Don’t Leave a Dead Bird on your Doorstep!

By Brian Layer
Chief Executive Officer, N2Growth

Recently, I approached the entrance of familiar children’s store and saw a dead bird on their doorstep. Decay indicated the time for a proper burial had passed and while disturbed, I was not surprised the employees left it lying in state. The dead bird on the doorstep is a common symptom of a big organization problem and if you run one, you might have a few dead birds of your own.  This happens when employees fail to understand their role in the context of the competitive environment.

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10 Reasons Talent Leaves

10 Reasons Your Top Talent Will Leave You

10 Reasons Talent Leaves

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Have you ever noticed leaders spend a lot of time talking about talent, only to make the same mistakes over and over again? Few things in business are as costly and disruptive as unexpected talent departures. With all the emphasis on leadership development, I always find it interesting so many companies seem to struggle with being able to retain their top talent. In today’s column, I’ll share some research, observations, and insights on how to stop the talent door from revolving.

Recruiting vs Talent Management

Recruiting vs Talent Management

Recruiting vs Talent Management

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth 

I recently participated in a panel discussion about the future of the recruiting industry, and quite frankly, I was surprised with many of the prevailing attitudes and thoughts surrounding the topic at hand. As is often the case, I was the contrarian on the panel, and while I probably shouldn’t have been shocked, it was the fact most recruiters seemed to believe the status quo was fine, the future was bright, and they didn’t see the need for change that perplexed me. In today’s post I’ll examine the future of recruiting from a bit of a different perspective than many in the executive search business…

Those of you who read my work with any amount of frequency know how strongly I believe business is fluid, dynamic, and ever evolving. Furthermore, you are likely just as familiar with my position that a static business, which doesn’t constantly innovate around the changing needs of the marketplace is the same thing as a dying business. While many recruiters and executive search firms may think they’re exempt from the aforementioned business principles governing sustainability, they would be sorely mistaken to be so brazen in their attitude and approach.

The fact of the matter is both employers and job seekers continue to become more demanding in their requirements of one another. This phenomenon is occurring during a time where employment markets worldwide have never been more competitive. My question is this; Does this sound like an environment where service providers (namely recruiters) can stand idly with a business as usual attitude?  I think not.

The reality is in maturing and complex market environments clients’ demand more from their service providers. Executive search firms desiring to remain competitive must focus on increasing their value added benefits in order to stay in the game. Those recruiters who have incomplete service offerings, and who don’t completely immerse themselves in understanding the culture and environment at their client companies will find it difficult to eek out a living moving forward.

While my personal practice is focused on providing leadership advice and counsel to Fortune 500 CEOs, as the senior operating executive at our firm I also have oversight responsibility for our talent management practice.  From my perspective, I can’t imagine not integrating services throughout the talent management lifecycle. The identification, recruitment, deployment, development, retention, and succession of talent are clearly issues best addressed in an integrated service offering. Approaching talent management in a fractionalized approach is an inefficient and flawed process.

I am so committed to the beliefs espoused above that our firm engineered its talent management practice in a fashion which offers clients a broad array of service offerings. The simple truth of the matter is that it aligns our agenda with that of our clients, and makes for solid long-term relationships driven by much more than placement fees.

Here’s the thing – “recruiters” while filling an important role, simply don’t add the value a sophisticated client will desire in the future. Those recruiters looking to grow their business must transition from candidate sourcing to embracing a comprehensive approach to talent management aligning their interests with the long-term objectives of their clients. Executive search firms not working with their clients pre and post placement have failed to understand recruiting is no longer a business, but simply one component of a much greater process. Anybody can make a hire, but that’s not the end game – rather it’s just the beginning.


