AgileTA: The Next Generation Operating Model for Talent Acquisition

Constant innovation is a fundamental requirement for companies to stay relevant, yet few have the foresight to prioritise this effort. One often overlooked function within a company is the Talent Acquisition group. To deliver solutions and outcomes to the business in this new digital era, it is imperative that organisations use a more adaptable operating model to run their recruiting function more efficiently, with more transparency, and with a strategic focus on filling the highest value roles.
Amber Grewal, Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition at IBM, recognises that all recruiting industries – whether it’s retail, healthcare, manufacturing, technology, or any other – have the vital need to operate with more speed, lower cost, and higher quality. Recruiters must deliver impeccable consumer grade experiences to attract the best talent possible. Traditional recruiting models simply will not do. This digital era requires new way of working to deliver solutions and outcome based recruiting.
Successful transformations within Talent Acquisition are not easy. A fundamental shift needs to occur in the way organisations think about attracting Talent, structuring teams, and determining the skill sets needed. Through this new-era perspective, the creative minds of IBM created AgileTA, the next generation framework and operating model for recruiting in the digital era.
Let’s explore how Agile works and examine some thoughts around the current state and “agile” future of the Talent Acquisition function.

Agile in Talent Acquisition

Much has been gained in the fields of software product development and project management with the introduction of Agile, which has increased efficiency and reduced time to market. Using Agile in Talent Acquisition is not just about increasing efficiency, but also about hiring the best talent for the highest priority roles that add the most value to the company, and in many cases, generate more revenue.
Agile encourages breaking work down into valuable pieces rather than delivering everything at once. Applying the incremental and iterative work cycle and framework from Agile can add value to talent acquisition in a multitude of ways, including:

  • Increase speed and efficiency;
  • Enhance the quality of an organisation’s Talent pool;
  • Reduce wasted cost and resources;
  • Decrease cycle time;
  • Increase predictability;
  • Prioritise to deliver the highest value first;
  • Improve the experience of candidates and hiring managers.

Infusing Agile into an organisation’s Talent Acquisition and recruiting functions needs to be coupled with an assessment of skills and a review of the preexisting perceptions and expectations of the business. As AgileTA was being developed, we infused the importance of focusing on key skills and business partnerships to create a solution that enables teams to focus efforts on the highest priority work, while taking the necessary time to meet and discuss adjustments and improvements to make for the next cycle.

What is the AgileTA Framework?

AgileTA is a framework, created by IBM, to apply Agile practices and principles to the Talent Acquisition function. It’s based on a cycle of steps where teams of recruiters, called Talent Acquisition Scrum Teams, work from an agreed upon, prioritised list to fulfill open job requisitions within a time-boxed period, known as a recruiting sprint.
Over the course of the recruiting sprint, the scrum team will observe many common Agile principles and strategies, as well as some new, to help the team maintain their focus toward the commitments they made for the current recruiting sprint. Recruiters use a variety of digital tools to collaborate, manage their prioritised backlog, plan their recruiting sprints and seamlessly track and update candidate statuses on a special workflow visualisation tool called a Kanban board.
After fulfilling all commitments in the recruiting sprint, the Talent Acquisition scrum team gathers to hold a retrospective meeting with the purpose of evaluating how the team could have worked better, faster, and with more efficiency, before preparing for the next sprint. And then the cycle repeats!
Using the AgileTA framework upgrades the way recruiters fill open requisitions by allowing them to:

  • Stay focused on the top priority work that delivers the highest business value;
  • Maintain transparency with hiring managers and candidates;
  • Be adaptive and innovative to continuously improve, as well as identify and overcome bottlenecks.

Although using an Agile approach in talent acquisition allows recruiters to process requisitions more efficiently, the real benefit from AgileTA is being able to find and hire talent that will provide the most value to the hiring managers’ organisation for years to come.
We came up with five key values that embody the core of AgileTA and act as the prerequisite mindset to successfully adopt this framework in an organisation:

  1. Commitment – Promise to accomplish all defined tasks in each sprint and build a trusting partnership between the Talent Acquisition team and hiring managers;
  2. Focus – Maintain focus on deliverables and provide outstanding experiences to hiring managers and candidates;
  3. Collaboration – Utilise Agile principles, tools and metrics to transform how recruiters work together in teams;
  4. Innovation – Enable teams to meet changing business needs through frequent retrospection, iteration, bottleneck identification, and adaptation;
  5. Empowerment – Empower teams to make decisions, remove obstacles, and take calculated risks to deliver their commitments on time and within scope.

4 Examples of Traditional Talent Acquisition vs. AgileTA

There are many benefits to leveraging Agile principles into the talent acquisition function. Below are four examples of recruiting using traditional methods versus new Agile approaches with AgileTA.

1) Focus on top priority work

Traditional Recruiting:
All job requisitions are treated with equal priority and assigned to individual recruiters. Those individuals carry an assigned workload, which are not always fully approved or funded. Recruiters work on a revolving list of requisitions and target a specific quota – all unrelated to complexity or value.
This causes a lack of focus and can frustrate hiring managers. Requisitions don’t get treated with higher priority until a hiring manager escalates and complains about speed. There’s no sense what a priority truly is. In fact, priority gets recognised based on which hiring manager yells the loudest! Just because a hiring manager thinks their requisition is critical to the business, doesn’t necessarily mean it is.
Not all requisitions are created equal. In a Talent Acquisition team using AgileTA, a representative from the business segment is appointed the responsibility to determine which position adds the most value, and then determines which requisitions should be prioritised. In partnership with the Talent Acquisition scrum team, who provides a complexity assessment for each priority role, they determine the right prioritisation for each recruiting sprint. Rather than running around to whichever hiring manage is yelling the loudest or filling the easiest requisitions, recruiters can focus on the top priority requisitions that are proven to deliver the highest value and best talent to the business.

