There’s Going to Be a Revolution: Systematizing the Hiring of Top Talent

A number of things happened this week that could be indicators of the future of hiring. Or perhaps not. While waiting for a client, I had an opportunity to visit a Starbucks in an inner-city industrial area. It was a moment of truth. I realized then that Howard Schultz’s Starbucks doesn’t really sell coffee ó they sell a coffee shop experience. Starbucks has systematized the creation of a similar positive experience everywhere in the U.S., even in bad neighborhoods. Jim Collins (author of Good to Great), in his cover story in this week’s Fortune (July 21, 2003), presents his choices for the top ten CEOs of all time. The common thread among them all is that each systemized something that destined their companies to become great. William McKnight at 3M systematized innovation. Sam Walton, the founder and CEO of Wal-Mart, systematized high-volume, low-cost retailing. Charles Coffin (#1 on the Collins list) of GE systematized management development. Now, back to the inner city ó and two hours later at my client’s office. The candidate we had just interviewed for a CEO role described how he systematized sales, product development, and operations at the three companies he turned around. He was great and he will be a finalist. Michael Gerber, in E-Myth, discusses how entrepreneurs build great companies ó by systematizing and scaling up a small, successful process. He uses McDonald’s as an example. The system that made McDonald’s grow rapidly, surprisingly, wasn’t just fast-food; it was franchising. After all of this, yesterday, a market researcher from a big HR service provider called to ask me about future hiring trends. I felt somewhat like Dustin Hoffman’s adviser in “The Graduate” (the one who said, “Plastics”), as I responded in a conspiratorial tone, “Systematization.” I told her that the next big movement was that hiring top talent had to be made into a repeatable business process. I then went on to try to prove the point. Right now, for most companies, hiring top talent is more art than science, with a little luck and a few great recruiters thrown in. For an employer of choice, the system for hiring top talent is far easier to design ó since they always have more top candidates to choose from. As I went on I became more convinced that making hiring the best employees a systematic process will be (or should be) the wave of the future. People skills like recruiting and interviewing need to be merged with IT technology. This is turn needs to merge with flexible sourcing programs that instantly adjust, based on the number of top people in the candidate pool coupled with instantaneous scheduling of interviews. This is a huge bottleneck that must be broken. A nice concept, even though the call ended prematurely after about 10 minutes. But given all that took place this week, it was hard not to consider more deeply the challenges involved in making hiring top talent a systematic process. Here’s an idea you might want to consider. I’d like to get you and your companies involved in this discussion. There must be a few recruiting executives who are now on this systemization path who we can look to as role models. If so, tell me who you are ( Let’s talk. We’ll summarize what’s working and what’s not in this column and develop a forum for new ideas. We’ll even create a Hall of Fame for those leaders in our industry who are on the leading edge of this issue. This is nothing less than figuring out what it really takes to make hiring the best a systematic six sigma process. Here’s a rough outline of some of the challenges involved in making hiring the best a systematic process. They were put together with a few others at a second visit to Starbucks. Goal: Make hiring the best a repeatable business process. This means a company can rely of having a steady stream of high-quality talent for any position whenever needed ó under all economic conditions, from recession to rapid expansion. Obvious impact: The ability to hire top talent under all economic conditions minimizes the risk of every new venture ó thereby insuring maximum corporate growth. Key challenges: (roughly in order of magnitude)

  1. The CEO has to lead the charge, providing the vision, the commitment, and the resources.
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  3. Every aspect of the system must be designed based on the needs of a top person who has multiple opportunities, not based on what’s convenient or readily available.
  4. Sourcing needs to be far more sophisticated. Multi-channel programs must be in place and modified continuously based on changing business conditions. More targeted techniques must be used to continuously attract semi-active and semi-passive candidates.
  5. Recruiters and hiring managers must be fully trained and more professional. Recruiters need to understand top candidate motivation and influence them every step of the way. Hiring managers must understand how to attract and manage top talent.
  6. The interview and assessment process must be more rigorous and effective. (Maybe we should throw away traditional interviews altogether?)
  7. Job descriptions must be relevant. In my opinion, the traditional job description prevents the best from ever getting hired. Top candidates don’t want to do the same job. Instead, job descriptions must clarify expectations, describe opportunities and challenges, and clearly show how the person taking the job will become better.
  8. ATS and HRIS systems must do more than just manage resumes, post ads, and monitor candidate status. When combined with a company’s career site, these systems must provide the infrastructure to tie together all of the other pieces of the hiring process. Here are some ideas on what these advanced systems need to do: Recruiters need instant access to scripts to address candidate concerns. Real time metrics are required to monitor current performance at every stage in the process. The candidate evaluation process must be online and integrated. Recruiters and hiring managers must be able to communicate quickly, prioritize their schedules, and constantly push hot candidates forward. Steps #4 to #6 above must be incorporated.

The challenges of implementing a systematic business process for hiring top talent are formidable. Yet the enormity of the business impact makes it worthwhile. Let’s start on this journey together. Send in your thoughts, ideas, and companies or people you’d like to nominate for the Recruiting Management Hall of Fame. Be as zany and as far-fetched as possible. Spend some time at Starbucks, or even Taco Bell, and experience the experience. Start with these three questions and go from there: What would it take to make hiring the best a systematic business process? What would the impact be on a business that could be assured it could hire a top person for every open position within two to three weeks? What would the impact be on you if you were to lead or be part of this effort?

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).


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