Hire Potential

Partnering with a great hiring manager is an executive search consultant’s dream. I’ve been fortunate to work with outstanding leaders over the last few months, and in all three projects I placed candidates who will be growing into their new roles. They were all hired for their potential, a successful strategy and approach to talent acquisition and management.

Nearing the end of a search for a VP Product Management role reporting to the Chief Experience Officer of a technology-driven financial services company, the hiring manager received some pushback regarding a leading candidate’s lack of “leadership experience,” as this VP will be tasked with building and growing a new team. I emailed my client to ask if he was, likewise, concerned. I received this response:

You are never going to find someone with 15 years of large-scale leadership experience and the energy to drive the product vision and strategy at pace we want. The good news is the leadership part is reachable if you have the right attitude and create the right environment. The environment part is on me. This is an advantage of stewardship, which people just don’t get. Hire the smartest person you can find, empower them and steward their growth areas. It is not a concept most understand or trust. It requires a very fundamental trust and belief in your team.

I was inspired reading his email, given my training and practice in an improvisational approach to human development. Attention to the environment, empowerment and stewarding growth is so incredibly critical and so often ignored. It reminded me of an important statement about education by one of my mentors, Dr. Fred Newman, the Stanford-trained philosopher and co-founder of the East Side Institute, where I am a faculty member:

The issue is to recognize that who we all are is not simply our potential, which is somehow thought of in popular language as ‘inside us.’  But who we are is some complex combination of who we are and what we are becoming.  We’re not static individuals.  We are continuously changing, and we are continuously growing… This is philosophical, and it’s also the understanding of some of the most frontline 20th, 21st century critical thinkers about how to understand human growth and development.

I was also reminded of a favorite quote from Viola Spolin, an important innovator in 20th century American theater and creator of theatre games, “The heart of improvisation is transformation.”

Looking at these 5 Practices for Transformational Leaders*,I imagine these as best practices for improvisers as well as business leaders:

  1. Pause to move faster.
  2. Embrace your ignorance.
  3. Radically reframe the questions.
  4. Set direction, not destination.
  5. Test your solutions, and yourself.

(* Excerpted from “Leading with inner agility,” by San Bourton, Johanne Lavoie, and Tiffany Vogel, McKinsey Quarterly, March 2018, that appeared in Executive Talent, the Global Magazine from the Association of Executive Search Consultants article, Transformational Leadership: The Other Side of Disruption)

Happily, and not surprisingly, these are some of the new approaches for hiring in the 21stcentury. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Hire Leaders for What they Can Do. Not for What They Have Done, authors Josh Bersin and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic sum up their approach to hiring for potential:

In today’s ever-changing world, businesses are expected to grow as fast as the technologies surrounding them. Their models must be in constant transformation. What worked in the past and what is working in the present may not work at all in the future. Companies, then, need to get more comfortable thinking outside the box. This means taking “misfits” or “people who think differently” and placing them into leadership roles. Give them support and time to prove themselves. This is just one way to deepen your leadership pipeline.

You should also take an extra look at the people who “may not be ready,” and analyze them on the basis of their ambition, reputation, and passion for your business. Often the youngest, most agile, and most confident people turn into incredible leaders, even though their track record may not be the best.

It’s time to rethink the notion of leadership. If you move beyond promoting those with the most competence and start thinking more about those who can get you where you want to go, your company will thrive. In other words, start considering those who have high potential, not just top performers.

In the language of improvisation, I give this a hearty “yes, and …” !

85% of Jobs That Will Exist In 2030 Haven’t Been Invented Yet

A few years ago, Harvard Business Review published an important and interesting article about talent acquisition: 21st Century Talent Spotting by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz.  The article contained valuable research about the nature of potential and the need to hire for potential:

Research points to five markers of potential: a strong motivation to excel in the pursuit of challenging goals combined with the humility to put the group ahead of individual needs; an insatiable curiosity to explore new ideas and avenues; keen insight into connections that others don’t see; a strong engagement with work and people; and the determination to overcome obstacles.

Recruiting talent with an eye to potential means no longer simply relying on core competencies. Recruiting for the new landscape of work means finding people based on their potential to develop. This requires the vision to see who someone is becoming. Organizations routinely ask recruiters to survey the market to find the “A players,” but the scarcity of the talent pool is apparent. Looking for “A players” can be limiting; we end up looking for “special” people (or privileged people from “top schools”).

Four years later we are faced with the fact that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet according to research from Dell Technologies.

Among other trends, the very nature of work will change. Today’s gig economy will transform so that “work will chase people.”

Instead of expecting workers to bear the brunt of finding work, work will compete for the best resource to complete the job.

This raises both challenging and positive developments in how technology will impact talent acquisition and how recruiters will have to approach our work:

Work chasing people could also reduce personal biases and stereotypes in the job seeking process. Integrating VR technology into recruitment protocols, for example, enables the prospective worker to demonstrate competency by showcasing skills without revealing gender or ethnicity. Hiring through immersive technologies could improve the dismal representation of women in computing jobs (currently, in the United States, only 26% of them are held by women), and open more doors to people who, historically, have not had equal opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.

