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Ep 448: Proving The Business Value Of Talent Marketing


Measuring the impact of talent marking in a way that aligns with the rest of the business and demonstrates value for the c-suite has always been challenging. TA leaders often find themselves judged by measures and outcomes they don’t fully control, which are impossible to translate into business value.

So how do you prove the business impact of recruitment marketing and employer branding, particularly in such volatile times?

My guest this week is Nick Thompson, Global Talent Marketing Leader at IBM. Nick and his team have been working on this issue for a while and have devised a way of measuring the value of talent marketing that resonates with the C-Suite and provides a laser focus for optimisation and improvement.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The scale of recruiting at IBM

• The current state of the global market for tech hiring

• The shortcomings of existing talent marketing metrics

• Speaking the same language as the rest of the business

• Measuring where you have ownership and control

• What is the time to apply metric, and how was it developed?

• What insights does time to apply enable?

• Mapping onto business value

• The reaction

• The levers that reduce time to apply

• Removing the reasons why people don’t click apply

• The role of employer branding

• Advice to TA leaders
Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts

Interview transcript:

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Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 4s):
Hi there, this is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 448 of The Recruiting Future podcast. Measuring the impact of talent marking in a way that aligns with the rest of the business and demonstrates value for the c-suite has always been challenging. TA leaders often find themselves judged by measures and outcomes they don’t fully control are impossible to translate into business value. So how do you prove the business impact of recruitment marketing and employer branding, particularly in such volatile times? My guest this week is Nick Thompson, Global Talent Marketing Leader at IBM.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 49s):
Nick and his team have been working on this issue for a while and have devised a way of measuring the value of talent marketing that resonates with the C-Suite and provides a laser focus for optimisation and improvement.

Matt Alder (2m 4s):
Hi, Nick, and welcome back to the book costs.

Nick Thompson (2m 6s):
Hey Matt, thanks for having me back. Always a place that’s be here, and always good to actually be the person speaking level and listening religiously tweak as well.

Matt Alder (2m 17s):
Well, thank you. And it’s always a pleasure to have you on the show. And I think we did the last episode. Oh, quite a little while ago, actually. And it was really interesting and really popular. So I’m very keen to get you back, and hear more from you basically. Before we get started for people who may not have had the last episode or may not come across sort of you and your work. Could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Nick Thompson (2m 40s):
Yeah, of course. So I’m Nick Thompson and I’m the Global Talent Marketing Leader here at IBM. And I manage a number of teams here at IBM, but ultimately responsibility and accountability for attracting, engaging talent to join IBM. So yeah, my team’s kind of split into three different areas. I’ve got my kind of geo teams who are kind of rec based solutioning. I’ve got my center of excellence who are systems, tools, platforms, et cetera, but then also with the mains team who are always on and speaking to the language of developers, sales, consultants, et cetera, as a, an always best friend, rather than in the moment.

Matt Alder (3m 32s):
Just give us a sense of the scale of the operation in terms of how many people you’re recruiting? How many countries you’re working in that kind of thing?

Nick Thompson (3m 40s):
Yeah. So we’re quite a large company. I think it’s safe to say. I mean, last year we did a for 80,000 permanent hires in, well, over 120 countries, I think it was. So it’s quite large scale recruiting. That said it’s technical recruiting as well. So, we’re after those unicorns and we need a lot of them as well. It’s a good challenge. Everybody has heard of IBM. Not everybody knows who we are or what we do today. But everyone does know us from days gone past from an uncle, a father, a grandparent, who’ve worked at this lovely 111 year old tech company we work for.

Matt Alder (4m 29s):
Before we sort of delve into the topics that we’re going to talk about, give us a sense of what the market is like for tech recruitment at the moment. Because we’ve been through a lot of phases. We’ve had 18 months, two years of these sort of tremendous skill shortages. Now, we’re hearing about layoffs everywhere. What what’s going on? What does the market look like from your perspective?

Nick Thompson (4m 52s):
I think the best way to describe it. It’s probably hunger games right at the moment. Like, it just, it’s just crazy out there. It really is. And we’re seeing like huge, huge spikes in hiring. And then in the very next breath, it’s like huge, huge layoffs from other sides. And I honestly, I can’t say why, where, or how. It feels like some companies have maybe come out of the blocks too quickly, post pandemic, and maybe we’re a little bit too keen and getting out there, but also it just feels a lot of industries are still feeling the pinch post pandemic.

