As you know, I work with clients who are going through some type of transformation — changing their business strategy, operating model, organization structure, etc. Whatever the change, you have to start at the beginning. Sounds obvious, right? The first most critical step of any change is having a compelling, clear vision. That’s not the beginning I’m talking about today. The beginning that I’m talking about is the beginning of the talent life cycle — how you are hiring. Hiring for the future needs to be a well thought out and executed part of transformation.
In my experience, purposeful hiring is one of the most neglected business processes in many organizations. There is usually a process for posting resumes and identifying candidates. After that, it becomes haphazard. A few people meet the candidate. The hiring manager and HR (if it is involved) get some feedback. Someone is hired and you hope it works out.
- Identifying the critical success factors for the role — focusing on the future without neglecting the now
- Putting together a team that can effectively assess the candidate against those success factors
- Purposefully focusing each interview
- Determining which questions will help you assess the candidate against the success factors. These include not just technical or professional skills but also cultural fit.
- Debriefing the results of the interviews in a structured way.
- Having a decision process that will allow you to rapidly move ahead.
About Edith Onderick-Harvey
Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times, CNN.com, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.
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I was asked recently about how to put your company’s best foot forward when hiring in a competitive market. The first thing to think about is why someone would want to work for you.
Recruiting and hiring is a sales process. We usually think that it’s the candidate doing the selling. You and your company need to be selling, too. The best candidates have options so you have to show them why your opportunity is a great one. Show your candidates the WIIFM — what’s in it for me.
Position yourself as a top choice by having the answers to these frequent questions from top performers. They may not always ask them but they are thinking about them.
- Why would someone want to work here? If you can’t answer this question, how can your possibly attract great people?
- What’s different about your organization versus where the person is now? How does this opportunity give him more of what he’s looking for and less of what he doesn’t want?
- What is the culture like and how is it unique? Top performers want to be part of something special. What’s special about your culture?
- Who works here? People want to work with people they like and respect. Strong performers want to work with other strong performers.
- What’s it like to work for you? Do you involve people in interesting work? Do you coach and provide feedback? Do you provide development opportunities? Do you help increase people’s visibility in the organization?
- What will my day look like at work? This is where realism is key.
- What might my career look like? Is this job the end of the road or are there opportunities to grow with and within the organization?
We’ve all made bad hires. There was the candidate who sounded so good in the interview who we very quickly discovered was completely unqualified for the job. There was the person who had great technical expertise who brought chaos to the group because they were impossible to work with.
As I’ve worked with leaders and companies over the past several years to help them hire the best talent, one common problem I see is how little time hiring managers spend defining what skills and competencies a candidate needs to have to be successful in the job they are being hired to do. Sure, many will have a job description but the job description defines the activities of the job, not what it takes to be successful.
By spending 30 minutes defining the success factors for the job, you will greatly increase the likelihood of finding the right candidate. There are three components you need to define:
Goals/Outcomes: Where is the business going? What goals does your group need to meet in the next year or two? What goals or outcomes will the individual be expected to achieve within the first 12 – 18 months of being hired? Write these down. They form the foundation for the next two components.
Technical/Professional Skills and Experience: These are usually the easiest success factors to define. They are what the person does in the job (e.g., write press releases, manage projects, develop software,) What technical/professional skills does someone need to be successful in this role? What educational or work experiences should they have that will demonstrate the development or use of these skills?
Competencies: These success factors are often what differentiates someone who can do the job from someone who will be successful in the job. Competencies are how the individual goes about doing their work (i.e., influencing others, collaborating, handling conflict effectively, creating positive change). They are also the success factors that usually go undefined before we start interviewing . It’s the lack of these success factors that often causes someone to become a ‘problem employee’. One way to identify these success factors is to think about a team member who is very successful in a similar role. How do they go about doing their work that makes them successful?
This entire exercise should take about 30 minutes to complete. It will save you significant time, money and resources that you may have otherwise spent on candidates who are a poor fit or, worse, on employees who become a problem instead of the solution.
Jessica had been on the high potential list every year since she started with her biotechnology company. She was moved into a variety of roles, taking on different responsibilities and succeeding each time. She was known as a strong leader because of her ability to get results. When she moved into the Director of Operations role things began to change. Within 6 months of taking the role she wasn’t delivering the results everyone thought she was capable of delivering. Her team was contentious and morale was wavering. What was going on? Had Jessica topped out her potential, a living example of the Peter Principle? Had she lost her ability to lead?
Of course she didn’t lose her ability to lead. Her abilities and skills had not just simply vanished but other parts of the situation had changed.
I’ve seen five common reasons why a leader who has been effective in the past is now failing.
