How To Build A Strategy For Talent Acquisition

How To Build A Strategy For Talent Acquisition

December 08, 2018
What do you need to build a great TA function? What should you strategy look like? I couldn't find a talent acquisition strategy guide. So, I've written one!

What Is A Talent Acquisition Strategy?


I watched a great #TATalks episode recently, featuring Johnny Campbell of Social Talent. In it, they discuss the key components of a specialist in-house Talent Acquisition (TA) function.

They decide the essential building blocks are:

  1. A decent ATS (ideally with CRM capability)
  2. A clearly defined EVP & brand messaging
  3. Some form of workforce plan / hiring plan
  4. A robust process (from sourcing through to onboarding)
  5. At least one eye on candidate experience

Do you agree? It’s a great chat and definitely worth a watch (I’ve added a link in the footnotes if you’re interested). It also got me thinking about a couple of pretty fundamental questions, especially if you’re a leader within HR / Recruitment / Talent Acquisition space:

1) What do I need to build a great TA function?

2) What should my strategy (or plan) look like?

To my knowledge, none of the CIPD, REC, IOR, CEB, Bersin, The FIRM, LinkedIn or any of the ‘Big 4’ offer a guide or framework for TA strategy design (correct me if I’m wrong). There’s certainly nothing you could consider as an industry template or ‘norm’.

Maybe this is why so many companies don’t have a formal strategy in place for the development of their TA function. When I’ve asked to see TA strategies in the past I’ve been presented with a range of documents – from a three-word mission statement to a 20-page recruitment policy!

So, be honest – do you have one? When was it last amended? What does it look like? I’m genuinely interested…


Four Steps to Building a Strategy for Talent Acquisition (or…How to Build a Great TA Function!)


So, the rest of this article outlines the key steps I think you should take if building a strategy for Talent Acquisition makes its way onto your To-Do List.


Step One: Identify the Building Blocks (TA Activities)


Johnny & Darren’s discussion was bang on point: we need to start by identifying the building blocks of a successful TA function. What activities should TA own, influence & deliver?

The activities Johnny & Darren highlighted in their talk were: Employer BrandingWorkforce PlanningSourcing and Onboarding. Spot on. I’m also going to add Assessment & Selection to the mix.

(They also mention the ATS and Process elements but I won’t list those as TA activities – they’re part of the delivery infrastructure, which we’ll get to shortly.)

As a first step, take each activity in turn and ask yourself some of the following questions:


1) Workforce Planning / Demand Planning / Role Planning


Who are we going to need to recruit? Can we group these into categories (volume, entry, regional, experienced, skill-sets etc)? How often do we need to gather this info to make it useful? 3 to 5-years? Annually? Quarterly? Monthly? At the intake meeting (hint – no.)? What data do we already have access to? Where are the gaps in our data? Who needs to be consulted to fill in the gaps?

In short, what level of foresight do you have of demand across the business, and how will you access that data. The more foresight you have the more successful your entire TA strategy and function can be. If you don’t believe me, ask Danny Hodgson.


2) Employer Branding & EVP


Do we have a defined Employer Brand & EVP? What content do we have / need to project & communicate this (internally & externally)? Is it authentic? Do we have any gaps in content or messaging? What channels are going to use to project our messages? Where do our target communities hang out online / offline? How are we positioned against our ‘talent competitors’ within the market?

Crucially, are our Employer Brand & EVP aligned & relevant to the skills we’ve identified in our workforce plan? Where are the gaps?


3) Candidate Attraction & Sourcing


How are we going to source & attract candidates for our roles and opportunities? How much of our work will be reactive responding to live vacancies & how can we be more proactive engaging talent ahead of demand? Will we be targeting both _active _and _passive _candidates? Which channels will we prioritise (internal / direct / third-party)? Are these channels & activities proven to attract the skills required in our workforce plan? Where are our capability / knowledge gaps? Do we need to innovate and explore new options to recruit the skills in our workforce plan? Will our sourcing activities reflect our EVP & brand messages?

