The talent you employ is the key to achieving business goals. Ultimately, the success of the business is inextricably linked to its ability to:
- Attract a high volume of talent to fill open roles and keep up with turnover rates
- Hire and onboard talent quickly to ensure peak productivity as quickly as possible
- Engage with and develop quality talent in meaningful ways to increase retention rates
Human Resources is already uniquely positioned as a strategic leader in these initiatives, and as a result takes an outsize role in defining and executing strategies to optimize each. But rather than thinking of these outcomes in silos, there is a big opportunity for HR to increase their impact on the business by viewing them all within the context of the complete talent lifecycle.
The talent lifecycle is the practices and tooling that allow HR leaders to understand, communicate and optimize the holistic talent experience from start to finish. HR leaders that can define and optimize their talent lifecycle experience the benefit of:
- Fewer open roles due to increased retention rates
- Faster time-to-hire for open roles
- More positive employee engagement, leading to lower turnover rates
- Visibility in the organization as the driver of key business outcomes
- And more!
The larger business enjoys increased connection and insights into the health of its talent lifecycle and feels empowered to take action when inefficiencies arrive. This results in increased productivity, which is directly related to more topline revenue. Additionally, organizations with an optimized talent lifecycle enjoy a positive brand image due to increased talent satisfaction, which in turn helps boost the top of your recruiting funnel and hiring velocity. Once you can crack the code of your talent lifecycle, it is a flywheel that allows for accelerated growth.
In this whitepaper, we will dive into various components of the talent lifecycle, and best practices to apply to your organization. We will also explore common challenges and solutions, both from a process and a tooling perspective. Finally, we will share real-world stories of companies that have implemented exceptional talent lifecycle management strategies, and the key factors contributing to their success.
The Stages of the Talent Lifecycle
The talent lifecycle is the representation of the journey any person takes through your organization. From the first touch by recruiting, to the offboarding with HR, it is a map of all the touchpoints that make up their experience within the organization.
Broadly, we can organize the talent lifecycle into six categories:
Let’s dive into each a little more.
This stage is all about attracting and sourcing talent in a meaningful way. Common activities in this stage include strategies around how you market your company to increase awareness in the market, leveraging that awareness in conjunction with marketing strategies to drive applications, proactive sourcing activities to identify and communicate with ideal talent profiles, and more.
This normally sits with the talent acquisition function, but also requires collaboration with the broader HR team, as well as leaders and hiring managers across the organization who have a vested interest in ensuring that they have access to a healthy pipeline of quality talent.
As you move through the lifecycle, this stage centers around talents’ first direct interaction with your organization. It’s crucial to optimize your application, screening, interviewing, selection, and offer processes so that everyone has a great experience with your team. Even if they aren’t hired, great interview processes can benefit the business as talent share their experiences with their network, which in turn boosts your brand recognition.
Again, talent acquisition takes the lead in defining and executing strategies related to hiring. However, collaboration with other areas of HR is of the utmost importance, especially as talent moves through to the next stage of the lifecycle.
This is a crucial handoff point in the talent lifecycle, as it marks the transition from candidate to employee. Strategies here are focused on ensuring that talent have a seamless experience when interacting with your organization. From day zero and beyond, it’s critical that you implement strategies to engage talent early to introduce them to your company and their role. Think of this as another opportunity for a lasting impression that will set the tone for your talent’s journey with your organization.
It’s crucial that HR provides leadership in the development of onboarding processes, but it also requires collaboration with leaders across the business. Empowering leadership with flexible onboarding strategies that meet the unique needs of their teams only increases the chance of onboarding success.
Beyond the onboarding timeframe, it’s critical that talent feel like they are connected with their organization to grow personally and professionally. In the engagement stage, organizations must focus on the programs that make it easy for employees to connect with each other, give and receive feedback in a meaningful way, and surface opportunities to upskill and/or reskill for career mobility. Providing this level of connection and mobility is deeply connected to the culture of your organization, and when done well is proven to improve retention rates, and even boost productivity for the business as a whole.
HR teams must view this as a mission critical program, as it gives them direct access to the talent they serve. Rather than viewing HR as a reactive function that responds to issues as they arise, maintaining a sound talent development program can reposition the team as an integral part of talent’s experience with your organization, and a driver for their growth.
