When you recruit A-Players and you are channelling a key talent acquisition strategy of Apple founder Steve Jobs. There’s a vast difference between talent that is simply qualified and exceptional. Jobs understood that, which is why he focused on the best-of-the-best senior executives and engineers.
The Apple founder pursued the best executives and engineers because they could accomplish more.
Recuit A-Players to Retain A-Players
In addition, he noted that A-Players find it frustrating to work with people who churn out average or sub-standard work. They simply don’t have the chance to develop if they are surrounded by people who are not as accomplished. If you recruit the best, you attract and retain more of the best.
Author Walter Isaacson of the book Steve Jobs quotes Jobs as saying,
“I’ve learned over the years that, when you have really good people, you don’t have to baby them. By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things. The original Mac team taught me that A-plus players like to work together, and they don’t like it if you tolerate B-grade work.”
Those who recruit A-Players must realize their success doesn’t exist in a vacuum, as Harvard Business Review reminds us in The Risky Business of Hiring Stars. The article by Boris Groysberg, Ashish Nanda, and Nitin Nohria explains:
An executive’s performance depends on both her personal competencies and the capabilities, such as systems and processes, of the organization she works for. When she leaves, she cannot take the firm-specific resources that contributed to her achievements. As a result, she is unable to repeat her performance in another company; at least, not until she learns to work the new system, which could take years.
When you recruit A-Players, it can be challenging to ensure their success in a new corporate environment. Yet, champions make such a big difference to a company’s P&L that it is a challenge top companies willingly accept. Like Steve Jobs, the HBR article ultimately concludes:
In business, the only viable strategy is to recruit good people, develop them, and retain as many of the stars as possible.
For more insight into Steve Jobs, check our blog post, What Adoption Did to Steve Jobs. As an adult adopted person, I believe his adoption experience is central to his success.
Author of the book Work Rules, Laszlo Bock is the innovative, data-driven human resources director who helped transform Google’s workforce and culture. He worked there for a decade. He has stepped down to found Humu, a machine learning company that wants to “make work better”.
While at Google, Laszlo led the company’s people function and was responsible for attracting, developing, retaining, and delighting “Googlers.” He believes that giving people freedom and supplementing our instincts with hard science are steps on the path to making work meaningful and people happy.
During Bock’s tenure, Google has been named the Best Company to Work For more than 30 times around the world and received over 100 awards as an employer of choice. In 2010, he was named “Human Resources Executive of the Year” by HR Executive Magazine.
Below is a Work Rules video presentation by Laszlo Bock on how to make work better:
He is the author of “WORK RULES! Insights from Inside Google to Transform How You Live and Lead”, which has been named one of the top 15 business books of 2015. It is a read we continue to recommend.
In his book Outliers, Author Malcolm Gladwell asks: What makes high-achievers different? He answers that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from. We don’t pay enough attention to their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing.
Gladwell observes that talent alone does not make us high-achievers: It also takes a hell of a lot of practice. In his book, he theorizes that to become a top-performing outlier, one needs about 10,000 hours of practice.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Case in point: Bill Gates and The Beatles. Gladwell explains practice is what makes software billionaires and great soccer players. Practice is how the Beatles became one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands in history.
10,000 Hour Rule Challenged
A Princeton study was subsequently cited as proof that Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour theory was somehow flawed. Business Insider bluntly asserted, “New Study Destroys Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule.” However, my read of the Princeton study comes away with a different understanding of the researchers’ meta-analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice. The researchers concluded:
“We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued.”
The researchers were not referring to the work of Gladwell. Instead, they were referring to that of K. Anders Ericsson, who in 1993 argued that “individual differences in ultimate performance can largely be accounted for by differential amounts of past and current levels of practice.” The Princeton researchers found that practice accounted for just a 12% difference in performance in various domains. Interestingly, it found variance in performance was not explained by deliberate practice.
Practice Alone Does Not Make the Outlier
The researchers theorize that the age when someone starts to practice seriously may be a critical factor. That is, there may be an optimal age to learn something. Other factors are intelligence and specific abilities, which we interpret to mean the kind of talent baked into our DNA. The researchers say further study of these other areas is necessary to fully understand what it takes to be a top performer. (You can find a PDF of the study here: Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions: A Meta-Analysis.) My read of the document and of Gladwell’s assertions find them in agreement. Still, Gladwell took a lot of heat from people who seemed to misinterpret his book. To set the record straight, he wrote a piece for the New Yorker.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Explanation
In his article, Complexity and the Ten-Thousand-Hour Rule, Gladwell clarified his work in Outliers for those who didn’t read the work more closely. He was not saying practice made up for a lack of talent. In the New Yorker article, he explained,
“No one succeeds at a high level without innate talent, I wrote: “achievement is talent plus preparation.” But the ten-thousand-hour research reminds us that “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals. Nobody walks into an operating room, straight out of a surgical rotation, and does world-class neurosurgery. And second—and more crucially for the theme of Outliers—the amount of practice necessary for exceptional performance is so extensive that people who end up on top need help. They invariably have access to lucky breaks or privileges or conditions that make all those years of practice possible.”
