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The (as of yet) Unfulfilled Promise of Talent Management

07/20/2011 02.40 EST

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Talent Management is the new black. It’s trendy, chic, and virtually every Fortune 100 company wants to have it. But, what exactly is it? The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) defines it in the following manner. A holistic approach to optimizing human capital, which enables an organization to drive short- and long-term results by building culture, engagement, capability, and capacity through integrated talent acquisition, development, and deployment processes that are aligned to business goals. Do me a favor. Walk into your CEO’s office and give him/her this definition and tell me how long it takes for their eyes to glaze over. I’ll bet you $5 you don’t get past holistic. But, if you ask him or her what drives the business, having the best people is most likely going to come out in the first sentence of their answer. The rush to establish talent management as a function is based on the perception of the C-Suite that people are indeed important coupled with the uneasy feeling from those same leaders that they don’t know how to get, develop, and keep the best people to work in their organizations. The knee jerk reaction is to create a talent management function that owns “get, develop, and keep” for the company. A leader is appointed, several functions are assigned to them (most likely executive and organizational development, performance management, talent acquisition, and perhaps diversity), and this newly created organization often finds that they have no mandate, specific objectives,...

Interviewing Star Candidates

07/06/2011 02.40 EST

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Given the number of interviews I do on a weekly basis, it’s easy for them to blend together.  Not that I get candidates mixed up with one another; I take good notes and do my best to be focused in every interaction.  But it’s hard for a candidate to stand out in a calendar that may contain 15 to 20 interviews, but the “stars” do.   In my opinion, what differentiates stars in an interview setting is their ability to engage their interviewer.  Typically, they are focused and succinctly describe their strengths. Accomplishments are linked to results.  They have an engaging style and as a result, I rarely look at my watch or even wonder what time it is – the conversation flows naturally.   This notion of brevity is worthwhile for every executive-level candidate to consider.  The human attention span is short, even under the best of circumstances.  The more concise you can be in an interview while still driving your point home, the more likely you will be to engage the person on the other side of the table.  I find that star candidates have the ability to provide specific examples that sound more like short stories than novels.  The novelists, on the other hand, often lose track of the questions they’re in the middle of answering, as do those asking the questions.   Other distinguishing traits include bringing a focused energy to the conversation and an observable passion for one’s work.  These qualities shine...

A Mid-Year Report on Executive Employment: What We Are Seeing

06/29/2011 03.11 EST

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According to most of the national press, the Great Recession of 2008 has been followed by the Great Jobless Recovery of 2011. No one seems to know when we can expect job growth significant enough to make a major dent in the current unemployment numbers, but most all agree that it will be a while before we see the unemployment rate dip to pre-recession levels. If you’re up for a particularly sobering read, check out McKinsey’s thoughts on the topic. However, based on our experience through 2011, all the news isn’t necessarily gloomy. We’ve seen an uptick in search activity from the beginning of 2010 through to the midpoint of this year and our numbers are by no means unique. The Association for Executive Search Consultants (AESC) saw a dramatic increase in search activity in 2010, reporting a 28.5 percent increase from 2009. Obviously, that’s coming off one of the worst years in this industry’s history but still ranks 2010 as executive search’s third best year… ever. AESC’s reports from the First Quarter of this year were equally promising. As to our particular experience, SSG’s search activity is up over 50 percent in the first six months of 2011 vs. the same period last year. Here are some encouraging signs we have observed over the past six months: An increased level of competition for talent – The candidates we are pursuing for our clients are telling us that calls from executive recruiters and potential employers are up...

Questions I Have Stopped Asking

06/22/2011 11.31 EST

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This is a second installment in which I am reflecting on what I have learned and observed while interviewing more than 1,000 executives as candidates for senior-level positions in our client companies. Conducting interviews with potential candidates over the past 15 years has allowed me to develop a standard list of questions to ask and avoid. I have stopped using a few questions, because they either elicit “canned” answers or just don’t get at the information I am looking for. Here are two examples. “How would the people who work for you describe your management/leadership style”? This sounds like an obvious question that should elicit useful information, right? Think again. Nearly 90 percent of the people asked this question give some version of this answer: “I work with people to set clear goals and then get out of the way and let them do their jobs. I am available to them when they need me but I don’t micromanage them”. How do I know this isn’t really true for 90% of today’s leaders? All I have to do is talk to people about their bosses and their corporate cultures. I seldom hear that management style description. When I get the predictable, vanilla answer described above, I ask a second question: “What is it about your leadership style that drives people nuts on your team? What would they change about you?” Believe me when I tell you that, again, 90 percent of the people I interview are completely...

The Best HR People I Know

06/15/2011 10.05 EST

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The first in an occasional series on what differentiates the best HR leaders We do a good deal of recruiting for senior human resources leadership positions here at the Salveson Stetson Group. We’re often asked by our clients what our thoughts are on the ideal profile for an HR Leader. It’s a hard question to answer. Dave Ulrich, the HR Guru of our time, says in his book, HR Competencies: Mastery at the Intersection of People and Business, that the most effective human resources executives share a specific set of skills. They are credible activists, business allies, strategic architects, operational executors, talent managers, organization designers, and culture and change agents. This is a great list of qualities for any senior executive but when I’m asked what differentiates a superior HR leader, I give the favorite cop-out answer of any consultant worth his or her salt: “It depends.” What does it depend on? In my opinion it all depends on context. HR leaders who truly understand what their organizations best respond to are the ones who outpace the pack in terms of impact and access. They are not wedded to any one model or methodology but possess the organizational savvy required to discover which key unlocks their particular kingdom. Over the course of this series, I will outline profiles of HR leaders with vastly different approaches who, nonetheless, achieve a very high degree of effectiveness. Here’s the first. Bill Strahan Senior Vice President, Human Resources Comcast Why he’s...

