Your career success is primarily dependent on performance. If the people around you are not performing at suitable levels there will certainly be a negative impact. When your organization or department is not headed in the direction that you had envisioned, your career will either stall or decline. Considering the challenging and persistent new economic realities that we all face, and the fact that most of us will have to do more with fewer resources, you may want to re-evaluate the performance capability of your team. Surrounding yourself with the right people is becoming increasingly important to people who want to keep their careers moving forward.
This is a true story about “Bob” and his team, and how their commitment to a high quality, multi-level hiring and selection process ensured that everyone enjoyed career success.
“Bob”, is a great client of mine whom I have worked with for many years. He’s President and CEO of a very progressive and innovative organization, that I will also anonymously label “Company X”. Despite participating in a quite volatile industry sector, especially noticeable during the recent economic downturn, Company X continues to move forward. While their hiring has slowed slightly in the last few years, Company X still adds some people to their team from time to time. More importantly, employee satisfaction is extremely high, retention is significant, the company is actually an employer of choice for people in their industry, and they have never laid off any of their people (good people are hard enough to find). Bob is doing a lot of things right and, as a result, he is enjoying a great career.
Due to the nature of their work, Company X is staffed, from top to bottom, with technically superior people. I am very careful when I use the over-used, and now watered down, term “talent”. Today, it seems like anyone who does not fall out of their chair is deemed to be talented but, please believe me, these people truly are talented. And since people with real talent are very hard to find, Bob found me to help him recruit them.
Our professional relationship began in the typical way. Once Bob and I were comfortable with each other, I accepted, and completed, my first recruitment assignment for him. As a result, Bob was pleased, his management team was pleased, the hired candidate was pleased, and so I was pleased. A short while later our relationship went to the next level. Bob asked me to take a look at another recruitment assignment that he had, and he requested that I meet with his senior management team to discuss it.
In short order I was in Company X’s boardroom describing my recruitment approach with ten senior managers, hearing their concerns and answering their questions. While Bob sat back and listened, I was struck by how critically important the hiring process was to everybody in the room, not just Bob. They were all very determined for me to fully understand their culture, business approach and the characteristics they needed to find in potential employment candidates. The team members were all very technically talented and they all had achieved notable success in their careers at Company X. So they wanted to ensure that we brought in people who would also have exceptional technical capability, would “fit in”, and would be able to add value to the organization that they had worked so hard to build. I could see that Bob had surrounded himself with very capable people who were committed to the success of Company X.
Understanding the importance of non-technical skills
Technical capability and performance were key objectives for the team, both of which they could define very well. But they did struggle to define how they saw someone “fitting in” to Company X. I suggested that, for me, superior performance will be achieved when the candidate not only satisfies their technical requirements (education, technical skills, industry experience) but also has a personality match (non-technical, ‘soft’ skills) with the work, manager, team and organizational culture. While the non-technical side was not as familiar to them, they were open to my explanation of the importance of these skills, and how they were critical to performance, managerial effectiveness and leadership.
We reached agreement that the highest quality recruitment and selection results will only be realized whenboth the technical and non-technical skillset of the candidate match what is required for performance success. And there was full consensus that the quality of hire was the most important consideration, and that merging both their “higher than my” technical expertise with my “higher than their” non-technical skill expertise would be the best approach to achieve it. It was then that I realized that Bob and the Company X team were going to be good clients for me. It was obvious that Bob had supported an open-minded culture where strong performers are encouraged to find ways to become even stronger performers. And that’s the type of person who is fun to work with.
Recruitment success is really a function of quality
This initial “foundation meeting” set the tone for our mutual approach to recruitment, and also opened the door for other evaluative and developmental services later on. Over the years I have placed fifteen people (managers and technical staff at all levels) with Company X, experiencing an extremely high placement-per-project ratio, which obviously makes me happy. But simply placing a person in a position should never be the end goal. True recruitment success occurs when the placed candidate actually performs at, or above, the specific performance requirements of their position, and when they sustain their performance over time. Meeting Company X’s very high technical standards has consistently been a challenge. But I have always known that also satisfying the non-technical skill requirements was the key to sustainable higher levels of performance, and doing so has been the real ‘secret to our success’.
