How One Well-Placed HR Business Partner Can Transform an Enterprise and Mitigate Risk

The Challenge

A decades-old international transportation company was urgently in need of a cultural shift in order to support safety, compliance, leadership development, and effective recruitment goals. They needed a strategic HR leader who had the ability to lead through influence following the strong Founder’s departure. The company HR department was sorely in need of solid policies, procedures, mission alignment, and effective leadership.

The HR Business Partner knew the opportunity would present big challenges going in due to Acumen’s transparency regarding the gaps — and he was excited to take them on.

The organization had recently lost their Founder. It was apparent that the right tools from a leadership, personnel, cultural, and compliance perspective were lacking. Leadership needed support and education. The Founder had a positive, “paternal” leadership style and was the person who generally “held everything together.” Upon his departure, the organizational gaps lead to a loss of trust between HR and the rest of the organization. As typical of mid-sized company business owners, he had a hand in every aspect of the company and was a natural born leader. “Many employees stated that he just ‘made the whole thing work.’ If there was an HR problem, he would listen to both sides and make a decision and everyone would say “yes, sir.” Any company with that kind of leader is going to be successful when they have a maestro making it all happen.”

Once the Founder had departed, the new HR leader would have the challenge of transforming the culture and introducing policies and procedures to remedy the lack of effective HR management. It would be crucial to implement compliance and establish a safe, positive, inclusive work environment that mitigated risk.

This HR Leader would need to work as a true partner to the executive team, understanding the history, the business strategy, the diverse personalities of the employees, and HR law to be effective. He would not succeed if he was a “my way or the highway” type of individual; he would need to be a leader who could lead through influence and engender trust to get the job done. Needed was a kind, collaborative leader who listens, while explaining why being compliant was beneficial and essential to the organization as a whole. He also needed to be a knowledgeable HRBP who was able to command the respect of the executive team to allow him to execute on leadership development initiatives.

The Solution

Acumen quickly identified 3 strong potential candidates for the role that had the dual experience in both HR and Safety the role required. Jon not only had the right mix of industries in his background, but he was a hands-on strategist with experience overseeing the facets of HR that needed the most help. This included championing a big cultural change through change management – moving a large organization into embracing compliance and leadership development. Executive Leadership acknowledged him to be a strong cultural fit – a strategic HR Leader who was thoughtful, knowledgeable, and collaborative while being an expert in safety, compliance, training, leadership development, and recruiting. He was a leader who made promises and fulfilled them. He got the job done.

The timeline from when Acumen identified Jon as a strong candidate to when the organization made him an offer of employment took two weeks. Thanks to the great partnership with the CFO, the process ran smoothly and effectively. While placements of HR professionals in more rural areas generally take much longer, Acumen credits their strong, efficacious network which supported the swift identification and relocation of Jon.

Results

Within a few weeks, Jon addressed many organizational gaps and started performing a cultural overhaul. Executive leadership was impressed with the HR training he developed for all management which had employees flying in from both international and multi-state locations. He put together a

5-hour session “HR 101” to ensure cohesion and that everyone was “singing from the same song book” to encourage alignment to avoid liability. The session focused on leadership training and accountability. They reviewed employee lifecycles, progressive discipline, and termination. They were also provided with structured interview processes, “here are the 5 questions we are going to ask all candidates and then there will be 4 that vary for each work group.” Jon implemented effective hiring practices, suggesting that there must be at least 2 people interviewed for every open position. “I helped install rules and procedures, leveraging myself as a business partner, rather than internal affairs.”

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and went from “I don’t want to be here, I’m being forced to do this” to “This was exactly what we needed” and staff and management appreciated the skill required to put together and deliver good, meaningful content. “It was personable – interactive, but not cheesy. We focused on accountability vs. responsibility. Managers may be good at what they do but they don’t always have a good handle on what they do. It’s about developing others and holding them accountable. For example, I don’t need the Director of Maintenance to be best guy to use a wrench – his job is to manage, coach, inspire and be a leader more than having operational skills. It’s about making sure they know what accountability looks like.”

