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The pandemic unsettled business as usual, forcing many organizational leaders to make the painful choice to downsize. But these losses also present an opportunity for companies that are looking to staff up as the recovery sets in: Plenty of top candidates who would normally be unavailable are either out of work or concerned about the uncertain fates of their current firms.

You have the opportunity to connect with these top professionals — but you must be intentional about it. The health of your company’s culture is crucial to its success. As you plan for a rehiring surge, you need to be sure that you hire the right people. You want employees who will inspire your organization and reinvigorate your business.

Start Now — Before You Need Talent

In the past, I’ve seen too many firms that, upon winning new business, rushed out to make new hires to keep up with demand. This almost always resulted in frustration for the company and its new hires. Hasty hiring can lead to a poor culture fit that drives turnover, weakens morale, decreases productivity, and increases political infighting. Companies looking to staff up in the wake of the pandemic must be careful to avoid the same fate.

Proactive interviewing on an exploratory basis before a position is open is an excellent way to network for talent. Search now before you and your staff are overwhelmed with work; that way, you won’t be pressured to make an immediate hire.

I recall working with an advertising agency CEO who called me six months after hiring a new president. He was unhappy with the new hire and wanted to make a change.

The position had been open because the agency’s former president had moved on to a new opportunity. The search for a replacement stretched on, and the CEO found himself managing both positions, desperate to find a replacement. After many months of searching, he filled the job with a candidate recommended to him by a friend in the industry. This new hire appeared to have the perfect experience for the role.

The new president had been unemployed, which likely gave him a sense of urgency in trying to land this position. In interviews, he said the right things. He spoke of valuing inclusion and collaboration, which fit well with the agency’s culture. He was flexible in accepting a financial package with a bonus that would make his total compensation a lateral move.

The agency was a private, midsize firm, and the new president came from a much larger public agency. He did not expect to be a pivotal part of creating strategic boards. He was used to a pressure-driven, watch-your-back culture. Losing his temper and pointing fingers of blame were natural to him. Those who could not take the heat were weak in his eyes. The CEO began to hear complaints of conflicting values from his key employees. He worried they would start looking for new jobs.

What happened here? In the interview process, both sides were focused more on passing each other’s tests than on better understanding each other’s needs and preferences. They glossed over the challenges, all in an effort to make a hire as quickly as possible. In the end, the CEO had to start the process all over again. All the first hire did was cost the agency time and money.

A Three-Step Plan for Inspirational Hiring

Candidates who are looking for a better opportunity are trying to sell themselves. They’re listening for what they want to hear and missing what is being said. They are focused on passing the interview test, and they’ll do that by saying what they believe the employer wants to hear.

Companies often commit a similar error. If you’re recruiting under pressure, you’re also likely to listen for what you want to hear while missing what a candidate is really saying. The combination of a candidate who wants to be hired and a company wanting to hire right away can result in poor fits that sabotage the success of a business.

I recommend that you focus on three particular facets of a candidate when trying to ensure that you make the best possible hiring decision:

  1. Relationship chemistry
  2. Skills and thought processes
  3. Work/life expectations

1. Relationship Chemistry

When I sat down with the CEO of that advertising agency, the first thing we discussed was the relationship chemistry of his agency: What values did the company stand for, and how well were they being honored by senior management?

The CEO initially named responsibility, trust, and support as the values that were key to his agency’s success. As he explored the question more deeply, however, he also found there were more than 25 values that were important to him. He was also able to identify values that were not being honored by certain people in the agency.

Values are our rules of conduct, and they are elemental to the actions we take. When we are disconnected from a value, we make circumstances or people wrong, which hurts company productivity and innovation. Being made wrong does not inspire us to act; it makes work harder and is a significant cause for staff turnover.

By clearly identifying your values before an interview conversation, you can more easily discover which values you and a candidate have in common and which you do not. It is often easier to notice disconnects, as warning bells like anger, frustration, confusion, misunderstanding, or boredom will arise. On the other hand, when you lose all sense of time in an interview, that is a sign you have a good number of values in common.

I also encourage you to invite many staff members to participate in the interview process. The more people you included in the process, the more people will have a vested interest in the new hire’s success.

2. Skills/Thought Processes

Next, the CEO and I discussed the skills and thought processes required to fill the president’s position. This is different from a job description, which simply names the job’s required skills and responsibilities. Such information is helpful in determining the necessary qualifications for a role, but it’s not as important as understanding a candidate’s thought process regarding how to use their skills to accomplish the duties of a role.

Either you respect a candidate’s thoughts on how to accomplish the job and they respect yours, or not. Ask the candidate to explain how they would achieve a given responsibility by outlining their approach, from inception to completion, as if they were training you to do the job. Ideally, the candidate will be able to share a story of a time they previously carried out this kind of duty. Then, the interviewer should share their own story on how they have (or would have) accomplished the procedure. Follow this line of questioning for all responsibilities throughout the interview process.

There are three possibilities as to how well the interviewer and candidate will respect each other’s thought processes:

  1. They do the work the same way, leading to clear and mutual respect.
  2. They do the work differently and are uncomfortable with one another’s responses, leading to a lack of respect.
  3. They do the work differently and are excited to bring new ways of thinking into the organization, which leads to respect.

I told the CEO that I have a 90-10 rule: If he and the candidate respect 90 percent of one another’s thought processes, it is worth considering a hire. If you are waiting to find a 100 percent match, you will be looking for a long time, hurting your company as the role stays open. Besides, when the relationship chemistry is strong, the 90 percent will grow closer to 100 percent over time.

3. Work/Life Expectations

If the chemistry and thought processes are strong, it is worth considering the candidate for the job — but it’s not time to make an offer just yet. First, you need to learn what the candidate’s expectations are in and out of work.

What are the candidate’s professional and personal requirements, and how well will the agency honor them? I recall once talking to a candidate who was on the board of a nonprofit that met twice a month during working hours — which took the candidate out of contention for the job. On the other hand, another candidate mentioned he liked to jog in the early morning before work; that sealed the deal, as his new boss made a great running buddy. They even started to share innovative ideas as they walked during their cooldowns!

Now Is the Time to Improve Your Culture

As your business starts taking steps toward ramping activity up again, it would be wise to plan for how you will scale your staff up accordingly. Give deep thought to the values that inspire you and your firm. Write them down, connect to them, and let the values guide your decisions.

It will be easier to identify the chemistry you are looking for in new hires if you first improve the existing relationships within your company. Ask yourself the same questions you would ask your candidates:

  1. What values connect or disconnect yourself and the members of your staff?
  2. What work processes are effective, and which are a drain on productivity?
  3. What are your and your staff’s wants in and outside the office, and how can you better support those wants?

When your company’s culture is thriving, it’s even easier to identify those candidates who will further inspire your business to greater success and satisfaction.

Barney Feinberg, PCC, CPCC, CPA, is the founder and CEO of The Chemistry Factor — Executive Coach and Recruiter and the author of The Chemistry Factor – Create Powerful Business Relationships for Greater Success. Follow him on Twitter: @chemistryfactor.

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