Nick Thompson (5m 43s):
And obviously, buying, spending. And we’re not talking just on the consumer level, but at a corporate and the business level is tightening as well for a lot of companies. So yeah, I hope it’s gone pretty soon, but I wouldn’t gamble on that. I think we are about to enter a potentially a new norm of work for the next two years, maybe. Let’s see.

Matt Alder (6m 12s):
Yeah. It’s really interesting. Cause for the, and over the last, almost three years, we’ve been talking about unprecedented disruption and times like we’ve never seen before. And it just seems that those times keep reinventing themselves, but also, you know, it’s just very difficult to generalize. It seems that things are different, not only sector by sector, or country by country, but by company, by company as well.

Nick Thompson (6m 36s):
I think you’re right. I think that the new norm, the disruption, I think we’ve got another couple of years of it. And then I think there’ll be another new norm. I think the hindsight, we had it quite predictable pre-pandemic, and I just don’t think things have quite settled down from before that. And I don’t think they will for another few years. And you’re right, that the same sectors, but different companies in the same countries are tackling things in very, very different ways. And I think this is delay we don’t know how to fix it, how to write it, how to see it through.

Nick Thompson (7m 21s):
But this is our approach and where we’re backing it. We’re running with it.

Matt Alder (7m 24s):
With that in mind, I mean, let’s zero in on some of this stuff that you’ve been doing at IBM. And you’ve been doing a lot of stuff around measurement and how you kind of really explain the success of getting talent acquisition to the rest of your business. Talk us through that. Maybe starting with some of the metrics that you’ve used in the past and what their shortcomings were in terms of measuring recruiting and hiring.

Nick Thompson (7m 54s):
Definitely, definitely. And this is like the holy grail of what we do, right? It’s how do we measure talent marketing, talent attraction, employer branding, whatever it might be. And I would love to say, I’ve solved it. And spoiler alert, keep listening to the end and we’ll tell you. But I don’t think this is the full and final, but it’s definitely a step further there. We’ve done the time to hire metrics. We’ve done the NPS score surveyed from a candidate and a hiring manager. And we’ve done like even to the point of trying to measure the quality of hire, but each and every time we seem to get to this point where it’s like, but the number is better than nothing.

Nick Thompson (8m 41s):
Like as long as there’s a digit next to it. It’s okay. And you struggle to have conversations. Everyone, everyone talks about TA having a seat at the table, and TA being able to hold a conversation. I’ve never been in a boardroom conversation where you’ve got one team talking about revenue, you’ve got another team talking about revenue, and then you’ve got this other team talking about, but we’ve got this NPS. It’s just, it’s a different language. It’s not the same conversation. And that’s where we’ve really tried to kind of turn to, how do we get people to understand the part we play in this conversation?

Nick Thompson (9m 26s):
Then time to apply our time to hire, time to hire is influenced by hiring managers. There’s so many different factors in there. And yes, it’s a great metric. And one, I still think is important and it’s a nice follow on from what I’ve just spoiled on, on the time to apply. But it’s, you’re putting your success in someone else’s hand a big, big part of it in someone else’s hands. And they don’t have the same drivers as you. They don’t have the same goals this year. So it can be a difficult one. Then you’ve got the quality of hire.

Nick Thompson (10m 6s):
The quality of hire is like again, a make a metric. That’s so difficult to tie down. There’s so many influencing factors. And especially in a remote hybrids, however world we live, however your company’s work has that seen an impact in the effectiveness and the quality of onboarding, think it has for a lot of people. And again, should we be measured and monitored by global impact that’s happening almost. So we’ve kind of really bottomed in on this time to apply metric.

Nick Thompson (10m 50s):
And time suppliers from point of rec becoming live to the point, the person who that, who CO’s on to be successful applies. So it’s not just that we throw enough stuff on day one, we’ve won. It is a quality piece of how do we make sure they’re coming through at the right point and at the right times. And the beauty is, is it’s ours. It’s mine. Like, yes, the app may be rubbish. That’s in our power to edit and to advise and to say to the hiring managers and the business, this is what we’re changing it to why, and we going to go out there.

Nick Thompson (11m 33s):
So it really allows us to, I suppose, almost like put it into like a little incubator where it’s like, it’s ours and we’re the only ones that can play with it, and the only ones that have a say in control over this. So, it just reduces the people that can come and play in… play nicely and play badly at the same time.

Matt Alder (11m 55s):
It’s really interesting. Just to reiterate it’s the time from when the wreck goes live to when the person who eventually gets the job applies for that job, isn’t it?

Nick Thompson (12m 5s):
Yeah. That’s correct.