Checking back to ensure each activity is aligned with the aims and objectives of the previous activity is essential.

E.g. your workforce plan highlights a need for an influx of new, digital talent – and your EVP has been built around innovation, transformation, and doing things differently. But, you’re posting run-of-the-mill “We have an exciting opportunity…” job ads on Reed with 25 bulleted essentials and desirables. That’s not well-aligned.


4) Assessment & Selection


Once candidates have applied, how will we then ensure we select the best ones for each opportunity? Do we know what good looks like? Do we really? Have we got appropriate tools & methods in place to assess this effectively? Where are the gaps? Who will be responsible? Which activities will we control & which will we need to influence? Where are the risks?

Again, is everything aligned to our workforce plan, will it reflect our EVP & brand, is it suited to our sourcing strategy? Where are the bumps? Your Taleo application form isn’t brilliantly aligned with your passive candidate sourcing strategy.


5) Pre-boarding, On-boarding & Induction


With our top candidate/s selected, how are we then going to optimise their journey into the business? This starts at the offer stage and ends………when? Day one? Probation? Ongoing? When do we currently lose talent during these stages? How often? Who owns the process? What’s TA’s role? Where are the risks?

Check again, is this stage of the process adapted to suit the type of skills / talent identified in our workforce plan, will it reflect our Employer Brand, our sourcing & assessment activities? If you’re hiring top talent but it takes 3 weeks to get an offer out, they’re probably going to end up elsewhere. If you’re going to be tapping up passive talent from direct competitors, you’ll want to be comfortable handling counter-offers.

Okay, that’s quite a few questions, but it’s not an exhaustive list. Some will be more relevant to your business than others. As a TA leader, can you answer them all? Where are your own knowledge gaps? Who else needs to be consulted?

The objective is to map at a high-level what’s required of TA at each stage (and to identify any obvious capability gaps, red flags & contributing stakeholders). Inevitably, you’ll start to identify some clear objectives, but also – crucially – you ensure that those objectives are aligned across all of your activities.

Okay, step one complete.


Step Two: People, Process, Technology (TA delivery infrastructure)


Now we need to look behind the activities to make sure we have the infrastructure in place to deliver them effectively. Johnny & Darren called for a decent system (ATS/CRM) and a robust process. Absolutely. I’m going to throw people into the mix as well: you need the right people & skills.

People, Process. Technology. Time for our second review:


1) Processes


Have you got clearly defined processes mapped out to support each of your activities? What does this look like for Workforce Planning, EVP & Brand communication, Sourcing & Attraction, Assessment & Selection and Onboarding? Do TA have control of those processes? If not, who does? Should you be involved? Where is the process not followed? Where are the bottlenecks? Is each step swift & efficient? Does it optimise the user-experience?

Process reviews might not be the sexiest topic in talent acquisition, but if your process is broken so is your recruitment. If it’s not being followed, it may as well not exist.


2) People & Skills 


It’s hard to map a process without allocating responsibilities at each stage. So, who’s responsible and/or accountable for each step of the process and are their actions trackable? What will the TA team be responsible for and what sits within the business? Do all the people involved have the skills they need?

The speed of change in the in-house sector recently has changed the role of ‘recruiter’ almost beyond recognition. Think about the intricacies of the specialist activities we reviewed in Step One. Where are your capability gaps, and what training & development will the team (& business) need to be successful? Do you need extra headcount? External support?


3) Technologies


Are your people & processes intelligently supported by technology? Johnny & Darren quite rightly highlight having a sophisticated CRM / ATS system as an essential building block (once you scale beyond a certain size). But where might you need additional tech support? Do you need a system like Foresight to automate your hiring plans? Would the team benefit from machine learning tools to augment their sourcing & outreach activities? Is talent pipelining software suited to your needs? Online assessment & video interviewing perhaps? Onboarding & induction platforms?

