Desperate people take desperate actions

Desperate people take desperate actions.  You have heard that before, I’m certain.  Have you ever thought of it when you are hiring?  

Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that 95% of hiring is done to fill existing positions. Most of those vacancies are caused by voluntary turnover.  Only 28% of talent acquisition leaders today report that internal candidates are an important source of people to fill vacancies—presumably because of less internal development and fewer clear career ladders, per the Harvard Business Review.

If you don’t have internal candidates to backfill your vacancies, and you must go to external candidates, there will be a significant time that your roles will be open.  This hurts productivity and is expensive.  It can also force you to hire underqualified candidates.  This is the very definition of desperate actions.

This data is rich with information.  We can show the need to have internal options and succession planning for all roles, all levels.  This allows for immediate action when we lose an associate.  It minimizes the time the role is open.  Even if we are looking for an external candidate, we start the process more quickly. 

We can also make the argument for development of internal candidates.  If you have identified the backfill, you can also identify the development needs for that individual to be able to replace the associate lost.  You can make the transition more quickly based on having an internal candidate.  

I’d also suggest that you always be looking for talent.  I realize that budget constraints may not allow you to over hire.  Finding viable candidates and working to keep them interested (for up to six months) until you have an opening, can help you to have a candidate pool externally.  

Desperate people take desperate actions, but planning for turnover, and doing what you can to minimize the churn through succession planning, development of internal candidates, and building a candidate pool externally, can keep you from making a very expensive, poor hire. 

Diversity of Thought

There is a lot of activity and talk around the need to have diversity in a company and specifically on any given team.  It’s well documented on the justification and need.  Companies with diversity perform better.  What does it mean and how can you act on it?

For me, diversity is not based solely on ethnicity or gender.  It’s based on diversity of thought and diversity of culture and experience.  

We utilize an aptitude or preference assessment tool for hiring and development.  About two years ago we used it with a client to look at the preferences of their sales team and their sales leadership.  As I was analyzing the information post assessment, it was difficult to understand the diversity or lack of, based on individual reports.  We created a grid in an Excel format to be able to look at the entire sales team, the regional teams, and the individual.  

What we were able to see was a lack of diversity in preferences and aptitude.  That really wasn’t too surprising as a sales team typically has higher assertiveness and traits that fit a sales profile.  What was eye opening was specific to one region.  The leader and four of the five salespeople had almost identical preferences.  One salesperson did not.  He came from an engineering background.  It wasn’t that he didn’t have the skills, it was that he was different in the way he thought and the way he acted.  When we shared this with the Director of Sales, we warned him that the individual was at risk of leaving if the regional leader didn’t recognize the differences.  No action was taken, and a very talented individual left the company.  He felt he was on an island.  

We have since utilized the grid with other clients and other teams.  We specifically look for diversity of preferences that leads to diversity of thought.  Without the diversity, teams can have dangerous blind spots, and can make critical mistakes in their decision process.  

How can you avoid the same mistakes?

  1. Find a tool you trust and have your team take the assessment.
  2. Capture the results in a format that allows you to compare and contrast the result.
  3. Color code the results so you can get a clear visual of the current situation.
  4. Address your outliers, if any, and make them a part of the team.
  5. As you move forward in hiring, be very clear on the diversity in thought that you need and build it into your hiring process.

Hire A Star, Invest In A Star!

I’ve spent a great deal of effort in the past few months to help people understand the value of finding talented rock stars for their businesses.  Again, we don’t recruit, we build the process with our clients for them to identify talent, interview, and hire talent.  What has been interesting is the story of one of our early clients in this process.  

I was working with a friend of mine who leads a sales team for a large company on the east coast.  He is a rock star himself and his team loves him.  He called me with an issue.  He had lost several of his first line managers in the past several months, through no fault of his own.  He had hired talented individuals, but the funnel for promotion narrowed quickly.  The talent that left could not see a future for growth.  

When you have worked hard to find talent, it is a shame, and a great expense to your company, to see them leave.  The challenge my friend’s company had was not only finding talent but developing talent. Top performers don’t just leave the company for more money, they leave because they don’t see the challenge.  That is what they are looking for.  

