Weird timing with this ERE article by Kevin Wheeler, titled "Defining Talent in 5 Steps". I'm working on a project here to do just that, but let me add some context here before I talk about that.

I've seen so many articles lately about defining a recruiting strategy, from the likes of Dr. John Sullivan and others. To most people, the need to define a recruitment strategy sounds obvious, but you may or may not be surprised by how few people do it. Some don't do it because they are paper-pushers (you know, there's an equivalent in every field...the person that facilitates but doesn't add real value). Others don't do it because of resources; recruiters are overloaded and are in reactive mode. They may be able to put together a strategy at the position level, but aren't set up to successfully develop a strategy across their space. This is really unfortunately, but do you blame the recruiter or the system (don't worry, I am not going to talk about the BCS again)? Recruiting managers...fix this.

You also hear a lot of talk about defining quality. It's hard to define candidate quality, but you can definitely define hire quality if you have any kind of a review process. Chop shops measure recruiters on hires alone. But who cares if you are making your quota when you are hiring people that aren't achievers. And it's not just that achievers's that they create a culture of achievement. On a personal note, this is one of the reasons I joined Microsoft. Anyhoo, Bnoopy had a good blog post on this back in September. Best quote: "A players hire A players, B players hire C players, and C players hire losers. Let your standards slip once and you're only two generations away from death." Word!

So while many companies spend their time analyzing their hire data to inform their sourcing strategies, they don't take the necessary next step and ask themselves, "where do our strongest hires come from?". Really, who cares where your mediocre hires come from? If you have that data, toss it; unless you want to perpetuate more mediocre hiring. And while you are at it, measure your recruiters on quality of hire. If you don't have a measure, find one.

What we are currently working on in my team is an analysis of our best performing hires over the last 5 years. Similar to how we created profiles that tell us who our target candidates are: management consultants, inbound product managers, outbound product marketing, strategic alliance folks, partner management people, inbound and outbound consumer marketers; we want to understand some of the other attributes that make those folks identifyable...we want to know how to market to them and how to source them.

Our process is to pull initial data that we already have: who are the top performers in marketing (looking for a distribution across the profiles mentioned above, levels, organizations), what is their source of hire, previous employer, etc. Then we go out to the hiring manager of a selected sample and get an understanding of what makes the hires good....good as Microsoft employees and good as marketers. We want to know what it was about the person's resume that interested the hiring manager...was it an MBA? If so were schools important? Which ones? Were previous employers important? Which ones? Have the referred other people? Were they hard to close?

Then we go out to the employee. We ask them how they got here, what organizations they are a member of (alumni, professional), what web sites they go to, what they read.

It sounds like basic stuff but very few companies are doing this kind of work to truly create sourcing profiles for their desired candidates. At the end of the project, we hope to be able to draw correlations between desired attributes and skills and the sources we can use to find them (not just the sources we did use). Then we can cut the data a bunch of different ways to do some planning around things like diversity (where do our top diversity hires come from?) and job posting.

I guess recruiting professionals need to stop thinking about planning as a luxury. Is proving your value to the business a luxury? If so, it's one you better afford. As things slow down over the holidays, wouldn't it be a good time to stop, take a deep breath and figure out how to ensure you are working on the right things? As the economy picks up, the success of your recruiting organization could depend on it. So could your career. Nobody ever got fired for thoughtful planning.