How to find and retain the best people

Finding the right person for a critical role within an organisation can be complex and challenging.

The success of any business largely depends on the calibre of its people, and the cost implications of a poor appointment, or failure to find an appropriate person, are substantial. Alternatively, the benefits from a successful placement can be exceptional, and retaining such individuals usually creates the competitive advantage required for an organisation to continue to succeed.

The identification, selection and retention of key personnel are no easy tasks, and require a careful and comprehensive approach. Whilst speed and efficiency is important, even more crucial is the quality of the process to identify, attract and select suitable candidates, leading to the compilation of a short-list. A comprehensive recruitment assignment should follow these key steps:

  • To begin with, consideration must be given to which of your directors, board members and managers will be involved in the assessment and selection of candidates. There is a need to ensure the appropriate amount of time and energy is invested for the purpose of conducting interviews and evaluating short-listed candidates.
  • Review or develop a comprehensive Position Description. Outline the key responsibilities, objectives and challenges for the position, and identify who they will communicate and work with both internally and externally, including line management and direct reports. Also consider the criteria against which performance will be evaluated, budgets responsible for, and potential professional development.
  • Develop a separate document called a Person Specification. This should be separate from the Position Description as they each may require changes independent of each other when the position is reviewed or needs to be recruited for in the future. As well as the ‘hard’ criteria such as skills, experience and knowledge required, also give thought to the desired personality, style and other personal attributes of the ideal candidate to ensure a strong cultural fit. The clearer the definitions of the profile, the more likely it is that you will find and retain the best available person for the job.
  • Consider where the successful candidate may come from and whether they are likely to respond to advertising or not. For most key positions it is highly likely that the best candidates are already employed, not registered with any recruitment agencies, and probably not even considering a change. Therefore any advertising should be targeted, carefully placed in the appropriate media and designed to catch the attention of potential candidates. For some positions it may be important to advertise to ensure an open process where anyone who feels they meet the criteria can apply.
  • If a search process is required there are a number of things to consider: will the candidate be local, interstate or from overseas; which industry will they come from; what role will they currently have; which organisations might they currently work for; etc.
  • It may be that the best available candidate is currently employed within your organisation. Identifying these individuals at the outset may help you avoid potential issues in the future. Internal candidates can be compared against available external candidates to ensure the most suitable person is appointed to the position.
  • Engaging the consulting services of a qualified and proven external partner is likely to be highly valuable, considering their experience, knowledge, discretion, confidentiality and reputation. Successful busy people will usually only meet with a reputable search and selection firm, where third party representation, confidentiality, and professional mediation are valued. Search and selection consultants are able to tap into a global network of contacts and are experienced in researching and mapping industry sectors to identify potential candidates. Choose one who you trust and who is able to understand your industry, your company, its structure, its culture and its values.
  • Invest as much time as necessary with this consultant to fully brief them of your needs and expectations. Where possible, organise meetings with other directors, board members or management involved in the decision making process. It is important that your consultant gains as much insight as possible into the organisation and fully understands your objectives and expectations from the beginning of the process.
  • During the process keep things moving from your side i.e. conduct candidate interviews promptly, give timely feedback, and maintain security and confidentiality. Consider what information about the organisation you want or need the candidate(s) to be made aware of.
  • Leave reference checks on the preferred candidates to your consultant, who has experience in this area and can approach possible sources of reference in a significantly more neutral way. This is a much more professional approach for the organisation searching for candidates. Any confidentiality breach can incur great risk. Also consider whether you wish to conduct other checks such as psychometric assessment, police checks and verification of qualifications. Like reference checks these are all useful tools to validate what is discovered from the candidates’ resumes and interviews.
  • When presenting an offer to a preferred candidate, consider not only the internal remuneration structure, but also what the chosen candidate will bring to your company. The complete remuneration package should be considered, including incentives, bonuses and benefits. Give consideration to performance related cash components, share options schemes, housing and schooling assistance, relocation allowances, vehicles and other packaging options. The remuneration package is often critical in both the recruitment process, and in the long term to retain good executives. In many cases non-monetary benefits can also be provided to help attract and keep quality personnel.
  • When the successful candidate commences, a time-frame should be established to evaluate the candidate’s professional performance. Often the exchange on a personal level (family, housing, schooling, community engagement, etc.) is just as important as the professional evaluation for a successful working relationship. Integration, personal well-being and professional excellence are vital to maintaining engagement with key executives who remain committed and motivated.