How do you recruit great leaders?

This is always going to be a challenge for businesses small and large as the traditional recruitment process is simply broken. There is a hybrid model available at the moment split between recruiters and the DIY model and neither has a great track record of delivering consistently great leaders for the average sized business in the UK.

Even the PLC recruiters get it wrong sometimes – then it’s a scandal but its always the board who made the final decision who carry the can and the recruitment firm avoid the spotlight. The current model gives you two options:

  1. Go to a recruitment consultant and pay £50K for the privilege for them to do the job.
  2. Try and Do It Yourself (DIY) where you have a smaller population to reach but have to do all the hard work yourself.

I have a lot of friends who are estate agents. Any they aren’t everyone’s best friend. But what? Isn’t this about recruitment? That’s true but I know full well when I talk to an estate agent whether they are trying to make me sell my house or make me buy a house. There is always a clear differential. However when a recruitment consultant calls me and tries to poach me for an amazing new job – and I tell them I’m truly happy running my own business – they switch sides – like a Jedi Knight jumping to the Dark Side – and ask me how many people I need to recruit.

Don’t get me wrong there are a few recruiters that I trust because they have invested time to get to know me, understand my business and the long term vision and they truly want a lifetime relationship. I met a few of these recruiters whilst in the banking sector and a few others whilst in the consulting space and they are the ones who wanted to give me ideas, suggestions and play the long game. I believe that these are the firms to partner with but unfortunately when I needed them they had disappeared.

The whole recruitment process is a time consuming, frustrating and challenging process for any business and I have been there. In the middle of the banking crisis in 2008 I had to recruit a senior Director to lead my team of bankers who looked after retailers whilst both banks and retailers were falling apart. The real challenge was that the firms I liked to work with in the City had also fallen victim to the crisis and resulting hiring freeze and so they were nowhere to be seen when I needed them.

In a way it was the reverse of the analogy of the banker and their umbrella. As Rhianna sang in 2009 the banks became famous for lending you an umbrella when the sun was shining but taking it away when the rain was pouring. The recruiters could send you loads of bankers when you didn’t need them but they were nowhere to be seen at the time of crisis. I know that’s not a direct quote from Rhianna but wait until I get onto the subject of Lady Gaga in another blog.

I had applications from all over the UK but also West Coast USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. I spoke to anyone who showed any sign of interest in the role. I had a major gap in the business and a desperation to fill the space. I flew people in for meetings from around the planet and even offered the job to somebody from a Southern continent who found it too difficult to uproot their family and persuade them that London had better weather!

I finally recruited somebody with big bank experience who took time to adapt to our culture and norms and the whole process was draining and challenging and difficult and avoidable.

Whilst we had a robust interview process we missed all the stuff around this. We invested so much time and effort and worked with the best recruiters who were left in the market but what we didn’t have was an end to end recruitment process.

I have learnt over the years to adopt best practice from other industries or processes and pivot them into my business. Therefore I chose a sales approach to recruitment. Building the trust of a new client or customer takes time and effort so why don’t we switch that process into recruitment?

If you want to gain a new client you take them on a journey. You may throw out some free gifts to get them engaged. You may ask them to buy a small or cheap product to build traction. You may ask them to invest £100 to join a workshop or conference. Then you may have a sales call with them to convert them to your core product or service.

So how do we switch this sales journey into recruitment. Start by building an online profile aimed not just at your customer but at your next leadership employee. What does that leadership employee avatar look like? What is their education, employment history and experience. What types of companies have they worked for and in what type of positions. How do you measure how successful they were in that role.

Then think about your company vision, culture, values and team. What type of person are you looking for, an introvert or an entrepreneur, a leader or a finisher. Add to this a degree of psychometric testing to see how they would fit with your team.

Build out a great job description which covers company wide values and job specific roles and details exactly what they are accountable for. Then build a recruitment process which is simply the inverse of a sales process.

Start by building a tribe of followers who want to work for you. Promote the company online telling the world your story, purpose and aspirations. Engage early with future employees who may need a couple of years to convert to your cause. Find them either through your best recruiter or direct as you can build an aspirational brand that leaders want to join.

Then build a recruitment funnel. You will have heard of a sales funnel but have you heard of a recruitment funnel?. Why not adapt the same approach. Start by sending them free content. Who you are and what you are about. What are your mission and values. Engage them then with low ticket price content. Ask them to jump on a short 30 minute call. If this were a sales call it would be heavily scripted and measured as to likelihood of completing a sale. Why not script and measure a recruitment call. Have a set of 2 questions you want to get through and score each with a simple plus or minus your pre-determined benchmark.

Then ask only the highest scoring handful to take the next step of the sales journey. Send them more information about your company, its vision, its values and culture. Ask them if they want to join this type of organisation and whether they would fit in. Ask them to prove their desire by undertaking some homework. Ask them to research a project, or a past learning or a future opportunity. Now it’s not nice just to use potential recruits to bring you ideas and I would never do that as it falls away from a process which is in integrity in my view but asking their opinion on a relevant historic incident or process falls on the right side of the integrity line. If they want to spend a couple of hours working through such an exercise and submitting their results (and they are clear, concise and understandable) then invite them in for an interview.

The interview should be 90 minutes long and be made up of three elements. First a short repetition of the information you sent them about your company. Share this again and make sure it has landed and is understood and that they share a passion for your vision. Without this you are wasting each other’s time. Secondly move onto a structured and scripted set of six to eight questions where you are testing their technical knowledge and leadership skills and you have a clear expected benchmark that they need to reach to demonstrate that they meet your original avatar. Score them three out of five of they meet the benchmark and a range of between one and five for increments above or below the line.

By the time you have gone through the initial attraction, the phone interview the homework and the interview you will have a very good idea as to who you want to join your business and be certain that they are the right fit. However the recruitment funnel doesn’t end with an interview. There is still an offer to be made and accepted and it’s amazing how many people fall away at this stage. Think again in property terms. How many house purchasers try and chip the deal at the exchange of contracts stage ? If you are selling you may feel either obliged to accept or so weary of the process you just want to get the job done. However if you are recruiting these are two great reasons NOT to hire the person.

Test them for a final time. If it’s a technical leadership role then sit them with peers on a shared task and observe how they project manage the challenge and engage with and work alongside the leadership group. If it’s a sales leadership role then get them to pitch to their new peers and see how they get along. If it’s a relationship leadership role then put them through the beer test. Get them to take the team for a beer and watch how they interact with and value their potential new colleagues.

These final tests are worth more than money. You need to make sure that you have the right person for the organisation and in the right seat for the job. Leading teams is challenging, hard work and wholly rewarding if you get it right. Its long, hard and difficult to teach so make sure you have a natural born leader heading your pack.

Recruitment is just one of the challenges new leaders face. Our course Zero to Authentic Leader will help you find ways to tackle this and many other issues you face. Take a look at our free introduction course to find out more.


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