“Initially, there was a fair amount of resistance (to compliance) and it’s legitimate, I’m just the HR guy – I’m not turning the wrenches.  There are a lot of crazy things that can happen in the world today. We need to control every single thing we can control, so crazy doesn’t take over. Let’s be prepared and wear the harness. We need to wag the tail – not let the tail wag us.”

Jon worked with the Executive leadership team to conduct salary reviews.  “Everyone saw an increase. We haven’t done significant increases for everyone in years, so this was a big positive. We pay well in some ways and in others we don’t. What we saw was cost of living going up and inflation. We had lots of people who have not seen a raise in 10 years. We had to make that right and compensate for insurance premiums going up. The next round of increases will be performance-based. I will be installing a review process – the President really wants to do this. Hopefully by third quarter.”

Jon has also had some creative ideas around recruiting, and how they can attract candidates from larger markets. He is also working with leadership to craft vision and mission statements and define the organization’s core values. The process is slowly unfolding, and he is coalescing all employees around their greater purpose.

Satisfaction with Opportunity

Jon feels he has been given a “seat at the table” and that the opportunity was a great fit for him. “I have been invited to the table and as I prove to be valuable and demonstrate how vital my role is and my ability to do that role. I definitely feel valued and appreciated and have the ability to make positive changes – and do it quickly.”

Jon foresees a long-term relationship with the organization. “They are supportive, responsive and appreciate me.”

When it comes to effectiveness with the staff: “Everyone is cautiously optimistic. It’s important that HR has credibility, that HR models the change we suggest, and follows through. If I say, I’ll get back to you tomorrow, I’ll get back to you tomorrow – I make sure of it. If someone asks for something, ask when do you need this by? And I’ll commit. Then that puts the pressure on me and gives them an experience that I can be counted on. Once you have credibility, everything else falls in place.”

Working with Acumen

“Your team (at Acumen) are very communicative – a big pro. Anyone who works through the process is going to be happy because you are always communicating. I could call and ask questions and you were very up front. Your process is really good. I ended up with a great job that I’m happy at where I get to make real change. My manager is smart, supportive, and a great mentor. I want to be him when I grow up.”

“HR is so important—I touch about 180 members of staff and their lives. I think Acumen was honest about the company and the opportunity – I think the issues ran even deeper than they knew. We were out of compliance for many years. It’s not an overstatement to say that I saved the company liability.”

By Molly Norton

Acumen Receives Award from PNDC

Acumen Executive Search was the proud recipient of the Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition (PNDC) 2018 Sustaining Member of the Year Award for their ongoing leadership, work on the Board and committees, assisting with transitions PNDC went through this year…and general awesomeness. The award was presented at the PNDC Annual Dinner.  Acumen’s own Suzanne Hanifin and Karen Anderson were pleased and delighted to receive it. Acumen and PNDC have enjoyed a long relationship, placing President and CEO Sarah Garrison earlier this year.

 

Congratulations to Suzanne, Karen and team Acumen!

How to Conduct a Search for Your Right Search Partner

By Molly Norton

The Most Critical Component of an Executive Search Takes Place Before the Search for an Executive

 From Laszlo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google and author of Work Rules:

“Superb hiring isn’t just about recruiting the biggest name, top salesperson, or cleverest engineer. It’s about finding the very best people who will be successful in the context of your organization, and who will make everyone around them more successful.”

 

In today’s highly competitive business environment, companies cannot afford to make a less-than-optimal choice when it comes to filling mission-critical leadership. A well-suited and high-caliber hire can also have a multiplier effect on a business.

To greatly increase the probability of search success, finding and engaging the right executive search partner is the most important first step in any executive search. Ideally this partnership is forged prior to a need arising so that an organization is a step ahead of the current talent-driven market.

