Hiring and Talent ID

I took a high performance coaching course some years ago. We were part of the early days of what has now become RBC’s Training Ground. High School aged kids are invited regardless of sport experience and background to come to an athletic facility and have a go at some physical tests. Some tests reflect fitness while others involve athleticism. Additionally, a number of physical measurements are taken of participants. Representatives from multiple sports attend and scan the crowd of eager youth for signs of future excellence. Some sports, like rowing, are looking for certain physical measurements coupled with basic fitness. They have standards for both height and wingspan which must be met prior to consideration. You either have the physical dimensions to check their box or you aren’t invited to try out. If you have the physical dimensions, then a test of power-endurance or a short burst of high intensity effort is the next result considered. If one does well there, the powers that be in rowing are interested. They have confidence that those that fit their mold are capable of becoming world class good with a few years of training. Some sports may include a psychological evaluation testing things like motivation, grit, and perseverance. Bobsled would be another sport that does well recruiting at events like Training Ground. These events serve as a filtering funnel that draws the interested towards the evaluators.

In other sports, there exist scouts which occupy the formal role of evaluating up and comers. Scouts are usually part of sports where skills take many years to develop. In the US, sports like Football, Basketball, and Baseball all have scouts that are evaluating youth in high school and even earlier. In Canada, Hockey is the game most known for having scouts. Here, there may be scouts that are evaluating players in pre-teen years. They are paying attention to see who is standing out and showcasing skills with hopes of being able to direct them to their programs and teams. The purpose of scouts, especially for those looking at younger athletes, is to identify those that show prowess with the assumption that this early skill can be extrapolated into future excellence with proper nurturing and coaching. Pair the potential with a program and the chances for high performance improve.

The goal of identifying talent performed by scouts matters in the world of high performance because of the stakes involved. Both the benefits of winning as well as the costs of personnel motivate teams to invest heavily in scouting. Teams work to find the needle in the haystack years before others even begin to look. If they can draw developing talent to their team earlier, they can help the cream continue to rise to the top while ensuring they have access to the future talent. They may even be able to get it sooner for cheaper. The primary difference between recruiting and scouting is the time horizon associated with the selection process. Recruiting is about filling needs now. Scouting is about scanning and selecting for future performance. Even though the profession of scouting appears to be associated with high performance sports, can it be applied to other fields?

In his latest book, Do Something, Preston Manning offers a number of suggestions for improving governance for Canadians at all levels. Manning suggests that scouting is an idea that we bring to the political arena. He suggests our democracy may be better served where we bring in better qualified and trained candidates to run for political office as well as to be part of the political machine. Manning writes, “The network of hockey scouts in this country is wide and deep. But where is its equivalent in the political world? Where are the people, many of whom may have participated in electoral politics themselves at an earlier point in their lives, who are systematically attending public events, school assemblies, university model parliaments, debating contests, and private meetings for the explicit purposes of: Identifying, early on, potential candidates for public office. Directing and encouraging those potential candidates to get the training and coaching they will need to contribute and succeed. Developing and supporting this required network of political scouts is an unfinished piece of political business which must be attended to if we are to find and adequately develop the human resources needed to improve the performance of our political parties and democratic sector.” Independent of our political perspective, this sounds like an overlooked area that would benefit all parties. Identifying prospective candidates well before they run for office would allow them to be better prepared and capable of serving when they do show up. It seems our short term focus on today’s election overwhelms our willingness to look towards improving the future by nurturing and building potential politicians.

How about in our own businesses, what’s the balance of recruiting efforts between hiring for today and scanning and scouting for tomorrow’s talent? For most of us, our efforts emphasize today’s needs over tomorrow’s.  Manning’s lifetime of experience in the political arena illuminated several paths that those thirsty for politics took while all ending up at the watering hole of serving in a level of government. He observed that some come through volunteering directly within a political party, while others come from family connections. Some migrate to politics from serving in a charity or leading some type of issue campaign. Others find prominence in a certain arena before wielding their influence in politics. Past sports or broadcasting figures fall into this category. Employees in the civil service, too, may migrate to become makers of legislation. Manning suggests that these paths, though independent, all lead certain folk to find their way into the political arena. Political parties should be dispatching scouts regularly into each of these pathways to look for future political candidates to cultivate. Manning suggests the deeper down these paths one looks the more humble and open to learning future potential candidates may be. What seems like casual interest can be nurtured into commitment. Moreover, those recruited will be provided first class training and education for years ensuring that when they do formally throw their hat into the arena, they are best able to hit the ground running.

Are you looking ahead or are you just trying to get through the day? If you’re looking ahead, by how far? Is some portion of your recruiting efforts devoted to keeping an eye out for future potential? Scouting is about extending the time horizon for your talent search. It’s about future proofing your business by planning and preparing. It is done by those that are proactive whereas recruiting is the result of being reactive. When tomorrow becomes the focus of today, we can spend time trying to find more suitable candidates for the long term.

