Talent Acquisition Transformation

The Case for Talent Acquisition Transformation

The Case for Talent Acquisition Transformation

February 07, 2023
Newsflash – the way your company recruits is crazy. It literally makes no sense! It is bad for candidates, managers, and recruiters. Read on to find out why…

As a HR leader, you may read Talent Acquisition and instinctively want to ignore the subject and focus elsewhere, thinking that recruitment is just “fine”.
It isn’t...
...and you really ought to be giving the function some serious attention before it starts hindering your business operation (if it isn’t already that is).

Where to start?

The way companies recruit either new talent, or move current talent around, is totally and utterly ludicrous. It serves nobody well, not the hiring manager, the candidate, the recruiter, and certainly not the business operation.
Nobody has a good experience; nobody is left with a sense of satisfaction.
Generally, it takes far too long and costs far too much.
It’s a mess.

Why roast Talent Acquisition?

  • Candidates are treated like a commodity at best, a nuisance at worst
  • Recruiters are targeted on filling requisitions as their priority, which compounds point 1
  • Typically, a corporate recruiter will only have 45 minutes to work on each vacancy they manage each week*
  • Hiring Managers are kept in the dark, treated like an annoyance, often avoided
  • Too many companies still act like candidates should count themselves lucky to work for them
  • The end to end recruiting process is an inefficient, valueless, laborious chore.
*Based on a recruiter having 50 live requisitions and working a standard 37.5 hour week
It’s horrible to work in and it’s horrible to be involved in. Most recruiters don’t truly enjoy it – and it’s their chosen occupation!
However, a business simply can’t function without a workforce, so there is no getting around it, recruitment is needed. It is a necessary evil.
Some businesses win awards for the quality of their recruiting, so maybe they are different and somehow better than the rest?
They’re not. They’re just good at sugar coating a turd.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This isn’t an attack on any current TA teams, but rather a frank observation of the environment that has been created for them to operate in.

A typical TA operating environment in the 2020’s

What working conditions can a recruiter expect?
  • Laptop: Of course! Everyone adopts flexible working right…!
  • Internet access: yep
  • Tea and coffee: Absolutely, as much as they can drink
  • Respect: What? Er…
  • Investment: Does shared access to a LinkedIn recruiter seat count?
  • Realistic workload: Yes, if they work 90 hours a week and take no holidays
  • Ability to plan ahead: – silence –
How about a hiring manager, what can they expect?
  • Confusion about how to recruit: Check
  • Communication blackholes: Yep
  • Interviews and admin done for them: Yes, that’s a big help
  • CV’s screen: Sometimes, but it’s a bit hit and miss
  • Roles filled when they need them filling by?: Rarely, it always takes too long, so they need a “plan B” to cover work while they wait for the new hire to come…
And what about candidates, what can they expect?
  • An informative, compelling job advert? Maybe 1 in 10
  • An intuitive, quick and easy application process? Maybe 1 in 100
  • Quick and regular updates on their application? They will hear once, automatically. Then often never again 🙁
  • A smooth and seamless hand off between recruiter/HR and the manager? Not likely
  • A great initial impression of the company and how it operates? Unfortunately, not!
When you scratch beneath the surface of the falsely optimistic LinkedIn profiles and glossy corporate brand imagery, the reality on the ground is that a present-day recruiter’s job is a farce. They are expected to somehow deliver valuable hiring support to business managers without any of the important factors for success:
  • They don’t have enough time to do a good job with their current vacancy load
  • They don’t have a clue what work is coming their way and when
  • They spend an inordinate proportion of their working lives doing mandatory, low level, low value administration.
It is a downward cycle which leads to poor engagement, poor credibility, poor experiences for all involved and low levels of respect for the recruiting “service".
So, all in all a good target for substantial and deep-rooted transformation!

What’s the cause?

