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Sourcing: Beyond Cool Tools to Talent Acquisition Evolution

I’m a big fan of cool tools. I have an iPad Mini and a Pebble watch. I’m typing this on a Chromebook (and I can’t wait to get the HP Chromebook 14). If there is a writing app out there, I’ve tried it. If there’s a note taking app, I’ve tried it as well. Both usually get relegated because of my love for Google Docs.

As we are wrapping up SourceCon though, what stuck out to me wasn’t so much the latest tips and tools to help those closest to the ground. The biggest takeaway was that sourcing — as a defined, widespread function across multiple industries — is beginning to drive some real, significant, and recognized strategic advantages.

Sourcing old-timers will dispute the notion that sourcing is just now beginning to drive strategic value. And you can go back to the earliest iterations of how sourcing really started and you’ll see many great examples of how sourcing has driven bottom-line results for decades. No joke. I’m not minimizing it one bit.

Between the audience growth here at SourceCon and the maturity of the topics and tools that enable sourcing though, what you’re seeing is an active evolution of how talent acquisition is understood and done on a very essential level. Sourcing is moving beyond the early-adoption phase. Just like it would be insane to manage any sort of requisition load without an ATS, it is increasingly difficult to ignore the essential nature of sourcing for talent acquisition.

Consider me a biased source. I was the SourceCon editor for over a year. But I have no dog in this fight anymore. But this has been festering for years and if it weren’t for a recession that gutted corporate recruiter budgets and decimated agencies, it would’ve happened years earlier.

Three trends that are pointing to this evolution to me:

  • The ranks are getting larger — It’s not just about SourceCon either. The money is getting better as Editor-in-chief Jeremy Roberts talked about in the opening keynote and there are more corporate roles for those who want it.
  • The conversation is changing — Beyond doing the job, we’re now talking about expansion, structure, and strategic initiatives that are critical parts of a larger corporate view.
  • More mature software platforms — The rise of mature sourcing tools is more than an isolated canary in a coal mine. It is an indicator of corporate spending and investor optimism.

As sourcing continues to move beyond early-adopter phase, I think you’ll see:

  • More leadership involvement — Not just increased sourcing leadership but talent acquisition and yes, even HR leaders are going to be taking more notice and be deeply involved in sourcing. The expansion of sourcing is going to have more stakeholders, not less and will require working more closely, not less with these key roles.
  • Talent shortage time — Talented sourcers are rarely without a job for very long. Sourcing expertise, especially at the strategic level, is going to be short for years. There are many educational opportunities for sourcers but look for more companies to build these teams internally.
  • The wide and fuzzy gray line — The line between sourcing and recruiting is going to become more clear, but not for awhile. As sourcers start act more like candidate marketers (focused on demand generation and branding), there will be a clear delineation between the two.

And of course, we’ll still have cool tools. In fact, if the last two years are any indication, the tools of the trade are getting cooler. But, I’m particularly excited about the growth and evolution of sourcing as a necessary functional component of talent acquisition teams everywhere.

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Talent in the Cloud: Revolution or Devolution?


Carmen Hudson recently shared an article about the future of hiring, referencing Elance’s new private talent cloud:

The cloud cuts out waste and that’s why people love it. Companies and individuals call upon storage space in the magical ether as they need it, without spending a penny more than they use. Gone are the days of servers idling half empty in a building, barely used hard-drives cluttering up desks. Everything becomes more efficient, organizations get leaner, the fat is trimmed.

But what if the fat that the cloud cuts out isn’t machine fat at all? What if it’s human fat?

I’m not talking about Fitbit making you fitter or some freaky new plastic surgery in the cloud procedure. I’m talking about applying the principals of the cloud to managing the human workforce. Imagine, instead of just drawing on servers and processing power on an as-needed basis, companies also draw on people that way. A workforce that operates like the cloud, swelling and shrinking at a moment’s notice.

The way organizations are using people in their organization is changing, and it is diverging with two radically different paths and two different promises.

One ideological path takes us away from humans as resources into something of an organizational alignment. Finding people and teams with shared ambitions, moving toward a common goal. The other further entrenches people as resources, to be bought like any other good. Plug and play and if one resource burns out, replace it with another to meet your objectives.

Funny enough, both promise freedom and progress and play with the idea that business ambitions are simply a collection of human ambitions. They just try to go about solving for that reality in a different way.

I don’t have anything smart to add in here other than to acknowledge that this, more than many of the other articles I typically read on the subject, made me think about what work in the future might look like.