We sat with the stakeholders and talked through how they were developing their managers.  We brainstormed different ways they could give them opportunities to grow.  We defined success at twelve months and worked our way backward in three month increments to determine what would set up the next three months to meet the expectations for success at the one-year mark.  I spoke to my friend again at the one-year mark from his last four hires.  He had implemented the plans we built, and they measured their impact.  Not one of his first line managers had left the company in over a year.

Several companies feel hiring stars will allow them to get them into the company and let them find their way on their own.  It’s a painful mistake to make.  Don’t spend the effort to hire a great fit and then lose them because you don’t invest in their development.  

The Value of Strong Mentors

The path for many of us, is not a straight path.  We believe we are going to be something or do something, and then our life plan changes.  Bob Pilon is no different.  Bob was a talented hockey player and bright student at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN.  He was a pre-med major when he realized he didn’t want to spend the amount of time in school that was required to become a doctor.  There were two things that he had to do, now that he had made this discovery.  The first was to figure out what he would do with his life, and the second was to tell his parents that he was not going to medical school.  Neither was an easy task.

There is great benefit to having a trusted mentor.  As an individual, you can gain from their experiences.  You can have an outside view of possible paths to follow.  Mentors are not easy to identify, but when you find one, learn from them.  A great mentor must truly care about you and your wellbeing.  They must have credibility with the outside world, and they must be willing to be totally honest with you.  Bob was fortunate to have a great mentor.  His college advisor John M. Lammert, PHD, Biology Professor, earned his trust.  He was wise, blunt, and held him accountable.  He was consistent in his feedback and his expectations.  His experience allowed him to see the talent and potential in Bob and allowed him to make early course corrections.  

Bob’s mentor offered that he had two choices; he could teach high school biology and coach hockey, or he could leverage his lab work into the field of medical devices.  As he worked through the choices, he chose the path of medical devices.  

Bob’s parents, while I’m certain they were a little disappointed in the change of direction, were just as supportive.  We sometimes take our family for granted, but Bob’s parents were strong mentors as well.

I asked Bob his advice to people who are early in their careers and he was quite adamant about mentorship.  “Find that relationship!” was his answer.  He has shared that with his step daughter who is a sophomore at the University of Tennessee.  The human element to productive work is critical.  Strong, trusting relationships are critical.  The things that stood out from Bob’s story were Professor Lammert’s recognition of Bob’s talent, and the empathy to understand where Bob was coming from.  He saw the potential.  He nourished the talent and Bob turned it into a full and productive career.

Bob took the path of working for a medical device company as a Project Manager upon graduation.  He worked on a cross functional team where he ended up taking the notes.  He was underwhelmed in the role and slightly bored.  There was one individual who didn’t make many of the meetings and Bob asked his superior who it was and why he didn’t make the meetings.  He found out that the individual was a Product Manager/Marketing.  He didn’t make meetings because he was in the field talking to customers.  It was intriguing to Bob.  He felt he could be successful doing that.  He shared that with his manager, and shortly after that he had an opportunity to move to Santa Barbara, CA. and take on a similar role. 

Bob’s work in the Project Manager and Sales and Marketing lead him to his current role.  He is the President of Unipart-Olsen.  They manufacture precision machine parts for Ag, Construction, and other markets.  While it may seem like a leap to go from medical devices to manufacturing for farm equipment, and construction, it was a logical path.  

I met Bob when I was doing consulting work for UOI.  They were looking for someone to sell for them.  We found Bob and could hire him, mainly because he lived near the facility and he wanted to travel less.  His talent was way beyond the role, and in a couple of years he was promoted into a manufacturing role that integrated and aligned the India plants into the offering.  Over time, Bob proved himself to be a great leader and in the past few years, he earned the role of President of the company.  