5 Reasons Tenure Kills Culture

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

If your organization confuses loyalty with tenure there is trouble on the horizon. Put simply, tenure kills productivity, and ultimately tenure kills culture. If your business rates tenure higher than performance as a measure for employee evaluation, it’s time for you to consider updating your talent management practices. So, what’s wrong with tenure you ask? In principle very little; but in practice virtually everything. Think of any organization that has mediocre talent, where management has frustrated you with consistent under-performance, or where cavalier attitudes and a sense of entitlement overshadow a focus on productivity & performance, and I’ll show you an organization that embraces tenure…

An old business saying that sums-up my feelings about tenure goes like this: “The only thing worse than an employee who quits and leaves is an employee who quits and stays” – I refer to these types of folks as office squatters.  You see, tenure is not synonymous with loyalty, but rather is more often a measure of compliance and survival. Ask yourself this question: who is more loyal; an employee who has been with the company a long time but is an under-performer, or a less tenured employee who always goes the extra mile and consistently exceeds expectations?

Let me be clear – I don’t have anything against long-term employees so long as something other than length of service in a vacuum is what accounts for them still being employed. I’m suggesting that healthy organizations value performance and contribution more than tenure. If you’re still not tracking with the difference between loyalty and tenure, please take a moment and read a previous post entitled: Leadership and Loyalty. Following are the top 5 reasons why tenure as business practice simply constitutes flawed business logic and will kill your culture:

  1. Tenure is Outdated: In case you haven’t checked your calendar lately it isn’t 1950…Outside of government and academia (this should be more than enough proof that tenure is counter-productive) most people don’t work for 30 years for the same employer.
  2. Tenure Suppresses Talent: Just because “Employee A” has performed a task longer than “Employee B” doesn’t necessarily mean that “A” is more skilled than “B.” Furthermore, just because “A” has been with the company longer than “B”, doesn’t necessarily mean that “A” possesses more talent, upside, knowledge, or adds more value than “B.” When an organization promotes based upon tenure, and not based upon recognition of talent, merit, performance, etc., the company is not leveraging its true talent base. Not recognizing, developing, and rewarding talent is the fastest way I know of to drive talent out of your organization and directly into the hands of your competition.
  3. Tenure Breeds Obsolescence and Mediocrity: The sad reality is with very few exceptions, if you have someone on your payroll who has been with the organization in a similar capacity for an unusually long period of time without increasing in role or responsibility, you likely have a mediocre employee producing mediocre work. Walk into an organization that embraces tenure and it’s akin to traveling back in time 40 years. These companies have placed themselves far behind the both the talent and technology curve because tenured managers hire employees with obsolete skill sets and together they create mediocre solutions. This is a dysfunctional cycle that can send companies into a death spiral of obsolescence.
  4. Tenure Inhibits Change and Cripples Innovation: Organizations that favor tenure also tend to be prone to majoring in the minors. The mandates for compliance along with the accompanying maze of bureaucratic processes and procedures, will often take precedence over doing the right thing. Tenured organizations also tend to embrace comfort zones and are often built upon the “DITWLY” (Did It That Way Last Year) principle. All of these traits preclude the advancement of change initiatives and cripple innovation.
  5. Tenure Kills Brands: As an organization expands and continues to promote mediocre talent up through the ranks, you’ll notice that growth will eventually slow, quality and customer service suffer, and eventually these negative attributes will be reflected in declining brand equity. Think of any negative brand connotations you have, and you’ll likely find an organization that embraces tenure. The Costco experience isn’t what it used to be, US auto manufacturers continue to struggle, the banking industry has been crippled, and government agencies (pick one…USPS, IRS, DMV, etc.) often evoke feelings of hatred at the mere mention of their name.

The bottom line is this…as an employer you need to possess an extreme bias toward performance. Reward talent, initiative, innovation, loyalty, attitude, creativity, work ethic, contribution, and leadership ability – not tenure. Meritocracy or Mediocrity – the choice is yours…


10 Steps to Creating a Talent Advantage

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Creating a talent advantage begins with smart hiring. That said, it never ceases to amaze me at the number of people who are charged with hiring who possess absolutely no skill at doing so. While I rarely meet a CEO who is completely comfortable with the administration of the hiring process, most of them still seem to accept the status quo…”Who should do the hiring?” is a question more CEOs should spend time pondering. Here’s the thing; Anyone can make a hire, but not all hires are good hires. Smart leaders do more than just hire smart people – they have a smart hiring process and/or methodology. In today’s post I’ll share my philosophy on the best way to insure you hire tier-one talent.

