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Why do talent acquisition leaders keep failing?

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Having observed a remarkably high turnover for Talent Acquisition leaders over the past few years, Tim Sackett asks why TA leaders are losing their job every twelve to eighteen months and how organizations can turn around their failing TA function

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If you’re in HR or talent acquisition, you’ve probably seen this phenomenon over the past few years. Organizations fire talent acquisition leaders at an alarmingly high rate! Why is that?

It’s an easy trend to follow. The organization isn’t recruiting as the CEO believes it should be. That results in going out and finding a new talent acquisition leader to take over the function. The new talent acquisition leader comes in with all the energy of change and expertise. Within twelve to eighteen months, you see the cycle repeated.

If you’re a talent acquisition leader today and you’re over twenty-four months in your position, then you’re most likely really good at your job, or you work for an organization that doesn’t know what good recruiting looks like.

From this, we know two things:

  1. It takes a CEO about 12-18 months to determine if a talent acquisition leader sucks.
  2. Most talent acquisition leaders aren’t meeting the expectations of the CEO.

Why are all talent acquisition leaders failing to perform?

There are several reasons. To start foundationally, we don’t have a good breeding ground for corporate talent acquisition. Most corporate talent acquisition professionals start their careers in HR or come from the agency side of the recruiting world.

Those avenues aren’t the best breeding ground for great corporate talent acquisition. The joke in the recruiting world is no one woke up one morning after just dreaming of becoming a corporate recruiter! Most of us just “fell” into it. You can go to university for “human resources,” but you don’t go and get a degree in “talent acquisition.” Human resources and talent acquisition are not close to being the same thing.

Most corporate talent acquisition leaders either came out of human resources and had no idea how to recruit or often hate recruiting. I’ve had conversations with enterprise CHROs who have come right out and said, “I hate recruiting.” It’s tough to be world-class at something you hate, let alone even average.

Those who come out of the agency or RPO world are immediately hamstrung by the fact they can incentivize recruiters to recruit. Instead, they have a realization that most of their talent acquisition team is administering a hiring process and are highly paid to do that activity. Getting them to actually recruit will be a battle that they’ll most likely lose, so they almost immediately acquiesce to the reality they now are managing a function that is only administering a hiring process. In reality, technology and lower-paid administrators can do this job faster, cheaper, and better.

How does a talent acquisition leader ensure they don’t fail?

Turning around a failing talent acquisition function is not easy. It’s kind of like turning around a failing professional sports franchise. You need resources, talent, and some luck.

1. Define what success looks like to fellow senior organization executives

The first thing a corporate talent acquisition leader needs to do is clearly define what success looks like to the senior executives of the organization. This simple misalignment can derail everything from the beginning.

If your CEO believes your talent acquisition team should have candidates for hiring managers in a week and the industry average is two weeks, you are swimming upstream from the beginning and unlikely to be successful. Also, this definition of success must be measurable in black-and-white measures that the senior team agrees would show success. Subjective measures, or measures that are easy for talent acquisition leaders to manipulate, will not work. Say hello to my worthless friend, time-to-fill.

2. Discover the breaks in your recruiting funnel

Talent acquisition leaders must understand what their recruiting funnel looks like from both an organizational and an individual recruiter perspective. What is working, or close to working, and what is broken? From that standpoint, you can set realistic benchmarks for recruiting and truly begin to see what the capacity of talent acquisition can be. Data will lead you to know what levers need pulling and how often.

I tend to look at process and technology simultaneously because most modern recruiting technology is built around a specific process. You following that process is critical to the technology working as it should. Once you decide your process is better than your technology, you will most likely be broken. They work in tandem. Customization of your recruiting technology kills more talent acquisition leaders than anything else.

3. Fill the top of your funnel

The final thing great talent acquisition leaders understand is advertising before brand. Most candidates have no idea what your brand is, nor will they ever. But we, as humans, are suckers for great advertising. Most people will accept a job with a company they previously never had any idea who they were or what they did. Be great at marketing and job advertising. Fill the top of your funnel.

Talent acquisition leader firings will continue unless we see fundamental leadership changes in how organizations run their recruitment function. We need talent acquisition leaders to have true measures of success, to be innovative and tech-savvy, and to deliver on the promise that talent acquisition will consistently increase our organization’s talent.

What this means for HR and hiring

For the group of talent acquisition leaders that have grown up in corporate talent acquisition, too often, this subset falls into the trap of just running the same old technology and processes but trying to do them faster to find success. They lack innovation and the ability to manage the change necessary to drive a real difference in recruiting outcomes. “working harder and longer” is not a talent acquisition strategy for success. Just a temporary lifeline that might get your tenure past the first twelve months before you completely burn out.

If you’re in corporate talent acquisition, reading the first few paragraphs of this article doesn’t feel good. But we are naive not to realize some of the truth. Also, we are naive in not understanding what the C-suite is also seeing. Consider using the steps above to prevent the constant churn of talent acquisition leaders from lasting into the foreseeable future.

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