Binging & Purging People: Why a Talent Strategy is More Critical Than Ever

Most years ? not just this one, in which the media has made things seem even worse than usual ? corporations in the United States purge themselves of tens of thousands of workers. The Industry Standard reports that, as of March 27th, 79,749 people had been laid off at dot-coms alone. At the same time, others firms are binging and hiring thousands of workers in a frenzy, as they have done for the last two years. I believe that American firms are caught in a vicious cycle that seems almost impossible to break. While we can plan and fine-tune our factory production cycles with precision, we have no idea how to do this with people. An answer, however, may be forming. This is the concept of developing a talent strategy led by someone many are calling a Chief Talent Officer. Personally, I don’t care what we call this person, but it seems logical that we should have someone responsible for the overall supply of talent. At the ER Expo a couple of weeks ago, the theme that ran just below the surface was the economy, the bursting dot-com stock bubble, and, because of these factors, the need to have a more proactive approach to talent. The reactive recruiting that has ruled us for the past 50 years was a simple response to a very poorly understood supply and demand system. Let me ask you a few questions: How much is your firm planning to grow over the next five years? How many and what kinds of people will it need? Are these people out there? If so, where? If not, what are you going to do about it? Do you know who the most valuable contributors to your organizations’ success are? Do you have strategies in place to keep them? Do you know who your best hires were last year in terms of their contribution to your firm? Have you worked with management to develop an overall plan for the numbers and types of people your firm should employ? What percentage of employees should be fulltime regular employees vs. temporaries, part-timers or contractors? I could go on. I doubt many of us could answer these with honesty or any certainty. I am sure some of you have “guesstimates” of how many people you will need to hire due to turnover or growth. Maybe some of you even have an idea of how many of your projected hires will need to be engineers or computer scientists or some such professional. But we do not have a comprehensive picture of needs, nor do we have any kind of adequate picture of the potential supply. While some vendors such as FlipDog are beginning to provide job indexes and other metrics to help us understand at a macro level what kind of talent is available, no company that I am aware of has any precise data on a profession-by-profession base. We can derive, with work, some sense of the numbers who are seeking work by merging data from job boards, and we can look at government statistics on employment. But even if we have all of this data, we have to make sense out of it and figure out what is meaningful to our organization and situation. Here are some simple steps you can take to start the process of developing a talent strategy for your firm. Step #1: Forecast likely demand. Looking at all your internal growth projections and expected turnover, put together a picture of probable need. Break this down by occupations, skill sets, profession, or whatever makes sense. Constantly check this with line. Step #2: Develop knowledge of likely supply. Using tools such as FlipDog that I have already mentioned, job boards, local employment data, and competitive intelligence; put together a picture of likely supply. Include projected college graduates with the majors you are seeking and place a realistic guess, based on past experience, on how many experienced people you will be able to recruit from competitors and other sources. Take into account mergers and acquisitions and the excess people they may bring to your firm. Have contingency plans in place to deal with this through outplacement, internal redeployment or development. These supply projections, when subtracted from the demand estimates, will give you an idea of how big your gap is and what kind of people you will need. Step #3: Develop a methodology of getting at that supply or of changing the demand. Once you have this, you can begin to propose ways to get more of the people you need. Will you put in place internal development such as Cisco and IBM and HP have done for years to supply some of the people you will need? Or will your plan be to vigorously recruit from your competition in the hopes of getting what you need? You may also find that working to reduce demand or to change the focus of the demand will reap benefits. Why does everyone have to have an engineering degree, for example? Perhaps a technician would be adequate to do that job? There is no doubt that we have had degree inflation and many jobs that were previously performed by high school graduates now require people with degrees. We may have to readjust this concept. And, there may be ways to simply use automation or process engineering to make it possible to do the work without more people. These are all choices that recruiters should be involved with and they are the kinds of things a talent officer would be focused on. Step #4: Prioritize your needs and make line management aware. Prepare a talent strategy report that contains the supply and demand data I have discussed and that outlines your proposed approach to dealing with the issues. Use facts, figures, and business-oriented examples. Ask for the resources you will need, and guarantee a certain level of result. Step #5: Report on progress. Develop a set of metrics and facts that you can report regularly to senior management to keep them aware of the supply and demand balance and to let them know how you are doing. While this is only a quick overview of a complex process, I hope you get the idea that proactive planning is the only way to get the people cycles under control. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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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


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