Why Great Managers Are Also Great Talent Scouts

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” — Steve Jobs

Imagine if a music label stopped searching the world for the next sensation. Or fast-growing tech executives stopped tapping their networks to find the best engineers and marketers.

It’s pretty easy to see what would happen. Each organization would eventually stagnate and die.

You don’t need to be Sony Music or Steve Jobs to see that the same principle applies. Having a talent acquisition strategy is more important than ever. That’s because in most instances, the quality of the people you hire — particularly in key roles — can make or break a great organization. After all, today’s new recruit is tomorrow’s superstar.

Bottom line? If you manage people — whether you’re an entrepreneur or Fortune 100 executive — you must also be a part-time talent scout. Because the task of future key hires is simply too important, too strategic — and too time-sensitive — to leave fully in the hands of others.

Instill a culture of talent scouting, and maintain a healthy talent pipeline

“I have three open positions; I was close on one, then the candidate said no. So, three months later, I’m back to square one.” — CFO

What you sense is true: employees today are much harder to find and harder to keep. According to 2016 US Bureau of Labor Statistics, average tenures in America have decreased to 4.2 years — while a recent CompData survey shows a 13.5% voluntary exit rate (up sharply from 10.4% only 5 years ago) across all industries.

That means if you’re not scouting for your key roles on an ongoing basis, you’re running the risk of a gap — and a long journey from a cold start — when a key person resigns. Then it’s a matter of hurry-up-and-wait: the process takes too long, promising people get snapped up by rival companies, and everyone ends up frustrated.

That’s why it’s critical to instill a culture of talent scouting within your organization, and to maintain a healthy talent pipeline. After all, the opportunity cost of dealing with talent in a reactive, transactional way — of not having already scouted potential candidates, in collaboration with your search partners or internal recruiters — is probably higher than the incremental cost of making the mind-shift I’m suggesting here.

The best way to recruit employees? Always be scouting.

Just as sales people need to mind their “ABCs” — always be closing — managers and leaders should spend a chunk of their time every week either looking for great talent to hire, or keeping their eyes peeled for talented people on the inside they could cultivate.

The task is not as daunting as you may think. We’re living in an era of unparalleled connectivity and accessibility. Never before has professional talent been easier to scope out and contact. LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media can give you a great idea where to look. And they’re only the tip of the networking iceberg.

Maybe part of the problem is that managers are not compensated for the scouting they’ve done, nor do they get bonuses for being “scout of the year,” or “closing” on candidates that were on scouting lists. Maybe they should.

Be proactive: Take your hiring strategy into your own hands

If you’re scouting consistently for your key current roles and future needs, you should be sending a list of interesting potential candidates to your recruiters or search partners, and getting their feedback — not vice versa. That’s the way to truly maximize the recruiting resources at your disposal.

After all, isn’t it more strategic to tell your recruiter or search partner, “Find out how we can get her in here in the next year or two,” than to say, “Go source me a list of people for VP of Sales”?

And one other note: people sometimes return. So-called “boomerang hires” are increasingly commonplace — those high voluntary turnover rates also mean talent will sometimes fly right back to you. Part of instilling a scouting culture involves welcoming your best people back on their way out. When it comes to onboarding, you’re already halfway there.

The importance of recruitment: Great talent elevates everything

Why is it worth it for managers and executives to incorporate scouting into their mindset and workflow? Because great talent is immeasurably valuable to an organization — a source of competitive advantage whose benefits accrete over time.

Great talent elevates everything — your results, culture, morale, and your ability to lead. Instill in yourself and your team the expectation that scouting out great talent is a top priority. And you will, over time, advance what your organization is able to achieve, in a sustained way.

In that sense, you can look at scouting as a gift that keeps on giving.

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

How Good Are You at Giving Feedback?

Earlier in my career, a strong mentor told me, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

Nicely put. Sounds almost easy. But the reality is, giving and receiving feedback effectively — especially giving — is harder than it seems.

Over my many years of executive coaching, and as an operating executive before that, I’ve learned that productive feedback is one of the most difficult, yet most essential, functions of a successful executive, and a healthy organization.

But why is it so hard to come by?