There should always be a focus on performance because, like it or not, everyone’s true career success is directly tied to their performance in their specific role, and to the contribution made by the people around them. When superior performance is achieved, everyone is happy - Bob, the management team, the other staff, their external clients, and the hired candidate. Managers who are happy keep their employees, and happy employees want to stay with their organizations. What makes me most proud is that our commitment to a performance-focused quality recruitment process has contributed to all of my candidates staying with Company X. By focusing on performance achievement, at all organizational levels, Bob has facilitated a performance culture that is, in turn, attractive to people who want to perform.
For many people, the availability of internal mobility opportunities will also influence employment happiness and retention. Again, technical requirements being satisfied, managerial and leadership capability is dependent on the presence of appropriate non-technical personality characteristics. Since Bob is aware that many of his senior management team will be retiring in the foreseeable future, we simply built succession planning into the recruitment process. Not only were we selecting candidates to fill a role today, we also evaluated their potential to assume their bosses’ role in the future, thus creating a suitable talent ‘bench’ of potential senior and mid-level managers.
Yes, people are attracted or repelled depending on the quality of management and leadership
Effective recruitment really begins at the top of the organizational chart. Not only with the leader’s support for the process, but also with their ability to establish an attractive work environment for potential candidates. On one level, talented people want to work with Bob because he performs in his role. Like all successful leaders, I have never heard Bob make an excuse or place blame – instead he takes action. Rather than talk about change, he simply goes about solving whatever challenge is before him (like the need for more effective recruitment) or he encourages and facilitates appropriate change by others. By envisioning a performance culture as a “destination” for Company X, Bob has been able to map out a compatible strategic plan and to make appropriate change decisions along the way that support it – decisions that involve all of his people, whether currently employed or potential new hires. People want to work with effective leaders – like Bob.
On another level, by surrounding himself with capable and attractive managers and staff, Bob and his team have created an attractive environment that challenges people, facilitates performance achievement, and enables technical and non-technical skill enhancement. And as a result, this creates a ‘less’ difficult recruitment process for me. Typically, after finding the right person, for whatever role we were searching for, every found candidate has been excited about possibly joining Company X. So while finding the right candidate is the more difficult part of the equation, showing them the career potential that could be gained by leaving their current employment to join the more attractive Company X is fairly easy. As a result, Company X’s employment offer acceptance rate is extremely high.
In addition, Bob took the lead (and time) to understand the basics about unfamiliar non-technical skills, how they relate to his own leadership capabilities, how they were pertinent to his team’s performance, and their significance to a quality recruitment process. In doing so, he was more able to make informed hiring decisions, which subsequently helped him to build a higher performing team, but as well he set an example for his team to follow. Bob understands that you cannot expect the people around you to be open-minded if you, as a leader, operate from a fixed mindset.
Recruit with people, not for companies
I have often said…”if only I could find more Company X’s”. But that statement is only partially true, because you don’t really recruit for an “organization”, you recruit for, and with, the people within. It would be more accurate for me to say that we need to find more Bob’s, because his positive participation as a primary point of contact has been an essential component of our mutual recruitment success. Bob understands the value that we offer, and has seen that our approach is far, far away from simply “throwing resumes” at him. Like all successful leaders, Bob knows how to get the best out of people, including me. He always asks for my input, not only to confirm that there is a basic technical match between the candidate and the work, but more so my opinion regarding the equally important ‘non-technical’ skills and how they relate to a prospective candidate performing successfully. Obviously Bob retains the final say, but we do have strategic discussions, and our collaborative approach has obviously worked for us.
