Written by Geoffrey Votta
Recruiting is still one of the most difficult, highest risk, and time-consuming activities on the agenda for most business leaders today. It is also one with the highest stakes.
We see the statistics year-in and year-out on the impact of a bad hire. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the cost of a bad hire can equal 30 percent of the employee’s first-year earnings. This cost is magnified exponentially when hiring an executive leader and can total in the hundreds of thousands or millions! If your company is publicly traded, hiring the wrong executive could lead to a drop in stock price, the effects of which cannot be overstated... catastrophic.
However, it isn't just the monetary costs that worries senior business and HR leaders. The impact on productivity and morale are equally paramount and can have a much longer reach than simply throwing some money down the drain. So, what is the solution? Here are a few ideas to get you closer to A-player talent from the start of the search.
1. Define the A-player
It is hard to find what you're looking for without a clear definition. This sounds simple, right? But I can tell you from a decade of consulting with business and HR leaders across industries, it is difficult for many organizations... especially those going through change, growth, or transformation (which pretty much covers 90 percent of the market). An A-player is defined as the top 10 percent of the market for a particular role at a particular salary range. The definition includes everything from the accountabilities and competencies necessary to succeed in the role, to the types of companies and career progression the ideal candidate should possess. Having a clearly identified profile is absolutely critical to success. Be thorough and ask yourself (or others) the tough questions to uncover biases and false assumptions that separate the "must-haves" from the "nice-to-haves."
2. Process, process, process
Would you attempt to build a house without a blueprint? Design a product without a roadmap? Or even bake a cake without a recipe? Hopefully the answer is no... or you may end up with a crooked, inedible, cake... The same is true for hiring at any level, but it is especially true when it comes to hiring an executive. Don't give yourself the leeway to make a mistake. Create a scorecard and follow it. Conduct a detailed several hour behavioral interview like Topgrading or other proven method that starts from childhood (yes, childhood) and works forward through the candidate's life in a formulaic way. We do this exclusively (and so do many of the top leadership assessment firms that charge $30K+ per assessed candidate), and though it takes a lot of time and practice, it works... candidates simply can't hide things! If you don't know how to conduct a detailed, behavior based interview, then find someone to teach you or hire someone who can do it for you. To interview a candidate without rigor and process is a surefire way to hire a mismatch to your role and culture. The risks are just too high.
3. Focus on behaviors
Studies have shown that a majority of the failed hires at the executive level are not due to a deficiency in skills. Its culture. Your evaluation process should be focused on identifying the behavioral attributes that have governed a candidate's results throughout her career. Results are important, but I would argue that finding the person with the right skills to do a particular job is the easy part of recruiting. The difficult part comes in truly understanding a company's culture - how teams are formed and run, how decisions are made, how people are rewarded, etc., and then matching up a candidate's temperament to that culture. A well defined A-player profile and a tight process with deep and detailed behavioral interviewing will uncover the threads that run through an executive's career. Don't settle for a "tell me about yourself" interview or one simply focused on competencies. You will be amazed at the results if you go deep and focus on behaviors.
So, the next time you are kicking off a search, go slow to go fast. Invest the time in clearly defining the profile, asking the tough questions that challenge any assumptions. Then go deep on behavioral interviewing and don't let a candidate simply tell you about all the great things they have done. By tightening up on the spec and process, as well focusing on behaviors, you will find yourself much closer to the A-players you seek.
Let me know what you think. What skills do you find the most effective in screening for A-players?
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