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3 Steps to Drive Proactive Talent Acquisition

How to go from being reactive to strategic

Two men working on a computer in an office.

​The world's largest chemicals company found itself navigating the evolving talent landscape with an outdated approach. The U.S. recruiters at BASF were often reactive and inconsistent, relying on the inadequate "post and pray" method, explained Yana Kogan, talent attraction strategy manager at the North American affiliate of the global company, headquartered in Florham Park, N.J.

Speaking to attendees at Indeed Interactive 2018, a conference for recruiting professionals held recently in Austin, Texas, Kogan and her colleague Bill Plastine, talent acquisition manager, outlined how BASF overhauled its approach to talent acquisition last year, transforming the recruiters from passive order takers into strategic partners.

"No longer a group of individual recruiters, the proactive talent acquisition advisors work daily to strengthen customer, client and candidate partnerships," Plastine said. "This interdependent team is focused on improving quality of hire and is driving toward continuous improvement, process consistency and effectiveness."

1. Start with a Timeout

A transformation like this begins with understanding the business case for change. "We needed a timeout to understand why we need to change as a function," Plastine said.

Kogan explained that in 2016 the talent acquisition team assessed its effectiveness and concluded that it came up short. BASF had not kept up with the technological changes driving candidate job search, the shift toward more global hiring, and the emerging importance of disciplines like recruitment marketing and employer branding.

"We found that most of the time, we were reacting to the business's hiring needs. We weren't thinking ahead, anticipating strategic priorities. We also lacked consistency in the process."

2. Focus

Plastine said that the team decided to work on critical areas only. "Talent acquisition calls for an elevated awareness of focus and results-orientation," he said. "Get away from trying to fight all fires and boil down the overarching case for change into a handful of pillars." BASF decided to focus on:

A relationship-oriented approach within the business. "It wasn't like we weren't interacting with hiring managers and business leaders prior to the transformation, but oftentimes there was a lot left to be desired," he said. "We've focused on upskilling our team to have the ability to influence, communicate and partner at eye level with hiring managers and business leaders. We now consider them our clients."

Talent advisors are embedded within the businesses or functions they support, attend business meetings, and are closely connected with strategic HR partners as well as with the talent management side of the organization.

Candidate relationships. The BASF team improved this aspect by adding more interactions with candidates throughout the process about the benefits of joining the company, different perspectives on the opportunities available, and what was needed to be a successful hire.

Customers. BASF is not a consumer-facing company, so sometimes the end customer can be forgotten in processes or strategies, Plastine said. Since the transformation, talent advisors ask hiring managers consultative questions about what success looks like for customers. "This resonates strongly with hiring managers, getting them to think more strategically, not just about replacing a person, but instead thinking about how new talent can grow the business."    

A continuous-improvement mindset. "This was difficult in the early stages of transformation, with a lot of churn and a lot of moving pieces," Plastine said. Having clear key performance indicators (KPIs) and service-level agreements in place with team buy-in was crucial to success, as was the use of recognition mechanisms and incentives to spur competition among recruiters, he said.

3. Restructure

By 2017, the company started outsourcing some recruiting for some nonexempt positions and changing the infrastructure of the function. BASF stratified its talent acquisition function into four capabilities designed for different client needs:

  • TA advisors, charged with building strategic partnerships with the business and hiring managers. "We were not going to be seen as just someone taking the requisitions and filling the roles, but [we were going to be seen] pushing back on hiring managers, presenting market intelligence and industry data to support our businesses," Plastine said.
  • Recruiters working on nonexempt roles.
  • Executive recruiters focused on senior-level roles.
  • University relations professionals to bring in candidates for rotational programs.

Kogan took charge of the company's Center of Excellence (CoE) support network for the function, supporting the talent acquisition professionals with sourcing, operations, and recruitment marketing and branding.

"We built a support network behind the scenes of sourcing specialists and talent acquisition coordinators, put together KPIs, and implemented technology such as productivity trackers," she said.

"There are lots of pros and cons in every talent acquisition organizational structure, but in my experience, the closer you can get aligned to the way the business is structured, the better off you will be," said Rob McIntosh, an industry veteran and the principal advisor and founder of McIntosh & Co., a boutique talent acquisition advisory firm in Atlanta.

He added that the benefits to a decentralized structure where talent acquisition professionals are embedded into business units include tighter alignment with the business and deeper TA expertise in the supported areas. But siloes can also be created, where separated colleagues can lose opportunities to share strategies, processes, tools and best practices.

That's where the CoE model can make an impact. "Think of it as a blend of centralized and decentralized, with trying to extract the benefits of both," McIntosh said. "In talent acquisition terms, you might find the sourcing, operations, marketing, branding and recruiting coordinators residing in the CoE to support the recruiters and/or HR business partners who are aligned to the business."

Resources can be more easily deployed across the enterprise, expertise resides in a central location, and processes and policies are consolidated and consistent, he added.


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