What Would the “Perfect” Recruiting Function Look Like? Part 1: Talent Philosophy

If you were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to build a recruiting function from scratch, put in place any set of processes or technology that you wanted to, and hire anyone at all to help you, what would you do? I often encourage and help clients do just this. It is an important part of strategic planning and it stimulates creative thinking. Spending a day with your staff and a few hiring managers, executives, consultants or others who can help you understand your function from many angles is a worthwhile activity. Yet, it is easy to get way off-track and spend time either building castles in the air or never really getting to anything new or challenging. In a series of articles over the next few weeks, I’ll outline a framework that will help guide the process for you. Ideally, a process like this takes place evolutionarily over several weeks. The first meeting gets the ideas flowing and lets everyone know that they are expected to think differently. Subsequent meetings and activities add depth and knowledge to the process and eventually lead to new behaviors. I’ll try to start each article with a short case study that will illustrate the point that I am making. I ask for your thoughts and comments on the case study, and we can even start a dialogue going on ERE if anyone is interested. I will follow each case with my thoughts and try to derive some general principals that may be helpful to you. Smith and Woodstock Case It was a brisk fall day and the leaves were almost gone from the trees. Curtis Thompson, VP of HR for Smith and Woodstock, sat looking out the window deep in thought. He faced a tough decision: should he ask Charles Boudreaux to leave? Charles had been the director of staffing for the past six months, and they were the most tumultuous six months Curtis had been through in his career. When he found Charles, he thought he had made the best hire possible. Charles was talented, well-respected at his former employer, and had put in place a number of innovative programs. Curtis was well aware that Smith and Woodstock, a 100-year-old manufacturing company in conservative New England, needed to improve its hiring. Every year it had gotten harder and harder to attract skilled machinists and engineers and the local population was shrinking and getting older. He had really believed that Charles would be able to “put them on the map” and develop strategies to attract younger workers and keep them. From the very first week, it was obvious that Charles was a mover and shaper. He held a strategic offsite meeting (the first one Charles could recall ever being held at Smith and Woodstock), brought in a couple of new recruiters, and started talking about creating a website. Over the past few months he had purchased an applicant tracking system and was trying to get both the recruiters and the hiring managers to use it. He had started posting jobs to the Internet and had increased the number of applicants significantly. Unfortunately, not very many of these candidates suited the hiring managers. As far as Curtis could tell, Charles had not really made any friends in the plant, nor had he spent much time with the hiring managers. He worked 10 or more hours a day, but it was all in planning, meetings with his staff, and on the Internet. Curtis felt he should have intervened more strongly than he had. But he had counseled Charles many times to get to know the company and to spend time down on the floor to meet some of the workers and their bosses. Charles had responded by saying he wanted to keep neutral and not be influenced by past bad habits and the conservative thought that had created the hiring problem they now faced. This made some sense to Curtis, but he still thought a little more understanding would have helped Charles move a bit more slowly. The company was challenged by having somewhat old-fashioned ideas about people and loyalty. It was the kind of company that valued the relationship an employee had with his boss and fellow workers almost as much as it did his technical skill or competence. Charles really didn’t get it. Now, six months later, the hiring managers were in Curtis’s office every day complaining that Charles didn’t listen to them and that they didn’t understand the recruiting system he was putting in place. Even the president had made a comment to Curtis in the parking lot about the “upstart” in his department. Charles sat looking at the dry leaves blowing across the parking lot wondering what he should do now. Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What philosophy about talent seems to be dominant at Smith and Woodstock?
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  • If you were Charles Boudreaux, how would you have introduced change? Have you been acting in a successful way?
  • If you were Curtis Thompson what would you do?

Thoughts and Comments Every organization has a view of the people it employs. At one level it is the view about the purpose of the people who work in your organization. Do your managers look at employees as simply providing labor, or do they see them as strategic contributors? Are the people you employ largely interchangeable and faceless workers, or are they skilled team members? Are people easily hired and fired, or is there an attempt to build loyalty and a mutual feeling of commitment? Is your organization future-facing or past-focused? Is it change-adverse or does it advocate change? Is it ready to change or in deep resistance? Having a realistic understanding of the underlying philosophy every organization has about its people is the most fundamental step in creating a sustainable and successful recruiting function. I often find that new recruiting directors or managers struggle because they have not taken the time to understand the philosophy, or even worse, they don’t really care about it and try to impose their own. You can only learn what this philosophy is by talking to lots of hiring managers, employees and people who have interacted with the organization over some period of time. It requires conversation, observation, and testing of your assumptions. But once you understand it then putting programs in place that reflect it become easier and their acceptance more likely.

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 ERE.net, 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 kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


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