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The State of Talent

We’re living in an age of massive disruption where the need for talent is greater than ever. So why is there no improved way to recruit talented leaders?

The importance of the 2%-ers

One of the world’s greatest business theorists boldly claims that 2% of your organization is responsible for 98% of its impact. These high-impact performers deliver many times the value of an average employee. Not just current value, but transformational long-term value to you and your organization. If this is accurate, one could argue that if you’re going to not only survive, but succeed, you need to prioritize the attraction, engagement and hiring of these high performers — regardless of the cost or time required. So valuable is the impact they will make.

Let’s take a look at what high-impact talent looks like. They can be characterized as:

  • Able to connect more dots than in the past
  • Able to think systemically
  • Forward thinking
  • Able to deal with uncertainty
  • Able to create and sustain trust and inspiration
  • Courage (to do the right thing, to speak up)
  • Driven by purpose and meaning

These are the kinds of generational leaders who can transform your organization long-term, not just in the moment. Who create environments where people thrive — and stay. Impact players achieve amazing results, but it’s not the results that mark them, it’s how they are able to achieve these results. Through servant leadership and the kind of quality traits that inspire, grow, and motivate the people who work for such a leader.

Cultural shifts and cost-cutting

There’s a big problem in finding, attracting and keeping high-impact talent.

The primary causes of the inadequate supply of talented leaders relate to headwinds in the form of: 

  • Industry consolidations
  • Systemic failure to mentor and develop for succession
  • Larger companies creating smaller and smaller stove pipes where people often don’t get the necessary breadth of experience necessary to move up
  • Competition for talent from new and emerging industries that didn’t even exist one or two decades ago
  • Technological advancements that offer greater mobility and independence that in turn, encourages moving away from company leadership roles and into entrepreneurial ventures
  • And finally, a weaponized use of non-compete agreements, even at mid-management levels, to slow or stop the movement of talent.  

These headwinds are compounded by the endless pursuit of reduced costs, and you’ll see this in the mistakes we’ve made:

  • We’ve put cost and time above success.
  • We’re not leading in a courageous, inspirational way.
  • Loyalty evaporated with the last generation. And in part because companies are not focused on sustaining loyalty. 
  • We push candidates through an old model that has significant constraints & limitations.

What star performer would want to take the risk to go work for a business where they see no development, no inspiration, no loyalty, and a cookie-cutter approach to find a placement as fast as possible?

What’s wrong with the state of Search?

Part of the reason why traditional search approaches don’t work in this new environment is that they were designed for an environment where there was plenty of talent available. In fact, in an environment with adequate numbers of talent the current model works relatively well in terms of balancing, cost, time, and talent. However, as the volume of available talent shrinks, it has become infinitely harder to find such talents and the existing methodology has simply become deficient.

The standard search process is geared toward recruiting applicants or candidates who are currently interested in pursuing new opportunities, and only then moving to evaluate if anybody among them is talented. Given the immediate time pressure to complete a search, searches currently are only initiated when a position is either vacant or about to become vacant. This alone creates a huge imperative to work quickly, which works against finding great talent, because there simply isn’t enough time. The effort becomes centered around who we can find quickly — hoping one or more of these interested parties is sufficiently talented.

Furthermore, today’s searches focus primarily on the most easily measured requirements for the role – but not the crucial leadership traits that are considered the key indicators of high impact talent, such as the ability to create trust, the courage to do the right thing, the ability to inspire others, and having a noble purpose that goes well beyond increasing shareholder value.  

The result? Quantity over Quality. Quantified Applicants and Applications over subtler metrics like inspirational leadership. And these quant-focused searches are limited by other metrics like time and cost — both of which limit the talent likely to be identified during a search.

So the net is cast and HR departments begin to carve out an applicant pool who are available right-away, but only represent a small subset of all professionals within that business arena.  The hope being to quickly identify the right person, right now, with little to no lag time and hoping they have all the right experiences, skills, cultural fit and talent.   

Traditional search’s goal is to amass as many candidates as possible and then force-rank them with the hope the top two or three have all the qualifications being sought. And because traditional search is heavily focused on cost and time, it raises the risk of a miss-hire, because talent is not the driving force, but rather the urgency to fill the role. The company often won’t consider paying beyond a certain point, or will use timing to drive a compromise decision, barely looking past the job description. 

This approach also puts significant pressures on candidates, forcing them to commit to pursuing an opportunity and following your specific processes, on your time, not theirs. It locks candidates and hiring managers into adversarial positions where answers are limited or skewed during the interview process. And in an age of mistrust and absent of loyalty, traditional approaches tend to foster the very Us vs Them mentality that HR teams decry publicly.

Worst of all, this approach encourages only one group of people to raise their hands: the people who are most dissatisfied or unhappy about their current position. They, ultimately, have the least to lose; whereas people who are relatively happy and content are far less likely to jump quickly just because someone screams jump. Instead those relatively happy and contented professionals tend to pass on opportunities even if though they are open to opportunities, just not with a search conducted in a sort of frenzy. 

