Building a Results-Driven Talent Management Process: What HR Can Learn from Sales

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How can HR and recruiters improve the talent management process? They can start by taking a page from their colleagues in sales.

It’s commonplace for startups and expansion stage companies to break down traditional organizational structures and ask their employees to straddle and leap across departmental lines.

Sales teams need to make sure marketing is aligned with their efforts, marketing needs to communicate with user experience and product design to optimize their messaging. Yet in the midst of all this interaction and collaboration, there’s often the perception that HR operates on an island of its own.

Kris Dunn, Chief Human Resources Officer at Kinetix and founder and editor of the popular blogs HR Capitalist and Fistful of Talent, challenges that perception, but does argue that HR and recruiters have a lot to gain by actively learning from their colleagues in other departments. In a Labcast recorded with OpenView, Dunn discussed the ideas behind a webcast he developed with Tim Sackett titled “Raise Your HR Game by Thinking Like a Money-Hungry VP of Sales,” and how, by applying some sales skills to their own job responsibilities, HR professionals can become better at the talent management process.

Where is there typically room to improve the talent management process, and what can HR learn from sales staff in order to make those improvements?

The entrée into this is that, traditionally speaking, HR people are thought to be bad at negotiating for what they need and what their company needs. A lot of HR people are conflict avoidant. The best example I can give you — and I’m continually shocked by this — is that, generally speaking, HR people and recruiters actually aren’t very good about talking about money. Simply asking someone where they’re at from a compensation standpoint as an entry point into a negotiation. They’re saying, “Okay. We’ve confirmed this person is the right fit for our organization, has skills we need, cultural fit, all those things. Now we’ve got to talk about money.” And HR people are notoriously bad at nailing that conversation in a way that ultimately leads them to success in the negotiation that follows.

What about in terms of influence decisions — what can HR lean from sales to maximize their role in those situations?

Within the realm of HR, there are so many decisions that happen when we support operators. Some of those decisions are employment decisions based on a performance situation or based simply on a cultural situation — whether someone’s a fit or not. When there is an issue and a person who will potentially be leaving the company HR people go into that supporting operators, of course, supporting owners, presidents, and CEOs of companies. We go into those conversations as an agent of the company, and generally speaking we have a vibe in our mind of the way that a decision is going to go.

One of the things that we think HR people can do better, in terms of influencing decisions, is working to start the conversation off in a way that naturally gets them to the outcome they feel is most probable down the road. If you approach a conversation with the outcome you’re anticipating in mind, the way you start that conversation might be totally different.

Why not use that first conversation to really set the bar for where the negotiation goes from there? A lot of HR people have five conversations when one or two could do. It’s the ability to establish what your position is, what you think is going to happen. Just like a salesperson would go into a negotiation and make the first offer or make the first statement of what their position is, all negotiation happens from that point forward. We think that’s a way that HR people can get a lot of time back in their day and also secure better outcomes for themselves and the companies and the executives they support.

Let’s talk about HR’s impact on a company’s bottom-line. Is there a valid argument that the talent management process can provide a strong ROI to a business?

ROI is always a difficult thing for the HR community. What I would suggest is you start with a macro approach rather than a micro approach. What I mean by that is when the ROI conversation comes up, many times HR pros and the leaders who hire them will go right into the weeds. They may think about retention, they may think about engagement, things like that. What I would suggest is to keep it simple. When you’re thinking about the ROI of what any HR pro can provide an organization, especially for some of your startup CEOs who are thinking about hiring their first HR pro, I would suggest go macro instead of micro to start with. Then start looking at all the inputs that go into that macro measurement.

The best macro measurement that any CEOs of startup firms are going find is revenue per employee. It’s a great way for executives to get their head around, in a very macro sense, whether the people function (or the HR or talent function) is actually providing value.

And what about founders and CEOs — what can they do?

I think the best thing they can do — regardless of where their HR function is — is demand that the organization and any HR team members that work for the organization do everything they can to minimize the amount of time they spend on transactions. So, for CEOs at expansion-stage companies the whole goal should be, over time, to minimize the amount of time spent on transactions. Things like payroll. Things like insurance. Like with every other part of the business, if you don’t automate transactions and look for process improvements to really minimize the percentage of time that your HR team is spending on transactions then transactions will expand to fill capacity, so to speak. All of a sudden you’ll look up three years into the creation of your HR team and you’ll have an HR team that’s really focused on transactions rather than truly focusing on things that can improve. Things like recruiting, performance management, and things that really improve the revenue per employee.


Kris DunnKris Dunn is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Kinetix, a recruitment process outsourcing firm for growth companies. A longtime HR expert, he is also the founder and editor of two popular HR blogs, The HR Capitalist and Fistful of Talent. You can follow him on Twitter @kris_dunn.




Editor’s note: This article has been adapted from an OpenView Labcast “Should HR and Recruiters Think More Like Sales?” recorded with Kris Dunn, Chief Human Resources Officer at Kinetix and editor of HR Capitalist and Fistful of Talent.