One of the many things I enjoy in my search practice (let me count the ways) is being able to travel and meet with potential clients in the business development phase. I simply love it. I get to interact with some real professionals (usually) and talk about one of my favorite topics – why do business with my search firm! Surprised? Don’t be. What I’ve learned over the years is while the potential new client is doing due diligence on me and my firm – we are doing the same! Doing business with people whom you like and respect is a whole lot more fun than – well… you get my point. You need to be able to check that box early.
Earlier this summer, I had a chance to spend time with several organizations to discuss their hiring needs and to determine if we could help them find people who would make an impact and move the needle in their businesses. Most of you know that cultural fit is usually half the battle – or more in some cases. Just remember that works on both sides of the table though. Candidates who are considering a 3-5 year commitment need to make sure they know exactly what they are signing up for. Same holds true for the organization and their search partner. We have to know if there is a good fit between our firm and a potential client. It’s really that simple. If we can’t get comfortable with one another and feel good about doing business together, we should call the game early – actually before it starts. Bad news early is much better than bad news late – trust me.
Back to my trip. I entered the building from the front door to “check-in” with the receptionist and do the “company tour” – which I always enjoy. Then, it was on to spend time with the hiring manager and their team. Somehow this one just did not “feel right” and I was uncomfortable – almost immediately. Maybe it was the gold chains and the open collar Beach Boy look from the COO that did it. But wait – there’s more. I was then placed in the “holding room” for nearly an hour (with no water in the middle of the summer) to meet with the hiring manager who seemed frazzled when she finally showed up. “Now remind me who you are?” she said. WHAAAAAA? I was done. She was not prepared for our meeting at all and had not even read any of the material I sent her in advance of our meeting (before traveling over 500 miles to meet with her). This sort of thing might work for some people – you always want to give people the benefit of the doubt. Well… maybe not. Not a chance.
I forced myself through the (short and unorganized) meeting to discuss the position they wanted my firm to work on. I politely thanked her and as I was getting up to gather my things, Mr. Beach Boy showed up (again) and suggested I exit through the back door. I had to fight off the smile (okay – smirk) I was developing as I moved quickly towards the exit sign while evaluating other possible escape routes. Suddenly I recalled a classic Lynyrd Skynyrd song that sounded a little like this… . “Gimme 3 steps – Gimme 3 steps Mister… Gimme 3 steps towards the door… Gimme 3 steps – Gimme 3 steps Mister and you’ll never see me no more. For sure. Show me the back door…” And they did.
I left the building only to realize I was standing in the middle of the parking lot. This was, however, no regular parking lot. Not a chance. This was a designated parking zone only for executives. The higher up in the organization – the closer you parked to the employee entrance door. I guess the minions just walked through the rain and heat, suffering the elements when they arrive or depart from work each day while the upper echelon quickly dart in and out of their car, just a few steps away from the door. Sweet. Such is the life of a non-executive. Are you kidding me? It’s 2010 people. Another reason to pass on (ok – run from) this relationship. It would be tough (okay – impossible) to sell this culture.
The next time I do a site visit I think I’ll do a quick walk around the building before I get too far into the excitement of taking on a new client. Sometimes you learn a lot and know if there’s a good fit and real chemistry in the client/search firm relationship just by walking around the parking lot.
Tim Tolan is a partner at Sanford Rose Associates and specializes in Executive Search in Healthcare IT. He’s a closer, and you really don’t want to call him unless you’re ready to bring out the bazooka to bag some big game. When I started Fistful, I checked four references on Tim – his wife, his kids, his pastor and a client. The references were great, even if it sounded like they were reading from a sheet of paper. I just chalked that up to them being “detail oriented” in their feedback….