Best Practice Strategies for Attracting Top Executive Talent Through A Detailed Brief

A detailed brief is a critical element when recruiting for a new role. This doesn’t just include executive roles, it’s pertinent to every role in a business, including junior positions.

Having worked in the executive recruitment industry for about 17 years now, this is something I’ve rarely seen done well. In most instances, the person who is recruiting a role, whether they are a third party recruiter, an internal human resources professional, or even an executive leader charged with the task, they will often produce a position description, a brief overview of the role and the reason for it becoming available, etc., but rarely do they actually get in and thoroughly explore what the actual key deliverables of the role are.

I discuss this in the podcast episode here, or, if you prefer, you can read about it below.

The overarching question to be asked is, “What are we requiring this person to do, particularly in the first 3, 6, and 12 months of their engagement?”

Making those outcomes quantifiable and then mapping that in a document creates what we call a performance profile. This is used throughout the recruitment process to ensure expectations are clearly articulated and understood.

Performance Based Hiring                     

The methodology we use originates with one of the leaders in the recruitment industry, Lou Adler, author of the excellent book, Hire With Your HeadLou is an engineer by background and highly regarded in the recruitment industry. I have been using his process for 12 years and it is still as valid and useful today as it was when I first started using it.

Being an engineer, Lou wanted to come up with a recruitment methodology that had a reliable predictor of success. His overarching ethos is that the best predictor of future performance is past performance.

So if you can find somebody who’s achieved the results in the performance profile before, and done it well, and is motivated to do it again, they’re much more likely to be successful.

A position description largely contains motherhood statements about the role and some of the requirements of the role, usually in terms of previous experience and qualifications of the candidate, etc., but rarely do they talk about these key deliverables. Hence why a performance profile is critical to clearly define the role.

Performance Profile Example

A common example I use to show the distinction between a position description and a performance profile is that of a sales manager role.

A position description might include these elements:

  • Manage sales team
  • Achieve sales targets
  • Conduct affairs professionally
  • Have suitable qualifications, etc.

Three different organisations might have the same job description but the actual outcomes required might be very different.

Scenario 1

  • Previous sales manager was dysfunctional
  • Left the team disgruntled and in disarray
  • Organisation has invested heavily in team training and is concerned about staff retention
  • Several clients were also displeased with previous sales manager so client retention is another key priority
  • Specific outcomes for the first three months are:
    • Embrace the clients and team (show them some love!)
    • Rebuild the culture
    • Rebuild the vision
    • Rebuild and develop the engagement of the team so that people are retained.
    • Get out and meet with customers, make sure they’re happy, resolve any outstanding issues.

So the first three months is really about damage control. Pulling things together to lay a foundation for moving forward.

Scenario 2

  • New product to be launched in new market in new territory in first 3 months
  • Analyse the market to look for the low hanging fruit in terms of how to get some immediate sales and traction.
  • Develop a strategic sales plan,
  • Get approval from the board and then start to implement that plan.
  • Generate a minimum of $25 million in revenue within 12 months.

So the first three months is really about setting the plan up, getting it approved, and then starting to take action.

Scenario 3

  • Organisation under massive threat from imports, particularly from India and China
  • Need to look at reducing cost of goods sold by at least 25% to stay in business.

So the first three months is about reorganising the organisation to cope with this outside threat.

So as you can see in these situations, they could be the same type of organisation, have the same role, and the same position description, but extraordinarily differential requirements. This is the value of developing a performance profile to supplement a position description.

Stakeholder Inclusion

Developing the performance profile requires the inclusion of all stakeholders. It’s very often the case that different stakeholders will have different opinions as to what the key deliverables will be.

For example, a couple of years ago, we recruited the CEO of a very well-established membership club. They were looking for a new CEO and the club had a committee, a voluntary committee of eight people. The selection committee was made up of the current president who would be exiting their term not long after the appointment of the CEO, the incoming president, and another member of the committee.

When we asked the question, “What are the key deliverables, what are you looking for?”, the incumbent president, who came from a big four accounting background, said, “We need complete clear financial accountability. The management reports, the financial reports to date have been really lacking in detail. Lacking in quality. As a result, we’ve had very little visibility on the actual financials. We need somebody who can really improve the financial accountability of the club.

The incoming president when asked the question said, “I want happy members. We have a membership base which is very loyal. Those members have high expectations about the services they received from the club. And above all else, we want the members to be happy.

And the third person, who came from a legal background said, “We need a change agent. We’ve been doing the same thing in the same way for a long time. The club needs to reinvigorate itself and it needs to change substantially to meet the current expectations of the market.                        

