Hiring Blueprint: How to describe a job accurately
The names have been changed to protect identities in the following true story – because you just can’t make this up…
Several years ago, a good friend of mine “Mike” joined a five year old start-up as a Vice President of Sales. Near the end of Mike’s second month in the new position his CEO invited me out for dinner to discuss a recruiting project. Before long – actually before the appetizers arrived – I learn Mike’s CEO was interested in engaging me to replace Mike. Obviously he didn’t know we were friends.
I was quiet surprised. But business is business and people fail, so I asked the CEO to take me through his hiring process. He explained, in great detail, the pain and suffering the company was experiencing in hiring. It quickly became quite clear to me that his dissatisfaction with Mike was actually evidence of more systemic problems – as Mike was the 5th VP of Sales in two years.
The recruitment process at AMESS consisted of a few informal meetings with staff and the Board which resulted in ‘loose’ job spec which characterized the role as “responsible for revenue”. Unfortunately even less thought went into how candidates were going to be identified, qualified and recruited. Their VCs and Board Members suggested some likely candidates… an all too familiar story.
Long story short, I found an excuse not to accept any of their search work. Mike was recruited away several months later by a competitor (not me) where he remained until retiring in 2013.
Between 1995 and 2003 AMESS cycled through a record 11 VPs of Sales. I only know becasue the CEO again approached me to do an executive search to fill the role “correctly”. At the time I was fully committed on three other searches and couldn’t even consider it. In 2010 the firm was sold 2010 for pennies on the dollar. It was infused with new leadership who turned things around and sold AMESS inside of 2 years for 157 times more than what they paid for it.
While the depth of AMESS’s situation was unusual, the fog they operated in while recruiting is not actually that uncommon.
Is there a better way?
All successful executive level searches begin with a thorough and formal definition of the role, responsibilities and competencies. Once this is determined, the personal attributes necessary for success are overlaid on to the cultural and environmental factors which are distinct to your organization. Every event and decision made in the recruiting process must be derived from the definition of the job and essential candidate characteristics as well as the corporate strategy. AMESS continued to fail in its recruiting efforts because senior management never took the time to properly define its true needs and objectives.
But you say you’ve heard all this before, and, even though you have honestly tried to apply these concepts, you still haven’t succeeded in hiring the right executives. Well surprise, process by itself does not guarantee that you will end up with a quality search. However, without process it’s guaranteed that you’re placing your bottom line in the hands of pure chance that an appropriate selection will be made.
Here is how to establish a solid foundation for your search project, beginning with how to define the role.
The Requirement Documents
Determine who needs to be involved in defining the role and outcomes. As the situation warrants this may include supervisors, peers, even external board members, and on the rare occasion subordinates. You consult these parties to get a real picture of the job’s content, objectives, performance measures, essential technical and management skills and — most importantly – fit.
The knowledge-based industries are very different from other industries in terms of the rapid nature of change. Yes, technology does affect other industries for sure but it’s the high-tech industry that makes the technology which affects everyone so they usually feel the effects of innovation first. Companies like Google who seemingly burst on to the scene overnight can experience explosive growth, while the company down the street may struggle to survive for years.
Successful recruiting necessitates that you understand exactly where your company is in its evolution from start-up to multinational, how fast it’s changing, as well as what the current and future skills gaps look like. Moreover, you need to decide on the appropriateness of your current team’s skills mix and how the new position will impact other roles.
For example, the Vice President of Sales you hire for a start-up which is pre-revenue and has limited money and resources will be different from the one you hire for a $100 million company looking to double revenue over the next 24 months. The customers, sales cycle and value proposition will look drastically different for each of them, yet both need to succeed. It’s wishful think that either would thrive in the other’s environment. One needs to be supportive like a coach with the sales team – the other like a “commando” lading their unit into battle.
If you’re running a technology company I suggest you Google and then download “A Framework for Growth in High-technology Companies” for more detailed overview of the changing skills sets required during the three stages of growth.
What to appraise
At a minimum, no matter what stage of growth your company is at, you’ll need to appraise the following:
Responsibility – Start with your end goal in mind and work backwards. What results are you looking for? Build the business? Turn it around? Flip it? Talk through the job at length, with your goals in mind. Lay out the specific activities and timelines involved. Is it a new job or an existing one? Where are the contact points with other positions? Does the role require a person to carry on with the established foundation, or start from scratch?