The Art of Deception is a brilliant cybersecurity book written by legendary hacker Kevin Mitnick. In stunning detail, he shares how social engineering works — how he and other hackers con people into giving up passwords, account numbers, and social security numbers. Deception is how hackers acquire the keys to the kingdom. Published in 2002, it remains a cybersecurity classic. The primary point of his book? In cybersecurity, we, humans, are the weakest link.
As executive search firm that recruits top technology executives in cybersecurity, we are a nerdy practice. That is why we recommend the hit television series Mr. Robot, a psychological thriller that follows a young programmer who works as a cyber-security engineer by day and a vigilante hacker by night. The series has made hackers human. (For more, check our blog post, Mr. Robot Must-See TV for Cybersecurity Search Firm)
World’s Most Famous Hacker
Kevin Mitnick is considered by many in cybersecurity to be the world’s most famous hacker. At one point, he made the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list because he hacked into 40 major corporations. He didn’t do it for anything but the sport of it. Because it was there. To see if he could. The FBI saw it differently. Mitnick was arrested in 1995 and spend five years in prison for various computer and communications-related crimes. Mitnick was convicted of copying software unlawfully. However, Mitnick supporters found the punishment excessive, claiming many of the cybersecurity charges against him were trumped-up and not based on actual losses.
The author who literally wrote (and lived) The Art of Deception is now a trusted cybersecurity consultant to the Fortune 500 and governments worldwide. Kevin Mitnick is Chief Executive Officer of the security firm Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC which helps test companies’ security strengths, weaknesses, and potential loopholes.
The Good Search recruits senior executives and technologists in cybersecurity. In that industry, companies typically focus on one of two things: keeping the bad guys out and letting the good guys in. We recently placed the Head of Product for a company that does the latter, a sector called identity and access management. They let the good guys in. Recently, Stephen Colbert let Kevin Mitnick in as a guest on his show Late Night with Stephen Colbert.
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The Soul of Leadership is a dimension worth cultivating in one’s career. Mindfulness is playing an increasing role in all areas of our lives. It repeatedly yields positive results. So it stands to reason that honoring the spiritual side of our work lives will bring greater meaning and purpose to our work. In fact, Author Deepak Chopra writes that leadership takes both heart and soul as in his book, The Soul of Leadership: Unlocking Your Potential for Greatness.
Chopra brings rebrands success as something far beyond financial gain. In The Soul of Leadership, Chopra examines spirituality in the workplace and offers ways to reverse negative attitudes to fosters a positive working environment. Chopra offers a succinct guide that employs his principles. In doing so, the author shares the stories of two leaders who have made millions following the deepest inclinations of their souls, In fact, Chopra believes the only path to true success is finding and honoring one’s calling. Our careers are a hero’s journey. (For more on that, see Executive Search and The Hero’s Journey.) For that reason, we recommend the book The Soul of Leadership and applying its methods in your career.
The author contends that great leaders must develop consciousness. So in this way, Chopra goes where few business courses in leadership have dared. Most business schools serve up case studies for analysis, to compare less successful leaders to those who have delivered the greatest return on their corporation’s investment. While technical and managerial skills are important, Chopra has found that human skills are far harder to teach and pass on. “Yet they are the key to persuading other people to follow you.”
Here, Deepak Chopra shares the book’s insights in a presentation at Pershing’s Financial Solution Conference.
The power of habit is a power you can harness. So, before you decide to eliminate or add a new habit, check out this book byPulitzer Prize-winning business reporter Charles Duhigg. He details what science now knows about why habits exist and how they can be changed. In doing so, he distills a vast amount of fascinating information about these habits of ours that seem to run on autopilot.
Habits Run on Autopilot
Research has found we have no brain activity when one of our habit programs is running. I found that data point stunning. It explains why habits are so very hard to change because we simply are not conscious when they are running. However, with insight offered in the book The Power of Habit, we have the knowledge we need to reshape our habits to lead more rewarding lives.
The Power of Habit Presentation
Charles Duhigg shared his insights from The Power of Habit in a presentation he gave to Microsoft Research.