Put simply; talent matters. The problem is that very few people actually possess the talent to identify talent. Identifying and recruiting talent requires much more than screening a resume and having a set of standard interviewing questions to guide you. There are issues of values, vision, culture, context etc., which need to be creatively and intuitively addressed in the hiring process. Sadly, it’s these areas that often go overlooked because the wrong person is evaluating talent.

Further complicating matters, is just because someone has succeeded in the past doesn’t mean they’ll be a success for your company. Likewise, just because someone has failed in a previous position doesn’t mean they might not end-up being a top performer for your company. Assessing talent is in fact a talent… Adding even more complexity to the hiring process is that not all those capable of identifying talent are capable of recruiting the talent by sealing the deal…Think about it, does the person in charge of your hiring process have the experience and charisma to convince a top performer at another company to take a pay cut to work for your company?

While CEO’s can’t personally be in charge of recruiting, it’s important to realize CEOs still own responsibility for the outcome – the buck always stops at the desk of the chief executive. No matter the size of your enterprise, I don’t believe recruiting should be the sole domain of HR (other than for lower level positions). Rather in most instances, I believe HR should be a part of the hiring team. The following commentary came from Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft when he was asked about his philosophy on hiring:

“I did all the hiring myself for a long time. No one joined Microsoft without my interviewing them and liking them. I made every offer, decided how much to pay them and closed the deals. I can’t do that anymore, but I still invest a significant amount of time in insuring that we’re recruiting the best people. You may have technology or a product that gives you an edge, but your people determine whether you develop the next winning technology or product.”

I tend to be similar in positioning to Steve in that I believe one of the highest and best uses of time is to make sure we attract the best talent for our company and our client companies. I believe C-level executives can’t afford not to keep their hands in the talent function at some level. In order to ensure you make the best hiring decisions possible, I would strongly recommend you follow the practices listed below:

  1. Definition: Make sure you know exactly what you are looking for, both in terms of the job description, and the profile of the individual most likely to be successful in that role. If you can’t define what you’re looking for, you shouldn’t be looking.
  2. Timing: There is wisdom in the old axiom “hire slow and fire fast.” Don’t panic and end-up making a regrettable hire out of perceived desperation. Give yourself plenty of runway. You’ll be much better-off taking your time and making a good hire rather than using the ready, fire, aim methodology and end-up terming the new hire before they eclipse their probationary period.
  3. ABH: Always Be Hiring…Never let your organization be put behind the talent 8-ball, as great talent is rarely available on a moment’s notice. In the world of professional sports the search for talent often starts during the middle-school years, which is long before the potential talent being tracked by the scouts has matured. Your organization should always be on the look-out for great talent whether that talent is still in graduate school, in the military, working for competitors, or working outside the industry. Some of the best hires I’ve made over the years were executives that I spent months, and in some cases, years developing relationships with.
  4. Identify Your Talent Scout: Look for and identify the person within your organization that has the best nose for talent. Regardless of what position this person holds, get them involved in the process. If you don’t have a natural talent scout internally, seek outside assistance in the form of a consultant. Don’t turn your talent scout into just another corporate bottleneck, rather give them leverage by having them collaborate with outside recruiters. Outsourced recruiting is very effective and affordable if managed properly.
  5. Team Based Hiring: While I’m not generally in favor of management by committee, hiring based upon a team approach works very well. In a perfect world, a hiring team would consist of your HR manager (compliance), your internal and external talent scout (the gut-check), the direct supervisor over the position being hired for (competency, capability, and compatibility) and the senior executive who is the best at selling your organization (the closer). Hiring in a team based fashion eliminates many of the typical mistakes that can be made in the hiring process.
  6. Values Based Hiring: You can either spend time finding employees who share your organization’s values, or deal with the brain damage of managing conflicts that arise due to opposing values. Smart companies focus on the former and not the latter. It simply isn’t necessary to compromise on core values to get talent. A new hire should desire to be part of your company for more than the ability to maximize immediate earning potential…they should be interested in your company because there is a sincere alignment of values and vision. Trust me when I tell you that compromises in this area which seem insignificant during the interview process will become visibly and materially significant down the road.
  7. Hire Leaders: I have a basic premise when it comes to hiring – most companies get exactly what they deserve. When companies complain about a lack of leadership, or how difficult it is to identify leaders, my question is simply this: Why didn’t you hire a leader to begin with? Sure, leadership can be learned, but not everyone is willing to learn, and even if they are, education takes time and has a very real cost. Let me be clear, I’m not knocking leadership development initiatives – there is no perfect leader, and all leaders need to focus on development. What I am saying is that development of an existing leader is faster, easier, and more effective than creating a leader.
  8. Cultural Fit: Culture matters – forget this and all other efforts with regard to talent initiatives will be dysfunctional, if not lost altogether. Don’t allow your culture to evolve be default, create it by design. The first step in cultural design is to be very, very careful who you let through the front door. People, their traits, attitudes, and work ethic (or lack thereof) are contagions. This can be positive or negative – the choice is yours. The old saying, “talent begets talent” is true.
  9. Pay for Talent: I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve witnessed companies pass over the right hire, or worse yet, not even look for the right hire because they let self-imposed financial constraints serve as a barrier precluding sound decisioning. I’ve actually personally observed HR managers filter better qualified candidates because they were a few thousand dollars outside the “top-end” of the salary range. It is precisely this type of thinking that will keep a company from being competitive in the market. To put it bluntly, you get what you pay for…Real talent produces real results, and is worth the investment. Always hire up where possible…find the right talent and then do what it takes to secure the services of said talent. You cannot afford not to invest in talent.
  10. Constantly Upgrade: You can hire the best talent in the world, but remember that “best” is a subjective evaluation largely measured within the context of a snapshot in time. Obsolescence can take root in anyone if growth and development are not focus points. Development needs to occur at every echelon of the workforce  – the top, middle, and bottom performance tiers. Top performers need to be stretched, mid-tier performers need to be challenged to up their game, and you should always look to upgrade the bottom 20% of your workforce. This can be done through training and development or via new hires. You need to ask yourself the following question: Who are the least productive members of your team? Why? Coach them to productivity or replace them – there is no third option.

Hiring is a blend of art and science. The reality is that those organizations that identify, recruit, deploy, develop and retain the best talent will be the companies who thrive in the market place. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback below…

Smart Leaders Do More Than Talk About Talent

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Those of you familiar with my work know how much I detest politically correct sound-bites. Even worse – when those sound-bites are used in an attempt to make statements which embolden a corporate position that doesn’t really exist to begin with. Just because something is written in a vision or mission statement, placed on a website, included in company collateral material, or frequently espoused by corporate leadership doesn’t necessarily mean its true. In today’s post I’ll examine one of the most frequent offenders; “Talent is our biggest asset.”

Rarely do I speak with an executive who hasn’t taken more than a few sips of the talent messaging Kool-Aid. They don’t miss a beat as they speak of the quality of their talent as a key success metric. In fact, many of them will emphatically state that talent is their single biggest competitive advantage. If I only had a nickel for each time a CEO has told me “We have the best talent in the industry.” Reality check – as polished as their rhetoric tends to be, the simple truth of the matter is that their elocution doesn’t match their business practices. They often talk the talk, but rarely do they walk the walk.

The sad reality is few companies seem willing to make the requisite investments needed to successfully align their actions with their management speak. It has been my consistent experience that talent is one of the most often discussed, and least effectively actioned issues at executive leadership meetings. If CEOs spent half as much time on talent initiatives as they do complaining about talent, their organizations would see significant improvement thus obviating the need for all the grumbling.

Here’s an observation for your consideration; when an executive leadership meeting is called and there isn’t a dedicated executive level talent resource present, you don’t value talent as much a you think you do. I’m not talking about inviting your HR manager to attend the meeting for a few minutes, but rather having a C-level talent executive with a regular seat at the table. If your company doesn’t have a Chief Talent Officer, Chief People Officer etc.,  then you are likely just paying lip service to the value of talent.