When he became President, there were issues he needed to address.  The first was a fear of conflict.  His direct reports were made up of a group of individuals and not a team.  There was turf protection but not an open discussion or conflict resolution.  Bob has made changes in his staff and built rules of engagement.  There are still challenges and limiting behavior, but they are addressing these at the staff level.  The challenge for Bob, as well as any other leader is “What happens when you aren’t in the room?”  Bob is very candid, professional, and humble.  He recognizes the challenges of this and his staff is still dependent on his knowledge, but they are learning.  They use metrics to help them track their progress and set the rules of engagement at all levels in the company, even on the production floor.  

From pre-med hockey star to company President of UOI wasn’t a planned path for Bob, but an honest, trusted mentor helped send him in the right direction so he could make the right choices.

He has industry experience so he must be good…

He has industry experience so he must be good.

Earlier this year I worked with a client to define the skills and values for their sales team.  They had never defined the skills needed for the role.  They left it up to the first line manager to determine who they wanted to work with.  The skills at interviewing and hiring varied widely, and the result was a large portion of the sales team didn’t have the aptitude for sales.  The favorite candidate was to hire someone from inside the “shop” who knew the product, or a runner who drove product to the end customer, because they knew where the customers were.  

The team of first line managers gathered with leadership, and human resources to work through an outcome-based process to determine the skills and competencies needed for a salesperson.  They also captured the values they needed to be a part of the organization.  They had never considered it before.  

As I was working with the team, I was trying to understand why they defaulted to hiring from the industry or hiring from the shop instead of looking for talented sellers.  Was it laziness, ignorance, or lack of process?  Maybe a little of each.  Hiring a person, even the wrong person, inside the company was easier because the first line manager felt they didn’t need to work to train them and because there was no onboarding process needed. Or so they thought.  Just remember B players never hire A players.

Hiring someone from inside the company can be great.  You know them, they know the product and procedures, and they probably know the customers.  So, what is the issue?  The issue is they may not have an aptitude for the role.  One of the people hired from the shop was a strong operations individual, but he did not have an aptitude for sales.  When he was placed in a sales territory, he failed miserably.  After a year, the company moved him back into an operations role.  Two weeks after that “demotion”, he left the company.  They not only wasted a year of sales opportunities; they lost an employee who was good in his prior role.  

The hero of this story is the new VP of Sales.  He is in the process of upgrading his sales team.  And he knows to do that he has to upgrade his first line managers.  Now we are working the same process for sales managers that we did to define skills and values for the sellers.  It’s a critical hire for the VP.  His first new hire in the role, and it affects about fifty percent of his total business.  He recognizes the need to define clearly the needs of the role.  

Do you have a clearly defined set of skills and values you look for in your employees?  Not just sales, but all employees?  People are the life blood of your organization.  Making a bad hire is costly not only in dollars, but in morale.  Please take the time to own the process and define the skills and values for your company.  It is not a silver bullet, but your odds of finding the right people are much improved.


I have a theory that I shared with my team throughout my career.  My role as a leader was to find great talent, give them the tools to do the job, and then get out of their way.  I still feel very strongly about all three of those.  Finding talent is not easy.  Developing talent through providing the tools and the training is challenging as well.  Letting the individuals develop, even when they are making mistakes, is the hardest challenge.  

I spoke with Ned Hunter, Executive Vice President at Kito Corporation recently and he shared what has made him successful.  Ned leads a very large portion of Kito, globally.  He is a thoughtful, soft-spoken individual with a charismatic way about him that earns a strong following from his team.  They follow him, not just because they like and respect him, but also because of how Ned challenges them to grow into new roles.  Some of the roles may be surprising, even to the individual in the role.  Ned has that kind of eye for talent, and the heart and stamina to develop his staff.  He trusts his instincts.

It’s rare that we think about a high level executive coaching and developing their team.  Most of the time we are sharing stories of great strategists making great decisions.  What makes Ned stand out is his people strategy.  People are the life blood of any organization. Great strategies poorly executed fail. Mediocre strategies executed well, can bring great results.  Kito benefits from Ned’s strong strategy and his team’s excellent execution of those strategies.  

Ned started his career with Kito as the CEO of Harrington Hoists and advanced from there to become a Senior Executive Officer, Chairman of the Americas, then was promoted into his current role where he leads the corporate subsidiaries and market operations globally, except for China.  I first met Ned when he was a Senior Director of National Accounts and Government at Grainger.   Ned was at different level than his peer group, myself included.  He was extremely professional and highly respected. 

