Why Leaders and Line Managers must Support HR when Competing for Talent

by Michael O’Leary

Line managers who are not fully engaged in their hiring processes are losing more than just candidates. Their competitors are deploying highly innovative engagement steps and collaborating with HR during hiring processes, to win the top talent. CEO’s must learn to develop a real understanding of HR strategy and practice to support HR in their battle for organisation talent.

A company to whom we previously provided talent acquisition services, consistently struggles to recruit top talent. Operating in a specialised field, they compete with similar enterprises for the same skillset but rarely secure the A+ executive. While they make hires, they regularly come in second or third place for first choice candidates and are forced to hire at a level below what they seek. From the outside looking in, most of the small number of employers in this specialised area look quite similar. While they have different products, processes and strengths, they generally have more in common than they do apart. This particular organisation has much to offer and should really have an advantage over their competitors for talent. But no matter how many times we have explained why they are not competing successfully for talent, nothing changes. They lose out in 4 out of every 5 cases to a competitor.

As HR functions continue to move away from traditional models, debate continues as to who actually owns the talent acquisition process and who is ultimately held accountable for the performance of new hires. In most organisations the HR partnership model where applied, has transitioned the function in to an advisory role, supporting and placing the ownership for HR practice with Line Managers. The development of HR Centres of Excellence (CoE’s) has built on top of the partnership model, adding deep expertise for strategic effectiveness and so improving the resource value to line managers.

McKinsey recently outlined a view on further evolution of HR, whereby the partnership model evolves into what they describe as Talent Value Leadership (TVL). The TVL model proposes that HR transitions to a point where the function not only supports the acquistion of talent but are accountable for the performance of new employees. The connection between talent acquisition performance and the value created by the talent seems logical but may not be entirely practical. Employee engagement is the primary driver of employee performance and is largely dependent on the quality and respect in the relationship between the employee and their line manager. We know many of our own clients are moving in a different direction to this, holding line accountable and seeking to measure the performance of their managers on the efficacy of their employee engagement activities, particularly employee communication.

Almost every paper and article written on the relationship between HR and line managers, highlights the frustration that exists between both stakeholders. Line managers often seem to feel that HR does not deliver enough value or demonstrate necessary understanding of the business and its needs. Leaders in other functions complain that HR strategy is too vague a concept and not sufficiently quantifiable or impactful to carry influence. In our experience however, the breakdown when it comes to talent acquisition, often flows the other way, line managers just don’t grasp the value HR can deliver. Frequently they don’t fully comprehend the role that they must play to ensure HR processes deliver maximum value to their functions or organisations.

This is the case in the company mentioned at the top of the article and specifically when it comes to winning new talent. In fact, the disengaged approach their line managers take to hiring process is the reason they lose great candidates. At a basic level they are unprepared, regularly late for interviews and generally haven’t even fully reviewed a candidate’s history. Despite HR’s efforts to counter this attitude and communicate on the talent crisis in which this organisation now operates, line managers make little effort build relationship rapport during interview processes and occasionally border on the adversarial. There is perception created for candidates, that they are lucky to be even considered for a role with the business. Post-interview feedback from these line managers to HR and in turn on to the candidate is slow and narrow. By the time it arrives, the candidate has regularly moved on to accept an alternative offer. Contagion occurs as candidates generally share their experiences with others, exacerbating the probem of getting top talent to engage in a process with this organisation. Consequenlty, value creation in talent acquisition becomes impossible.

The cost to any organisation with this type of TA culture, is extremely significant. Aside from the clear cost of lost opportunity, the company is forced to pay more than their competitors to acquire the same talent. Considerable leadership time and resource is wasted on assessment processes that yield no value. Because some of these attitudes can travel downstream in the employee’s experience and they are aware of the difficulty their company has in attracting new talent, employees begin to wonder is it better elsewhere, creating staff turnover.

For every organisation that behaves this way, there are several that do it extremely well. We see firms gripping new and innovative solutions to talent attraction in many exciting ways. Our medical device team works with a client whose line managers introduce potential candidates to users of their product to see the purposeful impact of the work they would be doing. Other clients involve senior leader participation at the beginning of the process to demonstrate the importance of the hire, rather than at the end when it is seen as a tick box. This has a considerably positive impact on potential talent at a time when every 1% initiative matters in bringing talent to your organisation.

While widespread culturally embedded intolerance for talent acquisition process participation is rare, some organisations will recognise at least one line manager in their company that treats hiring processes in this manner. It is not HR’s responsibility to change these behaviours in an organisation but rather that of the CEO. If leaders want their HR organisations to relate more effectively to the business, they must develop a significant understanding of HR strategy and practice. Several large mulitnationals choose their CEO’s from CHRO positions or rotate High Performers through HR to enable this. Leading organisation and talent consultant and author Professor Dave Ulrich, who has completed significant research in this area, identifies that other than COO’s, whose responsibilities often overlap a CEO, CHRO’s are those whose traits are typically most similar to CEO’s from all C-suite functions.

The competition for talent over the next twelve months is going to be more difficult than ever before. A perfect storm period where low unemployment meets a sustained period of uncertainty, driving an intense race for A+ candidates to extreme. In these circumstances, HR has little possibility of successful talent acquisition without considerable support and engagement from their CEO’s. Leaders drive effective line manager engagement with TA, and wider HR processes, when the questions they ask of their line reports include measurements on HR acquisition and engagement. At the same time, they must ensure that their HR leaders focus on the strategic impact of HR and not just on operational basics. Get key people doing the right roles, to recruit the right people in to your key roles.



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