Crisis. What Crisis?

It’s always good to be working with a client whose business has a clearly defined business model and a planned route to develop its finance team to support growing needs and clear objectives.  There is, however, no doubt that the roller coaster ride of working with a client in financial jeopardy or faced with a substantial hit to its reputation has its moments.  You learn a lot about your recruitment capability, the relationship with management in crisis and how candidates can be excited or disrupted by events.

We’ve been reviewing our responses and those of clients and candidates to situations which rise above the level of everyday working turbulence.  We’re also sharing some good advice about the ways in which you can prepare yourself and your team for a crisis that is outside your direct control.  Most of all, we’ve been looking at the profiles of people who thrive and those who wilt when faced with extraordinary challenges.

Enjoy The Ride

Public scandals that have claimed the jobs of CEOs in recent years include the Boeing 747 Max design flaws, fraud and conspiracy at Enron, and inappropriate relationships at McDonalds, but little is written about the impact on recent and potential recruits.  There are suggestions, bitterly denied by the company, that Facebook found its recruitment of top talent seriously hampered by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.  It’s an area where you have to be a recruiter to hear the inside stories and understand how the damage can be recovered or at least minimised.

Good candidates have always done their due diligence on a business and our early conversations quickly distinguish between those that are interested to try and pick up industry gossip and those that sense a defining moment in their career.  A friend of mine joined a publicly listed company on the verge of bankruptcy because of a carefully constructed financial package that guaranteed some upside, the quality of a new management team and the sheer thrill of possibly succeeding against the odds.  It can help if you are at a stage of your career when you can take a risk and put it down to experience but it still takes an adventurous mindset to enjoy the ride.

Understanding the motivations of potential recruits is critical in very demanding situations but even more important is the ability to get them to give a fair hearing to the possibilities.  Well known Silicon Valley recruiter Daversa Partners have established a reputation as a company with creative ways of messaging to potential candidates that are summarized by “dare to be legendary”.  It’s a challenge to candidates but also to clients who may shy away from anything but the safest choices.

Perfect As An Obstacle to Good Enough

The other side of the equation is that clients have to be willing to take risks, think outside the box and go the extra mile to get candidates with the right amount of skill, personality and appetite for risk.  They may need to consider individuals whose lives and careers do not reflect their idealised vision of perfection, whose career has been associated with failing companies or who appear modestly confident rather than egotistically bullish.

A famous example of a candidate who was considered by many to be sub-optimal was Tim Cook at Apple whose demeanour and approach was a direct contrast to Steve Jobs.  Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp was particularly vocal in suggesting that that Jobs was irreplaceable and that Apple under Cook would not “be nearly so successful.”  After ten years, an investment of US$10,000 the day Cook became CEO, with all dividends reinvested, would be worth more than US$200,000 and there is general recognition that he has substantially exceeded expectations.

It’s also quite possible that talented individuals who have been in the grip of a fight against bankruptcy or public shaming will find that they have periods between roles – either to recover or because they were too busy fighting fires to manage their career.  Some commentators believe that the pandemic has reduced sensitivity to career breaks and gaps but it remains a big hurdle for many recruiting managers to get over.  We find that these conversations need to be handled with great care but believe that the future will see more and more strong candidates who have taken time out for reasons that are wholly appropriate.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

The possible stigma of finding a job after being with a failing company is rarely discussed but Inc. does a good job of shaping an imaginary conversation between a hiring manager and an ex-employee of “the infamous Juicero.”  Its comic value is reasonable but highlights the need for candidates to think through and explain how their experience can bring value to a new employer.  It also behoves companies to consider Warren Buffet’s comment about a decision costing his investors $3.5bn – “to date, Dexter is the worst deal that I’ve made. But I’ll make more mistakes in the future — you can bet on that.”

One reality is that individuals with the willingness to take on extraordinary challenges are likely to fail more frequently than those who sit comfortably and make incremental progress over decades.  Both types of candidate have their place but as a recruiter we are actively looking to exclude “steady Eddies” from situations that are calling for Evil Knievel.  Situational awareness and recruitment is increasingly important in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world we live in but particularly so in crisis situations.

Nobody Expects The Unexpected

A different situation is when a recently recruited financial professionals faces an unexpected crisis situation just a few months after arrival and wonders if the recruiter had any insights into this possibility.  They may also have worked with you to bring in other new faces but face personal conflict as to how the situation will affect their own career and relationships.  It’s even more disturbing when the situation is a public scandal about the culture of the organization or the most senior management.

Our experience is that these are moments when the recruiter’s personal link to the candidate and their reputation for straight talking becomes invaluable.  At TALTRAN Global we decided in our early days that there was no point being on the side of the client to the detriment of the candidate.  Our role is to find the very best people for the job but also to help the client understand the conditions under which a new recruit will thrive and add value.

There are moments when a client will seek compensation or free work to find a replacement when the loss of talent is down to internal mismanagement or evidence of senior management misbehaviour.  Our advice is always that they need to address the fundamentals in order to build confidence in future candidates.  It is not easy to walk away from a recruitment challenge but there is also no future in engaging with businesses that have become toxic and are seeking scapegoats rather than celebrating saviours.

Take Advice And Prepare Well  

Crisis management specialist businesses are abundant and our research turned up good advice from organizations like Boston Consulting Group but everything we have read about saving a company’s future goes double for retaining or recruiting good staff.  Authentic communication, take purposeful action to deal with the cause, focus on here and now while preserving the organisation’s mission, and think “people first”.  In the longer term it is always worth remembering and reminding colleagues that experience counts and “today’s scars are tomorrow’s stripes.”

For companies working with recruiters Bridgespan make the point that “an external recruiter is a confidential advisor and intermediary”.  We provide an objective point of view, don’t feel any need to pull punches and will be intent on asking the questions that we know candidates will want persuasive answers to.  We can also do the research and screening that ensures potential new employees feel confident of the role they may be taking on.

With good briefing we can make sure that the company’s message about any crisis is being accurately played into the sector we are searching for candidates.  Ultimately, it will be actions that count and one of the most important features is to be able to demonstrate that your business can still find and keep good people.  Quality recruits bring fresh impetus and new ideas which demonstrate the business is moving on to better days.

Notes

Readers of a certain age will remember the headline of this piece as the title of the fourth album by the English rock band Supertramp, released in 1975. Rolling Stone panned the album and ridiculed the lyrics in particular.  Even the band’s co-founder and frontman commented, “We really didn’t enjoy making it and in the end it was kind of a patch up job.”  In the UK the words reappeared as a headline in the Sun newspaper in 1979, although they are commonly attributed to, James Callaghan, the Prime Minister and leader of the governing Labour party of the time.  The phrase was widely used to suggest a Government that was out of touch with reality and contributed to its demise in the UK General Election later that year.

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