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The Uncomfortable Reality of HR Today


I’ve been out of day-to-day HR for four years. It was one of the best decisions that was ever made for me. That’s not just because it set me on my current career path (whatever that may be), but it opened up a space for someone who liked doing HR.

I’ve obviously stayed close to the space in that time. This week though, I got a little closer than comfort to the function. HR software provider Silkroad invited me (and, for full disclosure, paid my way there) to their users conference in Florida.

Those who know me know I don’t go to most conferences for pure education. Usually it was either my conference (so I was working), I was speaking, or I was covering the conference as a journalist (so I was focused on reporting what I saw).

That wasn’t the case here. This time, I was at the conference like an attendee for the most part. Outside of a lunch with Silkroad executives, I was focused on experiencing the conference like a normal HR person would. So I listened to the keynote speaker on the first day (Dan Pink) and there were some parts where I saw some uncomfortable laughs from my pseudo-colleagues:

  • When he suggested that performance reviews were simply CYA’s
  • That to get the most out of white-collar, knowledge workers, you had to start first by paying them fairly and well

I won’t play armchair psychologist but I’ll tell you what I heard from attendees:

“I love the ideas, Dan. We’ve tried to convince our executive team for years on this. It is hopeless. We’ll drive engagement the best we can within our constraints.”

The theme transpired in other areas of the conference too. New social tools within Silkroad’s product are great but scary, as these HR pros imagine the worse case scenarios. They imagine how they sell this to an executive team that is probably thinking the same as they are.

And that’s fair. I’ve seen what a little bit of openness and social in an inappropriate and immature workplace looks like.

I’ll tell you what I saw: I saw a product that got out of its own way, allowed HR pros to do their job better, and to push employers toward a more progressive and engaged workforce. What I saw were HR pros driven by compliance, efficiency, old-school executive thinking, and squeezing value out of the product without making things uncomfortable at their job.

Let me be clear: I don’t think this is a problem with Silkroad, or with their HR customers. I’m sure the same story gets played out at other user conferences, regional SHRM meetings, and happy hour get togethers among HR pros.

When you follow the bleeding edge of HR like I do, you might assume that everyone is going the way of progressive HR. I love that part of HR. It keeps me fired up and it is something everyone can aspire to.

In that same vein though, we should also acknowledge the uncomfortable reality of HR as it largely exists today. Should we be happy with it? Should we think that’s all we can accomplish? No. The answer is clearly no. But let’s acknowledge that we need tools that not only help HR pros move forward but also tools that help them deal effectively with the present.

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Man, HR Exists in the Future?

I have a startling confession to make: I like Star Trek: The Next Generation. I know. You’re shocked. While I was a big fan of the Star Trek movies, I wasn’t a big fan of the original series. But The Next Generation? Yeah, that got me going.


So they have the entire series up on Netflix and I’ve been going through it a few episodes at a time. All of the campy goodness is just great. I watched an episode last night that made it clear that HR obviously exists well into the 24th century.

First of all, some context for all of you who aren’t Trekkies. In the 24th century, within the Star Trek universe, Earth is part of a utopian alliance of alien worlds called the United Federation of Planets. The series takes part during a relatively peaceful period where everyone’s needs are taken care of. Nobody is hungry, there aren’t supply shortages, and nobody worries about getting paid. Basically, the people who work on these faster-than-light starships are there because they just want to be there and they are enriched by their work.

In an episode in the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge disobeys an order from Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Captain Picard takes La Forge into his office and reprimands him, telling him (and I’m not joking), “This incident will have to be filed in your permanent record.”

Here was my response to my wife while we’re watching this:

Me: @#$%&!# HR?

Her: What?

Me: HR! There’s HR in a utopian 24th century!

Her: (laughs)

Look, I love HR, but if Earth does turn into a utopian, peaceful society, I hope nobody has to be working in the HR office at the United Federation of Planets.

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Reducing Turnover is Not the Goal


“Our goal is to reduce turnover by 25%.”

No it isn’t. I hope not, at least.

Having reduced turnover as a goal leads to all kinds of strange, short-term thinking that lead to deranged organizations. A counter-offer when your 325th best salesperson decides to take another job? Lengthening the corrective action review process? Pushing beyond the budget on labor costs because your team is too expensive? Ploys and programs designed to cater to middle and low performers who may be a flight risk? Yep, yep, yep and yep.