Ned saw his role as one to develop not only customers for Grainger, but also develop his team so that they could perform at this best.  He provided them opportunities to grow in their current role.  He has done the same with Kito. 

He started by using discovery.  He would observe his staff in 2-3 different group sessions to see how they interacted and then he would evaluate based on 11 different criteria, including traits like financial acumen, interpersonal skills, time management and negotiation skills.  He then identified strengths and weaknesses and helped to create plans to address them.  “With the right combination of people and talents, the sum is greater than the parts.”  He continues to observe, to look for growth in the individual and the teams.  

Ned found talent in people that may not have even seen it in themselves.  He worked with his finance manager to develop him into his CFO.  He worked with his sales leader to develop him into the CEO that could replace Ned as he moved into new roles.  

The gift that Ned brings to his team is his ability to be patient.  He coaches them based on his view of what he sees. He “plays the tape” so that they can get a clear picture of their behavior, then offers suggestions on how they can grow.  He uses data, derived from asking questions, then listens.  He is curious about what and how people think.  He actually listens.

I’ve worked with leaders who do not invest in their team’s development.  They believe they hire people with talent and their either “get it” or they need to leave.  That is a costly way to grow your business.  The investment in hiring and developing talent that can grow, leads into a long-term strength.  Ned Hunter not only knows this, he has perfected it.

Listening with empathy and building trust!

Marc Foerster: Listening with empathy and building trust!

Most of us over 25 years old remember where we were on September 11, 2001.  I was a Regional Manager for Grainger at the time, based in St. Louis, MO.  My boss, my peers and I were in a meeting with the DeWalt team that worked with Grainger, in their training headquarters in Towson, MD.  It was a challenging time for everyone, but it was helped a great deal by how the leadership team at Grainger handled the situation with our teams.  First, they made sure every employee was okay.  Then they looked beyond our immediate teams to their families.  They gave us all time to get our minds wrapped around what just happened, and they gave us time to grieve and heal.  We still needed to do business, but it was not going to happen in the state of shock we all were in.  Grainger immediately went to work, providing for the rescue workers.  It’s the kind of company they are.  But not all companies followed that model.

Marc Foerster was in sales for a division of a large US company.  He and his teammates were charged with opening the Brazilian market for their products.  Marc had been traveling for weeks at a time, working in market.  There had been great personal sacrifice to do what they had been goaled to do, but the attack on the US hurt the market globally.  On October 1, 2011, the Vice President of his division turned a chat with the team of 20 of Marc’s peers into a personal attack on the progress in Brazil, despite the effort the team had put forth.  

The VP did not trust the team, and in return, the team did not trust the VP.  There was no discovery, no empathy, and therefore, you could argue, there was poor judgment.  The perception of Marc and the team was that their leader was not concerned with the good of the team, but only the benefit for himself.  He wanted to be promoted, and berating the team for lack of performance was, in his judgment, the way to show he was tough on results.  

Marc shared that he asked for a sidebar meeting and shared his thoughts with the individual as he stood up for the team.  He also shared that he was either fired, or resigned on the spot.  Perhaps both.  People don’t quit companies, they quit their boss.

Today, Marc is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Crystal Flash Energy, in Grand Rapids Michigan.  He is a high-energy Business Executive with extensive hands on exposure to each functional management area. His experience ranges from Production Management, Business Unit Management, Sales Management, to Business Development.  He has learned from his experience the type of leader he intends to be, and his style has been successful.

Marc has learned to share the “why” or the intent when setting expectations.  He shared the story  that his staff was evaluating a marketing automation tool that he felt was a good fit for their needs.  He shared his thoughts with his team, and explained why he felt it was a good fit.  But he also encouraged them to do the research and evaluate it themselves.  He pushed his idea hard, but his team came back to him and told him it was too large of an investment.  Their research showed that the total cost of the offering was 2.5 times the original cost to have it perform as they needed it to.  They convinced him to purchase a different product.  He tasked them, then listened to them.  He has a talented team that he trusts.  They trusted him to listen to them and make a judgment, based on their research.  Marc used skillful judgment in that he suspended his initial thoughts and utilized the discovery work his team had done.  

