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Digital Talent Acquisition Helps Survival in an Uncertain World of Work


Everyone speculates as to what the long-term world of work could look like as we head into the second half of 2020 and beyond. But the reality is that we don’t really know how things will pan out. While organizations might be preparing for an uptick in hiring activity behind the scenes, the biggest challenges are the ongoing uncertainty around the future of work, and even survival from week to week.

Organizations have demonstrated resilience and agility in adapting to tech-enabled, remote, and socially-distanced operating models, often being surprised by the outcomes this has brought, notably business continuity with minimal interruptions. To continue talent acquisition (TA) activities, organizations have embraced tech and tools to aid remote interviewing, electronic signatures for documents, and remote onboarding.

However, organizations that fail to embrace such digital change, will leave themselves inflexible to sudden changes in business requirements, putting long-term survival in jeopardy.

Here, I look at three of Korn Ferry’s clients at different stages of digital TA transformation, to measure the impact of that journey on their hiring activity, as business priorities were turned on their heads.   

Organizations embracing digital talent acquisition can pivot at short notice

A long-standing consumer products client, with 70% of its workforce sitting in high-volume categories (production, retail, etc.), approached Korn Ferry in 2017 to support its shift to a more digitalized approach to hiring. Using its six pillars methodology, Korn Ferry focused the client on identifying the hiring challenges they were trying to resolve. It recommended a third-party tech stack as well as proprietary tech to best enable the client’s objectives: scalability for seasonal and geographical expansion ramp-ups and ramp-downs being its priority (with the technology designed to handle candidate volume - 15,000 annual hires - at the top of the funnel).   

While the funnel would normally be slow and inactive, with Korn Ferry seeking out talent through active campaign work, 2020 has seen that flipped on its head. A spike in unemployed people looking for work has transformed the client’s talent funnel to being very full and active, yet the client has absorbed the funnel ramp-up with no drop-off in service due to the scalable technology already put in place. The client can deliver a good candidate experience because the automation handles the sheer volume of applicants and screens them out if they are not suitably skilled. Having the digital capability to scale has clearly enabled this organization to pivot to the new circumstances of an oversupply of candidates.

A financial services client, hiring 30K heads annually, had fragmented, inefficient, and manual hiring processes. It was looking to digitally transform its talent acquisition function to increase efficiency and improve the candidate experience. Following a tech stack audit, it was advised to use a combination of Korn Ferry’s proprietary technology and a few select external providers. Korn Ferry Recruit (KFR) with its AI-sourcing capability would be suitable for niche roles (10K annual hires), while KFR’s Nimble platform with its chatbot and short-form assessments would be suitable for high-volume recruitment (20K annual hires). A proposed trial of an internal mobility platform was a feature of the tech stack. Many organizations keep scant records of employee skillsets. However, the internal mobility platform takes non-confidential employee details from basic HRIS records and augments them with in-depth public domain information available externally. The enhanced information acquired by Korn Ferry enables internal talent with specific skills to be identified and deployed elsewhere.

As March 2020 resulted in the immediate cessation of hiring in its retail setting due to the pandemic, there was an immediate need to redeploy employees into other roles within the business. While the recommended platforms/trial had not been implemented at this stage, there were strong indications that continuing with its planned TA transformation during COVID-19, would reap hiring benefits post-COVID-19 or in subsequent lockdowns. Benefits would include improved Time to Fill (when ramping-up numbers to meet pre-COVID BAU staffing levels), Interview to Hire, and Quality of hire measures (due to better AI matching of candidates), or easier redeployment of workers elsewhere if retail premises needed to close again.

It’s not too late to embrace digital TA and reap the benefits

The ongoing uncertainty for another of Korn Ferry’s clients (in the hospitality sector) will linger until a Government decision is made on whether to permit the mass gathering of people in 2020. And the window of opportunity for hiring is drawing ever tighter (with the final client decision for a “go” or “no go” hiring situation due in July). However, that has not prevented the client from preparing its TA strategy for this year.

The client would normally launch multiple in-person, recruiter-intensive hiring events, over five months (as it did in 2019) to find the 4.5K part-time talent needed for the Autumn season: a process that from year-to-year rarely sees the same talent apply. However, by March 2020, it was clear this talent campaign was not going to happen, so the client approached Korn Ferry for support. Korn Ferry suggested going 100% digital for its 2020 campaign – a dramatic pivot for the client, but one which would enable an instant 60% reduction in campaign duration – great when leaving the decision whether to hire until the eleventh hour!

Korn Ferry has deployed the Breezy HR platform and designed a single workflow (enabling a single application process) for six separate franchise companies that come under the remit of the client (rather than requiring six separate application processes), much improving the candidate experience. The manager’s decision to hire specific candidates is the only manual phase, with all other process steps being automated. If hiring does not go ahead, the worst-case scenario for the client is the cost associated with the consulting work undertaken in standing up the project. There will be no costs associated with the technology.

When decisions must go to the wire, with potentially 75 heads to be hired daily for 60 days, having a digital TA process clearly has its advantages. Whether the client forges ahead with hiring or reluctantly admits defeat for this year, it will be interesting to see if the digital TA set-up has changed their outlook on future recruitment for the better. 

A digital TA transformation approach helps organizations embrace the future of work

Embracing a digitally-enabled hiring process does not mean sacrificing the high-touch approach. It is about achieving the right balance between technology and human interaction. Some digitalization of the TA process enables automation of mundane tasks and speeds up the hiring process, clearly giving competitive advantage to organizations. Driven by events in the first half of 2020, the technology deployed by these clients has enabled them to adapt to new circumstances when they least expected it. These case studies show how a digital approach to TA can take organizations to a new level of business agility that can help them to adapt to unforeseen circumstances at the flick of a switch. A digital TA transformation approach is highly recommended, especially when the future holds so many unknowns. Failure to embrace digital TA processes in 2020 will put those organizations at increasing disadvantage, making it more difficult for them to catch up with those organizations who have embraced digital transformation and are enjoying the benefits of being business agile.

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