Are You Chasing Your Tail, or Is Your Tail Chasing You?

Over the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss talent management strategy with over 500 recruiting and HR leaders from companies across the U.S. I started these talks by asking the question, “Are you aware that most corporate executives and line managers don’t consider HR/recruiting strategic enough?” The overwhelming answer was a reluctant “yes.” And it’s true: HR/recruiting is not strategic enough. Being strategic is not just about thinking strategically; I’ve met many outstanding HR/recruiting professionals who think strategically. Being strategic is more about executing and implementing tactics, programs, and projects based on sound strategic thinking, not just talking about it. In this article, I’d like to review the problems associated with not being strategic enough, and then propose a step-by-step plan about how to get started on becoming more strategic. Understanding your current and future hiring challenges is the first step to becoming more strategic. From there you can then determine if a long-term strategic fix will work, or if you’ll be forced to use some type of short-term tactical band-aid. For example, if the market for software developers is extremely tight, you’ll be forced to hire some extra recruiters right away. Given some forewarning, a better strategic choice might have been to outsource the project to Infosys in Bangalore. To get started on this forward-planning part, I’ve put together a 2005-2006 recruiting and hiring challenges survey ( to highlight trends and changes on the recruiting horizon. Knowing these trends will give you a firsthand chance to be more strategic. As you might know, I frequently use the iPod as a metaphor for developing a market-driven systematic hiring strategy. The iPod is not a music player. It’s a fully integrated music system developed based on market and consumer needs. In my mind, most hiring and recruiting processes are neither market-driven nor systematic. Instead, they resemble a random collection of CDs, MP3 players, and old stereo equipment and require too many instructions to get the whole processing working. Following are some clues that a company’s recruiting and hiring processes are neither iPod-like nor strategic enough. If you observe any of them in your company, then rules and bureaucratic processes might be driving recruiting techniques rather than sound business strategy.

  • Not hiring enough top people (and/or the process takes too long). What would you have to do to hire a top person in five days after opening a requisition? I’m not sure it’s possible, but you’d have to be strategic to pull it off. Just figuring out how to get there would require some great strategic thinking and planning.
  • Too much reaction and not enough planning to changing hiring needs. If sourcing doesn’t begin until a req is approved, or if changes in hiring needs come as a surprise, it’s likely due to a lack of strategic planning.
  • Using old solutions to solve new problems. Over the past 20 years, every other business process has improved dramatically. The challenges that recruiting faces today are the same ones faced 20 years ago, yet we’re still using the same techniques to solve them ó recruiters (in-house and external) and some type of advertising. There must be a better way.
  • Lack of systematic and integrated processes. When top candidates can’t find your jobs because the keywords they are likely to use don’t match what you’ve put in your ad, something is wrong with the system. If recruiters, candidates, and hiring managers avoid your systems or develop too many external workarounds, something’s wrong with the system. When the latest gadget or gizmo is tried and it doesn’t work and you’re surprised, something’s wrong with the system.
  • Hiring managers who only reluctantly cooperate with their recruiting team members. There’s something amiss if line managers need to see too many resumes, too many candidates, are unwilling to invest enough time in the process working, or aren’t good at assessing candidate competency.
  • Recruiters who have too many reqs to handle and too little time to do it right. A business case with a clear ROI needs to be made to justify the appropriate level of recruiting resources. Putting the case together and convincing senior managers to invest in recruiting is a key part of being strategic. Somehow, retained search firms can justify a 33% fee for the promise of a top performer and contingency firms can get 15-25%. Why does the internal recruiting department need to fight for 10%?

To become more strategic, you need to start thinking and executing strategically. Here are some things HR/recruiting can to do to get on a forward-looking strategic path.