Marc has learned from mistakes.  Some were his mistakes, and some were mistakes of others.  He never gets too excited or to agitated.  He is comfortable gathering the data to make 

I can really read people, and other lies we tell ourselves!

I’m not sure any of us expected it. When Black & Decker launched the DeWalt brand of power tools in 1992, the demand was staggering.  So much so, it tested all our processes and systems.  One of the most critical was our ability to hire and develop qualified candidates for selling power tools.  We recruited off college campuses, and brought the new hires in for training in Towson, MD.  In the early years of the launch, we hired several hundred salespeople.  We had terrific processes around hiring and we made some terrific hires, that not only contributed to the outstanding growth for DeWalt, but also in leading at other companies later in their careers.  

However, I personally made four hiring decisions that turned out to be mistakes.  The four lasted less than six months in the roles.  In the scope of number of people, we were hiring, they did not have a huge impact, but I agonized over the failures.  What had I done wrong?  Where had I broken the process?  

Just yesterday I read “Talking to Strangers” by Malcom Gladwell.  He made some interesting points that translate well to interviewing.  The book is a review of how we are programmed to believe people are telling the truth, and how we interpret non-verbal cues. When people lie, or their non-verbal expressions do not match their intentions, it creates issues.  He cited several well-known incidences that supported his theory.  I could relate.

In most of our client engagements we talk about having the right people in the right roles, based on their skills, values and aptitude.  The majority of the people doing interviews are very confident in their abilities to spot talent and to understand how a candidate will fit.  Recently I had a COO tell me that he has 40% turnover in his programmers, and he plans for it so it’s not a big deal.  My belief is that if you have 40% turnover, you are not good at interviewing and your entire process for recruiting is suspect.  

We challenge our clients to have a clear understanding of what skills, and values they are looking for in a candidate, and we also challenge them to use behavioral interviewing.  By behavioral interviewing, we mean asking questions that require the candidate to share specific examples of the skills and values.  It’s critical to the hiring “A” players, and not candidates who can talk the game, but can’t show results.  

Truly understanding how someone fits the job and fits your company is difficult.  Taking the time to prepare, and to use behavioral interviewing in your process improves your odds dramatically.  Hiring mistakes are costly. 

Building Relationships

“If someone has intelligence and a work ethic, everything else can be developed.” 

 – John Allenbach, President, AgoNow 

John Allenbach is like a brother to me.  I say that upfront to allow for any bias I may have in my view of our conversation and his career.  But it’s also to make a point about what has made John so successful in his career.  John develops deep and lasting relationships.  He probably has many other people who feel the same about him that I do.  

John grew up in Mobile, AL and went to school at Spring Hill College.  He played second base and did some pitching for Spring Hill.  I share that because John is a lifelong friend of his coach and his teammates.  He developed his skill in relationship building early, and it’s prevalent throughout his life.  It’s not just a business skill for him.  

His first job out of college was with a manufacturer of hand tools, selling through channel partners.  It was a short stint, but his supervisor left a lasting impression on him.  He helped John become a sales professional.  He helped build structure and process, that allowed John the early successes he enjoyed.  He took an intelligent person with a strong work ethic, and molded him.  

I met John when we were asked to demonstrate tools for Black & Decker at the National Hardware Show more than 30 years ago.  That was the start of a lifelong friendship.  We challenged each other and we supported each other.  I admire the skills that John has, especially those that are not talents of mine.  One common skill we developed is the ability to recognize talent.

In 1992 Black & Decker launched the DeWalt brand of power tools.  The growth was phenomenal and it lead us to recruit and hire several hundred entry level sales people over a four-year period.  As sales and marketing field leaders, part of our responsibility was to recruit talented people and develop them.  We were charged with the recruiting off multiple college campuses.  We were not hiring the next entry level sales person, however, but the next “president” of B&D.  We had to recognize talent and quickly develop them, because we were growing so rapidly, we needed them to move into additional, larger roles in about half of the time we initially thought we would have them.  As John moved into different roles at B&D his eye for talent served him well as he placed people in the right roles.  

