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Time to Start Hiring?

As the economy resets, companies must realign employee skill sets with the corporate mission. It's already time to sift top-tier resumes

Is it time to start hiring again? That's a simple question with no simple answer. When the economic upturn occurs, it will be uneven across industries and geographies. In some sectors, I see signs that hiring is already taking place, if cautiously. Others are still struggling to keep the lights on with a severely reduced workforce. Whatever your particular circumstances, here are three hiring imperatives that you should be thinking about now. Workforce planning: Do you have the right skills for the reset? The workforce skills you had in place going into the recession will probably not be the ones you need going into the next market phase. The economy is resetting, not simply recovering in the sense of returning to the status quo. One of my clients, for example, plans to expand its customer base in the reset economy to include not only top-tier customer segments but lower-tier ones as well. Its entire legacy organization and culture, however, have been geared for decades toward premium services. This company's urgent need, therefore, is for a solid workforce plan and skills inventory to prepare them to serve a different, and hopefully larger, customer base. If they simply ramp up their existing hiring mechanisms, they could end up hiring the wrong people for the wrong jobs. A workforce plan will help you assess the gap between the capabilities you have and those you need. It will also identify your top performers, which will be essential for making good hiring decisions. For many roles identified as critical to executing your business strategy, giving existing top performers a new set of skills may be a better answer than hiring new ones. Workforce planning has an external dimension as well. It may lead you to think in new ways about external alliances with universities, for example, to produce a steadier stream of skilled employees. Companies can support research at universities, give work experience to students, and enter into sponsorship or partnership relationships with schools. Creative arrangements with local governments and community colleges may also help to train available labor in the skills needed for a company's business. Talent on the offense: Are you ready? One aspect of the hiring question can be more easily answered than the others: If you're in the market for top talent, the time to start hiring is now. Experienced people, especially at the higher managerial levels, are available—either actively looking for work or willing to be wooed for the right opportunity. Smart companies are finding ways to bring those people on board. (A famous example of the business benefits of that approach is Hewlett-Packard, which snatched up scores of top engineers when they became available after World War II.) One thing to watch, however, is that top talent is increasingly aware of its value and bargaining power. Talent will be on the offense during the reset and your human resources organization must begin to deal with that new mindset now. For example, I'm having more conversations than ever these days with executives about the public prominence of their social and environmental agendas, and about the quality of life they are offering to top-tier employees. With good talent on the offense, a company needs to have solid answers to candidates' questions about meaningful work, a collaborative culture, opportunities to advance into leadership positions, and its social awareness. Going on offense means something slightly different for talent that is perhaps one tier down from the top performers. Such employees are taking a "scattershot" approach to job hunting, sending resumes for openings whether they are qualified or not. That can create headaches for an HR organization. One executive I met with recently told me he had received 200 resumes for a top managerial position. Twenty of them were excellent, but the rest were well-crafted resumes of people who were in no way qualified for the job. Better filtering systems are going to be essential to streamline the hiring process and keep time and costs in check. The value of your brand: Are your marketing and HR teams working together? You have both a company brand and an employer brand. That is, your company's brand value and associations will affect your ability to bring in good people. That means your talent-management professionals and HR organization should be working closely with your marketing organization. Some companies with whom we are working are looking, in fact, to integrate recruiting activities with their media, marketing, and sales organizations so that all parts of the company are working in sync to get the brand message out there. This is also the time to make sure your HR organization is effectively using Web 2.0 technologies and social networking channels to bring potential hires to the door. Attracting competent performers is cheaper, after all, than working to find them. That's one of the important value propositions of social media when it comes to recruiting and hiring. Other companies are realizing that the brand changes they are trying to make for the reset affect where they locate themselves and where they find employees. Conoco Phillips, for example, recently announced the creation of a new corporate-learning campus and technology center to drive innovation and knowledge sharing. Where did they locate it? Not in Texas, but near Denver—a community traditionally at the forefront of environmental awareness. This reflects the brand Conoco Phillips seeks to create as a more environmentally friendly company, as well as the green skills and experiences they seek. In addition to paying attention to these three hiring imperatives, remember that the winners in the next era of hiring will be those organizations whose executives become much more hands-on with the talent-management function than they have in the past. Your HR professionals are there for a reason and you shouldn't try to do their jobs for them. But you do need to be much more involved this time around. Translating business strategy into workforce strategy is a C-level responsibility. If you find yourself without the right people in the right numbers during the challenging and exciting months ahead, the person to blame will be the one in the mirror.

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