Every lifecycle has a natural beginning and conclusion. And while you always want to maximize retention and reduce turnover, a successful talent lifecycle also considers strategies for managing exits. This is an underestimated piece of the puzzle, as engaging with talent during their exit process (and doing so in the ways that talent wants to engage) can provide critical data insights into how your entire talent lifecycle can improve, and increase the chances of positive brand affinity even when talent leaves your organization. Additionally, organizations that can successfully operationalize the transition stage can do succession planning with confidence, which helps accelerate the return to the top of the funnel of recruitment for backfills.
In this way, HR can level up and become a true strategic partner by effectively managing talent transition. Armed with data on why people leave, they can offer insights into how they can enhance the broader talent lifecycle to ensure that any subsequent hires fit the ideal profile, and that they can be set up for success.
It’s important to note that within each of these categories, there are a number of subprograms that can enhance your organization’s approach. For example, within the hiring and engagement stages, a sound, data-backed compensation strategy can positively impact your primary success metrics (such as offer acceptance rate or talent NPS and retention rates). Be sure to take the time to map out your own talent lifecycle using these 5 categories as signposts, and then list all the relevant subprograms that influence the success of those stages.
Best Practices for Managing Your Talent Lifecycle
Now that we have covered the 5 stages of the talent lifecycle, let’s revisit each with some key best practices.
For many organizations, and especially companies that have high volume hiring needs, their recruitment program can sometimes seem like a massive cost center. With job boards becoming increasingly expensive, an ever-increasing number of potential engagement channels, and generational shifts in the talent market, it seems like the old paradigms such as “one-size-fits-all” and “post-and-pray” don’t give you the best return on investment. To help refine your recruitment strategies, here are some things to consider:
- Understand your audience – As the name implies, a solid talent lifecycle strategy starts with your talent at the center of every decision. Take the time to understand the profiles that best fit your roles, and match them against relevant market data about those profiles. Working with leadership and hiring managers (and with data where you have it), map key attributes for each of your roles that would make someone a good fit for a role. This can include hard and soft skills, life moments, career goals, and more. The more you can build out this ideal skills profile, the better you can target potential talent. From there, it’s also important to dig into data that helps you better understand who that target persona is. What motivates them? Where do they like to hang out? What is their broad attitude towards work? If you know more about your ideal talent profile, you can make more informed decisions about how to reach them more effectively. This is a foundational step that impacts almost every facet of your recruitment strategies, as you’ll see in the rest of this section.
- Personalize your employee value proposition – Also know as an EVP, the employee value proposition is a company’s branding strategy that represents everything that they have to offer to their talent. This is an all-inclusive term, which includes traditional factors such as compensation and benefits, along with more modern concepts such as company culture, learning and development, and more. While your EVP is a fixed definition, and should be consistent across your organization, companies that are effective at attracting talent are able to highlight relevant elements of their EVP depending on the role they are marketing. Long gone are the days of the “one-size-fits-all” job descriptions. Instead, be sure to highlight those parts of your EVP that will resonate with your target talent profile. For example, while Millennials and Gen X are more interested in traditional indicators such as compensation, Gen Z has shown that they are more interested in working for companies that share their values, or who prioritize diversity in their culture. Be sure to match your unique EVP to the roles you are hiring for to ensure that you can maximize application volume.
- Take a data-driven, cross-channel approach – Just as your personas drive personalization in your EVP, they should also inform your outreach strategy. An effective recruitment strategy should leverage various channels for broad coverage. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Career fairs, both in person and virtual
- Online jobs boards
- Social media
- Digital advertising
- Proactive sourcing
However, remember that not all channels are effective depending on your target talent profiles. Take the time to understand which channels they are using the most, and optimize your budget by investing accordingly. For example, research has shown Gen Z spends more time on social media than any other demographic. Therefore, companies that want to target them should consider marketing their open roles on social media, as opposed to only job boards. And remember that your own data is crucial here. Be sure to measure how effective your various channels are at sourcing applications, as well as hiring conversion rates. Over time, this helps you refine your strategy based on the specific needs of your organization, and in turn, reduces costs associated with recruiting efforts.
