Recruiting Lessons I Learned Managing a Political Campaign

Nov 2, 2010

Editor’s note: today is Election Day in the US. Make sure to go to the polls today and let your voice be heard!

One of the advantages of building a recruiting firm that can manage itself is that it allows me to “step away” for a few days here and there to pursue other interests. For the past few months I devoted about 75% of my time to managing a political campaign for someone running for US Congress in a tightly contested primary. One of my clients asked me recently what parallels I can share from running a successful recruiting firm and running a successful political campaign.

I shared the answers and thought it would be a great topic for an article. I am not going to share the name of the candidate or their party affiliation because how one manages a campaign in a primary would vary little depending on the party.

By implementing the strategies I will share below, my candidate won her primary election and was the ONLY candidate not endorsed by her party to win in the primaries in our state out of nine contested races. These strategies will help you “win” in building your office, hiring and training recruiters, getting clients, recruiting candidates, etc. 

1) Effectively Manage Your Time.

Immediately following our state convention, the candidate and I attended almost every event we were invited to regardless of the strategic importance of them. We began working hard, however, without a defined plan. We were returning phone calls, responding to emails as they came in and generally reacting to issues as they arose. This kept us busy eleven hours a day, yet we were NOT accomplishing much! Sound familiar?

Once we realized this, we engineered our days in blocks of time. Understand, with no or little money you can’t get your message out, especially when you cover a large district of 65 towns. Political candidates need to spend at least three hours per day on the phone raising money for their campaign. However, my candidate would find any reason she could to avoid those calls. Just like it is for recruiters, the cold call is one of the more unpleasant activities in the life of a political candidate. But, when she was on the phone, she was VERY GOOD! Once we scheduled her day the right way money flowed in consistently.

Additionally, we brought in people to take on tasks the candidate could delegate so she had more time to raise money and be in front of voters.

This candidate reminded me of many of the recruiting firm owners I speak with. We all get distracted by what is going on in the moment and feel compelled to react to each situation that comes across our desk each day. At the end of many days we sit there wondering if we got anything done to build our business at all that day!

Sure, you are “busy”, but your day is managing you and you are not managing your day. Just as my candidate could always find other things to do, many of us in recruiting find other things to do besides those directly related to bringing in revenue NOW!

You can apply this principle to your company by managing your day in blocks of time. Turn off your email when you are on the phone. (I would remove my candidate’s laptop so she couldn’t check email, the Internet, etc. I left her only with a print out of names to call.) Also, determine your goals for the week on Monday. Put various tasks in 30-60 minute blocks on your calendar and make sure to build in time for unanticipated problems.

2) Have a Plan!

Part of our time management problem discussed above was directly related to the fact that we were not clear on what needed to be done day-to-day for the three-month primary season. This is one of the things that caused us to briefly drift early on in the campaign.

Sure we had a goal of winning the primary, but we were not EXACTLY clear on how we were going to do that.

So many recruiters and recruiting firm owners have goals too. They want to bill $500,000 or $1,000,000 or more. Then you ask them “how” they are going to do it and you get no specific answer. They do not know what $500,000 looks like. They don’t know how many placements it takes, how many interviews they have to arrange, how many calls they have to make, etc.

So we asked what exactly winning the primary “looked like”, how many votes did we need, where were they going to come from, etc.

At that point it became clear we didn’t have all the answers. You see, I had successfully managed local campaigns for Mayor and Board of Finance, but NOT US Congress. Running a race for Congress is another league. When we began asking ourselves exactly what needed to occur for us to win, we realized we were not clear. We quickly uncovered our knowledge gaps. We were committed to winning but not clear on the path to take.

Based on this revelation we decided to….

3) Hire a Consultant.

We only had 90 days to execute on a strategy that would win the election. It became obvious that even though engaging a consultant would be expensive, it could be the best investment we made. (it was!)

The consultant had successfully run campaigns for US Congress before. He had been on both the winning and losing sides and knew what it would take to win. Using him and relying on his experience, we had a detailed plan for the remaining 90 days of the campaign.

Each person’s role was clearly defined. Dates and accountabilities were put in place. Everyone was clear on what he or she had to do and when it had to be done by. The plan was updated once per week in a meeting where each person reported what happened and what still needed to occur. Flaws in execution were handled immediately, sometimes by putting someone different in the role.

How many of us struggle building our recruiting firms? How many put in the hours, make the calls, but still are not clear if they are doing the right things, the right way, in the right order, and at the right time? If you are committed to building your firm but are not clear on the steps to do so, consider bringing on an advisor who has “been there, done that!” It can save you years of trial and error and tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of dollars!

What became clear to me in the campaign was that we didn’t have time to waste. It was win or lose in 90 days. Yes, we won, and we won pretty big. I know many of the people on the other campaigns. I know they flew by the seat of their pants, without a defined plan, without proven metrics. I know they did not bring in an outside expert because they wanted to save money. OK, they saved the money. Now they can watch the November election from the sidelines.

If you want to take your firm from doing “OK” to being a leader in its field, you need to be crystal clear on your objectives. You have to know where your time is best spent and how to delegate tasks others can do effectively that are not at the core of revenue generation or team building.

In addition, you need to know EXACTLY what a successfully run recruiting firm looks like. Key word: EXACTLY. Then, you need to build a plan that outlines what needs to occur each year, each quarter, each month, each week and each day. If you lack clarity, engage an expert to help you build the plan, see in your blind spots, and to keep you on track. After all, if “winning” in your business is more than simply making a living, aren’t you worth it?

this article is from the November 2010 print Fordyce Letter. To subscribe and receive a monthly print issue, please go to our Subscription Services page.

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