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The Truth About Talent Pooling

Written by: Richard Colgan, CEO - Oakleaf
Published on: 26 Jan 2021

The Truth About Talent Pooling

Firstly, Happy New Year to you all – it was definitely a pleasure to toast the passing of a truly dreadful 2020 and raise a glass to a speedy vaccine roll-out and a much better 2021 for us all.  My thoughts are with all those affected in any way by the pandemic – it has touched most of us to one degree or another.

Quite reassuringly, the end of ’20 and the start of ’21 has witnessed a significant improvement in trading conditions and the demand for both HR and Payroll professionals is, once again (thankfully) gathering momentum as our clients look back on a lost year and to their next phase of growth, post-vaccine. Interestingly, and for the first time in over 10 months, we are seeing a marked increase in demand for TA and L&D talent – this is a truly encouraging sign.

Despite what will undoubtably be a very difficult year for businesses across the UK, most of my clients seem to be in a much more upbeat mood and the Bank of England is predicting near to double-digit growth for the second half of the year.  Let’s hope that is indeed the case. I am cautiously optimistic.

Anyway, I happened upon an interesting article this week on HR Grapevine entitled: “Talent Pools | A key weapon in your long-term hiring strategy”.

The basic tenet of Talent Pooling is to attract passive (or active) talent, retain their up-to-date details on the ATS and keep a regular dialogue going.  So how are some businesses currently attracting talent? Here is a selection of facts and figures from LinkedIn this week for directly advertised, Executive HR roles and applicant numbers:

  • HR Transformation Consultant – Professional Services – 128 applications
  • Executive Director of People – Charity – 169 applications
  • Director of HR (Technology) EMEA – Social Media - 305 applicants (this has been posted two or three times so the real number might be 5 or 6 hundred!)
  • VP People/HR – Media – 415 applications
  • Head of Employee Engagement – FMCG – 440 applications
  • Director of People & Transformation – Professional Services – 467 applications

This seemingly scattergun (“Post and Pray”) approach to sourcing Executive talent, is not Talent Pooling at all, as envisaged in the article.  I do understand the need to cut costs but the associated risks are clear and present.

A recent and increasing trend of more senior HR candidates joining businesses and then leaving soon afterwards is surely the biggest risk.

Here are some real comments I’ve had over the last 6 months from the Executive HR population who have left senior roles after a few months:

“I realised that the culture fit wasn’t right for me”

 “I was mis-sold the role – they don’t really want to change”

 “The CEO’s vision and values were not aligned with my own - I should have done more due-diligence on my new boss. I know they are busy but I should have asked for more facetime”

 “I should have met more peers and team members before I signed”

Assessing cultural alignment, with both the CEO and Board, remains as important as understanding the vision for the business and direction of travel.

COVID-19 has, without question, accelerated change: where we work, how we work, how we communicate, the products we offer, what customers want to buy and how they want to buy it.  It’s also fundamentally affected the relationship between employers and employees, at all levels. Gaining a deep understanding of exactly how much the CEO and Board support rapid and progressive change is critical.  Is HR positioned appropriately (and equipped) to drive a strategic people change agenda is another key question. How seriously does the business take HR generally when a LinkedIn advert (with c.200+ applicants) is their attraction methodology?  Equally, how seriously does the business value its own employer brand when the general feedback is that the candidate experience is “shocking” (that’s if anyone ever gets any feedback, or acknowledgement of their application at all!).

I’ve always been a big fan of talent pooling and have always encouraged my clients to embrace this approach.  What I mean by that, is that after years and years of building partnerships and gaining a deep understanding of a company’s culture and “fit”, we are able to present potentially suitable HR talent to our customers with or without a specific mandate or need.  Most are happy to meet and chat on an informal basis for networking purposes as well as being part of their pipeline for the future.  Of course, as always happens, when times are tough under-pressure in-house recruitment teams will advertise direct and I do understand that approach also (albeit a flawed one for more senior roles in my humble opinion).

Both my own and the Oakleaf approach to Talent Pooling is based on managing ongoing and building new partnerships, taking time to really get to know our customers and working as a brand extension of their own in-house TA teams.  What are individual candidate skills, motivations and values and how do these align with those of our clients? We have the benefit of specialising only in HR, Reward and Payroll with a deep and holistic view of those professions.

Ensuring “success of hire” is our first and foremost priority, at all times.  Our reputation, and that of our customers, depends upon it.