2) Transparency with hiring managers

Traditional Recruiting:
Hiring managers complain their requisitions are not moving fast enough and question if they are being worked on in a timely manner. They constantly reach out to recruiters for updates, custom reporting, and other requests that are administrative in nature for the recruiter. This leads to distractions and a lack of focus, and significant micro management. The dysfunctional relationship between hiring managers and recruiters resemble order givers and takers rather than partners. In addition, in a typical applicant tracking system (ATS), recruiters have the tedious, multi-click task of updating the system for applicants. This manual workload takes the recruiters away from their primary objective: finding and hiring the best Talent for the company.
There’s a significant amount of transparency, where the progress the recruiter is making on filling an open requisition can be visualised and easily updated. Recruiters leverage AgileTA tools in real time, with easy-to-use, drag and drop interfaces, allowing anyone to visualise the progress of applicants through the hiring process. In addition, integration with an applicant tracking system (ATS) and candidate relationship management (CRM) system allows seamless status updating, as well as visibility into the holistic pipeline. AgileTA tools pull data from multiple systems and merge them into one view, creating the transparency hiring managers expect when partnering with a Talent Acquisition scrum team.
With AgileTA, a true partnership is forged between the business and the talent acquisition scrum team.

3) Candidate experience

Traditional Recruiting:
Candidates may feel their application fell into a black hole after applying for a job and seeing the job they applied for has remained open for months. They can often wait weeks or longer to receive only a generic message from a potential employer. If a company has many job openings and many applicants applying for those jobs, it will usually take longer to decide which candidates will progress through the interviewing process.
When the focus remains on filling open requisitions in a short amount of time within the current recruiting sprint, candidates get in and out of the process much faster with constructive feedback on how to improve. Recruiters can be more responsive and attentive because they have a smaller number of open requisitions to fill in a shorter amount of time.
The concept of a recruiting sprint is critical to enhancing the candidate experience. Since recruiting sprints are like mini deadlines for recruiters, there is a constant drive to the finish line with an increased focus to deliver the promised work, and a heightened sense of accountability to their commitments.
With Agile TA, black holes in the recruiting process decrease, as we have seen with the average cycle time reduced by nearly 50 percent since adopting the framework.

4) Ability to adapt and innovate

Traditional Recruiting:
The core recruiting function lacks innovation. It’s common to hear recruiters say, “We’re doing things like this because that’s how we have always done them.” Traditional recruiting lacks a framework for reflecting, innovating, and making small adjustments – all which help ensure the Talent Acquisition process runs efficiently. There is a lack of understanding how long candidates sit in each state of the hiring journey. Many companies struggle to uncover bottlenecks in the process, which slows everything down.
With AgileTA, we constantly monitor sub-cycle time, and track progress via our toolset in real time, so we can understand if and why candidates are stuck in certain states, allowing recruiters to notice trends early. Once bottlenecks are revealed, they can be addressed immediately, and discussed in more detail during the retrospective. It’s at these meetings where team members discuss the successes, challenges, and learnings of the previous recruiting sprint, which helps the teams better prepare for the next recruiting sprint. This process helps the team react quickly to changes within the business, as well as shifts in the stakeholder’s requirements.

AgileTA Results at IBM

With a strong adoption of Agile within Talent Acquisition, and the commitment to utilise the AgileTA framework, IBM has seen much success since its launch. Below are some highlights of the positive impact AgileTA has had on our talent acquisition function so far:

  • Transformed the mindset of recruiters to focus on top priority requisitions that deliver the highest quality Talent;
  • Reduced cancellation rates of requisitions by 75 percent, resulting in significant reductions in waste;
  • Reduced average cycle time by nearly 50 percent;
  • Increased NPS for the candidates, hiring managers and recruiters;
  • Put measures in place for recruiters to innovate the Talent lifecycle by increasing speed and efficiency over time; and
  • Increased predictability through the effort of sizing and tracking velocity.

Innovation can take place in all functions and operating models of an organisation. With so many changes in technology disrupting all aspects of an organisation, the Talent Acquisition function must evolve and find new ways to increase speed and efficiency, reduce wasted cost and resources, increase predictability, and improve the experience of candidates and hiring managers.
Without innovation, the Talent Acquisition function won’t be able to keep up with the growing and crucial need to hire the highest quality Talent for an organisation. By creating, adopting and continuously improving our AgileTA framework in IBM’s Talent Acquisition function, we have realised measurable results that have had a positive impact on our bottom line. AgileTA has empowered IBM to be increasingly innovative, nimble, and able to react swiftly to changing business needs.
Cover image: Shutterstock

This article first appeared on LinkedIn on 7 March 2018.

IBM Head of Talent Acquisition ANZ Bernt Schindler will be sharing more on this at the upcoming 12th Australasian Talent Conference. Limited tickets left, get yours before they sell out!

Related articles

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Sign up to our newsletter

Get a weekly digest on the latest in Talent Acquisition.

Deliver this goodness to my inbox!