If recruitment is the top of your talent funnel, then hiring is the middle. And the last thing anyone wants is a leaky funnel with lots of dropoffs and abandoned applications. However, organizations that only focus on improving processes for the sake of their hiring funnel are missing out on the bigger picture. Instead of seeing the hiring flow as a single point in time, approach it as a key step in the larger talent lifecycle, even beyond the job offer. The key is to build trust with prospective talent so that they will continue to engage during your hiring stages, which in turn builds momentum to increase the chances of further engagement during their onboarding, and beyond. Here are some ways to help build that trust:
- Map the interview journey – Clear definitions of the stages of your interview process are beneficial for everyone. For prospective talent, it helps build confidence in themselves along with your organization. For your organization, it leads to better alignment between recruiting and the business partners they serve. With a clear understanding of what each step in the hiring process is, and the purpose it serves, everyone feels empowered to play their part to the best of their abilities. However, don’t fall into the trap of standardized interview processes for the entire org. Remember, the “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t work in today’s competitive market. Be sure to personalize the hiring process based on roles, and even by personas when applicable.
- Speed is key – In a competitive talent market, the key to accelerating hiring is faster decision-making. Too often, organizations make candidates jump through multiple hoops around interviewing, scheduling, assessments, and more. The faster you can get from application to offer, the more likely you are to get an acceptance. So be sure to trim unnecessary interview stages where able, and find ways where you can achieve multiple goals at once. Automation is really helpful in achieving this. For example, utilize chatbots to eliminate the back-and-forth of interview scheduling. Or evaluate hard and soft skills via survey-style assessments.
- Use data to prioritize quality talent – The ultimate goal of decreasing your hiring time is to give you the best chance of placing the best talent in the roles that fit their profile. In order to do this, your team should be laser-focused on gathering as much data about your talent pool throughout the recruiting, assessment, and interview process. Use every stage to gather the key data points that matter most to your organization. This includes assessing their hard skills in conjunction with behavioral aptitude for roles. For example, if you’re hiring for a customer-facing role, it’s crucial to assess communication skills as quickly as possible. Collect this data point early, and use it in conjunction with other details of their profile to give you a more complete view of how prospective talent may perform on the job. This is an exciting area where AI is starting to contribute to the conversation. Not only is this data crucial in making point-in-time hiring decisions, but as part of a larger dataset, teams can increasingly use technology to help guide their decisions on who to prioritize in the hiring process, who might lead to a dead-end interview, and even provide recommendations on which roles prospective talent are best suited for (even if they didn’t apply to that role in the first place!).
Once talent enters your organization, you are presented with another opportunity to make a lasting impression. Don’t be fooled by the alluring “one-and-done” onboarding solution, and instead apply holistic strategies to engage talent early and often during their onboarding to ensure maximum engagement, and set them up for success. Here are some strategies to help achieve that:
- Define success at every stage – before they even begin, it’s important for your team to help everyone understand what success looks like in each of your roles. This often requires deep collaboration with leadership to define key performance indicators, as well as an in-depth mapping of the ideal journey that someone will take through your organization. Additionally, be sure to leave space in the onboarding process for talent to define their own vision of success, and what they hope to achieve while they are part of your organization. This makes goals definition much more collaborative and increases the chance for talent to continually engage with their success during onboarding and beyond.
- Provide access to build connections – Building on this idea of collaborative goal-setting, your onboarding process should be aligned with those goals to ensure that each new hire has access to the resources they need to understand not only their role, but your organization as a whole. Clarity and transparency are critical here, as it helps to continue building trust that talent can rely on not only the HR team, but also their own team and any adjacent groups. Without this visibility or access, new talent can often feel isolated, especially as the initial onboarding process wraps up, and they are expected to navigate the organization on their own. Be sure to help them with the guidance that will create lasting connections they can rely on throughout the talent lifecycle.
- Personalize onboarding with data insights – Just as in previous sections, data can help you personalize onboarding in ways that will really resonate with talent. Use indicators from their skills profile to provide more training where applicable, understand their motivations to connect them with internal resources, or take geographic location into consideration to offer regional-based guidance. Taking a proactive posture in providing support to your talent, especially in the onboarding phase, helps accelerate productivity in their roles in the short term, as well as sets them up for success in further engagement in the long term.
