Lean Recruiting: No Forecasts or Talent Pipelines Required!

Lean Recruiting: No Forecasts or Talent Pipelines Required!

This is a follow up post to this article I wrote on Lean/JIT recruiting, which I circulated as a dicussion topic through a few of the larger staffing and recruiting groups on LinkedIn. I recieved some interesting responses, some of which led me to believe that perhaps I was not clear enough with my explanation of Lean/Just-In-Time talent identification and acquisition.

A few folks mentioned that an accurate workforce plan/forecast with enough lead time would be required to possibly achieve Lean recruiting, and others commented that Lean recruiting would only work for high volume hiring or for frequently recruited positions.

Real-world experience running Lean/JIT recruiting teams has shown me that neither of the above is correct. With properly trained and capable recruiters and access to a large internal database and perhaps a few online resume databases that support full Boolean queries, Lean/JIT recruiting can be achieved with NO lead times or hiring forecast, and is equally effective with hiring profiles that are regularly or irregularly recruited for.  In fact, Lean/JIT recruiting can be acheived for positions that have NEVER been hired for.

To some people, this may seem outlandish or impossible, but I assure you it is neither.

I would never argue that developing a hiring forecast is a bad idea. That is, assuming of course that it is accurate and nothing unexpected ever happens. Lean thinking (as well as reality) tells us that forecasts are merely guesses – no matter how educated, and cannot accurately predict the future. If a recruiting or staffing organization relied heavily on a workforce plan – what happens to them when things change and there is an unexpected deviation from the plan? Typically – scrambling, finger pointing, excuses, and general chaos. :-)

If a recruiting organization is fully set up and empowered to achieve Lean/JIT recruiting – having a hiring forecast is a good place to start. However, if there are unexpected deviations from the workforce plan, the recruiting team is infinitely nimble and can turn on a dime and achieve results in 24-48 hours with little to no stress. 

The very idea of building a talent pipeline goes against the grain of Lean philosophy, which focuses heavily upon reducing “in-proccess inventory.” In recruiting and staffing, “in-process inventory” would be a talent pipeline, or more specifically, candidates that have been identified, contacted, and recruited prior to actual need.

I am aware that to many recruiters and recruiting and staffing organizations, building talent pipelines is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that appropriately qualified talent is available when the actual need arises. It’s necessary because their team/organization is not trained to, nor enabled with the appropriate resources to acheive Lean/JIT recruiting. If you cannot reliably identify and acquire well qualified candidates within 24-48 hours of receiving a request, you really don’t have an option other than building a talent pipeline. In my opinion, talent pipelines are only necessary for those who are unable to achieve Lean/JIT recruiting.

Aside from being wasteful in-process inventory, talent pipelines also pose an intrinsic challenge: candidates do not stay available indefinitely, or in other words, candidates have a “dynamic availability.” How cool does that sound?  You saw it here first. :-)

In all seriousness – in developing talent pipelines, candidates are typically identified, contacted and screened prior to actual need. Sourcers and recruiters worldwide lament the fact that so many of the fantastic candidates they find, screen, and attract are no longer available when the actual need arises (or when the hiring manager finally pulls the trigger – but that’s a whole ‘nother issue).

Look at all of that waste being produced by building talent pipelines – tons of time and effort put into finding, screening, and attracting candidates that cannot be used due to availability/timing issues, changes in the workforce plan, or unforeseen hiring needs. Lean philosphy tells us that, whenever possible, time and effort should never be wasted producing inventory that will not be utilized. While many in the HR, recruiting and staffing industries see building talent pipelines as a logical and sound response to dynamic candidate availability – in fact, it’s not, and it’s quite the opposite.  Practically all other industries don’t waste a lot of time and effort building up in-process inventory that does not have a high probability of being utilized/sold – hence sound and proven production practices such as Lean. 

Let’s also take a look at how wasteful building talent pipelines is to the candidates being recruited.  Imagine how candidates view a company that finds them, screens and gets them interested in potentially joining that company, only to have the company fail to be able to take any decisive hiring action when the candidate is available. At best – it’s a waste of time for the candidate. At worst, it’s a dissatisfying experience that the candidate might relay to other potential candidates.

Yes, that’s right, building candidate inventories/talent pipelines is actually wasteful to BOTH the recruiting and staffing organizations AND the candidates involved.

One of the main goals of achieving Lean/JIT recruiting is to solve the dynamic availability variable of candidates – identifying and contacting a significant quantity of qualified candidates once you have a need for them to be able to down-select to the well qualified AND available, which is neither wasteful to the hiring organization nor the candidate. In fact, according to Lean philosophy, this is an ideal state in that it is acting in direct response to Pull (actual need, not predicted need), and provides Value to both the organization and the candidate.

I want to be clear – Lean/JIT recruiting cannot be achieved without the proper information systems (large resume databases), search interfaces (supporting full Boolean and ideally extended Boolean queries), and training. Traditional methods of talent identification and acquisition such as job posting, cold calling, and referral recruiting alone simply cannot achieve Lean/JIT recruiting. For a more detailed look at why this is the case, read this post on a detailed comparison of resume database recruiting vs. cold calling and referral recruiting.  Perhaps this is why so many HR organizations, recruiting agencies, and small search firms think Lean/JIT recruiting is impossible – they probably rely heavily on cold calling and posting jobs, and/or don’t have the technology in place and the training to acheive it. 

It is also important to note that Lean/JIT recruiting does not necessarily mean that candidates are never contacted until the time that they are needed. In fact, a best practice would be to implement a largely automated (low effort/low waste) “drip marketing” program whereby potential candidates are contacted via email and/or text messaging and contact is maintained with interested candidates. This can quite effectively empower Lean/JIT recruiting efforts.  Importantly though, it is significantly different and from contacting and fully screening/interviewing candidates prior to need – it should and can be automated and accomplished with little to no effort and waste.

I am aware that some people who read this will think that Lean/JIT recruiting without a forecast or a workforce plan is impossible or preposterous – but trust me, I am not crazy and this is not just a dream or theory. I speak directly from experience. Although I did not know how to properly label it many years ago – I’ve successfully accomplished Lean/JIT talent identification and acquisition with several teams that I have built, trained, and managed. I found it to be highly efficient, effective, and to provide significant value to both the candidate and the hiring manager/client.

I believe it is well past time for HR, recruiting and staffing organizations to evolve and to learn from and adopt Lean/JIT best practices and catch up to the rest of the world’s most successful companies that rely on them to be highly efficient, effective and productive.