When the Department of Defense seeks to build a stronger talent pipeline, HR leaders should listen to the strategies they will employ.
Recently, I co-authored a study for the Department of Defense on many of the same issues vexing HR and People leaders: Developing talent, keeping up with the future of work, and building a stronger talent pipeline.
The recommendations are as important to CHROs as they are to our nation’s largest department. As an appointed member of the Talent Management, Diversity, and Culture Sub-committee of the Defense Business Board I interviewed leaders from across the Department of Defense, the Federal Government, and the private sector to hear about what’s working well and what’s not.
That work is the backbone of a study I co-authored this Spring, “Building a Civilian Talent Pipeline.” The report, requested by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, assesses how the DoD is doing in the War for Talent. The short answer is — not well.
Among our conclusions? The Pentagon would benefit from thinking more like a forward-thinking CHRO or People leader grappling with these issues.
Our military’s challenges mirror those of many large companies adapting to a new era of rapid change. The recommendations our committee put forward are essential for all CHROs and People leaders to think about as they address critical business challenges.
Because our report is public, I’m excited to share four lessons that any HR or People leader can take from our study:
1. Build an iconic employer brand.
86% of employees and job seekers research company reviews and ratings to decide on where to apply for a job and 92% of people would consider changing jobs if offered a role with a company with an excellent corporate reputation.
The DoD has one of the largest sets of occupation ranges of any organization in the world — if you have a job there’s probably someone at the DoD doing exactly what you’re doing right now, too. Unfortunately, many people don’t know that, nor do they know that the DoD has 4,800 work sites across 160 countries.
The humanitarian work the DoD takes on is also astounding. During times of national emergency, like the pandemic, hurricanes, and rampant wildfires, the armed services and their civilians are there. Again, though, many Americans have no awareness of the scale and frequency of this work.
The mission of the department should be one of its strongest assets, but it’s virtually unknown. A recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study of 35,000 Americans found only 42% would consider applying for a civilian role in the DoD, as opposed to 94% who have considered working for Google.
At a different scale, many other employers struggle with the same issues — there’s a lack of interest or inspiration in their job postings, some misunderstanding about where applicants could find a role. The solution for HR Leaders and DoD is the same: Put more emphasis on employer brand and your company’s mission, and make sure that shines in areas like recruiting systems, offer letters, onboarding of new employees and other areas. It sets the tone.Our conclusion: Companies and organizations that work on becoming an iconic employer brand are more likely to succeed.
2. Create mobility for existing talent for tomorrow’s jobs.
The Department invests massive sums of money into skilling its service members. It tracks their skills and aptitudes, gives these service members rotations in multiple geographic areas under different leaders, and in this sense is an upskilling operation that many employers would love to have in place.
However, by law, the DoD’s 2 million Service members can’t work for the DoD as civilians for 180 days following their “retirement.” While there’s an understandable reason the law was written, its effect is a massive drain of talent from the Department to the private sector.
In our interviews with private industry leaders, nearly every recruiting executive said one of the hottest areas of focus was internal mobility. (And research from Guild shows this is a clear focal point for America’s workforce, too.) The skills and quality of talent are no longer an HR issue alone — nearly every business leader and CEO is focused on the issue.
Private sector leaders should apply the same principles: Chief Learning Officers must invest in upskilling and education benefits to build talent pipelines. Talent leaders should put systems in place to match internal talent to jobs based on skills. And CHROs can build out strategic workforce planning functions that knit this work together.
Any employer who doesn’t work on reskilling existing talent will be increasingly left behind.
3. Overhaul the HR tech stack (and staffing) for candidate experience.
In July 2012, then Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos posted a recruiting letter to his company’s home page and declared that recruiting was “not just an important HR function, it’s the most important business function.” This focus on recruiting great talent has made Amazon one of the most highly capitalized and successful companies in the world.
The DoD — and any business that’s serious about keeping up — should think the same way and consider the recruiting experience.
USAJOBS, the Federal government’s official employment website, is cumbersome and highly standardized to account for Federal laws and regulations. Applying for a job can take more than an hour. Talent Acquisition leaders, meanwhile, told us “60% of applicants will lose interest after 6-7 clicks or just five minutes.”
To go along with that tech stack, the DoD leaves most of their civilian recruiting activities to HR generalists, responsible for many other business responsibilities. The complexity of USAJOBS is even difficult for the folks who use it regularly.
The lesson for CHROs and the military is, well, simple: Make it simple. If you want more applicants, build internal expertise to recruit and keep that process refined.
4. Measure the quality of candidates, talent pipelines, and talent pools.
On the military side of the DoD, the DoD has deployed the Joint Advertising, Market Research, & Studies (JAMRS) program to track the sentiment of service-age Americans. They also pulse influencer opinions about the DoD — folks like teachers, principals, and school counselors. They even conduct a Futures Survey to pulse the likelihood of service and college for 16 to 24 year olds. It’s a sophisticated approach with a long term talent pipeline.
Any company would benefit from an analytics driven approach like this. As would DOD’s own civilian recruitment, which does not apply the same data-centric approach.
In contrast, the DOD’s civilian arm doesn’t track whether that talent hires into the DoD or how they perform. The ability to tie investments to strategy and candidates into a relationship management platform would have outsized impact, improving the DoD’s ability to hire the best of the best. The same is true for any large business.
In an example of how metrics can be used for business impact, Brillio has used similar methods to deeply understand candidate quality, what increases the likelihood of offer-to-acceptance, and how quickly their own turnaround time is. As a result, they were able to drive a 280% increase in offer acceptance and drop turnaround time by 45%. That type of quality and time improvement has profound implications for the business they support.
Leadership ready for a war for talent
A new era in the War for Talent requires seasoned and innovative leadership.
At the suggestion of the Defense Business Board, the DoD opened a new position called the “Chief Talent Management Officer” and now Brynt Parmeter, a seasoned HR practitioner with time in the Services and at Walmart has joined to lead the Department into its future of human capital management.
Parmeter’s hire signals that DoD will approach the challenges with an HR and People leader’s mindset and drive for change. In speaking with Parmeter and the many dedicated professionals at the DoD, I’m convinced that the best days of human capital practices are ahead of them — just as they can be for organizations that address these fundamental issues.
Read the full article here