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Are you really shooting for an "A" or is passing with a B or C good enough? Or the most important thing they didn't teach you when you got your MBA.

Steven Covey said: “Good” is the greatest enemy of “best”.  I twist it a bit:  Good is good enough, until you know what better is...then good just isn’t good enough anymore.  The mind bender version:  If good is good enough, then you’ll never know what better is and best is but a utopic thought at best.  Well, I’m about to ruin your “good enough.”

Many times in the last 20 years I’ve seen people build and accept teams of B-player leaders defending them as the best available talent at the time…..they settled.  (…and still contended to be A-players themselves) They may have been exactly correct if they had put in the phrase, “that the media I used in sourcing/recruiting candidates could gather.”  There was better talent out there, but the trophy fish just don’t swim over and bite the worm so easy.  You may get lucky at times, but if you want to depend on a catch to put on the wall, you have to know what you’re doing and go to them.  (…or have the right guide.)

There are 3 things in talent acquisition/recruiting the internet, social media, and the best HR software tools out there have never been able to do:  listen, evaluate, or facilitate.  Though the application of this statement holds true for most kinds of recruitment, for the purpose of limiting arguments and maximizing the benefit, we’ll focus specifically on leadership recruitment.  Your leaders are your most impactful hires, especially in regard to turnover management.  If you don’t start here, you are automatically in a “partial” mode.

If your target market in leadership recruitment is anything less than “A-players” please stop reading.  Perhaps your time is better spent having a thumb war with yourself.  (Ok, right now I’m wondering if you just stopped and tried to do that… can’t….your own hands don’t line up right; at least not in traditional thumb war protocol.)

First things first: defining your target market.  Everyone wants “A-players”.  I parallel recruiting to marketing:  define your target market, decide the message you want to send, and choose the media to get your message to your target market.

The most correlative, yet paradoxical characteristic of your A-player candidate pool is being successfully employed today, open minded, but not necessarily looking for a new job.  If your message can’t reach this target market with the media you’re using, then reality has left you with the “best of the rest” to choose from.  My contention: though technology has done a lot, it has not and cannot replace the old school picking up the phone and directly engaging people.  It is the only reliable way to listen, evaluate, and facilitate with “A-players.”

Has the internet, social media, especially Linked-In changed the way recruiting is done?  Absolutely.  Is that bad?  No.  You just have to understand/manage what you want (expectation) and what any medium is equipped, by its own liberties or constraints, to deliver (result).  How often do the two not mesh?  The most direct, but second choice may be something like Linked-In, where someone can more readily identify people who are currently employed, know some amount of their background and send a message or email.  While that is more direct than job boards, it still can’t do the three main things: listen, evaluate, or facilitate.  It can spark that process, but still requires someone to take more action.

Listening is the greatest tool in recruiting A-players.  I can’t tell you how often someone’s first response is “I’m not interested,” who have ended up being thrilled with a new position which is a great fit.  One, they have talked to enough robotic recruiters who read a script, really not understanding their client or the position, hear “no,” then are on to the next call.  Two, they didn’t stop soon enough to ask or listen to what is important to that person.  If it was a good fit, and they didn’t realize it, help them see what they didn’t hear, or which details you didn’t know to initially share that are important to that person.  This is also where, if in a short couple minutes a relationship has been started, someone will share personal referrals…the golden nugget.  You don’t get those any other way. This is the salesman in a recruiter.

Evaluation comes in the interview process.  Is this person really a fit or not, beyond a resume.  A good interview is a critical and analytical dive into historical experience, motivations behind their decision making and together how well their competencies match the position.  This is the analyst in a recruiter.

Facilitation is the middle link, the translator of the process.  There is the hearing and interpretation of information, feedback, feelings, and diffusing of or touching on emotions during the match making process.  How feedback is meant, interpreted, received, how salary negotiations are managed so neither feels slighted; assuring the employment relationship starts on a positive note.  This is the counselor in a recruiter.

Perhaps you can see, a good executive search consultant or recruiter is a platypus of sorts….a combination of different personalities and competencies squeezed into one.  Some may have a mix of strengths and weaknesses, but good ones have all three: salesman, analyst, and counselor.  The really good ones have all three working simultaneously.

You may have the resources internally or may use an external source. Some firms, because of how innate vs. trainable the whole platypus thing is, use different people for different stages of the process.  (This isn’t the place for commentary, but my contention is anything other than a “platypus” search consultant is going to have a greater chance of not setting the hook with finesse, reel in with patience, and can lose A-players in the process versus landing them.)  Recruiting firms are as diverse as the 31 flavors at Baskin-Robins, be both open minded and evaluative.  Make sure you’re comfortable someone understands the dynamics of both your organization and the position itself.   They are your mouthpiece to the market.

Investment or Expense?  Outsourcing direct recruitment is typically seen as the most expensive medium…on the front end.  That is a short-sighted, B-player mentality or you haven’t used the right consultant.  Any time you make a hire, you take risk of success or failure, performance or turnover.  Turnover is expensive; both the primary direct and indirect costs as well as the secondary dynamics.  A-players bring more value.  If using a firm, you are buying down your risk.  A-players come with a track record…someone else took and paid for the Peter Principle risk as well as their development.  You pay more for proven success than potential.  You take less risk, but there is more cost on the front end; typically a fraction of what the cost of turnover for the role or a bad hire. (There are several other factors, but not the intent of this article…..this much was self-serving enough.)

If you are listing on your organization’s website, posting on generic or specific job boards, using talent management software to post and generate your candidate pool, or even sitting and sending emails directly via a list or targeted social media, you are NOT interactively reaching the same people the same way as the “smiling and dialing” of direct recruitment…it’s a grind, but the #1 most reliable way to reach A-players.

Everyone wants to consider themselves an A-player.  Unless you are lone wolf consultant, you can’t build a leadership team of B’s and C’s and have the expectation of having an “A” organization.  More important in the conversations of employee engagement and turnover, you can’t expect to attract and retain A-players to a B or C leader.  That’s just bad math and the first place to look in diagnose high turnover.

Recruiting A-players is not always easiest, not always the cheapest on the front-end, but if my success depended on it, I wouldn’t settle for less.

(Ok, did you figured out you can interlock your fingers and have that thumb war yourself vs. having to go righty-righty or lefty-lefty with someone else?   Yes, I’m a bit demented, but the best way to be as geeky analytical with stuff like this and keep it light hearted.)

 Choose to make it a great day!

Don Rottman

P.S.  As a sensitivity disclaimer, there are people not currently working who are A-players.  Actually, I believe everyone is an A-player in a role that best suits them.  There are times when organizational needs and personal competencies don’t match.  That can be the fault of the individual, the organization, or both.  It can also change in time due to changes in either.  So please don’t perceive me as rude or judgmental, just more to the point without as much fluff.  

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