To answer this, it may first be of benefit to consider how the internal TA function has dysfunctionally “grown up.”
Initially created to serve as an administration centre, internal recruitment would coordinate tasks to grease the wheels of the process of applicants being interviewed by business managers and offered jobs (or declined).
It was always a transactional, process driven, “support” function. Existing merely to make the lives of business managers easier when hiring. Recruiters were administrators and CV pushers, nothing more, nothing less.
On average, workers change jobs every 3 to 5 years
That was 15-20 years ago. In truth, in many a company nothing has changed or moved on. Accept that a little thing called the internet got a bit popular and suddenly anyone in the world could apply for any job. This created serious volume and scale problems.
Then came a technology landslide; job boards, applicant tracking systems, CRMs, professional networks etc,. These systems and platforms have attempted to make the life of a recruiter easier. Although, often what they do is give the recruiter a different set of administrative headaches!
At the same time, the candidate market has matured and candidates now understand their worth. The average tenure in jobs has drastically reduced and people have started viewing jobs in a far more transient way. Opting to build careers over multiple companies, rather than focusing on a job for life! This has led to more recruitment and more stress on the already over stretched, under resourced, under prepared TA function.
Globalisation, financial crises, pandemics and a multitude of other macro-economic factors have also created a hyper competitive environment for business. Gaining competitive advantage is harder, surviving is tough, let alone thriving. Companies need good people. Scratch that, companies need the “best” people and CEO’s know that people will be their differentiator and the route to economic sustainability.
Even more pressure on the creaking TA delivery model.
So, to recap, Talent Acquisition has its roots firmly in administration and process coordination. The TA “system” was never designed to be able to cope with the expectations of the modern candidate and the modern business. As a result, it is literally being stretched to breaking point. This means transforming TA shouldn’t be a “nice to do,” it is an essential priority of any HRD and/or CEO. The current system cannot be maintained any longer. It is time for significant, meaningful change.
There is an unofficial rulebook that all TA functions play by, whether knowingly or not. It has evolved over time from those early days of administration, and it sets the basis for everything that is wrong with Talent Acquisition in the 2020’s...

The Unofficial TA Rulebook


Pecking order = Business managers first, then HR, then catering team, then the facilities team, then Recruitment


A good recruiting process will often take somewhere between 8-12 weeks. Managers expect it to be done in 2


There is no budget, so never ask


No matter what a hiring manager says to a recruiter they will expect Heaven and Earth to be moved to fill their vacancy before everyone else’s


Recruiters will have no idea what work is coming their way tomorrow, the next day, the next week, the next month, let alone the next year.


Every year there will be a blinkered desire to reduce Time to Hire, reduce Cost per Hire and increase diversity and quality of hire, with no sense of why.


Every year there will be less budget to achieve point 6


Every January there will be talk about transforming service delivery. By April it will be clear that nothing will change again that year.


Next year will be the same as this year. It may be busier; it may be quieter. There might be enough budget, there might not be. No one knows.

One of the major reasons that this rulebook is universally accepted is because it has formed the basis of the operating environment that virtually every current TA professional has “learned” recruitment within. The big question that an HRD/CEO should pose therefore is whether their current TA leader has the capability to transform the system because their belief system is built upon this out of date rulebook.
But to truly transform, the rules must be broken, and the rulebook obliterated.

Ground zero – Time to view TA as a system

We must cast aside the baggage of history so that a fresh, unhindered view can be allowed to grow. A view that looks at Talent Acquisition as a system, not a linear process. A system made up of multiple, interdependent variables that need to flex and co-exist to create the appropriate business outcome; each and every time.
To start, some fundamental questions must be asked, and answered:


Does TA need to exist – what is the business need/value?


Where does TA as a system start and end?


What is the most effective way to use people and technology across the system?


What knowledge and skills are needed to execute brilliantly?

If these questions have never been posed before within your business, they would form a good starting point. As opposed to the tired discussion about reducing time to hire, reducing cost per hire and improving candidate experience.
Improving the system will take care of improving the specific variables.

1) What is the business need that TA should fulfil?

If TA were a business within a business, what problem statement would it solve for the main business?
Without this mentality a TA leader will never achieve excellence as they will never understand the purpose of their function.
The problem statement could well be different for different companies, after all; no two businesses are the same, so why would their individual TA functions be?
As a strong starting point, universally speaking, businesses need to stay in business. They need to drive income, reduce costs and improve profitability and/or growth. Assuming that the organisational design is good, then the business “need” is to have all positions on its organisation structure filled with productive, value adding employees.
Therefore if 100% fulfilment of positions is the ultimate goal, the “need” is to achieve and maintain this level. Obviously, businesses “lose” talent daily for a variety of reasons, and they also create new and different positions within their structures. So, the problem that TA will play a large part in helping to solve is sourcing and hiring the talent to keep the company structure full.
Keep following this line of thinking and it is clear that every time a position within a structure is vacant, then work is not being performed, which will impact the overall output of the business and the ability to earn income and drive profitability/growth. At a single position, within a large business there will be no statistically relevant impact of this “vacant seat.” However, when compounded across many vacancies each year, the consequential impact on business output and performance are sizeable.
This organisational problem alone accounts for the reason hiring managers always need the recruiting process to be faster. It is simply because they are normally holding an “empty seat” in their team, which is having an impact on their team’s performance (and their own).
To distil down, the basic target TA needs to work towards is:
Increasing % TEAM FULFILMENT across the business.
Meaning the right people, in the right jobs for more of the time.

