Talent Acquisition is More Than Putting Butts in Seats

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Talent Acquisition is More Than Putting Butts in Seats

For some time I’ve resisted the urge to excoriate a term that has been taking more prominent space in the lexicon of HR professionals. I’ve done so largely on the basis that there didn’t seem to be much harm in the emergence of new-agey alternative vocabulary among knowing professionals. I’ve resisted until now, that is. The term – “talent acquisition.”

Oh, I understand perfectly why some might prefer putting some distance between what they do for a living and the functional title that has long been associated with it… recruiting. Recruiting, after all is about as sexy as dirt, or maybe something that is done with dirt, like farming, or agribusiness as it’s now known. Have you ever noticed that the replacement titles never get shorter?

Like farming and selling, recruiting is hard work, because whereas you can exercise some control over the process, the outcome is much less controllable. In this respect, it matters not whether you are operating from a grimy, dog-eared Rolodex or an iPad. As with farming and selling, recruiting is vital work, and still today is a profession where you do a lot of groundwork, unearth a few leads, experience regular headwinds (e.g., withdrawn reqs, failed drug screens), and at the end of the day are glad if you can hit a bunch of singles, a few doubles, an occasional home run, and bat 300 over the long haul. Yet, one can make a compelling argument that the decision whether or not to put someone on an organization’s payroll is one of the most important decisions that can be made. So, if we want to sex up the title a bit to give ourselves some psychic income (or perhaps a higher pay grade), I’m down with that, but let’s use a little caution.

In fairness, cautious branding doesn’t sound like something that would be advocated by someone who for fourteen years has serially referred to workers, in writing no less, as “contented cows.” Thankfully for us, the cow metaphor is simple and very tight; so much so that on July 3, John Wiley & Sons will release our third book in the Contented Cows leadership series (more on that later). But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t taken some serious guff over it. I will never forget an afternoon spent on Clark Howard’s WSB Radio Show when an otherwise wonderful experience was chilled by a caller who got pretty irate over my “comparing people to animals.”

My concern with the expression, talent acquisition is this: Both words miss the mark. Although talent is important, it is secondary to finding people who, by virtue of pace, preference, temperament, and values happen to fit your particular organization. In the vast majority of cases, there are more available people with the talent to perform a given job than those who “fit” the organization. Marriott International, one of our newly minted Contented Cows, learned long ago that mixing grumpy, self-absorbed employees (no matter how talented) with travel-weary guests is not a combination that yields good business outcomes. In similar fashion, talented or not, most people (repeat, most people) would not be happy, productive, or successful working at your place. So, if we myopically get too hung up on the talent side of the equation, we run a very real risk of overlooking some extremely important factors.

Second, I’m more than a little bothered by the term, “acquisition” when it comes to the employment process. You might be able to borrow talent for a while, but you certainly don’t acquire it. Indeed, acquisition is entirely the wrong term if our aim is to do more than merely complete a transaction. I don’t know about you, but when I ran the organization that was responsible for much of the initial high growth staffing of FedEx, starting a relationship with people who would be today’s couriers and tomorrow’s managers was a hell of a lot more than merely putting butts in seats. No, we were trying to capture hearts, minds, and yes, talents, in large numbers, but still one at a time, because eagles don’t flock. Our aim then, and now is to productively engage with people who want to join our team and do important work.

Our hope is that however you choose to brand your organization’s people functions, you will do so thoughtfully.

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