You may even have an executive who is looking at some dashboard in a system and she is instructing you that you have to get control of turnover. She may want to build some goals around reducing that number. Nod your head and then walk out of her office and ignore that.

Reducing turnover may be an okay outcome but it is never a goal. And even if it is an outcome, it is a lousy, broad measuring stick. 2% turnover sounds great until you realize that your organization is bleeding only high performers and high potentials.

So can we agree that reducing turnover is a stupid measuring stick and that it shouldn’t be used as a goal or outcome?

Maybe? I’ll take it. If you are using it for an outcome, make sure what you’re measuring is meaningful.

If someone in your organization is complaining about high turnover and reducing it isn’t a goal or outcome, what’s the proper response? The proper response is finding out what the real issue actually is:

  1. Our labor costs are too high. How are we investing labor dollars? Why can’t we do a better job of doing that?
  2. Our recruiters are spending too much time on replacements. Is there a resource allocation issue or are we short on recruiters?
  3. We’re losing people after 6/12/18 mos. What are we doing in our hiring process that sucks so bad?
  4. A top performer left. Yeah, his boss was an asshole. Maybe we should get rid of him?
  5. Our culture needs to be changed. Guess what? Culture change will cause massive turnover too.
  6. We aren’t performing well as a company. And you found a metric that may or may not have to do with that? Really?
  7. The company isn’t well managed. Trying to blame general management issues on turnover is like blaming In-N-Out for your gut.

Turnover is a symptom like body aches. Body aches can be really bad when you’re sick because it can indicate the flu but body aches can be fine if you’re getting back in shape. Should you keep track of turnover? Sure, and if you can, get as granular as you can (who is leaving and why?). Does reducing turnover take precedent over increasing profit, value, and company performance or reducing costs, administrative burden and culture issues? No, never. And don’t forget that.

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The Problems We Have Are Human Problems

When you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. To that degree, I think people in human resources think about business problems as human problems. We take the mantra of people as our greatest asset and turn it on its side to diagnose problems.

  • Are we hiring the wrong people? We need to train managers again!
  • Problems with the quality of your product? Put in better supervision and training!
  • Bidding out projects isn’t going as well? Time to talk to Jim and Jane again about doing a better job!

I won’t belabor the point because I think this way too. The tools at your disposal in HR are often the most human oriented. Talking through problems and figuring out the way individuals and teams can solve issues is as important of a skill in the HR wheelhouse as any other.

Many of our problems are human problems, too. We have the wrong people in the wrong place doing the wrong job. And there are indirect causes of action that impact the way people work: compensation, culture, power, and structure. All of that can be easily understood within the context of people being the key to our success and failure.

Not all of our problems are human problems though.

  • Hiring the wrong people happens because the right tools are never put in place, no matter the training.
  • Product suffers because the process to monitor quality is ineffective (or overbearing enough to create inefficiencies that need to be bypassed at critical moments).
  • Poor bidding success can be because the company is in a weak position financially or lack the internal resources to compete in the market.

In these situations, there is a prevalent attitude to take care of the human issues as best as possible first. Make sure managers are trained as well as possible (even if the tools are inadequate), employees have clear direction (in spite of poor performance) and squeeze the prune for more juice (when your internal resources and finances are tightening up).

That plays right into HR’s sphere. “We’ll get the most out of these employees, even if everything around them is inefficient, poorly thought out or unable to function,” they say.

The message that sends to your employees? Getting the maximum output from them (blood, sweat, tears and all) is more important than getting maximum output across all of the organization’s critical processes. You know what? That’s a pretty messed up message.

This is a leadership area for HR: yes, we can fix the people problems but we also need to fix the process, finances, and tools that prevent work from getting done to its greatest value.

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Moneyball, Talent, And Where This Is All Going

Do you have a nearly limitless budget for hiring employees? Can you go to every length to get every single candidate? Do you regularly raid other companies and take their best employees and pay top dollar?

Because this post isn’t for you.

In fact, the whole point of my war for talent post was that nobody has the resources to recruit the way recruiters often advocate. Unless you have that unlimited budget for hires, you aren’t going to hire all A players (if you can even identify them to begin with). A players play for A player money. Unless you are willing to pay A player money on every (and I mean every) hire, you aren’t getting all A players and you aren’t going to war and we can drop the cheesy fighting metaphors.

