Big game require big guns (On recruitment)

What you can do to land that top executive for your company

With the current labour shortage, companies are doing somersaults trying to attract top talent at the junior and intermediate levels. Much has been written about Generation Y and the innovative practices needed to woo these so-called “millennials.”

But what about the executives? Have employers forgotten to rethink strategies for bagging the heavy hitters, the big names that would look tantalizing in a press release?

Competition for C-suite and vice-president talent is intense. Recruiters are having to go farther and farther to find great executives and, when they’re found, employers are having to be more flexible and put more on the table to seal the deal. This “concession planning” includes some creative compensation components. Here are some real examples from 2007:

larger equity opportunities (for private companies);

$75,000 signing bonus;

pre-negotiated exit payment available from day one (no probationary or trial period);

$1,000-per-month car allowance;

eight weeks’ vacation;

two-month sabbatical at the five-year mark;

golf club membership;

paid housing costs;

paid private school for kids; and

weekly commuter flights so new hire didn’t have to relocate.

“Employers are pulling out all stops in compensation, including deferred comp arrangements, equity participation and generous relocation packages,” said Ken Werker, managing partner at the Vancouver office of international executive search firm Ray & Berndtson. “Many are also looking after spousal requirements or even arrangements for the children, such as school or sports team placement.”

Grant Smith, a senior partner in the Vancouver practice of Waterhouse Search, said one client had to pay $100,000 more than it originally wanted to pay.

“If there are only two people available for 50 jobs, then the gloves have to come off,” said Smith.

Another thing the industry is seeing, according to Drew Railton of The Caldwell Partners in Vancouver, are more onboarding programs.

“The new executive will be given an external coach and an integration program, along with a feedback loop back into the board. This is a significant expense, but it’s usually worth it,” said Railton.

These examples involve tangible costs to the employer. But there are non-monetary tactics employers can use to seal the deal when hiring executives. These tactics are surprisingly simple, yet difficult for many employers to implement because many employers are still stuck in the old-school notion that the supply-demand curve tilts in their favour when it comes to hiring staff. They sit in an interview and think “Why should I hire you?” whereas the top performers are sitting across from them thinking, “Why should I work for you?”

And therein lies the single biggest (no-cost) change employers can make to start winning the war for executive talent: Start treating them like customers. Your company undoubtedly has a marketing plan for going after clients, so start applying sales and marketing principles for winning “contracts” with talent.

Start by developing the relationship. Great people know they’re in demand and they want to feel that you want them, not just anyone.

“We’re seeing boards spend way more time with the desired candidates,” said Railton. “The executive team is selling the relationship as much as the role or the company.”

Next, move into selling the features and benefits for the hire, rather than being solely focused on screening that person against your own criteria. Sell the company and its culture, its people and its projects. World-class people are looking for a world-class vision or direction for a company. If you already have a visionary leader, a cohesive team and inspiring company goals, shamelessly promote them. If you don’t have these qualities, get them quick.

As part of the vision, provide clarity on how the executive will fit in. Great managers want an opportunity to contribute and make a difference. The best people want to grow a company, either through organic growth, mergers and acquisitions, going public or a turnaround situation. They are looking to play an integral role on the company’s strategic team, rather than just execute tactics.

Along with growth of the company, speak to the person’s personal growth. Help her understand her own path to further career growth within the organization. Show her what she’ll learn and how she’ll be a better individual in several years after having joined your company.

Equally important, sell the autonomy and decision-making ability this person will have. Great leaders want to lead, not just manage. There’s no point hiring a thoroughbred and then hobbling it.

None of these concepts cost money but they do require a shift in hiring strategy and process. It’s a necessary shift. The best executives are looking for decisiveness, clarity, candour, transparency and accessibility. And just like a potential customer, they will walk away from a deal if they don’t like what they see.

Greg Ford is a vice-president in the Vancouver office of national search firm David Aplin Recruiting. He can be reached at (604) 648-2799, [email protected] or visit for more information.

Tips for employers

No-cost improvements

Here are some other tactical measures that won’t cost employers money:

give the candidate the CEO’s personal cell number during the recruitment phase and encourage calls anytime;

act faster during the courtship (or interview) phase — the company’s ability to make decisions will reflect how decisive it will be once that person is in the role;

be transparent and let the candidate see the company books (if privately held);

talk about issues and challenges ahead of time, since the new hire is going to learn about them anyhow;

disclose what other vice-presidents and directors earn;

have other newly hired execs talk with candidates about their decision process;

include spouses during the hiring process;

provide greater flexibility in work-life balance; and

get the candidate out of the “boardroom interview” situation into a relaxed, collaborative atmosphere.

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