With a focus on infrastructure and branding, Leigh McCluskey developed Advisor Group’s best-in-class talent acquisition function.
By Marta Chmielowicz
Imagine joining a billion-dollar organization left without a talent acquisition department after being sold off from its parent company—with only five months to get one established. That was the predicament that Leigh McCluskey found herself in on her first day as vice president of talent acquisition at Advisor Group.
“Literally, we had nothing—no system, processes, recruiters, vendors under contract, and only three members on the HR team,” she says. “The executive leadership team was not yet fully hired, and we had no brand recognition. All technology support was through a transition services agreement with the former owner, so we weren’t the priority and we had to negotiate and procure vendors for any and all service providers needed to support TA.”
That was in September 2016 and now, only three years later, Advisor Group is recognized for its best-in-class talent acquisition function, with McCluskey winning HRO Today’s 2019 Talent Acquisition Leader of the Year Award for Enterprise.
How did McCluskey transform the newly independent Advisor Group’s talent acquisition department so significantly with so few resources and no existing processes in place?
She says the key was creating a multi-year strategy alongside a detailed quarterly project plan. This way, the organization could better sequence a plan of attack that maximized impact and minimized timelines and costs—all while keeping an eye on day-to-day challenges. Using this system, McClusky set four main priorities for the first two years:
- Procuring vendors
- Strategic process management
- System optimization
- Talent branding
Phase One: Infrastructure
The largest obstacle that McCluskey had to tackle in her first year was the lack of HR systems. “Most of the first year was spent contracting with providers for services, including relocation, background checks, outsourcing, employment verification, executive search, and sourcing; process evolution; and Workday,” she says.
McCluskey says that implementing a Workday-based recruitment platform was key to Advisor Group’s talent acquisition strategy. The platform allowed the company to automate its messaging, notifications, and checklists in order to deliver an efficient and consistent recruitment experience for both hiring managers and applicants. To improve the process even more, customized tools including resource decision guides, behavioral and values-based interview guides, intake worksheets, and interviewing scripts were delivered to over 70 percent of managers.
These processes and technologies were adopted with simplicity and optimization in mind—easy enough to encourage manager self-service and recruiter-friendly to allow for speed and a high-quality candidate experience.
“We designed the candidate application to be the absolute minimal compliant number of clicks and required fields possible,” McCluskey explains. “We wanted the candidate to be able to click a few times and attach a resume from a mobile device to apply. We’ve also leveraged automated tasks, notifications, and reporting to optimize Workday throughout all of our employment processes.”
McCluskey was a team player throughout the transformation and worked alongside her recruiters every step of the way to ensure that reporting, offer letter creation, the background check process, and candidate communication all ran smoothly.
“Although my style has always been one of player-coach, I had not actually done every part of every process in a long time,” she says. “This experience definitely supported our process design to minimize administrative burden and non-value adding steps.”
For example, McCluskey’s hands-on approach led to a unique partnership between TA and HR business leaders. Rather than taking on the entire hiring cycle, recruiters hand the baton to the HR business partners after selection, allowing HR and payroll to manage the offer process before turning it back to TA for onboarding. This has resulted in improved cycle times and offer acceptance rates.
The integrated recruitment process also helped build TA’s credibility with the leadership team, paving the way for all that followed.
Phase Two: Branding
With the necessary talent infrastructure in place, McCluskey’s priorities shifted to creating a brand strategy and candidate experience that would put the company on the map. Previously, Advisor Group had no name recognition, but McCluskey’s efforts increased reach and brand awareness, filling the talent pipeline with quality prospects.
“We launched multiple branding initiatives and platforms in year two and focused more holistically on candidate and hiring leader experience,” explains McCluskey. “We also spent a lot of time on recruitment—the ins and outs of cycle times, communications, hiring leader training, and sourcing talent. Many of the prioritization decisions were made based upon what could deliver the best talent to the business in the shortest timeframe and highest value contribution review.”
To create an authentic view into the organization, McCluskey drove a branding campaign that focused on the employee story. The main tenets of the “Be a part of the team behind our success” campaign included launching an external career site, revamping the organization’s Glassdoor and LinkedIn pages, and focusing on employee referrals inside the company.
To this end, Advisor Group released 23 videos of employees describing their career journeys and current roles, first internally in a drip campaign to stimulate employee referrals and then externally across social media platforms. The strategy aimed to constantly reinforce the company values while engaging employees and encouraging them to share, like, and follow branded content.
“All hiring and onboarding-related content for candidates and managers reflected the new campaign and company values, and the employee story was front and center on the critical few platforms,” she says. “Internal branding and external platforms with employee messages and reviews were prioritized over paid advertising for the launch of the brand.”
And the strategy has been highly successful:
- Over 90 percent of external positions were filled through in-house recruiters.
- The organization’s LinkedIn following and engagement grew by over 50 percent.
- External applications for job openings doubled year-over-year.
- Advisor Group’s Glassdoor ratings jumped from 2.6 to 4.4 in just one year.