Note: I’m writing this “think piece” as part of a series of articles designed to expand your thinking about strategic HR.

HR and talent management leaders are constantly striving to become more strategic. But more often than not it seems that when they are presented with a strategic alternative that really breaks new ground, they retreat and stick with the status quo. However, if you are serious about making a strategic impact and you take a minute to reflect, it’s hard to think of many things that could have more of a strategic impact than increasing corporate revenues.

This is because increasing revenue or “topline growth” is on every CEO’s agenda and it is also almost always a top corporate goal and an executive success measure.

Other business functions like marketing, sales, supply chain, and product development have become corporate heroes (and are richly budgeted as a result) because they have demonstrated that they have a direct and measurable impact on this critical strategic goal.

HR has historically focused exclusively on cost cutting, but realize that increasing revenue is a far superior goal. That is because almost anyone can cut costs using an arbitrary number. However, in order to generate more revenue in the marketplace from your customers, you must meet a much higher standard, which requires that you be competitive in every aspect of the business.

Now if you are an HR traditionalist or someone who is happy to maintain HR’s status as a service/overhead function, you are probably already thinking that a strategic goal to impact revenue is a ridiculous idea. However, you would be wrong. We know that HR can directly increase revenues because several firms have already succeeded in demonstrating to their CFOs that they could directly increase revenue. At least take a minute and look at a quick example where HR has increased revenue.

Think it’s not possible? Here is a quick example to demonstrate the possibilities.

It’s obvious that average salespeople produce revenue and good salespeople produce more. So in an attempt to hire better salespeople, this technology firm analyzed its current sales hiring process and reengineered it, so that it measurably identified and hired better salespeople.

If the new process hired salespeople that sold on average 10% more (than those hired under the previous recruiting process), you could (with the CFO’s blessing), publicly state that this HR action had improved sales revenue by X dollars (i.e. the actual amount would be the 10% improvement in the average salesperson’s yearly sales revenue, multiplied by the number of new salespeople who were hired under the improved process).

Still skeptical? Here is another quick example of how HR can increase revenue.

The recruiting function at this Midwest bank realized it was losing significant revenue every day that a loan officer position was vacant. Obviously, with no one in the position, you can’t make or close any revenue-generating loans. In order to reduce the number of days that loan officer positions were vacant, it called on recruiting to apply its speed-hiring techniques on these positions.

By speeding up the requisition process, placing the best recruiters on these positions and identifying and eliminating “deadtime” throughout the hiring process, it cut the number of vacancy days nearly in half. At $5,000 per eliminated vacancy day, over dozens of requisitions, it increased the bank’s revenue by millions. Everyone from the CFO on down agreed that HR had substantially increased revenue. If these two brief examples are not enough for you, the next section contains the top 15 HR actions that can lead to increased corporate revenue.

The Top 15 Talent Management Actions With the Highest Impact on Revenue

Even if you’re not ready to implement an HR-wide coordinated “revenue impact strategy,” realize that there are many independent actions that the functions within talent management can take in order to increase organizational revenue. If you’re looking for some “low-hanging fruit” actions to take, here are some to consider (those with the potential for producing the most revenue impact listed first).

  1. Prioritize revenue-generating business units, jobs, and employees — the highest impact and the lowest cost action is prioritization. HR needs to work with executives, the CFO, and risk management to identify and then prioritize the specific business units that generate the most revenue. You should also identify the highest revenue-generating jobs and employees. Next, you must also identify revenue “impact” jobs, which are jobs that don’t directly generate revenue but the actions of the employees in the jobs directly “influence” the likelihood of subsequent revenue generation. You should also identify revenue “impact” functions (note that product development and customer service are often the highest revenue-impact functions). Finally, you should identify and prioritize jobs where a major error would significantly decrease revenues or increase costs. Obviously after setting your priorities, you need to develop processes that ensure that the most HR resources and the best HR personnel are allocated to those priorities.
  2. Targeted recruiting from competitors — recruiting talent away from your direct competitors has a high ROI, because if you are successful, your revenues will go up and theirs will go down. Start by “mapping” the revenue-generating talent at your competitors. Next, recruit away the top sales manager or exceptional salespeople from your competitors. Once you land a “magnet” individual, others are likely to follow. Other high-impact targets for your recruiting from competitors might include innovators, game-changers, pioneers, and individuals with expertise in monetizing products and services.
  3. Retain revenue producersretention has a high ROI because most of the factors that cause top revenue generators to leave are not related to their pay. Interview the most successful revenue producers and those who significantly impact revenue. During the interview, identify the factors that currently frustrate them, as well at the factors that would make their job a dream job. Put together a personalized retention plan to minimize the negatives and to increase the positives.
  4. Hire revenue producers — external hiring brings in individuals with a proven track record for generating revenue. External hires also bring with them revenue-generating ideas. Focus your employer branding and recruiting processes on revenue-generating jobs. Reengineer the process so that it leads the industry in its ability to identify, attract, and hire individuals with a superior revenue-generating track record. For example, a major mobile phone network provider found that by adding an online testing component to its hiring process , the resulting call center rep that were hired produced over 10% more revenue than the untested hires.
  5. Training on how to increase revenue — revenue generation and the related skills that support it must become a key corporate competency. The T&D function must target its offerings so that they cover all aspects of revenue generation. The quality of the offerings must also be improved, so that individuals show at least a 10% improvement in revenue generation after returning to their jobs after completing the T&D programs. In addition to targeting revenue-generating employees, revenue impact learning modules need to be developed so that every employee (regardless of their position) can understand the concept and subsequently improve their support of revenue-generating employees and business units. In this light, Wal-Mart routinely makes it a part of pre-shift store meetings to make all employees aware of which specific products produce the highest margins and revenue. This awareness allows employees to focus their sales and customer service efforts.
  6. Identify barriers — HR must proactively use surveys, interviews, and metrics to forecast upcoming revenue-generating problems and opportunities. HR must also have a process for rapidly identifying current problems and the barriers that restrict revenue generation.
  7. Create a fast-reaction team — HR must put together a team of specialists that can respond rapidly to the identified revenue problems that occur anywhere in your organization. Team members should excel at discovering HR related “root causes” and have the skills and experience necessary to solve sudden revenue generation problems.
  8. Leadership development and succession must focus on revenue-related competencies – revenue generators also need to be effectively led and managed. So as a result, the leadership function needs to make revenue generation a key competency and development area for leaders. The ability to increase the revenue impact of their team should also be added as a key criterion for promoting managers and leaders.
  9. Proactive internal movement — employees and contingent workers need to be proactively placed into the “right jobs” where they can have the highest possible revenue impact. The initial placement of top revenue producers needs to be regularly re-assessed so that key individuals (and even teams) are redeployed to the needed business areas. Seasonal and business cycle rotations may also be required to ensure that there is no excessive idleness among revenue generators.
  10. Identify those who support revenue producers — once a year, survey your top revenue producers and ask them which individuals or support positions have directly helped/contributed to their revenue production. Make sure that these impactful support personnel are rewarded and recognized.
  11. Release poor performers quickly – the performance management process must be redesigned so that it focuses on rapidly identifying, fixing, and releasing employees who fail to meet their revenue or revenue impact goals. The recruiting function should also continuously be on the lookout for top-performing talent that can be “swapped” with these lower-performing current employees.
  12. Implement revenue-impact metrics and rewards – work with the COO, the CFO, and performance management to develop a process and a set of metrics that accurately assess an individual’s revenue generation and revenue impact. Rewards and recognition programs must also be focused and reengineered to better encourage revenue generation.
  13. Onboarding — even the onboarding process can impact revenue generation if a weak process means that new-hires get up to speed slowly. As a result, the onboarding process must be reengineered so that new-hires on the first day clearly understand the importance of revenue generation, no matter what job they have. They also need to be informed about how their revenue generation/impact will be measured and rewarded. And finally they need to be educated as to where they can go to get help in this area.
  14. Contingent workers and vendors must be included — because a significant percentage of the “workforce” are not technically employees, HR must also work to ensure that contingent workers are hired and evaluated based on their ability to impact revenue. HR should work with purchasing to ensure that vendors, contractors, and consultants are also all capable of increasing revenues.
  15. Generate a direct profit — the least ambiguous of any HR action is directly generating revenue from external activities. Firms like Disney, HealthEast, Southwest, and Wachovia have generated revenue as a result of offering their HR services externally in areas including training, temp services, building a culture, and executive recruiting.

The Benchmark Firm to Copy

In addition to the 15 examples that were provided above, you should also know that the HR function at Google is the world’s leader in operationalizing a business-impact strategic approach. HR leaders at Google consistently use metrics and mathematical algorithms to scientifically improve business performance from programs like hiring, retention, and leadership. HR leaders can tell you the revenue impact of people management offerings like 20% time, free food, workspace design, and collaboration practices. They can also easily show you which business units (i.e. Adwords) have the most impact on revenue.