Matt Alder (12m 5s):
How did you sort of come up with that? What was the, what process led to it? And I suppose as a second part to the question, what insights did it provide you when we realized that that was a metric that you want to look at?

Nick Thompson (12m 19s):
Yeah, so we started taking apart this time to hire metric. And we were looking at it, and we’re like, as everyone knows, the interview could be done quicker. We’re like, “What if we do this? What would we do this?” And then it’s like, we’ve got a hundred thousand hiring managers across the world that is trying to boil the ocean. Trying to get a hundred thousand people to do things quicker when it may be and mostly isn’t the number one priority. That’s difficult. Like that’s not just us doing it, but that’s convincing other people to stop doing whatever is their number one priority to get this through five days, 10 days, 20 days quicker.

Nick Thompson (13m 4s):
It’s really difficult. It’s really hard to do. Then we were looking at like getting the offer out and we’re like, right, we could trim a day, save a day, maybe two, three tops. Other area was candidates considering the offer, accepting the offer. And then we looked at this kind of, sort of apply to screening metric. And again, there’s a couple of days saving that could be done around that. But the big chunk of it was the fingers crossed time. We called it with a lot of our recruiters have, it’s gone live.

Nick Thompson (13m 44s):
It’s out there, but then we just hoping people are going to find that, and going to apply to it, and going to do their research before they come through. And that’s all in our wheelhouse. That’s everything they do. The review sites that they’re looking at, the research that they’re doing, that’s on us to put that within our job ads on our job pages, in our recruiter outreach, or CRM newsletters, whatever it may be. That’s sits firmly with us to influence.

Matt Alder (14m 17s):
Coming back to that whole concept of speaking the language of the C-suite, and being able to go into those kinds of board level meetings with meaningful and comparable data, to other areas of the business. How do you map that metric on to the business value, or revenue or wherever that might be.

Nick Thompson (14m 42s):
Yeah. And that’s there’s a number of different ways we’ve taken this. And we’ve, we got into this kind of imperfect formula that we just kind of stopped purposely simple on this. And the route that we take is revenue generated last year for your company. So X amount was generated. Divide it by the number of employees that you’ve got, and then divide it by 365. And what that tells you is a rough indicator of revenue generated per employee per day.

Nick Thompson (15m 25s):
Now, we had great debates and great discussions around HR don’t generate revenue. Should we be included in that? Should we just divide it by sales people? And it was really a can of worms we hadn’t thought of. We got to a point where we’re like, “Okay, without HR people, we don’t have any new people coming into the business. Without finance people, we don’t have as many sales, et cetera. So we’ve kept it really, really simple and gone just revenue generated last year by employees last year divided by 365.

Nick Thompson (16m 5s):
It gives you a revenue per employee per day. Now, we’ve seen the average time to apply from anything from 20 to 30 days. Twenty to 40 days in some skills and some locations. And if we can save five days, 10 days, for example, the revenue generation opportunity by the highest increases quite significantly. And I just pulled one off publicly available data, but if we Take King Fisher group, so adding in a whole load of retail operations and retail companies in the UK.

Nick Thompson (16m 52s):
Revenue was 12.3, 4 billion last year with 80,000 employees that works out that we are 422 pounds of revenue per employee per day. If they did 5K hires a year, which feels quite low still, you could be, and you’ve done a five day reduction on your time to apply. You’re looking at around 10 million in revenue generation opportunities for them. So the numbers most by really quick.

Matt Alder (17m 33s):
How has that gone down and been understood within the business?

Nick Thompson (17m 38s):
Very positively, scare really positively actually, because we have changed from, we’ve got an NPS score of this too. Okay, so we can get these people in the revenue generation opportunities, this, this, this. The other bit that’s been received really well is just around the win-win approach of this. So not only do we gain that increase in revenue generation opportunities because they’re in five days earlier, but actually our competitors are five days extra without them like we’ve got them through quicker.

Nick Thompson (18m 18s):
So actually you could probably mirror the numbers the same, the other way as well, of taking 5,000 people five day sooner from the Kingfisher group could cost them 10 million a year in lost revenue generation opportunity. So it really is a, it’s one that we’ve seen — actually have a positive impact on the complete time to hire, not just because we’ve done this, but actually now there’s more of a push of, right, so if we can save five days there, what if we could also say five days later on, we’re doubling those numbers. And I think people have realized that there’s a number and a dollar count behind these bits as well.

Nick Thompson (19m 4s):
And it’s not just TA nagging people to get our process done quicker.