The burden of effective feedback lies with the giver

In an organization’s complex, matrixed, and hierarchical structures, it should be up to the one giving the feedback to learn how to do so in a way that is candid, clear, and actionable.

The reality, however, as feedback experts Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone point out in this excellent article, is that too often people don’t learn to give feedback well. Their messages are so garbled that it shifts responsibility to the receiver to decode the message before being able to understand it, let alone put it into action.

That makes it harder, not easier, to effect the needed change.

On the other hand, executives who know how to give feedback thoughtfully and skillfully are better able to build followership, competency, autonomy. That’s because they know how to get their message across clearly and productively, and help their employee make the positive change.

Giving the right feedback can unlock your people’s potential

But the benefits of effective feedback don’t end there — they actually expand outward. Feedback given intelligently can help unlock your people’s true talent and contributions. It can help build the kind of trust that yields loyalty and long-term results. A tailwind pushing the whole enterprise forward.

Looked at through this lens, it’s easy to see that the way you (and your organization) handle feedback can have a profoundly critical impact on its success. So it’s worth spending the time to get it right.

With that in mind, here are some power tips from my experience coaching executives that can help you turn this necessary-but-often-painful process into a strategic win.

Your 10-step guide to giving constructive employee feedback

1. Praise in public, develop in private. Context is everything. Don’t give feedback at a group level unless you’re giving feedback to the entire group. Single out individuals as needed for special praise. But any developmental individual feedback — no matter how constructive — given in a public forum is more likely to be felt as more humiliating than productive.

2. Don’t triangulate — DIY(!) It’s not helpful to deliver feedback through someone else, yet for conflict-avoidant executives and organizational cultures, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.  In other words, “Sarah said you really missed the mark on that meeting,” is not a helpful approach to offering feedback.  If Sarah shares some feedback with you about Bob, ask Sarah, “when do you plan to give Bob that feedback?” and don’t deliver any version of it yourself.  Triangulated feedback simply causes trust issues.

3. Timing is everything. When someone is unusually anxious, stressed, overwhelmed or otherwise reactive, they are generally far less able to absorb feedback. If at all possible, wait until they are in a state of mind where they can hear and learn. Part of the art of giving constructive feedback is knowing when to offer it.

4. Feedback must be interactive. It should go without saying: Don’t try to deliver feedback by email, text, IM or other electronic means. Not only will you not be able to gauge the ability of the other person to absorb it, it can be perceived as an attack, rather than as an openness to constructive dialogue. Face to face is best, video second best, and phone third best.

5. Be clear. Don’t sugarcoat. Don’t try and serve up the “positive-negative-positive” feedback sandwich. Surrounding the pill in jelly doesn’t make it go down easier — it only muddles the medicine. People leave such conversations hearing what they wanted to hear… rather than what they needed to know.

6. Keep it simple. Sometimes the key to communication and interpersonal skills is simply to be a reductionist — less is more, and simpler is better. Don’t go for long wind-ups and exposition. Your employee is likely to be anxious enough as it is. Keep it short and direct.

7. Use a consistent technique. Here’s the method I like, and frequently offer my clients: “OIS” (Observation > Impact > Suggestion). “Here’s the pattern or what you are doing, here’s how that’s affecting people or conditions, and here’s one suggestion going forward as to how to improve it.” For your suggestion please pick a single specific behavior change that is within their capacity and character to do. (If the problem is much bigger than that, it may not be feedback that’s needed, but the recognition that you need to make a change.)

8. Be balanced, but candid. Feedback can be emotionally hard for the giver, too. Do what you need to do to release emotional charges (such as anger), before delivering the feedback. Similarly, don’t let feelings of guilt or fear of confrontation cloud your message with a false veneer of indirectness. In most cases people you’d want to keep around will appreciate honest much more than friendly.

9. All clear? Don’t end without making sure you both are on the same page. The feedback recipient may be reluctant to ask you clarifying questions, given the nature of the conversation. It’s helpful to ask, “Is there anything I’ve been unclear about?” or “Is there anything you’re scratching your head about?”

10. Remember: Feedback is a process, not a transaction. Offer an opportunity to discuss again. Most people you would classify as “keepers” will react to feedback right away (because they care). Later, after it sinks in, they may think differently, or have useful suggestions or more questions. It’s always good to offer a second discussion after they’ve had a chance to mull over your feedback.

