Sally Henderson
Powerful change from the inside out




When bad habits prevent brilliant senior leadership recruitment

I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to creative organisations recruiting leadership talent and I am on a mission to stop the bad practices, overcome lazy behaviour and lead the charge in taking talent and leadership development seriously for the survival of the creative sector.

So where shall we start? Well every story loves a villain so let’s get straight into ugly. Here are some examples of when recruiting leaders goes wrong.

The saboteur in the room
I was once supporting a famous business (obvs no-names!) look for an MD for London.  A big role with high profile. The group leader was first point of contact and therefore had total responsibility for how prospective senior talent connected with the business. Imagine my candidate’s surprise, (and my horror), to be told that they had been kept waiting, weren’t even offered a cup of tea, were given a very functional interview and not thanked for their time when leaving.  Such obvious mistakes and of course the candidate, a very senior and well connected person in their own right, left that organisation with nothing but a bad taste from their early morning meeting.  The reason for this frankly bad behaviour?  It quickly transpired the group leader didn’t believe in the role so were going through the motions.  The result from this however was that the Employer Brand suffered huge damage and thousands of pounds were wasted in time being poured down the train meeting prospective candidates for a role that didn’t really exist.

When you think you want change but you really don’t..
There have been numerous times over my 20 years driving talent growth and business change in the creative sector when I have been invited to introduce a senior leader “who is different and will take the business in a different direction”.  From my experience 9/10, this fails.  Not because we didn’t find and introduce exceptional talent, but because the change wasn’t thought through internally, effective boundaries weren’t put in place and behaviours didn’t adapt to work with the new and leave the old behind that needed leaving. Result? Catastrophe. Huge sums of money wasted, employer brand damaged, client relationships weakened, stress levels shoot through the roof and the whole culture tainted when this happens at the very top. And the crying shame? With a little more investment, commitment and bringing in the right talent help success was there for the taking.

Time and in-decision is a killer
Senior talent recruitment can be like looking for a new house; you must be in-tune with the market, know what you are looking for and have all the infrastructure in place to act decisively when the moment calls.  I have seen clients miss out on critical leadership talent through doing just the opposite. Here are the common reasons:

  • There isn’t alignment on what “great” looks like amongst the key decision makers so no agreement can be made on who to hire. Or even worse, a person is appointed then certain members of the leadership team set about getting them out of the business asap (yes folks bizarre as it sounds this happens!)
  • Budget is not confirmed so delay kicks in waiting for budget sign off at critical offer stage which turns candidates off and vital emotional investment is comprimised
  • People don’t prioritise meeting prospective talent so the process drags on and loses its momentum
  • We just need “one more meeting with one more person” to then be able to make our decision (so the process rumbles on and the candidate gets snapped up by another more agile and decisive organisation)
  • There is the belief that an “even better candidate” must be in the market to make an informed comparison against so let’s keep looking.  To then realise "ah indeed person X who is no longer interested was in fact great after all"!

So, what should creative organisations do to win in the race for rare yet critical leadership talent?  Here are a few of my recommendations:

1)    Know who you want in the first place. It all starts in the brief. Take time to craft who you need, how they need complement the rest of the leadership team, the values and culture fit you require, the motivational drivers this person will have and equally get clear on what you don’t want.  What happens normally?  Let’s call up the usual suspects give them a quick brief (because they know us and what we want don’t they?!) and see what comes from the usual networks. (And then creative agencies are surprised when the brief remains open!)

2)    Get clear on what your prospective audience will want to hear about the company and opportunity and then make sure you share this!  So many creative agencies are terrible at this, assumptions are made and lazy interviews given.  The wasted opportunity this creates is awful.

3)    Commit to giving a great customer experience.  Treat each prospective candidate like your best client.  At worst, they will leave an evangelist about your business and at best you will be maximising successful talent acquisition opportunity

4)    Invest in casting the right interview panel and prepare them properly to be effective.  Recruitment is both an art and a skill yet rarely are interviewers (especially senior ones) taught in the clever ways to carry out effective recruitment and insure the final decision as much as possible

5)    Commit to delivering a consistently brilliant experience. Stick to timelines, keep energy in the right place, remain open and inquisitive, go into every meeting as an opportunity to learn and grow for both parties and don’t let the lazy interviewing habits sneak back in

If you would like to stop wasting time energy and money and be in control of brilliant senior leadership recruitment, get in touch for more information about the tools I have created to stop the wastage and build capability. I guarantee to set your business up for cultural and financial success when you are recruiting vital leaders for your growth.