Matt Alder (19m 13s):
It’s obviously given you a laser focus on the match that you want to drive, what you want to improve. And you also said that something that you feel is fully within the control of TA and employee, employer branding, and recruitment marketing. Tell us a bit more about the leavers that you’ve got. How do you reduce these days? What’s been successful? What are the elements that feed into it?

Nick Thompson (19m 36s):
Definitely. And there’s so many different leavers to pull hair and there’s some really basic hygiene and housekeeping ones, but then there’s some really skills and audience specific ones as well that we’ve seen success, and also not so much success from. But ultimately we kind of split it into — there’s two things typically people have to buy to apply for a job. And one is doing that job. And the other one is doing that job at your company, and that the company you represent. So, we’ve been pushing a lot talent pipelines, talent communities, talent pools.

Nick Thompson (20m 23s):
However, whatever it is, you want to describe it. But effectively groups of people who want to work at your company, but maybe haven’t found or been presented with the right job at the right time for them. So the goal here is to try and split it into two things. We do the proactive pipelining where we sell you the company, Matt. And you’re like, “Right. Yep. I want to work at IBM. And then what we do is the converting conversations, whether that’s a recruiter outreach, a job alert, newsletters, job matching, just a number of different things that are about in the moment conversions, and how do we get you through.

Nick Thompson (21m 15s):
Big parts of those are focusing on what comes in every week. to typically TA or a lot of teams in TA. There seems to be this like 30 day magic window where a job’s not a problem until it gets to 30 days and then it becomes a problem. Well, the rule where the dead in the water before you started, if that’s the case. So why not send out a few job alerts, get recruiters outreach early, get some key messages sent. And we do some really, really basic bits and pieces.

Nick Thompson (21m 52s):
And these have seen a huge, huge impact in how we drive through. Job alerts on our first pilot. We drove over 8,000 applications, which had a time to apply. They haven’t yet been hired, but would have been under seven days. So we’re hedging our bets doing the good things and the right things, but also your advert, It’s a huge, huge part of what we do. And give your candidates what they want to know, not just the JD, but they’re looking at your Glassdoor profile, put your widget on there, put your score, put some reviews, put some content.

Nick Thompson (22m 38s):
What you’re trying to do is create something that when people who are active and looking for jobs, when they find yours, they have the info that they need to click apply there and then. And there isn’t a, now let me go to PaySale, Glassdoor, which other 20,000 websites are available for them to find things, present it there for them. And we’ve seen a huge reduction in our Glassdoor views on our profiles by presenting this data upfront for candidates. So we’re taking it either Glassdoor’s algorithm has changed significantly for the worse, which I don’t imagine, or candidates we’re looking at that real high level of what’s your score.

Nick Thompson (23m 23s):
They’re not necessarily looking for a reason to join you at that point. What they’re probably, and what they’re most likely to be looking for is a reason not to click apply. So don’t give them that reason not to apply.

Matt Alder (23m 34s):
It’s a very e-commerce way of thinking. If someone is shopping on your e-commerce site, the last thing you want them to do is leave, do some research, and buy somewhere else. Isn’t it?

Nick Thompson (23m 46s):
Yep. The internet is the easiest to procrastinate and get lost then find cats playing piano videos or whatever it is that distructs you. But the whole point and our whole stance is, we own the IBM job section. We own the IBM careers website. It’s my teams that build what you see, what you see, how you see it, and where you go? Whereas you go to an Indeed, or LinkedIn, or Glassdoor, or PayScale or anyone else. What you’re shown is, who pays the most? And who wants to put it in front of you?

Nick Thompson (24m 26s):
And you’re tempted with distractions that literally every single click. So try and remove those distractions for your sites. Competition just gets a whole lot easier then.

Matt Alder (24m 39s):
Employer branding must play a huge role in this as well.

Nick Thompson (24m 43s):
Yeah, of course, of course. And that the employer branding is a hygiene factor that runs all the way through. It’s almost like for us, we see it as the employer branding or a people’s story as we call it at IBM. It’s the promise that you make. And again, what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard from our candidates is they’re not necessarily looking for it, but they notice when it isn’t there. So it’s that promise, and it’s that showing, not just saying that makes an impact, but it is also a big entry routes into that consideration that very early, early time of getting to know who we are, what we do, how we do it.

Nick Thompson (25m 33s):
And that’s often the first impression that people have. And whether that’s our content that we’ve pushed out through social, or whether that’s an IBM has content that they’ve pushed out through social. It’s representing our brand as an employer. So it is important that it flows all the way through and it’s consistent. And there’s got to be simple. Like try and land two messages, three messages rather than landing 300 because no one’s going to have a clue. That everyone gets confused on these bits. So keep it as simple as you can, and there’s a far greater chance people will understand the messages and the points you’re trying to put across.

