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Dan, a promising young up and coming executive in a hyper-competitive industry who was pirated away by another company, arrived with great fanfare; it was a real coup to get him on the team.  He was truly a trophy catch, sought after by others in the market segment.

For Dan, to make the move was a tough decision in his young, but successful career.  The new job offered more money, probably faster promotions, but he was secure in his current position and his wife and kids were happy with schools, church and friends.

The entire recruitment process was played out in a cloak of secrecy.  A recruiter called a senior executive who got the green light from the CEO. The executive who was coordinating the recruitment process kept information on a "need to know" basis.   Contact with the entire senior leadership team was very limited.   When meetings or dinners were scheduled, several of those executives were unable to attend as the result of some last minute conflicts.

In the end, after weeks of clandestine meetings and intense selling, Dan decided to accept the offer.

Six months later Dan suddenly disappeared from his new company.  When a concerned colleague asked what happened, he was informed by human resource executive, "It just wasn't a good fit."

Dan's otherwise promising career now had a giant black mark, and Dan's family was devastated.  They felt betrayed. Sure he received a nice "package" but that was small consolation.

"It wasn't a good fit…." what does that mean, exactly?  To be honest, that is really HR code (read:  excuse) for a breakdown in the recruiting company's talent acquisition process.

If you are searching for specific reasons for an embarrassing corporate misstep, here are a few.  In Dan's case, there were multiple errors.

1. The company recruiting Dan had no Comprehensive Onboarding Program (COP). Well designed and properly implemented, a COP will prevent some of the most common and costly recruiting and employment mistakes that companies make every day.

2. The scope of responsibility and reporting lines were not formally resolved before the executive leading the recruitment made Dan the offer.  He knew what he wanted Dan to do, but it was clear that some of his colleagues were not on the same page.

3. The impact that management silos, built and protected by long-term executives, would have on Dan's ability to achieve success went unchallenged.

4.  The CEO, who generally approved of the recruitment, hosted a dinner for Dan, his wife, the senior leadership team and their wives.  Here again, several key executives were out of town or encountered "last minute" conflicts.  Overall, the CEO remained above the process.

5.  There was virtually no transparency regarding the company's culture or any of the negatives that exist in virtually every organization in the world.

6.  Human Resources, relegated to the role of sideline observers, assumed that Dan would discover inside information regarding the good, the bad and the ugly of the company through his own due diligence.  Instead of risking the wrath of the lead executive who was now heavily invested in successfully recruiting Dan, they took the position:  Let the buyer (the candidate) beware.

7.  Candidate interviews were more "show" than "go." More time was spent on wining and dining Dan that he should leave their formidable competitor than exploring in detail whether Dan, with all his talents and impressive record of accomplishment, was really "a good fit."

On the other side of the coin, Dan owns some of the responsibility for his rather spectacular and very visible career crash.  His relative youth and inexperience with this type of high-powered recruiting approach notwithstanding, Dan should have asked more questions during the interviews, pressing for more information on the culture, how and when decisions actually are made, and whether there was complete buy-in from the other executives, especially those with whom he had limited contact during the recruitment.  Sure the lead executive assured Dan that everything would be great. And the offer was impressive, with tremendous upside bonus and profit-sharing potential, but there were enough yellow flags that Dan should have been more diligent.

That said, it is important to note that candidates are decidedly at a disadvantage in the search process, especially those conducted under a fog of corporate secrecy.  It is very difficult for candidates, trying to stay below the radar of their current employer, competitor or vendors who might try to profit with this type of market intelligence, to dig too deeply on their own.  The more calls they make, the more risk of exposure they face.  That is the job for the recruiter – the external search consultant or the internal recruiter – but, in this case and so many others, that information was not forthcoming.

Without full buy-in from the leadership team regarding Dan's scope of responsibility, reporting lines, performance deliverables and, most importantly, how Dan would operate in a culture structured around passive-aggressive management fiefdoms, there was little chance that this prized recruit could be successful.

Finally, the CEO, who chose to stay above the fray rather than challenging his team on those very critical cultural and job scope issues, was the great enabler, not the great leader.

© John Gregory Self


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