Sales veterans and movie buffs know the “Always Be Closing” scene with Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glen Ross well. It’s where the classic phrase “Coffee is for closers!!!” comes from.
For technology CEOs, there’s a concept that’s just as important – “Always Be Recruiting.”
The best CEOs I know are ALWAYS recruiting. They know that at any point in time – at the gym, on a plane, at their kids’ birthday party – they may meet someone who knows someone who could make a major impact on their organization. They are constantly and actively looking for great people – whether or not they have an open position. It’s amazing. I rarely get out of a conversation with one of these CEOs without him/her saying “Hey – by the way – we’re looking for a VP ____ – let me know if you have any ideas.” I’ll often get a follow up note saying “You know this guy on LinkedIn – can you ping him?”
The flip side of this – and it often is first time CEOs – are executives who think that recruiting is something for HR to do. Or a recruiter. Or that recruiting is a specific, standalone event. It’s not. It’s a 24/7 job for great CEOs. I could easily make the argument that recruiting is the most important thing you do as a CEO.
There is almost a 100% correlation between the best companies we see and the importance the CEO and his/her executive team places on recruiting – and the active role that he/she PERSONALLY plays in recruiting.
But don’t take it just from me. Take it from one of the best in the business of recruiting: Bruce Brown of Daversa Partners. Bruce has recruited executives and teams for many of today’s top tech companies – including Zynga, Eventbrite and Zuora. The guy is laser focused on recruiting the best talent to the best companies.
I chatted with Bruce recently to get his take on the subject:
JR: At a high level, how would you describe the recruiting mindset of top CEOs?
BB: They are recruiting 24/7. Period. They know that talent wins in Silicon Valley. Even when they don’t have an open position, they’re recruiting. In basketball, if you have an opportunity to get a Michael Jordan, you don’t say “No, we’re good – already full at the off guard position.” It sounds like a cliché, but great CEOs really do spend 50-75% of their time on recruiting. They’ve got great people around them to focus on the day-to-day tactical activities within the company.
JR: What specific actions are these top CEOs taking. What are they doing that is different, other than bringing a different mindset to recruiting?
BB: At a basic level, a few things:
- They have an open environment. They communicate with their team about searches. They encourage their people to relentlessly work their networks for top candidates. They are transparent. People see name brand talent coming in for interviews and say “wow.”
- They’re proactive. They move people around within the company. They create room for new players. They promote their stars. They don’t let the organization get stale.
- They are deeply personally involved, and they’re committed. They’ll meet a candidate at 8:00 am on a Saturday morning before their kid’s soccer game. Candidates see this, and they want to work for a CEO like that.
- When they find candidates they want, they move aggressively. They text. They send wine. They forward an article. They let the candidate know they’re thinking about them. They make candidates feel the love. It goes a long way.
- They are decisive. The best CEOs see top talent and they move. They don’t spend weeks looking for comparison points. They move.
JR: What role does HR play in hiring?
BB: HR plays a key role in helping the CEO run a company, and it’s a key function. But HR does not own recruiting at the top. The CEO owns it.
JR: What do you look for when you’re evaluating a new client / company?
BB: I always want to meet the heads of Sales, Marketing and Engineering. Get a calibration for the team around the CEO. Great people want to work with other great people. If I can feel it, the candidates will feel it. Is the Sales team creating an engine that can win in its market? Is Marketing describing and executing on a big vision? Can Engineering build something great that will scale? These are the kinds of things that top candidates care about, so I need to care about them when I’m first meeting with a potential new client.
JR: What about companies and CEOs that don’t do this well?
BB: They don’t have buzz. They don’t get that they have to create an impression in the market that they’re a hot company, a company that people really want to work for. Silicon Valley is competitive. The top companies orient a large part of their PR, Twitter, Facebook, etc. efforts towards being known as a great company to work for.
Other red flags – the CEO is not engaged. It’s being driven by the Board. An A player candidate is not going to want to work for a CEO who doesn’t think he’s in charge. Urgency. If right out of the gate, I can’t get time for the CEO to meet candidates, it’s a huge red flag.
JR: Any other tips?
BB: The more educated and focused on what you want, the better. The best CEOs can point me to individuals at other companies and say “That’s who I want!” Google’s a great company, but every guy coming out of Google is not a great fit for your company. Focus on the individual. Know what you are looking for.
Most importantly – as we talked about before – great CEOs are recruiting 24/7. If you’re not, you’re probably losing ground to a competitor.