In short, does your recruitment tech-stack fully support your end-to-end process? You might not need (or have the budget for) it all, but at the very least you have to ensure your tech isn’t holding your team back (and handing a competitive advantage to your competitors)

As a TA leader, reviewing each of these areas in turn (against each of your core activities) will inevitably throw up some skills, process & technology gaps that need fixing. These will also need to be built into your plan.

[For extra reading here, be sure to check out Rob McIntosh’s excellent three-part series ‘Building an Advanced Talent Acquisition Function Today’ – and also join Jacob Sten Madsen’s ‘Recruitment Evolution’ group on Facebook for more regular updates. Links to both in the footnotes.]


Step Three: Data, Metrics & Management


If you’ve followed the steps above, you’ll no doubt have a long list of strategic & tactical objectives based around your core activities & infrastructure. This can feel quite overwhelming.

Now, each one needs to be:

1) Prioritised


You won’t be able to tackle everything at once. Decide which carries the biggest risk (or offers the biggest benefit) to the business and focus your efforts where you can have the biggest impact.


2) Made SMART


There’s no point aiming to “reduce agency reliance” or “build our employer brand on social media”. Why not just say you’re going to “do recruitment better” and leave it there? Sorry, but to be of real value, your objectives need to be S.M.A.R.T. What will good look like? What are your specific targets? How will we know when you get there?

This will mean a number of things need to be developed & put in place:


i. Timescales:


Map out your strategy into quarterly objectives over the next 12 – 24 months. These can & will change over time as business demands shift


ii. Measures: 


What data needs to be tracked in order to demonstrate the success of your objectives. How will you capture & track this data?


iii. Performance Metrics:


The team will also need the right targets in place to drive the right behaviors. Focus on time-to-hire and they’ll fill jobs quickly. Focus on cost-per-hire and they fill jobs cheaply. [On their own, these two are likely to deliver the best long-term outcomes.]

The activities in step three are essential if you want the business to take your strategy seriously – and let’s face it, a strategy without business buy-in as about as useful as a chocolate tea-cup.

Does it mean that every target must be smashed, every deadline met? Of course not. Does that happen anywhere else in the business? By committing to a strategic plan you have identified your priorities and put some benchmark’s in place to track your progress over time. Of course, like all good strategies & plans – it will need to be agile and flex to accommodate changing business / environmental demands.

Nearly there now. One final step.


Step Four: Experience, Experience, Experience!


The very best talent acquisition strategies are those that put user-experience at the heart of everything. By users, we mean candidates, hiring managers & your recruiters. Yes, recruiter experience is something you should be considering.

The concept of Candidate Experience is familiar to most organisations but, ironically, not many adopt a truly human-centric approach to recruitment & resourcing (or employment…?) It’s those TA leaders who do that tend to set themselves, and their organisations, apart.

Good TA leaders focus on initiatives to improve the short-term _efficiency _of the recruitment service & process. Great TA leaders build strategies that prioritise the _long-term value, impact & experience _delivered by recruitment.

Despite the increasing trend towards automation in recruitment (or perhaps because of it), we need to take extra care to ensure each touch-point delivers as human an experience as possible – so be sure to keep user-experience front-of-mind when building your TA strategy.


What Should Your TA Strategy Look Like?


Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what physical form your TA Strategy takes – it could be a spreadsheet, a word document, a few slides, or a combination of each (although, admittedly, it probably needs to be longer than three words!)

What is important, is it’s aligned to the business strategy & objectives (usually via the people plan) and has the support of the leadership team – so having a concise version in a presentable format is always a good idea. You can always support this with your own, more detailed, program / project planner.

Hopefully, you’ve found some of this useful. I would love to know what your current TA Strategy look like? Do you have one? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to check the footnotes below for more interesting reading / viewing.


For More Information


The content in this article is based on a Recruitment & Resourcing Strategy workshop I run with TA leaders. It works well as a facilitated in-house session (1:2:1 or team) to help map out & identify your own capability gaps, opportunities & objectives. For details, connect with me on LinkedIn or see InSource Talent’s latest public workshops here on Eventbrite.

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