Understanding the five key components of a “revenue focused” HR strategy.

If you decide to implement this revenue-focus strategy, be aware that there are five key components that make a “revenue-focused” HR strategy successful.

Collaboration with the CFO — the first component is collaboration with the CFO. HR leadership must work directly with the CFO’s office (who is the undisputed “king” of measuring revenue). Together they must develop a credible process for proving when an action has a revenue impact and what the value of that impact actually is. Next, HR can provide the CFO’s office with a list of its intended actions and then finance can help to sort out any on the list that simply wouldn’t be credible no matter what the data said (i.e. an example of an action that might be sorting out as not credible could be the premise that hiring and retaining better janitors would increase revenues).

Make it an HR goal — the second component of the strategy is goal setting by making “impacting revenue” a major HR and talent management goal. As a major HR goal, it would need to be part of every HR function’s execution plan. The importance of the goal would be reinforced by adding revenue impact to the HR reward and metric structure. Together these actions would help to get everyone in HR to focus on this goal.

Prioritization — the third component is prioritization. If you start with the assumption that there will be no additional budget at least initially for this strategy,focus and concentrate your current HR budget and your best HR people on the business units, the jobs, and the employees that have the most impact on increasing revenue. Instead of equal treatment or first-come first-serve, high-priority jobs and employees would be serviced first. Resources would also be channeled toward the HR programs and processes which proved to have the most success on increasing revenue (i.e. usually they are hiring, retention, training, metrics, and rewards).

A process for identifying problems and barriers — the fourth component of the strategy involves identifying barriers to prohibit revenue from increasing. By applying benchmarking, research, and analyzing metrics, HR can determine which “people management problems” or barriers are having the most impact on reducing revenues. (Examples of problems include extended position vacancies in revenue-generating jobs, high turnover among top salespeople, salespeople unwilling to attend sales training etc.). The same effort should be put into identifying “positive people management opportunities” that when taken advantage of, directly increase revenues.

Best-practice sharing – the final strategy component is best-practice identification and sharing. Under this component, HR uses research, benchmarking, and metrics to proactively identify and then rapidly spread the implementation of the most effective revenue improving “people management practices” to all managers throughout the organization.

Final Thoughts

If you are still skeptical about this strategy and approach, ask your CEO whether they would prefer that you hire great clerks versus great salespeople. Also ask them if they would prefer that HR excel at low hiring costs, hiring without fewer legal issues, or would they instead prefer you to hire innovators and individuals who can increase revenues by 10 to 20%?

Although the initial concept might seem daunting, a number of advanced HR departments have been using a piecemeal approach to increasing corporate revenue for years. If you’re HR department were to adopt “revenue impact” as a primary HR strategy, the net impact for even a medium-sized firm would literally be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. If you implemented the strategy, not only would you “have a seat at the table” but you would be listened to and respected because you successfully made the transformation from “overhead function” to a strategic contributor. Your work would be noted in the annual report, so even the shareholders would become aware of the major contribution that HR made.

And incidentally, if you like this strategy, you should also consider related HR strategies. Where instead of focusing on revenue, the strategy would focus on increasing quality, speed/agility, customer service or innovation throughout the organization as a result of HR actions.

And one final question … Did this article succeed in expanding your thinking?

If you are among the many strategic leaders frustrated with your inability to anticipate and handle the volatility and the speed of change in the talent management environment, you should take a few minutes to understand VUCA. VUCA best describes the volatile and chaotic business, economic, and physical environment that we all now face. Unless you have had your head in the sand, you must have noticed the chaotic business and economic conditions under which we currently operate. In fact, the last decade was so chaotic that in its cover story, Time magazine labeled it “the decade from hell.”

Many in talent management have been hoping that this chaos is a short-term phenomenon, but it is a permanent condition that we must all learn how to manage under.

Because they were designed for more predictable times, almost all current HR, talent management, and workforce planning processes fail to perform in this chaotic environment. In a VUCA environment, there are more changes, a faster rate of change, and the size of the changes are so impactful that they must be labeled as “disruptive.” So the question for talent leadership becomes, “how do you effectively hire, develop, place, and retain individuals and leaders in the volatile environment where literally everything changes in months rather than years?”

V.U.C.A. (pronounced voo – ka) is an acronym for an environment that is dominated by:

Volatility – where things change fast but not in a predictable trend or repeatable pattern.

Uncertainty – where major “disruptive” changes occur frequently. In this environment, the past is not an accurate predictor of the future, and identifying and preparing for “what will come next” is extremely difficult.

Complexity — where there are numerous difficult-to-understand causes and mitigating factors involved in a problem.

Ambiguity – where the causes and the “who, what, where, when, how, and why” behind the things that are happening are unclear and hard to ascertain.

Talent Management Has Been Lagging in VUCA Preparation

The concept of operating in a chaotic environment is not new. Tom Peters has been talking about managing under chaos for years, and “decision-making under uncertainty” is a well-established academic field. What is new is that most economic, business, and political leaders have realized that the VUCA environment is a permanent condition.

Business executives have been preparing for the VUCA environment for years. Although most of the initial work was done by the military and in counterterrorism, VUCA planning has been part of business processes like supply chain and risk management for years. A few firms like GE, Unilever, and McDonald’s have even begun changing their leadership development model to fit the VUCA environment. But unfortunately, no one in recruiting, retention, skill development, compensation, performance management, onboarding, etc. has paid more than lip surface attention to this strategic problem. As a result, the time has come to face the fact that you can’t be strategic in talent management, HR, or recruiting unless you can manage and thrive in a VUCA environment.

Why Talent Managers and Workforce Planners Must Prepare for VUCA

Under the established 20th-century talent management model, the future was relatively predictable. As a result, firms hired, trained employees, and developed leaders in order to prepare for the “predictable” upcoming business environment. Most firms prepared their employees for the single-most likely future scenario (i.e. scenario A), which was usually a 5%-10% extrapolation from the current situation.

The more advanced firms prepared for not just the single-most-likely scenario but also for one or two alternative predictable scenarios (i.e. scenario A and B, C). But unfortunately, in a world of continuous disruption and VUCA, using this traditional model usually means that you end up hiring, training, and developing for business and talent management scenarios that will literally never occur. Planning, forecasting, and training simply cannot work if the environment that you are preparing for never appears!

A Quick Example to Illustrate Complexity and Volatility

For example, recruiting routinely plans for three distinct scenarios: no hiring, moderate hiring, and large-scale hiring. However, in a VUCA environment, talent acquisition must plan for each of those scenarios, but in addition, it must also plan for periods where the firm will do rapid hiring in some business units and regions, while simultaneously having a hiring freeze or even layoffs in other business units.

What Is Needed Is an Agile Talent Management Model

The 21st-century VUCA model that I am advocating requires talent management to have plans for handling numerous “disruptive events” that traditional narrow workforce planning simply can’t handle. Some of those disruptive events might include generational shifts that occur every six years, social media changing the way we communicate, and simultaneous talent surpluses and shortages.

One possible conclusion for talent management leaders could be that you should stop any planning process that never accurately forecasts the future. But that would be a major mistake. Instead, in a VUCA environment, talent management needs to develop an “agile model” that prepares for a wider range of options (i.e. scenario A-Z) but more importantly, it must also develop Talent Management processes/systems that can actually shift and handle any unpredicted upcoming event “just-in-time.” It might seem counterintuitive at first, but the military has proven that you make people more agile and successfully prepare them for handling unpredicted events that literally no one thought of in advance.

Things That Talent Management Must Start Doing to Meet the VUCA Environment

Talent management leaders must prepare for disruptive problems and opportunities that cannot be predicted. Some of the action steps that you should take to prepare for complete surprises and the VUCA environment include:

  • Agile employees — Develop as a primary goal a focus on the hiring, training, and retaining of employees and managers who are agile, who thrive in a VUCA environment, and those who have the capability of acting effectively in unforeseen and unpredicted situations.
  • Agile processes – Require agility, flexibility, and a rapid change capability as an essential component in all current and new talent management processes and programs.
  • Self-obsolescence of processes — Require all talent management programs and processes to include a component that continually “self-obsoletes” its own current practices and replaces them with updated ones.
  • Training to solve unanticipated problems — training and development must create the capability to prepare employees and managers to identify and effectively handle previously unknown problems. A high volume of scenario training and simulations can make an employee more comfortable and confident when they encounter a completely new situation. With repetition, employees can eventually develop skills and their own processes for handling “brand-new” volatile and complex situations that are full of uncertainty and ambiguity.
  • Focus on innovation — Prioritize talent management so that it focuses on innovators, game-changers, and pioneers who are essential for success in a VUCA environment.
  • Rapid learning — Develop systems to increase the speed of individual and organizational learning.
  • More internal movement — Develop process to proactively speed up the movement of employees internally to where they can have a greater impact.
  • Contingent labor — Use contingent labor as a significant percentage of the workforce, in order to increase your capability to meet sudden upturns, downturns, and new skill needs.
  • Rapid increase in talent — Develop the capability for rapid hiring for sudden needs through poaching, with pre-identifying talent pools and by building professional communities.
  • Rapid release of talent — Develop the capability for rapidly releasing surplus and inappropriately skilled workers.
  • Fluid job descriptions — Develop continually evolving job descriptions and hiring standards that reflect the continually changing work.
  • Outsourcing for flexibility — Use outsourcing to fill sudden needs and overflow work.
  • Competitive advantage — Develop talent management processes and programs that provide a continual competitive advantage over other talent competitors.

