Leadership is hard to define. Most of us 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 ó people who inspired us, excited us, or challenged us. And we have also all worked for good managers ó people who carefully directed us, followed the process, met the numbers, and always followed through. Both are good. Both are necessary. But 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 stay 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 ó and as Roger Herman and John Sumser have carefully reported ó we are on the edge of a talent shortage of a size and depth that is hard to fathom. What makes all of this even more difficult to believe is that it is happening at the same time we seem to be glutted with candidates. As we emerge from this recession, we will need leaders to come forward with ideas, vision, and the willingness to take risks to build powerful talent machines. All of the traditional tools of recruiting will come under scrutiny. In fact, the entire function might be snatched out of the hands of recruiters and put into new hands ó hands perceived as capable of meeting the challenges that organizations will face. Here are three of the challenges that will be forced upon us. Are you a leader ready with creative ideas on how to tackle them? Challenge #1: Developing, and thereby retaining, 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, finding those within who are closest to having the right skill sets and who have demonstrated a facility with learning: all of these will be major needs. 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 am 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: Competing with a distinctive brand and selling a set of qualities that are substantially different from those of anyone else. It probably won’t 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, they 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 ó much less excellence ó 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, online screening and assessment, recruiting image and brand development, and the need for integration of development and acquisition functions. Challenge #3: Working 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. But 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; indeed, they will be 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 leverage technology, experiment with new approaches, and cast off what doesn’t produce results as a matter of course. Many of the surviving dotcoms are leading the way. They are developing people who can move internally easily as needed because they have broad skills and are free from org charts and titles. Many management theorists, such as Charles Handy and Peter Drucker, already see the decline of the hierarchical, relatively inflexible organizational forms of the 20th century. The integration of many fields ó OD, HR, recruiting, development, and psychology ó 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 ó people who can take risks, inspire their staff, and creatively move us into this century.
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