Recruiting to the Power of 3

The right person, in the right role, at the right time.  

Originally posted October 21, 2020

According to the Oxford Dictionary, recruiting is the process of enrolling a worker or member into your organization.  Expanding upon that definition, SmartRecruiters defines Talent Acquisition as the process of identifying and acquiring skilled workers to meet your organizational needs.

Based on the definition of talent acquisition, finding the right person, placing them in the right role, at the right time should be foundational work.  If it is truly that easy, why does this goal continue to be the ‘Holy Grail’ of talent acquisition?  It’s been an aspirational goal of every company I’ve worked with over the past three decades. 

The Right Person

Most internal talent acquisition teams are very good at selecting the best available talent from the pool of candidates who have expressed interest.  However, the candidates who express interest are typically only a small percentage of the potential pool of qualified candidates.  Therefore, we are doing a very good job of hiring the best candidate from the pool of people who have expressed interest, but that person is not necessarily the best candidate for the role.

The Right Role

This part is a little more complicated as you need to account for both the needs of the company and the career arc of the candidate.  The fastest time to productivity in a new hire is typically someone who makes a lateral move.  However, many times a candidate making a lateral move tends to have a much shorter tenure in the role than someone who is being promoted into an opportunity.

The Right Time

This variable is the most difficult to control because it includes factors out of the decision maker’s control.  Many times we think about the right time from the company’s perspective.  The company has an immediate need, find someone to fill it.  From the candidate perspective, the right time could be someone needing a new job because they are out of work, or considering a new role even though they are currently employed.  Additionally, from the candidate perspective, the right time needs to consider the candidate’s career arc.  Is this role ‘right’ for the candidate at this point in their career?  Do they have enough previous experience to be effective?  Will this role be challenging enough to continue to allow the candidate to develop?  

The biggest challenge of the ‘right time’ is that all of the above variables need to be considered when trying to understand if this is the ‘right time’.

Couldn’t we just implement succession planning? 


Well, kind of…

Actually, not really.

Succession planning is rare and typically reserved for the most senior levels of the organization.  According to a SHRM Article: Among companies surveyed with a formal succession process, 20 percent indicated that succession planning was only for roles critical to the organization; about 9 percent said they have a succession plan that’s only for executive-level positions. 

Another report, by The Association for Talent Development’s (ATD) research report Succession Planning: Ensuring Continued Excellence confirms this. The report found that just 35 percent of organizations have a formalized succession planning process. The report defines succession planning as ‘the process organizations use to identify the key positions, candidates, and employees needed to meet short- and long-term challenges, as well as the process of developing and advancing selected employees in the succession pipeline’. Fifty-three percent of organizations did not have a formal succession planning process in place.

Recruiting to the Power of 3

There is an ability to modify the strategy of succession planning to ensure business continuity and making quality hires at all levels of the organization. This is what Afton Consulting Group calls “Recruiting to the Power of 3”.

At a departmental level, we task the operational leader to identify the following:

3 most critical roles in the department

These are the 3 roles that have the greatest impact on your department and would have the biggest negative impact if left unfilled.

3 highest performers

These are your 3 best-performing employees regardless of role.  They are people who are currently executing at a very high level, and it would be very hard to replace their production with a new hire.

After the departmental leader has identified all six spots, they will meet with their Talent Acquisition Partner (TA Partner) and their Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP) quarterly.  The goal is to create a succession plan using internal and external resources for all six roles/people.  

3 Month Succession Planning

To ensure this strategy is successful, 3 key players need to participate.  The first is your TA Partner.  The second is the hiring authority.  The last is the HRBP.  In some larger companies, there may be a talent management component that would also add value to these discussions.  

To be successful, consider a couple of best practices:

  1. You can’t use one person for all of your succession planning.  ie. If someone internally has been listed as a successor to one of the highest performing employees, they cannot also be listed as a successor for one of the most critical roles.  Should the position become vacant, you can consider them in the selection process, but from a strategic perspective, they should only be listed on the plan once.
  2. If there is no internal candidate identified for succession, the TA Partner should be tasked with identifying 3 external candidates for the role before the next quarterly meeting.  The qualification of these candidates by the TA Partner should be kept fairly simple.  The TA Partner will validate that the candidate considers the company an employer of choice and has the requisite skills to fill the role.   


Knowing that a plan exists to fill six of your most critical openings offers significant peace of mind.  Additionally, Deloitte ran a study that listed the following benefits of a robust pipelining strategy:

  • A more diverse portfolio of candidates as a natural outcome of an objective, unbiased identification process;
  • Higher-quality decisions around promotion and developmental investments due to the more effective use of data and organizational input to make informed choices;
  • Enhanced career development opportunities for emerging leaders, driving greater engagement and retention of top talent;
  • A stronger organizational culture due to an enhanced ability to advance leaders who embody the organization’s stated beliefs 
  • A “future-proofed” workforce that is better prepared to thrive in dynamic and different conditions
  • Greater organizational stability and resilience, which breeds market confidence and drives shareholder value.


Regardless of its effectiveness, this strategy is not easy, nor is it being done.  Let’s be honest; if it were being done regularly, there would be no need for Executive Search firms.  While most leaders firmly believe in these benefits, they were quick to give Deloitte reasons why succession planning was not delivering the expected value:

  • It’s a long-term discipline in a short-term world. As another participant remarked, “Succession planning is one of those things that has no lit fuse.”
  • It’s not clear who is accountable for succession planning. Often, there is no clarity around whether the responsibility of planning for and grooming a successor sits with HR or with business and/or functional leaders. 
  • There is no clear process for succession planning. 

In addition to the above observations, there are typically bandwidth issues with the Talent Acquisition team.  Most internal talent acquisition teams do not have neither the capacity nor the capabilities to identify and recruit passive external talent. 

To further compound the challenges, many times, we also uncover situations where managers may not want to share talent internally.  Often this is prevalent in companies with a bonus structure that rewards individual and departmental achievements over company achievements.

Next Steps

If you’re a Talent Acquisition Leader, this is value-added work you can bring to your organization.  Pick one or two departments where you have good relationships with the department head and the HRBP and pitch them on implementing this strategy as a pilot program.

If you’re a department head, call your TA Partner and your HRBP to pitch them this strategy.  First, you’ll need to first hold yourself accountable for identifying your 3 most critical roles and your 3 highest performers.  Then you’ll need to hold your TA Partner and HRBP responsible for meeting with you quarterly and presenting internal and external successors.  

If you’re unsuccessful enlisting your TA Partner and HRBP in this strategy, the next best choice is to identify 1 or 2 Executive Search firms that work in your geography and have a specialty in your industry and function.  

About Afton Consulting Group

Having the right people, in the right roles, at the right time is critical to the success of any business strategy.  Afton Consulting Group understands the nature of your hiring needs and creates specialized solutions for your unique challenges. 

Founded in 2017 by a career talent acquisition professional, Afton Consulting Group is a global human resources consulting firm with a specialty in executive search.  Providing advisory, analytics, training, and recruiting services, Afton Consulting Group is uniquely positioned to help you create and implement a sustainable strategy for your internal recruiting team while also addressing the immediate openings in your organization.



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afton consulting group

Afton Consulting Group understands the nature of your hiring needs and creates specialized solutions for your unique challenges.

Founded in 2017 by a career talent acquisition professional, Afton Consulting Group is a global human resources consulting firm with a specialty in executive search.

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