By: Eric Herrenkohl
Do you have a vision for creating a great business? Then make sure that recruiting a team of A-players is a strategic business priority, not just a human resources priority. You should be the recruiter in chief for your company, the person who leads the charge to find qualified candidates.
I recall speaking to a group of about 100 engineers for a local trade association. Though the average age of the attendees was around 30, one man in his fifties stood out for both his polish and his confidence. I met him after my program and he introduced himself as Robert. He owned an engineering consulting firm in the region. I said to him, “Robert, I am looking around and this room is not exactly filled with your peers. Why are you here?” He looked right at me and immediately gave me this answer. “That’s simple. I am recruiter in chief for my company.”
Robert did not actively recruit everyone he met or hand out business cards after my program. But he understood the power and importance of building relationships with A-players before they were looking for a new place to work. He made connections, built relationships and was willing to invest time now to find talented people. He was constantly interviewing candidates -- whether they knew it or not. Over time, these contacts grew into strong relationships, which in turn generated some great new hires.
A-players have big aspirations. They look for role models, people I call “Big Dogs,” whom they can emulate and follow. Robert was a Big Dog in this engineering group. He owned his company and had 50 employees working for him. Everyone else in the room was collecting a W-2. The younger engineers wanted to get to know him in part because they wanted to be like him one day.
Make Recruiting Our Problem, Not Just Your Problem
Being recruiter in chief does not mean that you bear the whole recruiting burden yourself. Your job is to create an A-player mind-set in your company and lead the charge to find and hire A-players. Each person on your leadership team should be held accountable for finding and hiring their own A-players. Enable all your employees to be company advocates. You need to build and track a “farm team” of talented potential employees.
Require your leaders to learn how to interview new talent continually so they always know where their next hire is coming from. I describe one company that even drug tests people on its farm team. This is a company that wants A-players who are ready to be hired at a moment’s notice!
Don’t misunderstand me -- I am not recommending that you hire all the time. But I am insisting that you interview all the time. Most businesses do a lousy job of proactively identifying and hiring new people. They wait until a position opens up, scramble to fill it, and take the talent they find at the moment. I can tell you from experience -- this is not how great companies are built. As Ross Perot once said, “Eagles don’t flock.” Your company is going to find true A-players one at a time.
It’s not enough to tell your managers to develop such a farm team. You have to have a system for finding and cultivating relationships with new talent. If you set up your farm team correctly, you can verify at a glance that every department has an up-to-date list of strong potential performers. The quality of this talent pipeline becomes a metric for measuring your leaders. Hold every executive and manager accountable for the quality of his or her farm team. This will create a dramatic improvement in the quality of the people you ultimately hire into your organization.
A-players want to work for strong leaders, but unfortunately there are not that many strong leaders out there for these people to follow. Get everyone in your business focused on finding a pool of high-value talent. Require that your leadership team invest time in groups where you can meet and cultivate relationships with A-players.
Become a presence in these groups, and allow yourself to be a “Big Dog” that A-players want to follow. Be patient. Recruiting the best people requires building relationships over time. The investment of time is worth it. Hiring just one A-player will make a measurable difference for your business. Hiring a handful of them will be a game changer.
Eric Herrenkohl is the author of the book How to Hire A-Players (John Wiley & Sons, April 2010) and is President of Herrenkohl Consulting. Herrenkohl Consulting helps executives create the organizations they need to build the businesses they want. To receive Eric’s free monthly e-letter Performance Principles, go to www.herrenkohlconsulting.com to subscribe.