by Hank Stringer
We have an abundance of positions to fill around the country that require specific skills. We have a very high unemployment rate and an abundance of people without the right skills. What do we do? How do we align this mismatch to execute and accomplish business and personal life goals? There is an answer in the way we interview and hire.
I recently had the opportunity to spend time with an old friend. This friend had been a business compatriot of mine in the early DAZE of the Internet boom. I had the opportunity to watch him work as a technology leader, and a workhorse of the first degree. He, like many of you, wore the phrase “whatever it takes” on his chest as a true badge of honor. He made things happen. He got things done.
My friend went on to technology heights in the startup and enterprise software markets becoming an executive leader for the largest software companies in the world. Because of schedules and world travel, we had not sat down to break bread for years. So a recent 2 ½ hour lunch to just talk was such a blessing for me, and I hope, for him.
Good recruiters have a capacity for and a deep joy in asking questions and listening. I asked my friend a number of questions surrounding talent issues. I really got to the meat of his talent experiences when I asked what was his biggest talent obstacle he was most proud of solving. He didn’t miss a beat. He immediately began describing how he sourced and hired Product Management talent.
Good product managers are not easy to come by. They have a tough job straddling the fence between technology scope, client requirements, investment / budget control, technology upkeep, and of course, market competition. Finding talent who knows a specific technology market, has successfully helped bring product to market from soup to nuts can be a very tough and expensive process. And getting any product to market on time and at, or under, budget is very important. The Product Manager is just one cog in the wheel but an essential one.
My friend’s experience at successfully hiring Product Managers could be a gem. I sat back ready for a long description of process and unique sourcing techniques. Then he stunned me.
Please know that he was describing a time when he was managing over 3000 technologists and carried a P&L in the billions. This was no small area of responsibility. Whatever his program, he had to get it right pretty much the first time – not a lot of flexibility here. He needed Product Management talent. So what stunned me?
He answered, “I hired a store manager from Nordstrom’s,”
I almost screamed. “What? You can’t be serious!”
He said, “Sure. They have a lot of responsibility. They understand reporting, management, and like to be held accountable for doing a very important job. And they are more affordable than the few good product managers in the software space. It takes less investment. And I get results faster if I hire good talent and bring them up to speed myself.”
I know there are plenty of you reading this and thinking, “Sure, no big deal. I do the same thing.” But I also know there are plenty reading who are thinking, “There is no way my management or HR function would let me do that – but boy I wish they would!”
My friend hired good talent, knew where they were deficient, discussed this with the person during the hiring process, and brought them on board with a plan and expectation to get them up to speed and adding value. Even if a few of the talent hired did not work out, the majority did and it was a win-win for all involved. Makes sense, right?
The discussion reminded me of a project I took on long ago at Dell Computer. Michael and the executive sales team needed to hire 15 top Account Executives around the country in 60 days, start to finish. Now this was the early 90’s, and Dell was known, but not that well known. Believe it or not, the direct sales model was in the early stages–direct sales was a new and incredible common sense approach to the market. In order to accomplish the goal of 15 top AE’s in 60 days, it was necessary for me to set the ground rules. Luckily, Susan Larson, the Sr VP of Sales at the time, supported me and gave me all the rope I needed to be successful or hang myself.
Hiring to Deficiency
I came up with a program I called “Hiring to Deficiency.”
Here are the key points of that old program.
Created hiring teams of three for each region
Had a specific time line for each step of the process
Met with all interviewers with Susan standing by my side telling her team to do “whatever I said – period”
Trained all interviewers in behavioral interviewing
Forced them to interview in panels of three
Gave them three candidates for each region
I sat in every interview
Trained them to hire to deficiency – hire the talent closest to the needed skill set
Told them they were accountable for discussing these areas with each talent before hiring
And that the panel of three was responsible for getting the talent up to speed
There was more to the program but by working these main points we successfully completed the project. Because we had a program and plan to work with the talent to get them up to speed, we attracted and hired some of the top Account Executives who have worked for Dell. (By the way, I don’t imagine any of them are working now as they made millions of dollars through sales payouts and stock options.)
The program, managed properly with the right expectations, works.
A New Idea?
Absolutely not. However, the process of seeking and executing a solution may be new, as we approach solution seeking differently. In the past, we dealt with real world real relationship scenarios. We did not immediately consider searching the web, using job boards to build talent flow, or relying on private company web pages or social networks to attract talent. These are all worthwhile endeavors.
But reviewing successful talent programs from the past is worth remembering, and maybe worth pursuing – again.
For instance, in the early days of IBM’s involvement in computers, programmers en masse didn’t exist. And there was no Internet to source, test and train prospective talent. What did IBM do? Well IBM considered the skills they needed, talent who could easily understand something akin to a binary language, who were creative and could sit at a keyboard for long periods of time.
Guess what? Music majors who had been trained in composition (especially trained pianists) fit the bill. The program worked! Is there a community of Liberal Arts majors ready to do technical work instead of service industry positions today? Is your company willing to find out? How can we assess and train them? Today we have the Internet, and I am sure a number of companies have programs like this in place. Why not all, or at least more?
In the 1980’s Ross Perot, Founder of EDS needed top notch sales account managers. And he didn’t have time to waste weeding out those who could execute successfulagainst those who couldn’t. So he implemented a tough front end filter (today that would be a blue suit, red tie and no tatts), and created an intense 3 year training program that he valued at $9K. If you were chosen for the training program and failed at any point during the three years, you had to pay the prorated portion of the $9K back to EDS. Not sure that would work today, but with an army of well trained enterprise consultative sales account executives, Ross was able to build a multi Billion dollar company.
Training programs for the masses appear to be long gone. But access to assessment and training for individuals, in areas vital to make them productive, is easily accomplished on the web. Just do a Google search and get started.
Why is it important today?
We have an abundance of positions to fill around the country that require specific skills. We have a very high unemployment rate and abundance of people without the right skills. What do we do? How do we align this mismatch to execute and accomplish business and personal life goals?
If we spend time and dollars working and waiting until we hire the perfect talent, we lose. We may rely on corporate training programs, but can we really? If we need talent today, we must move quickly – there is simply no time to lose!
So instead of training in groups, why not hire great talent with high Emotional Quotient, with interesting experiences and desires, who understand and appreciate a company spending the time and effort to take them to the next level?
There are all types of positions that need to be filled and all types of people willing to work. If we consider the base attributes we seek, and work to train talent in the areas they need help, we get great talent faster.
One more thing. Do something great for someone, and they may be more loyal next time the recruiter calls attempting to take your best talent. Work to advance their knowledge base and career, and there is a better chance they will stick with you through thick and thin.
The value of attracting and training great talent really pays off as you retain them. Be open, honest, and give people skills to advance their career, and retention will increase. Be prepared however, to continue paying for that value equal to the market. Or else some company will figure out the economics, and will recruit and pay more, a lot more.
This cycle and scenario has happened before and will happen again. At this time, in this talent market, it makes sense to revisit hiring great talent with a clear understanding and program in place to overcome their deficiencies. What else are you going to do?