Advice for College Graduates

06/08/2011 09.00 EST

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“O brave new world! That hath such people in it!” … but where are all the jobs? Graduating from college is an exciting and anxious time for student and parent alike. Most students are thrilled to be relieved from the academic rigor but sad to depart from four years of a robust social life and friendships they have formed along the way. Parents look forward to seeing their child take this next step in his or her life, but are perhaps a bit perturbed that their newly minted graduate only half-listened when given the “you really need to be looking for a job” speech six to nine months ago. First, some good news. Many college graduates have already started their job searches, and due to the fact that employers are actively recruiting on campuses again and hiring is up 19.3% for 2011 grads, some have secured new jobs. This alone puts them ahead of the Classes of 2009 and 2010 who missed their window for campus recruitment due to the recession. However, a good percentage of this year’s graduating class is still on the hunt. Perhaps they didn’t focus on their job searches or were not as savvy on the best way to look for opportunities. Maybe they made the brave choice of majoring in English or Anthropology, majors for which most college career counseling offices are embarrassingly ill equipped to assist. For whatever reason, they are unemployed, on the hunt, and most likely living back in...

Shorthand Notes: What Your Job Interview Says About You

05/31/2011 02.42 EST

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As a retained search consultant, I spend a lot of my time interviewing executives. Sometimes I am speaking with general managers; other times it’s with HR executives, sales leaders or financial executives. They may be in my office, sitting with me in an airport, in a restaurant or on my computer screen. I haven’t done the math, but I’m sure I have interviewed well over a thousand people in the past 15 years.Interviews are funny things. I believe that putting people at ease allows me to have the best chance of seeing someone’s true personality – but I also have to ask challenging and, at times, sensitive questions. Sometimes I am very direct in my questioning and other times I ask much more open ended, almost vague questions. It all depends on the search, the candidate, the company culture and the situation. People being people, executives bring their own agendas, expectations and hopes to the interview. Sometimes they are anxious, sometimes too relaxed. Some are over-the-top enthusiastic and others are sleepy. I’ve come to learn that I should expect pretty much anything to come out in an interview.But despite the wide variations I find in interviews, there are a few things I see so often that I have developed shorthand notes for myself to document them. Unfortunately, they describe interview styles or executive characteristics that are not very positive. In the spirit of sharing my observations for the benefit of all, here are my top three: TTM:...

The Candidate Experience

05/25/2011 08.58 EST

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I am often asked to speak at events where my audience is comprised mainly of executives in transition. Sometimes these are employed professionals seeking better opportunities, but the majority of these individuals are, for one reason or another, unemployed. Invariably, at some point in the conversation, I feel the need to apologize for the way they are often treated by people in my profession. From the candidate perspective, working with retained executive search firms can be a frustrating process. I hear stories of candidates never getting feedback on interviews, communication that is intermittent at best, and a general sense that the individual is a commodity – and these stories are from the candidates who are actively working with a search firm on a real opportunity. For those who are trying to build a relationship within executive search, the stories are even bleaker. I haven’t done any grand research on the topic, but the general consensus I have gathered is that the executive search profession on the whole just doesn’t treat people very well; and in my mind, beyond the fact that its bad behavior, it’s also just plain bad for business. We are extensions of our clients. How I treat a potential candidate will have a direct impact on that person’s perception of the company I represent. And, whether that executive ends up being a bona fide candidate for the position I am seeking to fill, they will remain a potential customer or business partner for my...

How Strong Are Your Weak Ties?

05/17/2011 11.02 EST

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I asked my 16-year-old daughter how many friends she had on Facebook the other day. She has over 1,000. Her wall is littered with updates from people with whom she has no real connection and in whom she has no real interest. So what then is the point? When I asked her how many people are really her friends or, at least acquaintances, that number quickly dropped down to a more manageable level, well below what is known as the Dunbar Number. I haven’t done the primary research (very few of us do anymore) but Malcolm Gladwell popularized the Dunbar Number in his book The Tipping Point. Simply stated, the Dunbar Number defines the upper limit of the number of individuals we can have in a coherent social network — a network where we know how each member fits with us, as well as with each other. We know who is allied with whom, who hates who, etc. There is some debate as to what exactly that upper limit is but 150 seems to be the consensus. Now, let’s apply that to the current professional social network of choice, LinkedIn. As you send an invitation out on LinkedIn, you’ll see a message on the bottom of the invitation screen that says “Important: Only invite people you know well and who know you.” You know what? That is important. It’s important because the real power of a social network is in the weak ties it creates between two...

Replacing Executives When They Leave…

05/17/2011 10.54 EST

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Where are the reinforcements? I was looking at some data this week about searches performed in our firm over the past five years.  What I saw supported something we have been seeing in the retained executive search business since the start of the Great Recession. Five years ago, about 80% of our search assignments were initiated to replace executives who had left their jobs for some reason.  It might be retirement, relocation, promotion.  Some were lured away for better jobs in different companies.  But whatever the reason, the job was open and the company needed to fill it.  Some years, 90% of our assignments were to fill vacated jobs. Last year, 60% of our work was done to fill a vacant role, while 40% was for newly created positions.  So far this year the trend is continuing, with assignments for new roles outpacing replacement roles. So what does it mean? During the recession, many companies froze their hiring, people did not retire and “stars” were not answering recruiter’s calls.  When a job did open up, the company often divvied up the position’s responsibilities between other executives or let the number two person take over or just made due.  Whatever the strategy, the result was the same – fewer people were doing more work.  Still, with all the depressing economic news, no one was about to complain.  Employers didn’t have to tell people “You’re lucky to have a job”.  Employees were saying that to themselves. Now we are...