Secrets for CEOs: How to Be a Savvy Hirer of Top Talent

For CEOs of entrepreneurial and middle market companies, solving the talent puzzle is critical to the success and future growth of the company.  A Fortune 500 monolith can absorb a hiring mistake once in a while, as the work is distributed among thousands of people.  But, in a smaller organization, there is a bigger impact.  A wrong hire or even worse – on-going turnover — can bombast customer relationships, poison employee morale — or actually sink the ship.

According to the Bersin human capital consulting arm of Deloitte, improving the quality of hire doesn’t start at recruitment, i.e., the actual solicitation of candidates.  I agree.  It’s the upfront planning that relates to your business model, talent market, assessment of needed skills, competitive dynamics, succession planning — and more.

This is the part that often gets short shrift — resulting in weak hires, culture clashes and disappointments.

1.  What do you want?  As chairman, founder or CEO, you’re the visionary!  Where do you want the company to go?  What markets and opportunities do you foresee?  What will it take to get you to the next stage-of-growth?  What skills are already resident in your organization?  What experience and market relationships must you acquire?  How much are you willing to invest? What do you absolutely love to do? As leader, you should be the decider…then build the team around you.  What is taking time, holding you back from spending more time on what you do best?  This is the starting point.  Enjoy the imagineering!

2.  Engage your leadership team.   Now it’s time to solicit the input of your kitchen cabinet.  Those who report to you — plus trusted outside advisors.  Expect a dose of reality.  Your team probably spends more time on tactical matters in the trenches, so their views might be more conservative.  The outsiders can provide a broader market perspective.  Create a safe environment where people can be candid.  You want more than yes-talk.

3.  Get specific. With the team, drill down to the specifics of the position.  A new role creates a realm of open possibilities. When replacing an incumbent, you may want to elevate what you seek in a candidate to reflect a more complex competitive environment.  Go through a complete list of wants/needs.  Title, reporting structure, qualifications, track record, revenue experience, industry knowledge, performance expectations.  Plus the soft skills.  What personal attributes are compatible with the culture of your organization. What would cause chaos?  See this previous blogpost for for more secrets. 

4.  Consensus or Compromise?  Change is challenging — often threatening — to those comfortable with the status quo.  You need team acceptance and enthusiasm in order to achieve successful on-boarding and retention of a new player.  When targeting a talent upgrade, expect differences of opinion.  That’s OK.  It’s more important to be united in the specifics of deliverables and prioritization of initiatives.  Then, you can set a range of horsepower and credentials to evaluate.  Seeing candidates in the flesh will give a close and up-front view of what might comprise the perfect fit. 

5.  Reporting structure input.  Once your leadership team has weighed in, invite the participation of those in the reporting structure and daily interface of the position.  This is a great time to get people talking.  What do they love about their current roles? How might a new player enable them to do more of what they love and do best that can have a material difference in the company? It’s an excellent way to discover underlying issues that might be looming. Be sure the new role complements the existing team. Otherwise, be prepared for unhappiness, i.e., additional turnover.

6.  Summarize the position.  You’ve now compiled your laundry list of requirements and responsibilities — typically an internal HR document known as the position description. DO NOT use this to market the role to prospective candidates and referral sources.  It’s the most boring type of eat-your-vegetables mandate — like listening to your mother telling you what to do. Not what attracts star talent to an opportunity.  But you need it.  Put in the files and use later in the interview process.

7.   Merchandise the position.  Here’s the secret sauce.  The za-za-zu that will deliver to you a targeted, robust pool of possibilities for the position.  First imagine an actual person.  Whom would you envision coming into your organizational family? In what industry might you find him/her?   Why would someone leave an existing position for your opportunity?  What is the unique selling proposition you offer?  What are the essentials of the requirements and personal traits you seek? Incorporate all of this into a document written to appeal to prospective candidates.  The position specification must weave a vibrant story that resonates and captures the attention of the person who can walk in the door and make a difference to your organization.  It must also be rooted in truth. You can’t pitch Utopia if your reality is a turnaround.

8.  Sourcing email. This is a condensed, bulleted version of the position specification:  a summary of the must have qualifications, headlined with the attractions of a fresh new future that a prospective candidate might find with you. This can be used for a round of sourcing with your business contacts, vendors, friends of the firm. The content may also be used for posting via social media or internet career websites. When you tell someone you’re looking for a new (fill in the blank),  it provides a very specific response to the question “What are you looking for?”

9.  Consistent messaging.  Recruiting talent for a new position inside your company is like a new product rollout.  Having a consistent message and well-defined target audience will provide a strategic advantage, not to mention positive buzz about your company within influencer and customer circles.  Whether you handle the assignment internally or use outside resources, it is important to spoonfeed the message you wish to convey. This is important in discussing the role with outside contacts and referral sources, not to mention each internal team member who interviews/interfaces with the candidate.

If your company does not have an internal HR/recruiting team, you might seek an outside resource to facilitate the planning phase or designate an internal project leader.  Your goal is to explode into the talent marketplace from a springboard of strength and savvy. With the right preparation, you now have everything teed up for a successful launch — not to mention efficient use of your talent budget.  Mis-steps and do-overs are expensive and time-consuming.

Next….Deploy! Now comes the dizzying part. The actual recruitment phase.  Who will carry your message to the market?  Who will review, reject and prioritize the slate of possibilities.  Who will organize the schedule of internal interviews, evaluations, feedback, reference interviews, background checks, etc.

There are many options in today’s market — from your own internal resources to industry/alumni career boards to social media and internet resources such as LinkedIn, TheLadders, contingency search resources, retained executive search firms, staffing companies, temp-to-hire options, fractional executive timeshare, do-it-yourself or a combo approach.  What is the perfect fit for you?

copyright 2014 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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Copyright © 2012 Nancy Keene