Nail Biter!

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One real-life example of how difficult it is to win the talent war.

It’s ugly out there.

Organizations are struggling with a talent shortage at all levels. This is limiting their ability to seize new business opportunities that are right there in front of them. Getting the best people on board requires not only the resolve to pay the market price for talent but also to move swiftly, as delays will result in hiring deals being done with some other organization.

As in many other areas of life, there are times and situations where the do-it-yourself approach is not a recipe for success. Professional lawyers, plumbers and recruiters exist for the reason that they can solve problems that their clients cannot easily address, saving time and money overall.

A Cautionary Tale

Ida Soldridge had a problem. Her company, Attwell Machinery, a fast-growing distributor of robotic manufacturing equipment, desperately needed an experienced Service Manager to assume responsibility for its service team and to build a revenue-generating maintenance contract business.

After trying for a month or two to recruit the right person on her own, Ida called Kathbern and, soon after, our usual recruiting process began. The title of the role was “Service Manager” and responsibilities would include supervision of a team of technicians and for building contract maintenance revenue.

After a month, in view of the tight market for qualified candidates, Kathbern recommended a change in the job title to “Operations Manager”, broader responsibilities and an increase in the recommended compensation. With this change, additional candidates were sourced and, after many interviews, we identified Jack Chalmers as an outstanding candidate for the role. Ida agreed and interviewed Jack, first by video and then in person. She was impressed and requested Kathbern’s assistance in the development of an offer. We also provided advice on the amount and form of compensation to be offered. As is standard, our advice included the recommendation that the offer would have a fairly tight deadline for acceptance and would be conditional on the candidate providing satisfactory employment references.

Normally, we recommend that we relay the offer to the candidate rather than the employer so that we can judge the reaction of the candidate to the offer and the employer can keep some distance. In this case, in relaying the offer to Jack, he advised us that he also had another offer (let’s say from XYZ Corp.) but that offer had no deadline. The suggested start date under both offers was in three weeks’ time, and Jack would have to give his current employer at least two weeks’ notice.

Our offer, including a base salary of $130,000.00, was presented to Jack and, after taking some time to consider it, he indicated that he would be prepared to accept it if the salary were either $135,000 or the $130,000 salary was supplemented by a $5,000 one-time signing bonus. Our advice to Ida was that if she were prepared to accept one of these suggestions, the signing bonus would be less expensive overall. She agreed and the offer was revised and again presented to Jack.

After taking a couple of days to consider it, Jack signed the conditional offer and provided two employment references; however, both were former peers and neither was a former supervisor. Kathbern interviewed these reference sources and provided reference reports to our client (Ida).

Ida was not satisfied with these references, as neither was a former supervisor. Returning to Jack, Kathbern pressed him for a supervisor reference who could provide comfort to Ida from a past employer’s point of view. Jack was unable to provide his current employer as a reference since his pursuit of different employment was something that he wanted to maintain confidentially. He had been with his immediately previous employer for 20 years. Why couldn’t he provide a supervisor’s name from that company, even though that company was no longer in business? Jack was steadfast in his refusal, stating that providing that reference would be “uncomfortable”. This is not helpful in allaying the concerns of a prospective employer. Kathbern now faced the prospect of Ida refusing to move forward without the required reference or losing Jack to the other offer from XYZ Corp. that he apparently was also considering.

To try to break the logjam, Kathbern began to research the ownership of Jack’s prior employer to try to get some information that might be helpful. Finding older records of the defunct company, Kathbern discovered that the owner had the same surname as Jack. Obviously, Jack had been working in a family company and some sort of inter-family animosity had developed which was apparently why Jack was reluctant to have this person used as an employment reference. When we confronted Jack with this information, he admitted that in fact, the owner was his uncle and they had had a falling out and were no longer on speaking terms.

We shared this information with Ida, explaining that the problem with the previous employer reference was a family issue and not easily resolved. She understood but still wanted greater assurance, so we arranged to have her speak directly with the two peer references so that she could get a more complete and personal impression of Jack’s skills, experience and character. This worked well, and Ida agreed to sign off on waiving the condition in the offer relating to references.

Kathbern then contacted Jack with the good news that the conditional nature of the offer had been waived and the agreement was now in effect. To our dismay, since this process had taken a couple of days, Jack informed us that he now felt that perhaps with so much concern about employment references, Ida was not confident that he was the right choice and that he would be better off accepting the XYZ Corp. offer. Of course, since he had already accepted Ida’s conditional offer, it was within Ida’s control to waive the condition or not, and now that it had been waived, the agreement was legally in effect. On the other hand, an employer is not in a particularly advantageous position, from a practical point of view, to force a reluctant new employee to assume their duties against their will, even if legally bound to assume those duties.

This was not good and was made worse when Jack formally notified both Kathbern and Ida that he was declining the Attwell Machinery offer (notwithstanding the fact that he had already accepted it and it was now an agreement legally in effect). Kathbern immediately called Jack to explain on Ida’s behalf that it wasn’t so much that she didn’t have confidence in Jack’s ability to perform in the position as it was that she was doing rigorous due diligence that was only normal given the importance of ensuring that this position was filled properly and to minimize the chances of a mistake being made. There was no demonstration of a lack of confidence in him personally and he should not take the reference checking process as any such indication.

Jack was somewhat mollified by this line of discussion but declined to withdraw his rejection notice, instead asking for a few hours to contact XYZ Corp. Later that day, Jack called to say that he would withdraw his rejection notice and would be pleased to join Ida at Attwell Machinery as their new Service Manager.

Lessons Learned

  1. Kathbern could have shortened this drama had we drilled down harder and sooner into the nature of Jack’s past employer to discover why he was reluctant to provide a prior supervisor as a reference.
  2. XYZ Corp. made a mistake by not including a deadline in their offer. This allowed Jack the time to “shop around” for a better one.
  3. XYZ Corp.’s HR Director wasn’t available at the critical moment when Jack wanted to speak with him/her. If hiring Jack was a high priority, there should have been alternative ways of communicating (snooze and you lose).
  4. Never give up. Even causes that are apparently lost can often be turned around – sometimes more than once.

Postscript

There is a story about a self-made man who, along with his wife, attended her high school reunion.  While there, he met her high school sweetheart, Billy-Bob.

Later that night, he remarked to his wife, “Well dear, I guess if you had married Billy-Bob you wouldn’t have flown in for your high school reunion on a private jet like you did with me today.”

His wife turned to him and said, “If I had married Billy-Bob, it would have been him that came here on the private jet with me!”.

Similarly, we at Kathbern believe that, if XYZ Corp. had been our client in this case, Jack would now be working for them.

 

 

Kathbern Management is an executive search firm based in Toronto, helping companies find the executives and senior managers who not only have the experience and credentials to fulfill their responsibilities, but also have the emotional and “fit” requirements that will enable them to be successful in a particular environment. We simplify the process and, through our deep research, are able to bring more and better candidates forward than would ever be possible through a do-it-yourself passive advertising campaign.

Contact us today for a free consultation about your key person search.

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