So if you can’t pay everyone anything they want to get the absolute best every time, let’s take a look at another way. It’s called the Moneyball approach and if you haven’t read Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball or watched the movie, I’ll briefly explain the premise. Under the guidance of General Manager Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics baseball club has overachieved in comparison to their player payroll. The New York Yankees and other high spending teams spend multiples over what the A’s typically spend and either get marginally better results (on a much more expensive payroll) or sometimes even do worse.

How does he do it? Well, that’s playing Moneyball. Essentially, it is a buy low/sell high scheme of getting the most wins per dollar spent. Using some advanced stats and valuing players that bring in stats that his system values, he drafts and selects players that may be undervalued by other franchises but work well according to his system. If they end up very successful, he has a cheap contract or rookie scale to work on for awhile and then they end up losing them to a team that is willing to pay to the moon for them. Then the process starts all over again.

It is a great lesson in dealing with constraints, talent evaluation, figuring out what really matters and knowing when to let go. Recruiters and HR folks are gung ho about the concept, too.

Fast-forward a few years and everyone knows about Moneyball. Guys who pay a lot of money to players pay attention to this stuff. It would be tough to find anyone doing player evaluation or looking at stats the same way they did even 10 years ago.

And look at that: the A’s are still at a disadvantage. They were second-to-last in payroll by a few thousand dollars in 2012 yet they made the playoffs. That’s with everyone knowing and understanding Moneyball, too. So how did they do it?

They knew when to select A, B and C players. Like most companies, they weren’t in a position to get all A players. If you take a closer look at their payroll from 2012, you’ll notice that their median salary per player was lower than everyone else. Half of their players were making less than $500,000 a year. They were still getting their Moneyball players at even a lower cost. That meant more room on the upper half to do some strategic spending on some mid-tier hitting and pitching that wouldn’t be as risky as a pure Moneyball approach.

So beyond just making good talent evaluations, you also have to know when you really need someone with those higher level skills that you will be paying more for out of the gate, when you can pass on that for lower-level talent and the confidence to stand up to hiring managers and executives to make the case for this approach.

I’m excited more companies are getting into Moneyball-type talent approaches and looking at data in new and interesting ways. Know that there will come a time when Moneyball by itself won’t get the job done when all of your competitors figure it out as well.

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Why Work Anniversaries Still Matter

I was looking at a post by Paul Hebert’s i2i about service anniversary awards and it got me thinking about the inherent ridiculousness of the whole concept. Why are we giving awards for people sticking it out? “Oh hey Jimmy, you made it through another year. Here’s your bronze pin. After that, you can get your silver, gold and then platinum pins.” Don’t get too excited Jimmy. Those pins, watches, and plaques all meant something at some point.

Getting an anniversary pin or plaque feels like getting the perfect attendance award back in school. It’s an accomplishment, yes, but it is an odd one. One where you don’t know what is exactly wrong with the perfect attendance kid. Why did they feel the need to stick it out every mind numbing day of class? Did they really never get sick?

In my cynicism, I forgot something. Anniversaries can be good! I was letting some of that negativity in there.

Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated four years of marriage bliss. As every married person will tell you, everything has always gone perfect, there’s never been any problems and we have never ever fought about anything.

I kid. It hasn’t always been perfect but our anniversary always gives me an opportunity to appreciate both how far we’ve come and how far we can continue to go. It is the instant romance maker. Even if I procrastinated with planning this year, we had a great time because I was focused on reflection and our future together.

In what is probably obvious to others, if you have a good relationship with your career and your career partner (i.e. your workplace), anniversaries can be a wonderful time to celebrate another year of engaged employment. Is it directly aligned with a business result? No, but who cares. If you are managing your workforce well, being employed for another year is a great indirect business success and one that is worthy of your celebration.

If you are in a crappy relationship with an employer (or your spouse), an anniversary can be as empty of a gesture that can be made. And I imagine many of my Gen Y compatriots haven’t had the best jobs in the world yet so it is easy to become very cynical about anniversaries and the recognition awarded to them.

Let’s not recognize survivors, let’s recognize thrivers. And let’s be sure that the number of people with empty anniversaries is minimized while maximizing the ones we can celebrate another year of success with. Because that anniversary is a beautiful thing if done right.

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Love Helping People? Don’t Go Into HR

Like many HR bloggers, I field several questions a month about how to get started in HR. When I hear that their primary reason for considering entry into the field is that they really love working with and helping people, I almost universally tell them to reconsider HR as a profession. Look, I love the passion and optimism of people that truly love helping people that enter HR. Soon enough though, they figure out their talents can be better used in other fields.

