Sustainable Talent Planning, and a New Role for Recruiters and HR

Past talent initiatives have generally not aimed at people, but at improving efficiency, managing work flows, and ensuring quality. Now, service, innovation, and relationships are seen as the enablers of increased profit as the spotlight moves away from manufacturing and production.

HR has the opportunity to shine or be replaced by some other function as it is asked to ensure the availability of and quality of talent. Recruiters are central to that effort and many changes are underfoot.

Recruiting as a profession is challenged to embrace a broader scope of work and to take responsibility for more sophisticated and complex talent analysis and development.

There are several approaches to developing a sustainable talent management process and philosophy. Some of these mirror the methods used by manufacturing, finance, and other corporate functions that have undergone transformations over the past decades.

We can all learn from each other and draw inferences where they are appropriate.

Ask New Questions

What people policies will lead to a sustainable workforce model over economic cycles and changes in skills?

This is the central issue that must be solved.

Binging and purging people is a zero-sum game; neither you, the employees, the candidates, nor the organization gain anything. What each gets are anger, frustration, and fear.

Shift Your Thinking

Instead of thinking about your job as filling requisitions, or sourcing candidates, or screening people, think of it as providing talent guidance to management. Recruiters can help managers achieve their business goals by helping them determine what combination of skills and experience will make it easier for them to achieve their business goals.

You can push back on hiring managers who seem to be asking for talent that is not right for the direction the organization is headed. You will also need knowledge of the talent market and be able to speak intelligently about the availability of certain kinds of talent with numbers and facts.

Having the right frame of mind is the most important aspect of change. It will not be easy to begin thinking like a solutions provider rather than a “slot filler,” but as long as that is your goal and you periodically assess whether you are moving in the right direction, you will succeed.

Focus on Skills You and the Hiring Managers Determine Are Critical

To quantitatively improve candidate quality and overall performance, a solutions provider needs to be able to define every position in terms of critical competencies and skills that have been verified as necessary to accomplish the tasks of that position.

Ask hiring managers to define the skills they need to hire, not the degrees and experience levels they think are appropriate. While degrees and experience may add depth to the final decision, skills and abilities ultimately make the most difference.

Other ways to improve the sophistication and effectiveness of talent planning is to add more thoughtful analysis to the process.

For example, use modeling techniques to determine whether it is more efficient to hire a replacement for a position or to train someone internally. The decision is made on data, not on the opinions of HR or managers. Finance has developed models to help guide investment decisions, and over the next few years, HR will be developing similar models for talent planning.

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Some possible areas for investigation and research include:

  • Calculating the impact one person or a team of people has on profits based on a skills profile versus another person or team with a different profile.
  • Looking at the attributes of successful performers and relating your findings to the recruitment assessment and development processes.
  • Using search techniques to scan emails for employees’ thoughts about the organization and to hunt for clues to engagement and reasons why people might be looking for new positions.

Use Four Strategic Levers Wisely

Each HR function has what I call four levers to use that will have an effect on talent and define the talent strategy. These are the levers of attraction, competence, commitment, and performance.

We have overused the attraction lever for a decade or more as organizations convinced themselves that they needed more people with narrower skills. Recruiting became the darling of HR and has now suffered a significant blow as the other levers rise in importance.

The competence lever focuses on development of people and on increasing the capabilities of the current workforce. It is the lever being pulled the hardest right now, although the performance lever is also critical.

The performance lever defines success and focuses teams and individuals on accomplishing business results. As desired results are better defined, performance can be more finely measured and improved. We need much better ways to quantify performance and isolate elements of it from other influences.

The commitment lever contains the HR favorites of engagement and retention. People stay with an organization because it does two things: (1) it provides them with interesting, exciting at times, and meaningful work; and (2) it removes barriers to development, cross-training, internal transfers, and so on.

In other words, engagement is not about pay, the boss’s mood, the furniture, or the work/life balance. It is much simpler — it is about treating people as if they mattered, as if their opinions are important, and as if they were able to make their own decisions about what they can do.

The next 10 years will be marked by the increasing use of quantitative tools and methods in HR and recruiting. Many will be imported from other disciplines that have already been shaken to the core, such as manufacturing and finance.

It will be the era when we begin to quantitatively define how many people are needed to meet business needs, which work can be outsourced or given to consultants, and what needs to be done internally for well-defined reasons.

We will be moving to a disciplined, deeper understanding of work and how it gets accomplished, and what a sustainable workforce looks like.

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


5 Comments on “Sustainable Talent Planning, and a New Role for Recruiters and HR

  1. Kevin,

    This is a great article. Corporate recruiters must provide strategic direction and value to their company. The recent flop in the economy has left many HR organizations much smaller. The staff that remains must be able to provide a lot of value to an organization. Time consuming, tactical task should be provided by an outside service to free up the time that is required to do the valuable work outlined here.

    Bill Opal
    Corporate recruiters- Free up your time – Get a Flunky!

  2. Throughout my career in sales, marketing and general management I dealt with HR people that fell on either side of the divide between administrators and police on the one side and true business partners and guides on the other side.

    Our new book, Onboarding – How To Get Your New Employees Up To Speed In Half The Time (Wiley, 2009), is all about setting hiring managers to lead all phases of onboarding from Acquisition (including Attraction) through Accommodation, Assimilation and Acceleration. Done right, this should go a long way to helping HR people spend less time administrating and more time guiding.

    Those interested can download a summary of the book from or dig into an online program based on the book at

    George Bradt
    PrimeGenesis Executive Onboarding

  3. Yes, I think something has been lost in translation and recruiting has become transactional and overly metric driven. Perhaps we need to go back to grass roots recruiting, measure what we need to and really talk to each other…maybe then we will get the right people in the right jobs and get this economy back on track.

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