Authority – Draw the org chart. Include the informal networks which keep the organization humming as well.
[This is absolutely critical in a family run business where the chain of command isn’t always obvious.] With that done, determine who’s on side? Which departments are strong and which are weak? Where do you need bolstering?
Performance Requirements – Define successful performance. Hard skills. Soft skills. Industry knowledge versus industry contacts. Establish and agree upon observable and measurable performance requirements. Start your relationship with all new hires this way. Once observable and measurable performance requirements are established, not only will you know where the new hire stands but so will they when it comes time for the yearly review without prejudice. List experience requirements in detail. Must candidates possess experience in your industry? To what degree must they have already been in a comparable role elsewhere? What specific experiences are an absolute must, versus nice to have? Make sure you spell this out so it’s clear to everyone. Also, list execution parameters which are flexible and those that are not.
Personal Qualities – Define the essential personal qualities. Think through the environment and the various personal styles which work in your organization. Decide the degree to which a compatible style is of importance. Are you looking for a change agent? Do you want a person who will be counter to the established company culture or who will promote it? Are you REALLY looking for a change agent or do you need stability with the role?
Fit – Reflect on who succeeds and who doesn’t. Why do people leave? What is the management style of this person’s boss? What styles don’t work with their future boss? If the job requires a high degree of contact with customers or outsiders, think through the image and approach which works best for your market space.
Compensation – Specify all of the elements of the compensation package. Gather objective competitive market data. Think about the upper limits of compensation if the absolutely perfect candidate came along, how far are you prepared to stretch – if at all? What, besides base salary, do people in your company receive and value? Will you pay relocation costs?
At the end of this process, you and the search committee should have a clear profile of the job and its qualifications. Now, create a position profile (job spec) which all the decision makers and interviewers have to agree and sign off on this document. Failure to agree at this early juncture on the basics of the position will scuttle your optimum result.
Establish a decision making process as part of the Hiring Blueprint
- Choose who will take part in face-to-face interviews,
- Decide how the final decision will be made, and
- Agree on how you will break a tie if your search committee is deadlocked over two candidates.
All interviewers should plan to review the most critical variables prior to interviewing each candidate, and again prior to reaching a final decision.
The key to success is the degree to which the preceding factors are followed. In dealing with people and personality types, nuances are important. By the time you complete preliminary internal discussions on role definition, everyone participating in the selection decision should have a sense that they will know the “right” person when they see them. (At Perry-Martel International we use a detailed Candidate Position Profile™ which contains 100+ questions and is designed to elicit all the information necessary to honestly describe and accurately represent the client’s interests during a search.) The more accurately your search professional can impart the role and your goals, the greater their ability to woo a reluctant candidate. Your consultant represents you, so you’ll get your best result when you arm them to the teeth with any and all knowledge necessary to help land your star candidate.
Defining the executive’s role, like some of the other parts of the search process, may not be an activity you want to undertake without assistance. That’s okay; remember it’s the responsibility of the ESP to orchestrate the complete project — including the tedious grunt work at the front end. The result will be a hire which exactly meets the needs of your organization and will stay with you.
If you hire a Search Professional remember, their role is to execute the search process, maximizing the 3Ps of executive search: people, personalities, and perceptions. They’re engaged to bridge the gap between the “science” of a well defined, methodical process and the “art” of uniting strangers in an economic marriage. But you’re stuck with the results so it’s in your best interest to learn how learn to define the role with absolute precision as well.
At Perry-Martel, for example, a successful executive search begins with these three documents:
- Position Profile™ – this is a 5-8 page document for public consumption which describes the opportunity in context. Describes the industry, the company’s products its futures and a detailed analysis of the requirements and success factors.
- Candidate Road Map™ – maps out the search strategy in detail. Which industries and roles will be targeted and why.
- Candidate Brief™ – a mini bio which stands in the place of a resume where a candidate does not have a current CV. The Brief is specific to the search project at hand [sample available]
Every reputable search firm uses comparable tools which facilitate measuring progress and staying the course. These tools are critical for project success and act as a paper trail for your Board.
The secret to long-lasting results rests in the hard work, good judgment, follow-up, and attention to detail on the part of everyone involved. This is a meticulously detailed process which needs to be executed with the highest degree of skill and precision.