Let’s get something straight: you definitely have to have empathy for people in this position and enjoy the challenges of working with different people in difficult situations. When you are laying off people with families, bills and good company loyalty, I don’t think you can react any other way. When you are helping a person figure out their payouts and beneficiaries for their life insurance because they have terminal cancer, you have to have the right personality and mindset going into the situation. When you are dealing with some of the more sensitive employee relations areas (discrimination, harassment, etc…), having the right approach can be the difference between success and failure.

I don’t know if “Fuzzy Wuzzy HR” (you know, all of the team building, cry on my shoulder, let’s hold hands and sing kum-ba-ya HR philosophies) was ever very successful but it certainly is going the way of the dinosaurs now. Businesses want savvy, business smart HR people that can also relate to the human side of our profession while still keeping the business solvent. It is a balancing act but businesses are demanding that more emphasis be placed on the business end of things.

The problem? People that love helping people (but are less skilled in other areas of HR) are being pushed out of the profession. What businesses are deciding is that you get a person who may be more skilled in HR but less skilled on the people side and perhaps you can prevent some of the instances where you actually need that super high emotional IQ person. If you can avoid layoffs due to better planning or you can offer better training to managers because you have higher skilled HR people, you can feel better about dropping the people person.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that having a high emotional IQ precludes you from having great HR analytic and leadership skills. In fact, the best HR people I know are strong in all of those areas. But I know that many of those people wouldn’t necessarily say their people skills are the biggest part as to why they are successful.

For people who are considering HR and love helping people, learn about HR and see if anything else intrigues you about the profession. If you are coming up short on that analysis, there are a lot of other ways you can help people in corporate America or elsewhere.

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Exit Interviews Are Band Aids On Broken Legs

So let’s say you’re working for a company with turnover problems (i.e. losing your best people to competitors) and management comes to Human Resources to figure out why people are leaving. What far too many HR people will suggest is that the organization should use an exit interview to get the information and report on a quarterly basis. Some will even pretend it helps their business chops because they get to report numbers on spreadsheets and create pretty graphs.

Let’s not fool ourselves: the best case scenario is your exit interview actually provides new information because your company management is inept at figuring out what should already be known. That’s the best case scenario!

Acing The Exit Interview

You know what most books and websites say about doing well in an exit interview as the departing employee? Don’t say anything negative. And you know what I say to that? It is absolutely correct. Negative information can get back to the manager (no matter what the HR person promises you). In fact, unless you are leaving a department with a ton of turnover, I would guarantee that anything specifically negative mentioned gets back to the original manager.

Now this may not mean you burned a bridge there. If they are a good manager, they would take any negative feedback and try to improve. But remember back to why I said you were doing the exit interview? Company management is trying to compensate because they can’t figure out the basics (like why employees are leaving). So maybe, just maybe, we’re talking about the type of manager that won’t take your feedback in the best way possible.

Prevention Just Sounds Good

So when exit interviews fail to accomplish their goal (or they do manage to accomplish their goal only to be left with no solution), some in HR will talk about taking preventative steps in order to stop the mass exodus from your organization. They’ll take what little information they got and try to do something with it. Most likely this will include some combination of succession planning, compensation/benefits analysis and adjustment, new training and development programs, and/or adding some new type of benefit program (tuition reimbursement is a common one).

The real problem is twofold. The first one is that it will take forever to get any of these changes approved and that fact alone won’t be communicated with current employees. So if you are actually working on something that you know is a problem and it will take six months or a year, people should at least know that you’re aware of it. The other problem is that management training is rarely a part of the solution because it is rarely mentioned as a problem.

Here’s a clue by four: nobody (and I mean NOBODY) is leaving your organization because of a tuition reimbursement plan. Yes, that is a good benefit that you can offer but it isn’t a make or break deal buster. And it is something you can fix with more money if it really is an issue.

The Real Solution

You need real managers. Ones that know their employees well, that have open lines of communication, that have some basic investigation and analytical skills, and don’t need an exit interview to be told why people are leaving. I’m not even talking about leadership here. These should be basic skills that we can equip any manager with. If we aren’t talking about that, we’re not talking about any realistic, long term solution.

All of those other things are band aids. Yes, your compensation should be adjusted if it is out of whack. Yes, your benefits should be adjusted if they are a problem. But making those adjustments means nothing if you do not have competent managers who are properly equipped with the skills necessary to understand your workforce’s critical needs. If you had that, why would you need an exit interview?