Advice and How-Tos How to Be Agile to Solve the Talent Acquisition Supply-and-Demand Dance

By Brenan German, President, Bright Talent 

Mar 3, 2015, 9:03 am ET

When you think of the word agility, you might conjure images of an elite athlete sprinting to the finish line, or a Cheetah pursuing prey on the African plains, or a lawyer in cross examination in a court room. But have you considered what agility looks like in talent acquisition?

The foundation of talent acquisition is to align resources to business needs to fill positions. Sounds simple enough, right? Most talent acquisition leaders would agree that on paper this statement does appear simple, but many variables come into play that can complicate even the simplest of tasks.

The complication begins with resource allocation and priorities. It is vital to know which positions are critical versus non-critical; how to distribute resources (geographically versus functionally); and which recruiting tools to provide the resources. Not to mention the age old question, “How do we pay for this?”

The challenge for many organizations in high-growth mode is how to balance resource needs, especially when many open roles are considered critical to the growth of the business. For those organizations with deep funding and resources, this exercise might be easier to solve than those working with limited funding and resources. The talent-acquisition leader in the organization with financial limitations is faced with timeline challenges, political maneuvering, and funding shortages.

The common methodology is to develop a recruiting plan around a headcount forecast, analyze overlaps of business unit needs, and discuss with business leaders how to solve recruiting-labor-load capacity issues. This may include asking some business leaders to adjust their forecasts to accommodate recruiting labor capacity, or outsource recruiting labor such as high-volume call center recruiting, which might be deemed important but not critical to the business.

The resource allocation challenge often is a dilemma, because the process becomes an annual dance between talent-acquisition leaders and business leaders. When strategy and process is not established and agreed upon by senior business leadership and talent acquisition teams, allocating resources is often like a flag in the wind shifted daily by the business climate. One week the pressure comes from a ramp-up in sales in the western region, and the next week development needs to meet a product release deadline while customer service is peaking with customer responses.

Solving the dilemma requires the development of a program that is understood by business leaders, equitable amongst business units and discussed and decided upon by senior business leadership. In addition, all involved must understand how the program will be funded, and if needed, where additional resources and funding will come from if projections underestimate demand.

Tom Greifendorff, a talent acquisition leader at Mitchell International who wrote this post with me, sought out to develop such a program to solve this annual dance of supply and demand. He looked to the software development function for answers as he was impressed with the methodology it uses to better meet client requests.

In the world of agile software development, there’s a process by which customer feature requests are broken down into smaller units of work. Each unit of work carries an estimation of effort necessary for completion. Engineering teams define their capacity, and product teams, in parallel, assign priority to each feature. The combination of estimating effort, defining capacity, and continually prioritizing allows engineering teams to maintain an appropriate balance between available bandwidth and customer demand while ensuring the most important features are delivered without flaw. But how can this translate to recruiting? Glad you asked.

Using these agile principles, Mitchell had a unique breakthrough in the ability to calm the stormy waters of corporate talent acquisition. For years the talent-acquisition function has operated in a push-like system where requisitions are created and immediately pushed onto a recruiter’s plate. This is not a problem when a recruiter’s plate is less than full, right? However, for organizations where recruiters are at, or over capacity, this becomes a significant issue which often leads to long cycle times, low throughput, and poor hiring manager satisfaction.

By flipping the model from a push to a pull system where business units are given an available amount of “demand,” recruiters are assigned a “capacity,” requisitions are given an estimation of effort or “value,” and a cadence of prioritization is established, you can begin to take control of what often times can seem like the wild west of managing requisitions in an organization. Tom set out on a journey over one year ago at Mitchell International as he looked to break the mold by which talent-acquisition operations had been stuck, for what seemed like generations, and now he has successfully shattered the mold into pieces.

If you want to hear more about the initiative Tom led at Mitchell International, join us for a moderated presentation I will be leading with him to provide more details around this program and conduct a live Q&A at the ERE Conference in April. We invite you to join us on April 29 at 2:30pm. Tom will share the successes and struggles of launching such a program … and what’s next as the program continues to evolve. We look forward to seeing you.

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