When recruiting for an immediate opening, what’s your filter for finding sales staff? Is the target one with insurance experience, that already has a book of business, and that is able to port their book with them to another brokerage? If so, the pool of these candidates is small and in high demand by others brokerages. They won’t move unless they’re getting increased compensation, autonomy, or opportunity. Do you want to be competing with others in your industry for this small pool of potential? Would you rather escape the recruiting rat race and solve your sales through scouting? If you’re looking where most others in your industry are looking, you’re overlooking many wonderful candidates and you’re competing amongst the many for the few which is tough to do. If your goal is to pluck a producer from another brokerage because they are licensed, experienced, and have a book that may be portable, then you’re being lazy or dreaming. The reality is that good producers aren’t looking to leave. Why would someone that is working well at an existing brokerage want to come to your organization? Moreover, this type of thinking with respect to hiring reflects a short-term focus.

If we can expand our time horizon to shift from recruiting to scouting for future requirements, a whole new world of candidates may materialize. If we consider a sales role, for example, are there pathways that commonly lead candidates to your business? What are the career histories and trajectories of those that have been successful in sales within your business or industry? We’ll offer some suggestions for detailing key success factors for those in a sales role in a separate article. Once we’re clear on the types of traits that lead to success both in the role and our organization, then we can start to develop ideas as to where we can go to look for people that may fit. Scouting is owning responsibility for finding those that we want on our team. We’re going to the watering holes where the people we want are gathering.

Where do people that may be a good fit spend time? How is it they may come to know your industry and company? Do you consider students? If so, are they graduating university students? Or, do you consider college graduates/non-graduates and high school graduates as well? Does your brokerage attend any job or career fairs at local universities or colleges? How about at high schools? Randy Schwantz writes in GRIT: Find, Hire, Develop Real Producers about various tactics he’s seen brokers use to attract younger candidates. Pharmaceutical companies seem to be well known as offering lucrative sales oriented jobs. Recruiters for some brokers find their way to the events pharmaceutical companies host and try to heighten interest in attendees by showing pictures of Porsches and asking if they would like to drive one. They also present T4s of producers at their firms with personal details redacted to reflect the earning opportunity available. If the eyes grow wide as an expression of interest, the broker seeks to continue the conversation recruiting the candidate to the insurance industry. Whetting the appetite about the wealth building opportunities of insurance may awaken ambitious youth to take a closer look at our industry.

Are there common experiences in the backgrounds of those that are of appeal to you? Were they high performance athletes in their youth? Did they work while going to school? Were any entrepreneurs? Did any have a side hustle while working elsewhere? Is past sales experience in some form a benefit? How have they shown their willingness to work and display initiative? Do you look for individuals with sales experience from other fields? For example, financial services sales where compensation may be commission based and a professional presence is also required. Do you see scars as strengths? Are you willing to give people a chance, an opportunity if they don’t fit a traditional mold? Do you consider those with retail sales backgrounds like from electronics or furniture stores? How about moving companies or office supply sales? What about car dealerships or foreign exchange currency sales experience? Many diamonds may be found in the rough. What may look less than ideal on a resume may have some hidden strength which matches your environment ideally. A formal education isn’t a guarantee of future sales capability. Understanding people, being willing to work hard, being able to think on one’s feet, and having a desire to build something and compete are all skills that may be built from diverse backgrounds. Separate from sales experience, is there a network impact a candidate may bring? For example, do they have rich connections within a particular industry or community?

Your current sales team is also a great source for future talent. Who are they hanging out with? Where are they spending time? Encourage your best to talk to those with whom they socialize about your industry and organization. Share your sights with staff and offer a small gift for any referral. The referral isn’t for a successful hire, but just a quick coffee or conversation to make an initial assessment. The gift is something nominal like a gift certificate of some kind. Celebrate these conversations and the team member that made a referral in front of others. Help your staff help you. They’re also indirectly helping themselves by surrounding themselves with other ambitious, like-minded achievers. Current clients, too, may be a untapped resource for your scouting efforts. Ask clients if they know any people that fit the mold you’ve drafted. Reward them for suggested contacts just like you have for your staff.

Sure, this may seem like work. It is. This may be why so few take the time to look for future contributors. Do you plan on being around in 5, 10, 25 years? If so, this effort will continue to pay off well into the future. There are plenty of determined and ambitious people desperate for an opportunity. People keen to pursue autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Yes, they want compensation and the opportunity to grow it as well. Your job is to find them and match their aspirations with your organization. Then you must convince them that you will be there to train, develop, and support both today and tomorrow. We look forward to introducing some ideas to help you make your organization appealing to prospective candidates in a future article.