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Staying ahead of the game - the importance of a recruitment pipeline

Engage potential candidates, beat skill shortages and pip competitors; we explore the importance of planning your recruitment pipeline.

Tomorrow, it's only a day away: building a talent pipeline

Creating a talent pipeline is a bit like preparing for a hurricane that might or might not materialise but just in case... You first need to take stock of what items you have in the kitchen and what else you might need to go out and buy.

Talent pipelining, or proactive recruitment, is no different. In the same way that we constantly take stock of what's in the fridge and make shopping lists because at some point we will have to eat, building an internal and external talent pipeline is something organisations can't afford not to do if they don't want to end up like Old Mother Hubbard.

Like shopping and cooking, it may take time and effort to fill up that pantry, but it will pay off because there will always be at least a couple of ready meals tucked away in the freezer, saving time and resources, not only down the line, but even as early as tomorrow if the unexpected happens.

Some organisations may prefer to grow their own talent for future needs. Some may prefer to shop around outside. Ideally recruiters need to be incorporating both options because in the same way that you can never be too rich or too thin, so they say, organisations can never have a pool of talent that's too big.

The why and the why now

Even if a company is not hiring, recruiters should always be on the lookout for potential candidates being well aware of the time, effort and resources needed in launching a hiring process from scratch.

Whether recruiting internally or externally, having a talent pool at your fingertips with whom you have already developed a working relationship will be a great boon to the entire process for hiring managers, candidates and the organisation as a whole, cutting down on the recruitment period, lowering costs and reducing screening work. Having a 'ready' relationship with a candidate is also a short cut to seeing whether they would be a good fit.

Creating a talent pipeline will keep an organisation ahead of the game. By engaging potential candidates and keeping them interested, recruiters can help themselves beat skills shortages and pip competitors at the post for the best talent, which is the whole point - hiring quality people to produce quality outcomes.

An internal succession pipeline where potential talent has been identified and nurtured will lower staff turnover and aid retention strategies. Knowing they are valued and have promotion prospects within an organisation helps keep employees motivated. Most people like to feel they are an indispensable part of the team.

Having a pipeline in place means vital positions need not be left vacant for long. Knowing your talent also means knowing if they are ready to fill a bigger pair of shoes. But it needn't always be about leadership succession. Critical positions can be found at all levels of an organisation that might need to be filled quickly so pipelining can encompass the entire employee spectrum if necessary.

The talent landscape is rapidly changing. Today's candidates have more choices and job-hunting tools than ever before as a result of social media. They know what they want from an employer and have the ability to shop around like never before. Having a trusted recruiter who can dispense valuable career advice could only enhance an organisation's brand, bearing in mind that 'trusted' is the operative word.

An organisation that stays two steps ahead and engages regularly with their talent pool will find they are the ones a passive candidate will reach out to when they might be ready to move on or up.

The longer a position is open the more an organisation's performance is negatively affected. A heavier workload can lead to lower staff morale and a drop in productivity, which results in a decline in quality, branding and ultimately revenues.

By building relationships, on or off social media, a pipeline can also become a source of quality referrals and a means to comfortable introductions - another way to extend a recruiter's network.

Statistics appear to show that only a small percentage of organisations have a talent pipeline strategy while the majority say they do not have the resources to devote to it.

But talent pipelining, though it is a long-term strategy, could pay off in the short-term if that hurricane were to suddenly hit. Even if it doesn't, an unprepared organisation can find itself left behind in today's fast-paced world in terms of revenue growth, innovation and competitive advantage due to last-minute recruitment policies.

Recruiting for tomorrow, not today

A recruiter looking to build a talent pipeline or determine if their organisation needs one should first take a long hard look at its employment track record, taking particular note of the frequency of vacancies and the length of time it takes to fill them. This can be a solid indicator that some planning ahead is desperately needed. HR will need to dig deeply and know its organisation's business inside out including where it's been, where it is now and where it wants to go. Clear goals and a common vision between HR and hiring managers is a must.

Recruiters should also keep track of the trends in the industry, and the sector's jobs market bearing in mind that they are recruiting for tomorrow, not for today. Knowledge of future trends in their industry will not only result in smarter hiring decisions, it will show potential candidates that the organisation is forward-looking, knows where it is headed, and is deserving of their time, effort and skills.

Once the recruitment infrastructure is in place, it will be time to look into that cupboard and see what's there, how long the provisions you have are likely to last, what could substitute for an item reaching its sell-by date, and what needs to go on the shopping list both to replenish stocks or plan ahead for a dinner party. If you come across a pile of old resumes somewhere in there, it does not mean your organisation already has a talent pipeline.

But before turning to creating an external talent pipeline, an organisation must get its own house in order by examining and analysing existing employee profiles, their strengths and weaknesses, their potential and their future plans. They should also examine what makes a particular employee successful at his or her job and who, internally, could replace a critical staff member if necessary. Potentials should be looked at even among younger employees who, though they might not have the necessary experience, show promise.

The next step, armed with the knowledge of the organisation's trajectory, would be to determine staffing needs for the mid to long term whether it involves retirements or family leave, transfers, or expansions. Cross referencing with the organisation's internal talent pool will then help to identify where gaps are likely to emerge in fulfilling future staffing needs. Clearly it can never be an exact science but it will be a lot better than playing it by ear.

Once internal potential is identified, training and mentoring programmes would have to be developed that will weed out the wheat from the chaff. Measuring progress is important but a failed potential at the end the day does not mean the carefully structured pipeline has been derailed. It is an ongoing process and at least a recruiter would know in advance whether someone was suitable for a promotion instead of hurriedly throwing them into the deep end just to quickly fill a vacant position down the line that they may be actually unsuited for despite first impressions. When external pipelining is also well set up, it helps provides plenty of leeway if internal recruitment programmes are not one hundred per cent successful in producing the required outcome.

Setting up an external pipeline is a bit more tricky in that there is an even higher level of engagement as there is more pressure to keep candidates interested in what might not be an immediate job offer. A strong company brand accompanied by a good social media presence offering interesting content and plenty of engagement with recruiters can really attract candidates willing to hold out for a position even if they have taken up something else in the meantime. The more information a candidate can glean about an organisation the keener they might be to join the team but they will also not wait forever if they see no movement, so honesty and updates would be a must when engaging with them.

Recruiters also need to get involved in real-life networking at conferences and job fairs because as useful as social media is as a tool, nothing beats face-to-face contact. These kinds of engagements with potential talent could stretch from a few months to a year depending on when a need will arise but at the end of the day recruiters will have built up an extensive profile of their possibles and should know immediately if they have what it takes in terms of skills, character and values to take an organisation to the next level.

Building a talent pipeline doesn't have to be a major project. It's mainly an investment costing nothing but a bit of time each day. When compared to the weeks of work involved in launching a recruitment process to fill one vacancy, it might very well prove to be worth it.