Why Hiring is Like a Three-act Play
By Paul Feeney, President, Sanford Rose Associates
And How Great Beginnings Help Ensure Strong Endings
Aristotle divided drama into three parts - a beginning (where a situation is introduced), a middle (where the situation unfolds) and an end (where the situation is resolved, for better or worse). For example:
- Introduction - Prince Hamlet agonizes over the death of his father, whom he believes was murdered by the new king (Hamlet's uncle, Claudius).
- Development - Hamlet devises an elaborate scheme to expose King Claudius.
- Resolution - Numerous bad people and good people die, including Claudius and Hamlet.Shakespeare actually wrote the tragedy in five acts, as was the custom of the day, but the principle of a beginning, a middle and an ending remains. Hiring is no different.
In the beginning, a position opening occurs - generally for one of four reasons: someone got promoted, someone was fired, someone quit, or the position is new.
During the middle, one or more methods are used to identify and attract candidates for the position. Interviews eventually take place. As in Hamlet, twists and turns of fate occur and, before you know it, the middle act turns into several acts.
At last, however, a candidate is hired, and the curtain comes down - one hopes to rave reviews.
Is it drama? Is it comedy? Sometimes it seems to be a little of both, and we are not quite sure whether to laugh or cry. The drama began most seriously, with a critical position opening demanding to be filled. Then there were those couple of pratfalls, which changed the tone entirely. (Remember the interviewee who spilled soup in his lap?) And when the nod went at last to the internal candidate, it seemed almost like an anticlimax.
Great playwrights create great drama by paying careful attention to both plot and character development. Four centuries after Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, scholars still explore the denseness of character and intricacies of plot; it is probably the most performed play in history - beginning with its famous graveyard scene and ending with dead bodies all over the place (like modern-day layoffs).
Do employers pay the same degree of attention when they devise a hiring plan for a critical position opening? Good ones do, of course. Less adept practitioners often fall victim to fuzzy thinking and obscure outcomes, hoping to make up the plot as they go along. ("I'll know the right person when I see him.") Candidates meanwhile find it difficult to audition for their roles, having received only the vaguest description of the part they are supposed to play.
Strong endings result from strong beginnings, and it is difficult to spend too much time at the start of a search nailing down those factors that will lead to a successful conclusion - the employment of that individual who will make a genuine difference in organizational performance. The benefit of strong endings led Sanford Rose Associates (SRA) to make "Finding people who make a difference" more than just its registered service mark, but also its commitment to the kind of up-front probing and planning that helps avoid false starts and leads to superior end results in the shortest possible period of time.
Many organizations equip their outside search consultants with a job description and feel they have done their duty. The problem with job descriptions is that they are better at profiling the position than describing the right person to fill it.
To overcome that obstacle, SRA created Dimensional Search(R) - a process designed to match candidates to positions in three different dimensions: personal skills vs. job requirements, past accomplishments vs. future job needs, and management style vs. corporate culture. People's skill sets are an important qualification for many positions, particularly those requiring specific academic or on-the-job training to perform. But it is also important to peel the onion and discover exactly what a person has done that prepares him or her for the specific challenges that lie in wait on the new job. Last but not least, is the individual's preferred style consistent with the new work environment; for example, some organizations like take-charge kinds of people while others value consensus builders.
While this sounds like a lot of work, Dimensional Search pays dividends for client and search consultant alike. On the client side, it helps clarify those "what counts" factors that can spell success or failure on the job. For instance, do we want someone who will come in and shake up things or who can keep the ship on a steady course? And what past accomplishments give us confidence that a particular candidate will do exactly that? On the search consultant side, it means that the executive recruiter will not be chasing candidates who are dead in the water or likely to die on the new job.
Act two - "The Search for Mr. or Ms. Right" - tells the story of the identification, attraction, presentation and interviewing of those potential perfect fits. Here we learn how long the play will be and whether it is tragedy or farce.
Armed with a detailed search profile and the client's commitment to candor and cooperation at all times, the executive recruiter can work quickly and quietly. Candidates' strengths are matched point by point with the critical factors of the open position, the client reacts promptly and early interviews are arranged.
On the other hand, if search parameters begin to shift (or were never established in the first place), interviews get postponed and no candidate ever seems to be quite right, then a rocky road lies ahead. This may be a sign of blurry corporate vision, internal disagreements or old-fashioned indecision. Typically, bad searches grow worse over time and, like Gen. Douglas MacArthur's old soldiers, just fade away.
Let's be optimistic, however. The curtain rises on Act Three, the climax of our drama.
But wait: the outcome is still in doubt. Our heroine the candidate (whom we promise not to name either Gertrude or Ophelia) has survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, aced the face-to-faces and passed the written test. The personality test says she's a go, her prospective new company appears to be a happening place, and she has come to regard her current employer as "so over." There's only one hitch, and that concerns the offer of employment - which is nowhere to be seen.
A (fortunately) shrinking number of organizations continue to embrace the recessionary mentality of recent years, when no decision was the best decision and risk outweighed reward. They understand the concept of strategic hiring for competitive advantage - but just aren't ready to practice it quite yet.
But wait again: the phone rings, and it's her search consultant on the line with very good news. "Acme wants to offer you the position of Senior Director for $145,000, plus bonus and stock. Can I tell them you will accept?" Acme is indeed a happening place, and the slight delay was used to create dramatic tension.
Another pause, then Ms. Right accepts.
Paul Feeney is President of Sanford Rose Associates, an Executive Search Firm. Sanford Rose Associates was founded in 1959, is a full-service executive search organization conducting retained and contingency searches through a network of 60+ offices worldwide devotes its practice to all areas of finance, accounting, general management, operations, technology, management consulting and project management for national and international searches. Paul has over 18 years of executive search management and corporate recruiting experience while working in New York, London and Prague. Mr. Feeney can be contacted at 973-492-5424 or email@example.com Extended Bio...
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