Senior Talent – The Art of a Great Hire

Howard Gwin  and I developed a Leadership presentation a few years ago. We argued about one slide. Howard's assertion was that when hiring senior level talent into your business, a world class executive's batting average will be 400. In other words, only 4 out of 10 hires will be good or great hires. From my experience, I agree. Consider the number of senior folks that you know who started a new job and only last 6 to 18 months.

 There are many reasons for this turnover but some common themes are

Where Howard and I disagreed was when I said that my personal battling average for hiring senior people was over 700. He said I was full of crap and that was impossible.

Here is the difference in our approach. I rarely hire a senior person that I don't know personally or that isn't recommended by someone, whom I trust, who personally knows the candidate.  Howard argued that my approach was dramatically shrinking the universe of candidates. He agreed that a batting average of  700 was possible, but at what cost of overlooking great talent just because they were not in my network.

The cost of a bad hire in a company, especially a small company can range from crippling to fatal. At PeopleSoft, during the high growth phase of our Global Services Business, our 6 North American regions hired and fired 7 VP's of Business Development in about 18 months. Only 2 of the 6 regions didn't churn through their Sales VP. Some churned through 2. The reason for these hiring failures were that we were running a complex, fast moving, under the microscope business that had the unique culture of being a professional services business within a software company. Many competent individuals, with successful resumes of leading  professional services sales teams at large Systems Integrators,  failed because they couldn't handle the politics or egos of playing second fiddle to the software organization. Others just could grasp all the moving parts quick enough. The two regions that didn't experience the churn were lead by sales individuals who had in one case been promoted from within the company and in the other case  had been a trusted employee of the region leader in a previous company. 

If you accept my argument to limit your senior hiring to people you know or people referred by someone you trust and if you also accept Howard's argument that this will unnaturally limit your selection pool, what is the answer. Simply, build your Network.  The fastest way to do this is surround yourself with people you trust who have massive networks. Use your Board and their network. Find advisors and use their network. Network, Network, Network. It is the only way to hire senior talent.

© 2010 Meaford Group

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