Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hire People, Not Résumés

When companies lose an executive, they go into panic mode.  Especially advertising agencies.  Agencies are so focused on filling a vacant job that they forget to define the issues that they face when replacing the lost executive..  The loss of an executive should be an opportunity for introspection.  It is a time to figure out how to improve upon the departing executive, no matter what level he or she is.  And no matter how good he or she was.

Two weeks is never enough time to do a proper search and on-board someone.  So what most agencies do is to focus on finding clones of the previous title holder. The faster it can be done, the less problems they will have with antsy clients and internal issues.  It is much easier to find someone who already knows the business without regard to whether their experience and capabilities are truly right for the agency and account.  Consequently, all too often agencies tend to hire a person with a comparable résumé rather than spending the time to define the problem and hire the right executive.  

I call this hiring a résumé.

It happens all the time.  Over the years I have seen so many wrong people hired.  They had great résumés but just did not belong in the job. 

When someone like this is hired, both the agency and the new person soon realizes that the wrong person was hired.  It then takes a long time - often more than a year to act upon this bad hire.  So after while there is a meeting of the minds and the new person leaves.  What a waste.

What does the agency do?  It once again looks for another person with the same or similar background.  That is the true definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.

A great example of this happened a few years ago when a holding company hired a very well known former agency person to run one of its subsidiary agencies.  The person they hired had been president of a well known and highly respected ad agency which was similar in size, reputation and creativity to their subsidiary.  He turned out to be a disaster.  Within about eighteen months, the agency was practically out of business and the new president lost his job.  What the holding company failed to do was to fully understand its own situation and define the essence of the job the president had to undertake.  The agency had lost its previous president and had also lost its largest account which was about 60% of revenue. It was a great agency with a great reputation. But the holding company failed to define its issue as a new business problem; they needed to build up revenues.  They should have hired someone with strong new business credentials.  The new president was simply bad at new business.   He was a competent executive and had previously been involved with new business, but he was not the rain maker. His prior agency was dominated by two creative gurus and a very well known new business person who really did the pitch and the closing.  And the worst part was that there was a search firm involved (not me).  The guy they hired was an obvious hire because of his résumé, but not because of his strengths.

When I am given an assignment, I ask agencies to define their problem, especially for a senior job. I am often told that there is no problem.  That is, of course, ridiculous.  When agencies properly define the problem, they can generally find the right executive much more efficiently.  I have seen many successful executives move, even at senior levels, from, for instance, non-package goods on to a  major CPG account. They are able to do that because the management of the agency has carefully considered the needs of the account and realize that a particular person has the skills necessary to handle the client, without necessarily being able to manage the account.  The category experience will come quickly. 

I can think of one job I recently filled where I found an account person who had a completely parallel track to an account director spot I was looking to fill.   She had worked on three of the brand’s major competitors.  She and I discussed this and agreed she should talk.  I was not sure that this was the right opportunity for her, but we agreed that she should talk and explore it.  I knew she would be offered the job, even before her first interview; they were going to hire her for her résumé.  Within a week she had done four or five interviews and was offered the job.  She correctly turned it down.  However, from the feedback she gave me, I was able to call the agency president and discuss their true needs.  Two weeks later I was able to place someone who had no category experience but who was better suited for the job than the candidate with category experience.

This is a really important distinction.  And I believe that by correctly defining the job, the agency saved itself from a poor hire. It is essential for any company to first define what has to be done, what skills are needed and, finally, to determine what background experience would work best.

I have written about hiring category experience, which limits the candidate pool considerably.  It is especially insane at junior levels.

Would love to hear about your experiences in this area.

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