right fit” talent because that is what they know and there is not always supporting learning and development programs to acclimate new talent. Additionally, the way talent is brought onboard doesn’t support a planned learning curve. Companies could expand their talent pool by expanding their view and focusing on individual potential and talent adjacencies – a concentric approach that looks expands the skills and experiences to be considered. This type of strategy does require a mindshift and supporting programs to on-board talent. Additionally, taking an approach that aligns with succession planning targets and places new talent prior to the incumbent vacating their position could help hiring managers become more comfortable with the approach. The benefits – a broader talent pool from which to recruit, increased diversity of the company’s talent, reduced time-to-hire, and the ability to anticipate the future and focus on progressive needs as the company’s business evolves over time.

Connect with Susan:

You can also chat with Susan each week on Talent Talk Cafe – on RecruitingBlogs.com.  Just click on the cup for details!

About Jason Buss

Talent HQ’s creator and editor is Recruiting & Diversity Leader, Jason Buss. Talent HQ is a premier online news and information channel for the Recruiting and Human Resources community.

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  • Posted on: Thursday, November 13th, 2008