Seek Hard Data to Align Talent Acquisition to Business Strategy

By Pamela Babcock Oct 20, 2016
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NEW YORK CITY—Talent acquisition leaders who want to show how their function contributes to organizational success should think like business leaders, work collaboratively with other departments to understand the business holistically and back up hiring plans with hard data rather than simply "feelings."

That's what Christie Gragnani-Woods, senior vice president, head of talent acquisition enterprise infrastructure at Wells Fargo, said she and her team do. They weave talent acquisition into business strategy by connecting the business needs to recruiting outcomes and aligning human capital programs, metrics and daily activities with business objectives.

"It's just critical for me that we think about HR as a business, and I think we can continue to do a better job there and not be so reactive," Gragnani-Woods said in September at The Conference Board's Talent Acquisition Conference. That means saying "We are a strategic thought leader at the table. We understand your business. We understand what you want to accomplish. And here are some things of value [that we can bring]."

Talent acquisition and a focus on the business may be more critical than ever at Wells Fargo, which has been under fire recently. On Oct. 12, Chairman and CEO John G. Stumpf resigned as the bank agreed to pay $185 million in fines and penalties after branch employees, under intense pressure to hit sales targets, opened as many as 2 million fake bank and credit card accounts. Wells Fargo said it has fired about 5,300 employees since 2011, and some of those employees have filed class-action lawsuits against the bank.

Wells Fargo spokesman Michael McCoy told SHRM Online that the company fosters a culture "centered on doing what is right for our customers and holding to high standards for ethics and integrity." He noted that while the issue of fraudulent accounts occurred in one specific part of the business, "it will take all of us to strengthen our culture and rebuild trust with customers. Nothing is more important to us than rebuilding our customers' and clients' trust and the faith of our team members."

Take the Time to Understand the Business

In her presentation, Gragnani-Woods said HR can begin to align its department with the business by figuring out workforce needs. Number crunchers within the organization, including the finance department and analysts, can be a big help here, as can other business leaders. The key is to show that you're passionate about alignment and can connect the dots.

"If I understand my business and if I've taken the time to really get to know what they do on a deeper level, then I can build better strategies with my team," Gragnani-Woods said.

She provided an overview of steps to take:

Set strategic direction. Begin by defining needs, goals and scope. Establish milestones and a timeline. Identify and document expected outcomes.

Gather input and intelligence. Data is critical. When someone tells her, "I feel like we need more people," Gragnani-Woods' response is: "That is a great feeling. But now we need to pull some data and see if we really need them."

Document the current state and define and document the future state. Then do a gap analysis between the current and future state, prioritize gaps, and revise the timeline. Gragnani-Woods said businesses are often reactive and push to fill jobs immediately. But data allow you to take a lot of "noise" and feeling out of the equation to figure out what you should be focused on.

Implement a plan. A phased approach is best. Develop a communication plan and set a cadence to let stakeholders and executives know how objectives are being tied to human capital. Identify resources, funding needs and sources, and begin work on prioritized gaps. Don't be afraid to take risks by trying new vendors, technologies, sourcing techniques and partnerships. "Be OK that all of them are not going to work," she said.

Measure performance. Get key data and analytics. Establish a schedule for review and implement training and control points to ensure execution and integrity of data and results.

Evaluate the plan. The final step is to assess the plan based on people, processes, tools, budget and structure. Measure success based on data, analytics and internal audits. Celebrate team successes. If the program isn't successful, be flexible and redirect.

Other Takeaways

Here are some other lessons learned:

  • Keep up with evolving human capital strategies. Make sure business leaders know HR is in touch with the market.
  • Encourage your team to "think deeply." Your employees need to know what problems need to be solved. Don't build something in theory that won't work in practice. Things can look great on a PowerPoint slide and not really good in execution.
  • Keep it simple. For her team, Gragnani-Woods boils it down to this: This is the company strategy. This is the HR strategy. Here are the priorities. What are we doing to increase efficiency and productivity, and what are the cost benefits?
  • Faced with a tight budget? Most organizations are. Be innovative and smart about what priorities will deliver the biggest return. "I can't stress enough how impactful it has been for me to be able to sit in front of executives and say, 'This is what you said you wanted. Here's how we've driven efficiencies. And here are the cost benefits that we have been able to quantify,' " Gragnani-Woods said.
  • Get hard data that helps HR tell a story, but keep the data simple. Figure out what metrics are meaningful for your organization. Is it the time to acceptance of a job offer? Cost –per hire? Quality of hire? Some combination?
  • Have a communication plan for HR strategies and other big projects to help boost engagement and adoption. Show employees how HR is helping connect to the business strategies and "what's in it for them to actually do the work that connects back," Gragnani-Woods said. Keep your internal HR team up to date on milestones and how they've helped to boost the bottom line.

"Knowledge is power," she said, adding that the more she educates her team about the need to run the HR department like its own business, the less it feels like, "I'm just pushing paper or clicking upload on another background check I have to do."

Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.

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