2) Where does the TA system start and end?

Traditionally, with a linear process-based viewpoint, there was an easy answer to this; the start is when a new vacancy is created (the need), the end point is when a new hire starts in role (the outcome). The relationship is flat and one dimensional:
Delivery Process: Create Vacancy, Brief, Attract, Screen, Assess, Offer, Onboard
This is how most business TA functions will describe their delivery process currently. There can be complexity and depth at any particular stage – for example the assessment stage could involve multiple gates, integrated technology driven assessment and a variety of sub processes – but ultimately the overall process is simple and clear.
How does this traditional process help toward the ultimate business goal of increasing fulfilment? Is there currently a positive relationship between the duration of time it takes to recruit a new employee and the duration of time the TA team have to recruit a new employee?
I.e. are hires made when they are needed to ensure team fulfilment and business productivity?
The simple answer is no. For the most part, using the current linear process, TA functions are unable to facilitate hiring in the timescales needed to maintain team fulfilment.
This is because, on average it takes far longer to conclude a recruiting process than TA are given notice to do so. There isn’t enough warning of the “need” until it is virtually needed!
This is the biggest threat to successful execution.


Recognising that this issue needs a resolution for a new system to work is key. Performing some simple root cause analysis of the problem highlights opportunities for improvement.
A few questions:
  • How do business managers typically instigate a recruiting process?
  • What triggers their action to instigate the process?
  • Do they typically instigate recruitment as soon as they know they need to recruit?
There is one consistent trait that all business TA processes share:
The manager will always instigate the recruiting process.
This is because they hold the “need,” they have a leaver, or a new role to fill in their team. They know about an impending fulfilment problem. How they do this may vary according to company, some will self-serve via an Applicant Tracking System, some will email or call the recruitment team.
The really interesting question to pose is why a manager instigates a recruiting process at any given time? Why on one day and not another?
And to take it a stage further:
Do managers think to instigate the recruiting process at the point when it is most likely to result in them maintaining fulfilment in their team?
i.e do they link when they instigate recruiting to how long it takes to recruit, in order to stand the best chance of not being left with an empty seat in their team?
For a manager to be able to do this they would need to know:
  • How long an average recruiting process takes end to end
  • The impact to them and their team if they don’t begin soon enough
  • That they are jointly responsible for a positive recruiting outcome and their own team fulfilment %
Exclamation Icon
In many companies it is a challenge to ensure managers understand how/where to go to begin recruiting, let alone coach them on doing it at the best possible time.
What all of this means, is that...
The manager forms a pivotal role in any future TA system.
A role that stretches far beyond them flirting with the recruiting process until they are required to interview candidates!
So, a new definition of end to end for a TA system would be:
Start: when the manager understands that they are facing a future fulfilment problem, End: when a new hire starts in the team

3) What is the most effective way to use people and technology across the TA system?

The relentless development of technology offers enormous opportunity to automate and improve low value administrative tasks. If we remember that the existing TA process is based on the historic requirement to deliver transactional, administration duties, then as thinking moves toward systems thinking for TA, surely adoption of technology to take care of the tasks that “need” to happen to keep a process moving, but are low value for a person to undertake, is a no brainer?
When it comes to mundane, monotonous repetitive tasks, machines beat people hands down for a few very simple reasons:
  • Machines don’t have motivational peaks and troughs
  • Machines will execute to the same performance level every time
  • Machines can work 24/7/365 – covering working and non-working hours
  • People don’t like doing these tasks!
So, what does this mean for the recruiter? Are machines going to replace them?
Yes. Machines will replace administrative, low value adding recruiters. And that is a good thing. Overpaid administrators masquerading as Recruitment Business Partners are hurting the credibility of TA as a business enabler every single day.
Are machines going to replace the need for people in the recruiting process?
Absolutely not! People are an essential part of the TA system that cannot be replaced. People understand nuance, build relationships and can flex the system to meet the changing needs of the business. People are the key to the system reaching maximum value.
Here is an overview of the typical activities in a TA system and who/what might perform them:
Understanding Future Demand Planning System Machine Icon
Manager prompt to start process Planning System Machine Icon
Raise new role ATS/Manager Machine and Person Icon
Role briefing Manager/Recruiter Person Icon
Sourcing candidates Sourcing System Machine Icon
Ranking candidates Sourcing System Machine Icon
Initial candidate outreach Sourcing System Machine Icon
Inbound applicant qualify ATS Machine Icon
Answering candidate questions ChatBot Machine Icon
Quality check Recruiter Person Icon
Sharing candidates with manager ATS/Sourcing System Machine Icon
Feedback Manager/Recruiter Person Icon
First stage interview Video Interview Platform Machine Icon
Selection event scheduling ATS/Calendar Scheduler Machine Icon
Interview Manager/Candidate Person Icon
Feedback & Negotiation Manager/Candidate Person Icon
Offer creation ATS/HRIS Machine Icon
Onboarding Onboarding Platform Machine Icon
Induction Manager/LMS Machine and Person Icon
This is purely illustrative and is by no means an exhaustive list of activities and / or process segments, however it clearly demonstrates that there are already several obvious opportunities to use machines effectively to automate many key parts of the recruiting process.