There are a veritable plethora of reasons why it’s critical to engage the right search partner, but here are the most important:

  • The search firm is the first exposure that your best, most ideal candidate will have to your firm. It is critical that your brand is presented professionally, sincerely, authentically, and ethically.
  • They must make candidate experience a top priority – as it reflects your organization and the way it’s viewed in the market.
  • The search firm should study and solidly understand the organizational culture and keep that as the North Star that guides the search.
  • The search firm needs to effectively sell the best candidate on the virtues of your company: its vision, its future, its culture, its mission, and its peer executive team. This can only be done with a firm that has put in the time upfront to listen, learn, and partner well with your team. These skills are essential because, again, the right candidate is going to have a multiplier effect on your business (which is a whole separate article unto itself).
  • The search firm should make your job easier, not more difficult. They must not burden you with all the work of screening an endless flood of resumes in the hopes that something might stick.100% of the resumes you receive should be from highly qualified candidates.
  • The search firm should know how to formulate tailored offers for the best candidate; this means they must understand the candidate on a deeper psychological and cultural level than just their skills and education.

Because executive searches are typically a blend of art and science, and are inherently iterative, the most successful executive search firm partnerships require deep levels of trust, candid and frequent feedback, honest and open communication, and strong commitment to ensure successful outcomes.

Top search firms have three easily recognized characteristics:

  • A proven and codified search methodology with analytical tools and high placement and long-term retention rates.
  • A thorough, up-front effort to understand your strategic vision and corporate culture, industry, technology, and organizational objectives before developing and executing on a search strategy.
  • A sincere interest in people and understanding who they are and what makes them tick.

When interviewing potential executive search firm partners, here are some qualifying questions you might consider asking:

  • Do they have expertise and a track record of success hiring talent in your specific industry? Do they understand your competitors and the industry ecosystem in which you operate? Do they understand your unique market challenges? Search firms can have broad expertise, but successful ones have sharp focus and don’t try to be all things to all people.
  • Do they have a broad, trusted network of people in your area and industry? Have they worked internationally? Anyone can reach out to people through social media, but does your firm have a trusted network that they can leverage to champion your brand?
  • Do they have strong references? Do they have a large number of repeat customers, case studies and transformative client successes?
  • Do they have an appreciation of and track record of hiring for diversity?
  • Do their search consultants have decades of experience in the business world? Have they worked as hiring managers and/or HR professionals before focusing on executive search? Do they have an understanding of particular HR laws as they relate to recruitment that will keep your firm out of legal hot water? Are their search professionals also technology and finance experts with first-hand experience in these functions?
  • What is the average retention rate for their hires and length of tenure vs the national average?
  • Do they have a strong team that works synergistically? It’s important to vet anyone who will be representing your brand in the search. After all, your search team is representing you to many high-caliber executives and must impress. They must be able to articulate, and accurately and authentically represent your value proposition without presenting as a slick salesperson. They must speak the language of your industry. Your executive search partner will be an extension of your sales and marketing team and the best search professionals will also be creating dozens of new potential customers for your product / service / brand.
  • Are they creative in how they conduct their searches or are they consistently fishing in the same spot? Are they just pulling resumes from a stale applicant tracking system (ATS)?

 Finding the right strategic search partner that meets the criteria and leverages the strategies above prior to a critical executive search will set the stage for great success.

And here’s to great success!

“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies.” ~ Lawrence Bossidy

Lunch & Learn: What’s Next

Acumen’s Suzanne Hanifin and Karen Anderson are hosting:

 

Lunch & Learn – What’s Next

June 12 12:00 pm- 1:00 pm

at:

Portland State Business Accelerator (PSBA)

2828 SW Corbett Avenue, Portland, OR 97201

 

So much to accomplish in so little time: deadlines to meet, investors to attract and please, regulatory hurdles to achieve and, hovering above it all, the unrelenting competitive and investor pressures to be the first to market.

If you are a member of the Biotech community, the screen image of your computer is barely faded from closing the last file you were working on before you have to ask yourself, “What’s Next?” – and then pivot both your body and brain to charge after it.

Having a great product is important; however, a top tier team to deliver and take the company to the next level is essential.

