July 10, 2011

Recruiting a Star: Leave Nothing to Chance

Mr. Hieu wants YOU to join our team!

Last week learned again that I am not yet a recruiting Jedi.

I’ll tell you the story.

But first, a few thoughts about why recruiting is such a big deal.

Your team (and mine) is only as good as the people that work in it.  And, since it’s your team that generates results (not you),  your ability to recruit great people and match the job to their strength zones will determine a HUGE part of your success as a leader.  Get the recruiting thing right and you can afford to make a lot of other mistakes that might otherwise sink the team.

“Yeah yeah,” you’re thinking, “I know that Chris.”  But I want you not just to know it, but to FEEL it.

Try this.  Imagine the most kick-ass person on your team.  You know the one — the person bristling with ideas, great attitude, energy and who never gives up until the job’s done?  Yeah, that one.

Ok, now imagine if your entire team, your entire organization, were composed of people like that.  Got it?  See the amazing power in it?  Good.  That’s the power of good recruiting.  It’s hard, which is why most organizations are just ok and not great.

Back to my story.

We’re in the process of building up our Finance & Accounting (FA) team.  We have the “A” part covered, but it’s a bit under-powered on the “F.”  The FA, leader, Hanh, is quite talented and capable of conducting financial analyses, but it takes too much of her time.  I want her focused on other, higher level issues instead of plowing through the nuts and bolts of variance reports, AR analyses, cost analyses etc.

To help Hanh out, she’s hiring a Financial Analyst.  There is opportunity for incredible value creation if we get the right person.

We had an EXCELLENT candidate, Phuong (not her real name), whom I met at an AmCham event.  She was perfect.  Great attitude, good soft skills, perfect level of technical skills, desire to learn and would fit into our culture like hand in glove.  But there was one problem — Phuong seemed quite happy in her current job.

So we pulled out all the stops.  We invited her in for an “informational chat.”  We wooed her without shame.  We invited Phuong to our “Olympics Day” where Hanh made sure to introduce her to everyone as “Our next Financial Analyst!”  Team leaders were all briefed beforehand to tell Phuong how they had heard about her already and how excited they were about her joining the team.  Hanh and I tag-teamed to envelop Phuong in a warm embrace from which there would be no escape.

Three weeks ago our efforts paid off.  Phuong accepted and signed the offer letter.  A sigh of relief and high-fives all around.

Labor law in Vietnam specifies that an employee must give 45 days notice before leaving.  We knew this was a dangerous period and wanted to keep Phuong in our bear hug.  Hanh brought her in for a victory lap with the team.  I stopped in to lay on the praise and tell her how excited I was.  Hanh copied Phuong on team emails and called her from time to time.

Then last week Hanh and I received an email from Phuong.  She was “so sorry,” but could not leave because she “should not cause difficulty to my company where I have been trained and well treated since the day I left my Uni.”  She wished Hanh and I a “successful and glorious life.”

“Awww, that’s so sweet,” I thought through my clenched teeth.

I met with Phuong the next day but failed to save her.  She explained that the CEO of her company had met personally with her several times and leaned on her heavily to stay.  It sounded like in addition to bumping her salary and increasing her responsibilities, he had laid a good dose of guilt on her.  And it had worked.  She felt bad about flaking on her commitment to us, but her mind was made up.  I let it go.

So what was the learning?  It was this: “Prepare stars for the counter-offer!”

Losing a great person sometimes blows a hole in the organization.  Phuong was a star, and her CEO knew it.  We should have anticipated that he would try to save her and counter-offer.

We should have inoculated ourselves against this problem by briefing Phuong about what to expect and helping her to steel her nerve.  We should have encouraged her to call us if there were any pressure.  We should have reinforced her explicit promise that she was committed to us even if her employer countered.  We should have followed the advice in this excellent post on our own Navigos Search website.  Kudos to Van Anh on our Navigos Search team for educating me.

The Vietnamese have an expression, “Kinh nghiệm xÆ°Æ¡ng máu.”  Literally, it means “Experience from bone and blood.”  It’s experience of the best kind.

Lesson learned.  Forward!


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