4) What knowledge and skills are needed to execute brilliantly?

A recruiter in a modern TA system needs a skillset that is evolved from today’s process minded recruiter. They need to be business oriented, high level coordinators of the TA system, not administrators of a process. They will add value through influence, consultation, and advice. Using data, experience and deep understanding of technology to keep the system healthy and the outcomes successful. Over time, the role should become a trouble-shooter and optimiser of the system, rather than a poster of job adverts, reviewer of CV’s and booker of interviews, as it is today!
They will become more coach, less player.
Within the next few years there will be a company that has the courage to prove that a recruiting process can be delivered end to end by machines, from demand capture, to auto sourcing, to engaging, to scheduling and inviting, to offering and then onboarding. With the manager providing the “human” interface with the candidate at the relevant points. The technology is already available to do this, but nobody has yet made the leap to run a full experiment.
The focus of today’s recruiter and TA leader should be to clearly define how and where the recruiter adds value above and beyond the machine-driven process to the end goal of increasing team fulfilment across their business.
Core activities that are considered key in todays TA model, such as candidate sourcing and CV reviewing, can already be done better by machines. So at some point, logic will prevail and adoption of relevant systems will start to speed up, until the tipping point when it is considered “old school” to have someone sat scouring databases for candidates and then reading each CV in turn to shortlist for a role!
It is possible today to understand a managers needs well in advance, automatically trigger the start of the recruiting process at the opportune time, auto source candidates, rank them for suitability, then present to the manager for review, all before a human recruiter has even woken up!
As this type of capability improves further, human recruiters simply won’t be able to compete, and more importantly managers will not accept slow, recruiter-based processes that are potentially rife with errors!
This shouldn’t be scary though. Why does a recruiter physically need to get involved before this point? They don’t. Only history and comfort dictates that they should be. If they are released from having to complete these types of tasks they can be deployed differently; to set up the sourcing machines for optimal performance, to check the outputs of the systems and “tinker” with the variables if improvements are needed. They can control the system and lead the machine learning.
Talent Acquisition is nothing more than supply and demand.
Go and visit any modern warehousing and distribution operation and see how different the roles are of the people working there now, compared to 10 years ago.
“But what about the candidate? They will hate not having a personal interaction!”
Highly unlikely. If this were the case then retailers would still be doing battle on the highstreets of the nation, rather than online. People want easy, one click, seamless experiences. They expect them.
Considering also that for the most part, candidates don’t get a personal experience currently. Research shows time and again that they don’t get communicated with, they don’t get updates, they don’t get to speak to someone…unless they make it to the very bottom of the funnel.
So, your average candidate will surely prefer a quick online, tech facilitated process, over the lengthy, frustrating blackhole of a person facilitated process?

What if transformation is not forthcoming?

If wholesale transformation is not driven by HR/TA leaders as the architects, then the time will come that outside influences will transform TA around them. In effect they will lose the ability to “do” and will be “done to” instead.
The growing appetite and conversation about the substantial costs of empty seats across a business and the resulting performance gains that will come from addressing them, means that it is only a matter of time until the focus on TA transformation climbs the food chain to the CFO’s, COO’s and CEO’s to do lists. At this point, TA transformation will become a strategic business priority and will undoubtedly gain the attention needed to make the significant changes required to boost business performance.
There is much discussion about TA having a “seat” at the table. The irony may be that it is going to get one as a discipline, but the current crop of TA leaders won’t be sitting in it…

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