Your First Task as a Recruiter: Recruit Senior Management Onto Your Team

If your job is to recruit the best employees possible, here’s what should be at the top of your “to do” list: recruit senior management onto your team. You can increase your efficacy ó and your value to your organization ó by helping them recognize that the responsibility for recruiting talent doesn’t just lie in the recruiting department. Recruiting talent is everybody’s job and should be on everybody’s mind. Recruiting is everybody’s responsibility, because every person, every decision, and every action influences whether your organization is a talent magnet or a talent repellent. Any management team serious about their organization being a talent magnet should think about how they and their actions influence their employer brand. They should then heed the advice of Starbucks’ Chief Coffee Buyer, Dave Olsen. Mr. Olsen was asked by Scott Bedbury, author of A New Brand World: Eight Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the 21st Century, about the secret to Starbucks’ powerhouse brand. What was the key to Starbucks’ ability to get people to come through the door again and again? Was it their unique blends, their happening ambience, their hip baristas? After thoughtfully considering all the variables, Olsen responded with two words that should be engraved on every manager’s consciousness: “Everything matters.” Everything matters when it comes to your employer brand. Everything matters when it comes to your ability to recruit ó and more importantly, to attract ó the best employees. Every interaction your organization has with your customers and the marketplace, every interaction your managers have with your employees, every operational process and employee policy matters. Each moment of truth shapes how your employer brand is perceived in the labor market. Just as importantly, every moment of truth influences whether your recruiting efforts are limited to your recruiting department, or whether your whole workforce engages in recruiting. Research shows that the best source of quality applicants comes from an organization’s employees ó or more accurately, from happy employees. If you don’t have happy employees who are proud of their employer, don’t expect a stampede of employee referrals. If you do have happy employees, you’re in the enviable position of Don Kemper, CEO of Healthwise, a Boise, Idaho, company that produces health information for both consumers and the medical community. “For every open position, we get one or two employee referrals,” notes Kemper. “In fact, the stories our employees tell about working here…they’re our best recruiting tool.” If you can’t say the same thing, you’re like most organizations: your recruiting engine is firing on only one cylinder. When you compare what the majority of people say about their previous employers with what comes out of Healthwise’s “volunteer PR firm” ó its workers ó you start to see why everything matters. To unleash the recruiting power of your workforce, you need to have an organization that inspires loyalty, passion, and pride. To have this kind of an organization requires a unified effort with everybody recognizing that everything matters. It means that everybody understands that every policy, every process, every interaction, every decision matters. Whether deciding on how much to involve employees in a new initiative, communicating to employees about new developments, or simply following up on an employee’s request, managers should examine every decision, action, and process through the lens of, “How will this affect our employer brand?” To begin this exploration, here are four questions for your senior management team. Does Your Reputation in the Marketplace Warrant Pride? Your reputation in the marketplace ó your corporate brand ó affects your ability to attract talent. Employees want to feel proud of their employer, to believe that they are part of an organization that produces world-class products or delivers world-class service. Thus managers who oversee your organization’s interface with the marketplace would be wise to scrutinize every marketing, public relations, and customer service process and ask:

  • “How does the way we do this affect our employer brand, our appeal in the labor market?”
  • “Does this process inspire pride in our workforce (and therefore their ability to speak highly of us)?”

When considering a change in these areas, an important part of the conversation should be how the change will affect your employer brand. For instance, if you make a change in your customer service process that is less customer-centric, expect a diminution in employee pride and a corresponding decrease in employee-generated positive PR and referrals. Does the Way You Run Your Organization Warrant Pride? Facilitating employee focus groups over the years has taught me one thing above all else: employees notice everything. Ineffective processes, poorly thought-out decisions, nonsensical rules ó they notice it all. These observations form the basis for some pretty unflattering assessments of management’s ability to run the organization. These assessments, in turn, profoundly affect not only employee morale and loyalty but also what they say to others about their employer. Because management is usually unaware of these unspoken observations and judgments, they don’t see how they are contributing to a weak or weakening employer brand. To prevent this from continuing, senior management would be wise to examine all organizational processes and ask:

  • “Does the way we do this process reflect a well-run operation, or a fly-by the-seat-of-the-pants outfit?”
  • “Does the way we do this engender pride?”
  • “Does this contribute, or detract from, the employer brand we are trying to create?”

Each manager should be held accountable for asking these questions about the processes he or she is responsible for. Each process should be examined step by step, because each step is a moment of truth that either helps or hurts your employer brand. For instance, each step in your recruiting process communicates to the job applicant something about your organization ó for better or for worse. Commenting on how everything matters in the recruiting process, executive recruiter Catherine Swift, of Swift and Associates, a Portland, Maine, recruiting firm, notes: “Little courtesies make a big impression on candidates. For instance, something as simple as informing a candidate that their next appointment is running late, so they’re not just left hanging outside the person’s office, wondering when the door will open.” How such moments of truth are handled speak volumes about how much your organization respects people and how competently the organization is run. Do You Support or Thwart Excellence? Many organizations drive their most talented employees out the door, and into the arms of their competitors, by subjecting them to inadequate technology, insufficient logistical support, and creativity-stifling bureaucracy. Although nobody likes to have their efforts at doing good work thwarted, this is even more of a deal-breaker to those who demand excellence of themselves and others. When they’ve had enough and leave, they become part of their former employer’s negative PR firm. Those who stay simmer silently, with no intention of ever making an employee referral. For instance, I worked in an insurance company where customer service reps had to do battle everyday with a Byzantine database system that’s lack of usability was matched only by its sloth-like speed. Call after call, customer service reps would attempt to wrest the needed information from their computers, while their customer’s patience evaporated. Think of how this affected not just job satisfaction ó and therefore, turnover ó but also what employees told others about their employer. Then compare their experience to the daily experience of Fidelity Investment employees, who use a database and knowledge management system where critical information is just an intuitive mouse click away. Then think of the recruiting implications of both situations. If you’re serious about being a talent magnet, your technology, policies, support, and training should be examined through the lens of:

