Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, March 8, 2021
Hiring well is always a challenge.
I had the occasion to watch an old, 1997 UCSD TV show about the San Diego software industry moderated by Barbara Bry when she was the chief operating officer at UCSD Connect. The five guests, from both big and small companies, lamented the need to bring more venture capital to San Diego (which is now happening in a torrent), and then they focused on the issue of acquiring talent — how to find it and how to hire it. Déjà vu all over again. Some things never change.
The job boards are packed with seekers, wanting to move up or move on, and employers looking to grab them as they swim upstream like salmon on their way to spawn.
So, let’s break the puzzle into two pieces. Identifying talent is the first step, and to a large extent, the power of your network, current software programs and good headhunters, make this initial piece, the finding, relatively simple. It is the second piece of the puzzle — hiring that talent — where the magic lies.
I have a client who is facing a critical hire. He has identified three candidates. First, I ask him who did the interviewing and for how long. Less than 50 minutes for each by the CEO and the same by the VP/manager of that division. Both liked the candidates, so that tells me nothing. For sure, they came to the process with unconscious biases.
I asked the CEO if he had discussed with the current manager how he would feel when this new hire is brought in. Above him or below him? Had the CEO thought about reporting and compensation, not to mention personal competition? Nope. He had only thought about his own need for a VP of business development, with solid execution skills. Perhaps a case of two violinists and only one chair? First among equals? This needs resolution, or it is an IED waiting to be tripped.
The CEO wants to build a team culture, recognizing not everyone gets paid the same. How does he morph from an “eat-what-you-kill” culture, (think investment banks on Wall Street or big-time law firms, where there are associates who do the work and rainmakers who water the acreage) to a team collaboration model?
I suggest that he think of the candidate as his customer. Can you find a way to meet his/her needs, not just your own? I suggest he explore “optionality” in an effort to find the right candidate and the right fit.
Two men, one woman. I tell him that he needs a woman in an executive management role. Right now, there is a surfeit of White men in that suite. But my client feels he can’t take a risk for a large salary on someone who is not proven. The woman is married, has two small children, is highly skilled at doing the grunt work, but has been kept like a mushroom in her cubicle at a large firm, rather than be allowed to go out and spread her wings at business development.
The other two candidates are men. He only needs one person now, but will need more depth in nine months. I suggest a matrix of interviews and questions, not only on culture and compensation, but on desire. Who has the fire in the belly and where do they see themselves in five years? Are they franchise players or blow and go, pick your brains, steal your client list and go to a better team or start their own?
In his next interview with the woman, he catches the perfect wave. He learns that she is not quite ready to go full-time, still needs some small children/family space, but burns to move into a business development role. And now the CEO has the perfect opportunity. “Ms. Jones, would you consider perhaps trying business development part-time, with a base salary and a generous commission, and see where it leads?” She is thrilled.
He can hire either of the men, both are highly qualified. But now he has opened a door that gives opportunity to both the woman candidate and the company. If it works, and if she is a rock star, then cue Fernando Tatis and the company adds her full time, win-win.
Rule No. 658
Your employee is your customer.