Things That Talent Management Must Stop Doing to Meet the VUCA Environment

Leaders must dramatically modify or stop doing the following things to prepare for a VUCA environment.

  • Stop seeking permanent solutions in talent management and HR
  • Stop relying on the past and trends as an accurate predictor of the future
  • Stop benchmarking best practices and solutions to most current problems
  • Stop assuming that long-term employee retention is possible or even desirable
  • Stop assuming that “one-size-fits-all” is a good approach to managing employees
  • Eliminate “fit” as a desirable criterion in hiring and retention
  • Stop assuming that the corporate culture and even corporate values should automatically remain fixed

You Must Also Prepare for Disruptive Changes That Can Be Predicted

Although these listed problems will likely appear unexpectedly, these dramatic changes in talent management can be anticipated, so they must be planned for.

  • A continually changing set of required employee skills and job duties and a huge gap between the needed and the available skill sets
  • A completely new set of leadership skills that will focus on agility, flexibility, and in developing a “just-in-time” solutions capability within the team
  • Dramatic fluctuations in employee turnover
  • Continually changing candidate expectations
  • Dramatic shifts in the volume and quality of applications
  • Frequent changes in offer acceptance rates
  • Continuous development of new communications and learning tools
  • Generational changes that occurs every 6 years instead of 20

Final Thoughts

The new talent management model that I am recommending is based on the assumption that for the foreseeable future, most problems and opportunities will simply not be predictable. The model however does take advantage of the fact that the skill and capability of handling completely new unforeseen situations can be developed. My challenge and question to talent management leaders is “What are you doing to ensure that every talent management process and employee can produce optimal results in a VUCA environment? The time is come to put together a planning session devoted to making the shift toward the new agile talent management model.

Has anyone asked you “what’s your Klout score?” If you are on the leading edge of corporate recruiting and you are constantly on the lookout for new tools and approaches, one of the emerging tools that you should be aware of is social media analytics that measure online influence.

In a business world that is increasingly dominated by social media, it simply makes sense to hire individuals with extensive social networks and the ability to communicate with and influence others.

The major players include Klout, Kred, PeerIndex, and Empire Avenue. Klout and PeerIndex scores index to 100 while Kred scores reach 1,000. Empire Avenue is a stock-market simulation type game in which participants (stocks) earn virtual income based on social network activity and investments in others.

Using such measures as a screening tool helps identify talented people who have demonstrated skills relevant to a number of professional jobs. When you hire an individual who uses their network effectively, you have the potential to benefit from the collective knowledge and skills of the network, not just the individual.

Look Beyond the “Score” for Transferable Skills

“Buying influence” by recruiting someone based on their extensive contacts and their ability to influence others is not a new approach, but tools like those mentioned make it much easier to identify the level of influence that you are recruiting. Obviously, the use of social media analytics make the most sense when you are recruiting for jobs that are primarily focused on creating and managing a firm’s public-facing persona, but the skills involved in effective social networking extend much further into the professional landscape.

Individuals who are effective on social media become successful because they have a wide range of skills and capabilities that often lead to success in sales, customer service, communications, branding, and even analyst roles. Smart recruiters and hiring managers should look beyond the actual score that an individual has achieved and focus on identifying and assessing the skills the individual used to build or maintain their audience.

The 10 skill sets and capabilities that are generally required to effectively gain social media influence include:

  1. Communications – they have shown that they are effective and frequent communicators
  2. Relationship building — they are successful at attracting and building relationships with others
  3. Influencing – they have the ability to influence others and to get others to read and spread their messages
  4. Reputation — their reputation, credibility, recommendations, and ability to produce “Liked” content means that they will be listened to
  5. Reach – their extensive contacts, friends, followers, and subscribers means that any messages they send will reach thousands
  6. Branding – individuals with high social media scores have demonstrated they know how to build a personal brand and that knowledge may be transferable to product branding
  7. Crowdsource solutions — their extensive network means that they will be able to quickly “crowdsource” answers to problems that they encounter
  8. Writing ability — individuals who have a long blog history have demonstrated both their writing style and ability
  9. Knowledge of technology — they have demonstrated that they are on the leading edge of social media technology
  10. Adaptable – they are capable of continually adapting to the rapidly changing social media environment (if they have maintained their scores over a period of time)

Social Media Influence Assessment Is Not New

Although Klout/Kred scores may be new to you, using the Internet and social media to assess prospects is certainly not new. It is now quite common to find, assess, and do reference checks on candidates using Google searches, LinkedIn, and Facebook profiles, and the assessment of work samples that can be found online. In fact, a Microsoft-sponsored survey conducted by Cross-Tab found that 79% of HR and recruiting professionals responded that they currently use online reputation information as part of their hiring process.

Influence Scores Are Still in Their Infancy

Recruiters should be aware that while social media analytics are hot, the emerging “influence scores” are far from perfect. Each provider has weaknesses in their approach and all of them can be manipulated to some extent (just as search engine optimization can manipulate web page rankings). As a result, I recommend that they never be used as an elimination screen, but instead be used as one part of a multi-pronged assessment approach.

Recommended Action Steps

Before you select one to use, recruiters need to do their research so they understand the strengths and weaknesses of each provider’s approach compared to the needs of your firm. Obviously, the scores should be applied first to the jobs that require a high degree of social media savvy and where extensive contacts are essential to job success.

If the scores are to be passed along to hiring managers, the managers need to be provided with some information as to what conclusions can be fairly reached from these scores. And finally, if you have some time, identify the scores of your top- and bottom-performing current employees. Then use simple statistics to see if within your firm, there is a measurable positive correlation between social media scores and an employee’s on-the-job performance.

Final Thoughts

If you want to find your own individual score, it is easy and free to sign on to any of these services. If you are an applicant, adding your Kred or Klout score to your resume at the very least will let the recruiter know that you are aware that one’s online influence/exposure can be measured. If you are a corporate recruiter or recruiting leader, begin examining the pros and cons of these continually evolving tools. Although they still have many shortcomings and issues, some variation of them will become a standard assessment tool in the not-too-distant future.

Two of the hottest topics in corporate recruiting today are the candidate experience and need for transparency. And although many corporations are making a sincere effort to improve that candidate experience, they often pay only lip service to becoming more open, honest, and transparent. No corporate leader that I know directly lies to applicants.

However, if you consider omitting information that could directly help the applicant successfully understand the process or land a job to be a lie, then there are quite a few areas where corporations are omitting the complete truth.

I call them “dirty little secrets” because insiders are well aware of them, while most applicants and business reporters are not. If you are a recruiter, you may find that this list includes over-generalizations, but in my experience, the problems in this list are certainly not unusual. My recommendation is that corporate leaders need to identify the areas where there is a distinct lack of openness, candor, and authenticity in the recruiting process and instead to proactively provide that information to applicants.

Recruiting Dirty Little Secrets

Here are a dozen areas where corporate recruiting could improve.