How hiring managers work against their own interests

We’re also seeing patterns in hiring managers that can push great candidates away.

Yesterday’s leadership. Command-and-control mentalities are something that worked in previous decades but are a huge turnoff to talent today. One such manager can drive out all the real talent, creating a wake of intimidated employees and an aversion to making decisions. 

Lack of loyalty. One doesn’t have to look far to see talent being treated with disloyalty. It’s created a desire for remote work. Loyalty is often viewed as a one way street. Loyalty from the employee but not the company.

Lack of discernment. The actual practice of talent identification, in which managers made the hiring decisions based on training, experience, leadership qualities and skills, is being lost due to a lack of support. No one can seem to identify what good talent looks like anymore. People are seen as cogs, without any effort to investigate their beliefs, hopes and fears as well as their qualities beyond what is most easily measured (such as years of experience, a particular degree, or easily quantifiable results). 

Placing time over quality. Many managers complain they “don’t have time” to invest into recruiting. Instead, they approach interviewing like speed dating — or they’ll punt the ball to an HR team looking solely for keywords and criteria matching rather than innate make-or-break qualities. If you don’t have time to invest in building a team that will lead you to success, then perhaps it’s an indication you already have the wrong people supporting you.

The reality is that you won’t find good talent under this time pressure. You won’t find a star candidate in a 60-minute Zoom call. It takes time to get to know someone who will be in that 2% — and it takes time for them to get to know you.

Steps you can take today to attract the 2%-ers

Widen the pool.

Don’t just pursue talent to fit an immediate opening. Expand the pool to target all talents, regardless of their immediate interest. How? By dedicating yourself to a low-level on-going search effort to identify talent in key areas regardless of any current or near term openings. Instead, remove the pressure of time and develop and build a network of relationships with talent so that your net is cast wider – and better. Ongoing talent search is something you can be doing anytime. By engaging with and getting to know talent without pressure, you’ll actually accelerate finding and onboarding the 2%-ers because you already have the relationships.

Additionally, by acquiring great talent, you get their insights into other star performers who may be employed elsewhere and not looking. You extend your eyes and ears to a much wider pool of talent.

Involve yourself in the search.

Don’t leave talent identification solely in the hands of HR. Invest the time in identifying your future dream team. This is your chief-of-staff, your SVP, your critical director. When you take the driver’s seat in the search effort, you’ll find yourself learning more about your industry, about your competitors, and about the opportunities that could be possible through this key position.

Learn how to woo.

Recruiting star talent is a contact sport. You’ll need to understand the rules, possess the wherewithal to navigate this new world, and the fortitude to make it a part of your weekly duties. 

Learning how to woo talent results in talent that is inspired by you. It creates a set of people you want to be close to, who bring value to your decision-making. The value of these star players goes far beyond you being able to hire them. It creates opportunities.

Look beyond quantities to qualities.

“Minimum of 10 years…” “Able to travel 25% of the time.” These are all quantitative metrics. Look for the qualitative. Do they inspire trust — in you and in their previous teams? Do they possess courage, to make big decisions, to take calculated risks, and to raise their voices when they feel you’re moving in the wrong direction? Do they have a record of developing and mentoring for succession? Do they have a real sense of purpose? What’s their life’s mission? How do they spend their free time? What motivates them beyond the paycheck and stock options?

Start now!

Putting off strategic search is like putting off a visit to the doctor. Investing the time now means doing so on your terms, rather than waiting until an emergency rears its head, leaving you with few choices.

Introducing Executive Talent Scouting

This kind of long-term approach to talent acquisition is something we call Executive Talent Scouting. Similar to a talent scout for college sports teams, our Talent Scouting service helps you learn how to build a star talent network you can call upon when you need to fill a key position. 

Imagine a position opens up for a SVP of Sales. This person will lead a large sales team and will be held to a big revenue target. You ask HR to engage a search firm, who begin scouring for candidates. On any given day, in this age of the Great Resignation, your search firm may only find two decent candidates who happen to be available and interested. Only two options for the revenue driver of your entire organization! They screen the candidate over a couple of short Zoom calls, fire off the resume to you, and send an invoice.

Now imagine that sales leader not working out. They are driving away star performers through bullying and intimidation. You fire the new hire and assess the damage: a demoralized, leaderless sales team struggling to get wins. You have ground to make up, so you quickly drop another $100k+ on your search firm and give them an even shorter search period. In the meantime, your sales team has lost several people and the rest are eyeing the door.

Now let’s imagine that same search through Executive Talent Scouting. A position opens up for SVP of Sales. Given that you were introduced to several star players two years earlier, you have existing relationships with several talents.  Through yearly check-ins and several dinners with some amazing talent at other companies, you’ve had time to get to know several who you think would make exceptional placements in this key position. You’ve gotten to know what makes them tick. What kind of goals are meaningful to them. They’ve gotten to know your business model and what you’re like as a manager.

