Knowledge & Insight

The major cause of hiring mistakes - and how to avoid it

Mon 8 February 2021

As your experience and expertise propel you up the corporate ladder, you’ve no doubt noticed that the number of people and projects competing for your attention grows in proportion to your seniority. Board members, clients, project teams, your direct reports – they all have a strong and legitimate claim upon your time. Plus you’ll probably find yourself compelled to give proper attention to the complex issues and challenges that appear on your desk from leftfield. But you’re not alone, because studies clearly show that ‘discretionary time’ available to senior executives is frequently just 5 – 10 hours per week.

Finding time for effective recruitment

Of course, this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, and over half a century ago Peter Drucker, the founder of modern management theory, stated “Senior executives rarely have as much as one-quarter of their time truly at their disposal and available for the important matters, the matters that contribute, the matters they are being paid for… If the executive lets the flow of events determine what he does, what he works on, and what he takes seriously, he will fritter himself away ‘operating.’” The result, according to recent McKinsey research, is that just half of executives say the way they organise their working week matches their organisation’s strategic priorities. So it’s no surprise that when an unexpected new priority arises, like replacing a member of the senior team, finding the time to give the task the attention it deserves can be a challenge. And this is the root cause of a great many miring mistakes.

Scratching the surface

Faced with a new claim on their time, and juggling an already packed schedule, most senior managers adopt what seems to be a practical and sensible solution – they slice the task into multiple pieces and squeeze it into the open slots in their diary throughout the week. Which means they inevitably end up skim-reading CVs, they limit their candidate shortlist to the bare minimum, and they fail to prepare properly for interviews, barely scratching the surface of the talent presented to them, often relying on gut instinct to make crucial hires.

The false economy of in-house recruitment

This “calendar compression” approach may be an efficient solution for many management tasks, but it can be catastrophic in recruitment. And putting the burden onto the shoulders of an internal Human Resources department is unlikely to deliver optimal results. The skillsets of HR teams or even in-house recruiters are very different to those of a specialist recruiter or executive search firm. Without the global reach of a top headhunter, without the leading insights and advanced search tools, it’s simply not reasonable to expect internal recruiters to compete with a specialist recruitment practice.

For optimal results, hire a specialist recruiter

Even in multinational corporations with large and experienced HR departments, the operational assets required to run an effective recruitment or headhunt campaign simply do not exist. Which means the HR department frequently ends up outsourcing the task to a panel of recruiters, at which point another of Drucker’s well-proven theories presents itself – that of information theory, “doubling the noise, and cutting the message in half”. In the case of senior-level recruitment, this generally results in more candidates who aren’t fit for purpose, which ultimately wastes even more of your precious time.

US management guru and former Avis CEO Robert Townsend once suggested that business leaders should fire the entire HR department. We’re not suggesting you follow this advice, but we do urge senior executives to take ownership of recruitment – because when you engage with a specialist headhunter, you’ll quickly understand their true value, as they challenge you to think deeply about your recruitment objectives, and to articulate those objectives with clarity and precision.

Take accountability for your senior-level recruitment and you’ll find the extra effort pays dividends, and ultimately, saves time too.

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