Study after study has shown that engaged talent is retained talent. In a recent report, Gallup found companies that prioritize employee engagement have 41% lower absenteeism and 24% lower turnover rates than those that don’t. By creating programs that help everyone feel connected to their work, their skills development, and to each other, you are actively mitigating risks associated with negative talent perceptions, low productivity, and high turnover. With many other competing priorities, these kinds of programs can feel like “nice-to-haves,” but they are arguably the most critical in showing the effectiveness of the HR function. Here are some ways to think about how you approach your talent engagement strategies:
- Create connections within your talent community – In a post-pandemic world, people crave connection now more than ever. For talent in your organization, connection also serves as a way for them to grow both personally and professionally as they look for people who share their goals, mentors who can help them in their career journey, and more. Your team should not only encourage these kinds of connections but proactively help foster them through engagement programs. These can be formal mentorship programs, employee resource groups, regular networking opportunities, and others. Creating a shared community helps everyone feel like they belong, and creates a stickiness that lasts much longer than if you didn’t have it.
- Encourage two-way feedback structures – Traditionally, feedback has been viewed within the confines of annual reviews. Managers provide their input, talent receives that input, and the cycle repeats until they exit. To make feedback a more engaging process, create loop structures that empower everyone in your organization to give and receive feedback. Outside of ritualized performance reviews, it’s also important to create channels for ad hoc feedback. This allows talent to not only feel like their voices are being heard, but also creates a sense of ownership that they are helping to build a culture that is committed to improvement. This, in turn, helps accelerate their own development, all while decreasing their chance of turnover.
- Proactively unearth opportunities for growth – After accounting for their base needs (such as compensation, benefits, and psychological safety), talent is drawn to work that allows them to develop the skills they value most so that they can advance in their careers. Organizations that can not only provide these opportunities, but also present them in a meaningful way, reap the benefits of more engaged talent, decreased onboarding time, reduced turnover, and ultimately higher productivity. Once again, data insights are crucial here. Matching the known skills of your talent pool, and matching them with opportunities within your organization in a programmatic way is what sets modern organizations apart from those that rely on talent to be the sole change agent.
Regardless of how good your organization is at every other stage, exits are a natural part of the talent lifecycle. While many of the efforts in your other programs are an effort to minimize turnover, the fact remains that they will still happen. Once your organization can embrace this stage as an integral part of your data-gathering strategy, you will see benefits from the insights gained from the talent that transitions out of the company. Here are some reasons why:
- Exit interviews are data-gathering opportunities – Just like every other stage of the talent lifecycle, transitions are another opportunity to glean rich data insights. This can be achieved through in-depth exit interviews, or can be as simple as a 5-question survey on their phones. Similar to previous sections, it’s important to understand your talent profiles and how they like to engage with your company, so be sure to use strategies that meet them where they are to effectively gather data. This ultimately helps refine your talent profiles, which in turn can improve processes for the future that might prevent an exit. Or better yet, it can be applied at every stage of your talent lifecycle, as we will cover below.
- Alumni are still growth agents – Not all talent exits are acrimonious in nature. In fact, if you’ve created an effective talent lifecycle journey, you are more likely to create alumni that actively promote your organization as a career accelerator. Lean into ways that you can create opportunities for former employees to advocate for your company. Many do this by creating an alumni community, collaborating with former talent on recruitment marketing materials, and other programs.
- Apply data to succession planning and backfilling – If transitions are a data-gathering opportunity, then it’s critical you find ways to apply that data to improve every facet of your talent lifecycle. Many organizations look at exit interviews through a causal lens. If talent is leaving because of a certain indicator, then we must only focus our efforts on improving that indicator. However, that is a limited use case for transition data. Look for opportunities to extract even more value from these insights by applying them to your efforts in recruiting and sourcing, hiring, onboarding, and engagement as well.
Successful Talent Lifecycle Management Strategies: Real-World Examples
For many, mastering all stages of the talent lifecycle can seem like a daunting task. However, there are plenty of examples in the market of organizations that start by focusing on a few key elements, and then growing from their successes. Below are some examples of organizations that have used some of the strategies discussed in this whitepaper to realize impactful outcomes for their talent, and for the business as a whole.