  • The corporate black hole — because of recruiter overload, the volume of applicants, and technology problems, a resume submitted to a corporate career site may actually have a zero probability of being reviewed. In the industry, it can be referred to as “the black hole.”
  • Looking for an excuse to drop you — there are books written about the need to focus on the positive aspects of individuals, but the entire screening process is often focused on finding a single error or lack of “fit” to quickly eliminate any applicant. If you are categorized as a job-jumper, you are unemployed, you have bad credit or Klout scores, you live in a distant zip code, or they find weird things on Facebook about you, you will be immediately rejected without knowing why. As a result, those who fail to make a single mistake during the process, rather than those who are the best, are the ones that are most likely to get hired.
  • The rejection letter is designed to avoid complaints, not accuracy – if you actually get a rejection letter or e-mail, you should be aware that canned phrases like “we decided to move in another direction” or “there were other more qualified candidates” are pretested or lawyer-approved phrases that are designed to quiet you and keep you from making a follow-up inquiry. In many cases, the person sending the letter won’t even know the actual reason for your rejection.
  • The interview process will likely be disjointed – applicants invited in for interviews routinely complain about disorganized interviewing, death by interview (having to go through 10 or more interviews), continually getting the same repeat questions from different interviewers, and having to return multiple times on different days. If the process seems poorly managed and disjointed, it is probably because it usually is. The overall corporate interview process is more often more whimsical than scientific and integrated.
  • Some jobs are not really available to outsiders — although legal requirements may require an organization to post all open jobs, in some cases, the hiring manager has already predetermined that they will hire internally. There is no way for an external applicant to know when a job is “wired,” so applying can only lead to frustration and you will never know that you did nothing wrong.
  • Some companies are blocked — if you work at a company covered by an informal “non-poaching” arrangement where two firms agree not to hire from each other, your chances of getting hired are near zero. Even though these agreements are illegal, they are secret, so your application will never be considered and you will never know why.
  • Recruiters won’t know if you are a customer – you might think that being a loyal customer might help your application, but most corporations have no formal way of identifying an applicant as a customer.
  • We will keep your resume on file (but we will never look at it again) – is certainly true that when they tell you that your rejected application will be “kept on file” it will be. However, it will be kept almost exclusively for legal reasons. The odds of a recruiter scanning through a corporate database of thousands of names in order to revisit a resume that has previously been rejected are miniscule. Unless a recruiter remembers you by name, assume that your resume has been dropped into the “black hole.”
  • You will never know the real odds – although corporations regularly calculate the percentage of all applicants that are hired, you will never find that number on the corporate website. Although the lotto is required to publish your odds of winning, corporations keep it a secret. For some jobs, the odds are well over 1,000 to 1.
  • Technology may eliminate you — and most large organizations, resumes are initially screened electronically. Unfortunately, if the software is not fine-tuned, the recruiter is not well-trained, or if you fail to use the appropriate keywords and phrases, no human will ever see your resume. In one test, only 12% of specially written “perfect resumes” made it through this initial step, although in theory, 100% should have made it.
  • Busy people are forced to take shortcuts — during a down economy, the volume of qualified applicants can force recruiters and hiring managers to take shortcuts. For example, recently a coordinator asked the recruiter which one of a handful of resumes should be invited in for an interview. The response was “I don’t have time to look at them; just flip a coin and pick them.” Hiring managers are also known to make choices based on snap judgments or stereotypes that add a degree of randomness to getting a job.
  • Don’t call us, we’ll call you — if an applicant is rejected at any stage, there is no formal process to help you understand where you need to improve in order to be successful when applying for a job in the future. Unlike in customer service, there is no 1 -800 number to call, and because of weak corporate documentation, recruiting might not actually know (beyond a broad reason) why you are rejected and how you could improve your chances.

Final Thoughts

Almost without exception, corporate recruiters are hard-working and ethical people. But most are too overworked to be able to take a step back and to formally assess where the recruiting process could be more open, honest, and transparent. Unfortunately, most of the current “candidate experience” efforts that I have seen are focused more on increasing courtesy and politeness rather than being significantly more open, honest, and transparent. If you would like to add to this list of “secrets,” add them to the comments section immediately following this article on

The New Year is an opportune time to “raise the bar” by doing something strategic in talent management. In many corporations, new plans and budgets take effect at the first of the year, so the holiday period preceding the New Year is an ideal time to review the potential strategic actions to put in front of your team. Unfortunately, many talent management leaders are risk adverse, and although they constantly talk about the need to “be more strategic” they all-too-frequently find excuses that indefinitely postpone those dramatic and strategic actions.

The leadership set aside at least half the day for the team to identify upcoming problems and opportunities and the resulting strategic moves that need to be made. This article is merely a checklist of the strategic talent management actions that I have found that the very best corporations should have on their potential to-do list.

The Top 15 Potential Strategic Actions to Consider in Talent Management

If you’ve decided to stop fighting fires and to do something major with a strategic impact, here is a list of possible programs and actions that you should consider.

  1. Increase the productivity of your workforce – workforce productivity is merely comparing the output of your entire workforce (the total value of the products and services they produce) with the cost of your workforce (total labor and talent management costs). Many talent management departments measure engagement (a precursor to productivity) but they don’t measure workforce productivity. Even fewer take proactive actions to directly increase it. Increasing productivity requires talent management to identify the barriers that restrict productivity and then to proactively provide the consulting advice, best practices, and tools that have been proven to increase a team’s productivity.
  2. Increase employee innovation – fierce marketplace competition requires firms to accelerate innovation in product and service areas, despite having fewer resources. Rather than targeting a few departments, talent management must increase innovation in all areas of the business. Typically, innovation can be increased tough the targeted hiring of innovators, retaining innovators, and minimizing the barriers that innovators face within the corporation. Talent management must help shape the culture so that the expectation of continuous innovation permeates every business area.
  3. Reward great people management – Most managers simply don’t spend enough time on talent management activities. The primary reason is that managers are not directly measured or rewarded based on how well they manage their talent. This is true even though talent management “owns” all of the key components related to measuring and rewarding (performance management, performance appraisal, competencies, and reward systems). The key action step is to develop a “people management scorecard” for each individual manager and reward them based on their performance against those standards.
  4. Identify and fix bad managers – research by Google has shown that in most cases, an employee’s or a team’s manager is the single-highest impact factor on the hiring, retention, innovation, productivity, and the development of employees. Yet most organizations have no formal program for identifying weak managers. Strategic actions would include implementing surveys and metrics to identify with managers and to provide general lists with proven tools and approaches to improve a manager’s people management performance.
  5. Convert talent management metrics into their dollar impact – unfortunately, most traditional talent management metrics fail to impress executives because they are not expressed in “the language of business,” which is dollars. Saying we have a 12% turnover rate, a 54% engagement rate, or an 87-day time to fill generally won’t impress senior managers because the metrics are not expressed in their dollar impact on corporate revenue. In contrast, stating that every percentage point increase in regrettable employee turnover costs us $7.2 million gets an immediate reaction. Work with the CFO’s office to credibly calculate the impacts.
  6. Calculate the risks of weak talent management — shifting from the positive business impact to the possible negative impacts requires a risk management manager. Risk management is an increasingly important function throughout the business, but unfortunately, few talent management functions have put anyone charge of risk management. Risk managers identify and quantify the risks associated with potential talent problems (its probability and likely costs). Underfunding important talent programs can create tremendous economic risks such as losing key innovators to competitors, failing to have enough developed leaders, and a weak employer brand that drives top candidates away.
  7. You need to prepare for a leadership gap — the combination of increased growth and higher turnover rates will mean that most corporations will begin to suffer because of a lack of leadership bench strength. In addition, because the type of leaders who will be needed will also change, the entire leadership and succession program will have to be re-examined and new social media and project rotation tools will need to be developed and implemented.
  8. Speed up internal movement through proactive internal placement – very few things increased productivity, retention, and employee development faster than periodic internal movement. Unfortunately, most corporate programs require the employee to initiate the movement and to find the “correct” placement area. A more strategic approach is a proactive one where recruiters periodically identify employees and then help to correctly place these individuals who should be moved both for their own and for the corporate good.
  9. Improve internal best-practice sharing – most talent management leaders spend most of their time and resources on developing new programs and approaches. Surprisingly, the data indicates that you can have a higher impact faster and at lower cost by simply identifying and sharing “hidden” existing best practices. Rather than relying on this best-practice sharing occurring organically, a superior approach is a proactive one that seeks out these affected practices wherever they might be in the organization. And once identified, they are shared in such a manner that managers easily understand their value and implement them.
  10. Update your retention approach – just like employer branding, retention programs have been allowed to atrophy because the economy has reduced most turnover to a trickle. Unfortunately, turnover is about to dramatically increase, so processes to prioritize key individuals, processes for identifying who is at risk, and retention toolkits need to be reinvigorated before it is too late.
  11. Employee referral programs need to be reinvigorated — as the rate of hiring and competition for talent increases throughout the year, stagnant employee referral programs need to be re-examined. Because they produce the highest quality and volume of hires, referrals as the percentage of all hires should begin to reach over 40%. Employee referral programs must be closely integrated with the developing social media approaches.
  12. Assess your external employer brand – during the economic downturn, the area of employer branding has been frequently ignored because very little hiring was going on. Unfortunately, during the same time, the reputation of many corporations has been tarnished as a result of layoffs, salary/promotion freezes and a reduction and development resources. In addition, corporate images in general and in some specific industries like banking, oil etc., have been damaged by recent events and “occupy” type movements. The growth of, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook now make it much easier for negative messages to be spread. At the very least, the positive/negative aspects of your employer brand should be measured and monitored before an upturn in hiring begins.
  13. Re-examine your social media approach – although many talent managers have “done something” in the area of social media recruiting, realize that the potential for social media in talent management is much greater than almost everyone anticipated. Plans should be developed to determine how social media can positively impact training, employee development, learning, retention, collaboration, problem identification, crowdsourcing of answers, and best-practice sharing. The mobile platform should be examined in a similar manner because it is rapidly becoming the dominant communications platform for employees.
  14. College recruiting needs to be reengineered — communications and job seeking approaches have changed dramatically on college campuses but college recruiting programs have unfortunately been stagnant for years. Program features that need to be examined include remote college recruiting, social media approaches aimed at college students, mobile platform approaches and marketing research to better understand the needs and the actions of top grads.
  15. Improve non-monetary motivation – when compensation and reward resources are limited, nonmonetary motivators need to be emphasized. Unfortunately, the compensation function focuses almost exclusively on “expensive” salary, benefits, and bonuses … even though a significant percentage of employee motivation comes from … recognition, praise, and feedback. Talent management should develop non-monetary motivation tools for managers that are easy to use and that produce measurable results. They should also target key employees and server them in order to identify “how to best manage and motivate me” plans.

