Shally’s Sourcing Imperative – By Glenn Gutmacher

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Apr 1, 2021

In his SourceCon Digital leadership track keynote address, “Sourcing Imperative: Defining and Communicating Your Need”, Shally Steckerl framed sourcing models in ways that took the typical discussion to another level.

Over 25 years of building sourcing teams and auditing their Talent Acquisition operations, the industry pioneer described all sourcing to fall under four main organizational models (a mix of which can exist simultaneously in different parts of the same environment):

  • Defensive – a lot of response to inbound candidates, dependent on job board postings, events and employee referrals;
  • Responsive – utilizes specialized job posting distribution (niche boards & programmatic ads), viral marketing, contests, mobile apps/SMS, and some SEO/SEM/PPC;
  • Anticipative – the “high octane” recruiters who are experienced in their industry, act as talent advisors, pipeline ahead of demand, and leverage purpose-built talent communities;
  • Proactive – leveraging expert researchers and callers conducting lead generation, not just pipelining ahead, but create models, use non-employees as candidate referral sources, search their ATS for silver medalists, offer declines, and re-hirable former employees (boomerangs)

While they share the goal with the hiring manager of making the hire, recruiting and sourcing were clearly differentiated in a number of ways, notably:

  • tenacious perseverance and continuous learning orientation of the sourcer, vs. the gatekeeper, negotiator, matchmaker, and diplomat orientation of the recruiter
  • focus on: skills and qualifications that can be searched and seen (sourcer) vs. responsibilities and job environment, fit and future potential (recruiter)
  • acumen: technological (sourcer) vs. business (recruiter)
  • perspective: special teams (sourcer) vs. player/coach (recruiter)
  • There is a systems approach to recruiting: a collection of tasks. Recruiting must follow a process for compliance reasons, while sourcing isn’t so system-minded because we’re expected to think outside the box.

Determining Your Sourcing ROI

Then Shally discussed sourcing’s return on investment (ROI) in the context of a Sourcing Matrix, where the value of sourcing increases in circumstances of high complexity and volume because this requires a wide range of tactics and strategy. In addition, medium complexity and volume “is the other ideal use of sourcing”: multiple similar openings or one frequently recurring, lending itself to pipelines, and prime for referrals and relationship building. Specialized member databases also can be helpful.

However, returns are mixed for high complexity/low volume roles, where it’s typically a high priority, one-off req. Sometimes sourcers are brought in late on an existing req that’s become a higher priority due to candidates falling out or quality lower than expected. Low complexity roles, regardless of volume, tend to be handled better through a lot of inbound engagement and good employer branding with programmatic ads. Events can help on low complexity/low volume, but you “can’t just turn this on.” If you want quality candidates from top MBA schools, you need to have ongoing relationships with the campuses.

On the debate between Centralized vs. Decentralized models, he clarified that centralized is where all sourcers report to TA, typically with a center of excellence within HR, and no business unit alignment. With decentralized, the BU’s carry the cost of sourcers/recruiters for their own region. The downside is they use their own systems. The waste isn’t so much from which model you pick, but rather the waffling between these models that happens periodically at the same company. “I’ve seen it a dozen times” within one company, which is painful since it can take about 18 months to get a new model fully up to speed.

Instead, Shally recommends “a hybrid in the middle for sourcing: you can have decentralized sourcing in a centralized recruiting model.” The key is having fewer tech systems – one set of tools, one ATS and CRM across the company — and consistency of methods. He set this up with sourcing pods at Google in the early 2000s: “what we call agile now. The pod can flex and move.” The disadvantage of hybrid is that people in one region or BU won’t understand another region’s or BU’s processes, and it’s “slower to react to change compared to a fully decentralized model.”

He showed a sample sourcing plan representing a hypothetical composite from various clients. Of the 6,200 annual hires, sourcing only contributes to 900 of those. Its role is notably minimal for internal and university recruiting, but sourcing’s proactive pipelining efforts show their value in areas like niche technical reqs as well as recurring roles.

It was a head-nodding moment for many as he discussed “firefighting, not fireproofing.” Recruiters often operate “in firefighting mode due to rapidly changing business requirements.” Some recruiters are under-resourced while others are over-resourced. “The system isn’t flexible enough” and results in slowdowns. Creating a charter via a mutual Service Level Agreement (SLA) or Statement of Work (SOW) where roles are clarified helps remedy this. “Just because a recruiter’s hair is on fire doesn’t mean a sourcer should be assigned” – it might not yield a good ROI.

Sourcing should be involved when there’s low or no candidate flow on roles that normally would have candidates, such as due to change in location or market circumstances. But the greatest ROI comes “by introducing proactive talent sourcing in anticipation of business requirements, moving recruiters away from firefighting mode.”

“Most things are traceable to a broken intake process,” Shally said. TA thinks it’s standardized, but it’s not. If hiring managers are asked different questions from intake to intake, “then they start to ask for specific recruiters they like. That’s a problem.” In reality, with good alignment — more participation and partnership – the sourcer “can make a recruiter look good by asking great questions.”

Obtaining C-suite Buy-in

Shally shared a succinct guide on how to gain trust from senior management. You need to determine whether it’s time, money, or risk that’s their priority. In short:

  • If your C-Suite’s priority is time, focus on speed to the first submittal.
  • If money is most important, then focus on economies of scale to reduce cost: giving tools only to sourcers who need them is a start, but “the cost of not hiring is really what to focus on. You can tie your hires to revenue generation, not just cost reduction.”
  • If the risk is most important, focus on competitors getting to your talent first, the pain of things not getting done due to unfilled roles. And by sourcers bringing in candidates that don’t fit the mold, you can add value to a diversity of skills and perspectives.

He used a clever analogy to describe what to report to whom. Within sourcing, you report on submittals, interviews, reqs filled — but that’s an activity your management doesn’t care about. If you’re an UBER driver, your passengers don’t care about the tires’ RPM, the oil and air temperature, or gas level. That’s important for you in order to ensure the car goes properly, but all they want to know is if we’re going in the right direction and when we’ll arrive. Focus on results – that’s what they want to know.

So take your C-suite’s business goal and translate it into what you need – what you’re paid to manage. “The number of postings you do isn’t important; their eyes will glaze over,” he said. Instead, “convey that ‘we are on track to hire the number of reps necessary to increase market share by 3% by end of the year. We will have all reps by EOY to achieve that revenue goal.'” Shally has a diagnostic with questions for the C-Suite and other management. One great question to ask hiring managers who are frequent recruiting users is “if you could instantly change one thing to make recruiting more efficient, what would it be?” Then ask yourself: Can I change the thing they want within sourcing? If so, build it. Otherwise, buy or borrow it.

His slides featured other useful questions along these lines and a whole lot of other valuable stuff, so I’d highly recommend asking Shally for a copy. You can reach him at or and he also gave an open invitation to join him online every Friday afternoon when he runs a free open workshop on a different aspect of sourcing. I’ve attended many myself and find them quite useful: details at or


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