1. Some critical skills were overlooked before. Let’s talk about the obvious reason first. Some leaders have not developed key skills that they need to be successful. Just like brilliant students who breeze through school, sometimes people climb to positions of leadership because they are brilliant marketers, brilliant scientists, or brilliant (put your profession here). But along the road to success, the people around this leader choose to overlook a key skill (or two or three) until it can’t be overlooked any more and causes huge issues. For example, if we go back to Jessica, throughout her career it was noted in talent reviews that she could be abrasive and often got things done through force of will rather than by building relationships and coalitions. She thought of herself as ‘results-focused.’ When she moved into her Operations role, it became imperative for her to build relationship with peers in other parts of the organization to get results. Interestingly, her ‘results-focus’ is what got in the way.
2. Cultural mismatch. This is a common reason why leaders who have been wildly successful in one environment for a long time, fail miserably in a very short time in another. The way a person operates and becomes successful in one culture can be very different from another. For example, a leader may have been very successful in a culture that a valued quick decision making and risk taking. Put that same leader in an environment driven by consensus and a desire to explore issues from every angle before moving forward and wait for the results.
3. Process and system mismatch. In the 1800’s, some people did very well in the wild, wild west and others went back home to the security of their established communities. Some leaders are very adept at working in environments with less defined processes and systems. They either work without them or really enjoy putting them in place. Others thrive in environments where processes and systems are clearly defined. Think of the serial entrepreneur who is put into a large, complex organization that has acquired his firm. Change was a way of life in his entrepreneurial firm but isn’t in this large organization. Leading change in the former was easy; everyone thrived on it. In the new organization it takes real work. The processes that exist are meant to maintain the status quo not change it and people in his new organization wonder why he was once perceived as someone who drove change.
4. Lack of management support. Even the most seasoned executive needs people in her corner. She needs people who support her success. She may need coaching and mentoring to navigate the new role. Even the best CEO won’t succeed if the Chairman of the Board decides she is not the person for the job and needs to go.
5. Organization structure. We all have been in situations where roles aren’t clear, responsibilities are redundant, unnecessary internal competition is the norm, resources aren’t available or decision making is lost in layers of management morass. Leaders can find themselves in the same situations. I worked for an organization once that routinely pitted leaders against each other by giving them the same issue to address or initiative to lead in different parts of the organization without each leader knowing about the other’s charge. There could only be one winner in this situation so one of them automatically was going to fail.
Why have you seen leaders fail?
Several years ago, I was in a meeting with leadership expert Michael Maccoby when he was asked the difference between leadership and management. He gave very simple, elegant response. “Management,” he said, “is a role. Leadership is a relationship.” Leaders are not leaders without followers. People don’t follow because someone has a title. They follow because a leader has created a connection to something in which they want to participate.
As we know, leaders’ relationships with their people are somewhat strained these days. Trust, a key part of any relationship, has been damaged by the financial crisis, the recession, corporate responses to the recession that were often necessary, but also very difficult. Rebuilding leadership trust and our relationships with those we work with is a critical component of engagement and for moving our companies forward in 2015.
If leadership is a relationship, how do we build real relationships at work? Not transactional relationships where we are focused on the tasks and activities needed to get work done but relationships where we are creating a work environment where the sum is greater than the parts.
In his book, The Trusted Advisor, David Maister discusses the trust equation, a formula for building sustained partnership with others. While he discusses the equation’s importance to business advisors, it describes the elements of trust that are key to real leadership.
The trust equation is:
C is credibility. Leadership credibility has two components. The first is how much your team believes your words and actions. The second is to what degree you have the know-how, experience or background to know what you are talking about. On the one hand it’s objective — do you have the ‘qualifications’ to be a leader. On the other hand it’s an emotional response. Do I perceive you as being believable? Do your actions reflect truthfulness? Do you have truthful intent? How many experiences have we all had over the past 18 months that made us question the truthfulness of those we considered leaders? What’s the lingering impact on our workplaces?
R is reliability. People need to know they can count on leaders, that the leader will walk the walk and talk the talk. Leaders need to follow- through on promises and follow-up on commitments. There needs to be a sense of predictability and fairness in the way a leader approaches situations and people every single day. Otherwise, the relational bank account that funds trust goes into the red.
In the Trust Equation, I is intimacy or the ability create a personal connection. This does not mean that as a leader you need to share your private life or dwell on the private lives of your people. It means recognizing that work is a personal place and issues like career development, promotions, compensation, reorganizations, hiring and firing are intensely personal. As a leader, the willingness to have emotional honesty about these and other issues in the workplace increases the trust your team has in you and the commitment they have to your agenda.
Credibility, reliability and intimacy’s additive effect is mitigated by how much others perceive a leader is acting primarily out of self-concern. If others believe a leader building a ‘relationship’ primarily to serve his or her own interests — i.e., to advance his or her career, to manipulate a situation for advantage without regard to the goals, needs and struggles of others, to push off responsibility and blame others– trust is destroyed, the relationship is seen as disingenuous and engagement and commitment plummet.
As you look at engagement and commitment in your organizations this year, think about your own trust equation. To what degree have you developed a real relationship with your people?
