Breaking Free from Contingency Search into Retained.

Here is a three minute excerpt from the Big Biller presentation on Next Level Recruiter Training.

In this video, I share the process I went through taking my contingency recruiting firm to a full retained firm.  It is not for every recruiter, but those who move into this way of doing business always find it to be more fulfilling and rewarding. What have you got to lose?


People Quit Jobs for Two Reasons

People leave their jobs on their own for two primary reasons, their Culture & Opportunity. I’m not referring to when people are let go, but when they choose to leave. The most common reason that people leave their job for another position is due to their boss lacking the ability to inspire, lead or develop them in a way that is satisfying their need to belong and make an impact. You may well come up with several other reasons, but they all boil down to leadership failure. Even when people leave a company for a better opportunity with another company, ultimately, the person’s boss failed to give them the chance to advance their skills and expand their horizon. Sometimes, it isn’t possible due to a variety of logistical reasons, which is why I didn’t say that there is only ONE reason people leave a company.

In a recent VP of Sales search for a $250mm division of a larger company, the final candidate listened to my initial presentation on the opportunity because something inside of him was yearning to be appreciated by his CEO. He felt under-appreciated and thus disrespected by his CEO. This is what led him to allow me to convince him to have an “exploratory conversation” with my client, the President. It was in that call that the President laid out her vision for the company and her philosophy of leadership. When they finished the call, the “bait was set.” Even still, the candidate was not convinced that this was either the right time or the right fit . After our debrief call, he graciously bowed out of contention for the position. Although the opportunity was bigger and the role more impressive than the one he currently held, he felt that he had more to do where he was and thought it better to stay and finish what he set out to do five years ago. Clearly, in his case, the reason to change was not for the “better opportunity” with my client, though it arguably was better.

In his case, he decided that he had more to accomplish in his current role. During the debrief call, he suggested that my client should continue to pursue other candidates and then if they felt that he was the best of the best, perhaps they should speak again. What he didn’t know was that my client had their heart set on him and only him. At this point, I agreed with him that he should stay the course and finish whatever is was that he felt needed to be completed. In speaking with my client, however, I explained to her his thoughts and the President still wanted him, probably more so at this point. I told her that in order to get him, she would have to perform in a manner that her company was not accustomed to. Being a billion dollar company with thousands of employees, they have policies and procedures that would get in the way of hiring him. They would have to move very decisively and have an offer within a few weeks or they would have ZERO chance of hiring him. I also explained that she would need to pursue him and show him that she wanted him more than his company did. She accepted this challenge and to her credit, she accomplished it. Now it was up to me to reel him back in and do so on the “culture side.” Knowing that the bigger opportunity would not be his driver, I tried to learn about his relationship with his boss and found that things weren’t perfect with his CEO. I learned that there were promises made that were not kept. I also found out that the integrity of the leadership was questionable. This was then the focus of all my discussions with the candidate.

Even in situations like this,people can be comfortable and complacent. Just because the leadership and culture isn’t positive, doesn’t mean that people will always be looking elsewhere. Perhaps it is the idea of “the devil you know, versus the devil you don’t.” But it does make the company very vulnerable to a Search Consultant with an equally impressive opportunity. In this case, my client pulled of a respectable feat by cutting through the typical HR rigmarole and executed the offer in record time, even cutting out a standard site visit with a full battery of interviews. This was exceptional on multiple levels. What wasn’t exceptional is that the candidate who was given the offer, accepted and resigned 48 hours later did so, ultimately, because of his boss.

There is a perfect example that people resign their jobs for two basic reasons, bad bosses or better opportunities. In some cases, both.

The Customer isn’t Always Right!

I frequently hear people say “the customer is always right.” That may be true in your line of work, but not in mine. In fact, many times I have to help my clients see what they seem to miss entirely. It is very often the case that my client fails to grasp the gravity of the situation. If I take the approach that my customer has all the right answers and I am merely here to feed their appetite for more candidates, then I am failing them as a search consultant. The smart ones get it, while others may think by challenging their perceptions of things, I am merely looking out for myself. Again, they would be wrong.

