The CausePlanet team invited me to respond to the Page to Practice™ book summary of Match: A Systematic Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time by Dan Erling. I would agree with Erling that human capital is the single most important factor in accelerating a nonprofit organization’s mission performance. His book outlines accepted and tested best practices in identifying, hiring and retaining talent. Nonprofits should not underestimate the competitive environment for the very best employees or the costs of making the wrong hire. Nonprofit CEOs who focus on hiring processes and provide leadership for these best practices will see gains in organizational efficiency and impact through a more motivated and skilled staff.
However, to many executive directors and CEOs of smaller nonprofits, this approach to hiring may sound like a process that is only suited for large organizations. Actually, the inverse is true. The smaller the organization, the more critical it is to consistently build focus and discipline around hiring processes. The cost and impact of making the wrong choice is much greater when the organization is smaller.
While having a disciplined and consistent comprehensive process for hiring is important, there are three aspects that are critical and often overlooked. When talking with organizations about hires that did not work or when interviewing individuals who have exited positions that did not fit, it is usually one of the following three aspects of the search process that was neglected:
- The Foundation: mission, strategic direction and organizational alignment
- Choice: sourcing to build an applicant pool
- Results: starting with the end in mind
The Foundation: mission, strategic direction and organizational alignment
Making the right hire begins with an understanding of the mission, as well as clarity about where this organization is in it lifecycle and its intended strategic direction. During work on over twenty searches over the last six years, boards and/or staff usually articulate a need for changes in how the organization functions, key success indicators and outcomes. It’s only by discussing the mission, whom a nonprofit hopes to serve, the outcomes to be achieved and how the next stage of the organization’s development differs from the last that the desired change becomes concrete, a tangible set of skills and attributes. These discussions about the foundational elements of the nonprofit also test the alignment and support for this future direction and enhance performance on the mission. Are the board, staff and key stakeholders all supporting the same direction, strategic vision and next steps for this organization? If not, how will these differences be addressed prior to filling an important position? Clarity regarding these most fundamental elements is critically important before proceeding with a search.
Choice: sourcing to build an applicant pool
Frequently, we make the wrong hire when we feel pressured to fill a position and settle on a candidate who lacks important skills or attributes. It’s easy to talk yourself or a team into picking the best from a group of applicants who do not fit the position.
Dan Erling talks about strategies for expanding the pool with diversified advertising strategies. Researching the best websites, association list serves and social media strategies for advertising a job can broaden the pool of applicants. However, you are only reaching people who want to find a job or change jobs. In all likelihood, the most qualified candidates are not looking and will not apply for the position you posted.
To reach this highly qualified cohort, sourcing is required. Sourcing is an action plan for reaching those individuals who may be ideal candidates for the job or know where to find those candidates. Review your contacts and identify at least 20people who are outstanding at the job you are seeking to fill or know people who have mastered the skills and attributes your position requires. Send each of these individuals the position description for the job and schedule a time to talk. Solicit feedback on the job, sources for candidates, and names of specific individuals and ask them to forward the position description to their key contacts. Follow up on suggestions and continue to network. This strategy will lead to individuals who are not in the job market and may never have heard of this opportunity without these networking efforts.
Results: starting with the end in mind
How will you measure the success of this position? What would a superstar accomplish in this job during the first 6 months, by the end of year one or two? What are the most important outcomes to accomplish first? What rate of change does the organization expect and/or require?
It is amazing how often I talk with someone new to their job (and regularly these are CEOs) who have no quantified performance outcomes. Frequently they are spending their first year on the job defining the job! How often do we set up a new hire for failure by failing to define success?
Part of the task when writing a position description is to prioritize the outcomes for year one and quantify the performance. If the team (board and/or staff) working on the position description cannot agree on either the outcomes or the measures, keep working. Failure to agree on this most fundamental statement of what the job will do for the organization means there is a lack of alignment regarding the role. Until that alignment is achieved, it’s unlikely anyone can succeed in the job. Do not make assumptions regarding outcomes; quantify the results your organization needs!