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Building a modern talent ecosystem

Brett Coin
Chief Transformation Officer
May 31, 2023

Transformation is happening in our industry. People are starting to think about the talent acquisition process more holistically and challenge the status quo. But where do you start? 

I began asking these questions at Intuit more than 10 years ago, and drew inspiration from peers across the company and my own team. In this article, I share my experiences and perspective on why a talent ecosystem is critical to building balanced teams at scale, why it is applicable for any size company, in any market conditions, and how to enable partners to multiply your recruiting team’s efforts.

It’s time to turn everyone at your company into a recruiter with a modern talent ecosystem.

What is a talent ecosystem?

A talent ecosystem is a holistic, multi-channel and multi-medium go-to market strategy that empowers a company’s ability to identify, develop, nurture, and retain talent at scale. The purpose of the talent ecosystem is to power the top of the talent funnel so that you can deliver balanced pipelines at scale and world-class experiences to candidates. 

Why do you need a talent ecosystem?

Talent acquisition teams exist to connect talent to a company as part of the recruiting process. Most of us got our start in this industry with recruiting firms and developed a highly reactive approach to recruiting: get a req, find people, fill the job, and get paid. Recruiters are usually incentivized to “win alone”. 

Not only is the process highly inefficient, it just doesn’t scale because few people do it really well. For example, the best recruiters often keep candidates to themselves, and no one wins – neither the hiring managers, the company, nor the candidates themselves. 

I started thinking differently about this while at Intuit, watching and listening to how the business operated to generate customer and revenue growth. I began by asking my peers in marketing, sales, product, and operations how they did their jobs, and how they used data, automation, and technology. I began to understand that what they had in common was not only a “product mindset”, but a system that depended on different teams working together for one common goal.

As a talent team, we experimented with best practices from these disciplines to change our approach to talent acquisition. We discovered that the most effective TA strategy started with a product mindset, and asking, “What are we selling?” The answer became clear: a career at our company. 

To develop a product mindset, start with these questions:

  • Are you reacting and filling reqs, or proactively running a business?
  • What is the customer benefit? What are the most important things your customers want and how do you create those offerings, or experiences?
  • Do you have a go-to-market strategy for your product that applies a multi-channel approach?
  • Are you listening to your company and customers’ (candidates and hiring managers) needs based on data and current market conditions?
  • Are you measuring ROI to make strategic investments in people and technology?
  • Is your TA team incentivized to win as a team while succeeding as individuals? 

A product mindset will help you strategize and organize to meet the needs of your customers in a better, more efficient way. 

Start at the top of the funnel

As TA leaders, we invest in people, programs, and technology to achieve our goals. While the most important measure of success may be hires, the top of the funnel is what drives outcomes at the bottom. You need data and insights at the top to influence the bottom with measures like talent quality, workforce diversity, interview to offer ratios and time to hire.

Pyramid chart showing top funnel of talent ecosystem

The channels you use to attract talent make up the top of an multichannel talent ecosystem. Every channel will be resourced with people or technology, have an owner, and defined KPIs and goals.

Take an multichannel approach 

When a company is in high growth mode, it tends to focus investment and efforts on the channels that bring people in: direct sourcing, inbound (job postings), referrals, and agencies. As the company matures, new channels tend to be utilized such as use of contractors, identifying internal talent, reconnecting with alumni, and, for the most mature, leveraging talent pools.

Circular image showing talent funnels based on company size

No single channel is 100% predictable or reliable enough to produce the quality and balanced talent that most companies seek. By measuring the ROI for each channel, you can make better resource and technology decisions in a way that the c-suite will understand. 

The talent ecosystem thrives in a culture of recruiting that goes beyond the recruiting team. By engaging and enabling partners, employees, and even candidates to recruit talent, your talent acquisition efforts scale beyond the outcomes of a single individual, or even a recruiting team. 

Notice that diversity is not a channel. We recognized that our ability to deliver a balanced pipeline of talent means using every channel to identify, attract, and engage diverse talent. It is everyone’s responsibility and an objective in every channel.