Search is a complex endeavor and if my client questions my motive then everyone’s problems are multiplied. Trust is the essence of any consultant-client relationship. If I have not established the credibility with my client such that I can challenge their views or opinions, then I need to re-think my approach. Clients are just people, and they all possess biases that inform their opinions about things from people to the way things should be. Sometimes they make assumptions about people who are factually inaccurate. It is the job of a Search Consultant to advocate on behalf of their client, even if it means disagreeing with them. Early in my career, I was afraid of disagreeing with my client. If my client expressed a concern about a candidate, I would instinctively and without hesitation agree with them. It was often after some thought and consideration that I would think, “that was wrong. I should have said, this or that.”

Many people are adverse to making big decisions so they subconsciously create obstacles, hoping to avoid costly hiring mistakes. One of the most common scenarios is that a client will say “the candidate didn’t seem energetic or interested enough.” or “I just didn’t see the fire in the belly!” This is most often the case of a mistaken assumption. There are stages to a truly passive candidate’s interest, and it starts with mere Curiosity. The first call/interview is actually purely a fact-finding mission and the burden is on the interviewer to capture their imagination. After this interview/exploratory conversation, the individual’s interest will either flat-line in which case they are not a fit, or it will begin to increase. Too often, the client assumes that because the candidate didn’t dazzle them in the first call, that represents a low energy level and intensity on the job. More often than not, they would again, be wrong.

To avoid this scenario, inform your client ahead of time about the level of motivation of the candidate. Is she actively seeking a new job? If so, she would be expected to sell herself. If not, then sell her. This is just one example of ways to help your client be right, before they get it wrong. If you can’t convince your client to see the value of your perspective, then you’d do well to find a new client.

You Can’t Fix “Stupid”

You can’t argue with the statement that “Some People are just average,” and some do really stupid things. If you work at a company that has significant issues, more than likely they’re a product of someone’s doing and not without cause. Some people have developed useless products that cannot compete in the marketplace. Some companies have developed solid products, but failed to develop the right marketing strategy and the product failed to launch. In other cases, the product and strategy were strong, yet sales were flat due to weak sales management and execution. In each case, the common denominator is that people screwed things up. Where do bad products and strategies come from anyway? People! Yes, well-meaning people who either lacked the ability to conceive of or execute what the market needed to produce the right outcome. Regardless of where the blame is laid, the buck stops at the top of the org chart.

Executive leadership must quickly recognize when the wrong people are in the wrong place in their organization. They must identify the heart of the problem and find the solution or else they will, themselves, be at risk. Where is the solution to the problem, you ask? It is in the mind of a person or persons who have yet to be exposed to the problem. The solution to virtually every problem that exists in your company has a name. Your answer in times of trouble is PEOPLE! The easy part is the “gap analysis” to figure out what is missing. The challenge is finding the best person to replace them who possesses the right stuff to bring fresh perspective and creativity to bear and fix the problem. Let’s be honest, all people are not equal, despite the prevalence of “Participation Trophies.” Our culture hates to admit that there are those who “Over-Achieve,” those who “Achieve” and those who “Under-Achieve.” Not everyone who dons an LA Lakers jersey is a “Kobe Bryant.” Admittedly, it is possible that an “Under-Achiever” could possibly be an “Over-Achiever” in a different area, function or company. It depends upon their “mosaic” of competency, character and chemistry. Different people have different talents, experiences, abilities, skills-natural and learned.

Any executive whose company is experiencing difficulty must find the right people to solve their organizations toughest problems. Prior to starting this process, the executive must evaluate whether they CAN hire an “Over-Achiever”. Not all companies are capable of doing this based upon a variety of factors, ie. culture, value proposition, compensation. Is the company one where people are empowered, or is the culture one of politics and fear? It won’t do you any good to hire the right kind of person to solve your complex problems if they are not enabled to thrive in the environment with autonomy. This caliber of person must have the freedom to do what they deem necessary to fix the problems or they will not be effective. This is why so many smaller companies out-perform larger ones. The larger companies are stuck in a political rut. The hierarchy has become the driving force in the company and no longer the ideas that people create. When this happens, people who are visionaries become stifled and grow frustrated and before you know it, they’ve moved on. Before you hire one of these Over-Achievers and task them with fixing your problems, you’ve got to determine if the problem is Systemic or not. If your problem is systemic as in cultural, you must concurrently address this problem or suffer. Even cultural problems are a result of having the wrong people in control and can be improved by the right leadership. Notice that I didn’t say, “New Leadership,” because the best person for the role may already be in a different role within the company. Be ready for things to get shaken up if you are addressing a cultural issue. Most often changes of this sort are very welcome to the rank and file. Regardless of your problem, you must find the right person to solve the problem. Sometimes, it takes a fresh perspective, one with objectivity to identify the source of the problem. Whether the best person to address the problem is within or needs to be recruited, it requires action!

