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The Humbling Lesson I Learned: Hiring the Good vs. the Great

Posted by Lauren Kendall on October 17, 2017
Originally written on LinkedIn by Dave Melville, CEO & Founder of The Bowdoin Group

About 7 years ago, I learned a valuable lesson that has since informed and improved every one of our executive searches.

At the time, we were working with an emerging biotechnology company to build a 120-person commercial team. Sales candidates needed to have three things:

  1. Solid experience in oncology
  2. Excellent sales metrics
  3. A deep physician network

The search went off without a hitch, as we were able to easily evaluate candidates on the above criteria. We could review CVs, have a phone conversation with candidates, and know relatively quickly if each candidate was a fit for our client. However, soon we were left with a handful of sales territories where there just weren’t enough solid candidates who met all three criteria. With our client eager to have their team in place, we had to get creative. We started evaluating candidates on three new principles:

  1. Consultative selling skills
  2. Demonstrated success achieved through active learning
  3. Unwavering mission focus

This required understanding behaviors and finding often-hidden success factors, and we turned to our Behavioral Interviewing Methodology to analyze each candidate. This second set of criteria required an approach that we had found to be effective, but our client was hesitant to accept. After getting the client on board with our new strategy, these adjustments helped us to find additional talented candidates to complete the project, and our client was glad to have a robust team with a wide range of strengths.

After three months, we met with the client to review the performance of their new team. As expected, those with the oncology experience and deep physician networks were top performers.

However, after the client came back to us to start another project a year later, we took a second look at those top performers of the past, and we were shocked by the results. Even though they had the immediate impact we expected, it was actually the second group of salespeople–those mission-focused individuals with a consultative approach and knack for learning–who were making a lasting impact.

Newly emboldened, we used the new criteria to identify candidates for a 15-person sales team the client was putting together. Within a year that team was responsible for 50% of the client’s total revenue.

I learned something big that day that changed every search from there on out: a full rolodex and experience are great, but they are nothing without passion and the drive to learn and grow.

After over 20 years in the business of executive search, here are four things we apply to every project to take our searches from good to great:

1. Success is based on skills, not status. Contacts get you in the door, and direct experience gives you a jumpstart, but at the end of the day passion and skills keep those wins coming. Hiring someone with the drive to see your company succeed and the skills to overcome obstacles ensures that when the going gets tough, they won’t screech to a halt.

2. Understand what makes you great now. Always track the success of your team and identify the top performers in your organization. Take the time to “look under the hood” to get to the root cause of success for these individuals. Once you take note of the commonalities and how they impact your organization, you have crucial information that will help your recruiting team find more great talent.

Furthermore, take the time to truly invest in your talent. Starting with the interview process, think long-term instead of focusing on short-term things like metrics, and you will get more than just a larger team. With proper goal setting and evaluations based on your firm’s long-term trajectory, your talent will make a lasting impact. Companies that take a strategic approach to talent management see 40% lower turnover and 2X revenue per employee.1 Your team will be more engaged and efficient, and you’ll be happy with the ROI.

3. Develop a behavioral interviewing strategy. You can’t find your perfect hire if you only look at a list of accomplishments. Take the time to ask how they got there; did they have to learn a new skill, come up with a creative solution, or take the time to consult before offering a solution? Here is one of my favorite questions: Give me an example of a time that you developed and implemented an idea that changed the buying behavior of a customer?

4. Disrupt or be disrupted. In order to stay ahead, you have to be willing to disrupt yourself to remain innovative before someone else does it to you. As you look inward, don’t just think about what you do well – think about what you do well that most others can’t, and those are your disruptive strengths.2 Lean into those strengths and that will inform your hiring narrative.

It is important to remember: unconventional growth won’t come from conventional wisdom. You need to have the courage to expect more: from your team, from your hiring partners, from yourself. In hiring top talent, you reap what you sow, and “good enough” won’t get you the great results you’re looking for. So, if you find that you’re going against the current, chances are you’re doing something right.