Suzanne and Karen will address how Biotech firms can secure funding while attracting and retaining the best and most talented players.

Topics covered will include:

  • Viewing your company within a 360 degree lens
  • Assessing talent gaps, team and synergy
  • The role of corporate culture
  • Vetting the best Attracting the best: the offer
  • Selling the best: the role of your corporate brand
  • Assessing your team building, recruiting and on-boarding process
  • Forward thinking – What’s next and the talent required to do it

This interactive session will help you think through critical items you may have been too busy or reluctant to assess and face. Join us for this supportive, informative and valuable presentation.

To attend the event:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lunch-learn-whats-next-tickets-46130015117?aff=mcivte

The Cost of a Bad Executive Hire

Maybe that new executive you just hired, the one everyone thought was so great – isn’t.

But, to be fair, you want to give him the benefit of the doubt, so you let him keep working on the critical new product initiative for which he was hired. Maybe he just needs a little more time. Maybe she is just misunderstood. So, you wait. Things will improve. Maybe.

Here’s the thing. Even if that executive does improve, perhaps you should consider how much their poor performance is really costing your business in the meantime.

Let’s delve deeper.

If your team is not functioning well, you are probably experiencing product or project delays. Product and project delays typically delay revenue, earnings and market share growth. The result is that where your company finds itself, is nowhere near where it would have been had you hired the right person.

Let’s look at the graphic below to illustrate the negative impact of a bad hire over a Product’s Life-Cycle:

Lost Economics:

Economic Impact of Product Delays

bad-hire

The green line is ideal. It depicts a product that is developed smoothly – without major delays. The product is introduced and grows to maturity quickly – capturing the good margins and market share it deserves for its innovative value.

Now let’s look at the impact of poor executive talent on that same product – the red line.

Slow development delays growth and creates frustration. Perhaps, forcing termination of the executive working on it.

That termination then delays growth further as development and product improvements are delayed during the re-recruiting and on-boarding process. During that time competitors grab market share that should have been yours if the product had been completed and released earlier.

That lost share is nearly impossible to recapture. The lost profits are gone forever. While you were dealing with your bad hire, your competitor wasn’t. They are now, for this product, permanently ahead of you and your reputation has been harmed.

There may be organizational damage as well.  Employees, some of them talented, may experience frustration and burn out – resigning from the added stress of playing “catch-up”.

 

Lost Time:

In addition to the economic impact, critical time is lost.

Initially, it takes 3 to 4 months to hire a person, another 3 to 6 months to admit this person is a bad hire and then at least a month of discussions to finally decide to let them go. Then it takes another 3 to 4 months to rehire, with another 3 to 6 months to determine if this person is a good hire. Overall, you are looking at 12-18-month delay to effectiveness.

A bad hire is something that your company may never recover from. Nobody wants that.

 

Preventing a Bad Hire:

Most important approach to improving the probability of success in finding, vetting and recruiting excellent executive candidates is to use a proven process.

By proven we mean, the process delivers candidates with:

  • A proven and vetted track record
  • A high probability of early integration
  • A high probability of long term retention
  • A close cultural fit
  • A strong complementary personality to the rest of the team

Partnering with an executive search firm that has demonstrated repeated success mitigates greatly the risks associated with the consequences of a bad hire.

The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Harvard Business Review wrote an excellent article “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture” to help define your organization’s culture and shape it to fit your strategy.

Many leaders often don’t understand culture, ignoring it or handing it off to HR. That can often lead to their plans for their company being derailed. Align culture with strategy and leadership and it drives your organization forward. You can hire and retain great employees, improve morale, and increase profits.

To learn more about culture and how you can use it to shape your organization, read this informative article.

Hiring and Retaining Top Talent

Vistage Research Center conducted a survey of over 1300 SMB CEOs in December 2017.  In their article “Five Ways the Best Companies Hire the Best People” they found that 71% of firms are planning to hire more people this year, up from 60% last year.

