It’s an interesting question to ask of any organisation but especially a recruitment agency.
To be honest, it’s a question I’ve only given a lot of thought to recently because of the work I have been doing with two of my clients in helping them define their respective talent strategies and the research recently undertaken by Psylutions and Curve Group, which has been published as a white paper Best Practice in practice talent management which I wrote about last week in What's in an effective leadership program? (and why it matters).
As the authors of the Psylutions and Curve Group paper state (page 5):
Without a talent strategy, either in concept or in practice, this creates difficulties for organisations to effectively manage their talent and address future business ambitions of growth into new and emerging markets.
Having a clearly defined strategy for talent will assist organisations to have the right people with the right skills at the right time in the market, in order to fuel expansion and meet growth targets.
Additionally, having a clearly defined talent strategy can assist in engaging the ‘hearts and minds’ of employees. Higher levels of employee engagement lead to a greater alignment with the business strategy overall, assisting the organisation to achieve its goals and objectives.
The truth of these words can be seen within our own industry when you look back at the one of Australia’s most successful recruitment companies, Morgan & Banks and how its leaders grew the firm’s staff numbers, profitability and market capitalisation.
Here’s how founders Geoff Morgan and Andrew Banks articulated the talent strategy of Morgan & Banks:
‘We knew exactly what we wanted when we were hiring every type of employee: from recruiters for permanent positions; to sales people selling temporary services; to researchers who mined the database for candidates. But although we carefully matched the person to the job, we found that there needed to be extra ‘stretch’ in everyone’ role, to provide challenges and raise expectations.’
‘Frankly we looked for happy, bright people who had a good indicators and who were optimistic. We didn’t want any chronically negative people near our organisation, because negative thinking is contagious. Be careful who you let near your mind!’
‘We assessed people when they came in with a range of tools – obviously interviewing and reference checking but also some personality and aptitude tools that helped us drill down into a person’s core.’
Flourish & Prosper: All we learned from our time at Morgan & Banks - and so much more by Geoff Morgan & Andrew Banks (Penguin Books, 2004), pages 46 & 47
In my experience, very few recruitment agencies have a clearly defined talent strategy. Hays, as I have written about before in 'Full steam ahead: A conversation with Hays Aus/NZ MD, Nick Deligiannis', has not become so successful by accident; there is a very clear talent strategy underpinning the Hays growth plans.
Experience tells me that most recruitment agencies in this country struggle to grow beyond about 20 people because, as much as any other factor, they lack a talent strategy or if they have such a strategy, they continually fail to execute it effectively.
Where should you start if you want to get serious about your own talent strategy?
The authors of the Psylutions and Curve Group paper offer the following:
Best practice recommends that core talent programs and leadership programs are linked to a leadership and competency framework, at all levels of the organisation and comprise targeted skills programs that address the current and future business challenges.’ (page 6)
The topic of competencies within our own industry’s hiring practices is something I wrote about nearly six years ago; Staff Turnover: A Recruitment Industry Crisis. Very little has changed since then, hence the continual struggle our industry has to recruit and retain high quality people in large numbers.
So what do we need to change?
The authors of the Psylutions and Curve Group paper are also forthcoming as to the necessary enablers of a successful talent strategy. These are (page 11):
Support and sponsorship from the top: This includes a focus on learning and development, mentoring high potentials, taking the time to speak at development forums or graduate assessment days, and attendance at formal and informal social events for talent. In this way, actions speak louder than words when it comes to communicating the importance of talent and talent development to the wider organisation. Support and sponsorship from the top was reported as the most common enabler for effective talent management.
Investment in HR and line manager capability: Upskilling HR to support business leaders in implementing talent processes and initiatives, and developing the capability of business leaders to have meaningful conversations with and about talent were nominated as critical enablers. The effectiveness of talent management hinges on the ability of leaders to have the right conversations with their people. Many organisations cited challenges with business leaders lacking the skills and confidence to carry out difficult conversations about performance, career goals and talent outcomes.
User friendly tools and processes which connect with each other and other key people practices: Another commonly cited enabler was the design of simple, user friendly talent infrastructure. Organisations are commonly facing a challenge in striking a balance between tools and processes which are rigorous and robust, while simple at the same time.
Alignment between talent initiatives and business strategy: Ensuring that the timing of talent activities support business needs and that these activities and the talent infrastructure in which they are managed are fit for purpose is key.
There are plenty of current challenges for recruitment agencies to consider including declining margins, the increased power of internal recruitment teams and procurement and the growth of LinkedIn, to name just three.
However without a clear talent strategy a recruitment agency is condemning itself to be overwhelmingly reactive to the changing dynamics of the market within which it operates and ultimately, nothing more than an indistinguishable, sheep-like price taker.
What’s your talent strategy?