The Good Search webinar on smarter executive recruiting is about reaching beyond the same old executive recruiting resources for a competitive advantage. If you head the executive search function for an internal executive recruiting team or if you lead talent acquisition, this webinar provides examples of the kind of data that can be harnessed for more intelligent executive recruiting.
Author Scott Eblin’s book The Next Level offers insights that can be applied to improve executive search. Scott observes that in order to progress, we must acquire new behavior and habits as we let go of old ones. Scott explains,
“The whole premise of the book is, as you move into different roles or even if you’re in the same role, the competitive environment or the business situation can change so that the results and expectations are a lot different than what they were before. And it’s like that Einstein quote about insanity: doing things the way you’ve always done them and expecting different results. You almost have to pick up some new behaviors and mind-sets and let go of some other ones.”
It sounds simple enough. What makes it tricky is that frequently we need to discard the very behaviors that made us successful in the past. For instance, if you’re the “get-it-done” person on a team that works like a maniac and consistently delivers on deadline, then that has likely made you successful. However, that trait will experience diminishing returns the further you advance up the ladder. You will become an executive who is increasingly burned out, lost in the weeds, and hasn’t had the time or energy to develop a coherent strategy.
As I listened to Scott, it dawned on me that not only does his observation make sense for candidates that we recruit and for the recruiters themselves (the micro), but for search practices as a whole (the macro). In order to take talent acquisition to The Next Level, we not only must adopt new “best practices”, but we must also let go of what isn’t working.
And old habits die hard, my friends. In fact, the bigger the company, the longer they often remain on life-support. Large employers have invested mightily in candidate portals and candidate tracking systems that, while making some things easier, have made other things far more challenging and time-consuming. The road to Recruiting Hell is paved with unintended consequences. And thus, how we do our work deserves a reset, particularly if we want to do it better next time.
Old Habit: Job Postings
The Internet is a wonderful thing. And there are candidates out there that deserve the opportunity to apply. But, it has become a wildly inefficient as more and more unqualified applicants submit their resumes. A number of colleagues now estimate that only 1-to-2% of applicants have the necessary skills and qualifications to move forward as candidates. So, as our eyes grow bleary reviewing curricula vitae of candidates whose qualifications bear no resemblance to the position description, it raises the question, “is this really how we want to be spending our time?” Do we actually want to have 98.5% of our effort wasted for a paltry 1.5% yield? More importantly, job postings leave recruiters powerless as to outcome. We are left hoping, wishing, and even praying that the ideal candidate surfs by the help-wanted ad online and is seized with the impulse to apply. I’m not suggesting that we abandon job postings, but rather think about ways to reduce our dependency. Next time, before taking a detour through the wilderness of wannabes, think about ways to take a more direct route.
Old Habit: Contingency
I have good friends who work at contingency firms. Most of us do. They work hard and they deliver great candidates. But, (forgive me), that doesn’t make it right: when you get right down to it, the contingency search model is flawed. Its touted as “free” until a placement is made, but mama taught us that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Contingency firms must operate opportunistically and so they must abandon searches that are difficult or too time-consuming. That means that you may think your contingency firm (or firms) are working feverishly to fill your opening when they may actually be doing no such thing: they’ve moved on — because they’ve had to in order to survive economically — without bothering to tell you. They don’t owe you an explanation because, hey,you’re not paying them to recruit. Worse, when they do find you a great candidate, they shop that candidate to all your competitors. And while that may seem like a huge conflict of interest, you realy can’t blame them, because, hey, you’re not paying them to recruit. They’re simply trying to increase their chances of making a placement for which they would get paid. To top it off, let’s say you put your search out to contingency, gave it a couple of months and didn’t get the candidate you needed. What do you do then? Well, you’re now in a serious pickle. You don’t know what to do next because don’t know what’s already been tried. In fact, now that you stop and think about it, you have absolutely no idea what the contingency firms did on your behalf — whom they did and didn’t recruit. They don’t owe you an explanation because, hey, you didn’t pay them to recruit. Not one thin dime. (Some might suggest you got your money’s worth.) The greatest risk of contingency is that it offers zero due diligence.
What makes breaking old habits for an recruiting organization challenging is that these methods are embedded inside employer processes. Companies direct amazing candidates to apply through the website where they get lost a tsunami of applications, when quality candidates deserve so better than that. For vendor management, a number of employers direct more innovative search firms to sign up with contingency aggregators such as RecruitAlliance. Inevitably, those firms never sign up because it makes no sense: they aren’t contingency. In doing so, employers that are stuck in recruiting ruts lose the chance to work with the very firms that can help raise the bar. More competitive organizations regularly refresh their talent acquisition processes to capitalize on opportunities to take it to The Next Level.