Benchmark Firms to Learn From

A key competency for any talent management leader is rapid self-directed learning, so it only makes sense to benchmark the firms that are aggressively making tremendous strides in talent management. My extensive research has identified some of the best firms to learn from. Many are from the Silicon Valley, which has already returned to a “war for talent” (Google, Facebook, Zynga all approach talent management using a more scientific approach).

Firms outside of technology have also taken some amazing steps so they should not be ignored (Zappos, Sodexo, CACI, DaVita, Deloitte, KPMG, PepsiCo, and the U.S. Army have all taken bold steps).

Additional Strategic Talent Management Actions to Consider

In addition to the top 15 major actions recommended above, some other strategic actions to consider include:

  • Prepare for VUCA, the new normal — talent management plans, approaches, and processes need to be improved so that they can handle the new business environment that we face (VUCA = Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity)
  • Increasing revenues — examining how talent management actions can directly increase individual employee revenue generation
  • Integration of talent management functions – an almost-universal weakness is a lack of integration. Talent management functions must more closely cooperate, coordinate, and integrate so that they work seamlessly.
  • Hire right before they do — if your firm doesn’t have the strongest employer brand, location or glamorous product, you must develop a plan to quickly initiate hiring immediately before your talent competitors. A rapid “explode out-of-the-box” plan is also required.
  • Corporate headcount “fat” – setting up a process that ensures that the return to hiring doesn’t result in a surplus of employees (i.e. headcount fat).
  • Competitive analysis — identifying the competitive advantage that your talent management practices provide compared to your talent competitors.
  • Prioritizing — prioritizing jobs, managers, and talent management programs so that your limited resources provide the highest possible impact.
  • SWAT team — creating a rapid response team that can respond to sudden talent management opportunities and problems.
  • Alerts — providing a process that alerts managers about upcoming problems before they get out of hand.
  • Lean or agile talent management – adapting lean, CRM, and agile business approaches and tools to the area of talent management.
  • Remote work opportunities — as technology, communications, and social media tools improve, talent management must develop ways that allows top talent to work from anywhere.
  • Forward-looking metrics — unfortunately, almost all current talent management and recruiting metrics are backward looking, in that they tell you what happened in the past. Instead, forward-looking and predictive-metrics that allow for improved decision-making need to replace them.
  • Reengineer performance appraisals – this is an almost universally disliked process that requires tremendous amount of time but produces no measurable results. A completely new approach is required.
  • Transparency – throughout the business world there is an increasing emphasis on transparency and openness. The time has come for talent management leaders to reassess their entire approach to secrecy, privacy, and the degree of openness with employees and applicants.
  • Cloud talent management – HR and talent management cannot be exempt from the powerful trend to move everything to the cloud.

Final Thoughts

The period immediately before the beginning of the New Year is a great time to sit back and think of your accomplishments and your legacy. Unfortunately, rather than being strategic, too many talent leaders have been simply happy to survive the last few years with their sanity intact.

Now is the time to shake loose any lethargy, to take some risks, and do something bold before you retire or move on. You may have “earned a seat at the table” but you can’t be truly respected and admired unless you produce a measurable strategic business impact.

College hiring is about to ramp up again — and the very best college recruiting organizations would argue it ramped up several months back — so now is an opportune time to conduct an ROI analysis to determine when and where you should hire college grads instead of experienced hires. Understanding the unique competencies and skills that college students bring to a business is important not just in determining the number needed, but where to place them.

As a college professor and someone that advises firms on the design of college recruiting programs, I have come up with a long list of the advantages of hiring recent graduates.

If you’re not seeing these attributes in your recent college hires, interns, or those you are courting, the problem is most likely a result of major weaknesses in your recruiting process and not with “this latest generation” of college students.

The Business Benefits of Hiring Recent College Grads

The benefits are split into two categories 1) benefits to individual hiring managers and 2) benefits that may accrue to the entire firm over time. Note that the possible outcomes listed here are based partially on generalizations that cover many but not all top college hires.

Shorter-term Benefits of Hiring College Students

  1. Lower salary costs – most are willing to work for significantly less salary than “experienced hires.”
  2. Continuous learners — because they have a recent history of learning, they are self-motivated “continuous learners.” This may actually be the most important competency.
  3. Comfortable with technology — New grads expect to use technology and have no fear of it. They learn new technologies rapidly, and this, combined with their extensive knowledge of the latest hardware and software, automatically makes them a high-value hire both for current and future needs.
  4. Comfortable with the Internet and social media – college students are much more likely to be familiar with and skilled in all aspects of the Internet, and in particular the emerging area of social media and mobile applications.
  5. High levels of innovation – there is a great deal of academic research indicating that many great innovators do their best and most groundbreaking work in their youth. Midcareer hires may bring continuous improvement but lower levels of radical inflection-point innovation.
  6. Fast change and agility — nothing more accurately describes the business world these days than intense competition and rapid change. If you’re going to be successful, you’re going to need agile individuals who are not just capable of fast change but also those who literally look forward to it. Fortunately college grads have a combination of youth and an excitement for trying new things that makes them more willing to accept and adapt to rapid change. They’re also agile and as a result they are able to shift rapidly and frequently between unrelated tasks.
  7. Team players — very few major projects can be accomplished these days without teamwork. Fortunately, college hires these days are thoroughly experienced in teamwork and cross-functional teams. Rather than being forced to participate, it comes natural to them.
  8. Superior communicators — college hires are accomplished communicators. They know how to communicate with teammates, vendors, regulators, and customers in many diverse and economical non-face-to-face ways. This includes the use of social networks and web 2.0 tools that experienced hires might be unfamiliar with.
  9. The “why” question — a willingness to repeatedly ask the “why question” of others (Why do we do it this way? Why not that way?) helps to force you to re-examine your approaches.
  10. Better performance on the job — we know from professional sports that the performance of college grads can meet and sometimes exceed that of experienced players (i.e. Kobe and LeBron). If you use a “surgical” data-driven college-hiring process, a majority of your hires will be above-average performers almost immediately. If the same process surgically targets grads with high levels of loyalty, your retention rates will also be exceptional.
  11. New ideas — they bring numerous new ideas that they’ve acquired from leading-edge thinkers and professors that continually challenge them to think differently.
  12. No need to unlearn — because they have little work experience or corporate cultural history, they don’t have to unlearn old ways or bad habits that experienced hires might carry with them.
  13. Multitasking ability — they grew up in a multitasking world, so they look forward to being assigned to simultaneous tasks. Experienced hires might consider it overloading when you expect multiple tasks to be done simultaneously.
  14. Energy and enthusiasm — their youth and relative health will likely give them what some describe as unbounded energy during the day, requiring fewer breaks and with no lapses in work quality due to fatigue.
  15. Willing to take high-risk assignments — their relative youth and inexperience may lower their level of fear, making them more willing to take on risky tasks and assignments. With fewer outside-of-work commitments, many may be willing to take career risks that experienced professionals would not.
  16. They understand metrics — because they’re fresh out of school, recent grads are likely to remember how to use numbers, statistics, and metrics. Although they might not have any practical knowledge, their lack of fear related to numbers and metrics is a positive factor.
  17. Willingness to do grunt work — because of their eagerness to learn, even top students may be willing to do thankless assignments and even grunt work that others consider beneath them. This may speed up projects that are often delayed because no one on the team is willing to volunteer for the unglamorous tasks.
  18. Willingness to travel — fewer outside-of-work commitments and a high level of excitement regarding exploring and travel means that they are more willing to take assignments that require a significant amount of travel.
  19. Diverse ideas — each year, the diversity levels of graduating classes increase making them more diverse than the available experienced hire pool. If your college recruiting program has an effective diversity component, the diverse thinking of these college hires will add richness to your teams and decision-making because diverse individuals see things differently.
  20. Professor contacts also — if you hire the very best graduate students, you will likely also get with them their academic contacts and access to the best research professors.
  21. Access to research — once again if you hire the very best graduate students, you will also do research. You may also gain access to the research of their professors, thus aiding in product development.
  22. Faster time to productivity — because they learn quickly, have high energy levels, have few family commitments and they have no professional biases to unlearn, new college hires may actually reach the minimum required level of productivity faster than experienced hires.
  23. Easier to manage — although they may ask lots of questions initially, they may actually be easier to manage. This is because they seldom have the level of entitlement, professional biases, and political awareness that experienced hires usually have. Because they are new, they are less likely to argue, play politics, or complain.
  24. An opportunity for a tryout — hiring experienced professionals can be a hit-or-miss proposition because you don’t get a chance to actually see them work. Fortunately, with college hires you can preview their work by hiring them as interns. If designed correctly, this internship opportunity can dramatically reduce the number of hiring errors.

