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The war for talent – Part 3: “Where are all the great candidates?”

It’s 9am.

This is my first meeting with client’s engineering managers.  The objective is simple (CEO’s exact words): “I want to see a world class software engineering team generate world class return on investment and fulfill the promise that technology is an enabler of sustained competitive advantage.  Do whatever it takes.  Nothing and no one is sacred”.

I interviewed all senior engineers first – not managers, to the surprise of many managers.   Common theme from these interviews:

– “Almost every new hire is somewhat average;  no passion or drive.   The most recent hire did not care much about a broken build until we reminded this person how a broken build defeats the work of everyone else”.

The Interviews with all managers were more revealing.  Common theme from manager interviews:

– “Our recruiters seem to present candidates that are good, but not exceptional.   We don’t have a choice but to hire one of these candidates”.

The interviews with recruiters were more revealing – again.  Common themes from recruiter interviews:

– “We get very uninspiring job descriptions from hiring managers.  These job descriptions do not resonate well with exceptional candidates”.

– “Compensation is below market.   It’s too hard to obtain an exception for a higher compensation.  We stopped trying.”

– “Many hiring managers do not respond quickly and better candidates are hired by another company.”

– “We rarely receive feedback why certain candidates have been rejected.  Very difficult to improve the recruiting process.”

What’s not  very difficult to see is the root cause of what happened to my client’s software engineering organization over time.  The managers forgot that their first and foremost responsibility is to the organization:  attract, recruit, hire, and retain the very best.

I asked every manager to watch a movie called “Miracle”.  It’s a true story of Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell), the head coach of  the U.S. Olympic hockey team in 1980.  The U.S. Olympic hockey team played the against the heavily favored USSR team and won.

This movie highlights what every manager must live and breathe:  never give up the responsibility for building, managing, and improving a great team.   It’s a difficult, often hard, but a very rewarding process.

I asked every recruiter to stop reviewing resumes and made every manager responsible for the initial review and subsequent phone screen.   The results:

– 3 managers out of 6 did not see value in this process and told me that that’s what recruiters are for.   I asked them to consider a very simple fact.   If someone cannot identify a terrific candidate from a stack of resumes, why should this person be given the responsibility to manage, coach, and mentor any hire?

– 2 managers agreed and became better managers.  1 manager left within one week.

– The other 3 managers fell in love with the new process, despite the additional workload.   The new process allowed them to build very close relationships with recruiters who began to receive detailed feedback about each candidate.

In addition, more changes have been made:

– I asked everyone to review all previously rejected resumes – over 1,200 – and look for evidence of three critical items:  ability to learn, ability to blossom in adverse situation, and ability to solve problems while never giving up.

– This process produced 60 potential candidates.   7 were eventually hired and quickly became highly respected members of the team.

– Compensation inequities have been addressed within one budget cycle.

After 12 months, I provided a report card to the CEO with 4 metrics:

– “No more complaints from the management team that there are no great candidates’

– “Employee participation in the HR survey increased from 55% to 87%.   The management team in a 360 degree survey received B+.”

– “The last 3 major releases had a total of 3 regression issues vs 213 regression issues same time last year”.

– “Customer survey – NPS or Net Promoter Score – also showed substantial improvement.”

“Where are all the great candidates” is the wrong question.   Are your managers engaged 150% to attract, recruit, hire, and retain the very best?

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