Breaking Down the Talent Acquisition and People Ops Silos

October 10, 2022

min read


John Foster

All organizations need the right people in the right roles at the right time to operate effectively. All other business goals, like driving revenue, innovating fantastic products, and offering great customer service, fall apart if employees aren’t set up for success.

Many HR organizations follow a traditional setup with different departments doing the specialized work of recruiting, employee relations, benefits, compensation, and compliance. The departmental approach leads to a bureaucratic mindset where managers have to fight for resources and lose sight of the big picture while employees experience stereotypical poor service defined by policies, rules and processes. Under this model, you may have heard HR called “The Department of No!”

There’s an even worse negative impact of the bureaucratic approach to HR: It makes it challenging for business managers to understand exactly who they should hire, when they can hire, and who they already have in place. This results in all kinds of poor quality recruiting where urgency and closure overrule fit and quality. In this world you might hear things like, “I just need some butts in seats!” The virtual walls between departments block efficient data flow, organizational insights, and reduce most efforts to the lowest common denominator instead of “raising the bar” as they should. 

The best way to move from this bureaucratic, hierarchical approach to a more effective, collaborative approach is through the Chief People Officer (CPO) role, who can unite the departments under one talent strategy and ensure connectivity between the various processes, tools, systems and activities.

Why Do We Need a CPO, Anyway?

In the “old school” approach to HR, it’s common to bundle several departments under a more senior leader into two larger groups, sometimes reporting to a CEO, COO, or even a CFO. One group is called Talent Acquisition, which is a modern take on recruiting that also includes employer branding. Talent Acquisition typically has its own technology platforms for applicant tracking, job posting, and sourcing, and usually has a direct relationship with hiring managers for talent planning. The other group is called People Ops and contains pretty much everything else. People Ops is kind of like that drawer in your kitchen that has a lot of cool stuff you need, but doesn’t fit into other places. I need a leave of absence! (Call People Ops). We need an offsite! (Call People Ops) We need an engagement survey! (Call People Ops) We need a DEI program… you get the picture. 

In a growing company, both of these larger groups are extremely busy and usually way behind on their to-do lists. Over time, the walls get thicker and temporary “work around” solutions become permanent fixtures. As things scale and get more complex, the flaws in this approach get amplified and the quality of hiring drops, along with the employee experience. This leads to regrettable turnover and speeds up a negative cycle with people pointing fingers in blame and throwing up their hands in frustration. 

Getting both groups to work together involves people and process changes, and a more strategic mindset that understands the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It also requires technology changes. HRIS and ATS systems don’t integrate well and many HR tech products are built for a specific task and user, not the full talent cycle of candidate -> new hire -> employee -> alumni. 

The purpose of the CPO role is to design, build and operate an effective organization that owns the full talent cycle to optimize the performance of all of its employees. It is not to “run HR” or any other departmental phrase you can think of. This is a level above functional goals like “running payroll on time” or “hitting Q2 hiring goals.” This higher integrative perspective is necessary because many Talent Acquisition and People Ops leaders are buried deep in their traditional priorities or thinking too small – big company-wide issues seem overwhelming when your job has traditionally been contained in a departmental box.

Integrative metrics also ensure a more cohesive talent experience. Understanding Total Cost of Employment, Revenue Per Employee, and Lifetime Employee Value can lead to more creative, longer term investments that underpin great places to work. Quality of Hire (QoH) is another integrative metric that links recruiting and performance management. Recruiters are more effective when they understand the characteristics and qualities the business needs in its employees – and gathering this data requires tapping into the performance management system. Not an easy task with most common processes and systems. Over time, this unified approach improves organization effectiveness, which leads to better business results. 

Getting Everyone On the Same Team

So, an organization just needs to hire a brilliant CPO and all these benefits just happen? Of course not! Transformation efforts take time and usually face serious resistance… sometimes even gnashing of teeth! The rational argument to move people forward has two parts. 

First, show Talent Acquisition leaders that understanding Quality of Hire and how to use it is a great vehicle to advance their careers. Want to be an executive some day? Start with Quality of Hire. This works well for People Ops leaders too… want to get out of the never-ending-to-do-list business? Start designing systems that connect the entire talent lifecycle. 

Second, this integrative approach simply makes everyone’s jobs easier. The more connected recruiters are to People Ops, the better the intake process will go and the better the hiring spec will be. The more accurate the hiring spec is, the fewer times a manager comes back (again and again) because the candidates “aren’t quite right.” 

Maybe more importantly, the integrated talent cycle provides candidates with a vastly superior experience. They see the company as one cohesive unit, rather than a series of disconnected, grumpy people (the recruiter, the hiring manager, etc.) who aren’t on the same page.

All in all, I believe the CPO role is best-positioned to unify the disparate groups within HR and implement a single talent strategy. This can help resolve many of the barriers to effective hiring, retention and employee engagement that decades of traditional HR processes have inadvertently created. While the challenges of realigning the HR department shouldn’t be underestimated, the business benefits are well worth the effort.

John Foster

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