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Defining a Strategic Vision for Talent Acquisition

Written By
Sarah Bengochea
Managing Editor

A recent interview with Dimitri Boylan, CEO at Avature, on defining a strategic vision for Talent Acquisition based on engagement & service delivery.

Q. Does Talent Acquisition need a new vision?

Dimitri: I am not sure there is an old vision to replace. There is an old idea, which is still valid – to bring the agency in-house and reduce fees – but that is not a vision, it’s more a “sensible business objective.” A vision has to inspire people to execute at a higher level.

When we introduced CRM to recruiting about a decade a go, we had an uphill battle bringing established marketing practices into in-house Talent Acquisition (TA) teams, as companies weren’t considering that recruiting was really about engagement and redefining the up-front candidate experience. But that was just an idea, which time had come, and now it’s a “must have” – it’s still not a strategic vision, though.

Now HR is in the midst of a second digital transformation. We see our customers looking to move beyond the initial CRM engagement process to a place where all their stakeholders – candidates, recruiters, and hiring managers – are involved and highly engaged in the entire recruiting process, from initial shoulder tap with a candidate to their very first day and beyond. This is central to a strategic approach to talent acquisition, and implies a redefinition of the role of the traditional ATS from a system of record to a platform for engagement. Again – not a strategic vision but a necessary step.

Q. What’s so hard about defining a vision for Talent Acquisition?

Dimitri: Talent Acquisition sits inside HR, and I think HR needs to be clear about its vision before Talent Acquisition can define theirs. HR has spent 15 years trying to define employee self-service. Fine, but that’s not strategic. Strategic means to have a direct impact on the competitive position of the organization. While core services (such as payroll and time-keeping) are necessary, talent focused functions (recruiting and talent management) are the ones that are really strategic. CEOs of large companies know they are a hair’s breadth from digital disruption, and 90% of the way to avoid that is recruiting and retaining the right type of people. So there is no confusion about what strategic HR (and Talent Acquisition) is.

Q. If you could create the vision for TA, what would it be?

Dimitri: It’s actually not our job to tell companies what their Talent Acquisition vision should be. But I believe it needs to revolve around engagement and service delivery. By focusing on them, HR is essentially asking, “how can we provide strategic services that positively impact our competitive position?” This focus will encourage them to give those that are involved in sourcing, attracting, and hiring talent the right technology to collaborate and engage with one another throughout the entire talent process. A service delivery focus has lots of tangible benefits – it doesn’t just redefine the analytical approach to the service; it sends the right message to the organization, establishes the terms of engagement, and automatically aligns the recruiting team’s objectives with the strategies of the business it serves.

On the technology side, a service delivery focus sets a new standard for recruiting platforms and, remember, nobody gets credit for fighting with their ATS. When your team recognizes that hiring managers are customers, systems that manage service delivery are obvious choices. [Tweet this]

This level of engagement and collaboration is absolutely necessary when seeking improved talent outcomes. Recruiting agility, finding the right talent faster, building strong talent pipelines, and sustaining a competitive advantage are ultimately a result of how efficient and effective the relationships are between key stakeholders. And you can only really stimulate engagement by focusing on service delivery.

Q. We see organizations focusing more and more on candidate experience. How do you see that fitting into the engagement and service delivery approach?

Dimitri: The impact of service delivery on the candidate experience is tremendous and can significantly alter outcomes. There has been a lot of talk about the candidate experience being about candidate responses to job adverts, or about the speed with which they can apply online, but that’s not the only important part. A crucial part for organizations is what happens further down the line, when the candidate starts to go through the interview, screening, and the offer process – because actually, you want the best talent to accept your offer!

