How to Create a Strategic Plan for Recruiting

Right now, every organization is cranking up its strategic planning processes. Offsites are scheduled, calendars are being tweaked, and the annual routine of budgeting and planning is getting underway.

By September, everyone will be deep into the process, but many will be unsatisfied and unconvinced that they have addressed the really meaty issues. From my experiences, all the reams of paper that will be passed out containing minute details of past efforts and all the PowerPoint charts will not change anything very substantially.

I speak with recruiters who tell me their strategic planning process is used to justify spending the limited budget they have. Others say the entire process is pipe dreaming, and when business reality hits, the strategy will be forgotten as everyone rapidly falls back to reactionary tactics. It doesn’t have to be that way.

There are many organizations that have used the time spent to grapple with big issues and make some important changes in the way they recruit. This is an opportunity that can be squandered or used wisely. The choice is yours.

Start Early and Dramatically

Kick this process off as soon as you can, and way before you have to, to give your team the time to explore, brainstorm, and get outside of their comfort zones. I often suggest bringing in an outside speaker to illuminate an issue or discuss trends.

Some approaches might be:

  • Bring in a futurist or an economist from a local university who has an appreciation of the talent issues the world faces.
  • Find a “guru” in this space and invite him or her to address your team on key issues. Ask to be really challenged.
  • Locate a speaker who works in another industry with different challenges and see how they have dealt with their issues.
  • Assign different recruiters to uncover issues through conversations and reading and then get them to illustrate and explain them to the team. They have to do some homework, talk to people, read, and summarize their findings.
  • Invite your corporate strategist or head of R&D to come and speak about emerging business directions or new products that might impact the talent in the organization.

The idea is to expose your staff to the key issues and trends that affect them today and those that will in the future. Don’t get bogged down in specifics or budgets or reviews of last year’s plan until you complete this step. Start broadly and then do a deeper dive.

Use Stories or Narratives

Many leaders turn to a technique I find very helpful. Rather than deal with abstract issues and concepts, turn them into stories about real situations and people. Sometimes this is called scenario planning but whatever it is called, it can be more effective than any other technique in getting people to understand how significant the issues are.

To do this, assign a small group (three people or so) to develop a theme or issue into a story. Have them pretend they are writing a sitcom or a drama that acts out the issue they are assigned.

Start with a mini-situation like this, perhaps: “The phone rang. It was the new VP for international sales, who was opening an office in Peking in two months and needed it to be staffed ASAP.”

The team’s job is to write the story of their reaction, steps taken, resources used, and their successes. You could have several of these, each written by team members based partly on their own experiences and partly on the stimulation provided by the speaker in the first step. Assign groups to write and act out the scenario.

Some teams craft a series of unfinished sentences such as this: “We suddenly had three open requisitions for positions I had never heard of. This happened because. . . .” Once again, by working through the completion of this sentence you will find many areas for improvement.

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This is an active process that is used to uncover areas of weakness or areas where you have no expertise. You may also find that certain technologies or processes need to be revamped to meet these potential challenges. The bigger and hairier you make the possible scenarios, the richer the outcome.

Star Players on the Team

While it may seem silly to bring this up, it is important that your team include everyone who has a stake in the recruiting process. Ideally, have at least a representative sample of hiring managers for the first step and perhaps even for the second one. Invite key IT people, corporate strategic planning folks, and business people to participate wherever you, and they, feel it would be useful. The more people you have as part of the process, the stronger and more realistic it will be.

Here is a list of eight types of people to consider having as part of your overall process. They may play a role at different stages, but they all have something to contribute:

  • A recently hired employee
  • A long-term professional employee
  • Someone from finance or budgeting
  • An HR generalist
  • A hiring manager
  • A planner or project manager
  • A product developer/R&D researcher/inventor
  • Anyone who is a contrarian (someone who always finds the flaws and isn’t afraid to point them out). Every organization has at least one of these folks; their critical thinking is always useful.

Tie Major Strategic Initiatives to Specific Outcomes

As a final step in your discussion, make sure every major strategic initiative is tied directly to a measurable outcome. Determine how you would know that an initiative had been successfully completed and find a way to measure that.

Assign each of these to an owner or steward whose job is to make sure that progress is being made and that there are milestones that can be tracked.

A Summary

Here are six things to ask yourself as you develop your plan:

  1. What changes in customer demand, technology, or the regulatory environment could have enough impact on your function or organization to influence or significantly change your plan?
  2. What are your distinctive competitive strengths, and how does the plan build on them?
  3. Specifically, how and why is this plan different from last year’s? What happened to last year’s plan? Why weren’t certain elements completed? How could that be prevented?
  4. How different is your strategy from those of competitors, and why? Is that a good or a bad thing? What do you know about your competitor’s strategies?
  5. How accurate have your past budget, requisition, and success forecasts been? What could have made them better?
  6. Who will measure the outcomes? What tools will you use to do this? With what frequency will you monitor progress?

A strategic planning process should be something positive and it should impart energy and excitement. If folks who attend leave feeling bored or ineffective, the time spent has been a waste.

By employing a few techniques to encourage participation, to force real thinking, and to challenge convention, you can move the process of planning for tomorrow to a new level.

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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