If you just downsized and gave your previously “highly valued assets” their walking papers, then you might not value talent as much as you say you do. One of my mentors once cautioned me about treating people like furniture saying that “individuals are not inantimate objects to simply be moved around and discarded, but that people require a constant investment of time and money to develop to their full potential.” He strongly cautioned against short-term hires, and believed that you shouldn’t hire anyone whom you couldn’t keep and develop over the long haul.  I would encourage you to read a previous post on “Workforce Reduction.”

If recruiting, training and development is being charged to a mid-level manager whose real domain expertise lies in administration and compliance, then talent will likely become your largest contingent liability as opposed to your biggest asset. In a previous post entitled “Who Should Do The Hiring” I go into great detail as to why recruiting and hiring should not always be siloed away as an HR function.

Bottom line…if you have high employee turnover (see “Cutting Employee Churn“), a fractured corporate culture, a lack of leadership development and mentoring programs, regressive compensation programs, and a lack of C-level focus on talent then talent cannot be your biggest asset. Don’t hype…stop complaining…fix the problem.


Values Based Hiring

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Values Based HiringWhy play a game of chance when you don’t have to? I was casually reading the results of a survey on the topic of hiring methodologies last weekend when one particular survey question really caught my attention: “When considering a new hire, what is the one characteristic or attribute of the candidate that would most influence your hiring decision?” The “right” answer seemed quite obvious to me, but in reading the respondent’s (100 hiring managers, executives and HR types) answers I was truly amazed at what I saw…It is no wonder that companies struggle with talent management when they hire based on the “wrong” evaluation metrics. In today’s post I’ll share my observations and conclusions drawn from the information gleaned in reviewing the survey…

Let me start by sharing some of the representative answers (not mine) that were put forth in response to the survey question above:

  1. “Leadership ability”;
  2. “I would have to say being a good communicator”;
  3. “The ability to think outside the box and eagerness to learn”;
  4. “The ability to make a good first impression”;
  5. “Intelligence”;
  6. “Commitment to invest long hours”;
  7. “Being a team player”;
  8. “Excellent time management skills”;
  9. “Enthusiastic attitude”;
  10. “Strong analytical abilities”;
  11. “Solid technical skills”;
  12. “The ability to execute”;
  13. “The ability to follow process”
  14. “That the individual is a nice person”;
  15. “That they have a degree from a good school”;

Okay, I think you get the point by now…Again, keep in mind that these (along with the other answers posted) were given by senior managers and executives. Here is what I’d like you to consider…While the answers noted above all point to admirable traits, when you evaluate them based upon the context of the original question posed they are nothing short of mystifying…Out of 100 answers provided only two respondents answered with what I believe is the correct answer: “Integrity and Character.” You see, any of the traits identified in the 98 other answers absent character and integrity will eventually lead to some type of disconnect or debacle. Values based hiring increases performance, enhances collaboration, reduces turnover, increases morale, and creates a stable culture. The fact that character and integrity showed as poorly as they did in the survey, is proof positive for why the corporate workplace struggles with talent management.

What should be jumping off the page here is that based upon the above referenced survey only two percent of the companies surveyed appear to utilize a value based hiring methodology.  Moreover, one might conclude that 98% of these companies have the wrong people doing the hiring. I strongly suggest that whomever is doing the hiring within your organization utilize a values based recruiting model. This doesn’t just mean hire a top producer, or the candidate who graduated from the best business school, but rather hire a quality individual that is a person of integrity & character, whose values are in alignment with the organizations core values, and who also happens to be talented. 

The simple truth of the matter is that you can have your cake and it eat too if you’re willing to hold-out for the right person. It simply isn’t necessary to compromise on core values to get talent. A new hire should desire to be part of your company for more than the ability to maximize immediate earning potential…they should be interested in your company because there is a sincere alignment of values and vision.

Don’t be quick to hire based upon gut feel, but rather take time in the interviewing process to let the prospective new hire get a feel for your culture and your company. Never oversell the company, but rather disclose all the problems and weaknesses of the organization so that the candidate can make a good decision that won’t later be unwound by inconsistent messaging or practices. Above all, don’t be seduced by qualities that while they may be attractive on the surface, won’t ever make-up for a lack of character and integrity.

