Why You Might Need to Reverse Your Hiring Strategy

August 28, 2019

Early in my career, I had the good fortune to work as a financial analyst for a Fortune 50 company. During a meeting where the president of a $2 billion group was presenting his business plan for the next year, he was lambasted by the corporate CEO with the following:

“Strategy drives tactics. Tactics don’t drive strategy. And from what I can tell, you have a terrible business strategy, so it doesn’t matter how great your tactics are.”

I believe this same “strategy drives tactics” idea is true in all industries, but somehow it gets lost in translation when it comes to hiring. This is why I recommend a hiring model that emphasizes quality, rather than one that’s all about speed and quantity. 

Keep your hiring tactics, reverse your hiring strategy

When I spoke at the first LinkedIn Talent Connect event, I made this statement: 

“You can’t use a surplus of talent hiring strategy, when a surplus of talent doesn’t exist.”

I then showed the audience the graphic below, focusing first on the top, all-too-common “Surplus HR Tech” hiring model that moves from left to right. It’s my opinion that most applicant tracking systems (ATS) follow this same model, with the “HAVE” and “GET” well defined, but the essential “DO” and “BECOME” looking vague at best. 

  • Slide of graphic from Lou Adler’s talk at LinkedIn’s first Talent Connect event.  Graphic title and subtitle:  HR Tech vs. HR Touch and Talent Strategy: You can’t use a surplus of talent strategy when a surplus of talent doesn’t exist.  Body of graphic features 4 elements in a line:  1. HAVE: Past / Skills 2. GET: Day 1 / $$ 3. DO: Year 1 / KPOs 4. BECOME: Future Growth  An arrow above these 4 elements moves from left to right, 1 through 4. The arrow is annotated:  Efficiency, Surplus HR Tech Model: Weed Out the Weak / Active / Best Who Apply  An arrow below the 4 elements moves from right to left, 4 through 1. The arrow is annotated:  Quality, Scarcity HR Touch Model: Attract the Best / Passive / Raise the Talent Bar

The problem with the “Surplus HR Tech” model is simple: All the right tactics are there, but it’s moving backwards. To paraphrase the CEO from above, “The strategy is wrong, not the tactics.”

Filtering candidates out of the hiring process based on their skills (the “HAVE”) and their start date title, location, and compensation (the “GET”) before even considering them doesn’t make a lot of sense — after all, the best and most diverse people have a different mix of skills and experiences. That’s why excluding this group from consideration based on factors that don’t predict performance is counterproductive. Just as importantly, what people “GET” on Day 1 are all factors that are negotiable if you’re presenting them with an opportunity that’s a significant career move. 

Doing this left-to-right process faster and even using artificial intelligence to boost it to warp speed is akin to a dog chasing its tail faster and faster — and wondering why it can never catch it. 

Instead, try slowing down and implementing my “Scarcity HR Touch” hiring model that moves from right to left in the graphic above. All the same, familiar tactics are there, but my model reverses the strategy. Since you’re spending more time with fewer people, quality of hire will increase while time-to-fill and cost-per-hire will pretty much be the same. Here’s how it’s done:

Implement a win-win hiring strategy. You know you have a successful hiring program when 90% of your hiring managers and new hires agree it was the right decision one year after they started.  

Clarify the “DO” during the intake meeting. Just ask the hiring manager what the person needs to do to be successful, not what the person needs to have in terms of skills. As long as the person has done comparable work in similar situations, they will have all of the skills and experiences required. 

Define what the candidate could “BECOME” if successful. This could be faster learning, handling bigger and more important projects, or getting promoted more rapidly. Wrap this idea into your employee value proposition (EVP), describing the importance of the job and its impact on the mission or an important project or initiative. This is called job branding. 

Spend more time with fewer, but far more talented people. It’s important to only source and recruit candidates who would naturally be interested in your role and who hiring managers would instantly consider as semi-finalists. Once you have 8-10 people who meet this criterion, you need to work hard to connect with and convert these strangers into acquaintances. This is how you build a “raise the bar” talent pool at the top of the funnel. 

Ask about accomplishments to assess fit, performance, and satisfaction. The ability to do the work in relationship to fit drives motivation and on-the-job performance. By asking about major accomplishments related to the DO factors, making an accurate assessment is straight-forward. Getting the fit factors right are the most critical. These include fit with the culture, fit with the pace and intensity, fit with the hiring manager’s style, and the candidate’s intrinsic motivation to do the actual work required. 

Negotiate with the end in mind. As long as the DO and BECOME are better than the other opportunities the candidate is considering, what they end up getting on the start date (compensation, title, benefits, etc.) becomes less important. It takes extra time for a candidate to fully understand this, so that’s why a high-touch/go-slow process is essential for attracting, hiring, and retaining top performers. 

This quality over quantity “Scarcity HR Touch” approach is not as radical as it might seem, especially when you consider this is the same process used to promote people we know or to hire referrals from trusted sources and former co-workers. What is surprising is that we hire strangers using a totally different process. That’s why this whole concept boils down to this commonsense idea: Hire strangers like we hire acquaintances — based on their past performance doing comparable work. 

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* Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

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