Fantasy Football for Recruiters
This time of year many of us are busy crafting our strategy for upcoming Fantasy Football drafts, combing through magazines or reading websites. Particularly in those early draft rounds we only get a few chances to get it right, and those choices make or break our entire season. It occurred to me that as I help my client companies recruit candidates to fill key positions, we often go through the same process: understanding the position (a Job Description), developing a targeted search plan, interviewing, vetting, and selecting. All hiring managers want to get Tom Brady, Saquon Barkley, or (pick-your-favorite-player) on the team. The key difference, of course, is that candidates for employment often choose not to go, or they don’t return a call because there is no reason to make a job change, or they have three job offers to choose from at the same time. So to operate under the assumption that as a hiring manager with an “opening” we should be able to expect the most talented person in the workforce to join our team is, indeed, a fantasy.
The trap I see many managers fall into is that initial candidates who are early in an interview process are “put on the backburner” while we search, and wait, for better people. And we search, and we interview, and we wait, and at some point along the way we have a choice to make: is it better to have a vacancy on the field (for example, no Tight End) and go with fewer players than your competitor? Or does it make more sense to get someone in there who is competent and willing to play for your team? I suspect the answer is that it depends on the position and what time it is in the game. If it’s an important job, and it’s crunch time – maybe a product launch, or an IPO or merger, or a new technology platform being implemented – it may make sense to hire someone who is over-the-bar in terms of qualifications and cultural fit, yet perhaps not the envisioned perfect-candidate profile.
Just as no football coach, fantasy or otherwise, would enter a game under-staffed, no hiring manager should carry a vacancy for a prolonged period. Winning companies have a clear process for recruiting and selection, identifying a short-list of candidates who are hirable and interested, and setting a general deadline for making a decision. One of the hardest skills for new managers to develop is attracting and then vetting new members for their team (particularly when they were recently promoted and are now backfilling their old position). But an even more important skill to develop is overcoming the fear of making a mistake or bringing on someone who is high-maintenance and a management challenge.
From my seat it is interesting to observe the differences in hiring behavior between brand new managers of people and those with several years of experience supervising others. Many new managers are very hesitant to make a decision and fill an opening. Almost as if it were a marriage proposal, the fear of making a mistake will sometimes drive them to consider dozens of qualified candidates over several months, and many are willing to do 2-3 jobs at once while waiting for Joe Montana to show up and interview. The strain on the rest of the team members, who typically have to help cover the vacancy, begins to wear on them, often leading to further turnover. If left to fester, vacancies – whether backfills or newly created jobs – become a cancer that can drag an organization down. In this white-hot job market for executives in the medical industry all candidates want to know why a job is open, and how long it’s been vacant. Prolonged vacancies, particularly those that have been advertised for more than six weeks or so, create fear and uncertainty. I hear things like “why can’t they fill it?” or “why won’t people go work there?”
As with everything this is a balancing act – nobody is suggesting that we hire the first or second warm body who interviews, knowing that they are unlikely to meet expectations. But just as great coaches in sports can identify budding talent and help make them great when put into the proper system (Bill Belichick comes to mind), leaders in the workforce must be willing to make hiring decisions when they are asked to manage a team. Beyond staffing, successful management is about training, inspiring, motivating, and – when necessary – coaching and counseling underperformers, including those you may inherit. Yes, sometimes that even means replacing people, a difficult task that good managers must embrace.
If it’s any consolation, one of the most common qualities that my client’s seek when filling a supervisory role is the experience of dealing with a “management challenge.” They want to know about situations where you’ve been able to turn around underperformers and get them moving in the right direction, and they want to know about situations where you’ve had to move someone out of the organization. Candidates who don’t have those experiences are viewed as being untested and less attractive, particularly given the trend toward permanent reorganizations where managers are assigned new subordinates rather than being allowed to select their own people.
One of the great tenets of leadership, among coaches or managers of any group, is “when in command, take charge.” In other words, make a decision and own it. Monitor it, and if you determine later that it needs to be corrected, then admit the mistake and fix it. All noteworthy books on leadership cite indecision as having a crippling effect on organizations. When it comes to competing in the marketplace, we must stop carrying prolonged, expensive vacancies and losing good employees to other teams. We can go on and on with sports analogies here (“you miss every shot you don’t take”), but it’s fair to say that having somebody in a crucial job – even if it’s on a short-term, contract-to-perm basis, is better than having nobody. If we’re doing our jobs as managers that means keeping all parts of the machine operating smoothly.
As always I appreciate your comments and questions and look forward to staying in touch-