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Should HR Still Own Recruiting?

May 11, 2022 Talent Management
Virginia Backaitis
By Virginia Backaitis

Terms like “the great resignation” and “war for talent” are already getting old. While new labels like The Great Reshuffle, The Great Reprioritization and The Great Change-up are already being applied to the job shuffling phenomena, one thing remains constant: employers don’t have the talent they need to compete in the future. This worries CEOs more than any other factor — including COVID-19 variants, supply chain disruptions, financial/market instability/inflation, cyber and geopolitical risks and more. This according to a 2022 survey conducted by Deloitte and Fortune that polled 175 leading CEOs representing more than 15 industries.

When the same employers were asked about the top three challenges to their organization’s talent and workforce goals, recruiting talent (57%) ranked first. It was followed by “designing a post-pandemic workplace (53%), retaining talent (51%) and building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce (43%).”

“The talent function, and more specifically recruiting, is the number one topic in every board room,” Ashutosh Garg, CEO of eightfold.ai told Reworked. Assuming he’s right, and we believe that he is, we’re left with the question, who should be responsible for attracting and landing the top-rate talent businesses need to survive, let alone, thrive?

Who 'Owns' Acquisition?

Lou Adler, grandfather of corporate recruiting and performance hiring, offered a simple answer. “To the CEO, similarly to the vice president of sales (or chief revenue officer), I don’t think HR has done a good enough job in converting talent acquisition into the competitive asset it could and should be,” he said.

Those may be fighting words to some chief human resources officers (CHROs) who, according to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), typically look after everything from "developing and executing human resource strategy in support of the overall business plan and strategic direction of the organization, specifically in the areas of succession planning, talent management, change management, organizational and performance management, training and development, and compensation. The CHRO provides strategic leadership by articulating HR needs and plans to the executive management team, shareholders and the board of directors."

Most would agree that within that job description there are plenty of responsibilities that fall outside the scope of talent acquisition. So, if recruiting talent is actually the CEO’s biggest priority, doesn’t it need to be their responsibility? Or at least the primary/only responsibility of one of their reports?

Human resources guru Josh Bersin said (in a tweet) that “Talent acquisition is too complicated to assign to the CEO. Of course, business leaders and stakeholders but the process is complicated. And HR understands internal mobility assessment brand and many of the complex issues.” 

Yet consider HR thought leader John Sullivan's article, "Arguments for Separating the Recruiting Function From HR," which he wrote during the pre-pandemic employment shortage of 2019. In it, Sullivan argues that “Corporate recruiting can’t be completely successful in ending the talent shortage while it remains part of HR. If the recruiting function were to be made an independent business function, after being freed from the conservatism of the rest of HR, its results could improve by as much as 25% The two functions (corporate recruiting and HR) have slowly become incompatible. Unlike HR’s focus on compliance, effective recruiting produces immediate and measurable business impacts. In addition, the cultures of the two functions couldn’t be more different when it comes to their level of aggressiveness, risk-taking, and competitiveness."

Both Bersin and Sullivan are well respected experts, but their focusses are different. While Bersin’s thinking centers around “all aspects of HR, business leadership, corporate L&D, recruiting and HR technology,” he came to HR from corporate learning. Sullivan, the self-proclaimed "Michael Jordan of recruiting, Father of HR Metrics and Employee Referrals | Expert on Retention, Innovation, Productivity, and the Future of HR” has a background and a publishing career with a primary focus on talent: recruiting, retaining employer branding and so on.

Related Article: Are We Taking Mid-Career Talent for Granted?

Where Does Recruiting Belong?

One man sees a world where recruiting belongs to HR, the other sees recruiting as a separate animal that finds it difficult to thrive in HR. These are two opinions. We spoke to three CEOs who were brave enough to answer what might be perceived as a political question in their business communities, about where recruiting should belong in an organization and to whom it should report.

Vivek Sharma, CEO and co-founder of Movable Ink
Vivek Sharma, CEO and co-founder, Movable Ink
Vivek Sharma, CEO & Co-Founder, Movable Ink

"The recruiting function is one of the most important, often under-appreciated, roles in a company. As part of the People Team organization, they help maintain the culture and values that you as a leader instilled from day one. Companies grow, circumstances change, but the recruiting team ensures your hiring pipeline meets the culture and quality of people you worked hard to build; the larger People Team is charged with protecting it. All of the People functions (HR, recruiting, people operations, and learning and development teams) have the potential to have massive impacts on the team — from new entrants to maintaining consistency of character and values within. Given the function’s weight and to maintain consistency across messaging and strategy, the Head of People should always report to the CEO, with the various other 'people' disciplines (like recruiting) reporting to them. Nothing will get lost with that chain of command, and your culture will continue to flourish."

Steve Lucas, CEO, iCIMS
Steve Lucas, CEO, iCIMS
Steve Lucas, CEO, iCIMS

"Talent acquisition has never been more critical, but it's also never been more difficult. Companies today now realize talent strategy shouldn't be just the responsibility of HR departments and talent acquisition teams but must be seen as a strategic function that is critical to the business and its bottom line.

Conversations around talent strategy belong in the boardroom and should be a priority across the executive team. CHROs must empower talent acquisition to collaborate with other business functions who can play a key role in helping to tell an organization's brand story to potential talent. Talent impacts the whole business, not just one department. Having the right marketing tactics, strategies and technologies enables organizations to nurture the right candidates and build teams that will drive a company's lasting success."

Ashutosh Garg, CEO, eightfold.ai
Ashutosh Garg, CEO, eightfold.ai
Ashutosh Garg, CEO, eightfold.ai

"In the last five years, the talent function has become the most important function because of the challenges the CEO is running into. 'Are we able to attract the right people? Are we able to bring them on quickly?' In the last 10 years the talent function reported into HR.

In the forward-looking world, given the importance of this (talent) function, it needs to report into the CEO or on a dotted line to the CEO so that the CEO and board understand what is happening with talent. Are we able to hire quickly or not? Do we have the right skills coming in, so we are future ready on one side and on the other side that this function understands the top-level business priorities. What are potential business successes and how can talent solve for those things?"

What's Next for Talent?

Talent is the evolution of HR. HR was a $50 billion problem. Talent is a trillion-dollar problem.

Stay tuned to learn how the Talent function changes HR.

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