So obviously, if we had gone and recruited the role based on one of those attributes without considering the other two, the likelihood would be that the wrong person would be employed and they would fail in the role. So by having all stakeholders involved in the discussion, it enabled us to put together a performance profile that included all three elements. This formed the basis of our recruitment strategy for when we went to the market.

Putting The Performance Profile To Work

So the performance profile, which is used in conjunction with the position description, is there to clearly articulate these key deliverables.

When we’re headhunting somebody, one of the first questions that the potential candidate will  ask is, “What am I actually being employed to do?

So by being able to clearly articulate the key deliverables required of the role, the prospective candidate is more likely to either say, “Wow, I love doing that. I’m really good at it. I’m definitely interested,” or, “Based on what your expectations are, it’s not really for me.” In that case, as headhunters we say to them, “Birds of a feather flock together. Who is there that you know in the market that you think it might be worth us approaching?

So from a headhunting point of view, having this performance profile enables us to put the right bait on the hook and attract the right fish to the role.

The performance profile also allows you to write a much better advertisement for the role. Most advertisements that I read for vacancies, whether that be on Seek or in LinkedIn, are written poorly. They are very loose on detail. They are very sketchy in terms of what the role is actually being employed to do. And as a result, when prospective candidates read the advertisements, it’s very difficult for them to get a clear awareness as to what the role is, what the deliverables are, etc, and to decide if it’s something that they’re genuinely interested in applying for.

As a result, good quality people often won’t apply and you end up getting the same old candidates who are typically applying for any old job because, based on the ad, they think that they can pretty much do anything in the market.                          

Cross-Checking Candidate Achievements Against The Performance Profile

Having put candidates through a screening and selection process, the interview is an opportunity to check with the candidate that they truly do meet Lou Adler’s performance based hiring criteria – they’ve done it before, they’ve done it well, they’re motivated to do it again.

The interviewer can look for evidence of that and the best way to do that is to ask the interviewee to talk about key achievements in their career that they’re most proud of. What you’re looking for is for evidence from these key achievements that what the candidate is most proud of is actually what you are actually looking for.                       

Going back to that sales manager example, if we were to say to the candidate, “Tell us about an achievement that you’re most proud of in your more recent career.” And they say, “Well, I was responsible for launching a new product into a new market. And it was extraordinarily successful and we achieved great market share and great revenue from that product.” The candidate is clearly suited for the second of the three scenarios mentioned earlier, but not necessarily the first or third.

So it’s a very easy way to be able to look at talent and ensure that whilst that talent is excited about the opportunity, they can actually do it, and they’ve done it, and they did it well, etc.

Unfortunately, interviewers get excited about particular candidates, their background, and their CV, without really drilling down into whether there is a match between achievement and expectation. When those people step into the role and don’t perform, the employer’s left wondering why, “Why weren’t they successful in doing the job they were hired for? They’ve been successful before, I don’t understand where our recruitment process went wrong.

Performance Management After Recruitment                       

The value of a clear performance profile and clearly articulated requirements doesn’t end once a person is employed. The performance profile becomes a very useful performance management tool because at the relevant milestones, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, etc, it’s very easy for the manager to be able to say, “We employed you to achieve this, have you achieved that? Yes. Fantastic. Great job. Let’s move on.”

Or if they’re not performing, they’re not achieving the outcomes articulated in the performance profile, the conversation becomes a very easy one to have, “You’re not achieving what we employed you to do. How do we fix it or how do we exit you and go to the market and find somebody who is actually the right person for the job?”                          

A Job Well Done

Creating a detailed performance profile at the commencement of a hiring process is critical. It should include in very quantifiable points, the key deliverables over 3, 6 and 12 months and beyond to ensure a successful recruitment process.

We’ve been using this methodology at Arete Executive for nine and a half years. In that time we’ve only ever had to replace two people within their 12 months of employment as part of a 12 month replacement guarantee on full recruitments. (If the candidate leaves within 12 months for any reason, we replace for free.)

Having placed literally hundreds of people in that time, to only have people who have not lasted 12 months is a fantastic outcome and a testament to the performance based hiring process and the use of performance profiles.

Should you choose to go it alone and do your recruitment internally, I highly recommend reading Lou Adler’s book, Hire With Your Head for more detail about executing the performance based hiring methodology. And of course, if you choose to use us for your headhunting requirements, you can be assured that we’ll use the processes and create a thorough performance profile with you. You can find my contact details on the Contact Us page.

Useful Links 

Arete Website

Richard Triggs LinkedIn

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