Archive for March, 2013

The war for talent – Part 2: “Are you the same person I hired?”

This blog post has been long overdue.

While hiring a senior candidate, it’s not uncommon to spend 4-6 months searching, attracting, recruiting, negotiating, and finally witnessing the perfect and long awaited new hire arrive.

For you, a very senior executive, the time invested to learn about the new hire during the recruiting process wasn’t insignificant. In addition, you asked other executives and members of senior staff to interview this candidate. The decision was almost unanimous. Other than one concern, everyone cheerfully suggested to proceed with an offer.

The first 90-120 days passed quickly.

Yet something isn’t right. The new senior hire isn’t enjoying the kind of support throughout the organization you had expected. Critical initiatives being led by this individual aren’t advancing beyond the polite discussion stage. In other words, very few see value in working with this individual.

What happened? All the right questions have been asked during the recruiting process. 360 degree evaluation became 720 degree evaluation with multiple interviews from other executives and members of senior staff. Clearly, the due diligence did not produce desired results.

“Things would be much simpler if everyone listened to me and did exactly what I prescribed”

Not every candidate or later employee will say it. Some do and can never take their words back. Some are sophisticated enough not to say the above words, but practice these words in action every day.

In my earlier post, I’ve written about the need to put every candidate in the position of extreme hardship and work with him / her while observing whether he / she can …

– Build a shared agenda in a difficult situation? Or – will he/ she simply prescribe what to do and become frustrated if no one listens?

– Realize that in difficult times he / she needs the support of the direct as well as indirect team members more than ever?

– Recognize that no amount of dictating from a throne will convince an all-volunteer army to go to battle that no one understands

– Recall reading a book titled  “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” by Kerry Patterson

“I accomplished amazing things in my past. I will continue to remind you of that every chance I get”.

At some point, the above words – or words phrased differently but with the same meaning and intent – will also begin surface from the candidate that isn’t meeting high expectations. How does someone, clearly capable and smart make this mistake? They forgot that prior medals mean very little when joining a new position with much to accomplish and high expectations.

It’s essential to learn about the business first, win respect from members of senior staff, and only then lead while using prior accomplishments as lessons learned.

Imagine someone who is a very experienced plumber, working with mainly builders who construct single family houses.

During the interview, ask the candidate to consider plumbing design issues on an aircraft carrier where 5,000 people work together as a team in three shifts around the clock. The right candidate will start with many questions before providing a meaningful answer. The wrong candidate will suggest a conclusion far too early.

“I don’t know the answer but want you to accept my answer even if it shows lack of clarity in understanding and next steps”

Once the seemingly perfect candidate crosses this boundary, their success is no longer possible. The overwhelming desire to provide an answer instead of finding an answer together with his / her team or other colleagues will lead to organizational equivalent of alienation. Very few will follow a poorly thought path to success and elect to work on other urgent, but more clearly defined, objectives.

This is why placing a candidate in the position of extreme hardship during an interview will easily reveal whether the candidate can find an answer together with his / her team. It’s impossible to design an effective sanitation system for 5,000 people on a vessel without asking the right questions from other contributors.

Jeff Bezos said, “you earn reputation by trying to do hard things well”.

Make your best candidate earn their reputation by asking them to do extremely hard things well during an interview.

Still reluctant to place senior candidate in a difficult situation during the interview?

“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy,” says Buffett. “And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

Someone’s integrity will always shine in a difficult situation.


The war for talent: what to ask in the final battle before making an offer

March 17, 2013 1 comment

The commonly described Dot Com Bubble finally burst in late 1990’s.

One of the unintended consequences of this inevitable milestone was the beginning of a talent shortage.    I was fairly certain that in 10 years the talent shortage would be apparent.   I was wrong.   The talent shortage is now more severe than ever.

How did the talent shortage become so severe?

– The recession which followed caused many great software engineers to leave the industry or become underemployed long enough to be considered no longer top talent

– Many companies aggressively shifted software engineering activities to lower cost countries, leading to (and this is the real reason why we find ourselves in this position …)

– Amazing problems solvers with a passion to build something new and exciting decided to bypass software engineering and elected to pursue other professions.   Why become a software engineer if my favorite company where I’d like to work is in the news shifting great jobs (out of sheer necessity to survive, however …) to another country?

Those who remained in software engineering and continued to advance their craft became the smaller community of talent that is subject to many discussions at the present time, or “the war for talent”.

Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin could not have described the war for talent in his recent blog entry, titled “Searching for Beasts in Silicon Valley’s War for Talent”.

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, once said (and it became one of my favorite quotes), “You earn your reputation by trying to do hard things well”.

Returning to Glenn Kelman, when evaluating a new hire the question Glenn wants answered is, “When did he / she do something hard?”.

Before making an offer to a great candidate, learning how he / she succeeded while attempting to do something very difficult will be perhaps the best indicator if the offer should be extended.

Some of my best hires emerged from a conversation during an interview where I described a problem impossible to solve in 2 hours and nevertheless asked the candidate to begin thinking about the solution together with me.    These hires all exhibited the basic traits of a great hire:  tough, resourceful, and relentless problem solvers.