Matt Alder (26m 19s):
And it’s interesting because I’ve been running your, you know, the model through, in my mind, and thinking about all the different things, they influenced that. And I was just thinking about candidate experience. And obviously this is all about hiring that kind of successful person. And candidate experience is a big part of this as well. Isn’t it?

Nick Thompson (26m 43s):
Yup. Yup. And it’s, again, if you think that presenting everything that you need to make that decision to empower you to say yes or no, it’s about putting it up front. And I use Glassdoor as a great example. Like I spoke with someone last week who said, “Our Glassdoor scores is only 3.5.” I was like, “Okay. So why wouldn’t you put it up front? Or we wouldn’t want people to see it?” So do you really not think they’re going to go and find it. They just may find that a little bit later. And then there’s this, did they hide it from us? Was it accidentally left?

Nick Thompson (27m 23s):
Is this a dirty secrets? Just own it. Like, we’re not perfect with 3.5. We’re here, but we’re doing something about it, and we’re on a journey. And I think so often people, so they just don’t want to own some of these bits and pieces if we hide it to better experience, but just be honest. Give people what they need to be able to make a decision when they first see this because as soon as you make them have to go around, hunt around, look for everything, they’ve just put a lot more effort into this. And you’ve given them excuses to just drop out at every single point.

Matt Alder (28m 9s):
To summarize all of this, what would your advice be to the TA leaders who are listening, who are thinking that this is something that would work in their organization? How do they go about making that happen?

Nick Thompson (28m 26s):
So I’ve spoken to so many people who have no idea what their time to apply metric is. If not recorded, so many people have said, “Have we get 90% of applications in the first week?” Great. Do you hire any of those 90%. And you get a blank look of maybe, sometimes, possibly? It really is start recording this. Don’t try and solve everything at the same time. Pick off your big audience, your big key groups of, how can you impact this? What difference does it make? Perhaps in your company, people really don’t take the everyone generates revenue equally.

Nick Thompson (29m 9s):
It’s the sales folk that drive this the most, the biggest. What you’re playing here is a business formula, right? If I invest this, what is my return on investment? And how do I get that? And that’s one of the big things that you need to look at, how effectively, and how big is your price that you’ll get by focusing in on the group? So start recording, and start monitoring, and start trying things seeing how it goes, but making sure there’s a pot of gold at the end of this for you as well.

Matt Alder (29m 46s):
So final question, as you well know, I always like to finish off by asking people about the future. But we really talked about how disrupted everything is and how difficult it is to predict what’s going to happen next, right at the start of the conversation. So, I can ask you a slightly different question, but still about the future. What’s the most interesting trend that you’re seeing in recruitment marketing, or employer branding that we should be keeping an eye on for the future? What’s on your radar for the next couple of years?

Nick Thompson (30m 17s):
Ah, so I think still the basics, Matt. Like I’d love to say to you, it’s the meta verse or something else that’s really grand on Web 3.0 and all of these cool things. I think if you take all of those, the whole concept, and the whole principle is the evolution of power. Like Web 3.0 is Microsoft no longer runs the world, or ironically no longer runs the world or power the world. That way we won’t run that will power the world. But it’s all about taking that power away from a few and giving it to many. Now, we’ve been talking about this for, I don’t know how many years, in what we do user generated content.

Nick Thompson (31m 10s):
I think that shift towards decentralized networks, decentralized from one company, or 100 companies run media across the world. And we have started the adoption, but it’s in our gift to really push for that employee generated content, that it’s not going to win an Oscar for a video. It may win an Oscar for content, but it’s maybe not produced to Oscar standards, but really cutting out the rubbish and getting straight to the point and saying the good, the bad, and if there is any ugly. And having that employer brand message managed by your employees and promoted by your employees, and we become far more so, curators, and I suppose was journalists for it.

Nick Thompson (32m 3s):
So where it’s like, we don’t have to create the stories. We’re the ones who pulled together, the short list of the best stories that have been produced and share them out. I think that’s very much how we’re going to see things go over the next few years and possibly beyond.

Matt Alder (32m 20s):
Nick, thank you very much for talking to me.

Nick Thompson (32m 25s):
Thanks For having me. Pleasure as always, Matt.

Matt Alder (32m 28s):
My thanks to Nick. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening.

Matt Alder (33m 26s):
I’ll be back next time. And I hope you’ll join me.

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