"George, thank you for your help in leading a very difficult national search to a find a leader of our large Salesforce implementation a year ago.  I’m happy to report that he has been tremendous in getting our Salesforce implementation rolled out and he continues to excel in his role.  Definitely one of our strongest hires and leaders.  We would be happy to work with you and your firm again should the opportunity arise."

Senior Vice President,
Large Regional Bank








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Our Value Print

The evidence is in.  Successfully hiring and promoting the right employees at the world’s best companies occurs only 25 – 33% of the time, and the consequences are costly.  As your search partner, our role is to raise your success rate on your most critical positions to as close to 100% as possible.  As your consulting partner, our role is to help you evolve your internal hiring practices so that you have all the capabilities to achieve a 90% success rate in hiring A-players, which would place your company on top of the mountain.

Peter Drucker [1] observes:

Executives spend more time on managing people and making decisions than on anything else, and they should.  No other decisions are so long lasting in their consequences or so difficult to unmake. And yet, by and large, executives make poor promotion and staffing decisions. By all accounts, their batting average is no better than .333; at most one-third of such decisions turn out right; one-third are minimally effective; and one-third are outright failures.

In no other area of management would we put up with such miserable performance. Indeed, we need not and should not. Managers making people decisions will never be perfect, of course.  But they should come pretty close to batting 1.000, especially because in no other area of management do we know so much.

Dr. Bradford Smart [2] concurs with Drucker’s impression, except Smart’s research discovered the average success rate is actually lower.  In his 1998 and 2004 surveys of 100 CEOs at such U.S. companies as Boeing, Snap-On, T.J. Maxx, Amway, Rockwell, Stanley Works, Citibank, Motorola, ConAgra and Office Depot, those CEO’s estimated that their talent mix was 23% A-players, 52% B-players and 25% C-players.   But the real numbers at the majority of companies were even worse because some of the CEO’s who participated in the survey were Smart’s own clients who had successfully implemented his topgrading hiring practices and were successfully hiring 90% A-players - meaning the overwhelming majority of CEOs in the survey experienced even more dismal realities than the averages in Smart’s report indicated.

Smart’s research further shows that the hidden cost to these companies of bad hires is 15 times base salary, conservatively.  The biggest underestimated cost is the cost of disruption, though almost all respondents indicated that they believed the costs of disruption were huge.  “B-/C-players make mistakes affecting and disrupting many people,” Smart reports. “Instead of removing business land mines, they inadvertently plant them.”

The biggest estimated cost in mis-hiring is a wasted or missed business opportunity.  A single blunder, miscalculation or malfeasance by a CEO, COO, CFO, CIO – or even a B-/C-player salesperson – can cost many millions of dollars.  When the C-level exec is the likes of a Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, Gilbert Amelio, Michael Ovitz, Rick Wagoner, Bernard Ebbers, Martin Sullivan or Franklin Raines, the impact upon stockholders can be devastating.

Corporate melodrama aside, Smart points out that one of the most insidious aspects of B-/C-players is that they hire other B-/C-players and drive away A-players, frequently resulting in what he calls a cultural and corporate “death spiral” of mediocrity.

Mis-hires, Smart asserts, can “kill” companies and individual careers.  We would add, in industries such as Healthcare, Pharmaceuticals, Medical Devices, Public Safety, Defense and even Consumer Products, mis-hires literally can kill.

Consultant and trainer Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations and Fierce Leadership [3], lays blame for these mis-hires upon many of the so-called “best” practices embraced by corporations over the last 20 years.  In short, corporations have made it their practice “to hire people with ‘credentials’ – academic pedigrees, high IQs or test scores.”  Book smarts, MBAs or claims of past accomplishments carry professionals only so far.  They don’t guarantee good teachers, good doctors or good leaders because the emotional connections essential to influencing others have nothing to do with cognitive skills.

Moreover, Scott says, young people recognize that the emerging right-brain economy requires a set of skills and characteristics not taught in most business schools.  “Many Gen Xers and Yers tell me they see value in forging more meaningful relationships at work… These are the people – the ones who are both smart and engaged, who value human connection – that we are choosing for leadership roles today, globally.  They understand that, while no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship or a life, any single conversation can.”

