Expert: Flip the Script to a ‘Future’ Structure to Build an Effective Talent Pool

Leaders of companies in a variety of industries have for months now lamented the dearth of candidates for open positions that have gone unfilled in the wake of a pandemic-induced talent shortage.

But Jing Liao thinks she’s got the solution,

Liao, chief administrative officer-business transformation for Texas-based Solera Holdings, which provides risk management and asset protection services to the auto industry and property insurance marketplace, said companies need to shift their recruiting strategies away from the traditional structure and develop a “future” talent structure that brings talent recruiters might not otherwise see.

Liao calls it the “hidden talent pool,” and believes it’s the “biggest secret out there.”

“Filling the pipeline of talent with tomorrow’s leaders, not just looking at what they can do today,” said Liao, also managing director of talent at Texas-based Vista Equity Partners. “Always look at their growth, always look at what might be an opportunity you will offer to them. Not just compensation, not just today’s interesting work, but the growth.”

Liao, the key presenter at a recent webinar, “Building a Proactive and Effective Talent Pipeline hosted by the Best & Brightest Programs, NABR and Corp! Magazine, pointed out there’s a pointed difference between the “typical” approach to recruiting and the “future” talent structure model she believes can revolutionize how companies fill their talent pool.

In a typical structure, she said, company leaders prefer to hire experienced people, a “I’m going to hire someone who’s been there, done that,” approach.  They – mistakenly, Liao believes – feel they “can’t afford” to hire people who haven’t “done that,” and prefer to hire people who’ve been there 15 or 20 years.

“Those are the things you see the most in job postings … They don’t need training, they can just plug in and go, they can just do the work,” Liao said. “Unfortunately, most of them have a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. That, by definition, is a much more expensive model. Unfortunately, most companies are still following it.”

The “future talent structure” preferred by Liao, who engineered Solera’s shift from a holding company to an operating company, flips the script. Recruiters in this model focus more on entry-level employees, workers who haven’t “done the job” and can be plugged in – at any level – with an opportunity to grow into the job, and into the company.

“I define (entry level) as people who haven’t done this work before,” Liao said. “It doesn’t equate to age, experience level or education. It could easily be someone who used to be in another industry. You make an investment in them and they move to a different industry.

“They could be the entry level for this industry, but still with huge potential,” she added. “Those are the people, if you flip that design, and have more people focused on that (the future talent structure) that will create that growth mindset. You will create far more opportunities for people to be trained and grow through each level of the organization.”

Where does this “secret talent pool” come from? Liao said it can come from any number of places. Business leaders, she said, often tell her they can’t find employees because they’ve “drained the market.” But Liao points out that the unemployment rolls are defined by people actively looking for jobs.

The “secret” part of the pool, she said, can be drawn from those who aren’t necessarily doing that.

“There are so many people who never registered as a potential active or passive job seeker,” Liao said. “Those are the people who may have, for one reason or another, stepped out of the labor pool and decided to do something else. That has absolutely nothing to do with whether they’re qualified, whether they have the capabilities, whether they have the drive or the passion.

“If you look at your job description, chances are many times those are the most important, critical differentiators to make your people successful,” she added. “I’ve done so many studies, looking at many, many companies, both from the investment side and the operating side, and I can give you endless examples of that success.”

There are other benefits, according to Liao:

  • Such workers – often brought in from other industries — could be the entry-level for the hiring industry, but still with huge potential. Having more people focused on that (the future talent structure) will create that “growth mindset,” thus creating far more opportunities for people to be trained and grow through each level of the organization.
  • Greater tolerance for learning from mistakes, and acknowledgement such workers need more training. That allows them to open up their mindset and “exercise their learning muscle, which will be the most powerful thing for them to be successful in many other jobs in the organization.
  • Companies will also increase frequency of timely feedback and coaching. Annual review feedback is meaningless if there isn’t ongoing consistency in coaching.

“It’s 360-degree support across the organization, not just with the direct leadership,” Liao said. “That also gets back to what has changed in today’s world. People are more isolated. There are so many more companies, if you do any organizational assessment, if you do any engagement survey, chances are you will get some feedback about ‘well, we’re doing great.’

“People are blocked, people are boxed into a defined role,” she added. “People are not necessarily moved into a ‘hiring for tomorrow.’ This model allows you to get into that situation. You actually flip it – and it takes a lot of courage – it actually gives you that much more upside. It has significantly higher productivity and learning capability … last but not least, it has a way better cost model.”

Liao said the key is for businesses to be willing to go outside their comfort zones, looking for core, key characteristics of people outside the industry domain. For example, she draws on her experiencing calling on one particular untapped source.


“We just launched a ‘Moms Project,’ and we really looked at what matters to moms,” she said. “There are so many moms out there who haven’t had opportunities to do work because they’re only available from 8 til 12 or 1 o’clock before the kids come home. Those are not only the moms who are on maternity leave, those are the moms who just have to be home because someone needs to watch the kids.

“We look at them and say, ‘that’s amazing … if I capture five hours of their time, I leverage the virtual workforce and design program,’” she added. “It took a lot of effort, but it’s so worth it. It solved a huge problem for some of my companies that were facing the same changes we are all facing.”

Liao said businesses could apply that logic to other places they’re looking at. She recommends recruiters take a look at the future model and consider adapting their businesses to it. She cautioned, however, that it’s not an easy choice to make. It’s not like flipping a switch.

“Don’t just hold yourself back in what you’re doing today and compete with everyone who is fishing in the same pond,” she said. “Take a step back and think about this model, and think about a flip. You’d be amazed and — I promise you — you actually will be so beautifully rewarded for allowing yourself to do that.

“You can’t just do that switch … What you want is to build in a very methodical change management approach,” Liao added. “Your hiring managers, your owners, your recruiting team … can be in the same boat with you. The more restrictions you have, the smaller pool you’ll have.”