Long-Term Benefits to the Firm for Hiring College Grads

Some firms have found that college hires bring many benefits that accrue to hiring managers, but in addition, also help the company over the long term. Some of the benefits that may extend to the entire company include:

  1. A global perspective — many U.S.-based schools have a high percentage of international students. The curriculum in nearly every discipline these days focuses on global issues. As a result, you can be sure that new college hires will think globally, as well as feel comfortable working with internationally located individuals.
  2. Essential for filling future management positions — it is difficult to hire first-level managers externally because no matter how strong their management skills, they are unfamiliar with the team and the corporate culture. Consistently hiring entry-level college hires allows you to promote the best into supervisory and management positions within five years. Without this college hire strata of employees, it will be much more difficult to fill these critical management positions.
  3. Long-term assets — if you do hire college grads, they are yours to lose. So with great retention and career development, they will continue to be an asset to your firm for up to 40 years. Midcareer hires can’t possibly return value for the same number of years.
  4. You might only get one shot at them — whichever firm hires a new grad, it literally has a chance to keep them forever. Meaning that if this firm treats them well, they may remain at this firm throughout their entire career. However, if you only hire experienced hires, you may have missed your one and only chance to monopolize this particular individual.
  5. Competitive advantage — if your firm gets this talent, your competitors cannot.
  6. Youth market benefits — if your firm happens to target many of its products and services toward younger people, having a large number on your staff will likely result in better products and increase sales to this population.
  7. An opportunity to influence curriculum — even the process of college recruiting allows you to build relationships with faculty. Over time this many help you in steering the curriculum so that graduates more closely fit your future needs.
  8. Now is the perfect time — in the past, a weak employer brand image or a poorly designed college recruiting program may have resulted in your firm hiring lower performing college hires. However, because almost no one is actively hiring large numbers on campuses these days, you could cherry-pick the very best if you are willing to act quickly.

It’s always better to be prepared than surprised.

By definition, being strategic requires that you look forward — identifying trends, opportunities, and threats. With the December lull looming, now is a great time to plan for the future. I’ve listed the “top 10 talent management trends” I foresee that require your attention.

But you should certainly do your own thinking. I recommend that you start by examining this past year…

2011 Was The Year of Social Media

2011 was a tough year for many in talent management, but despite compressed budgets, organizations continued to hire and develop talent. One factor that seemed to invade nearly every high-level functional discussion was social media. It’s clear that Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter will play a dominate role in recruiting and development best practices in years to come.

Not surprisingly, 2011 saw no fewer than 40 new vendors emerge to help organizations use social media to attract referrals. We also started to see early stage tools to use social media in talent assessment (pre/post hire) as well as applicant/candidate/employee experience management. New tools brought much enhanced visibility into talent issues, but most talent-management metrics continue not to resonate with key leaders outside of the HR function.

2012 Will Be “The Year of the Mobile Platform”

By the end of next year, even the skeptics will have to admit that the mobile platform will have become the dominant communications and interaction platform by early-adopting best-practice organizations. The capabilities afforded users of smartphones and tablet devices grows immensely day by day. Long before unified inboxes existed for the desktop, smart device users could see all incoming e-mail, social messaging, text messaging, and voice and video messaging in a single place.

Tablets will become the virtual classroom, and an emerging class of tools will let employees manage almost every aspect of their professional life digitally. During the next year, talent management leaders need to invest heavily supporting execution of talent management initiatives across mobile.

The Additional Top Nine!

Intense hiring competition will return in selected areas — global economic issues will persist for years to come, but the global war for talent will continue spiking in key regions an industries. While growth has slowed somewhat in China, Australia and Southeast Asia — including India — continue to see dramatic demand for skilled talent. In the U.S. and Europe, demand is still largely limited to certain industries where skills shortages have been an issue for years.

In high tech inclusive of medical technologies, 2012 will see a significant escalation in the war for top talent. As innovators and game changers step out of established tech firms like Facebook, Apple, Google, Twitter, and Zynga, a whole new breed to tech startups will be born each vying for the best of the best. While recruiting will move forward at a breathtaking pace, so too will “rapid” leadership development.

Retention issues will increase dramatically — almost every survey shows that despite high engagement scores, more than a majority of employees are willing to quit their current job as soon as a better opportunity comes along. I am predicting that turnover rates in high-demand occupations will increase by 25% during the next year and because most corporate retention programs have been so severely degraded, retention could turn out to be the highest-economic-impact area in all of talent management.

Rather than the traditional “one-size-fits-all” retention strategy, a targeted personalized approach will be required if you expect to have a reasonable chance to retain your top talent.

Social media increases its impact by becoming more data-driven — most firms jumped on the social media bandwagon, but unfortunately the trial-and-error approach used by most has produced only mediocre results. Adapting social media tools from the business coupled with strong analytics will allow a more focused approach that harnesses and directs the effort of all employees on social media. Talent leaders will increasingly see the value of a combination of internal and external social media approaches for managing and developing talent.

Remote work changes everything in talent management — the continued growth of technology, social media, and easy communications now makes it possible for most knowledge work and team activities to occur remotely. Allowing top talent to work “wherever they want to work” improves retention and makes recruiting dramatically easier.

Unfortunately, even though it is now possible for as much as 50% of a firm’s jobs to be done remotely, manager and HR resistance has limited the trend. Fortunately, managers and talent management leaders have begun to realize that teamwork, learning, development, recruiting, and best-practice sharing can now successfully be accomplished using remote methods. Firms like IBM and Cisco have led the way in reducing and eliminating barriers to remote work.

The need for speed shifts the balance between development and recruiting — historically, best practice within corporations has been to build and develop primarily from within. However, as the speed of change in business continues to increase and the number of firms that copy the “Apple model” (where firm is continually crossing industry boundaries) increases, talent managers will need to rethink the “develop internally first” approach.

In many cases, recruiting becomes a more viable option because there simply isn’t time for current employees to develop completely new skills. As a result, the trend will be to continually shift the balance toward recruiting for immediate needs and the use of contingent labor for short-duration opportunities and problems.

Employee referrals are coupled with social media — the employee referral program in many organizations is operated in isolation as are the organizations’ social media efforts, but talent managers are beginning to realize that the real strength of social media is relationship-building by your employees.

With proper coordination, employee relationships can easily be turned into employee referrals. This realization will lead to a shift away from recruiters and toward relying on employees to build social media contacts and relationships. The net result will be that as many as 60% of all hires will come from the combined efforts. The strength of these relationships will lead to better assessment and the highest-quality hires from employee referrals.

Employer branding returns — Employer branding and building talent communities are the only long-term strategies in recruiting. True branding is rarely practiced (hint: it’s not recruitment marketing) especially in the cash-strapped function of today, but years of layoffs, cuts in compensation, and generally bad press for business in general may force firms to invest in true branding. The increased use of social media and frequent visits to employee criticism sites (like, make not managing employer brand perception a risky proposition. While corporations will never control their employer brand, they can monitor and influence in a direction that isn’t catastrophic to recruiting and retention.

The candidate experience is finally getting the attention it deserves — Organizations have never treated candidates as well as they did their customers, but the high jobless rate has allowed corporations to essentially abuse some applicants. As competition for talent increases and as more applicants visit employer criticism sites like, talent leaders will be forced to modify their approach.

At the very least, firms will more closely monitor candidate experience metrics as they realize that treating applicants poorly can not only drive away other high-quality applicants but it can also lose them sales and customers.

Forward-looking metrics begin to dominate — Almost all current talent management and recruiting metrics are backward looking, in that they tell you what happened in the past. Other business functions like supply chain, production, and finance have long championed the use of “forward-looking” or predictive metrics and the time is finally coming when talent management leaders will shift their metrics emphasis. Forward-looking metrics can not only improve decision-making but they can also help to prevent or mitigate future talent problems.

