Leighanne Levensaler: Three ways to win the war for Talent

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We all first heard there was a war for talent about 15 years ago, and recent headlines tell us the war for talent is back. Personally, I don’t think it ever ended. The global recession of several years ago did create a sluggish hiring market, but no company has ever stopped competing for having the right talent—at least not for very long.

Like any strong offensive strategy, winning the talent war requires intelligence, adaptability, speed, and the right technologies to execute. How do you gain these attributes? By doing these three things:

Focus on the Individual

Sometimes what we’ve been looking for we’ve had all along, and this also applies to workforce talent. No organization will effectively compete and retain its best talent unless it knows its individuals—their skills, strengths, preferences, career goals, cost impact, and full history with the organization—and how those attributes can be utilized in new ways to meet business goals. Nor can you retain and groom employees for greater success without a systematic method for providing feedback and recognizing the accomplishments of individual people. The solution to knowing individuals is not found in traditional HR process automation; it’s in incorporating continuous and anytime feedback into daily work life. This is where HR teams can make a difference, by expanding beyond service and delivery models to putting a real focus on individuals.

It’s pretty amazing when you consider that many organizations keep detailed records of material assets such as office furniture and computers, yet lack any sort of knowledge store of the individuals who make and sell their products, deliver services, and manage teams. A company may track the life expectancy of its desktop computers but lack the data to recognize when it’s in danger of losing a superstar employee to a better opportunity. Its HR system may do a rudimentary job of managing workforce data but not be designed to engage employees for effective communications on performance or career goals, or for business leaders to analyze talent capabilities across the workforce within the system.

Providing this sort of insight is only possible with a people management system in place designed not for HR but for employee engagement, collecting data on skills and strengths and offering managers easy to use workforce analytics tools. Only then can you know whether you already have the right person for the job within the organization. And if you can reward that person with an exciting new assignment, you’ve progressed in the talent war in two ways: kept a high-potential employee, and avoided having to compete in the talent marketplace to fill that new position.

Practice Continuous Workforce Planning

You will not win the war for talent with a workforce plan that’s developed at the beginning of the year and then pulled out only occasionally to check against goals.  The fact is everything is constantly changing: economic conditions, laws and regulations, market opportunities, talent availability, even the competition. If you have accurate data to make workforce plans and decisions to adapt to your needs at any given time, then you are getting as close as you can to always having the right people at the right time. When it comes down to it, isn’t that what winning the war for talent is all about?

To practice continuous workforce planning, management teams must have access to relevant talent data. They can do an even better job of answering the big talent planning questions if they are able to analyze workforce data that’s combined with external information such as labor and salary market data, and data from operational systems such as point of sale and customer relationship management. The right HR system is also important to this goal, and is should be possible to combine data and analyze it directly within that core system.

Foster a Collaborative Recruiting Strategy

The natural extension from workforce planning is sourcing—how do you go about finding these wonderful individuals who are going to bring your organization to new heights in the coming years? We all know the answer is to work collaboratively. Hiring managers and recruiters, in particular, need to work closely together to make decisions and secure desired talent as soon as possible.

None of this can be done with the legacy technology known as the applicant tracking system (ATS), which is isolated and disconnected from all other HR functions. These systems were designed for compliance and don’t support managers’ ability to easily share referrals or to find and learn about internal candidates. They’re also complex and hard to use, which is why information about candidates and the overall talent pipeline is more likely to be found in spreadsheets and email on managers’ laptops than in the ATS. The recruiting process needs to happen within the core human capital management system, ensuring the cycle of workforce planning, sourcing, hiring, and onboarding happens all in one place.

The collaborative recruiting process also needs to be easy and constantly moving forward. Access to recruiting from mobile systems such as smartphones and tablets is just as important as access from laptop and desktop computers, because the hiring process does not take place at a desk. Sourcing candidates, sharing those prospects with hiring teams, nurturing top candidates, and even making the offer doesn’t take place while people are sitting still. Throughout this process, speed is of the essence. We’ve all been in situations where the perfect person for the job tells us, regrettably, they just accepted another offer a few days ago.

If organizations focus on the individual, practice continuous workforce planning, and foster a collaborative recruiting strategy, they’ll have a huge advantage in the war for talent. There’s no time like now to get going, as this truly will be a never-ending war.

Leighanne Levensaler, vice president, human capital management at Workday