The Power of a few Things

What is your daily activity pattern? Do you jump from task to task trying to get each task done as quickly as possible so that you may get as many things done as possible today? Do you jump to the next task as it catches your attention? Do you find yourself moving each task along so that you later find you have partially completed many things? We tell ourselves we are multitasking.

ADD, attention deficit disorder, is a very popular term and many people self-diagnose with this malady although I think few have ever been told that by a doctor. It is, perhaps, a statement about our modern day society, lifestyles and businesses that so many feel this is an accurate description of themselves and their daily work. I certainly felt that this frequently described my activity pattern and I frequently told people I was an ADD sufferer.

This behavior can sometimes be a blessing. You can often handle many issues in a day and when a new issue pops up, you can immediately deal with it. The ability to instantaneously change focus is a good thing. That often allows you to get many things done in a day’s time.

Here is the problem when you let this become your modus operandi: You become very good at handling a lot of things in an average way. You become very poor at being great at any one of them.

As a headhunter for over 40 years, I have observed that it is common practice for recruiters who are highly motivated toward achievement to measure their success by how many phone calls, how many candidate presentations and how many interviews they establish each day. We often talk in proud terms about how many people we place and our billings within a given time span. I am proud to have trained many very successful headhunters by using my matrix system that used those very benchmarks.

A few years ago I had an epiphany. A good friend and longtime client called me to engage me in a search that was very critical and important for his company. I proceeded to tell him about my numbers; phone calls, placements, billings and high activity level. He interrupted me to say; “Ken, I don’t give a shit how many people you place. I don’t care how many phone calls you make. I don’t care if you make another placement all year, you better fill this job with a candidate that will be an outstanding success and you better find out their reputation and if they have performed in the past exceptionally well before I hire them because the future of my company is riding on this hire.” It suddenly dawned on me that this is what every client wants! Every time!

It struck me that all the conferences and training seminars I had attended about recruiting had always focused on how to make more calls, set more interviews, make more placements, bill more dollars and very few sessions talked about how to do one search, serve one client to the ultimate satisfaction of both parties.

I thought about my business and that I often was guilty of trying to work too many searches at once and sometimes getting too scattered. I realized that I sometimes spent time on searches in which I was more committed than the client. I realized I was spending much of my time working on things that were not as important while neglecting to do everything possible on projects that were top priority.

I decided to change.

I began turning down a lot more searches. I began to really focus on making sure the client is as invested in the project as I am and willing and committed to partner with me to achieve a successful conclusion. I realized that I needed to focus on one project at a time that met my requirements and do everything possible to ensure its success.

Many companies don’t understand how to effectively use a true headhunter. They think a headhunter’s function is to only deliver resumes, establish interviews and be an information gopher. They fail to communicate with the headhunter and fail to listen to his/her advice. They think they have no obligation or loyalty to the headhunter to be completely candid with their thoughts and plans. They think the headhunter is just “pushing their candidate” and has no insight into how this function occurs in their company. They are only shortchanging themselves. By engaging a professional, agreeing to pay for his/her services and then failing to fully utilize their expertise and efforts to the maximum level, their actions are like buying a Mercedes to get a new set of tires.

Experienced headhunters have many great insights and suggestions to offer if a client listens. We spend all day, and sometimes half the night, talking to top executives in your industry and often with your competitors. We find out what problems competitors are facing and what solutions are working. We may not know every nuance of your company but we know a thousand situations and what worked or didn’t work there. We know what problems got competitors into trouble and what actions got them out of trouble. Most of all we learn to accurately evaluate people; their character, attitude, motivation and interpersonal skills. Those are the intangible qualities that are the most important factors for the success of any senior executive hire. We are able to discern those qualities in ways and at depths that a company interviewer cannot.

I realized it was up to me to establish the working partnership with my clients. I must define our communication process, our criteria for assessment and calendar of action. If my client and I cannot establish a mutual agreement to achieve the success he/she needs, then it’s not a project to which I can commit.

If the headhunter fails to establish the deal, then you automatically get the default deal. The default deal is called the Mushroom Deal: You are kept in the dark and fed bullshit.

I decided to work on one project at a time and do everything that should be done to ensure its success. This means making sure I have established the proper understanding and expectation of both myself and my client as to exactly how we will proceed at each step, what criteria we will use to make our assessments and the process of investigation to determine the talent, capability and motivation of each candidate.

By focusing on a few things that must be done in the very lap of excellence I am able to accept a project, gather evidence for my client to make an informed decision based on facts and take all the actions that ensure the highest probability of success. I find my activity level actually improves as I am more focused and each action is more closely related to one project.

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