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

What’s Your Leadership Impact?

The benefits of leadership impact on organizational performance cannot be overstated

Focus on the ways in which your words and actions affect your people. Create a positive impact — and they’ll move mountains to help you achieve a shared dream.

High-impact leadership — the kind that can fire people up, and inspire them to pull together to achieve a common vision — is something exceptional and rare. It’s the kind that motivates your employees to say, “I would work for her anywhere. I’d follow her over any mountain.”

Far more usual today, as we all know, is power by positional authority — where people simply do their jobs… instead of give their all.

So what separates a true leader from a garden-variety boss? What’s the secret sauce?

That question is a central thread in all the coaching work I do with my executive clients. If I had to answer it with one word, that word would be impact.

Great leaders have impact — the kind that inspires people to do their best

So how do you go about optimizing the impact you have on your people? It’s actually quite straightforward:

Ask, say, and do things that mobilize others to be at their best… and avoid asking, saying and doing things that make them react negatively, or that kill their drive.

Sounds simple, right?

It’s simple to understand. Still, in my experience, making this kind of shift requires practice — and a heightened set of skills around observing yourself with others. That takes effort and vigilance.

The “mental dashboard”: How effective leaders monitor, manage, and self-correct

The key is to monitor and manage your progress by keeping an eye on two things — what you’re saying and doing, and how others are responding to that — in real time. You need to spend, say, 10% of your attention continuously noticing the impact your words and actions are having on those around you. And revising your approach as you do.

That kind of ongoing observation/recalibration of employee engagement is how leaders make their impact felt, in a positive way.

For example, let’s say you want to motivate your people to be more collaborative, more disruptive, more results-focused. You would keep a “mental dashboard” of these three items — a conceptual structure that gives you an effective way to monitor your impact on them relative to those three goals.

When you observe that you are causing others to be more on track — or conversely, to go off course — you adjust your actions and words until you get to the sweet spot that aligns with those goals. That’s the foundation of high-impact leadership.

Get strategic, and realize your true leadership impact: It’s worth it!

Non-leaders are all about the me-zone: I think… I feel… I want. The “me” point of view is fine, of course — if your focus is on forging your life’s journeys as an individual, as opposed to focusing on how you may be impacting the world as you go along.

But if you adopt this kind of stance while in a position of authority over others, employee engagement will suffer, and you’ll miss the opportunity to truly lead. Instead of creating the circumstances for others to be at their best — for that shared dream to be realized — you’ll do the opposite, and people will “perform” despite your oversight, rather than because they’re fired up by your leadership.

Be strategic in your leadership. Wake up to how you are impacting your people, your customers, and the world in general. Monitor that impact in real time. Do this and you can solve any problem and achieve virtually any goal.

The mark of a true leader is one who owns their impact on everyone. Ultimately, that kind of strategic leadership is the X-factor: the difference between achieving a soaring vision and driving it into the ground.

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

Effective Leadership Skills: The Soft Stuff Is the Hard Stuff

What are the qualities of a good leader?

What is great leadership? Ultimately, there is no right or wrong definition. Across my 30-year career I’ve discovered it’s many things — a dynamic and evolving set of skills, competencies and qualities.

But one thing is clear: at its best, effective leadership manifests as a growing awareness of ourselves and how we impact others. And that cannot exist without carefully honing “soft” skills. True leaders have the ability to take in feedback, to learn, to constantly improve — and to help others be at their best — through calm and stormy seas alike.

The ROI of openness: Mindful leadership can pay big dividends

In stormy times like these — when uncertainty and upheaval seem to be the rule rather than the exception, and when basic civility itself can feel like it’s under assault — it’s never been more important for you as a leader to decide, and live, what’s most important to you.

I would suggest that one leadership quality is more important now than ever: the ability to value others, and to truly listen to them and their ideas, particularly when they’re different from your own.

Of course, this kind of “mindful leadership” doesn’t mean you have to soak up others’ ideas, or let them dilute your own direction. You are the one being held accountable as a leader, after all.

But here’s the point: when it comes to being open to those you would lead — to welcome opposing views and learn from those around you — the payoff can be far greater (not to mention, more sustainable) than just driving your people to implement your ideas, make the numbers, or a deadline, or a quarterly goal, or some other fixed star.

