Talent Acquisition is changing for Good.

by Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive at HRM Recruitment

The extraordinary pace of digital assimilation during the Covid19 crisis has ripped up the expected transformation timeframe of even the most optimistic digital champions. Adoption levels that would otherwise have taken years, have occurred in weeks. Along with the extraordinary shift in work related digital applications (Microsoft reported a 70% jump of 31 million MS Teams users in the month of April alone) consumer numbers in the areas of online shopping, streaming services and cashless payments also leapt. Severe and cruel crises are the real Mother of Invention. It is for a similar reason that Northern Ireland became a global leader in micro and plastic surgery in the 1970’s. Tragedy demands bold and rapid responses.


A dynamic reinvention of how we attract and manage talent is also underway. Leaders are already discovering that the economic crisis has reshaped how they must view employee engagement. Factors personal to an employee are more important than traditional external factors. A recent article by Gartner describes this expanded employer role as that of a social safety net. Given what we have shared together throughout this pandemic, along with increased employer responsibility for the physical and mental, health and safety of staff, employers are playing a more supportive role in their employees’ financial, physical and mental well-being. The old HR handbook is being thrown out. We have also seen amazing examples of socially entrepreneurial firms taking this to community level by pivoting operations to support their local areas, and beyond, with essential products and services.

The world is also changing rapidly for executive and professional talent acquisition at all levels, as related firms respond to the highly dynamic needs of their customers. Traditional executive search models that are largely dependent on personal networks are simply too slow and too expensive. Technology driven research is now at the root of all well run assignments as the need for agility demands reduced cycle times, lower cost and more innovative solutions. Many research functions now “work ahead of the need” using predictive models in order to be customer ready rather than simply react to a request when it arises.

With fewer rounds of assessment meetings currently being possible, there is significantly increased pressure on search and TA firms to deliver fit-first-time shortlists. This requires a wider and deeper understanding of their customer’s culture and organisation nuances, as well as a strong identification with the role purpose. The days of customers only being able to buy full-cycle services are also behind us. The future of good talent partnerships means unbundled services; the provision of research content, talent maps, assessment tools and facilities, amongst other component solutions. Customers require greater choice and flexibility, that can compliment their skilled inhouse resources.

In the shorter term, we see companies hiring for skills, rather than into long term roles. During periods of such considerable change, jobs at all levels evolve significantly. Alternative forms of talent solutions such as interim, contracting, and part-time consulting are already commonplace, but demand is rising rapidly across all functions.

Organisations that are making hires for the longer term will need to consider new challenges. It is more difficult to attract high performers with the energy and ideas needed right now. But the response must be to raise the quality of the acquisition effort rather than lower the standard of recruit. Hiring profiles will also change, with greater emphasis being placed on those competencies that support the effectiveness and resilience of remote working and the leadership of remote employees. The requirement for stretch potential in new hires will switch from being highly desirable to an absolute must have.

To create a truly dynamic organisation, you need professionals and leaders whose traits support innovative culture. Gary Pisano, of Harvard Business School summarises these traits as:

1. Tolerance for failure but no tolerance for incompetence.
2. Willingness to experiment but highly disciplined.
3. Psychologically safe but candid.
4. Collaboration but with individual accountability.
5. Flat but strong leadership.

These matter of course, because culture and leadership are intricately linked. To rapidly recreate successful businesses while providing a social safety net for employees, organisations should behave like mature start-ups and their leaders must act like caring founders.