In the wake of another Valentine’s Day I thought it poignant to reflect on the often exciting, mostly tumultuous relationship that Talent Acquisition shares with HR. Drawn from various backgrounds, these two conflicting personalities are often thrown together in a passionate embrace and expected to keep the flame of HR service delivery burning.
There is no escaping the fact that HR and TA are linked. Modern texts offer reasons why TA should report into the business or operations but the reality is that our TA remains part of the same HR employee life-cycle, works with precisely the same leaders and ultimately should have the best interests of the business at heart. HR professionals that become disillusioned with a metric free existence and frustrated that their hard work falls within a ‘gray area’, see the beaming, proud smiles of their senior stakeholders turn towards TA as new talent is interviewed, offered and hired into their teams. Both functions are critical to the leaders success but tangible results can predominantly only be provided by one of those functions; Talent Acquisition. Sadly, it often takes only a few months for cracks to start appearing between HR teams that include TA or HR teams that are supported by Shared Services.
What follows are five relationship pointers on typical areas of conflict and how to deal with these challenges without disrupting the gentle balance between your teams. In it, I’ll reflect on personal experience with inter-function conflict and what has previously worked or failed abysmally. Importantly, you’ll also learn whether your significant other is worth fighting to the bitter end or whether its more appropriate to give ground and move on:
1) Hiring leaders:
If you’ve been in talent acquisition long enough, you can pick a good HR practitioner. They have common sense, they ‘get’ people and they know where and when to draw the line with leaders. This final quality is exceptionally rare and comes with time however once learned, this will often mean the difference between a submissive/administrative relationship or true business partnering.
TA does not differ greatly. Experienced TA staff know when to push back, challenge and ask questions. If the skill-sets from both functions are equal, the relationship will be off to a great start, however this rarely happens. In reality, one or the other will carry the relationship power, which depending on the character of the individual often leads to a double reporting line, usually for TA. With HR firmly entrenched next to the hiring manager, they’ll demand reports and updates on a regular basis allowing them to start making decisions regarding TA on behalf of hiring managers. For TA, this is your hill to die on. If you don’t understand your hiring manager and build a strong working relationship, you will fail. Not only that, your reputation is at stake with HR driving your daily activities and in particularly poisonous relationships, taking credit for your hard work.
What now? The reason your HR practitioner is over-involved is usually down to two items:
- Lack of understanding of what their real jobs are.
- They see a major gap in TA performance and you have not been providing regular business updates to the hiring leader.
Organize a meeting with your colleague in HR and get this sorted. HR can be involved at certain stages but ensure that TA performance remains TA’s accountability. Get close to your hiring leaders and work directly with them. Offer predictable and accurate updates, establish regular meetings and own the process. Without that relationship you’ll be directed by HR for the rest of your days. You are a specialist and you need to present yourself as such.
2) Projects and function ramp-ups:
These two items are often key endeavors by businesses to attract attention and status within corporates. You’re pulled away from the banal rigors of day to day business and have the opportunity to be involved in something ‘special’. Unfortunately, TA are not at the forefront of leaders thoughts at kick-off meetings. It’s HR that discovers these initiatives, first followed by hurried scribbling in excel spreadsheets and a vague ‘plan’ issued to Talent Acquisition. HR drive the set-up and too often end up leading recruitment efforts acting as coordinators to the business, slowing the process unnecessarily and managing all communications with project members. TA lose out in this process every time. Not only does the function lack context but they are blocked from learning more by not being able to attend key business meetings.
What now? Get involved. Work with HR and outline the benefits of working directly with project leaders and importantly, never go into a project or ramp-up alone. You are one cog in the watch of delivery. Ensure the compensation team is involved, learning and development have a seat at the table and push the business leaders to think ahead about their new team’s development retention plans. Don’t forget that without you and the talent that you bring, the project is not going anywhere. You should have front and center in every single meeting with the business and drive close collaboration with the business and HR.
This item alone can bring adults to tears and a services function to a grinding halt. If you don’t know what part you play in the machine, you are inviting old school territorial battles and endless sniping from the dark corners of the HR function. I’m routinely surprised by the variety of approaches companies take to get the same result so if you’re the new kid on the block, take your time to understand who does what, in what amount of time and when. Importantly, don’t start to ask ‘why’ until your relationships are well established and you have an emotional bank account that’s in credit with other functions.
Processes often overlap, go back on themselves or are introduced through new system rollouts to make the process more efficient, but instead overcomplicate matters exponentially. What doesn’t help is that the process version on the Intranet is almost always at least five to ten years out of date so you are likely walking into a minefield.
What now? Lifeless forms from previous attempts are often scattered across this no man’s land so you’ll need to work out very quickly where to cede territory and where not to. My recommendation is a good old fashioned workshop. Take out your coloring pencils, pick up a few post it notes from the stationery cupboard and get decision makers into the same room. Not too many though. If you fall into this trap you’ll be fielding ‘what-if’ scenarios for many moons, so instead, focus on specific items such as:
- How do we hire external candidates, step by step
- How do we hire internal candidates, step by step
- How do handle transfers/promotions and secondments, step by step, etc.
Business moves at such speed these days that only the end result really matters. That does not mean, however, that it’s not worth spending time to work out the part that everyone plays to reduce areas of unnecessary friction.
We already know that TA is ahead in this area. We can produce slick reports with time to hire, cost to hire, step change speed, ramp-ups, hires and open roles and more whilst our colleague’s in HR are often left with having to rely on engagement survey results, customer satisfaction and turnover. They are merely scratching at the surface of what they are capable of discovering simply by partnering more closely with Talent Acquisition.
What now? This is your chance to provide support to HR to help them quantify the work we know they do. Get next to them and focus on what information you can derive from your existing data i.e. Quality of hire, performance review data, departure habits, divisional growth, speed of response from leaders etc. You are already producing this data, so it will stand you in good stead to offer your support and provide a strong people support service in your organization.
TA and HR often attract dramatically different personality types, which can affect how they work together and how the HR function is perceived by the business. As an indirect cost (something that doesn’t bring in the cash) and we all walk a fine line ensuring that business needs are met but at the same time offering the best service possible. With that in mind, notice your attitude when next faced by a fastidious HR practitioner requesting your interview notes, they have their reasons; also put yourself in their shoes as the bastions of policy and directly in the sights of auditors come review time.
What now? If your interest stems from a misunderstanding of exactly what HR does, take the time to understand the part they play and how working together can make your working life infinitely more tolerable. It’s your attitude that’s usually letting you down. Get rid of the smirk during meetings, listen intently to their objectives and use your natural flair to help them to achieve their goals. You’ll find that territory won’t matter after a while, information that you didn’t even know was available will make its way to you and the part of your process they are responsible for shall no longer be blocked.