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Why Talent Operations is Critical in a Crisis

Why talent Operations is Critical Right Now

Crises have a way of showing in stark relief what can really help a business win.

It might seem counterintuitive to invest resources in a new project or a new function, when the whole economy is coming to an abrupt halt because of a global pandemic. However, talent operations is critical right now precisely because finding opportunities to gain an advantage over the competition during challenging times is how companies get ahead.

For talent teams, there is a dual pressure: doing more work with fewer resources while also finding ways to bring value to the business when the task that is at the core of their role—hiring—is on a freeze.

But this is why talent operations can be such a game-changing opportunity for these teams. At a time where everyone else is aiming to survive, teams who decide to start a talent operations function, or even just operational projects, are opting to create new and lasting value. Here is how they are doing it

A level-setting definition of talent operations

Talent Operations definition:

Talent Operations is defined as the function, team members, and processes responsible for enabling the overall talent organization to work more effectively, to execute locally and at scale, and to create new value by incorporating more modern practices, deploying more innovative technologies and delivering more consistent outcomes.

Operations as a business function has its roots in manufacturing, and so there is a connotation of streamlining resources and optimizing output associated to it, but that is a traditional—and limited—outlook. In modern teams, talent ops goes beyond cost saving or resource optimization. The real impact of talent operations comes from making new things possible for the talent team: identifying growth opportunities, finding actionable insights in data, and changing planning to become future-facing as opposed to historical.

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Engaging your talent teams with talent operations initiatives

How can the recruiting team bring value to the business when recruiting for new roles is put on hold?

Some companies are focusing on their employer branding, and are kicking off research projects that they haven’t been able to work on during busier times. Bryan Adams, CEO of Ph. Creative, suggests looking into candidate personas: by going over historical hiring patterns or conducting new research, the talent team can update its candidate personas, and map those out to the core messages of the employer brand.

Another popular place to look is internal mobility. The high-pressure conditions of the current talent market have put even more emphasis on the importance of hiring internally, and offering clear growth paths to existing employees. Talent leaders can use this time to set up a task force aiming to diagnose the current state of internal mobility programs, and identify opportunities to improve them.

Reskilling and upskilling the current talent team is another area that can have immediate returns for the business. For example, as the focus is moving to digital events and digital recruiting, a talent operations specialist can enable the rest of the team in digital and experiential marketing techniques, by documenting relevant use cases and the right tools or processes to support them, helping structure new project teams, and supporting training.

There are probably many similar projects that a talent operations function can start right now, and that could have long-term benefits for the company when it returns to business as usual.

Why Talent Operations is critical right now

In their session on the Rise of Talent Operations series, talent operations professionals Eileen Kovalsky and Nikki Cochran brought up a few other examples where talent operations is critical to the growth and success of the talent team.

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The timing of these initiatives is particularly important, because they are typically harder to deploy when the recruiting machine is running at full speed. Centralizing databases, optimizing workflows, or testing new forecasting methods is a lot harder to do when recruiters are busy keeping up with their hiring workload. They have less time to help with new projects, and less mental space for change.

That is why right now is the perfect opportunity to kickstart a talent operations function, or operations-focused initiatives.

Preparing for the economic recovery with talent operations

This is perhaps the most important reason to up your operations game, but also the hardest argument to make. Right now, especially in sectors that were hit the most, not many business leaders are ready to discuss future hiring scenarios, when they still haven’t figured out how to navigate the present crisis. And yet, that is exactly what they need to do to increase their chances of getting safely to the other side of the downturn.

During the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, a BCG survey uncovered that “survey participants rated the selective hiring of high-performing employees from competitors as one of the three most effective responses to the previous crisis”. In other words, one key way to ensure you survive the crisis is to make sure you start hiring right now the people who will help you recover in the next few months.

The problem is, the talent market has probably never been as flooded and fluid as it is today. Between century-high numbers of unemployment claims, and furlough schemes leaving thousands of employees in a new sort of professional limbo, talent teams are not exactly equipped to sift through the piles and piles of active and passive candidates to find that rare gem before the competition.

A talent operations function can help the recruiting team transform to achieve exactly that purpose. They would do that by introducing more purpose-built tools with powerful pipeline management and lead-scoring, by enabling vertical industry focused hiring as suggested by Andreessen Horowitz in this post, or by implementing intelligent workflows that automate the grunt work of sifting through candidate data and identifying patterns, to mention only a few likely places to start.

In its simplest form, the purpose of the talent operations function is to make new things, better things, possible for the talent teams. When done right, it takes the strategy of talent leaders from idea to execution, and lets recruiters focus on doing their recruiting work: assessing candidates for current roles, managing pipelines for future roles, and generally bringing human experience and judgement to hiring decisions.

Everything else, from identifying and solving execution issues, to streamlining processes, to deploying the right tools, to measuring impact and returns—in other words, everything that enables recruiters—can and should be given to specialists who will do their best work with it.