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Perfect Talent Acquisition Means Hiring Less

October 5th, 2021 6 minute read
Tom Hacquoil
Tom Hacquoil
Talent acquisition (otherwise known as TA) is often seen as an entry-level position, but Adrian Thomas has spent most of his career fighting to change that perception. On the contrary, he firmly believes that TA should have a strategic seat in “the room where it happens”—if not on the board, at least in close proximity.

This isn’t simply one man’s opinion; it’s backed by solid research. Studies from the Boston Consulting Group have shown that having an effective TA function generates profits three and a half times greater than organizations that go without. By comparison, the best HR departments only ever achieved twice the profitability of lower-achieving organizations.

In Adrian’s view, recruitment is the most important part of the employment lifecycle. And his experience has been hard-won; he was once the head of recruitment for the UK civil service, an organization that relies heavily on its EVP to attract talent. 

As the immediate past chair of the RL100, Adrian has seen the massive importance of recruitment to the overall employee experience over and over again. Done right, talent acquisition impacts every aspect of a business, including its number one measure of success: profitability.

Here’s a look at what Adrian had to say when I sat down to pick his brain about talent acquisition as a core business strategy.

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Don’t put a new spin on an old technique

Adrian’s been in the game a long time, and one of his main sources of frustration is when businesses slap a new label on an old technique and call it “modern.” Take the “spray and pray” recruitment method, which involves aiming for sheer volume. In Adrian’s view, putting a job advert on Indeed isn’t a modern technique at all—it’s simply the digital equivalent of putting a want ad in a print newspaper.

The true skill lies in developing a unique approach to every market and every role, because there’s no such thing as “one size fits all” in a global marketplace. Any decent recruiter knows they should work differently in the Philippines than in the UK, because people think and work differently based on their country and culture.

If you’re not adapting your processes for the sophistication of the market, you’re not going to hire the best people.

Adrian Thomas
Consultant, TA Director, and Board Advisor

In other words, the fact that you excel at recruiting in one country doesn’t mean that success will extend everywhere. Great recruiters understand their markets, which is why Adrian’s advice to global organizations is to hire TA people who are experts in the regions you’re looking to hire. 

Sophisticated recruiters also analyze data to see what’s working and what isn’t. I’ve seen this firsthand, when (at a different tech company) we started a student training program to train and recruit new engineering hires straight out of school. Students loved the program and the company, but they didn’t apply in the numbers we’d expected. We’d forgotten to consider the students’ primary influencers: their parents. As soon as we turned our attention to convincing parents—not students—the program was successful. 

Adrian is a strong proponent of targeting the influencers surrounding your ideal candidates, not just the candidates themselves. This sphere of influence varies by country and culture, which brings us right back to our starting point: hiring TA people who have a deep understanding of your target market.

Hire skills, not roles

As a longtime recruiting consultant, Adrian helps organizations of all sizes understand why they’re missing the mark on optimum recruitment. “Most organizations struggle,” he told us. Using a standard maturity model to rate all aspects of a company’s recruitment approach, he finds that most think they’re performing better than they really are.

One common practice that could use some maturing is the use of lagging success metrics like time to hire and cost per hire. Adrian argues that the parameters around these metrics are so fluid, they don’t mean much. Measuring delivery against promised deadlines, on the other hand—that has meaning. Adrian recommends substituting forward-facing targets and achievements for backward-facing measures.

And here’s another thing most companies get wrong without realizing it. When someone leaves the organization, most recruiters automatically assume there’s a role to be filled. Instead, he says, they should think about the skills available internally and how the company might adapt following that person’s departure. Maybe a new hire is warranted—but maybe not. The one-for-one exchange is hardly a given.

Talent acquisition as a strategic function

Adrian sees TA as a strategic enabler of a business rather than a “mere” seat-filling function. He makes a strong case for the global head of TA joining the board, or at least keeping in close contact with them. “They [TA] can bring a real competitive edge by accessing labor market insight and best practices,” he told us.

He’s also frustrated by companies that waste time pointing the finger of blame instead of using the tools at their disposal to effect change.

There are over one million vacancies in the UK right now, and the outcry is that the government needs to sort out its visa scheme. Well, my thoughts are that organizations need to sort out how they’re attracting candidates. Rather than complaining about the problem, what are they doing to help?

A significant portion of the currently unemployed population was likely impacted by the pandemic, whether as a parent who can no longer commute to an office, a primary caregiver, or a person whose health or ability won’t allow them to travel. Adrian suggests that companies look inward instead of outward to see how they might adjust and expand their hiring to a broader market.

Perfect talent acquisition means hiring less, not more

When we asked Adrian what “great” looks like for recruitment, the first thing he said was, “Agility.” The ability to adapt to problems quickly and effectively, regardless of the location, is the mark of a successful talent acquisition team.

But there’s more to it than global insight. Adrian heartily recommends proactively working to prevent staffing problems in the first place—looking at market perception and retention planning to ensure that your employees stay on and you hire less often.

In today’s market, the Job For Life is more or less extinct. It used to be that when a company hired someone, that person would stay until they retired. Retention was a lifelong act. 

That’s no longer the case, but great TA still means optimal staffing. Most organizations Adrian works with are in what he calls “replenishment mode.” He coaches them to slow the drain by emphasizing retainment. You’ve probably heard that it’s far less expensive to keep a client than to land a new one, and the same goes for your employees. Even a small difference goes a long way. As Adrian puts it, it’s a bit like that old adage about how to outrun a lion. (You don’t have to outrun the lion, just the slowest person you’re with.) If you can outperform your competitors in retainment by even a narrow margin, you’ll finish miles ahead.

Until now, organizations could get away with ignoring retention strategy. It was an employer’s market, and companies made the rules. Today, that old system has been flipped on its head. For the modern TA team, preventing recruitment is just as important as perfecting recruitment—if not more so.

Join us each week for more tales from the trenches and best-practice people guidance.

About the author
Tom Hacquoil
Tom Hacquoil
Tom is the CEO at Pinpoint and he's passionate about building world-class teams.

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