Effective leadership, at any level, requires the ability to influence others.   In order to influence people, one must be able to achieve an emotional connection, which in turn enables trust and belief.   As Scott so wisely observes, companies need to shift from hiring simply for smarts to hiring for “Smart+Heart.”

A-player leaders possess both intellectual intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ).  It is EQ in which most employers fail to invest necessary interview time for scrutinizing candidates.  Or if they acknowledge its value instinctively, they often do not know how to recognize it and test it for validity, at best relying upon gut instinct.  I can’t figure out what it is about her, but she is terrific!

Scott cites over a dozen reports, examples and studies in which emotional competencies played the pivotal role in organizations’ performance.  “Leaders must be able to acquire emotional capital in order to succeed,” she explains.  “Human connectivity is the überskill that captures the ideal combination of IQ and EQ… Your most valuable currency is relationship, emotional capital, the ability to connect with others.”

What attributes should one look for in someone who appears to be relationship oriented?  Passion, integrity and character play a big part.  Try including accountable, authentic, collaborative, courageous, passionate, lifelong learner, generous in praise for others, invites feedback, biased towards action, lives one’s values, solution oriented or change agent in your next list of job requirements.

How Diligent Partners Can Help

As search consultants, we have spent our careers looking for these attributes in candidates.  It takes time, patience, discernment – and a process designed to assess knowledge, experience, competency, character and interpersonal relationship skills.  Every search has its own unique requirements, even requirements for the same position in different companies.  What does not change for us in our requirements is our quest for candidates whose attributes validate why they can be considered A-players.

Besides tracking and challenging candidates’ career moves and accomplishments – certainly very important – we also engage candidates in behavioral interviewing.  The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  We ask probing questions.  We ask awkward questions.  We sometimes ask embarrassing questions.  Whenever there is the slightest doubt about an otherwise promising candidate, we insist that at least one additional search consultant interview the candidate – perhaps even a third – and explore the area of concern.  The point of this process is to reveal who the candidate really is, not who he or she thinks we want them to be based what they have read in a job description.  As Susan Scott observes, Candidates are clever devils, indeed. Some can reinvent themselves as easily as slipping into a new shirt.  We work hard to reveal the truth.

We often assign homework to candidates, and only homework that is relevant to the specific search.  These assignments provide additional data points, not only for clarifying facts and events surrounding candidates’ accomplishments, but for later validating candidates’ claims with other third parties.  Additional benefits of assigning homework include gaining first hand insight into a candidate’s written communication skills – always important – and providing a litmus regarding their level of interest and commitment to the opportunity itself as well as their decision-making style, before we present a candidate to a client.

In the end, rather than present a ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ bunkhouse of unvetted candidates, we present to you, our client, a select few about whom we are especially confident would be A-players in your organization.  We provide you our detailed opinions on each candidate, both verbally and in writing, and rather than sell you on a candidate, we consult with you.  Our clients come to understand the difference.  We orchestrate the interview process so that the candidates and the interview team have the most positive and productive experience possible because, in the end, when the best candidate joins an organization that meets or exceeds his or her expectations, everyone wins.

This is a time-intensive process we follow.  Most companies cannot begin to imagine they can live up to it, but as consultants we show you how.  If two-thirds of your current employees are B’s and C’s, think of what that is costing you, right now.  Fifteen times base salary, for every employee earning a base salary over $100,000.  Failed projects.  Lost customer accounts.  Stalled product releases.  Broken partnerships.  Regulatory fines.  Sinkhole R&D investments.  Lower productivity.  Impaired teams.   Wasted business opportunities.  Cost inefficiencies.  Scandal.  Lawsuits.  Excessive employee turnover.  Bungled product launches.  Scrapped IT investments.  Bad press.  Lower morale.  Embezzlement.  Broken supply chains.  Stalled revenue realization.  Distraction.  Abandoned trust in your brand.

You can build a business culture populated by A-players, and we can help you achieve it.

[1] Drucker, Peter F. The Essential Drucker. Harper Collins, 2001.

[2] Smart, Bradford D.  Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win By Hiring, Coaching and Keeping the Best People. Penguin Group, 1999, 2005.

[3] Scott, Susan. Fierce Leadership, A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today. Crown Publishing, 2009.



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