How to build a 21st-century talent acquisition function

"Good talent acquisition doesn't just fill vacancies, it contributes to business strategy and growth," says The Talent Labs' CEO

Traditionally, talent acquisition (TA) was relegated to a purely administrative role. Today, in a landscape where exceptional talent is crucial for sustained business success, establishing a TA function that acts as a strategic partner is key.

At The Talent Labs, we engage with our practitioner network to uncover how companies are reimagining their TA functions. Our latest report found that only 34% of respondents rated their current structure as highly effective. Most (79%) of those respondents were operating a centralised model. Consequently, nearly half of the organisations (48%) we reached out to are reviewing their structure. The most common reasons are to better meet business and candidate needs, and to achieve cost savings.

So, what do TA operations need, to be truly future-fit? Drawing from these insights and our TA network of 4,500 members across 67 countries, the following recommendations have emerged.

Foster collaboration across functions

The data highlights the importance of TA teams collaborating extensively with every business unit, to ensure talent strategies align seamlessly with business goals. Improved integration of TA functions with other HR disciplines is crucial, to prevent it from operating in a silo and ti instead make TA part of a comprehensive strategy to manage and develop human capital effectively. Creating a collaborative environment where ideas are freely shared will transform your TA function from standard to standout.

Read more: Why any talent strategy needs to start with some simple first steps

McKinsey research suggests that HR should become a ‘talent steward’, connecting talent strategy to the organisation’s overall strategy.

Deloitte analysts talk about ‘boundaryless HR’, where managing people becomes an organisation-wide capability. For TA leaders, this means fostering shared accountability for workforce performance across all levels, from managers to individual contributors.

Breaking down these walls involves actions like hiring externally and upskilling current employees. For example, Canva created a talent agility team that integrates talent acquisition, internal mobility, contingent workforce and workforce planning.

Structured engagement with leaders

Thriving TA operations don’t just fill vacancies, they genuinely contribute to business strategy and growth. Consistent stakeholder engagement is essential.

Solicit feedback and demonstrate that it’s acted upon, to reinforce TA's role as a strategic business partner. Regular dialogues with the C-suite and board about new ventures or strategic shifts are also advisable. Ensure accountability by aligning reward strategies for leadership roles with people engagement and development KPIs. We want to reward managers for developing and promoting their employees into other teams rather than hanging onto them.

Read more: It takes talent to tango

Many organisations report increasing importance on talent management, succession planning, people analytics and planning precisely because they need to engage their leadership.

Plan for hiring surges and drops by scenario planning

Scenario planning is a powerful tactic in strategic conversations. To support these conversations, you need to do some analysis first. Identify the critical capabilities your organisation needs by assessing the strategic drivers of the organisation’s performance. Assess the level of resource and skill required in these capability areas to deliver optimal performance.

Using this analysis plan for scenarios like an increase in attrition, a lack of talent available for external hires or a significant skills shift needed in these key resource areas. Consider how you can respond to these different scenarios and how you can build resilience in your workforce plan to mitigate impacts from them. For example, you may increase the volume of your early talent pipeline for key capability areas, upskill your existing talent pool with broader skills for future roles or improve the robustness of your succession plan for critical roles.

Embrace boundaryless HR to support business goals and advance careers

To attract and retain top talent, establish clear career pathways and ongoing development opportunities. The best approach to achieve this objective? Embracing a boundaryless HR philosophy.

Read more: Tailored talent management better than 'best practice' approach

The transition towards boundaryless HR is driven by the increasingly diverse workforce composed of internal and external talent, humans and smart machines, and remote and on-site workers. A less centralised operation is more suited to this distributed workforce.

Employee feedback often indicates a lack of support from managers and dissatisfaction with HR practices. Adopting a boundaryless approach addresses these issues. As TA leaders acknowledge the expanding scope and evolving expectations of HR, it becomes clear that this approach is the way forward.

By Emma Mirrington, CEO of The Talent Labs