RPO & StaffingTalent Acquisition

The Facility for Agility

Beyond the subjective judgment that’s inherent to making a good hire, a new paradigm beckons.

By Byrne Mulrooney
It’s a fact: The recession has given way to a fitful economic recovery. Companies are once again looking to grow, and they know they need the talent to do it. Beyond that, the future is less certain, and nowhere is uncertainty more evident than in talent acquisition. 
In building their talent acquisition strategies, companies face important fundamental questions. What makes a great employee in a time when expectations constantly evolve? How do you quantify the characteristics likely to be found in a quality employee? How do you measure, manage, and improve employee success over time, and how does a company meet hiring expectations with extremely limited recruitment resources? Looking for an answer? Think “agility.”

Learning agility, the ability to adapt and acquire new skills, is essential to the success of employees in critical management and skilled positions. Another type of agility—scalability and flexibility—is important in the talent acquisition strategy itself. Companies need the best recruitment capability possible to reach elusive top talent, but they also need to be able to ramp up operations or scale back quickly based on demand.

RPO is a promising option for addressing the challenges of change, both in identifying the right talent and scaling to meet changing business requirements. As strategic decision makers ask hard questions about what kind of talent they need, how to measure hiring success, and how their recruitment can adapt and deliver in changing times, they will be looking to RPO providers for many of the answers.
Learning Agility Drives Employee Success
The fundamentals of effective talent strategy begin with one simple question: What does it take for an employee to succeed? In leadership, management, and roles that require specialized skills, simply being good at your job today is not enough. The markets will change, and the capabilities required of companies will change.

Organizations understand this, and two decades of talent management thought leaders have underscored the point: The employee with the ability to adapt to change and learn new skills will provide the most value. Such an employee is likely to be more efficient and productive, and typically provides the rare qualities suited to effective leadership. Learning agility is critical, yet it is difficult to identify.

Resumes, references, and referrals can confirm that employees and candidates have been skilled, or were good at their jobs, but these credentials by themselves do not predict an ability to learn new skills or adapt to change. A recruiter or hiring manager must infer that the candidate has the qualities to deliver value to the company. It is a subjective judgment call. Such decisions are perfectly acceptable. They are part of human nature, and they are integral to what is the art of talent management.

When it comes to talent management processes and strategy, however, subjective judgment alone is problematic. It cannot be defined. It cannot be measured, and its results are difficult, if not impossible, to improve. The art of talent management must be supported with an element of science—i.e., repeatable and measurable methodology. When it comes to building repeatable and objective processes for identifying agile talent, most companies are only at the beginning of the journey.
Can a Recruitment Process Really Identify Great Talent?
The good news is that today, thanks to the maturation of competency management and behavioral assessment tools, it is possible to create an objective, measurable process for identifying learning agility and other characteristics that make a great employee.

Micheal Lombardo and Robert Eichinger are leaders in the development of competency management as a discipline. As developers of the Lominger Leadership Architect suite, they helped make standardized competency-based assessment tools accessible to companies at all levels. In their 2001 book, The Leadership Machine, they define a competency as the “measurable characteristic of a person that is related to success at work.” These characteristics include behavioral skills, technical skills, attributes (e.g., intelligence), and attitudes (e.g., optimism). Most importantly, they are observable and measurable.

Researched and validated competency-based development tools are well-established as effective solutions today. They help identify ideal candidates based on characteristics of success, with detailed scores for key skills and attributes. The idea that an organization can determine and measure the competencies that drive success is powerful. It is an idea that RPOs will be expected to understand as companies place a premium on flexibility and quality-of-hire to get them through the demands of a changing economy.

Building an Effective Recruitment Process and Measuring Results
Identifying and quantifying key attributes in candidates is an important RPO capability, but selecting great candidates is only part of the solution. The other side of the challenge is in applying that capability as part of a consistent, repeatable best-practice methodology. Companies expect the process in RPO to address needs on all levels, from strategic workforce planning to day-to-day communication with candidates, recruiters, and hiring managers. The devil is in the details, and a consistent methodology makes these details manageable and effective.

Then comes measurement. Quality-of-hire cannot be determined until long after candidates are hired. Companies are constantly looking at how to measure the contribution of the employee in the workplace. If you’re looking at sales employees, do you track the size of the pipeline three-months, six-months, and a year after hire? If you’re looking at operations professionals, are you tracking the performance of the organization they’re embedded in over certain periods after their hire date?

Hiring manager interviews, 360 reviews, and actual contributions to the organization—these are primary measures for success in recruiting. They all require a process that extends well beyond the date of hire, and they are critical to an effective talent management strategy. As companies track recruitment ROI through the ups and downs of changing business needs, RPO partners will be looked upon to provide quality-of-hire measurement that extends across the entire employee lifecycle.
The Changing Expectations of RPO
In its infancy, RPO was seen as an effective approach to filling difficult positions without straining internal resources or relying on multiple expensive third-party recruitment firms. This was largely a tactical value proposition, assuming that the company knew exactly what talent it needed, how to define that talent, and how to drive success after hire.
Today, RPO is a mature practice. The marketplace has many notable successes, and companies recognize that RPO can give them a critical advantage in competing for talent. The economy, however, has made it more difficult to predict talent needs, and it has placed a premium on flexibility. At the same time, the demands of RPO have evolved. In order to deliver strategic value to clients, providers must do more than fill seats. They must ensure that each client has the best talent to drive its unique business strategy.

Expectations have evolved on other fronts as well. Speed and efficiency were once the key drivers of RPO value. They remain important, but talent planners recognize that they are not ends unto themselves. Likewise, sourcing remains essential, but companies and RPO providers understand that sourcing alone does not drive success either. Speed, efficiency, and deep sourcing capability must be complemented by the ability to define the right fit, deliver quality talent, and measure performance.

Finally, we are seeing that truly global talent processes are becoming more of a reality. Companies are looking for RPOs to handle recruitment through a global model. As with any global process, recruitment must tread the line between establishing consistency and accommodating variation in needs by country or region. This is another best-practice value that an effective RPO provider can deliver.
A Focus on Flexibility and Business Impact
Coming out of the recession, we see many companies dealing with similar situations. The HR organization has been downsized. They’re looking at steep hiring demands, and they’re rethinking the recruitment process to focus on business impact.

By now, most companies understand the new value proposition of RPO. By outsourcing its recruitment processes, a company can leverage best-of-breed talent acquisition capability with the scalability to meet changing business needs—but delivering on these ideals is not easy. No two RPO providers have the same approach, and no single RPO is ideal for every situation.

Looking into 2011 and beyond, the most effective RPOs will not “be all things to all people.” Rather, they will deliver success to each client by precisely understanding the organization’s needs. They will apply the best-of-breed resources and tools to deliver the quality hires based on those needs, (including differentiators such as learning agility), and they will work with the client to measure the business impact of those hires.

The result is a recruitment operation that helps companies understand exactly where they are today, d where they need to be tomorrow, and how to manage the uncertainties along the way. That’s business agility, and it’s an ideal that will continue to drive RPO as we navigate the uncertain recovery that lies ahead.
Byrne Mulrooney is chief executive officer of Futurestep, the RPO subsidiary of Korn/Ferry International.

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