Be flexible and agile across channels

An multichannel talent ecosystem allows you to re-prioritize quickly when market or business conditions change.

For example, during boom times, high growth companies often double down on channels that bring new talent and grow headcount. Direct sourcing, inbound, and agency channels expand with additional headcount and investment. During contractions, the strategy shifts and resources may be redirected to internal talent and contractors. 

Talent pools become very important, in all markets, as a way to stay connected to identified talent for future opportunities. A talent pool for your most commonly hired roles allows you to maintain relationships with qualified prospects and source talent in all markets, at all times.  

Think about talent pools as a place to park all the qualified, diverse talent you would want to try and hire today, but for some reason the timing just isn’t right. Getting all of this talent in one place makes it easy to engage those candidates over time until the timing is right. (Keep in mind that, unless you have a dynamic refresh of their profiles, you might not have their most current experience.)

Operationalizing the talent ecosystem

When the talent ecosystem really works, the top of the funnel becomes a flywheel, generating balanced, predictable talent pipelines that feed recruiters with quality candidates coming from a multitude of channels. Let’s take a deeper look at how momentum is generated.

Ready-now, qualified talent is connected quickly and efficiently to the right requisition and put into the hiring process. Ready now means that the candidate meets the requirements for the job and the company has an open role for the candidate. 

Qualified talent that is not in the market or you do not have a position for is considered “ready-later”. This identified talent enters a functional talent pool - software engineers, sales, operations, marketing, G&A, etc. 

Talent can move back into a talent pool if the position is filled, a manager changes the scope of the role, or a business decision is made to close the role. Identified, qualified talent flowing endlessly from channels to reqs to talent pools then back to reqs is how you create the flywheel effect. 

Over time, you develop a highly qualified, highly diverse talent pool to draw from for new positions. When a hot prospect starts looking, they will consider a career at your company because you’ve already built a relationship with them. When hiring stops or slows down, recruiting continues, growing your talent pools for when hiring picks back up. It’s all about sustaining momentum. 

Reaping the benefits of flywheels

A talent pool is not just a list of names and resumes, but people who are actively nurtured with the purpose of building a relationship and brand loyalty. Investing in awareness now can speed the hiring process and increase offer acceptance later. 

Findem’s State of Hiring and Recruiting survey found that 71% of talent leaders missed a key hire in 2022. Proactive recruiting helps you increase your hit rate by creating:

  • High quality, diverse talent pools that become balanced pipelines 
  • Improved candidate experiences
  • Faster time to present a qualified slate
  • Increased offer acceptance rates 
  • Net Promoters both inside and outside the company 

How to build and nurture talent pools

The key to building a talent ecosystem is creating a culture of winning as a team. Your goal is to make the best hires and bring the most value to the business. Instead of keeping qualified talent to themselves, recruiters share the talent with their functional recruiting team. An appropriate system of recognition and rewards can help to empower the  value of winning as a team while still recognizing  individual success. 

At Okta, we started by identifying the roles that we hired for over and over, approximately 70%. Recruiting teams agreed to enter their qualified, ready-later talent in a shared space. Talent pool technology can be as simple as a shared spreadsheet on a shared drive or as complicated as the most sophisticated candidate relationship management software (CRM). Automation, dashboards, analytics and other CRM features can be important for managing large teams or large talent pools. 

We found that the most successful nurturing content created an emotional connection between the candidates and the company. So designing a nurture strategy to deliver the right message, through the right medium can be very powerful. And don’t settle for one or two emails, consider a nurture or drip email campaign. We also found that involving hiring managers and leaders to help nurture is a very powerful way to drive talent pool engagement.  

Talent pools, when done right, can become a great source of hires over time. They also ensure that talent identified and qualified from external sources does not get left behind.

With a win-as-a-team, what is right for the business mindset, recruiters begin to  understand that hiring the right person at the right time is more important than who found the candidate. A quality candidate in a talent pool where other recruiters can access them helps the company and increases the candidate’s odds of being hired.

Read Part 2 of Brett’s blog series on creating a talent ecosystem that scales.