Sourcing: A Passing Fad Or A Strategic Move?

"Strategy" is a longer-term investment, and it isn't appropriate for all companies, all industry verticals, or even all recruiters. A strategy is about building a flexible process that grows and hopefully becomes self-sustaining.

Nov 19, 2010

“Sourcing Strategy”. What does this term mean to you? Courtesy of Wikipedia: ” In military usage strategy is distinct from tactics, which are concerned with the conduct of an engagement, while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked.”

I’ve spent the better part of the last year helping several businesses in Seattle develop and implement “sourcing strategies”. In theory. But here’s the catch. Strategic sourcing isn’t about internet recruiting. It isn’t about having your pipeline up, filled, and ready to go in a couple of weeks. “Strategy” is a long-term investment, and it isn’t appropriate for all companies, all industry verticals, or even all recruiters. A strategy is about building a flexible process  that grows and hopefully becomes self-sustaining. I would have to say that the recruiting model most closely “aligned” with a sourcing strategy is executive recruiting; you know, the good old headhunter. I say this because the Executive Recruiter understands the value of building relationships that deliver over time. Great industries that work this way are  law and medicine, just off the top of my head. In these professions it’s very much all about “who you know”, where you go to look for referrals. As an example, last year I was looking for an acute care Nurse Practitioner in the thoracic end of the spectrum. One of the very first people I reached out to was the husband of a good friend of mine, a purely social contact, who is one of the premier cardiac surgeons in South Western Ohio.

Relationships take time to develop.

To me, one of the building blocks of any sourcing effort involves employee referrals. That also means educating hiring managers on how to tap their own networks, managing your own alumnae relationships, and creating an impactful recruiting brand alongside your industry brand. In a large company, just having an email address for employees to “drag and drop” their buddies isn’t enough. Within individual business teams, employees should be encouraged to let their friends know what an awesome organization they work for. Right now the latest bid for talent war in the Bay area is in the form of Googlers being offered  huge retention bonuses not to go to Facebook. And let’s face it, GenY has a reputation (deserved or not) for fickleness if they aren’t seeing the rewards of their efforts in short order. Attracting them may not be the issue in the long run; retention is, and I really think that HR and recruiting are going to have to come to a serious understanding of the challenges with identifying the best strategies for finding and keeping this generation. I know, again with the strategy.

As we know, for any recruiting effort to be successful, hiring managers need to see the staffing organization as a partner, not a service provider. There are very few things more frustrating for me as a sourcer than finding a great candidate, building that relationship, hyping the job and the company, and then having the candidate turn sour and tarnishing *my* professional brand due to a lack of response from my internal client. For sourcing as a talent engagement strategy to work, our hiring managers need to work in tandem with us and understand the benefit sourcing can bring to the table. There needs to be a total investment across the board. There also needs to be a strong partnership with any colleagues that are also functioning in any sort of account management capacity, and a respect and understanding of the sourcing role.

I’m frustrated.

If I sound a bit frustrated, it is because I am. Some staffing organizations “get it”. Some believe in the theory, but the strategic results aren’t what they thought they were looking for. I’ve seen a belief in the need for “strategic” sourcing be, in reality, a call for tactical pipeline building. And sometimes as a sourcer, the supply started outstripping the demand; not surprising in this economy. Having a dedicated sourcing function is certainly a luxury in these tight economic times, and there are definite economic factors that affect the decision to have or not to have a dedicated resource.

I’ve seen some recent articles stating that maybe “sourcing” as a specialized subset of recruiting was just a short-term fad that is quickly becoming outdated with the advent of certain technologies. Maybe that’s very true. But as technology connects more job seekers quickly to available jobs, there still needs to be quality control by someone who understands all the needs of the hiring manager, is able to wade through compliance and other employment issues, is adept at negotiation, sales, marketing, and relationship building, enjoys people enough to practice their craft 24×7, and is able to evaluate talent both “at a glance” and through direct communication. I think at least in the U.S. it’s fair to say that OFCCP will keep recruiting busy for years to come as we evaluate “every qualified applicant” that “expresses an interest” in our opportunities. It will be interesting to see how many recruiters have the time to proactively find and court well-qualified candidates in addition to managing all the other pieces of the recruiting lifecycle.

So for the time being, I’m going to just express my frustration with the notion that “sourcing” is a passing fad, at least for a little while.

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