Hiring is ramping up and as always, highly talented, successful job candidates are in high demand. There never seem to be enough. Even in the depths of the recession we heard that companies had openings they couldn’t fill because they couldn’t find the right candidates.
What if it wasn’t the candidates but the companies? What if those candidates stayed away because they couldn’t see value in what the company had to offer?
When we hire, we tend to look at hiring as a one way street, i.e. I have a need and I need someone who meets my specifications. That’s a problem. Hiring is a two way street. We have a need for someone to meet our specifications. As we should, we always want the best. The most talented candidates also have needs and specifications that they want companies to meet. Top talent has the upper hand in the hiring scenario. They know that what they have is in demand in the marketplace. They can be selective about where they will work.
To attract and hire the best you need to know what you have to offer that’s attractive to a top tier candidate. While money is important to them it is by no means the only thing that’s important. For many, it ranks third or fourth most important.
In order to compete for top talent, define an employer brand. Ask yourself:
- What are the values, mission and purpose of your organization? Top talent want to be part of a company that is going somewhere that resonates with them. They want to work for a company whose values align with their own.
- What’s the culture? How do people talk about what it’s like to work for you or your company? Is it a family? Are you at war? Do you work hard, play hard? Cultural fit is a key indicator of a candidate’s long term success. Top talent look for a sense of community. If they can’t identify with your culture or if you can’t define your culture in ways that speaks to them, they don’t want to be part of it.
- What opportunities will they have to grow and develop? Top talent doesn’t want to stagnate. Even if they’re in the same role for five years, they want to know that there is opportunity to grow within that role, to take on new challenges and build their capabilities.
During the interview process, candidates will ask “what’s the best thing about working here?” Don’t let your answer be just ‘the money’ or some vague answer like ‘the opportunity.’ Be able to articulate a strong brand and provide examples that can bring the brand to life. Show top talent why working for you and your company is the best decision they can make.
The recent job numbers show that hiring is on the rise, which means that some of your best people may be starting to look for their next big opportunity. Now is a good time to think about re-recruiting your top talent. When it comes to your top performers how recently have you:
- Explained your vision for your company/group/department and told them what role they play in achieving that vision?
- Told them that they are a valued part of the organizationand why they are valuable? I’m not talking platitudes here. I’m talking about genuine respect for the talents and contributions they bring.
- Asked them what they find interesting or engaging about their work?
- Asked them what concerns they have about their current work or career?
- Discussed where they want to take their career in the next few years?
- Engaged them in solving a significant business issue?
- Given them the opportunity to take on additional responsibility? NOTE: This does not mean that you’ve heaped more and more work on them simply because you know they’ll get it done. Is it the opportunity to take on additional, meaningful responsibilities?
- Given them a break if they need one. It’s possible they’ve carried a heavier load than others because of their talents. Do they need the opportunity to have a slightly lighter load for a while?
- Done a pulse check on their engagement level? Is it waning? Are they as energized as ever or feeling beat up by the work environment of the past couple of years?
- Told them why this is still a great place to work? You want to do this with a heavy dose of realism in it. Nothing sends them running for the doors more than a manager who seems to have no sense of reality and who is cheering a little too loudly.
If it’s been too long since you’ve asked at least some of these questions or said some of these things, you should consider having or scheduling this conversation today. Don’t just save it for your top performers. Soon after they start leaving, others will take the cue and you could see more people walking out the door than you’d like.
A couple of weeks ago, I defined the Powerhouse Employee as one who’s highly capable and highly committed. Capability is something you can hire for or develop. An investment in skill-building is never wasted unless those skills become obsolete. Commitment is something most people come to a new job full of. They are ready to go, excited to be there and committed to success. The ironic thing is that, after a period of time in the job or with the company, you find commitment takes the big dive.
As a leader, spend time this week thinking about where your team’s capability and commitment levels are. How are you increasing them or decreasing them? As you do this, take money out of the commitment equation. That’s the cheap and easy way to try to create commitment and one that really doesn’t work for anything but short bursts. What are you really doing, really putting effort into that is making a difference in how people feel about working for you?
At its heart, sustained competitive advantage is a people issue. If you have the right people in the organization defining a clear vision and differentiating strategy, developing products that people will buy, serving customers in a superior way, creating the right culture, your organization will produce results and high performance.
The key to that statement is the right people. Is your organization full of powerhouses or albatrosses?
The Powerhouse: High commitment to the organization and its goals; highly capable. Personal motivation and the organizations values are aligned. The benchmark for high performance.
The Cheerleader: Highly commitment but doesn’t have strong skills and abilities. A strong believer in the organization but not making the contributions you need to get results.
Flight Risk or Secret Weapon: Highly capable but not engaged. If you can tap into their motivation and get them engaged, they are your secret weapon. However, without engagement, they are a flight risk.
Albatross: Low commitment and low capabilities make them a drag on the organization
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