Most of all, the perceived risk is minimized, because you and they are known quantities. Not just a recent candidate you have only met for 90 minutes. You feel more comfortable and they feel more comfortable to leave their current role for your opportunity, and because of their phenomenal culture fit and shared goals, they inspire the sales team, increasing their satisfaction and reducing turnover. 

Benefits for hiring managers

Executive Talent Scouting results in numerous benefits for hiring managers.

First, a bigger field to choose from.

By building this network of 2% talent, you get access to several people who normally wouldn’t be a part of your traditional search. And you can leverage their reach into other employers or competitors, giving you better competitive intel and market intelligence. Along with better and stronger sources to network with.

The ability to go fast when you need to.

The beauty of strategic ongoing search is that, with a network of star players, finding and onboarding a winner will go faster, with better results. Because you will have already developed an ongoing relationship, you will get fewer “it’s not the right time for me.” By wooing them when there is no position, when a position opens, they’ll be more likely to make the leap, because the opportunity will appear less risky, since there’s already a strong, existing relationship.

Pressure is reduced for everyone.

As a hiring manager, you’ll feel less pressure from the calendar. And your candidates will too. No strained interviews, timid questions or scripted answers. You’ll already have a holistic view of the candidate with more insightful exchanges — and they’ll have a holistic view of you and your organization.

Your risk is reduced.

By meeting talent over time, you’re minimizing and eliminating the risk associated with most searches — the uncertainty of whether or not they’re a “good hire.” Developing someone over time means you’re less likely to make a quick, poor decision. It provides you with more touchpoints and data. As the saying goes, “marry in haste — and repent at leisure.”

And that reduction of risk means you’ll feel safer with your decision and them safer in the job.

No airing of dirty laundry.

Finally, unlike public executive searches, Executive Talent Scouting is conducted in secrecy. The goal is not an immediate placement, but rather to keep an active eye out for stars that might be right for potential roles several years away. As such, the company, location, position are not divulged as there is no open position. And there is no location or company, unless we happen to unearth someone perfect. But until then, there simply isn’t anything to discuss. It’s about us turning over every stone to find people who might be an excellent match, but only introducing someone if we happen to find such a person – two, five, nine, or even 12 months from now.

The sole goal is to introduce such talents as we come across them, thus eliminating the typical rumors and gossip, such as:

“Oh, I was contacted about that particular position a month ago, but turned them down.”

“In my case, I was contacted four months ago. It tells me they are having great trouble filling this position.”

“There must be something wrong with this position. I suspect the hiring manager is not someone whom people want to work for. Otherwise, they would have filled it by now.”

With our approach, these types of industry rumblings never arise.

Since the work is conducted in stealth, any individuals that might be worth knowing for the future, can be kept at bay for as long as necessary without causing a hardship, since such talent is not being recruited to be a candidate and there is no position or company for them to stress about.

This is of great value since in most searches the individuals who have agreed to be considered for a specific role expect a timely resolution. They are often putting their life on hold to consider a position, research real estate, hold off making other major life decisions to find out how a particular search turns out. As such, they can’t put their lives on hold for a year or even many months.

The pressures of time are removed for all parties.

With a private scouting effort, there can be people we might suggest you get to know, but you can say, “I’m just inundated currently. I will have to wait until later this year to meet anyone. Until then, please hold off introducing me and suggesting we might want to get to know each other.” This is something that would be unthinkable with a standard search, where candidates would either beg off or have rather harsh words to say. “I put my life on hold to consider this position and now they want to hold off until the end of the year. Wow, thanks a million. I have to withdraw as I’m no longer interested. That was a complete waste of my time.”

Make the switch with Kensington Stone

Kensington Stone can change your entire perspective around search, providing you with a vibrant new way of thinking about talent. Strategic searching is a very different approach. We’ll coach you on how to pursue this winning approach.

This typically involves a 12-month retainer that provides hiring managers with continual coaching throughout the year. It includes a broad-based effort to identify key talents within the industry for potential areas within your organization where you might have a weak bench, or might want to get to know good people for a position that might open up with a retirement in three to four years. Or a search to continually look for very-difficult-to–find diversity talents. Rather than paying a traditional search firm $100,000+ for a month or two of effort to fill a single position, a Kensington Stone executive talent scouting retainer means you’ll get a years’ worth of scouting with no cap and no additional cost — even if it leads to multiple placements. 

Contact our principal Kurt Weyerhauser to learn more about Executive Talent Scouting.

What others are saying

“Kurt has a personalised approach to both the organisation recruiting and the candidates themselves. His attention to detail, consideration for what the company needed to achieve and his personal care and support for the candidates made it a very positive experience for all concerned. It certainly didn’t feel like we had hired just any consultant!”

Lesley Grant

CEO, Qantas Loyalty, Qantas Airways

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