Leadership is hard to define. One might say, “I know it when I see it, but I can’t tell you exactly what it is.” We have all probably worked for good leaders ? people who inspired us, excited us, or challenged us. And, we have also all worked for good managers ? people who carefully directed us, followed the process, met the numbers, and always followed through. Both are good. Both are necessary. And rarely do they come combined in a single package.
Recruiting is full of managers. These are the people who run their recruiting organizations efficiently and effectively. They implement processes, cautiously install technology, focus on customer satisfaction, and on staying within their budgets. As long as the world doesn’t change too much, they thrive.
But times are changing. As I have documented in many articles, we are in the midst of a talent shortage that challenges organizations in every country. I am currently in New Zealand where shortages or medical staff and engineers are already creating social and economic issues. The same is true in Australia and China, both with booming economies. What makes all of this even more difficult to deal with that it is happening at the same time we are glutted with unqualified candidates.
The solutions are not simple and we need recruiting and HR leaders to come forward with new ideas and visions on how to end this talent shortage. It will require leaders with the willingness to take risks to build powerful talent machines. All of the traditional tools of recruiting will come under scrutiny, and the entire function may be snatched out of the hands of recruiters and put into new hands ? hands perceived as capable of meeting the challenges that organizations will face. I see already a number of recruiting functions led by people with marketing or operations backgrounds ? not human resources or recruiting.
Here are three of the changes that will be forced upon us. Are you a leader ready with creative ideas and perhaps some solutions?
Challenge #1: Develop and, thereby, retain selected current talent.
You will be asked to help identify everyone within your organization who has the capability and motivation to acquire new skills. And, it is very likely that you will also be asked to help them acquire those skills.
Identifying competencies, finding ways to quickly give people the basic skills they need to be successful, and finding those within who are closest to having the right skill-sets and who have demonstrated a facility with learning, will be a major need. Development will become, for the first time ever, a major part of the talent function. We will need leadership in developing technology to help make this happen, whether it is an assessment tool or an e-learning program. Best-in-the-world firms will already be playing around (yes, playing is the only way to be creative) with ideas and tools. As far as I’m concerned, better interviewing and employee referral programs are very old and temporary solutions to a problem that will require great leadership and skill to solve.
Challenge #2: Compete with a distinctive brand and sell a set of qualities that are substantially different from those of any one else.
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It will probably not be possible to only say you are better than others in your industry or better than your competitors. You will have to find ways to clearly be perceived as different or better than everyone else if you want to attract the best people. Cisco had a philosophy a few years ago of attracting only the top 10%. To execute on this, it established leadership in sourcing creativity and actually invented many of the practices that are more or less commonly used today. These include having an interactive website, a candidate profiler, and the use of technology and email. It will take continued and continuous experimentation and constant upgrading of technology to get the attention of the best.
Yet, few organizations that I am familiar with have even achieved recruiting parity, to say nothing about excellence, in their own industry. Most of the recruiting world is firmly embedded in 1970 or 1980 and is just beginning to realize the value of recruiting websites, on-line screening and assessment, recruiting image and brand development, and the need for integration of development and acquisition functions.
Challenge #3: Work with your organization to do more with fewer people.
Recruiting and talent development folks have rarely been asked to get involved in this area, which has been left to organizational development or organizational excellence people. We all need to be clear that well-defined organizations that can flexibly change to meet customer needs will be the ones that survive. These organizations will be focused on talent, and indeed paranoid about their people.
The best-in-the-world firms will know that their core of highly talented, well-compensated employees will be able and willing to take advantage of technology, experiment with new approaches and castoff what doesn’t produce results as a matter of course. Many of the surviving dot-coms are leading the way. They are developing people who can move internally easily as needed because they have broad skills, are not tied to org charts and titles but to executing as needed.
The integration of many fields ? Organizational Development, HR, recruiting, development and psychology ? will be the core set of disciplines that will lead our profession forward. We are sorely in need of individuals who can be leaders ? not managers ? and take the risks, inspire their staff and creatively move us into this century.