VP of Talent Acquisition Peter Brooks on pushing the limits of TA

Jan 22, 2020 - Joe Matar

Before we get started, here's what you can expect: 

  • Boldness and innovation are vital, even if your organization is conservative or risk averse — you have to be creative about getting buy-in.
  • “The market today is moving at a pace that is unprecedented. The minute you start to set in concrete around how you're thinking, solutions you're providing, is the minute you start to become outdated,” says Northrop Grumman VP of Talent Acquisition Peter Brooks.
  • Adopting agile and design thinking in talent acquisition — and all areas of an organization — can help you stay innovative and relevant.

Companies are competing for talent like never before, and candidates have high expectations for prospective companies — not just the other way around.

That changes the role of the HR department, says Northrop Grumman VP of Talent Acquisition Peter Brooks. No longer paper-pushers, those who work in talent acquisition and management have to be every bit as agile and innovative as a company’s developers, creative staff and leadership.

“If you don't take time to kind of pull back and think strategically about the orientation that you have toward the business you support, you're not going to be able to support them as effectively as you could,” Peter points out in our interview for Talent on the Rise.

Peter has had a front-row seat to view the transformation of the industry. He’s been working in talent acquisition since the 90s, starting at a staffing agency before leading recruiting at Booz Allen Hamilton and then Microsoft. He’s been at the global security giant Northrop Grumman, tackling the added challenge of defense contracting, since 2015.

Check out the full episode on your favorite podcast app:

Peter talks about how to push innovative TA thinking even in traditional organizations, and some of the most important skills up-and-coming TA leaders need to be successful as the industry changes.

Move boldly but strategically

Peter emphasizes the importance of “taking a point of view” — being clear about your goals and where the organization needs to go — but stresses the need to approach change strategically.

“I've never found an organization that's been totally broken or completely bankrupt of talent,” Peter notes of coming into a new company, as he did at Northrop Grumman. “…The worst thing you can do as a new leader is come in, make some really erroneous assumptions and fix things that aren't broken.”

He recommends taking a good 90 days “on the ground” talking with people around the organization. Start by understanding the company’s mission, the employee experience and departmental needs. Then, he says, be bold.

“Think really big about what's going to move an organization. Take a point of view on it, and then run,” Peter offers.

If your organization is conservative about change, start small. “Call it a pilot,” Peter recommends before launching a new program that requires tons of resources and time. Test the waters with a controlled experiment that will let you see what works and document success without stepping on the toes of the existing structure.

Get with the times

Peter touches on two important pieces of technology that TA and management professionals need to get comfortable with fast: video and analytics.

In both cases, he says, the point is less about being tech-savvy (technology always changes) and more about how to apply the technologies to a candidate-centered approach to recruiting.

Regarding video, its value is straightforward: “Video is how people consume information, so let’s use video,” Peter explains.

He says companies are getting better at using this approach, as the demand for and expectation of authenticity grows. Room for improvement remains with the message, however. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. “You really have to think, who is my audience here? Let me talk to them, what is important, what are the key drivers for them? And then create a video that talks to those things.”

About analytics, Peter is even more blunt.

“Do not underestimate the impact that automation, that AI, that analytics will have on our profession,” he says. “It's going to be profound. And if you aren't equipped to take that technology and leverage it…you won't have a job.”

He stresses the need for recruiters to know how to use data to inform decisions about who to reach and how to reach them.

Be agile

To keep up with changes like technology in the industry, agility is one of the top qualities Peter says any aspiring talent acquisition professional needs. 

“The market today is moving at a pace that is unprecedented,” he says. “The minute you start to set in concrete around how you're thinking, solutions you're providing, is the minute you start to become outdated.”

Peter has seen success discarding the belief that leaders have all the answers and instead collaborating with stakeholders in processes influenced by developers’ agile and design thinking. It starts with admitting what you don’t know and asking the right questions.

“It takes some courage to be able to have that conversation,” he admits. “And it doesn't mean you cede the reins…but it does mean that you're making informed decisions.”

The agile method allows for an iterative approach to problem solving based on what your customers — in this case, candidates — actually want.

To develop a recruiting process through agile design thinking, first ask candidates what they need “to feel equipped, warmly received and ready to work at a new place of business.” Use that point of view to inform your workplace branding and outreach efforts to show candidates your company values what they need in a workplace.

“You can talk all day about valuing talent, or you can act like you actually value talent,” Peter says, noting that, of course, the latter is what will help you actually attract talent.

This article is based on an episode of Talent on the Rise, Brazen’s podcast about transformative leaders and how they got a seat at the table. Subscribe in your preferred podcast app or click here to sign up to be notified of each new episode.

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