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  1. Develop a market-driven hiring strategy mindset. The best people are more selective and more discriminating. When considering new opportunities they balance short-term considerations with long-term opportunities. This is true whether they’re active, passive, or in-between. Hiring processes must be redesigned from beginning to end to address the needs of these best people. Too many hiring processes today are designed to meet the needs of candidates who are actively looking for work and are based on criteria established by lawyers, comp and benefits, bureaucratic rules, regulations, and process-driven thinking.
  2. Implement a comprehensive workforce planning process. The company business strategy must be converted into a short- and long-term hiring plan by class of job. This needs to be a rolling forecast of hiring needs updated quarterly. It should mimic the product plan, the sales forecast, and the production planning process. Done right, workforce planning is an ongoing process, not a one-time project or annual event. When a company’s business strategy changes, everything else it does needs to change, too. HR/recruiting needs to be aware of these changes as soon as they occur.
  3. Develop a domestic and international sourcing strategy, including outsourcing. With a workforce planning process in place, a series of multi-channel sourcing programs can be considered. The goal is to maximize quality while reducing cost and time to hire. All options need to be on the table and considered, evaluated, and tested.
  4. Determine recruiting team resources and requirements. Reacting to changing hiring needs or backlog is not how recruiting resources should be determined. This is the equivalent of adding more production workers because the factory isn’t as productive as expected, or adding more software developers because the ones hired are too slow. In a factory, the plant manager forecasts hiring needs based on planned production levels and the development manager adds staff to handle budgeted new projects. Recruiting leaders need to determine their team needs based on the workforce plan and their sourcing strategy.
  5. Break existing bottlenecks. Reverse-engineer every step in your hiring process. Ask great people to review every step in the process and figure out where they’re likely to opt out. Then fix these parts. Start with finding your jobs and determining if they’re compelling enough. The best people want better jobs and better careers. Is this what you’re offering? Even if you are, are the jobs easy to find and to apply to?

I’ve been trying to figure out why hiring top talent hasn’t gotten much easier over the past 20 years. Unless a company is an employer of choice or candidate supply vastly exceeds demand, hiring top people seems to be a constant uphill battle. The iPod offers a clue to the solution: become market-driven, become more systematic, and become more strategic. This is not a walk in the park, but it is the right path. To get on it requires a wholesale change in perspective and direction, from an inside-out process driven world to an outside-in market driven one. Early in my career, I participated in a number of high-level strategic planning sessions at a Fortune 100 company. During one of these, a group president asked one of his GMs a not-too-friendly question: “Are you chasing your tail, or is it chasing you?” The answer had to do with being strategic or tactical. If you’re not hiring enough top people, you might want to think about your response.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


1 Comment on “Are You Chasing Your Tail, or Is Your Tail Chasing You?

  1. This article hit many raw spots for me at the moment. I think that I could put a tick against just about every clue that you listed to identify whether a recruitment process is not strategic enough. I would say our recruitment process is completely reactive!
    Whilst this is not new information, it was great timing – so thanks. In fact I have just had a discussion with one of our Regional Development Managers and used this article to highlight that our current recruitment model is not going to cut it in the next financial year, and in future years.
    I would welcome your input on some practical steps on how to change. Our current situation is that I recruit for an IT department of approximately 350 staff. We do not hire contractors, so the recruitment and selection process is farily rigorous. I administer the whole process and conduct testing and screening interviews. We rarely outsource, so for sourcing I rely entirely on advertising response and on employee referrals. To top this off, I work 3 days per week.
    This model has worked over the last few years when the market for IT professionals was buoyant (if you are an employer). However, the market has changed and many new hires have been approved for the next budget.
    I think that we need to put some thought into the following:
    Employer branding – who do we want to target? How do we want to be viewed? Once we have defined this, how do we tell it to the market?
    Sourcing – how do we include proactive sourcing into the model? Can this be done inhouse? what is the benefit of outsourcing this? What other activies can we as an organisation do to network with other IT professionals of like skill-set?(we definitely need to have a stream of potential candidates being identified for the future)
    Costs – cost is a huge factor for my company. Unfortunately, the fact is that recruitment costs money whether you do it in-house or not. (There is a huge cost in not having someone in the job being productive because the Recruitment Manager is struggling to identify and process suitable candidates).

    What do you believe to be the key elements of a strategic recruitment model? What are other companies doing?

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