We recruited differently than other companies.  We sent our sales leadership team and our current sellers to the campus to recruit.  Recruiting is a selling job.  We found it easier to hire when the people we were interviewing could sit across the table from someone who they would work with.  It allowed us to build trust early in the process.

John developed his talented team by working with them and learning about them.  He built structure and process for his team, much like his first manager did for him.  John was personally involved with his team and that was difficult as they grew in number.  He spent time getting to know them, their families and their motivations.  To this day, his former team members talk about the impact he had on their lives.  John built a level of trust between he and his team that supersedes any that I’ve witnessed.

John is the same with his customers as he is with his team.  He has lifelong friendships.  He knows the names of their spouses, and their kids.  He knows what school their kids are attending and what their major is.  He knows his customers and cares about them.  This takes work.  It can’t be faked.

The ability to be engaged can be learned.  It can also be lost if it is not worked at and measured.  John is successful in introducing AgoNow because of his long-term relationships and the trust he has built through past experiences with his customers.  “People still do business with people, and relationships are as important as ever.” 

John Allenbach is exceptionally skillful at building relationships and aligning talent.  They are skills that he learned and developed as his career progressed.  It was important to John that he develop these skills and he intuitively did so.  Others can develop those skills through a process that starts with measurement of where they are today and measure their progress and success.  Our desire to make it as important to them as it is for John.

Finding “A” Level Salespeople

I really wasn’t expecting it.  In fact, I really took it for granted.  At DeWalt, we hired off the campuses of major state universities.  We hired for sales positions, but we did it with the idea that the people we hired could become the president of Black and Decker.  That was in the early nineties. Since then, Black and Decker was folded into the Stanley Tool Works and the 400 or so new hires from then, are now executives with other companies.  Thankfully, LinkedIn has allowed us all to keep in contact.

Recruiting, interviewing and hiring that many people in a short window was a huge undertaking and Black and Decker was amazing at it.  The field sales team owned the relationships with the campuses we recruited on, and the process that was built was spectacular.  The team was trained on interviewing, and it was a scientific process that allowed us to use our own style, as we stayed within the guidelines.  

In my consulting, I’ve found that almost all my clients have a recruiting process that is much less structured and rigorous.  It challenges them daily. It leads to turnover and it leads to underperformance. As I work with them, I break finding talented sellers into three areas:

  1. Recruiting “A” level talent
  2. Interviewing process to thoroughly vet the candidates
  3. Hiring the candidates that best fit the needs of the company

We start in the middle with defining a rigorous, behavioral based interviewing process that gives us a fair and equal understanding of each candidate.  Too often the interviews are set with multiple interviewers who don’t have the time to prepare.  The questions they ask are just like the other interviewers.  They end up using resume as a cheat sheet.  This is not only a poor practice; it often leads to failure to truly understand the candidate and it scares away the “A” players.  The interviewers don’t really understand what they are looking for.

The second action we take is to define the skills and values that the company needs for the salesperson to be successful.  This allows the interviewers to know exactly what they are looking for. We use an outcome-based process to define success and translate those inputs into competencies.  We also define the must have values for the individual to work for my client.  Skills can be trained if the salesperson has an aptitude for sales.  Values cannot be trained.  If the values aren’t there, they can’t work for my clients.  It saves a lot of time and pain later.  

Once we have defined the skills and values, we create questions, and assign them to each of the future interviewers and train them on how to ask behavioral interview questions and listen and interpret the answers.  

This doesn’t guarantee that you won’t make mistakes in hiring, but it improves your odds dramatically.  In future articles, we will outline our process for recruiting (Step one in the process) and hiring (Step three).  Please look for “Always Be Looking For Stars”, coming in January 2020.  It’s a little story on how to get big hiring results.  

Jerry Phillips is the President of NineRuns.  He works with manufacturing companies that want to improve their sales and profits.  He is the author of “Always Be Looking For Stars” and speaks on “The three biggest mistakes in hiring”.