Friday, April 08, 2011

Where's Our Boy Donny Q. When We Need Him?

I need some help! Probably not the best way to start this post as it begs the question of "so tell me something I don't know."

Anyone who knows me would probably say this isn't a question of Dave needing help, we have known him long enough to know that he is well beyond that at this stage!

As true as I know that is, at least at this point, that’s not the kind of help I had in mind.

My need comes from something that has been bothering me for a long time, indeed it was something I had thought about even well before ExecuNet's founding some 23 years ago, but for now, I'll just stick to recent history.

If you follow ExecuNet at all, then you might be aware that around this time every year for the past 19 we have published the results of a survey we do called The Executive Job Market Intelligence Report (EJMIR). 

This year's report is, as they say, coming off the presses as we speak, and if there is any "perk" that comes with being the founder of something it is that you get a "sneak peek" at stuff before it goes public.

So I had my "sneak peek" and there is some really interesting stuff as there always is, and given that we are coming out of a very tough couple of years, the data for 2011 will be gone over with a fine tooth comb for sure, so stay tuned.

I am under penalty of being cut off from my latte lite for a month if I reveal anything before our members get their copies next week, but when I read the report, I felt I could raise this issue since it is something that has been part of EJMIR every year and has bugged me for so long.

So, here's the deal: One of the questions that the survey has posed every year to both the recruiting as well as the HR communities is for them to rank what they feel are the most sought-after executive characteristics.

Each year three things have always topped the list: industry specific experience; functional expertise, and leadership skills, and while there were a number of other things on the list, these three were always way ahead of everything else.

So, when you have 19 straight years of the same result it is kind of hard to argue with the notion that obviously companies think these are pretty important, and if the employers thought these important, then it’s no surprise that the recruiters followed suit. It all seemed to make reasonable sense.

If I was going to hire someone for sure I would want them to be competent in their functional area, understand the industry segment and to have "leadership skills."

But here's what bothers me and where I need someone, as Rachel Maddow says, to "talk me down."

Functional expertise I get, and leadership skills are a whole other ballgame.

My hang up is on industry specific experience. If it is so damn important then why do we keep trying to back fill openings that become vacant because the last incumbent was carried out on his shield with another person who "must have" industry specific experience?

Point being, if this characteristic was so critical to success, then one would think that we should not experience the turnover that we do.

All of which leads me to the feeling that while the survey data show the three characteristics I have mentioned here as being so closely aligned that there is no statistical difference between them - in other words they are essentially equally important in the eyes of the more than 3,100+ who responded - that the real "make or break" characteristic is leadership skills or as many respondents put it this year "...the ability to build and lead high performance teams."

So my convoluted logic says I really don't think that functional expertise or industry specific experience are the "show stoppers" - sure they play a role, but they don't hold the proverbial candle to leadership skills, and I just don't understand how the three can be seen as equally important.

So, if the real deal is around leadership skills, then through the wonders of modern technology we’ve got it made. All we have to do is ID "leadership skills" and we’re golden on the hiring front, right?

With that in mind and as a public service to my fellow travellers on the leadership quest, you’ll be relieved to know the answer lies somewhere in the 37,500,000 hits I got on Bing when I asked for "leadership skills" or to make it less time intensive since we all have other things to do as well, the same ask on Google narrowed things down to only 17,200,000.

Now that we have that "solved" we can move on to the next problem - once we have found the leaders, how do we keep 'em because as this year's EJMIR will show, if this an issue that you think has gone away, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn that's on sale and that you are going to have a hard time passing up!

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