Homeware Retailer Improves Recruitment and Hiring Process to Decrease Time-to-Hire by 70%
From humble beginnings in the 1990s, a leading homewares retailer the company experienced accelerated growth to include over 65 locations, along with a modern distribution center to provide its customers with the quality goods they need. Throughout the organization, from the corporate HR team to the store managers who are responsible for sourcing and hiring talent, the team realized the need to optimize their talent acquisition practices across their portfolio by using data to understand who would be the best fit for roles in individual stores, where they find that talent, and applying those learnings to their hiring practices to ensure that they are hiring talent that will stay with their organization and grow their careers. However, they were finding it difficult to achieve these goals at scale. With store managers juggling multiple priorities, combined with a competitive talent market, local stores were using outdated methods to promote jobs and relying on candidates coming into the store and physically handing in their resumes. This manual process resulted in an average time-to-hire of 20 days across their stores, and a high turnover of store leadership positions, partly due to stress from multiple competing priorities.
To improve their efforts, the team started implementing processes and tooling that store managers could use to quickly identify and hire quality talent for their stores. Instead of waiting for candidates to arrive in their store to submit a resume, managers were empowered to engage talent through targeted digital advertising with a cross-channel approach based on their ideal talent profile. They also focused on speeding hiring times by removing manual processes and scheduling interviews via WhatsApp or SMS automation. They also provided tooling to store managers that helped them manage candidate flow, and combined it with data insights to help them prioritize candidates based on skills and behavioral assessments.
Today, store managers are reporting drastic improvements in their talent acquisition efforts. Across their entire portfolio, the average time-to-hire decreased from 20 days to 6 days, a 70% reduction. With managers free from candidate sourcing activities and sifting through resumes, they are free to address other responsibilities in their stores and ensure they are delivering the best customer experience. The corporate HR team can use the data they are collecting to focus on improving processes across the organization, including using data from dashboards to continually refine their larger talent lifecycle strategies.
Fashion Retailer Uses Data Insights to Reduce Turnover by 20%
Founded in 1908, a large department store chain employs over 10,000 people across its 350 store locations. For their team, speeding hiring via a decentralized process was also an area they identified for improvement. By relying on individual store managers for sourcing and hiring, they observed many potential points of failure via outdated recruiting methods, manual hiring processes, and time-consuming work to evaluate talent profiles. They realized that they needed to improve their engagement strategies with store managers and empower them with the tools they needed to be more effective in recruiting and hiring. Additionally, while they were interested in optimizing their hiring practices, the team also saw an opportunity to employ strategies to reduce turnover that was preventing the larger organization from achieving its business outcomes.
They knew the answer to this challenge was in their data. They used solutions that helped them standardize their employee data, and then applied techniques to help them develop ideal talent profiles for their roles based on that data. This included a number of different factors beyond the traditional resume and hard skills, and incorporated information such as soft skills, geographic location, and more. Armed with this information, they were able to more intelligently prioritize talent during the hiring process, and make data-driven decisions on who they thought would be a better fit for their open roles.
Today, the team has seen a sharp increase not only in their hiring speed, but more importantly in the quality of the hires that they are making. Overall, their use of data to prioritize talent decision-making has resulted in a decrease in turnover from 11% to 9%, an almost 20% decrease. Additionally, by using more data inputs in their talent profiles, they have surfaced other benefits to the business. For example, through this process, they learned that talent who live within 1km of the store they work at was directly correlated with better performance. So by optimizing this metric in their talent profile, they were able to not only benefit the business, but also create a better talent experience by hiring people who don’t have to suffer a long commute. It’s a perfect example of how optimizing the talent lifecycle results in wins for everyone in your organization, including your talent!
The talent lifecycle is a central part of any HR department’s strategy. Rather than thinking about each stage in a silo, leaders should instead consider the ways in which they connect together to create a holistic experience from start to finish. From recruitment and hiring as the first touches to onboarding and ongoing engagement programs to boost productivity and encourage development, to transition and beyond, each of these points of the talent lifecycle is inextricably linked. They each have their own challenges, strategies, and success metrics. But when approached cross-functionally, each can help inform the other and improve talent outcomes as a whole. Using the strategies outlined in this whitepaper, you now have clear indicators of where you might focus your strategies for how to improve. A one-thousand-mile journey starts with a single step, and such is the same for your talent lifecycle. Start your focus on one or a couple of key areas, and let success feed into further improvement. The benefits to your business are the key motivators, but the improvement in your talent’s experience with your company is the real payoff.