In the meantime, the more that organizations can create development opportunities for their workforce – especially for those in talent acquisition – to do what they don’t know how to do, to perform ahead of themselves, to take risks – the better prepared they will be for what lies ahead.

In today’s ever changing VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, our ability to be see who we and others are becoming is more important than ever.

The Art of Interviewing: How to Create Conversation

Job seekers tend to rehearse (prepare) for interviews.  Hiring managers, on the other hand, because they’re often busy executives, don’t necessarily prepare for interviewing candidates.

Candidates frequently report that an interviewer seemed unprepared and/or unintrested. At their worst, interviewers are doing most of the talking and barely ask a question or they ask the overly-scripted questions, i.e., “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” At their best, interviewers are relaxed and open. Candidates enjoy conversational interviews where a true connection is established.

The best interviewers work to create a conversation. One way to develop this skill is to approach the interview as an improvised scene. Put your focus on creating a conversation that allows for both the interviewer and the candidate to get to know each other. By doing so, it’s easier to assess the fit – culturally and otherwise – for both parties. An additional plus is that interviewing might even be enjoyable!

 Performance tips for interviewers:

  • Lead and enjoy the activity of creating conversation.
  • Be present as an active listener.
  • Be thoughtful and follow your curiosity.
  • Go slowly and allow the conversation to unfold.
  • Allow space for the interviewee’s questions. Be as honest and direct as possible in answering.
  • Take a risk and go somewhere together as you co-create the interview scene.
Humanize the Interview Process – Become a Relational Recruiter

There have been some interesting reports about employee retention and turnover that started me thinking about why people look for new opportunities and how that impacts recruiting.  The Society for Human Resource Management recently published a report entitled “Skills Gap, Turnover Are Top Talent Concerns” in which they found:

About one-fourth of employees reported that they are likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months. They cited unhappiness with current salary (23 percent), followed by looking for a better opportunity (19 percent), not feeling valued (16 percent) and unhappiness with growth opportunities (13 percent).

Indeed.com just published their Talent Attraction Study: What Matters to the Modern Candidate in which they found:

71% of people are actively looking or open to a new job, and 90% of people hired within the past year actively looked for a job within six months prior to being hired. Also, 65% look at new jobs again within 91 days of starting a new job, leading us to believe that no one is “passive” about their career in 2015.

Indeed’s conclusion that “no one is passive about their career in 2015” led me to think about what people mean when they say they want “a better opportunity.”  On one hand, there is always going to be a grouping of people who will opportunistically move for better compensation packages.  Resumes that show a new position every 2-3 years are often representative of the person who is moving for better salary.  On the other hand, the more interesting question is what do we need to do to make people “feel valued” from the moment we reach out to them in the recruiting process.

All too often hiring managers and recruiters can forget that every aspect of the recruitment process is an opportunity to let potential hires know they are valued.  Recruitment agencies and internal recruiters ought to convey in their initial outreach that the human equation is what matters, not filling the job; we are in a relationship-oriented business.  All too often the relational aspect of recruiting and hiring is second to the need for speed and efficiency in recruiting which can lead to a commoditized process in which candidates feel like a cog in the wheel, rather than a respected and valued future member of an organization.

Interestingly, I read an article yesterday – The Trouble With Behavioral Interviewing – that is quite relevant to how we recruit talent.  I especially appreciate this comment from author Liz Ryan:

We are human all the time. We are foolish to turn job interviews, such potentially fun and fizzy human processes, into tense and grovelly affairs.

As a recruiter who is also an improviser, the activity of creating conversation is where I put my focus.  Again, I appreciate Ryan’s perspective:

If you care about talent, you won’t want to interview people from a script. You’ll want to sit down with them next to a whiteboard and brainstorm like crazy. How else will you know whether your energies resonate together?

Once I’ve established that a person is qualified for the role, I abandon “interview questions” all together in favor of having a wide-ranging conversation.  We can learn valuable information about a candidate when we allow ourselves to explore who someone is in the world, how they express their intellectual curiosity, and discover their goals both personally and professionally.  In the long run recruiting is about building rapport.  It is refreshing to create the conditions that eliminate the hierarchical framework that comes with a more traditional recruiting paradigm in favor of getting to know each other.

Interviewing – It’s a Performance! (Part One)

It might seem counter-intuitive but my experience as an executive search consultant and coach is that the role of interviewer can be more challenging than being interviewed.  While job seekers rehearse (prepare) for interviews, interviewers are often busy executives who have been asked to interview candidates along with the many other responsibilities that all too often take priority, absorbing most of their attention.