Truly effective recruitment requires some degree of collaborative effort by the people involved. This does not mean equal time and effort, but simply that all parties contribute positively to the achievement of the final result in some way, and that each brings some level of respective capability to the table. Bob is very good at leading Company X to where he wants to take it. But, like all successful people, he knows his strengths and he knows his limitations. Bob is by no means perfect, nor is he the type of person who thinks that he “knows it all”. Because of his inquisitive nature and his self-awareness, Bob has opened the door to a different (and more effective) recruitment process, and he is more open to working with people whose expertise goes beyond his own. Bob’s not concerned about being right, he is more concerned that the results are right.
I have been fortunate to have worked with other people who are similar to Bob over the years, and believe me, once you have, it is very difficult to work with the “anti-Bobs” (at all organizational levels). Rather than being open minded, anti-Bobs are often either self-protecting or they operate from a fixed mindset. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for them to think that, because they are good at one thing, they are good at everything. As a result, effective collaboration with anti-Bob’s is strained at best and, from a recruitment standpoint, the lack of it brings the recruitment process to a lower-quality common denominator.
Too often, anti-Bob’s focus more on filling the position than on the performance that occurs after the fact, and they tend to be more concerned with duplicating how recruitment is typically done (often ineffectively) instead of investigating how it could be done better. To Bob’s credit, while he initially had NO idea of the depth of our recruitment process, what he did know was that Company X’s approach at the time was not working to his satisfaction, and so he went about actively finding a way to improve it. I think that I can safely say that we are both glad that he did.
So what does everyone get from the experience?
Bob’s career success is a direct result of his ongoing leadership and managerial performance. And I would like to think that I have, in some small way, contributed to his success by helping him to surround himself with people who also perform. Not only do we help him to hire and retain effective performers, Bob has also become more informed about the importance of non-technical skills, to be able to discuss them with his peers and to further apply this knowledge in various ways at Company X. He learned more about how to enhance his own personal performance, which in turn gained him even more professional recognition. As a result, in the next few years Bob will be rewarded for his performance when he assumes the role of Chairman of the Board of Company X, taking his career to the next level. He will be able to remain involved with an organization that he shaped and developed, with the help of his team, and he will have a nice “business legacy” to look back on in later years.
The senior management team have a strong performance foundation from which to continue to develop and grow the organization. Because multi-level succession planning was built into the recruitment process all along the way, the challenge for Bob’s successor will be in selecting internal candidates for promotion from a very strong bench. Nice problem to have. As well, like Bob, their involvement in the non-technical skill evaluative process helped them to be more informed, both personally and as a group, and to apply this knowledge to enhance both their own performance and that of their respective teams.
The hired candidates have found a long-term “home” that will continue to provide challenges, to enable their technical and personal growth and provide internal mobility opportunities. For the great majority there’s no need for them to look elsewhere as they progress in their careers at Company X. And by going through our non-technical performance evaluation, they all are much more informed about their performance strengths, the areas to consider for performance enhancement initiatives, and how to be as successful as possible in their new role in Company X.
While I get paid to do this, I also get enormous satisfaction when recruitment is actually done right. And it gives me a story to tell that hopefully helps people see the career benefits that can be enjoyed as a result of their performance and from effective quality-driven hiring practices.
After my recent general LinkedIn post…
“A quality recruitment process is reflected in positive talent retention. First you need to recruit attractive and capable managers, then you need to recruit the above-average people who want to work with them. When you ensure that there is a strong match between the candidate and their work, their manager, their team and the organizational culture, great things happen. Everyone is happy, performance is exceptional, and people stay longer to build their careers. The increasing challenge of retaining the best people will be minimized when organizations recruit more effectively.”
… an observer responded with this statement, “but it is very difficult to do”.
And I thought to myself … it’s not that difficult. Bob and I have consistently managed to recruit properly. It just requires people to want to be successful at it.
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Jim Gilchrist B.E.S.