Having a strong talent bench is the difference between being ready to take advantage of opportunities and having to put critical business decisions on hold.
Here is how one company realised that its inadequate talent acquisition process delayed its succession plans and put the company at risk.
Before Tom could transition the family business to his son, Mark, the fourth generation, a crucial step was necessary: backfilling Mark’s position as head of operations. The plan was for Tom to move into the role of chairman, and for Mark to ascend to the position of CEO. But many steps were necessary before this succession plan could be executed, and finding the right fit for a key leadership role always looks easier on paper than it really is. Adding to the complexity was Tom and Mark’s distinctly different management styles, and they knew this. Tom was a benevolent leader who walked the shop floor and knew everyone’s name and details about employees’ lives and families. He had a for-the-people reputation. In return, his people were dedicated and hardworking, positive, and grateful. It was important to have Tom’s approval and to be seen as a team player.
Mark was a driven leader who asked lots of questions. He knew people by the quality of their work and their interest in advancing in the company. Mark made his employees feel useful and he had a reputation for being focused on results. In return, Mark’s people were conscientious and deliberate, hardworking, and alert.
Together, Tom and Mark were a good team, and their different skills were complementary for the five years they prepared for the transition. They agreed early on that when Mark became CEO, his replacement would have a leadership profile more like Tom’s and foster a similarly balanced partnership.
The question was, could someone within the organisation fill the operations role? Two years into the five-year transition plan, Tom and Mark determined that none of the division vice presidents were a fit for the VP operations job that Mark would be leaving. So they decided to conduct a search through an executive recruiting firm — and the effort turned out to be a complete debacle. They had two false starts, actually bringing on candidates that left the company within 18 months of being hired. Tom and Mark were frustrated, confused and, quite frankly, embarrassed. They reached out to Tom’s peer advisory group, and a member suggested coaching and strategic talent management as a potential solution for shedding light on the recruiting problem and taking a different approach.
The process began with analysing the situation: Did they hire the wrong recruiting firm? Were they seeking a leader to fill the operations position who did not exist? Did the new hires leave so quickly because division heads were setting them up to fail? Mark speculated that his division vice presidents were looking for a candidate who would maintain the status quo. But Tom and Mark were seeking someone approachable like Tom, but tougher — someone who would push for accountability, like Mark did. The hiring missteps created some complicated, unintended consequences. One, the management team’s vote was carrying too much weight in the hiring decision; and two, Tom and Mark were beginning to feel that the company was not worthy of retaining a quality VP operations hire.
This discovery process sparked the reinvention of the company’s talent acquisition process. They needed a better way of identifying, selecting, and on boarding a new VP of operations. First, a hiring committee of key stakeholders was established. Through a series of facilitated conversations and a job survey, the team of leadership, management, and human resources members came to consensus on the core capabilities for the VP operations. In retrospect, the team realised that they each had vastly different views and expectations for the position that were even contradictory. Competing agendas could have set up the prior two executives for failure.
The team also learned through this process that their old approach had interviewers asking the same questions to the candidates. And in two cases, the interviews had only reviewed the résumé five minutes before the interview. This lack of preparation was evidence that the managers were not engaged, and interviewers were unintentionally communicating to candidates that the company didn’t care. As a result, hiring decisions were at risk for being random and out of control. This discourages top candidates from performing at their best during an interview.
Ultimately, the hiring committee came to consensus on the job profile of the VP operations, the interviewing process, the division of labor for the hiring committee, and the performance expectations that each member of the hiring committee diligently collect relevant data to compare with each other after their interviews.
The team agreed that the company could outsource the heavy lifting of recruiting to fill the candidate pool: identifying, screening, and evaluating passive and active candidates. The recruiting firm was provided with clear directions concerning the position’s core competencies, necessary leadership attributes, and potential for growth and success the role could bring. The company was seeking someone who would fit the job requirements, culture and future potential for succession planning.
A benchmark was also identified for the recruiting process. “No casualties.” Every candidate who touched the company would have a positive experience. Every candidate would walk out of an interview with a good feeling about the company. Ultimately, the talent acquisition process became first a marketing initiative and second a human resource initiative. The team took ownership and accountability for the success of filling the VP operations role. And, they were proud of the new system for selecting a candidate. With this process, an ideal fit for the VP operations was identified and ushered through the interview and selection processes. And, with attention to the on boarding process in the strategic talent management process, the company successfully integrated the new hire into the company culture.
Talent acquisition and succession planning are joined at the hip, interwoven, inextricably linked. In order for a company to attract top talent, the company must perform like a team of top talent. There are no shorts cuts. But the long way is fun.