Making the Business Case to Shareholders — It’s Never Happened Before!

This Has Never Happened Before, I Promise

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be the very first person to do something astounding? Can you imagine the feeling of being…

  • The first person to land on the moon?
  • The first European to discover America?
  • The first director of recruiting to speak at the shareholders' meeting of a $10 billion company on the impact of recruiting on the firm's profitability and success?

Think about it for a moment. Have you ever even heard of a recruiting department being invited by the CEO to present to the shareholders' annual meeting at any company, no less at a $10 billion bank? Typically, recruiters don't even get the time off to attend the meeting, let alone be a primary speaker at it.

I've been practicing and studying recruiting for over 30 years and, as far as I can tell, this is a first. A shareholders' meeting is the highest profile of all corporate events. Not only are the shareholders there, but also in attendance are the entire senior executive staff, the board of directors, and all of the key financial analysts for the industry. Because all these important people are in attendance, nothing sends a clear message about the importance of any business function than being asked by the CEO to present in front of them.

This landmark event occurred on April 20, 2005, at FirstMerit Corporation's annual shareholder meeting (FirstMerit is a large regional bank headquartered in Akron, Ohio). Most of the agenda was quite traditional, with the CEO making comments about important banking issues like revenue growth, risk management, credit quality, and productivity.

But then, towards the end of the executive team's presentations, came Michael Homula, the talent acquisition manager and a relative rookie among the senior executives. I've written about FirstMerit's incredible recruiting strategy and approach before, in my recent benchmark recruiting function article, where I declared them the best recruiting organization on the planet. This latest honor and recognition not only further supports that designation, but it also shows that they have raised the bar even higher with this presentation.

Michael's presentation educated shareholders about the new war for talent and the coming talent skills shortage, which will impact all corporations. Michael also outlined the need for an integrated talent management strategy that emphasized forecasting and workforce planning. But perhaps the most important element of his presentation was where he highlighted the tens of millions of dollars in economic value that great recruiting added to the bank's performance as a result of rapid and effective hiring, which both cut costs while simultaneously raised revenues. By making "the ultimate business case" to the owners, recruiting was demonstrating its status as one of the premier business functions in the bank.

The Next Frontier for Recruiting: Internal Marketing

Now before you dismiss this landmark event as something irrelevant to you, think of the shareholders presentation not as a PR event but rather as a demonstration of the effectiveness of recruiting. In fact, the presentation became the ultimate business case for recruiting.

If you or your recruiting department are one of the many that are constantly struggling to obtain resources and recognition, there is a lesson to be learned here. Rather than just working hard, and even producing great results, recruiting needs to go the next step, which is to formally market and sell its successes.

When adding to your department's recruiting goals the one critical element that is often left out is making sure that senior management understands (in dollar terms) the tremendous economic impact of recruiting. By recognizing the importance of internal marketing, you learn the same lessons that supply chain, Six Sigma, and CRM learned when they elevated their game to the strategic level.

If you're tired of being the underdog and want to raise corporate recruiting to the same status that recruiting gets in professional sports and entertainment, you need to get mentioned in the different mechanisms or channels that corporations have for spreading the word about strategic functions and successes.

Start this process by thinking about how large corporations communicate their successes. Whether you are evaluating the success of HR, recruiting, finance, marketing, or any other function, there is almost universal agreement among experts that the ways that a corporation designates and reports its strategic successes are limited to six areas.

They include:

  • Being mentioned in the shareholders meeting
  • Being mentioned in the annual report to the shareholders
  • Being mentioned in a presentation to the board of directors
  • being mentioned in quarterly financial analyst calls
  • Having your results included as part of the CEO's and senior managers' bonus formula
  • Being included as a line item in key quarterly financial reports

Instead of hoping that good work will automatically be recognized, recruiting needs to accept its responsibility, and even obligation, to brag about accomplishments and impacts. More and more corporations are realizing that its important for recruiting to brag externally by building its employment brand, but very few directors of recruiting realize that it is equally important for recruiting to market and brag internally.

Once you accept that role, you will soon realize that each of these six channels of recognition must become the target of every director of recruiting and chief talent officer on the planet.

Unfortunately, only a handful of recruiting executives anywhere have received even one of these strategic recognitions. By failing to appear in one of these channels, it means that either your activities are not strategic or that you have failed to measure and market your activities to the level where the CEO deems them as significant enough to expose to these important constituencies.

Action Steps

Once recruiting management designates internal recognition in one of the strategic channels as one of its primary goals, the next step is to develop a plan to reach that goal. Start by analyzing which other business functions have been included in each of these channels. Next, make a list of the common critical factors or characteristics that are essential in order to be included in each channel. Quite often those critical inclusion factors include reporting results in dollars, providing the firm with a competitive advantage, demonstrating the direct impact of work on business unit success, and being first in the industry in implementing innovative programs and processes.

The next step involves changing your attitude and shifting towards a much more aggressive “guerrilla" approach to recruiting. Then commit the budget resources and time to update your recruiting strategies, tools, rewards, and metrics, so that your recruiting approach actually matches your new aggressive attitude. These shifts are required in order for recruiting to actually produce the strategic results in each of the different inclusion categories.

The final two steps involve first developing a marketing plan that assures your programs and results have the characteristics that make them worthy of mention in these channels, and second, building strong relationships with the key gatekeepers of each of these six channels, to ensure that you and your results are actually mentioned and included.

Then, just sit back and relax, as you and your recruiting team become heroes to senior executives and shareholders alike.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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