  • “Does this support, or thwart, excellence?”
  • “How does this affect what employees think of our organization and what they tell others?”
  • “Does this contribute or detract from the employer brand we want?”

Do Your Managers Inspire Loyalty, Excellence, and Pride? Every interaction employees have with their manager shapes their impression of your organization, for better or for worse. As most people in the business world know by now, Gallup’s research shows that an employee’s supervisor influences their level of satisfaction and productivity more than any other organizational factor. Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham, authors of the best-selling First Break All the Rules and consultants with Gallup Organization, conclude that it’s better to work for a great manager in a lousy company than to work for a lousy manager in a great company. However, the odds of having great managers are better if senior management models, supports, and requires respectful, effective management. This is perhaps the most important area where senior management can influence the “moments of truth” that will either help you become a talent magnet or be just another talent repellent organization. Managers should be coached to remember whenever they are dealing with a “moment of truth” to ask:

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  • “How does the way I’m handling this affect employee morale, respect, and loyalty?”
  • “Would this decision or approach lead to employees feeling proud of, passionate about, and committed to our organization?” Here are some of the more critical “moments of truth” that managers would be wise to examine because they’re so frequently mishandled:
  • Whether or not employee input is solicited about changes that directly affect their jobs.
  • Whether employees hear about changes in a timely way or at the last minute.
  • Whether management initiates and executes changes in a well thought-out way or acts in an impetuous, fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants way, which they perceive as dynamic and visionary but which employees see as careless and clueless.
  • Whether appreciation and recognition efforts are “done to” employees as gala events, or whether appreciation and recognition are a regular part of the manager/employee relationship, and management and employees co-create events that are meaningful to both parties.

Do You Have What Today’s Worker Wants? Knowing what your customer wants and delivering it is Marketing 101. Smart companies also know that to keep satisfying your customers, you must stay “wired into the voice of the customer,” to use the phrase coined by Richard Whitely, Vice Chairman of The Forum Corporation and author of The Customer-Driven Company. Both principles should be applied to your organization’s recruiting efforts. To be a talent magnet, you need to know:

  • What today’s employees value most in an employer.
  • What matters most to the various professions and demographics you desire (e.g., what’s important to a 25-year-old graphic designer will be different from what’s important to a 50-year-old accountant).
  • Whether or not you are delivering what matters most to your employees.
  • Whether or not you are addressing the eternal human needs that have always affected employee performance and loyalty, such as the need for meaning, the need to be part of something greater than oneself, the need to learn and grow, and the need to experience mastery and self-efficacy.

What’s Next? For this to be more than wishful thinking, you need to recruit senior management onto your team, and together build an organization that is an employer of choice. to begin the process, here are four actions you can take:

  1. Share this article with your senior management team.
  2. Share articles from ERE and other websites on issues related to employer branding, attracting, and retaining employees, the role managers play in retention and productivity, the cost of turnover, etc. This doesn’t just help recruit them to your team, this increases your value to senior management. Why? First, you multiply your value exponentially if you’re part of the process that gets everyone involved in making your organization a talent magnet, and therefore unleashes your volunteer recruiting team (your workforce). Second, by helping them identify the factors that are impeding your organization’s ability to recruit and retain the best people, you will help management save a tremendous amount of money in recruiting and turnover costs, not to mention opportunity costs.
  3. Encourage your CEO or other senior executive to facilitate ongoing discussions around the principle of “Everything Matters,” and to work with managers on making sure their processes and actions are contributing to a powerful Employer Brand.
  4. Start and maintain an employer advisory council. Involve them in exploring the above questions. Work with them regularly to stay wired into your workforce. Doing so will help management make decisions that strengthen your Employer Brand. It will also inspire passion and commitment, because instead of being just hired hands, your employees get to be players on a winning team.

Regardless of how effective your recruiting department is, trying to recruit the best employees without senior management being part of your team is like a basketball team trying to compete with only one player on the court. To compete successfully, you need everyone on the team playing in the game. You need everyone to recognize that everything matters and pull together to make sure you actually deliver a “product” ó in this case, a work experience ó that the best employees want. With a product that the best employees want, recruiting becomes infinitely easier. More importantly, when you create a great organization that provides a great work experience, you unleash the secret recruiting weapon of all employers of choice: employees who love where they work and love talking about it.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," as well over 60 articles and book chapters. You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at, or follow him on Twitter at