- A critical key to success is attracting the right talent to your team. This provides a competitive advantage over other companies.
- A key element to successful recruiting is for leadership to own and drive the process, rather than relying on HR (who are a critical component, however)
- The other key is proactively finding opportunities to raise your and your company’s profile to help your long-term recruiting capability, particularly speaking and writing openings.
This past summer, Duke head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) led Team USA to its third consecutive gold medal under his leadership. Coach K took over Team USA in 2005 and while his accomplishments for Team USA are impressive, it points to a bigger story about the value of recruiting. In that time, Coach K has won two National Championships at Duke and coaching Duke is his primary job. Many of his fellow coaches are upset that the high profile nature of coaching Team USA helps him recruit (and succeed at Duke). Regardless of whether it is fair, it shows a clear path to success.
Recruiting is different in the US and Europe
Having worked in both the US and Europe, one clear advantage I see from US companies is their focus on recruiting. In the US, recruiting is seen as a responsibility of all management, and the more senior you are the more you are expected to bring great people into your team or company. Many American leaders are judged by the team they put together.
In Europe, although the company may actually have more employee-friendly policies, recruiting is left to the recruiting team or external placement firms, with it being a tertiary activity for leadership. While most leaders understand the value of hiring the best people, they do not see it as part of their job responsibilities.
What drives US recruiting
It is helpful to understand why recruiting is treated differently by US and European companies. There are two things that drive the US focus on recruiting:
- The sports ecosystem. In the US, collegiate (university) sports are as important if not more than professional sports. While professional sports teams (both in the US and Europe) can secure talent by paying more, in collegiate sports payment is not allowed (I can write multiple posts about the reality of the situation but not important for this point). Thus, the successful teams are primarily the ones who can attract the best players.
- Talent is very mobile.
As LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman once wrote, the US is a free agent economy. Employees often look at their job as a short-term opportunity and move on to better new opportunities frequently. This liquidity means for companies to succeed they need a constant stream of good talent with the right skillset.
Lessons from Coach K
As somebody who went to Duke and followed sports my whole life, the American philosophy on recruiting is embodied by Coach K. While you cannot have great results without being a capable floor coach, he has excelled by generating a steady and deep continuous flow of talented recruits.
There are two lessons that I learned from Coach K that can help anyone, including European business leaders, recruit more effectively.
First, recruiting must start at the top. While some university coaches rely on their assistants to attract talent, great coaches make recruiting their top priority. They show up for high school games, have dinner with recruits and their families and personally call and contact recruits. While their assistants do much of the work (breaking down film to prioritize candidates, coordinating schedules, answering questions),the great coaches take the lead in the process. In business, great leaders also do not rely on their HR team but work in concert with HR. They identify the talent, work with their coaches and players to build an environment attractive to the recruits and “close the sale,” they are not simply added to an interview list and done with it when they tell HR who they want to hire.
The second element and one that prompted this post is they use all opportunities to improve your odds of recruiting the best talent. Coach K could have spent his summers at the beach but instead he coached Team USA. What this effort did was raise his profile and give him a great unique selling point when sitting with a potential Duke recruit: do they want to be coached by the same person who is coaching LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. Additionally, every time Team USA played on television (which is effectively everytime it played), it was a long commercial for Coach K.
While in business there is no direct equivalent of Team USA, there are many comparable opportunities. At the top of the spectrum are shows like The Apprentice or Shark Tank, this exposure greatly helps the underlying business’ ability to recruit. Even if you cannot get a slot on television, speaking at conference or writing articles for trade press (or even blogging) generate exposure and a unique selling point when recruiting. The critical thing is to seek out these opportunities as part of your overall strategy to use recruiting as a competitive advantage.
The key is to use recruiting proactively, and put the necessary emphasis and focus on it, to gain a competitive advantage for your business. This effort requires that you lead the initiative, do not rely on others, and look at all opportunities as long-term ways to improve your recruiting effectiveness.