Long-term, sustainable performance and success: these are the areas where management soft skills ultimately prove their value.

Embrace these soft skills — and put some Namaste into your leadership

In a world of change, fear, misunderstanding, and doubling down on our differences, it’s up to leaders to welcome the diversity (and diverse ideas) of the individuals who support them. In a healthy organization, everybody has an essential role to play in the success of the endeavor.

Put another way, success takes the full orchestra, not just the will of the conductor.

In real, pragmatic terms, that means taking the time to listen to, understand, and appreciate others, their ideals, their points of view — even if that includes the need to help them through some level of negativity.

Viewing the world through their eyes, if only for a moment, and treating new ideas as if they were your own: with respect.

There’s a word for that: Namaste — a recognition and appreciation of the divine spark, the inspiration, in every person.

If “I bow to the divine in you,” is the soft stuff in your book, then I’ve got news for you: the soft stuff is the hard stuff — and never more so than in stressful times. Without harmony — a harmony grounded in a common mission and nourished by mutual respect — you can hit some targets, sure, but at a steep price. Sustainable success is out of reach.

So take the time to really listen to, and learn from, your people, and you’ll be endowed with the ability to make better-informed decisions — decisions that will benefit, and inspire, everyone. Hone your management soft skills, and in so doing, you’ll soon become your own best definition of a leader.

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

The Best Leaders Have Good Interfaces. How’s Yours?

This is the post excerpt.

The more aware you are of how the way you interact impacts others, the more likely you’ll be able to lead them.

A graphical user interface, or “GUI,” is computer code that determines what we see on our screens and how we interact with our devices. A good one makes our devices and apps more relatable, causing the interaction to seem effortless. So it shouldn’t shock you that the best leaders have the same quality: they work hard to relate positively with — and so bring out the best in — others.

That’s why you can think of good leaders as having an excellent “HUI” — human user interface. Your HUI is where the rubber meets the road in terms of your communication and interpersonal skills.

Good leadership impact starts with good interaction impact

Clearly, when people’s experiences interacting with a leader are negative, that leader’s going to be less effective than she or he could be. After all, whenever others must spend extra time and energy adapting to a leader’s problematic HUI, they won’t be bringing their best.

Consider leaders people admire greatly. Think of Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. They had amazing HUIs. They knew their impact was inspiring, authentic, and compelling, and their leadership was extraordinary.

Now consider someone you know or work with who may be somewhat (or very) unaware of how they impact others. They may have a clunky or immature interface, or overuse their authority over others — or they may just have a bad relational habit or two that requires others to do extra work to have a smooth interaction with them. They lack a great HUI and are certainly not practicing conscious self-awareness of their impact.

The more aware you can be of how the way you interact impacts others, the more likely you’ll be to lead them in a positive, inspiring, sustainable way. (The reverse is also true.) It’s that simple.

That’s why conscious awareness and control of your HUI are so critical — your interaction skill is the foundation of your leadership impact.

So let’s resolve to optimize our own “human user interface.” I want you to tap into the best version of interactive-you, and in so doing, to help you bring out the best in others, even (particularly) when stress is high.

3 simple questions to improve employee engagement

Here’s a starting point for you. Over the next few weeks, as you are interacting with others, practice conscious self-monitoring. Throughout your interactions, ask yourself at least one, and maybe more, of the following questions:

1. How does my interface come across to others? What experience of me am I generating right now?

2. What do I want my interface to be like, ideally?

3. What do I need to change to make my ideal interface a reality?

Give yourself some leeway as you work with these internal questions. Like any important skill, it takes a bit of time, patience and practice. But eventually that “observer you” will begin to join your conscious awareness, day in and day out. And as it becomes increasingly embedded in your leadership skills, you will look back and wonder how you ever did without it.

You may be the most brilliant, accomplished person in the world. Yet over time, it’s actually your HUI that can make or break you as a leader, accelerating or preventing all you hoped to achieve.

So work on it, and you will find observer-you to be invaluable as a leader. And in so doing, you’ll help others be at their best. I can think of no better definition of leadership.

So, how’s your HUI?

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David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck