At the very beginning of this year, I was challenged by our CEO to increase the size of our software development team to keep up with the company’s top line growth. He was concerned that maybe it was just too hard to find talented developers in Columbia, MO, and suggested that we start building a team at our Lenexa, KS office. I have been in Columbia for 10 years now, and finding great technical talent has always been a struggle. That said, by partnering with Human Resources (known here as Talent Acquisition Ninjas) and reaching out to the community, we’ve always been able to keep pace with business needs. At my former employer, the answer was using a mixture of sourcing strategies, including a strong intern program that after five years of development was able to provide 75 percent of the new hires we needed yearly.
The CEO wanted to see progress in a month, so building a hiring process over a number of years was obviously not going to work. It is probably not a great revelation that recruiting is basically selling your company to the candidate, so I decided to apply what I’ve learned from observing great sales managers to the process. These managers are not always the best salespersons, but they know how to focus the team on a difficult (yet achievable) goal, figure out how to break it down into manageable chunks and build momentum as victory is within sight. I’m a big fan of the saying, “Do the hard work necessary to make things simple.” The sales management process as applied to recruiting software developers could be expressed as “(Message x Activity) = Results.” In this case, the message was that our organization is a great company for which to work and the software development team here is doing meaningful work.
Before I get into the activity portion of the equation, I want to talk about the results. As the old saying goes, any goal worth achieving needs to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. The end result I decided to focus on was hiring six new developers in six weeks. I wasn’t sure if this goal was indeed attainable, but it met all of the other criteria and would definitely show progress to the CEO, assuming we were on target as of February 1. It was also easy to remember and rally around, as it would increase the size of the software development team by 33 percent. From the start, I talked about the effort using the “Six in Six” rallying cry, and then in the first week, we had a staffing change where our department number was reduced by one. It only made sense to change the goal to seven developers in seven weeks, even though this seemed like even more of a stretch.
Now that we have discussed the message and results, it is time to focus on the activity portion of this equation. The activities necessary for talent acquisition include candidate identification, qualification, initial screening, interviewing, extending offers and closing the deal. From nearly a decade of hiring developers in this market, I had good historical data on the ratio of candidates that would fall off at each step in the process. I calculated that we needed ten new candidates every week to reach our goal of seven new developers. We had 8,000 job applicants in the past year, so asking for 10 candidates per week did not seem like too much to ask. Unfortunately, we quickly found that we needed double that number to succeed, but our ninjas came through for us (a story for another time).
So how did we do? At the end of our seventh week, we had six acceptances, one offer was declined and two offers were pending. Not willing to concede defeat, I even considered extending another offer late Friday afternoon, but doubted I could get an immediate answer and felt pretty good that at least one of the two pending offers would be accepted. On Monday morning, the seventh acceptance came in, so I declared it an overtime victory (unlike what happened to the Missouri Tigers that weekend versus the Kansas Jayhawks). Two additional keys to success taken from the sales management playbook were tallying results and instilling a sense of urgency. Each week, I sent this scorecard to the team:
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5||Week 6||Week 7||Totals|
I included commentary to go beyond the numbers and keep everyone focused on the end goal. A sense of urgency was easy for me, as filling open positions should always be a priority or new employees must not be that necessary. I’ve always led by example in keeping talent acquisition at the forefront, as I have too often seen someone drowning because they need help but can’t seem to find the time to do the activities necessary to get the results they need.