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Pay Attention to Boats that are Rocking

Pay Attention to Boats that are Rocking

Rocking BoatsWhen you see a company going through a turbulent period, look for opportunities to hire A-players – and don’t just settle for the first person you meet.

A recent search had me and my team looking for a senior manager of Continuous Improvement (CI) for a major manufacturing client.* This individual would be responsible for CI across 30+ manufacturing plants in North America. He or she would report directly to the Vice President of Manufacturing, so it was a top job in the supply chain and a nice opportunity.

In our networking and recruiting process my recruiter spoke with a CI leader at one of the world’s preeminent manufacturers, a company admired as a brand and as a proven training ground for top leadership talent. In this conversation my recruiter learned that this company was overhauling its CI leadership structure. Instead of assigning leaders to each global business unit, the company was moving to a “shared services” model, with an internal team of CI consultants who would assist individual sites and business units as needed. Gone were the higher-level leadership roles and opportunities to which the best performers aspired.

As soon as I heard this, I committed to identifying every person in the company who excelled in continuous improvement. The boat at this company was rocking, and the best CI leaders, many of whom would not have seriously entertained the idea of leaving 6-12 months ago, might now consider a career move.

After speaking with a number of our contacts and several additional potential candidates, we found the person we were looking for. She was a top performer and a high-potential leader. She was smart, focused, passionate, with a track record of leading substantial improvements in her businesses. She had also served in several different areas of the corporation, each with very different CI needs. The only reason I found her was that my team and I kept seeking the best people in this company, knowing that in rocking boats, almost everyone is at least open to a conversation.


What can you take away from this story and apply to your own recruiting? When you see a boat rocking, what should you do?

First, when you interview a candidate from a company whose boat is rocking, recognize that there is probably a better person at that company for you to interview. Don’t limit yourself to the talent that is sitting in front of you. Call people in your network: Whom do they know at the company? Use social media tools like LinkedIn to identify additional potential candidates. Dig in and see if you can connect with at least three people from the company in similar roles (if it is a large enough company). Why? Talking to three people allows you to calibrate. You now have the ability to judge whether someone is average, good, or great. In this situation, you hurt yourself if you talk to only one person from the organization.

Second, recognize that people who are not interested in working for you today may be interested tomorrow if their own boats start rocking. This means taking the time to meet people who seem “out of reach.” In addition to becoming potential candidates for your company, these individuals can be great referral sources. If you meet them now and follow up with them in six months about a role for which you are recruiting, they may remain unwilling to entertain a move , but they will be flattered that you asked, and, in turn, they may refer you to more affordable, but equally strong, talent. The old adage “stars refer stars” often holds true.

Third, and thinking more broadly, I would emphasize that this is another reason to build your network, very intentionally, in your area of focus/expertise. The more people you know today, the more people you can call when, down the road, you are looking for that second and third person in the rocking boat. Yes, LinkedIn and social media are valuable tools in identifying talent. But relationships and referrals are what prevent you from flying blind and provide you with the radar screen necessary to spot and track top talent.

* Because I’m discussing a real and recent executive search, certain identifying details have been changed.


What do you think? Leave a comment!