Unfortunately, many of us have been in the “bad interview” play from one side or the other – the interviewee arrives at the interviewers office and that busy executive that is conducting the interview is winging it.  S/he is distracted.  Perhaps running late.  Whirling around in the interviewer’s head are things like: “Did I see a resume on this person?  What job is she/he interviewing for?  I don’t have time for this.  I’ve interviewed so many people this week I can’t get my work done.  What core competencies am I supposed to be interviewing for, anyway?”  Meanwhile, the interviewee wonders why s/he is not being asked thoughtful questions.  When recruiters debrief candidates about an interview it is not unusual to hear, “The interviewer did all the talking.”

There’s a lot to do in an interview – assess skill level, cultural fit, leadership and emotional intelligence to name a few.  And there is often a need to sell a talented candidate on the job and the company.  The hiring manager has a responsibility to organize her/his team to appreciate that talent acquisition is critical part of their job, to create an environment where the candidate feels respected and valued, and to clarify what each interviewer is looking for in her/his interview.  While one person might be interviewing for cultural fit, another might be digging into the candidate’s skill set.

Now, I’m all for improvising (vs. rehearsing and learning lines) but it’s good to remember that a well trained improviser is always making her/his partner look good.  We are very keyed into “the other.”  We are active listeners.  

Above all else I think the job of any interviewer is to create a conversation.  A performance for the interviewer might be to lead and enjoy the activity of creating conversation.  Be in the present and be present as an active listener.  Be thoughtful.  Go slowly.  Let the conversation unfold.  Follow your curiosity.  What does it take to get to know the person?  Take a risk.  Go somewhere together.  Allow space for their questions and be as honest and direct as possible in answering.

A great resource for interviewers is Adam Bryant’s weekly column in The New York Times – The Corner Office – http://projects.nytimes.com/corner-office/interviews/oldest/sort Bryant does a great job of interviewing hiring managers about how they interview and usually asks his subject’s for their favorite questions.

Have a great show!

Performing Potential

Harvard Business Review recently published an important and interesting article about talent acquisition for any of us who are engaged in recruiting: 21st Century Talent Spotting by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz http://hbr.org/2014/06/21st-century-talent-spotting/ar/6

The executive summary of the article is as follows – I bolded some key points:

How can a person who seems so qualified for a position fail miserably in it? How can someone who clearly lacks relevant skills and experience succeed? The answer is potential, the ability to adapt and grow into increasingly complex roles and environments. For the past several decades, organizations have based their hiring decisions on competencies. But we have entered a new era of talent spotting. Geopolitics, business, industries, and jobs are changing so rapidly that it’s impossible to predict the capabilities employees and leaders will need even a few years out. The question now is not whether people have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones. Research points to five markers of potential: a strong motivation to excel in the pursuit of challenging goals combined with the humility to put the group ahead of individual needs; an insatiable curiosity to explore new ideas and avenues; keen insight into connections that others don’t see; a strong engagement with work and people; and the determination to overcome obstacles. Once organizations have hired true high potentials—a challenge, given the increasing scarcity of senior talent—and identified the ones they already have, it’s crucial to focus on retaining them and on helping them live up to their potential by offering development opportunities that push them out of their comfort zones.

I read this article with great interest as I reinitiate my work as an executive search consultant and engage in the process of developing and interviewing candidates for my clients.  During the course of my search work I have been come keenly aware that the author is correct when he describes what many might already have experienced:

“…your organization will be looking for it in what will soon be one of the toughest employment markets in history—for employers, not job seekers. The recent noise about high unemployment rates in the United States and Europe hides important signals: Three forces—globalization, demographics, and pipelines—will make senior talent ever scarcer in the years to come.”

The notion that we can no longer simply rely on core competencies to recruit talent makes good sense to me.  Executive search consultants are hired to survey the market in order to find the “A players” that every organization wants to recruit; the scarcity of the talent pool is apparent. Looking for “A players” can be limiting; we end up looking for “special” people (or privileged people from “top schools”).  Recruiting people based on their potential to develop requires a new skill: the vision to see who someone is becoming.  We are always becoming (along with being who we are and who we were); seeing potential broadens the discussion about talent to a discussion about human development.

Development opportunities require us to step out of our comfort zones; we step out of our comfort zones when we have development opportunities.  What enables us to step out of our comfort zones?  How can we make these moves and see the moves co-workers are making?  Performance.  We can perform ahead of ourselves as leaders, managers, executives, and business owners.  Innovative corporate cultures use performance to develop potential in their people; we can all perform motivated, curious, insightful, engaged, and determined.

Managers and leaders can create environments that allow everyone to be “a head taller”.   The more that organizations create opportunities to perform as “high potentials”, the more people will begin to develop these traits.  It is difficult to be motivated in a critical environment; the more we see each other through the lens of who we are becoming, the easier it is to perform our motivation to succeed.  People express their curiosity when dialogue is encouraged.  Someone’s insightful observation will be heard when listening skills are encouraged and developed. The more teamwork is encouraged the more engaged people become.  When we play in a level playing field we have that much more determination.

What to do about the scarcity of the talent pool?  Let’s develop!