After the Slowdown? Try Developing A Talent Strategy

It?s February of 2002 and things are looking up! The reqs are rolling in and your depleted staff is struggling to deal with the requests from hiring managers. All those resumes you have been storing are looking more and more useless each day as other firms scoop up the people you?ve been hoping to hire. You?re also fighting off the bad reputation your firm has earned from all the layoffs you did in early 2001. Turnover has shot up, as those who couldn?t leave during the slow times make their moves. This makes your job even tougher. If you?re an experienced recruiting manager, it must look like d?j? vu all over again. Didn?t we go through this same thing a few years ago? There is only one way to prevent this small scenario from becoming real. You have to take the time now to begin developing a talent strategy for your organization. A talent strategy is complex and can only be done correctly when you have enlisted the cooperation of several parts of the organization: human resources, compensation, career development, training, succession planning, and the finance group. There are four parts to a talent strategy, which I will discuss below. The following graphic illustrates the basic elements of a talent strategy and the kinds of knowledge or skills necessary at each step. Part I: Create a forecast of demand. Knowing how many people you may need to supply is a vital first step in the planning process. While it is not possible or cost effective to try and get exact numbers, you can easily define basic levels of need. There is always an amount of turnover that is predictable and there will always be some growth taking place. The finance and business planning groups can give you an idea of what growth is planned and then you can translate that into what kinds of people are going to be needed. If there are plans to open more branches, you know you will have to hire the usual people needed for these branches. By developing communication tools to keep you informed of changes, whether growth or downsizing, you can get a head start on finding the right kinds of people. A standing committee charged with the talent strategy is one way to go about this as long as it is made up of people from a wide span of activities within the firm. Another and more sophisticated part of this step is to see how much demand there is in the local market for the same kinds of people you will be after. Are your competitors seeking the same engineers you are? One powerful job board, FlipDog can give you insight into this aspect of the talent strategy. FlipDog scrapes job descriptions off of corporate websites and aggregates them into pictures of demand in any zip code. If you use this service and discover that there is a huge demand for a particular profession, you can adjust the aggressiveness of your recruiting, extend the geography you are searching in, or raise salary levels to be more competitive. This service is invaluable for the prescient talent strategist. Part II: Develop a deep knowledge of the supply of key talent. No one can know exactly how many people there are in a given profession, as the numbers are constantly changing and the definitions of most jobs keeps evolving. You can, though, build very accurate gauges of relative supply levels. By using the number of resumes found on job boards such as Monster and developing software that can sort them into categories you can get a relative sense of how many of a particular profession are looking for work. If there are only a few resumes and you have need for many, you know that you will be faced with challenges. It may become necessary to discuss alternatives to hiring from outside as salary expectations may exceed your organizations desire or ability to pay them. This is where the career development people should play their role. They should know what needs are forecast and estimate how many current employees could develop the needed skills and in what timeframe. This is what couples development tightly to business needs and proves training?s ROI. Firms that face consistent talent shortages in one or two areas should take a hard look at the cost of developing their own people to fill these positions. You can at least advise management using actual data, and let them decide whether to spend more on recruiting or on talent development. Talent development will become increasingly less expensive as the talent shortages grow. Another aspect of supply is to know who the best people are in a given field and in a given geography. For example, there are only a few hundred top-level CIOs in the United States. A recruiting organization with a talent strategy would know who those top few were, where they were, and have a sense of how likely they might be to relocate or move to another organization. Leading edge firms have recruiting staff dedicated to this kind of competitive intelligence gathering. There are many high tech positions where knowledge of who is who at other companies can be powerful in helping yours meet a critical need quickly. Part III: Develop guidelines for deciding when to hire or develop talent. The 20th century approach was to always hire from the outside, because talent was plentiful and not too expensive. As we know today, talent is no longer plentiful and will get scarcer over the next decade. Even in this slow period, skilled technical people are not finding it particularly difficult to find jobs. As we leave the slow economy in the next few months, we will see this shortage underlined. Organizations that have taken the time to assess their current workforce and who have a deep understanding of the current talent and its capabilities will be ready to deploy the best people to where they are needed. This assessment could involve testing or competency analysis and should be linked to any succession planning process your firm may have. Knowing the current talent base is obviously necessary before you can decide on where the gaps are and how to fill them. Part IV: Decide on tactics and execute a coordinated process. Once the data and assessments are complete, the 21st century organization needs to approach the solution in a coordinated way. This means deciding how development will take place and whether a corporate university or an external provider can do this best. It means deciding on how many people to hire on a regular basis and how many on a part-time or contract basis while development of other staff takes place. No firm that I am aware of has this part of the process developed to any degree, yet it is becoming more important to get better at this. The strangest thing about all of this is that many firms have 98% of everything they need to create talent strategies; they just don?t put it all together. Maybe that?s the ultimate job of the 21st century recruiter. I will expand on some of these themes over the next few weeks. Let me know what you are doing in your firm to create these kinds of holistic approaches.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


2 Comments on “After the Slowdown? Try Developing A Talent Strategy

  1. I think that this is the perfect message to send to companies and recruiters alike. We are in DC, which you may know is Intern Heaven. Once the Intern “freebies” leave in Aug/Sept. We are going to need to be ready for this. I feel that many companies are going to have the same dilemma. Good way to keep people aware of the “impending storm”.

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  2. This is a very timely article for the telecom equipment industry. So many of us have downsized during the last year, that we all need a new approach to developing and retaining our valuable staff.

    We are presently trying to implement this type of scenario and the article provides a good framework from which to start.


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