Other Things to Keep Your Eye On…

In addition to the major trends highlighted above, there are 12 additional “hot” topics to keep your eye on:

  • Risk identification — almost every other business function has already adopted a risk management strategy. So the time is coming when talent management will be forced to adopt a similar strategy and set of metrics. This program will not only cover HR legal issues but also the economic “risk” associated with weak hiring, the absence of developed leaders, and the cost of turnover of key talent.
  • Prioritization — continued budget and resource pressure will force talent management leaders to prioritize their services, business units, key jobs, and high-value managers/employees.
  • Integration — there will be increasing pressure for talent management functions to more closely integrate and work seamlessly.
  • Expedited leadership development — as more baby-boom leaders and managers actually begin to retire, there will be increased pressure for expedited leadership development — specifically solutions that develop talent remotely using social media tools and within months rather than years.
  • Competitive analysis — the increasingly competitive business world has forced almost every function to be more externally focused. Although HR has a long history of being internally focused and not being “highly competitive,” there is increasing pressure to become more business-like and to adopt an “us-versus-them” perspective. That means conducting competitive analysis and making sure that every key talent management function produces superior results to those at competitors.
  • Contingent workers — as continuous business volatility becomes the “new normal,” the increased use and the improved management of contingent workers will become essential for agility and flexibility.
  • Unionization — there is a reasonable chance that actions by the NLRB will increase union power and make it easier for unions to gain acceptance at private employers.
  • Recruiting at industry events — as industry events return to popularity, recruiting at them will again become an effective tool for recruiting top and diverse talent.
  • Location software — talent managers will begin to realize that software that allows you to check-in and see who is within close geographic proximity has great value and many still unidentified uses.
  • Hire before they do — most firms will restrict their hiring until the turnaround actually begins. However, your firm must have a talent pool or pipeline developed, so that you can hire immediately and capture the top talent right before your competitors realize the downturn is over.
  • Assessment continues to improve — vendors, software, and tools continue to improve in this area that will become increasingly important.
  • Increase your revenue impact — increased economic pressures will continue the trend of forcing all functions (including talent management) to convert their functional results into business impacts in dollars. Talent management will face increasing pressure to directly demonstrate how their hiring, retention, development, etc. is focused, so that it directly increases and maximizes corporate revenues.

Final Thoughts

A recent survey of CEOs rates talent management as the No. 1 area where CEOs expect dramatic change during the next year. Given this increased attention, it’s even more critical that talent management and recruiting leaders set aside time to conduct a SWOT assessment (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to identify where they are and where they need to be.

The “new” talent management leader must be more strategic, more proactive, and more business-like, and that means getting your entire staff to begin thinking about and planning for the game-changing events, trends, and opportunities that will occur during the next year. It’s time to realize the “but-we-are-overwhelmed-and-too-busy” excuse for not forecasting and planning is wearing thin.

by John Sullivan and Laureen Edmiston

Several weeks ago published an article that asked the question “what are the dumbest things that recruiters do.” After surveying recruiters on, Twitter, and at the recent SMA symposium in Seattle, it is clear that most feel the dumbest thing recruiters do is…

Not managing the candidate experience — the candidate experience is the perception of the sum of interactions with an organization throughout the hiring process. It includes every communication, the design of the process, the fairness of process elements, the quality of information exchanged, and the honesty with which questions and concerns are addressed. Providing a poor candidate experience can have many negative consequences, including an increased candidate dropout rate, negative word-of-mouth, and decreased loyalty to the overall brand.

The rest of the “Top 10” are…

Expecting dull position descriptions to attract — potential applicants assume that the company puts its best foot forward when it describes a job. So when they compare your dull, legalistic description with your competitor’s more compelling description, they will simply apply elsewhere. The net result is that you lose candidates unnecessarily, harm your employer brand, and you will eventually frustrate your hiring managers.

Not taking advantage of employee referrals — the best-practice firms approach 50% referral hires (the percentage of all external hires who come from referrals). Failing to fully use referrals means that you will miss out on a large number of high-quality, prescreened, and presold candidates. Because employees are no longer doing some of the recruiting work, your recruiting workload will increase.

Not learning the business — obviously if you can’t speak “their language” and you don’t understand their problems, hiring managers will be less responsive to your requests. Your lack of knowledge will also make it more difficult to communicate with, to sell, and to build relationships with candidates.

Using the same recruiting process for different level jobs — higher-level jobs require a different level of service, knowledge, and relationship-building. So using the same process that you use for lower-level jobs on more sophisticated, technical, or management jobs will result in fewer returned calls, a higher candidate dropout rate, and lower-quality hires.

Making slow hiring decisions — the very best candidates are gone quickly, so a drawn-out process or slow decision-making will likely mean that candidates with multiple offers will be gone. Managers will also become frustrated if a slow recruiting process means losing the best.

Assuming interviews are accurate — interviews are traditionally weak predictors but poorly executed interviews dramatically increase the chances of making a major hiring error. Poorly designed interviews may also screen out innovators and turnoff top candidates, because they have not felt challenged.

Using active sourcing approaches for passive candidates — posting your jobs using active sourcing approaches like job boards, newspaper ads, and job fairs means that the 75% of the workforce that is not actively looking for a job will never see them.

Not prioritizing jobs — focusing on low-value jobs with little business or revenue impact will anger your managers and reduce their business results. It may eventually lead to lower recruiting budgets, after executives see that your hiring is not prioritized and in line with their business priorities.

Not identifying job acceptance criteria — if you don’t proactively ask for their job acceptance criteria, you can only guess about what it will take to get a top candidate to say “yes.” Although it is ranked as #10, not tailoring your recruiting marketing and candidate-selling approaches to the decision criteria of top candidates almost guarantees that you will lose these candidates. Because these individuals have choices, they will simply wait until an opportunity comes along that precisely fits their requirements and expectations.

Final Thoughts

Nearly 80% of CEOs select talent management as the business area that requires the most change. As a recruiter, if you are going to dramatically change, you have only two basic choices, 1) stop doing the dumb things that negatively impact your results or 2) start doing smarter and more effective things. The “stop doing dumb things” choice is probably the easier of the two because it doesn’t require you to learn anything new.

So if you are recruiter or recruiting manager with limited time and resources, we recommend that you use this “dumb things” list to begin the process of changing and improving your recruiting.

If you are a recruiting leader or recruiter who is constantly on the lookout for new recruiting trends, practices, and tools, you have surely already heard of QR codes.

QR codes are a second-generation barcode that allows potential candidates to quickly and directly access supporting materials and websites using only a camera equipped smartphone. QR codes have many uses, but are most often used to direct target audiences to online content that cannot be easily conveyed in print.

You can of course provide a printed URL, but if you have ever tried to enter a long URL into a mobile browser, chances are you wouldn’t do it again.

What Is a QR Code?

The QR in QR code stands for quick response, and although you might not know them by name, you have undoubtedly already seen these one-inch square shaped symbols that look a little like a maze in advertisements, on billboards, and in posters. Don’t let their size fool you: QR codes can be powerful communication mechanisms because they can take candidates directly to customized supplemental recruiting information that might include a website, pictures, videos, narrative information, or point directly to Twitter or Facebook. Organizations that have taken lead in using QR codes for recruiting include Google, the U.S. Army, E&Y, AT&T, Siemens, and Pepsi.

The Many Benefits of Using QR Codes in Recruiting

QR codes were designed to support mobile users, something the recruiting-tools community hasn’t invested a great deal of time in despite the widespread adoption of smartphones. Because many smartphone users are never more than a few feet from their almost-always-on device, mobile will become the platform of choice for recruiting activity. The application to decode a QR Code comes pre-installed on most devices and there are many free Apps for users with a device not pre-installed with one. Potential candidates could be on the subway, reading the paper, or walking down the street and with the push of a button be immediately taken to follow-up information or a job application.

If your recruiting effort is attempting to show off your firm’s innovation or its use of technology, the use of these codes might help to reinforce that message. QR codes can dramatically increase the value and usefulness of print ads, billboards, posters, business cards, and brochures. Because college students are particularly mobile phone dependent, QR codes should be embedded into all aspects of college recruiting.

These codes are also powerful because they easily allow for effective tracking analytics that can identify sources and usage rates. In addition, QR codes can be produced for free and because they are so small, will save space and advertising costs. These codes can also be used for non-recruiting purposes including check-ins and to provide employee, vendor, and customer information.

“Like a picture, a QR Code can replace a thousand words.”

