What do Recruiting and Leadership have in Common?

If you read the majority of articles regarding leadership, a common attribute among the best is vision. Great leaders are able to create and convey their vision for the organization's success. Furthermore, they are able to provide a road map of how to get there. This is how leaders create buy-in among the troops and gain the commitment and dedication necessary to execute that vision. This aspect of great leaders made me think about how these same qualities apply to successful executive search assignments and the people ultimately hired.

Establish Vision

"If I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could. I'd put off everything else to fill my bus. Because things are going to come back. My flywheel is going to start to turn. And the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people."
Jim Collins, Source: Fast Company: Good to Great: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/51/goodtogreat.html

Sounds simple enough; hire great people..hang onto them. As you and I both know, it's not a simple task, but it is achievable with the right process. That process begins by creating a vision of success which ultimately defines the "right people" in terms of your organizational goals and objectives.

When I begin a search for a client, the first thing I need to establish quickly is a vision for success within that role. This goes far beyond technical competencies, years of experience, education, etc. Clients tend to fall into the trap of hiring without a clear picture of what will define a person's success in the role. Unfortunately, most companies rely on a cookie cutter standard when it comes to articulating a job and the person who should be hired for it. If you look at typical job descriptions for a CFO or Controller for example, you will notice that aside from the brief company background, the jobs themselves sound almost identical (and rather unappealing). As a search partner to the executive team, it is my job to shake things up a bit and get the the team talking openly about their past successes, failures and their plans for future success. Understanding the company's vision and road map for success is a key component to great requirements and recruiting a superstar.

Focus on Achievements..Not Responsibilities

When executive management decides (with the support of the Board, of course) to make key appointments or changes to executive staff, the decision is not taken lightly. Unfortunately, once the decision has been made, it seems as though every effort is made to make the same mistakes all over again. Hiring former colleagues or referrals without putting them through a formal process is one of many mistakes I have witnessed on more than one occasion. Another mistake organizations make is not aligning their vision and goals with the candidate evaluation metrics. Unless the individual you're hiring has had comparable achievements in an organization with a similar set of values and resources, you are basing your hiring decision on fluff, not facts. Further more, how are you going to determine whether they were truly successful or not once hired? You can't manage what you can't measure. Lou Adler, author of "Hire with your Head" has utilized this concept in creating what he calls "Performance Based Hiring." If you're a recruiter or hiring manager, I highly recommend you give it a read.

"Just the facts, Ma'am"

Sgt. Joe Friday would have made a great recruiter. The old saying that facts are your friends is so true when it comes to executive recruiting. It is my job to assist clients visualize how a person will ultimately be successful in the role by focusing on the value add work (there are some companies that seem want their CFO to handle bank reconciliations based on the job description). For example, let's say my client is a growing consumer products goods company with growing market share and revenue. Sounds great doesn't it? It would certainly make for exciting copy in a job posting. But hold on just a second. You come to find out that the CEO and COO have noticed that although recorded sales are great, the company cash position is poor (typical of young, high growth companies). Although the current CFO is a Big 4 CPA and has done a good job in terms of reporting the numbers, he/she has not been successful in addressing the company's working capital issues. The key to creating a solid job requirement is to ask why. Why has the CFO been unsuccessful and what is the client's view in terms of a successful resolution to the problem? Even if they don't have an answer to the problem, at least I understand the issue (issues are what drive great people..the kind your client wants to hire). Continue this line of questioning to understand all of the issues as it relates to the business and the role you are recruiting for. This information becomes extremely valuable in creating requirements that can effectively measure comparable candidate accomplishments, but also serves you well when engaging individuals during initial research and recruiting discussions. It also prevents your client from making the same hiring mistake all over again. Considering the cost associated with making a bad hiring decision, the argument for this approach becomes that much stronger.

Be Strategic..Not Transactional

One of the biggest complaints my colleagues and I hear time and time again about recruiting agencies is that they lack understanding of their clients business and operational issues (not many internal recruiters do either). Taking a job order without engaging the hiring manager and asking insightful, challenging, probing questions that aim to gain a level of understanding beyond basic competencies is critical (and it takes a generous investment of time upfront). If you accept a recruiting assignment without having the ability to meet and/or at least speak in depth on an ongoing basis with the hiring authority, you are an order taker in the eyes of your client. I don't care what Human Resources policy with third party recruiters is. It's your job as your client's (hiring executive) recruiting partner to ensure their success. You can't do that if they aren't engaged in the process. Hiring great people is not easy, but it's critical to anyone who wants to succeed in business today. Be a maverick, shake things up and don't be afraid to walk away from potential clients that don't see the value in this kind of process.

Elevate yourself in the eyes of your clients and candidates and run your business/desk similar to the way the best business leaders conduct theirs; create a vision of success for the person entering the position and a road map of how the desired results will be achieved. The results will speak for themselves.

Let me know what you think!


Bill Ward

Views: 114

Comment by Brian Keith on December 14, 2009 at 11:16am
Excellent examples Bill! Articulating the mission and inspiring your folks to accomplish it are key element to success. Bravo Zulu! Brian
Comment by Margo Rose on December 14, 2009 at 11:52pm
"Be Stratgic not transactional." Great point. I've been a leadership development facilitator for more than 10 years, and what you've articulated here rings true on every point. Now, that I'm transitioning into my first love, recruiting, I am inspired by your post.

@HRMargo http://hrmargo.com
Comment by Bill Ward on December 15, 2009 at 4:37pm

Thanks for the props! I noticed you have a new blog post. I'm about to head over and give it a read.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post. I'm stoked to hear that something I had to say inspired a peer! Will you be going out on your own or will you be joining a firm in your area?


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