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Cook's 'Secret Sauce'

Brad Cook

Greatest Challenge: Building systems and processes that can identify what's needed from a talent perspective not just today, but tomorrow.

Greatest Achievement: Taking talent acquisition at Informatica from zero to world class in under 18 months.

This article accompanies Reinventing Core HR.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013
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Brad Cook is well on his way to building a world-class talent-acquisition function at Informatica that will keep the company equipped for the future.

When Brad Cook joined Informatica as vice president of global talent acquisition roughly three years ago, he inherited eight recruiters and not a whole lot more. Beyond an applicant-tracking system that was installed in 2003 but wasn't being used, "there really wasn't much here," Cook recalls.

But that was then. Today, thanks to Cook's leadership and efforts, technology and social data have helped transform talent acquisition at Informatica and turn it into a world-class function.

At the heart of this transformation is an approach called "futurecasting," a framework that looks at what's going to be needed from a talent perspective not just today, but tomorrow.

"It's about making sure we have the social assets, whether it's Twitter, email, cell-phone numbers, so that three or four years down the road, we can track a person down and start a dialogue," says Cook, one of this year's HR Rising Stars.

To be sure, Cook isn't alone in his quest to build a more robust talent pipeline. But there seems to be little question that the changes he's been spearheading at Informatica are giving the Redwood City, Calif.-based data-integration company a leg up over many of its competitors when it comes to identifying and acquiring top talent.

Futurecasting is about working around traditional social platforms, such as LinkedIn, to reach out to and connect with job candidates, Cook says.

This approach, he notes, has been extremely effective in filling some of Informatica's more challenging openings, such as software developers and enterprise sales professions. "Software developers are in such high demand these days that it's not unusual to see them hide in social-network sites so they don't get bombarded and spammed."

At the same time, Cook has been painstakingly gathering competitive intelligence and incorporating it into Informatica's TA processes. "We have to understand our competitors if we're going to successfully negotiate against them for talent," he says.

Part of that includes understanding the vocabulary that's being used by potential candidates. "Sales people, for instance, tend to brag and boast about what they've done," Cook says. "They use words and phrases like 'above quota' and 'overachieve.' So if you know how to search for these natural language strings, it's going to be easy to find people you can add to your call list."

One of Informatica's "secret sauces," as Cook calls it, is to target companies one or two steps removed from where top talent may be coming from. "If someone came to us from company A, we'll look back one step further and target both company A and company B at the same time," since both could be rich sources for talent. Institutionalizing approaches such as the above has led to some impressive results, including decreasing time-to-fill from 114 to under 50 days and increasing hiring-manager satisfaction from 3.8 to 4.25, using a five-point scale.

Cook, whose personal passions include cooking, skiing and travel, says his move into talent management wasn't by design. Before joining Informatica, he worked in sales and operations at Cisco, where he held key management roles at the networking giant. During a leadership-development program there, the director of the program spotted Cook's passion for developing people and approached him about transferring into talent management. His initial reaction was "no." But after discussing it further with Cisco's HR leader and realizing it would give him broad experience across the entire organization, he reconsidered.

Growing Pains

Cook's experiences at a big company like Cisco have helped prepare him for the growing pains that are now being experienced at Informatica, which employs roughly 2,000 employees globally.

At the same time, he views his background in sales and operations as a valuable asset, giving him the ability to see things from the customer's perspective. In his current role, the customer just happens to be a job candidate.

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Despite his relatively brief tenure at Informatica, Cook's efforts there have already caught the attention of others.

"Brad is someone who has been able to turn his ideas into reality," says Dave Mendoza, a talent-acquisition strategist based in Castle Rock, Colo., who has worked with Cook. He describes him "as someone who is rarely satisfied with yesterday's achievements, because he's too busy planning for tomorrow."

Cook and his team have already won a number of prestigious awards, including the ERE Recruiting Excellence Award for "Best Use of Technology" (2011), OnRec Recruiting Excellence in Sourcing Innovation Award (2011)and the Candidate Experience Award (2012).

Gerry Crispin, co-founder of CareerXroads in Kendall Park, N.J., and a co-founder of the Candidate Experience Awards, is also among Cook's many fans.

Cook "goes beyond being satisfied with the present" and "fearlessly innovates by testing new concepts with the scientific method in mind -- establish your hypothesis, test, measure, replicate," Crispin says.  "He realizes that the road to success isn't about the idea; it's about the execution."

Cook, meanwhile, describes Informatica as the perfect environment for trying new approaches. "I'm fortunate to work with some excellent executives and leaders there," he says, adding that it helps having a CHRO, Jo Stoner, who encourages innovation and a CFO, Earl E. Fry, who understands the value of investing in talent.

He is also extremely proud of the team he's assembled, which now numbers 34. Much like himself, he says, they're always learning and always looking to "push the boundaries."

Cook points to Jim Steward (a former boss at a prior employer who has since passed away) as a mentor who helped shape his approach to leadership. "Jim taught me that everyone is a mentor [and] everyone has something to offer," he says.

It's a lesson that, so far, appears to have served Cook well.

 

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