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Just Fix My Car, Hold the Latte … and What’s This Got to Do With Staffing?

by
Fraser Donnell
Nov 21, 2013, 6:43 am ET

carsOk, so I drive a moderately fancy car built somewhere in Germany. I’ve worked hard during my life and this is my reward to myself.

A fancy car needs only the finest of service, right?  Maybe some of you can relate to this.

You drive into the dealership service-bay, nice and bright and clean. A hoard of good-looking people descend on you, opening doors and writing things onto their forms, speaking into their headsets. It’s like you just pulled into The Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue — you feel like “Hey, I’m a somebody!!”

I tell them what’s wrong with my car, they whip out all their Star-Trek inspired devices, little handheld tools that blink and beep and shine bright lights, and they determine what they think is wrong.

I need this, that, and some other thing. Awesome. My car will drive like never before and I’ll get better gas mileage too. Fantastic.

Now, this uneasy feeling envelops me when I ask the question “how much?” Feeling like a somebody as I am up to this point, I now feel somewhat obligated to spend like a somebody. After all, I’m sitting in this opulent service area surrounded by good looking people, me and my fancy car surrounded by other people’s fancy cars.

Spark plugs and oil change — one thousand three hundred dollars, and your latte is ready. I wince, I pay, I leave.

Yes, my car drove spiritedly; my gas mileage did get a little better, for a while. They washed my car and made it look spiffy. At the end of the day though, I just spent the equivalent a mortgage payment on a necessary tune up.

Before moving out of town to where I am now, I had “A Guy” … Everyone needs “A Guy.”

You know that trusted advisor who is very good at what they do, and who will ensure that you get good value. After all, his business model is based on that. Give customers good value for what they’re getting back, fix their problem and in return, get repeat business and referrals.

Similarly, the dealership’s agenda is also to fix your problem, but they still need to pay for the shiny building, those even shinier people and the cool gadgets. Oh, and the latte machine.

In the end, you get the same thing. Your car had a problem. It was fixed, right? The difference is what did you pay, and how did you feel when you left?

Chances are, if you had “A Guy,” you may have arrived feeling somewhat pensive, particularly if this was your first visit. “Can this guy fix my car?” After speaking with them, you knew that they knew what they were doing. The diagnostic process was detailed, you got your quote, and were pleasantly surprised. You picked up your car, drove great, didn’t spend too much, and they even cleaned it up for you. Maybe they threw in a couple extras. You can now get on with business as usual, get on with life.

Chances are if you were at the dealer, all that flash and wizardry and good-looking people made you initially feel good and even more important than you already are. The diagnostic phase of your car’s troubles were probably the same. But, you picked up your car and drove away, good-looking people now turning their attention to the next fancy car that showed up, and it hits you that you probably over-paid for what you really got.

The universe of executive search is very much the same; at least it has been in my many experiences.

I’ve been involved in countless executive searches during my life on the corporate side of talent acquisition. We handled as many as we could internally but there were several occasions where we needed some extra capabilities.

When engaging with some of the big players, like the big fancy car dealerships — as a client I liked the initial feeling of being special. “Oooh I’m working with Worcestershire and Tiddlywinks Inc. on this search, this is going to be great.”

They too did their job and did it very well. In the end we got our game-changing candidate and we could get back to business as usual.

But when I was writing up the purchase order approval, and saw the fee, I reflected back on when I drove away from the dealership in my shiny car. What did I just get for that big smoking hole in my wallet?

They made me feel great in the beginning — but in the end, I didn’t get that same sense of assuredness or, that although what I had to do to my car was expensive, I wildly overpaid for what I received.

I want “My Guy” again.

He treats me very well, makes me feel just as important as the dealership in fact, but without pretense.

He knows his stuff, he knows my car, and he knows me. He doesn’t charge me more than he needs to.

I drive away from “My Guy” feeling good. I like what he did and how competently he did it.

He sends me an email every once in a while to check in. I can call him for advice and he gives it to me. No charge. I miss him.

I get a spam email once a quarter from my dealership with pictures of good looking people wearing the car manufacturer’s clothing and custom watches. Very nice indeed.

At some point, many organizations will experience a period of growth, or transition. They may even experience some loss. Either of those situations may result in having to bring a new leader on board, to seek out that game changer, to secure the next pioneer of the organization — sometimes confidentially — and allow you to get back to business as usual once you have.

We’re also living in times of fiscal responsibility, ensuring that resources are appropriately allocated in the most prudent manner. If you find your organization in that position, explore all of the options that are available to you.

In many occasions, it’s the smaller search partner who will end up being your best advocate in the market, and of whom you can trust and build a relationship with.

They will know your organization better and will be able to go out and secure you the ideal candidate for what you need and let you get on with business as usual without giving you that feeling as if you just drove away from the dealership. In a nutshell, bigger isn’t always better. Better is better. Period.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Jean-Marc Frion

    I seldom comment articles, but this one really struck me, Fraser. Thank you very much for posting it!
    I relate to it very well, because it made me realize I have unconsciously built my business as trying to be one of these “guys” for my clients, and indeed I see know that is how they consider me. I had never thought of it so clearly. Thanks again.

  2. Fraser Donnell

    Hi Jean-Marc, glad you liked it and all the best.

  3. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Fraser. Whether it’s “your guy” or the dealership, if you’re not prepared to pay for recruiting work that’s worth a 30% fee, then you can probably have it done very well for a great deal less. Contingency work is highly valuable, and should be “enjoyed” rarely, like a fine and very expensive wine. Don’t expect quality on the cheap….

    Cheers,
    Keith

  4. Rohin Chawla

    I enjoyed reading the article and was able to relate my self and my company with that. It is very true but there is a problem.

    At every level, at every price point you will find “A Guy” who is willing to provide a similar (if not the same) service at a lower rate.

    How would you counter that?

    For how long you can keep cutting the price or adding more value added services?

  5. Jean-Marc Frion

    I personally never cut the price, for I cannot afford it. For the service we provide, and in particular if we are to extend our reach with help from others, it cannot be done or is not worth it. We charge 25% of annual salary.

    The way I see it, the “guy” Fraser is referring to is not one that necessarily cuts prices, but one that gets the job done and charges only for that, and not for overhead “frills” which are of little value to the client.

    Like many others, we used to spend quite a bit in classy downtown offices, “long legged/well chested” reception & support staff, client entertainment, etc. Totally useless. Now we focus only on what it takes to get the jobs done, and I feel it serves us and our clients very well.

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