Potential Uses of QR Codes in Recruiting

There are literally dozens of ways in which these codes have been or can be used to provide recruiting information to prospects and candidates. Some of them include:

  • Newspaper/magazine ads — to provide follow-up information that can’t fit in the ad.
  • In job postings, social media and blogs — they can provide detailed reference or follow-up information without taking up space.
  • Referral cards — they can instantly take a referral to an application site.
  • Wall posters/stickers — that can be placed on bulletin boards and even on poles.
  • Billboards/signage/on vehicles — QR can work even when the picture is taken from a distance.
  • Career fairs and college events — they allow an interested prospect to instantly access additional information without having to wait in line or ask a question.
  • In text messages — they can be attached to text messages as a picture or they can be used to send text messages.
  • Job alerts/calendar events — individuals can sign up for specific job alert notifications and calendar items can be easily saved on a phone’s calendar.
  • Direct mail — they can move an individual directly from a paper letter to the Internet.
  • In slides — they can direct you to more detailed information from presentation slides.
  • Invitations — they can be used to invite people to join talent communities, and to participate in contests or events.
  • In retail outlets/at trade shows/on product packaging — they can convert customers into applicants.
  • Bus cards/name tags — they can provide instant detailed information about you.
  • On T-shirts — they help send a message that your firm is “cool” (Google used them)
  • On resumes — applicants can place them in resumes to show work samples.

Possible Issues

There are of course a few downsides related to the use of QR codes. The first is that many recruiters will resist them for no other reason than most recruiters resist any kind of change that involves a new technology. Second, you will most likely get a spotty response from potential candidates because while QR codes have existed for a while, not everyone is familiar with them and others don’t yet have a smart phone with QR reading capability.

Final Thoughts

Although QR codes won’t solve every recruiting problem, they certainly are a quick, cheap, and flexible way to re-energize and make your non-Internet recruiting information approaches more effective. These codes are particularly effective because they support mobile audiences and that allows individuals to act when they are most excited. Soon QR Codes will be as common as embedded hyperlinks that are only effective within electronic messages.

You can test the effectiveness of QR codes for providing contact information by using your smartphone camera to take a picture of the example at the top of this article, or you can create your own QR codes for free by going to a site like

Despite all of the recent talk about the need for openness and corporate transparency, there is still one area where corporations tightly hold on to secrets … revealing who is/isn’t designated as “high-potential.” According to Towers Watson’s 2011 Talent Management and Rewards survey, a scant 28% of employers let employees know their designation.

If you are a proponent of transparency, you’ll be happy to know that despite this low percentage of openness, there are many benefits associated with making managers and the high-potentials themselves aware of who is on the high-potential list for succession planning and leadership development.

The following list covers the positive benefits. (The arguments for maintaining secrets was covered last week.)

20 Benefits of Transparency in High Potential Selection

  1. The designation motivates and increases engagement — openly recognizing the potential of individuals certainly excites and motivates the employee, and because other employees know, they will get additional reinforcement actions from your coworkers. Their manager might also feel excited, proud, and recognized because they now know that their development efforts were successful. Employee engagement may also increase as a result of your proactive action.
  2. The designation helps to reduce anxiety — during weak economic times, even high-performing employees are naturally anxious about their future. Designating an individual as high potential helps to reduce their level of anxiety and uncertainty about their future. The designation lets them know that they will be continually developed and that they will have a major role to play in the future of the organization.
  3. You can expect increased retention among HiPos — one of the primary advantages of telling HiPos of their status is to give them a sense of belonging. Being designated a HiPo is a form of recognition and accomplishment, and openness allows the firm to send a message to the individual that there is a high probability of a bright future for them. HiPos should also be made aware that should they leave this current organization and move to another, it is unlikely that, even with their outstanding track record, they will automatically receive the same “high-potential” designation until they have proven themselves. This level of rotation combined with the uncertainty should they move to another organizations helps to improve their retention rate.
  4. The designation may cause HiPos to take themselves more seriously — after being notified that they are high-potential, individuals who are not self-aware of their potential may begin to take their careers more seriously. As a result, they may increase their learning and self-development or they may even pursue advanced degrees now that they know that that development or learning will actually be put to use by the organization.
  5. Designation allows a more targeted focused use of resources — when a limited number of individuals are openly designated as high-potentials, it’s obviously easier for everyone involved to prioritize and focus their development resources and opportunities on these individuals. When the individuals’ names are kept secret, managers may devote too many development resources on individuals who are not likely to become future leaders and top performers.
  6. It is easier to develop when the employee knows why it is happening — openness makes it more likely that any development advice and recommended actions will be taken seriously because the employee involved knows that they are being groomed for possible succession. If the selected individuals are not told their status, it can be awkward having development conversations and scheduling increased levels of development without revealing the reason behind it. It is also true that when everyone involved knows the goal of the development conversation, it allows for a more direct and honest exchange about the HiPos’ weaknesses and their development needs.
  7. Keeping the names secret is hard work and openness makes everything easier — if your policy is to keep the names secret from all employees and managers, reaching that goal will be difficult and time-consuming. This is because employees are naturally curious and they will devote time to finding out who is on the list. You will need to keep secret not only the actual list of names but also the title and the invitee list of all development meetings that are designed exclusively for high-potentials.
  8. They will find out anyway — experience tells us that despite your secretive efforts, employees will eventually learn who is on the list. Even if they don’t find out for sure, they will guess, and if they guess wrong, a great deal of confusion can occur.
  9. Openness reduces the confusion over who should be a role model — if employees are aware of the HiPo designations that have been made by management, it will be much easier for them to select “the right individuals” to emulate and copy as their role models. If employees are also seeking a mentor, they now have a strong list of individuals to approach.
  10. Reinforcing your communicated values and skills — you powerfully reinforce the existing messages that you have sent to all employees and managers about what behaviors they should copy, when you designating employees with those same skill sets, behaviors, and results as high-potentials.
  11. Releasing the names reinforces the message of openness — if your organization espouses of the value of “openness” and transparency, having an open high-potential list will enforce that value.
  12. An open list increases the likelihood of diversity — having a closed list can unfortunately lead to speculation about favoritism, however when the list is open, everyone can see if you have actually practiced diversity.
  13. Openness can reinforce employees’ faith in management decision-making — if the high-potential selection process is fair, open, and accurate, it will likely select individuals who employees already admire and respect. The net result will be that your employees’ faith in management decision-making, and rewards for performance will be significantly reinforced.
  14. It can eliminate speculation by managers — in some cases, being secretive extends to most managers, who will not be told who is high-potential. Not knowing for sure may cause some managers to treat those who they presume to be HiPos differently. Taken together, being open can eliminate this inaccurate speculation, wasted time, resources, and effort.
  15. Openness will encourage managers who develop employees — with an open list, managers who have successfully developed high-potentials in the past will be rewarded as other employees gravitate toward them in the hopes of also being developed.
  16. An open list may improve promotion decisions — unless managers are provided with a HiPo list, they cannot know for sure who should be considered for a promotion. By providing every manager with a list of high-potentials, you make it much more likely that managers will include these HiPos in their interview process for promotions and development assignments. Widely distributing the list also increases the chances that they will interview “lesser-known” individuals from other business units or regions who otherwise a manager might not have known about.
  17. Knowing the high-potentials who are likely to be targeted makes it easier to focus your retention efforts — openly designating high-potentials can make them likely targets of external recruiters. However, in the same light, knowing that these individuals will be targeted may allow you to focus your retention and blocking efforts on these individuals, so that the net result may actually be a decrease in the turnover of these key employees.
  18. If you periodically remove individuals from the list, you help to reduce an entitlement mentality — having a high-potential list can help to develop a two-class mentality between HiPos and the rest. However, if employees see that individuals are periodically removed from the list, there is less of a likelihood that they will see this as a permanent class distinction. If individuals in lower job levels are also included on the high-potential list, more employees will feel that they have an opportunity development.
  19. Customers and vendors might feel more valued — openly designating HiPos will likely mean that your firm’s major customers, strategic partners, and vendors will become aware of who is on the list. If they have the opportunity to work directly with these HiPos, they are more likely to feel valued as a customer and partner.
  20. Transparency may improve your employer brand image — the fact that you have an open process and are direct and honest with your employees may build your external employer brand image and help with recruiting as employees spread the word on their external social networks.

Final Thoughts

Obviously the decision between having an open or closed list has historically been a difficult and complex one. As the practice of management and HR progresses, there has been an increasing emphasis on openness and transparency. This is partially a result of growth of the Internet and internal and external social networks, which make it incredibly easy to spread “secrets.” In addition, it has been widely reported that new generations entering the workforce have come to expect (or even demand) a dramatically higher level of transparency.

As a result of these factors, most organizations should reconsider their decision to keep most elements of their succession plans secret. Obviously there are some drawbacks to openness but I have found that all of them can be overcome if you commit your best thinkers to the problem. The pendulum is steadily shifting toward the time where the succession planning variation of “don’t ask, don’t tell” will become an historical footnote.