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How will you attract and retain the best executive talent?

Ask a CEO about the number one issue that keeps him up at night, and you might be surprised by the answer. For many senior executives, the biggest cause for concern is talent management, not the competition.

Upgrading Talent

As the economy continues to gain traction, executives, who were hesitant to leave their current positions, will be more willing to consider new opportunities. The increased number of qualified candidates will provide companies with a real opportunity to upgrade the talent level of their management teams. However, decision makers must be disciplined in their hiring efforts. They must not fall victim to the “shiny penny syndrome” and should refrain from making hires based on impressive credentials alone. New hires often come in fresh and full of energy with new ideas (a “Shiny Penny”) and a seem to have a good handle on a company’s issues. The hiring manager seems really sold on the individual so the rest of the team goes along with them. Pretty soon, though, many realize that this “shiny penny” looks and seems great, but in reality, is not worth much.

The First Step – Needs Assessment

Many organizations react rather than make logical hiring decisions. Developing and implementing a strategic hiring plan is a key step. A company’s leadership team should conduct an honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the current management team and the organization as a whole. During the recession, many companies managed headcount to save expenses in the short term and did not make more strategic long-term decisions. First and foremost, the executive leadership of a company must set goals and develop a clear vision of where the organization is headed. Decision makers should understand the skills and attributes that each member of the leadership team must possess in order for the company to reach its goals and make the strategic vision a reality. Then, the current management team should be evaluated using those criteria. If there are gaps or weaknesses, the company should make strategic hires that will fill those gaps and strengthen the management team. In evaluating a particular candidate, decision makers must keep the overall goals of the company in mind and determine whether that candidate has the right skills to ensure that the company meets or exceeds those goals.

The Job Description

After hiring needs have been identified, the leadership team should develop detailed descriptions of the desired positions. In addition to the requisite skills, educational requirements and experience, these descriptions should address the specific duties, degree of autonomy and oversight, responsibilities of direct reports and goals and expectations for the position. Such a detailed description not only helps decision makers narrow their search, but it can also be a major selling point to potential candidates. Many executives are complacent in their current positions and looking for a new and challenging opportunity. A well-crafted job description can generate excitement that attracts higher quality candidates and should ultimately result in a better hire.

Cultural Fit

The importance of cultural fit is oftentimes ignored by companies when conducting a search. It is a costly mistake that can be avoided. The decision makers involved in the hiring process should have a deep understanding of the culture of their organization. Joseph McCool, noted author, speaker and consultant in the search industry, advises “The more you know about the subtleties of your own organization, the more you can speak to its shortcomings, potential, and the kinds of leaders it needs to embrace the cultural elements that make it a great place to work . . .”

Decision makers must also try to learn as much as possible about each candidate’s working and management styles, personality, strengths and weaknesses. Just because a candidate had success in a previous position does not mean that she will enjoy the same type of success in a different setting. Interviewers involved in the process should be trained to ask follow up questions that will require a candidate to provide more details and insight about themselves. Involving more of the management team in the hiring process will provide different perspectives and more valuable insight regarding the fit of prospective candidates. Many companies also use psychometric testing to learn more about a candidate’s personality and leadership traits. Whatever methods are used, decision makers must ultimately try to anticipate whether a particular candidate will thrive or flounder in their company’s culture and environment.

In part 2 of this post other aspects of talent management will be examined including: employer brand, retention efforts, and putting a plan into place.

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