Leadership & Employee Engagement

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer,N2growth

Employee EngagementThe topic of “Employee Engagement” is something that many CEOs tend to struggle with. Long gone are the days where the executive leadership of a company can remain sequestered in their offices with an internal focus on hard metrics. Given the current economic climate, it takes far more than cost-cutting to survive. It is the CEO who understands the need for focus on the soft metrics of customer centricity and employee engagement that will create sustainable growth in revenue and brand equity. In today’s post I’ll examine the need to have a fully engaged work force…

Before you read any further, I want you to stop and ask yourself the following question: How many of your employees are truly passionate about your company, its values, its vision, its mission, and the role that they play within the organization? Don’t fool yourself…conduct a harsh, critical analysis and come up with a true head count of the passionate employees within your organization.

Your answer to the question above should be a very telling sign about the overall health of your business. Are people just showing-up and punching the clock to collect a paycheck, or are they personally consumed and committed to achieving the company vision? Are your employees corporate evangelists serving as a motivating force to be reckoned with, or do they gather in small groups to gripe and complain about all the things wrong with the company and its leadership?

The key to having an engaged workforce is to have a passionate workforce. And the simple truth of the matter is that no single person in the company can instill passion in the ranks like the CEO can. Despite the consensus recognition that employee engagement matters, the enormity of its impact on the company’s bottom line still appears to be misunderstood by most CEOs. I rarely talk to a CEO that doesn’t understand this principle in concept, but yet I rarely see chief executives who put theory into practice…

So it begs the question, why are CEOs listening but not taking action? The answer seems to be that CEOs continue to allocate considerable effort and resources toward engineering the corporate strategy, yet they seem to be unaware of what forces can prevent said strategy from being delivered successfully. Not surprisingly, employee engagement is often the critical missing factor.

As the CEO you must also become the chief engagement officer. Operating in a vacuum and being out of touch is never a good position to find yourself in as the CEO. I have consistently espoused the value of walking the floor, dropping in on meetings on an impromptu basis, taking employees of all ranks to lunch, and any number of other items that focus on raising your internal awareness and creating a passionate workforce.

It is your passionate employees who are the franchise talent (regardless of position) you should be building around. If you can’t get employees to see the light and become passionate about the company and their contribution, then seek to replace them as quickly as possible. Just as passion is a positive, contagious trait so are apathy and dissatisfaction. Passionate employees are productive, energized, committed and loyal assets. Apathetic employees quickly become disenfranchised liabilities that will hurt both productivity and morale. To drive home the point of how much I value passionate employees, I would take a moderately talented but passionate employee over a very talented but complacent employee eleven times out of ten…

Truly great companies are built around passionate employees. When you walk into a dynamic, thriving company you can sense the passion…you feel a certain buzz and fervor that pervades everything. Contrast this with a company that feels as if it has no pulse…If you’ve ever walked into an organization that feels like rigor-mortis has set in, you know what I’m referring to…In today’s economy, the old saying that “the only thing worse than an employee who quits and leaves is the employee who quits and stays” has never been more accurate.

As a leader you need to understand that your employees not only want to be led, but they want to be led by a passionate leader. Ultimately employees want to be passionate about what they do; in fact, they’ll go to the ends of earth and sacrifice tremendously if passionate about the endeavor. Think of the employees that started off with Gates and Allen at Microsoft, or those that worked with Phil Knight in his garage before Nike even had a name, or those employees that endured the early days with Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google…it was their passion and commitment that helped change the landscape of business, not their starting salaries.

To build an extraordinary company, you must light the fire in the bellies of your workforce…You must get them to feel passion about your organization and to connect with your vision. You must get your employees to engage. As the CEO, your ability to transfer your passion to your employees is the essence of being a great leader…So much so that if you can’t accomplish this, you simply can’t be a great leader. Think of any great leader, and while you’ll find varying degrees of skill sets, intellect and ability, I challenge to name even one that did not have passion, as well as the ability to instill said passion in team members.