We hear lots of negatives associated to the candidate experience, such as “black hole”, “no feedback”, “long response times”, “poor interviews”, etc. These all exist because the service that takes place is not managed or enabled. From a candidate’s perspective, if their experience through screening and interviewing is average (perhaps the hiring manager wasn’t engaged, asked the wrong questions, didn’t provide feedback, turned up late), the candidate can feel let down and possibly lied to. Until the point of interview they’ve formed a good relationship with the recruiter and had an easy application experience, and suddenly it feels very different. So now it doesn’t really matter that the organization likes the candidate more and more; the candidate is actually in the process of liking them less and less. Then you arrive to the big day – the offer – and the candidate says, “no, thank you”. This is the moment when the organization starts to wonder where it went wrong. Without service management, you have no idea where or how many times the process failed, and you have no way of fixing it.

It’s only possible to deliver a great experience if the relationships between your internal stakeholders are productive, collaborative, and work in harmony. And that requires service delivery management.

Q. If engagement and service delivery are the focus, what should Talent Acquisition teams be measuring and why?

Dimitri: Ultimately, focusing on engagement and service delivery will improve your ability to forecast and predict. By managing the service delivery between all stakeholders, you can build a big picture and understand how they are engaging with each other, you can compare business area results and see where things go wrong. For example, HR can demonstrate the different ways they are working with manager x, y and z, and show the associated outcomes. They can compare outcomes and processes, share best practice, and adjust internal practices to suit different manager needs in order to get good results across the board.

When organizations get to this place, they are removing themselves from the one-size-fits-all approach. Yes, they may well be working with managers in three, four or even five different complex ways, but they are optimized for each area, managers like it, and overall they achieve better outcomes. Ultimately you get to what all service delivery gets to, which is customer satisfaction. This is the only metric in service management – how satisfied your internal customer is.

Besides, the standard reports that many focus on – like time-to-fill and cost-per hire – are not actually reports that help you do business better. They are reports designed to satisfy other departments. Cost-per-hire is a CFO report. Time-to-fill doesn’t say anything about recruiting. They are both macro economic indicators, and only tell you how easy or difficult it is to hire. [Tweet this] During the 2008 crisis everybody’s time-to-fill and cost-per-hire went down, and since then, as the economy has slowly improved, those people’s cost-per-hire and time-to-fill have gone up.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people in the industry are struggling to create reports that are meaningful, and the reasons for that is that you must first understand the prime HR objectives. When you recognize that service management and delivery are the main focus, then you start looking at the reports that help you manage that service. For example, an obvious one is when and how candidates respond to your service, the hiring manager’s level of engagement and responsiveness… It’s very important to know which ones are responsive and which ones aren’t, and why.

Q. Earlier in the interview you mentioned that to be able to deliver strategic TA, organizations needed to extend the focus of candidate experience and engagement past recruiting into the employee’s first day and beyond. How do you see leading organizations doing this?

Dimitri: We have noticed that our customers are placing a heavier focus on the onboarding phase than previously. Let’s be honest – they have spent considerable time, effort, and money on getting the right candidate to the door, and potentially loosing somebody at this stage of the game is disastrous. It’s not only financially costly, but has a large effect on your brand and can send shock waves through the organization. Strategic TA doesn’t stop with the offer process; it should and does cross right over and into onboarding and talent management.

I do understand why many view onboarding as a tedious core HR process. It’s usually a paperwork heavy, compliance driven process. Furthermore, it sits at the interface between TA and TM, and thus can easily be mistaken as a core process rather than a strategic one. However, it’s definitely strategic, as onboarding takes place at a sensitive period of a candidate’s life; it’s an exciting yet nervous time, with many doubts floating around. And those first experiences with an organization as an employee have the potential to impact how long a new hire stays, their perceptions, how quickly they become integrated and feel comfortable, etc. And so it’s important to approach onboarding from a strategic standpoint. With a well-structured process, an organization can squash any doubts, preserve that initial excitement and enthusiasm, positively shape the candidate’s organizational perceptions, and ultimately get them up to speed and engaged quicker.

Certainly our customers are recognizing the importance of an experience from shoulder tap to first day and beyond – while it’s not a big idea, it does make absolute strategic sense. Granted, not easy to do with 100,000 employees, but with the right platform it’s definitely possible – we are seeing it happen more and more.

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