Breaking the Recruitment Rules - IEDP
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Breaking the Recruitment Rules

Astute hiring is key to hooking great talent

Thursday 05 November 2015


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Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, says playing by the rules may not be enough to ensure your organization builds the strongest teams, in this sixth in a series of articles for IEDP:

I met an old colleague of mine on a flight to Moscow recently. The successful CEO of a giant retailing operation, he was on his way to Russia’s capital to buy something of great value – a new vice-president of East European operations.

“What they want most is something that most corporations can’t, or won’t, give them”

His mission got us talking about talent and just how hard it is to get the right kind of people for your business these days. “This guy I’m about to sign up,” explained my pal Clemens, “is a perfect example of what’s going on in the marketplace right now. I’ve really had to go the extra mile in getting him to finally sign up.”

“What do you mean by that,” I queried?

“Simple,” sighed Clemens, “I had to tear up our rule-book on recruitment. If I hadn’t done that he would have gone to work for our toughest competitor.”

That got me thinking. Just how many CEOs and their staff have had to break the rules to hook the kind of big fish they need for their businesses and just how do they do that?

I started asking around.

“My view is that just occasionally you need to throw the rulebook out of the window,” says Reinhard, a pharmaceutical CEO in Zurich. He goes on, “sometimes there’s a candidate that you know will change your business. What do you do ? Personally, I go shopping with my cheque book!”

But as others told me, you can’t get away with a ‘no-rules-at-all’ hiring programme. “If you break the rules to land that special talent, then you have to understand that there are new rules that apply and the candidate has to sign up for them,” says John, the CEO of a UK based transport conglomerate.

His advice: “Never, ever break your recruitment rules unless you have an alternative set of rules ready to be applied; rules that you and they [the new hire] agree to. Remember you are not hiring this person for fun, you have broken your rules for a very specific business purpose.”

But it’s not just about tearing up the rulebook once in a while – there’s more to it than that. Jeanette, a tough-talking Paris-based entrepreneur told me, “you don’t break the rules, you make up new ones.” She added, “There’s nothing more satisfying than changing the rules and getting everyone else – especially the competition – to follow them – if they can.”

A Rotterdam based engineering consultant agrees with Jeanette’s change-the-rules philosophy, but suggests that, “at very senior levels you are hiring in talent to do a job that others simply cannot manage.” He continues, “I have seen this in major engineering projects where there are perhaps only five people in the world who can get an assignment completed successfully. At that level, there is no point in arguing, you either hire them or not. That means the project either happens – successfully – or not. There’s no other debate on this.”

And it’s not just changing the rules and throwing money at the issue either. When it comes to going fishing for super-talent you need to bait your hook with a lot more than cold hard cash. Super talent it seems rarely needs the money. What they want most is something that most corporations can’t or won’t give them. Great talent it seems is not only passionate about the job, but about other elements of their lives. For these people the life-work balance equation really is part of how they are ‘compensated’. Tap into that aspect of their expectations and you are on to a winner.

On the way back to Brussels from Moscow, I met Clemens again. “How did it go?” I asked. “Got your man?”

He looked a little sheepish. “Well, no.” he muttered.

“What happened,” I queried, “I thought it was all in the bag?”

“Guy got a better offer,” said Clemens through clenched teeth. “Our top competitor matched our cash offer but also told him he could base himself anywhere in Europe. He’s a sailing fanatic and is taking his yacht and his family to Monte-Carlo! Seems they tore more pages out of their recruitment rule-book than we did!"

Have you got a story about throwing away the recruitment rule-book; had to come up with an unusual compensation package? Let us know, we’d like to hear about it.


This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here 

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