The point that I am driving home is that EVERY problem in a company has its solution in a PERSON. How you arrive at that point is up to you.

The Importance of Picking a “Great” Client

As a Search Consultant, your success is largely dependent upon the quality of your clients. Contrary to popular belief, any “paying customer” isn’t necessarily a client worthy of partnering with. Anyone who has been in the business a while learns this lesson, usually the hard way. We’ve all accepted searches from clients only to later regret it. What is the key to avoiding this regret? The key to avoiding the heartache is being honest about it and thinking about all parties, including the person you intend to move to this new company. You have to be honest with yourself first and foremost and not play games. Sadly, many people lie to themselves and convince themselves that everything is copacetic, later to face the reality that they ignored obvious signs that they should have let it pass. I have justified it to myself by using the old phrase, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The reality is that I put myself into a terrible position to attract someone to a company that is not well regarded usually for good reasons. A “greater fear” casts out a “lesser fear” and the fear of financial hardship can tempt us to accept a search with a bad client. Unfortunately, this usually ends badly for all parties. If you accept a search knowing that the company’s value proposition stinks, inevitably, you are going to be very sorry!

Nothing is worth accepting a bad search and getting stuck with a “dud” of a client. If a company isn’t in a position to attract the caliber of talent that they want and are convinced they can hire, you are putting yourself in an un-winnable position. By accepting this search, knowing that the company has a poor reputation or during the exploration phase you find that the person to whom the new hire will report, is not a good person, you have put yourself in a classic conflict of interests. You are about to take someone out of a good job and put them in a bad situation. They will not love your for that, and why should they? You will have put your own needs before theirs, which is a misuse of your responsibility. Not only is there a very high probability that the candidate will back out late in the game, if they do accept it, and later regret it, you will develop a reputation as someone who doesn’t care about the people you place. Furthermore, you may have to replace him or her when they quit. Trying to recruit another candidate of equal caliber to replace them knowing that there is a problem within the company is a misuse of your power and something I hope you will never do. How do you think that will affect your reputation in the marketplace? Will you be seen as an opportunist who doesn’t care about the people you place?

It is critical that you select a great client so that your career is one that you can be proud of. To do this, you must make sure you diligently vet your potential client beyond their “willingness” to pay your retainer. Take time to get to know this potential new client and their team. Investigate their products or services and honestly evaluate their “Value Proposition” and the “draw” that brings with it. If you believe in the people and the opportunity, and you have confidence that you will be doing someone a favor by extracting them out of their current job, and placing them there, go for it!

If not, walk away and don’t look back.

Is there such a thing as an “Executive Recruiter” who also does “Staffing?”

A common phrase on many Recruiting Companies’ websites today is “Executive Search and Staffing,” but is that really the true?  Let’s think about it for a minute. If your firm does “Executive Search,” your fees are quite large. So why then would you do a search for a position that pays a small fraction by comparison?  I believe that recruiting firms are essentially limited to whatever the lowest form of search that their websites promotes and THATS it!  If they are a Staffing Company, they may occasionally do a “Permanent Placement,” but it isn’t what they do regularly. Oh sure, they wish to one day do Executive Search, but they don’t. It would be as if a Real Estate agent who brokers High End Homes and they dabbled in  studio apartment rentals? It is one of the Big Fibs of the industry. With a Wink and  Nod, everyone puts the language of what they hope to become one day. However, there is no way that anyone who tastes the “Juicy Steak” of Executive Search is going to settle for the “fast food” of Staffing again! 

I honestly have nothing against people in the staffing business. It is an honorable business. It just isn’t Executive Search, and it has to be called what it is.  As I have been saying for a while, the industry needs to have very clear distinction between the different types of Staffing, Contingency Recruiting, and Retained Executive Search. There is a stark contrast between these so let’s stop blurring the lines. People get upset when they are confronted by this truth, but it will help everyone if we demystify it and remove the ambiguity surrounding this issue. They actually have very little in common.  

Let the rants begin…