Hiring the right talent is the single most critical decision facing CEOs this year.  Vistage said, in part “getting talent decisions right will play a major role in the success of any SMB in 2018”.  In this tight job market, everyone is competing for top talent.  Vistage had some insights for hiring the talent you need and retaining the talent you have.

Talent comes before growth.  Having the right people in the right job is the basis for businesses.  It’s even more crucial for SMB, where depending on one person is greater than for a large company.  In fact, it’s crucial for survival.  Whether you are trying to make investments in your company or increase business, not having the necessary people can cost you money/lost income/revenue.

Retain your current employees while looking for new hires.  In addition to bringing on new people, you need to hold onto the ones you have.  Other CEOs will be looking in your company to hire your people away.  In a small business, the loss of a single employee can cause the collapse of your current processes; you lose knowledge and productivity.

Grow your employees.  Invest in their professional development.  It’s an easy way to help you retain your current workforce and will boost their productivity and improve their skills, increasing the likelihood they will stay with you.

Offer competitive wages to employees.  It is top strategy in hiring talent.  It’s also a smart way to retain talent as it keeps them feeling valued.  If they are deserving, offering them a raise can keep them from looking for employment elsewhere.  Don’t wait until they have an offer from another company.  It’s too late then.

Offer great benefits to potential hires.  It will give you a competitive edge.  Don’t forget to offer those benefits to your current employees.  It will help them feel satisfied and secure.  They will be more likely to stay with you.

You can increase your chances of getting the right talent by hiring Acumen Executive Search.  Cultural fit is our number one priority.  We have a 100% success rate for retained searches, with a 93% employee retention rate that is triple the national average.  Our searches are national.  We don’t just pull a resume from a database.  We go out and find you your next great hire.

Tracking the right sales metrics

Last night I read this article from L’areal Lipkins through Vistage’s network. It made me pause and it hit home as Acumen works with our clients to help determine who is the best candidates for them. More importantly “Who” will be the best cultural fit while meeting the professional skillsets required to do the job.

As a business consultant partner, we see companies through an outsider’s lens.  Leaders, C-level executives and boards members come to Acumen to find managers, directors, and C-level professionals. Some of the questions we ask our clients reveals so much and are important questions we ask to determine the metrics they use for success:

Describe your culture in five words or less.
Who will work best in your current state (behaviors, personality traits)?
What are three top problems that this person needs to solve?
How are you measuring their success?

All hiring managers that are hiring or planning on hiring need to ask themselves these question. Then look at their answers to see if they follow L’areal Limpkins definitions.  Here is what Ms. Limpkin wrote:

Are you tracking the right sales metrics?

created by L’areal Lipkins in Manufacturing NetworkView the full blog post

There are three metrics high performing sales organizations track: behaviors, leading indicators, and lagging indicators.

Most organizations only track lagging indicators like revenue, profit, number of new customers, close ratio, etc. The problem with just tracking lagging indicators is that it’s history and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is especially problematic if you have a long sales cycle.

You should also be tracking leading indicators such as appointments, demos, proposals, or whatever makes sense for your business. Leading indicators will give you a red flag that your sales team is on or off track much sooner than waiting until the end of the month, quarter, or year. For example, if you know you close 1 out of 3 proposals and your goal is to bring on 3 new customers, theoretically you need to have 9 qualified proposals. Now obviously we can work on different techniques to improve our close ratio, but the key is you, your sales leader, and your sales people should know what the critical leading indicators are and how they impact results.

Lastly, you should track behaviors. What activities should your sales people be doing every week to get in front of prospects. Maybe it’s cold calls, referrals, prospecting emails, LinkedIn connections, or networking. Again, the goal is to improve our output by improving (or increasing) our input. If we just try to fix the results, we’re fixing the wrong end of the problem. Your sales people should know their top 3-5 prospecting activities and how much they should be doing each week to keep their funnel full and drive leading indicators.

About Ms. L’areal Lipkins:

L’areal Lipkins is Managing Partner at Acuity Systems, and she specializes in helping companies streamline, systematize, and scale their sales efforts. L’areal is a Vistage Member and Vistage Speaker.